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Airplanes, Thrillerfest, Doing what it takes, RWA, and all things Hannibal

Neither Bob or I were planning on attending Thrillerfest this year. My spring and summer are filled with lots of change. My daughter joined the Peace Corps and is now living in Madagascar. My youngest son just graduated from high school and we’re getting ready to send him off to his first semester of college all the while the middle boy moved back home for the summer. He’s got one more year in college and now plans on going to graduate school. So it’s been hectic. Bob just became a grandpa for the second time, so they have been super busy as well. We can’t be everywhere at once.

2015-website_banner_final-RegOnlineThat said, as it got closer to Thrillerfest, it became apparent that one of us should go since our reps at Amazon and iBooks were looking to meet up with us as well as some of the board members of ITW. So, we decided I would go in for the day. Fly in first thing. Fly home last thing. Oy. That was a long day. Anyone who knows me understands that flying is not something I enjoy. Not even close. When Bob teaches his Write It Forward workshop, he always asks the group: what is the one thing you don’t want to do? He asks this question both in the context of writing and with your career. My answer: Fly. Then Bob says: that’s the one thing you have to do in order to succeed. So, I got on that plane.

Networking is so important. And not just with people from the platforms that sell our books, but other authors. You never know how the person standing behind you in line to register for the conference might turn out not only to be a good friend, but someone who might play a huge role in your career later on down the line. Who knew that Bob would end up chatting with me at a conference after his lecture about digital publishing, and then a year later, we’d be business partners.

But its not just networking at the conference. It’s also important to keep in contact via social media with some people that you have connected with. It doesn’t have to be every single person you met, but you know that feeling you get when you meet someone and you have an instant connection. And not necessarily the “big” name authors. You go to enough conferences, you start to see the same people over and over again. Publishing, for big business, is relatively small.

Jon Land, an ITW board member who just happens to be a good friend, reached out to Bob and I a few weeks ago, one of the reasons I got on that plane. I meet Jon years ago. He was kind enough to take me to breakfast and work with me on my pitch. I still frighten that poor man with my creepy story ideas. Anyway, he’s putting together a new track called CareerFest next year and would like Bob and I to come and give a workshop based on Bob’s book Write It Forward. We’re very excited about this because Bob and I are huge fans of author training. Craft is key and should always be the number one thing a writer focuses on. But as authors in today’s publishing climate, trad or indie, we are all running a business and often it is that part of being a successful author that is overwhelming and often hinders a writer from being successful. In order to succeed, we have to understand the business we are in, our choices, and then make the best decision for our career. Bob always talks about how no one ever taught him what it means to be a working author. Maybe back before the internet, an author could just write. But that isn’t the case. We have to market. We have to engage with our readers on a different level. The business is constantly changing and for the new author, or the midlist author, it can be very difficult to manage it all.

For those of you going to RWA this coming week, here are mine and Bob’s top ten checklist for attending a Conference take from: Writer’s Conference Guide: Getting the Most of Your Time and Money.

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. Ones you know will treat your feet right.
  2. Dress like a professional. You don’t have to wear a suit, but the normal writerly attire of sweats, T-shirt and bed hair is not acceptable.
  3. Don’t sit by yourself, ever.
  4. Say hello to whoever is next to you in line, at lunch or in a workshop.
  5. The best ice breaker ever: Ask authors what they are writing. Or what they are pitching to an editor or agent. Works every time.
  6. Never bring query letter, synopsis or manuscript unless it’s to red pen it while you’re in your room…except you won’t be in your room because you will be networking.
  7. Remember everyone there is a person before they are a best-selling author, an agent or editor.
  8. Take notes. Not just in a workshop, but when you are in your room after the day is done. Make a list of things you wished you had done, wished you hadn’t done, and write a summary of your overall experience. Makes for a good blog post if nothing else.
  9. Don’t ever tell an author you read their book when you didn’t.
  10. Most importantly, have fun.

TamingEvil(2)So that takes care of everything but all things Hannibal. One of the great things about writer conferences is we can talk about our books without anyone thinking we’re nuts! Okay, well not entirely true as I was talking with Allison Brennan about my current problem with the book I’m working on titled: Taming Evil. I’m moving from the romance genre to straight suspense and I was telling Allison how hard that has been and how my pacing in my story is all off and I’m frustrated. So she started asking me questions, specifically, what is the story? My one liner right now is: Total Recall meets Hannibal in the female edition living like a Stepford Wife. I explain it a little bit more and tell her about one scene where the character who doesn’t know she’s a cannibal is serving up this fabulous meal at the neighborhood barbeque and well, she’s serving up the missing neighbor. Yeah. This is why Jon is a tad freighted of me and Allison loves me anyway.

Nothing but good times!

Battle of Palo Alto, FREE eBook and the future leader of the Resistance

I think I’ll start this off backward. Bob is taking care of The Future Leader of the Resistance prepare for the coming of another Future Leader of the Resistance. I’m sure this will consists of lots of trucks and other manly things.

Now lets jump to the first part: The Battle of Palo Alto. I’m not the history buff that Bob is, but I am fascinated by history. I’ve learned a lot over the years working with Bob, probably more than I ever thought I wanted to know, and really, need a random fact, Bob is your guy.

The very first major battle in the Mexican-American War was The Battle of Palo Alto on May 8, 1846 in Brownsville, Texas. So, in honor of this battle we are giving away West Point to Mexico, the first book in the Duty, Honor, Country Trilogy for FREE. This is only available on Amazon.

Please feel free to leave an honest review on Amazon after downloading and reading the eBook. We appreciate the support. READERS RULE!

WP_Mexico_TN

West Point to Mexico (Duty, Honor, Country Book 1)

They swore oaths, both personal and professional. They were fighting for country, for a way of life and for family. Classmates carried more than rifles and sabers into battle. They had friendships, memories, children and wives. They had innocence lost, promises broken and glory found.

Duty, Honor, Country is history told both epic and personal so we can understand what happened, but more importantly feel the heart-wrenching clash of duty, honor, country and loyalty. And realize that sometimes, the people who changed history, weren’t recorded by it. In the vein of HBO’s Rome miniseries, two fictional characters, Rumble and Cord are standing at many of the major crossroads of our history.

Our story starts in 1840, in Benny Havens tavern, just outside post limits of the United States Military Academy. With William Tecumseh Sherman, Rumble, Cord, and Benny Havens’ daughter coming together in a crucible of honor and loyalty. And on post, in the West Point stables, where Ulysses S. Grant and a classmate are preparing to saddle the Hell-Beast, a horse with which Grant would eventually set an academy record, and both make fateful decisions that will change the course of their lives and history.

We follow these men forward to the eve of the Mexican War, tracing their steps at West Point and ranging to a plantation at Natchez on the Mississippi, Major Lee at Arlington, and Charleson, SC. We travel aboard the USS Somers and the US Navy mutiny that led to the founding of the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

We end with Grant and company in New Orleans, preparing to sale to Mexico and war, and Kit Carson and Fremont at Pilot Peak in Utah during his great expedition west.

Nothing But Good Times Ahead!

Traits of Successful Authors I— Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Patience And Self-Discipline

It takes a long time to write a novel. No matter how fast you are, it takes a while. In fact, while some things like NANOWRIMO has people writing at a furious pace for a month and is a good way to get the writing down, it is also negative in that quantity is not necessarily quality.

The amount of time I spend writing a novel has actually increased the more I learn about the craft. Rather than making it easier, more knowledge makes it more difficult to write, as I try to make the book the best possible product I can.

Writers are often asked what their daily schedule is. I think it’s important to have the discipline to have a daily schedule and/or goal. It’s too easy to let the writing go and take care of everything else if you don’t force yourself to face that daily goal.

It’s different for many writers but here are some from writers I know:

5 pages a day; 2,000 words a day; 10 pages a day; six hours a day.

I think an external goal that can be measured is the best to go for. It’s a tangible goal and you know when you’ve accomplished it.

Beyond that tangible writing goal, I work seven days a week, anywhere from eight to fourteen hours a day. It’s hard for me to say how many hours a day I work because I am almost always ‘working’. If I’m not sitting in front of my computer, I’m researching or watching the news for interesting facts or simply thinking about my story, playing it out in my mind, watching my characters come alive. I have many of my best plot ideas while driving or riding my bike. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, which is why I have my iPhone with recorder next to my bed ready for instant use.

My cable bill is very high, with every channel, on-demand, and DVR. There are writers who say ‘kill your television’ but I disagree with that. There’s some very good writing in that medium. I watch movies and shows the same way I read books: analytically to see what the writers did and also what were the possibilities that weren’t explored. The #1 thing a writer must do other than write is read and watch movies and shows. It is work. It will take away some of your enjoyment of things as you can get good at predicting what will happen next under Chekhov’s rule of ‘don’t have a gun in act one unless you use it by act 3’. But note that I say ‘use it’ not ‘fire it’. That’s the key to great writing. To take what is expected and do the unexpected.

Thumb_Nail_Novel_WriterWriting is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. If you write only when excited or motivated you’ll never finish. You have to write even when it’s the last thing you want to do. Just put something down. You can always edit it later or throw it out (you’ll do a lot of throwing out and it hurts but it’s the sign of a mature writer; also, it’s one reason you don’t edit yourself to death on the first draft). I eventually average 500 to 550 pages of manuscript to produce 400 good pages in a final draft. A recent manuscript was 126,000 words long and then I cut it back to 90,000 words. To sweat over that many pages and then “lose” them hurts but not as much as getting the manuscript rejected or not sell if self-published. The longer I’ve written, the more I’ve become a fan of rewriting and editing. I’m also a fan of outlining and doing a lot of work before I write the first sentence of my manuscript, including doing extensive character development.

Overall, I’ve developed an inner “writing clock” that works in terms of weeks and months that lets me know how much I have to produce and how quickly. It varies its pace depending on the project at hand and it took years of experience to develop this inner clock. I force myself to put the time and effort in, even when I don’t feel like it. However, as I discuss in Write It Forward, almost every writer tends to underestimate the time it takes to complete a manuscript.

Experiment and find something that works for you in day-to-day writing. Maybe it will only be for one hour every morning before everyone else gets up—keep doing it. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done if you stick with it. One rule that’s hard for people is to TURN OFF THE INTERNET while writing.

All the thinking, talking, going to writer’s conferences, classes, etc. are not going to do you any good if you don’t do one basic thing: WRITE.

backgroundWhen I taught martial arts, I always found that the majority of the new students quit right after the first month. They came in and wanted to become Bruce Lee rolled into Chuck Norris all within a couple of weeks. When they realized it would take years of boring, repetitive, very hard work, the majority gave up. It doesn’t take any special skill to become a black belt; just a lot of time and effort to develop the special skills. The same is true of writing. If you are willing to do the work, you will put yourself ahead of the pack. You must have a long-term perspective on it. Under Write It Forward, your strategic plan, in essence, is where do you want to be in five years as a writer?

I think a hard part of being a writer is also knowing what exactly ‘work’ is. For me it was hard to accept that kicking back and reading a novel was work and I wasn’t being a slacker. Sitting in a coffee shop and talking with someone is work. Living is work for a writer in that you can only write what you know, so therefore experience is a key part of the creative process.

Ultimately, though, as the late Bryce Courtney said, you need a large dose of bum glue. Gluing yourself to that seat and writing.

The Ability To Organize

As those pages pile up, you’ll find yourself weeks, months, maybe years away from having written that opening chapter. That’s where your organizing skills come in. We’ll cover outlining later on, but in essence, the way you organize your life, is the way you will initially organize your book. So if your life is all over the place, you might have some problems. Yes, there are those natural talents who can just ‘stream’ a book, but they are few and far between. Most of us cannot keep an entire book in our head.

You have to keep track of your characters, your locales, and the action, to make sure it all fits. I’ve used many different tools to write a novel, but one thing I’ve done with every single manuscript is use what I call a story grid. This is an Excel spreadsheet where I can put the entire book on one page, scene by scene (for a really big book it might go to two pages). This spreadsheet is not an outline, but rather something I fill in with a pen each day as I write, to help me keep track of what has been done. Every day I then update the spreadsheet and print it out. It sits to the left of my keyboard (I’m left-handed). It helps when you need to go back and look up a specific part or change something.

I also keep numerous indexed binders with all my research material handy. I spend a considerable amount of time organizing my research material so I can find what I’m looking for. Details drive a story, and the more details you have accessible in terms of research, the more options you have in your plot. Right now I have two four-inch thick binders: one for people; one for events.

Some writers use programs like Scrivener or Onenote to keep track of their research, but I’m still old-fashioned and use Word and Excel and binders.

These practical tools are part of my process as a writer.

What practical tools are part of your process?

Best Way to Sell Books? Write Better— Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Yes, we all say it, but a perusal of blogs, articles, and conference schedules show a focus on eBooks, social media, marketing, promotion, formatting, cover design and much less on learning the craft of writing. Everyone is asking “How, in this flood of content, can I sell books?” And the answer is indeed: Write Better Books.

The key to being discovered is to have readers searching for you. Gather a fan following. That doesn’t happen by having a ton of followers on Twitter or Facebook. It happens by having a ton of readers, eagerly anticipating your next title to come out. Ultimately that is going to be what separates out those who succeed as writers and the vast majority who won’t over the long haul.

In light of that, I’m introducing Craft Tuesday. I will blog about various aspects of writing and also discuss examples from media, both print and screen. I will present a classic form of the novel, but also talk about how I view story telling to be changing. I’ve really seen a change in this in the last decade, especially in terms of narrative structure, timeline, and point of view. I’ve always believed in rule breaking, but I have three rules of rule breaking:

  1. Know the rule. Breaking a rule we don’t know is just being dumb.
  2. Have a good reason for breaking the rule. When I run Write On The River workshops here, I never say “You did it wrong.” There is no wrong. What I ask is “Why did you do it that way?” Often I get a blank stare back. It means the person just did it, without a good reason. Have a good reason for breaking a rule.
  3. Take responsibility for breaking the rule. If it works, you’re a genius. If it doesn’t, you’re a mere mortal. Failure is the start point for future success.

Great writing is an art that comes out of craft. Which can be learned.

Toolkit_TNSome of the material presented comes out of The Novels Writers Toolkit. I started writing that over 20 years ago and have been updating it ever since. In this blog, I will be updating the excerpts for the next edition of the Toolkit.

Something I’ve picked up in the last several years is that a writer must study, refine and perfect their own process. This is the creative and practical way in which we write. It’s rooted in our psychology. I often tell writers that since we sit in a dark room by ourselves and write, we need therapy. It’s a given. But it’s true. We must understand our own thought process; and how we funnel that into our creative process.

I know a #1 bestselling writer who has the imagination of a rock. That’s not to say she’s dumb. She’s actually very, very smart. Just not imaginative. So part of her process is to compensate for that lack. She spends a lot of time studying her setting, but beyond her setting, she spends a lot of her time interviewing people and listening to their stories. And her story comes out of their stories. I don’t judge the right or wrong of that; it’s her process. It’s worked well enough to propel her to #1 on the NY Times list.

I tell people I can plot anything. What I mean is I can take a bunch of pieces and pull them together into a coherent plot. So I don’t overly worry about knowing exactly what will happen down the line. The longer I’ve written, the more I trust my subconscious. It means putting things in that manuscript that I really don’t know why they’re there. But I leave them. I’ve learned in my process to not edit those things out. Because later, down the line, it’s probably a piece I will need to build my story and make it tighter. So that’s a part of process I’ve taken something out of my subconscious and work with consciously. The more our process becomes conscious, the better we will work.

Process also includes point of view, which we will discuss. Another key to process is knowing what part of writing is our weakness, and then working to make it much stronger; I believe our book is only as good as the weakest part.

So let’s start there. What is your process as a writer? The following questions will help define it:

  1. When I start a story, what is the moment of conception? I call this the original or kernel idea. Is it a person? A place? A theme? A story?
  2. Do I understand my theme/intent for what I’m writing?
  3. Why am I writing about this theme/intent? Why is it important to me?
  4. Why is it important for me to write a story others will read?
  5. What point of view do I write in? Is it the POV that supports my best writing? What POV scares me to write in? Might that be the best for me?
  6. How do I research a story? What does that say about my imagination and my process?
  7. What’s the weakest part of my writing? How can I make it better? Compensate for it?
  8. What’s the strongest part of my writing? What is it compensating for and hiding from me? Remember, our greatest strengths are built around our greatest weaknesses.
  9. How much outlining do I do? Do I outline plot? Character? Both? Neither?
  10. How much rewriting do I do? What is the focus of my rewriting?

backgroundDon’t worry if you can’t answer all of these. I’ll be blogging about all of it as the Tuesday’s go by. And if you’re in a rush, buy the Toolkit and Write It Forward, and they’ll give you insights into the answers to these questions. Feel free to answer some in the comments and I’ll do my best to also comment.

The Write on the River workshop coming up this weekend was sold out a while ago.  The next one is 27-28 June; or if you can gather three friends we can schedule a special weekend.  Check out Write on the River.

I’m looking forward to this journey with you over the next months! Nothing but good times ahead.

 

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