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Friday, September 30, 2016

Roadblock Perspective

Catherine Dilts is our guest blogger today. She is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series. Her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, Catherine's stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains, fishing, and running. Her third novel, Stone Cold Blooded, is scheduled for release October 10.


Roadblock Perspective

You’re on the way to work. Traffic stops. You’re angry that you’ll be late. If only you’d left a few minutes earlier. You vow to stop being so darn last minute about things. There are huge consequences at stake. As you inch along, you imagine your boss frowning. What’s the hold up? Get moving! Then you see the reason for the traffic jam. A fender bender? No. A vehicle crushed like a soda can. An ambulance speeds away. Yikes. Being late doesn’t seem so important now.

The publishing business presents roadblocks that can imitate the emotional rollercoaster of being held up in traffic. Here’s the process many of us have been through recently.
You finally get the darn thing written. You shop it around for months, delighted when you get a “send it” from an editor or agent. By the time you have a contract in your anxious little hands, it has been years from idea to sale. Another round of agonizing delay begins as your manuscript travels through the publishing house with the blazing swiftness of an undigested coconut in the intestines of a brontosaurus. Hint – that dinosaur has miles of innards.

You realize why your Indie published friends are smug about how fast their process goes. But you wanted this traditional route, and by golly, you’re sticking with it. You let everyone know your projected release date. Maybe have a celebration or two. Before your novel is released, you receive a somber email that the publishing house is closing up shop. You wonder if your book had anything to do with their demise - as if this situation hadn’t been fermenting for years. Businesses don’t extinct overnight.
Roadblock.
I’ve heard this tale from way too many authors. You’ve read the stories on the blogs and loops. Some are multi-published, award-winning folks. It happens to the best of us.
I’ve given enough doom and gloom to choke that constipated brontosaurus. It’s time to find the rainbow in the storm.

1.     First, take a breath. Give yourself a brief period of mourning. What it is you really want out of this writing business? Fame and fortune? Do you write to maintain your sanity in a crazy world? To make a point or make a difference? What is your definition of success?

2.     If this roadblock hasn’t utterly crushed your artistic soul, the most important thing you can do is start your next project. Keep writing!

3.     You have a finished product. It was accepted for publication. That puts you at the head of the pack. Maybe one more rewrite will propel your work to a higher level.
4.     Consider independent publishing. Avoid vanity publishers like the plague, but you might try one of the new crop of publishing services that guide you through the Indie process. Or save your money and go it alone.

5.     Do your homework. Don’t jump into a bad deal with a mediocre outfit because you’re heartbroken and desperate. That never works in the romance department, and it doesn’t work in publishing, either. You have resources to use in vetting agents, publishers, and Indie businesses. Ask for references, ask around, check the usual Preditors and Editors type sites.

Going back to my original roadblock scenario, as you drive past the tragic scene, a thought occurs. If you had been five minutes earlier, you would have been in that wreck. In my twisted pessimistic-yet-optimistic worldview, I often see failure turn into a blessing.

The fact is, you broke through a hundred roadblocks to make that sale that eventually fell through. If you did it once, you can do it again. There is a home for your story. Maybe a better one.

I could write an entire blog on Indie versus Trad, but due mostly to my work schedule, I have taken the traditional route. I reluctantly headed down the independent trail when the third novel in my Rock Shop Mystery series was orphaned by the demise of the Five Star mystery line. A month away from my Indie publishing date, an unexpected opportunity arose to join a brand new small publishing company.

Maybe this roadblock will blossom into the best thing that could have happened to my writing career. Maybe I will exit stage right as a semi-digested coconut. I’m just thrilled traffic is moving again.

What’s your roadblock? What are you doing to get moving again?

Learn more about Catherine at http://www.catherinedilts.com/ Find her on Amazon at http://amzn.to/2d2exez

Comments welcome!



Friday, September 23, 2016

Writer’s Block or Creative Procrastination?

For me, it is not always “writer’s block” that stops my production. Often, it’s just a case of poor concentration because my mind refuses to focus. The brain is half-busy with something else, or the body seeks a way to procrastinate…

A true “block” is when I’ve been writing intensely and am exhausted or just not satisfied with my work. Usually the remedy is a brisk walk outside or doing something that requires a different part of my brain for an hour or two (this is often the only way my house gets cleaned). Being outside and moving around improves my mood and jump-starts new ideas. Solutions percolate below the surface, so I am not always aware that my mind is still working on the writing problem until I return to my computer.

Gardening, or observing the results of gardening, can be restorative. This year, thanks to seeds provided by a nurse who came to my house to give me an insurance physical, I planted Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia). Just as she promised, the Monarch butterflies came, along with many other kinds of butterflies, hummingbirds, finches, and bumblebees. 


Another favorite diversion (procrastination?) is testing my memory on what I planted last year. Where is it? Has it spread, or has it died? Will I recognize it if I see it? (Answer: write it down, draw a diagram, and take pictures. Duh! Better luck next year!).

Poor concentration may mean I really don’t want to write, I want to be creative in another realm: painting. Although sometimes I’ve set myself the exercise of creating an image that could be a future book cover, usually what I want is to play with color and shape. Here is a mock cover I did for The House of the Sphinx, and the final cover chosen by the publisher.

                         


I discovered my love for painting when my small children were enrolled in a Saturday morning art class. When I heard that just down the hall, the art school was offering painting for adults (three hours of no demands on me by family or telephone), I jumped at it. Now, painting is a crucial part of my life, and the painting group I found provides a wonderful new set of friends.


Painting refreshes the writing part of my brain so I can go back to the problem that stalled me and discover a solution. The same is true when a painting is not working; I go back to writing for a while, rest my eyes, and return with new ideas. The two activities feed each other. 

What do you do when your brain refuses to work?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Write about something you love!

Writing is hard work. It's time-consuming, exciting, overwhelming, fun and publishing is a whole different animal, but you still will experience the same feelings.

The key is writing about something you love. Why would you write about something you hate, anyway? I'll tell you a little story. I was writing feature articles for a regional magazine and they asked me to do a health series, focusing on things like breast augmentation, Botox, varicose vein removal, etc. I'm not crazy about needles so the whole Botox article gave me pause. It was difficult to write objectively about something I don't feel comfortable with.

When I handed in my first draft my editor tossed it back and said, I don't care how you feel - tell the readers what they need to know. Wow. Writers lesson supreme. I've never forgotten that advice and I've not had any articles thrown back at me since.

I find that when I write about things I love it is a joy to express them. That's not to say that mystery writers enjoy death - what I think they enjoy is creating and solving the puzzle.

Writing about my hometown is special to me. It is where my memories were created and stored. It is where I discovered art, love, music and awesome friends. I love the big Kansas skies and spring storms, the golden wheat and the friendly people.

Animals are always a part of my stories. They've always been a part of my family and it's great fun to share the quirky, funny, loving things that our pets do. Readers who have pets relate and those that don't just might consider it.

So enjoy your writing, fellow authors. And if possible, write about what you love. The Readers will be able to tell.

********
Bonnie (BD) Tharp is an award-winning author of women's fiction, with novels FEISTY FAMILY VALUES and PATCHWORK FAMILY.  Also, the author of Kindle ebook short stories: THE CROSSROADS & EARL DIVINE.

 My Young/New Adult manuscript is ready for an agent or publisher, whichever comes first. Wish me luck!


Friday, September 9, 2016

How and When to Use Facts in Fiction by Jacqueline Seewald

Whether you are writing contemporary novels, historical novels, or short stories, at some point you will realize that you have to do some research to get correct information. If you don’t, intelligent readers will be likely to disrespect your work.

You’ll notice that a lot of writers set their novels in places they either live in or have lived in. This may seem provincial, but in fact, it makes for good writing. If we know a place well, we can create a realistic setting, an intriguing background for our novels. Setting is one of the important components of any piece of fiction—plays, short stories or novels. For example, my latest novel, a contemporary mystery entitled THE INHERITANCE, begins in Manhattan, a city I know very well.

 My mystery series, featuring amateur sleuth Kim Reynolds, librarian, is set in New Jersey. These novels: THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL, THE TRUTH SLEUTH and THE BAD WIFE are all set in Central New Jersey
where I lived for forty years.


However, every work of fiction requires a certain amount of research, some more than others. I believe the best fiction combines elements of what we actually know with research into what we need to find out. I’m no fan of info dumping in fiction, but writers need to read and discover a lot more information than they will actually use in their writing. It’s a delicate balance.

I was reminded of this when I received a recent rejection for a science fiction short story I had carefully researched. The editor said that while liking the writing and the premise I had included too much information that was unnecessary to the story. I read the story over with that in mind and realized the editor was correct. Although I was fascinated by all I had discovered about dark matter in the universe, it simply wasn’t necessary to the story and hurt the focus. So I rewrote and then submitted to another publication.

On a more positive note, a literary short story I wrote inspired by and based on fact was just published in
NEW ZENITH MAGAZINE both in print and ebook editions:

http://newzenithmagazine.com/for-our-readers/

What is your opinion? Do you prefer reading and/or writing contemporary fiction, historic fiction, or possibly speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction or horror) which creates imaginary worlds? What best suits your tastes?




Friday, September 2, 2016

Social Change and Crime Fiction, by Susan Oleksiw

Last month, while visiting friends in Washington State, we stopped at a huge tulip nursery. We were out of season, and the farm was almost empty except for a few men tending one of the gardens near the gift shop. We chatted with the woman behind the counter, talking about farm issues in the state, the increasing number of turbines and solar panels on farmland, and the issues surrounding migrant workers. She asked about temporary workers in New England, and that put me in mind of our many small farms.

Crime fiction has many virtues but one of its least discussed is the way it records the everyday world and social change. The isolated socially stratified villages of Miss Marple give way to housing developments sprouting in former pastures, with a wider variety of residents.

This attention to the contemporary world in crime fiction is one of its strengths. It would be hard to set a mystery in any part of New England today that didn't include some acknowledgment of the diversity of its people. When I imagine the typical scenario in an urban setting that could lead to the discovery of a murder, I come up with at least two or three ethnic groups. A businessman works late to cover up his embezzlement, but his midnight departure is noted by the Brazilian cleaning crew. He takes a taxi driven by an East African because he missed the last subway. The driver detours around road construction, where the workers are white, Latino and African-American. He passes drivers heading into the Flower Auction, where women of all heritages make their purchases for their flower shops and pick up a few foreign words as they negotiate.

In the Anita Ray stories, I get to bring together a diverse population in the foreigners visiting Hotel Delite as well as in the many different caste groups of Indians who populate a village or neighborhood. One character's distinctive viewpoint might be tied tightly to his social standing in a small village, and another's might be influenced almost entirely by her exposure to life overseas as a student. Both perspectives give the writer tools for developing the mystery and readers something to ponder.

Some writers do more with this aspect of crime fiction than others. In the Supt. Peter Diamond series, Peter Lovesey paints detailed picture of a theatrical production that doesn't miss a detail, in Stagestruck. Lots of novels are set in the theater, but Lovesey explores every corner, teaching the reader things about the theater we could never learn otherwise.

In "Crimson Shadow," a short story in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, Walter Mosley takes the reader step by step through the process of preparing a meal from a rooster a teen has stolen and killed. This is the background for a dialogue between the teen and the rooster's owner. There are many levels to this story, and much to admire, but I love it for the way the author uses the teaching of a skill to reach a young person, and to remind everyone of what we used to know how to do and used to do regularly. Each of these stories is richer for the accuracy of its depiction of the people as well as the story line.


In the Anita Ray series, Anita moves through layers of society, her behavior acknowledging the change in social position. It would be impossible to tell a story set in India without a diverse population. In The Wrath of Shiva, Anita must remember to conduct herself in a manner the senior female member of the family will find acceptable, interact with the family servants, and maneuver around the village shop owners. But in the most recent book, WhenKrishna Calls, Anita must assert herself against a village moneylender and uses her caste status to do so.




Friday, August 26, 2016

TRUTH REALLY IS STRANGER THAN FICTION by Sarah Wisseman

Researchers who spend their time burying pigs in bogs and then measuring how far they travel in an aqueous environment? Doctors who make cadavers into mummies? Art historians who lose themselves in esoteric details painted on red shrouds from the Roman Period in Egypt?

Welcome to the bizarre world of mummy science, a discipline that claimed me in 1989 when I was given my one and only opportunity to work on an Egyptian mummy at our local Spurlock Museum. Mission: to find out everything we could about a 2,000 year old dead body without unwrapping it for a museum exhibit nine months later. My job: to recruit art historians, archaeologists, radiologists, physicians, bug experts, and anyone else I could think of who could help us—preferably by donating analyses and lab time in exchange for publicity—to tell the mummy’s story.

 Egyptian mummy, ca. 100 AD
                    (photo by Bill Wiegand UI News Bureau)

So many memories. Going to my husband’s place of work (a local hospital) with the mummy for a CT scan, carefully scheduled for 5 pm because, “Sarah, we must give preference to live people on this expensive equipment.” Listening to the doctor’s argue about the sex of the mummy: “I see a penis, it’s a boy.” “No that’s the kid’s thumb.” “Okay, you have a 50% chance of being right.” Seeing the most recent CT scan converted to a 3-D image of jaw and teeth, with conclusive proof that the mummy is a child who died at the age of about 8 years old...
 Mummy going into CT scanner   
    
Adult teeth coming in behind baby teeth

My husband named the mummy “Lazarus” because he/she kept coming back into our lives, first as the subject of many dinnertime conversations, then visits to my children’s schools (Sarah as “the Mummy Mommy”), next as the subject of my first mystery novel Bound for Eternity, and finally as the excuse to attend two international conferences: one at the gorgeous Getty Museum villa museum in Malibu, California, the second a few year later at a World Congress on Mummy Studies at a Catholic campus in San Diego.



At the first conference on Red Shroud Mummies (the group of about ten Roman-period mummies all presumably wrapped in the same embalming studio using expensive and exotic ingredients), the focus was all Egyptian archaeology, art history, and medicine. We discussed the Getty’s study of the red pigment, a type of lead oxide found only at a Roman silver mine in Rio Tinto, Spain, and the chemistry of embalming fluids. An art historian from Greece gave each speaker a kit of encaustic painting materials (beeswax and ground pigments) used to make mummy portraits (I still need to unpack that kit and use it). A chemist from Bristol, England, discussed the chemistry of embalming fluids—amazing how much those Egyptians knew about preserving the human body!

But it was the San Diego conference that really blew me away. Not only were the papers jaw-droppingly fascinating (for example, the “piggies in peat” study mentioned earlier, in which pig bodies were substituted for humans to study preservation in a bog environment), but the reception was unforgettable. At the San Diego Museum of Man, the human cadaver preserved with ancient Egyptian methods and materials by Bob Brier and Ron Wade was front and center: its display case was right in the middle of the reception area. Mummy researchers from around the world gathered, with their wine glasses, to mingle and gaze at the wrapped dead body.


                                

My most recent short story, Death on Display, is a (fictional) tribute to that last experience: An archaeologist and physician recreate an Egyptian mummy using a modern cadaver and ancient embalming methods. Then they put the finished mummy on display at an international conference reception...what could possibly go wrong? 

Answer: everything…


For more on mummies, visit themummyblogspot.com.




Friday, August 19, 2016

Contests Can Change the Game

When I first began writing for publication I submitted to several contests, my goal being one submission per month. Contests often offer a critique or judges notes, which I found so valuable starting out. If more than one judge said the same thing about my story then I took a hard look at changing it.

After time and many submissions, I began to win some of those contests I submitted to. The contests were local, regional, national and international, too. Where did I find them? On-line searches, in magazines, on writer websites, and through the media. Below are just a few:

shawguides.com
Funds for Writers
Writer's Digest
Poet's & Writers
The Writer
Gotham Writers
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

The Huffington Post published an article a few months ago about several writing contests that are worth looking into.

Keep in mind that state and local writer's groups often hold contests annually, usually announcing winners at their conferences. Genre groups like Romance Writers of America, Fan Story, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, Science Fiction Writers of America,  etc. generally hold annual contests as well. Our local newspaper used to run a writing contest at Christmas, which was loads of fun.

Start looking and you'll be amazed where you'll find them. Some contests do charge a fee, but there are lots of free ones out there, too. Decide what is in your budget and go for it. Enjoy the journey, and write on.

********
Bonnie (BD) Tharp is an award-winning author of women's fiction for FEISTY FAMILY VALUES and PATCHWORK FAMILY.  Also, the author of Kindle ebook short stories: THE CROSSROADS & EARL DIVINE.

 My Young Adult manuscript is ready for an agent or publisher, whichever comes first. Wish me luck!