Friday, September 19, 2014

Marketing Time: Using a 12-Point List

Good news: The end is nigh! Finally, finally my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain, is just a few pages away from being finished. It's a great feeling, tinged, I must add, with a little sadness. No more exciting adventures for my characters. No more characters! No more figuring out how to get them from A to B. And rather than designing their homes and wardrobes, it's time to move on to marketing. Ugh.

Marketing has never been my favorite part of writing. Query letters, synopses, pitching--they've all been pretty scary to me. I know how small the window is for attracting the attention of an editor or agent, and I know how easily they can delete or ignore whatever they receive.

So that's why I want to turn everything upside down. I want to enjoy marketing, and I want to create marketing materials that will be read. My two main goals are:
  1. That I feel relaxed about writing my query and synopses (in all their wonderful forms, e.g., 1-page, 2-page, 3-page--you know how it goes), and,
  2. That whatever I write be easy to read. After all, who has the time to pore over pages and pages of convoluted story telling when all anyone wants to know is:  what is the story about?
To that end I've come up with a new approach: Before I write a single letter or outline, I'm going to brainstorm three types of 12-point lists:
  1. An ABOUT MY STORY list. This list will include whatever is relevant to sales, e.g., genre, word count, why I wrote the story, who are my potential readers.
  2. A 12-point EVENTS THAT HAPPEN IN THE STORY list, in other words, the top 12 plot points and why they matter.
  3. A 12-point CHARACTER ATTRIBUTE LIST for each of my major players.
Once I have my lists completed, I can then decide what is truly important in each, and what I can put into a single document to be edited and narrowed down even further until I hit pay dirt. 

I’ve always liked listing things in groups of twelve, (something I wrote about in my Take Twelve blog post) finding it a good way to focus and brainstorm at the same time. Aiming for twelve points on any subject seems to help me go beyond the obvious without going overboard and including too much information. My hope is that using the technique for my marketing will turn what has previously been a dreaded task into a good experience I'll look forward to. Wish me luck!

Tip of the Day: What are the top 12 things you can say about your current WIP?  Listing the most important points could be a great way to not only sell your book, but to get it organized before you write it, too!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Influenced By . . .

Who do you consider your literary influences? It's something I've been thinking about lately as I get ready to market my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain. Although I still have about 60 pages left to edit, I'm giving serious thought to my query letters, synopses, and anything else I can put together that can describe both my book and who I am as a writer.

Last night I made a list of all the authors I believe have had the most influence on my own work. In no particular order, they are:
  • Victoria Holt
  • Mary Stewart
  • Daphne Du Maurier
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Ursula Undset
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Jean Rhys
  • Katherine Neville
  • Doris Lessing
  • Willa Cather
  • Angela Carter
  • Velda Johnston
  • Shirley Hazzard
  • Luke Jennings
  • Arturo Perez-Reverte 
  • Yukio Mishima
  • Haruki Marukami
  • Ray Bradbury
After making my list, I wanted to know what it was these particular authors had in common and/or why they appealed to me so much. I narrowed it down to these categories:
  • Language. Rich, lush, yet also straightforward in meaning. Strong sentences that when read alone could almost be mistaken for poetry.
  • Gothic suspense. Characters and plot lines filled with a sense of foreboding and the darker side of human nature.
  • Details. Dress fabrics, tea ceremony rituals, the dust on Mars--I love experiencing every little nuance transporting me into a world I can see, hear, taste, smell, and until the oven timer rings and I have to choose between burning dinner or finishing "just one more page."
  • A brooding sense of melancholy. Although I enjoy a good conclusion to a story, I've never insisted any book I read end with "happily ever after." I'm just as comfortable with  open endings, characters who end up wiser but not necessarily happier, and anything that leaves me on a philosophical note regarding human nature.
  • International and historical settings and culture. One of my favorite things about reading is the chance to travel through both space and time without leaving home. From medieval Sweden to modern-day Japan, I've gone there just on the strength of my library card.
  • Genre description: literary fiction. I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres, but I always seem to come back to what I call "literary page-turners," books that don't necessarily follow strict (or any) genre guidelines, break a lot of the "writing rules," and yet manage to hook me in so I never want to stop reading. All of the authors I've listed above fit the bill perfectly.
I'm sure there are many more connections I could make between my authors-of-influence, but for now that seems to be a good start to understanding why I write the way I do. And speaking of writing, it's time to get back to work--hoping to turn those 60 pages into a nice round zero before the end of the month!

Tip of the Day: Making a list of "where you came from" is a great exercise for developing your personal brand and marketing materials. For extra credit, why not share some or all of your list under "Post a Comment"? Inquiring minds would love to know! Happy memories, everyone--looking forward to reading your findings.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Help! I Hate My Art Journal!

Okay, I don't hate-hate my art journal, but I'm definitely not happy with it. This is only the second time I've run into this problem, but that still doesn't make it any easier. The first time around I ended up throwing the (unfinished) journal away, in retrospect a bad decision, because now that it's gone, I've realized there were a lot of  pages I totally loved and wish I still had. 

The problem with both journals seems to be:

1. Size. Too small. I like to use a lot of images, words, colors, and collage papers, and a journal measuring only 5" x 6" just doesn’t give me the room I need. I must have bought these journals thinking they were "cute," but cute quickly became tight and cramped.

2. Paper. The journal I tossed had a delicate parchment-like feel that didn’t work well with ink, watercolor, or any kind of water-based medium. When I did use pencil, it felt scratchy and uncomfortable. At the other end of the spectrum, my current journal's pages have a slick, shiny surface that initially felt nice, but now seem like trying to draw on magazine pages. To make matters worse, I gessoed the majority of the pages thinking that would improve them. Not. The result was disastrous—the thicker pages have made the journal so chunky it’s bursting out of the binding, making the book even more unattractive to me. Yuk. So what's an art journaler to do? I don’t want to throw out the pages I do like, but I don't want to continue in this frustrating vein.   

Consequently, I've been brainstorming some ideas I could try to fix the problem, and you know what?  I think they’re going to work! I’m just sorry I didn’t think of them earlier in order to save that first, and now lost, journal. Maybe you can use these too!
  • Keep going. Seriously. Think of the journal as "practice." Sigh.
  • Collage over the bad pages with new images.
  • Take the whole thing apart and re-use the good pages for new material. If you’ve only completed a portion of the journal, cut or carefully remove your favorite pages from the binding. Do the same with any blank pages and use those for scratch paper or practice sheets. Especially gessoed or pre-tinted pages.   
  • Try improving both good and bad pages with ideas from a how-to book such as Collage Lab. 
  • Cut "bad" pages into small squares and divide them into color groupings for future mosaic-style collaging.
  •  Put the journal away and then just . . . walk away.  Forget about it for a while and start something new. 
  •  Change topics—if you’ve been using a particular theme, drop it and start something new, perhaps only using the journal for writing rather than art, or for you daily morning pages.
  • Use the journal for whining.  Call it "the bad, ugly, whiney journal" and put inside everything that upsets you. Burn it when you’re finished.
  •  Analyze why you don’t like this journal—is it the shape, size, color and/or theme choices? Figure out what's wrong and try not to repeat.
  •  Give it away. Ask someone else if they'd like to complete the journal. Or pass it on to friends as a Round Robin project.
  •  Go for messy and dangerous. Try out techniques you would be too afraid to put into your “good” journal.
  •  Keep any pages you tore out and use them to learn book binding. Make small finished journals of only a few pages each. Write poetry. Use them for greeting cards or other types of gifts.
Tip of the Day: The next time you are unhappy with a journal or sketchbook, keep in mind that everything you do is really just practice.  Use a bad experience to propel you into what you really want to do. Write out your findings and goals and then start afresh with a brand new journal. That's what I'm going to do!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Patterns Part II, Writing by Design

Last night while washing dishes in my new kitchen, I was somewhat disappointed to realize that no matter where I go, I still have to wash the dishes. I bet I could land on a desert island and rather than find banana leaves for plates, there would be a set of Royal Doulton just waiting for me to wash. And it's not for lack of a dishwasher. I have a doozey of a new dishwasher. But with only two of us, using the dishwasher for anything other than a feast day seems a tad wasteful. So on go the purple rubber gloves and hello, Groundhog Day. 

Which got me thinking about patterns again. A few weeks ago I posted about how my art practice had led me to work with pattern as a restful way to stay centered and productive at the same time. Tiled borders, fabric prints, wallpaper motifs; I was exploring them all. I'm still enjoying adding pattern to my pictures of cats, dogs, and Barcelona, but after last night I've been thinking about patterns in written work, too.

Using patterns in novels, poetry, or even nonfiction can be an excellent way to take any piece of work to another, and deeper, level. For instance, what about:
  • The patterns of a serial killer or burglar. Rather than random acts of evil, a distinct and unusual pattern can keep the story focused.
  • A main character’s daily routine. (I hope it's more interesting that doing the dishes every night. On the other hand, that just might be the motivating incident that leads him or her to a life of crime.)
  • How characters approach relationships or conflict: fight or flight? Or whipping out the Sunday crossword puzzle to seek out-of-the-box solutions?
  • The story theme--how many related ways can you symbolize or refer to it without shoving it in your reader's face?
  • How do you arrange scene, sequel, conflict, scene? Is there a pleasing rhythm that will keep readers engaged, or do you need something more jarring and experimental to wake them up? What about chapter arrangement?
  • Patterns of misfortune—how does the universe work against (or for) your characters? What do they do (or don't do) to warrant this fate?
  • Secret codes--whether it's a formal cipher, or one of hidden etiquette and body language, codes can be an exciting way to use pattern.
  • Esoteric or sacred geometry: lee lines, metaphysical clues in Old Master paintings. architectural secrets, megaliths and circular standing stones--they're all fun to explore.
  • How about inventing a character who is intrigued or controlled by patterns? It could simply be as a hobby, part of their profession, or perhaps something difficult for them to manage e.g., an obsessive disorder of some kind.
  • How do your characters make patterns of their living space, social lives, and/or working hours? Is there a routine your antagonist observes that can harm your MC?
  • Don't forget about music and ear worms; melodies can be either inspiring, annoyingly repetitive, or a signal that something pivotal to your plot is about to happen. 
Right now the most important pattern I'm working on besides how to get out of doing the dishes is how to most effectively arrange the chapters in my WIP. I'm telling the story through different points of view and I want to avoid an A, B, C, D kind of pattern, yet I still want the story to make sense. Challenges, challenges.
Tip of the Day: We’re all creatures of habit to some degree. Some of us like to write in the morning, others in the middle of the night. Does your current creative pattern work for you--or do you want to make a change? Do you have a plan? Let me know!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Scattered? Me, Too!

Although it's been a good month since I moved into my new house, there is still a ton of work to do before we can say it's actually finished, or even completely livable. The main difficulty is finding both the time and the energy after work each day to accomplish everything my imagination envisions. The same holds true for my creative life at the moment. As much as I want to finish my WIPs, start a new art journal, and sew a winter wardrobe, it's not going to happen as quickly or completely as I would like. And that makes me feel . . . unhappy.

Last night I had trouble sleeping while I worried about what seemed like five hundred loose ends--disconnected projects and ideas that only spun into more projects and ideas. We had an unexpected (and what I would normally consider very welcome) New Mexico thunderstorm during the middle of the night, increasing my feelings of nervousness, incompetence, and outright failure. Consequently I woke up with a sore back and neck and the need for a serious re-think, resulting in some frantic morning pages and a list I titled, "What I Want to Do." It included:

  • Finish my new screenplay.
  • Go back to my screenwriting group.
  • Finish the edits on my nonfiction WIP, A Pet Owners Book of Days.
  • Draw the illustrations for A Pet Owner's Book of Days.
  • Finish the edits on my novel WIP, The Abyssal Plain.
  • Get back to working with clay.
  • Buy jewelry tools and make jewelry.
  • Start a really neat poetry project.
  • Read my friends’ manuscripts when they ask for critiquing.
  • Stay focused on my day job.
  • Finish my new house, as in FINISHED.
  • Keep up with the housework in my new house (amazing how fast dust collects).
  • Read for fun. 
  • Sleep.
  • Blog.
  • Stay current with social media.
  • Promote my books.
  • Buy a sewing machine and start some sewing projects.
  • Sketch more often.
  • Sign up for The Sketchbook Project.

Impossible? You bet.

Long ago, when I sold my first book, my editor said, “You are very ambitious.” I was genuinely surprised. I thought "ambitious" meant you were crazy for leather briefcases and suits with shoulder pads. I had no idea it simply meant I had big creative dreams and wanted to write stories that delved into many areas, topics, and themes.

Either way, I still don’t know how to not be ambitious; how to stop wanting to dive into color and words, how to stop writing multiple stories and chasing after all projects labelled "NEW." So here’s a little scheme I’m going to try. I'm calling it:  Concentration. 

The Concentration Plan

  • For my daily writing, edit and concentrate only on The Abyssal Plain.
  • For my daily art practice: concentrate only on pictures of dogs, cats, and Barcelona.
  • Social media is a reward only after I’ve accomplished a timed amount of work every hour or so.
  • Freewriting time is only for blog posts.
  • Reading is only at bedtime.
  • "Finishing the house" as well as housework is only on the weekends.

To get there I'll have to say no a lot, e.g.:

  • No sewing.
  • No jewelry.
  • No clay.
  • No poetry.
  • No screenplay.
  • No critiquing.

Just looking at these lists makes me feel a lot better; I might even get to sleep tonight! The beauty is that I now feel I have some goals back on track. For instance, finishing The Abyssal Plain edits means I can then move on to marketing the manuscript. Drawing cats and dogs will give me a break from the edits and help me create the illustrations for Pet Owners. And getting the house finished over the weekends means we won't get burn-out. So let it rain, let it pour--I've got it covered.

Tip of the Day: I’ve used calendars, spreadsheets, journal notes, all kinds of things to help keep me get focused. However, the best thing I’ve found to date is a stack of index cards. If my day’s tasks don’t fit on a single card, they don’t get listed at all. 

In the meantime, how do you focus best? I'd love to hear some ideas!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Pearl of a Story

Last week I promised I would share the result of my “take time off from moving” project, and here it is: Pearls! 

First some back story: a couple of months ago while I was searching for interesting blogs to read I came across MiShel Designs, a lovely blog focused on pearls and pearl jewelry. I was intrigued because a) I don’t really know very much about pearls; and b) for the last few years I’ve had a serious desire to make jewelry. I even blogged about it with "Lessons from a Bead Class" after a fantastic workshop I took and that I thought would propel me into the world of gemstones and earrings galore. Except I never seemed to get there. Novel writing, pottery, watercolors, and learning to draw puppies ate away at my "free time." The closest I got to any jewelry-making were the dozens and dozens of little ceramic beads I made last year and have yet to turn into anything useful. (They look very pretty in their plastic case, but I don’t think that’s quite what they're for.) But still I dreamed. . . .

So when I found Shel at MiShel Designs and discovered she was having a Pearl Blog Hop—I signed up, thinking, oh, wow—here’s my big chance to MAKE JEWELRY! I also totally forgot that the hop reveal would be on the day I would be moving and would have no Internet connection, let alone time to make anything. 

I was so excited to sign up and design some pearl jewelry that I also forgot I had no jewelry making tools (other than a very scary and sharp awl), no pearls, no studio space to make jewelry, and absolutely no way to have  these things magically materialize. 

I also felt that despite these shortcomings, if I didn’t participate, even on a very humble level, I would be letting Shel and myself down. Shel's post about the hop did say you could make non-jewelry items, too, just as long as you used pearls. So I put the packing on hold for a few hours and went to the craft store. The first things I found were some sheets of little stick-on faux pearls. Yay! It seemed like a great start—to what, I had no idea, but from there I bought a package of ribbon scraps, followed by some pre-cut, hole-punched brown cardstock tags that looked promising. I took my purchases home, got out my glue stick and collage papers and voila, I made . . . well, whatever these are supposed to be.

To begin with I just had fun making different designs and compositions on the cards. It was super-relaxing to play and not worry about the end result. When I was finished I put the decorated cards in a row and wondered what I could do with them. 

 Brainstorming included:

  • Bookmarks.
  • Writing my name and contact info on the back and then using them for business cards.
  • Turning them into price tags for when I do make some real jewelry and am ready to sell it.
  • Same for my other artistic endeavors: pottery, wall art, etc.
  • Gift tags for birthday or other presents.
  • Mini-collages for an art journal.
  • Add-ons to larger collage pieces.

Whatever they are, I want to keep making more. For this particular project I stayed with an ocean/beach theme that fit with the pearls, but there are many different directions I could go using a variety of stick-on faux gems with matching papers.

So even though I missed the hop (wah) I certainly was inspired by MiShel Designs. Thank you, Shel—looking forward to your next post. Everybody hop on over there ASAP! 

Tip of the Day: Life doesn’t always go as planned, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on the essence of your original intention. For me, I truly wanted to participate in my first blog hop, and I was disappointed not to get there. On the other hand, by playing along as best I could, I got some new ideas for future projects while taking a much-needed break. A real pearl in the oyster, if you ask me!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Moving Day--We Made It!

We've moved--at last! It's been a whole three weeks since we unloaded one truck, two vans, and more than a dozen car trunks-worth of boxes, boxes, and more boxes. I have never been more tired in my entire life, except for maybe when I wrote my first book and it was edited about nineteen times before publication.

Although the new house is still in the last stages of remodeling-construction mode (next job: sanding, varnishing, and hanging doors throughout) we've managed to make ourselves reasonably comfortable: books on the shelves, sheets and towels in the linen closet (sans door), pots and pans in all the right places. And here I am back at my computer, blogging again. It feels good; I missed everyone and I'm looking forward to picking up from where we left off.

I've moved a lot in my life, and I bet some you have, too. And whether you've moved to another country, or just up the road as in my own case, it's still a big deal, one you can't help but question every step of the way, LOL. What's really been amazing to me is how many people I know who are currently planning and preparing for moves of their own. So far I know of one writer moving house here in Albuquerque, another going to Germany, one more on her way to South Korea, and yet another buying curtains for a new home in Los Angeles. Creativity must make us a restless group! Either that, or we somehow secretly enjoy the challenge  of new floor plans, lives, and career paths. If that describes you to some level, here are my top 12 tips for a reasonably smooth transition:
  1. Pack early. I started putting everything in boxes about 2 months ahead of time.
  2. Plan your writing room in advance--what will you need to make it ready from the get-go? Buy supplies.
  3. Make your writing room "moving headquarters." It made sense to use my room as a home office during the move so I could pay bills and keep up with necessary correspondence in relative calm.
  4. Leave spare copies of manuscripts, discs, notes, etc. in a second and secure place. I left copies of my current WIP and all related documents at my day-job office in case anything got mixed-up or left behind.
  5. Spend a dedicated morning or afternoon to stop packing and instead change all your contact info as needed. Order new business cards, revise your website, let agents and editors know how to get in touch quickly and easily.
  6. Go through your filing cabinet and writing "clutter." Toss whatever you can: old rejection slips, out-of-date marketing info, unread conference flyers and handouts.
  7. Book giveaways! Pass on your TBR piles, "non-keeper" books, and even copies of your own published work--you know, the one somebody used  for a notepad to jot down a phone number at a signing, or dropped on the floor--twice. . . . 
  8. Acknowledge and accept that you won't be able to write for a little while. It's okay--even vital--to stop. Give yourself permission to take a break.
  9. Set up your Internet connections early. The cable guy is always late.
  10. Take advantage of the move to develop a new writing/creativity routine and schedule.
  11. Get to know your new neighborhood cafes, libraries, and writing nooks. Make each trip special by turning it into an "Artist's Date."
  12. Establish a "start date" for when you'll resume blogging, social media, and writing again, and mark it on a calendar. For me this was July 17th--today!
The most important gift you can give yourself during any major life change, moving being just one of many, is to be gentle with yourself. Don't rush. Allow for plenty of time to absorb your new surroundings, neighbors, commutes, and get all the sleep you can. Trust me, you'll need it!

Tip of the Day: Breaks are important. Trying to work on a manuscript or fulfill a deadline during a move can often seem more stressful than the actual moving process, so be sure to have a few escape routes handy. Although I was in a hurry to be out of my rental condo by the end-of-lease date, I still found an extra hour every now and then to shut the door, play with some collage, and forget about the chaos in the other rooms. I'll show you what I got up to in my next post. Until then, thanks for reading!