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SUNDAY INSPIRATIONS: A novel can be anything it wants to be…

Sunday Inspirations. Send us your favorite quote, image, poem, idea … anything that has been helpful or inspirational to your writing process. If we love it, we may use it as is, or take the inspiration and modify it in some way. Give us a link to your website or blog and we’ll be sure to give you credit! Email inspiration@writemarketdesign.com or post your suggestion in the comment section below!

Here’s today’s inspiration: “No one says a novel has to be one thing. It can be anything it wants to be: a vaudeville show, the six o’clock news, the mumblings of wild men saddled by demons.”

novel can be anything quote

Laura

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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The writing “zone”: Pinnacle of FUN!

Who’d have thunk it? Writing fiction is FUN! For Day 17 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge, we discuss the biggest surprise in writing our books. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 17 writing prompt:

What has been the biggest surprise about writing/publishing your book? What has been the most enjoyable or most memorable aspect?

Hands down and without a doubt, the most surprising thing about writing my first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, is how much FUN it’s been. When I first sat down to begin the 3-Day Novel Contest at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, September 3, 2004, I had a vague idea of what would happen to my main character. Then, I got in the zone. Yep – that zone. The one athletes talk about all the time.

Kobe quote

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi gathered the results of 25 years of research into a book that explores “the zone,” including the ways it enhanced Michael Jordan’s performance. According to Pathos.com, “In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi identifies a self-surpassing dimension of human experience that is recognized by people the world over, regardless of culture, gender, race, or nationality. Its characteristics include deep concentration, highly efficient performance, emotional buoyancy, a heightened sense of mastery, a lack of self-consciousness, and self-transcendence.”

Yep – that’s what I experienced. And it surprised me to no end. Writing had always been easy for me, but it had never been fun. This – creating characters out of whole cloth – was a blast! The gnarled old fisherman wasn’t there a moment ago, and now he is. Interacting, advising, foreshadowing. And it kept going that way, new characters coming to life before my eyes. Until I hit Asia – a continent about which I have little personal knowledge, but which Stan would have to visit if he were truly to circumnavigate the globe.

Fortunately, I got through that too.

Then, thinking I was nearly done with the first draft, I was reading Chuck Wendig’s ebook, 250 Things You Should Know About Writing, on a plane trip back to New Jersey to visit my son. Much like Steven Pressfield does in The War of Art, Wendig smacks you upside the head and tells you what you need to know to improve your craft. Point #6 of Section 2, “25 Things You Should Know About Plot,” fell on me like a collapsing brick wall: In life we avoid conflict; in fiction, we seek it.

I think I scared the lady next to me when I yelped and smacked my hand over my mouth like I’d just seen a big, fat, hairy spider. Oh, my god – my novel doesn’t have nearly enough conflict!

Back to the drawing board – the word picture drawing board – for a number of additional scenes and characters. But, also, back to the fun!

Since beginning this novel, I’ve come up with ideas for at least a half-dozen others. I totally Careful, or I'll put you in my novelunderstand how and why people want to make their living as writers in a way I could never appreciate when I was writing exclusively nonfiction. When contemplating writing a screenplay (which we actually started a few years ago!), my sister and I used to joke about the funny situations we experienced that would make good movie scenes. Now, they get filed away as perfect enhancements for my present and future novels. I can’t wait to finish Stan off (no, he doesn’t die at the end) and get started on another world with new fictional friends.

What’s been your most challenging or surprising experience with your book or manuscript? Share the details in the comments section below!

Please be check in again tomorrow, when I’’ll be revealing the song that I think best connects with my book…

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to wonderful writing surprises!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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Aiming high has benefits and drawbacks…

For a lifelong writer, putting the words of my novel down on paper was a new kind of challenge. For Day 16 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge, we examine our biggest publishing challenges. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 16 writing prompt:

What has been the most challenging part of your book process: writing, building the book, printing, distributing, marketing, etc.? What do you wish you’d known before you began?

I have been blessed, in that for as long as I can remember, writing has been easy for me. I’m not talk your bookdownplaying the significance of the struggle some authors/writers experience. I hear nearly every day from people who say something along the lines of, “I’d love to write a book, but I just can’t arrange my thoughts on paper.” I typically suggest they try “talking” the book instead of writing it. Sometimes answering questions from an impartial person and transcribing the interviews is the way to get your thoughts “on paper.” For others, a long list of bullet points can turn itself into a book with the help of a good editor/writing partner.

Fortunately, I’ve never had to rely on any of those techniques, because writing has always been like breathing for me. I just do it – I don’t think about it, slave over it, worry about it, dread it, or procrastinate it. My brain can organize words and I can almost always get what I’m thinking to read exactly the way I intend it. And yet … writing a novel has proven to be my biggest creative challenge to date. Now, I will make the caveat that I think it’s less the writing than it is my audacious choice of subjects for my very first novel: sending a 30-year-old guy (I was a 37-year-old woman when I began writing this story) around the world (he visits 23 countries; I’ve been to five of them). And yet, I was inspired to write this story as my first novel.

Stan in Minsk

Stan and Isis in Minsk

Parts of it have actually been easy. It’s a fairly straightforward travel account, so once I decided which countries Stan would visit, the outline pretty much wrote itself. I have good organizational skills, so even with the inclusion of a generous number of flashbacks, keeping track of who did what when has just been a matter of adding notes to the timeline. Describing places I’ve never been, based on other travelers’ videos and images and blogs – and making it sound like I know what I’m talking about? That has proven quite tricky in places. The good news is that the writers’ block seems to have resolved itself, so the words are flowing again.

Another helpful bit is that I’ve got more marketing ideas than I have time – so I’m already certain of Stan’s success, even though he’s still being shaped. I’m targeting January 8th for the book’s release. Stick around. More details to come.

Please be check in again tomorrow, when I’’ll be talking about my biggest surprise in writing this book…

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to meeting the challenges head -on!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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If “Stan” were nonfiction, it’d still be a travelogue… just drier

Time to stretch a bit. The prompt Day 12 prompt for the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to “think differently” on our subject matter. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 12 writing prompt:

If your book is fiction, how could you change it to make it a nonfiction book? If your book is nonfiction, what could you do to turn it into a story?

I know a guy in his 50s who’s still trying to make it as a musical artist. He had about 27 minutes of fame for his creepy audition on The X Factor, combined with the snarky comment he made to one of the judges. Thing is, he was attempting to be something he’s not, recording funky pop music that tweens and college kids prefer. When I asked him why he’d left his punk rock roots to make music so outside his natural interests, his answer was that pop music is “where the money is.”

But he was immediately spotted and called out as a scammer, because people knew he had no passion for this kind of music. The same, I believe, is true for authors.

Meg Cabot

While I don’t think I deliberately set out to do this, looking back on my novel writing process, it seems inevitable that I would write something I wanted to read. I mean, who doesn’t? Children’s authors, maybe. But don’t you think you’d HAVE to write a book that you, personally, would like? Otherwise, it would feel forced and fraudulent.

Whether it’s a book or a film, I am driven by characters, always. I don’t have to like them, but they have to be fully developed enough that I at least understand them. And I’m also drawn to real stories – things that might actually have happened. One of the best books I ever read was We Need to Talk About Kevin, a fictional account of the relationship between a mother and her teenage school-shooter son. Even as I was mesmerized by the story, I remember thinking that the author must have had some personal involvement or insight into a real school shooting in order to have portrayed it so seemingly accurately.

While my story is not nearly as dramatic, I strive for the same thing in my writing, to make the Jorge and Andydetails as accurate as possible. For instance, in my novel, the main character and his best friend attend a baseball card signing event as kids. This is a fictional episode, but I made sure that the two members of the New York Yankees farm team the boys meet, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, were actual playing with the living, breathing Albany-Colonie Yankees at the time.

So, in many ways, my novel already has many nonfiction elements in it. I think my best description is that this book is part travelogue, part social commentary, and part fiction. If I were to make it entirely nonfiction, I suppose it would be a travel guide for first-time world travelers. Suggestions on where to stay, what to eat, security tips, places to visit off the beaten path. I’ve never personally enjoyed those kinds of books or articles – but they definitely have an important role, or at least they used to, pre-Internet. Since beginning Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, I have picked up many a travel book at thrift stores, book sales, and used book stores, as even with five books about Athens in front of me, each contains different details.

Please be sure to check out my next post, which will be a commentary on critique groups.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to changing things up every once in a while!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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Neck deep in travel blogs, books, and pictures

Depending on the topic of your book, you may need to do more or less research. The prompt for day 11 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to describe how they handled the research for their books. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 11 writing prompt:

Describe the research process for your book. Did you interview people? Travel? How prominent a role did the Internet play? If you didn’t do new research, how did you learn what you needed to know to write your book?

When I wrote this prompt for the Author Blog Challenge, perhaps subconsciously I remembered interviewing some friends for background on countries my main character visits. It definitely wasn’t an overt thought – I was just ticking off the possible ways for an author to do the research necessary to complete any book.

My main character, Stan, travels to 23 different countries over the course of about 18 months (no, he’s not related to Flat Stanley). I have personally been to five of them, including the USA, which meant that research wasn’t an option, but an absolute necessity.

Stan's path

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, back in 2004 when I began writing this story, the Internet was still young and sites like TripAdvisor.com and LonelyPlanet.com hadn’t yet made their appearance. But there were Lonely Planet, Frommer, and loads of indie travel guides, and I used them heavily in planning Stan’s trip.

My novel began as a submission for the 3-Day Novel Contest, the rules of which prohibited contestants from writing ahead. Participating authors were, however, permitted to construct full outlines before the contest got underway. So I spent the three days prior to the contest at the Phoenix Public Library, ensconced in travel books up to my eyeballs, mapping out Stan’s travels and determining how he would get from one location to the next.

When you read this novel, you’ll notice that Ireland gets a lot of air time, as that’s one of the countries I have actually seen in person. I relied on Google images to help refresh my memory, but I was able to construct many of those details without a whole lot of research.

travel icons

Since I’d never been to most of the other places Stan visits, and subsequently had no first-hand knowledge of them, I made a deliberate decision to keep many of his stops off the main tourist thoroughfare. For instance, he doesn’t go to London, Paris, or Rome – perhaps in a vain attempt to prevent too many “that’s not how it is there” comments from readers who’ve actually been to the places Stan goes. Mapping his journey was lots of fun, and I used second-hand knowledge to do much of it.

  • For instance, my closest friend through high school and college was Korean, having come to the United States at about age 4. Incidentally (yeah, right), Stan has a close friend from South Korea, and makes a lengthy stop in Seoul and Incheon.
  • Another good friend lived for some time in Dubai, so Stan’s Middle East travels take him through Dubai.
  • A friend I knew at Lehman Brothers married a gal from Malaysia – in Malaysia. So naturally, Stan visits Malaysia.

Of course, each of these stops along Stan’s journey still required scads of research, which enabled me to flesh out the story.

Then there were the people still in my life who are originally from a couple of the countries Stan visits. Others have traveled to some of Stan’s stops fairly recently, and I was able to sit down and interview them about the things an American would notice on his first trip abroad. These tiny details add flavor and realism to the story that I might not otherwise have been able to capture.

  • My friend Sunil is from India and told me about the lack of air pollution regulations, and that the exhaust would be an instant and insidious annoyance to an American.
  • Joey was born in the Philippines and still visits fairly regularly. He explained the “Jeepneys” in Manila and some of the more interesting dishes of his homeland.
  • My friend Janet visited Machu Picchu about eight years ago and lent me a jump drive with her amazing photos on it.
  • My friend Tom travels regularly to China for business and has regaled me with some interesting observations about the people.
  • A good friend whose husband is a professor has spent a great deal of time in Turkey and aided me with some of those details.
  • And then my niece visited Egypt about a year-and-a-half ago, and provided a couple of important pieces that allowed me to inject a bit of humor into the story.

Which leaves all of the rest of the countries: Sweden, Belarus, Greece, Sudan, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and El Salvador. Every detail of those places was aided by some combination of travel blogs, travel sites, Google images, travel books, atlases, digital maps – oh, and perhaps most important of all, my imagination.

Guess my next step will have to be planning my own world tour to see how my descriptions hold up to me!

Please be sure to check out my next post, which will talk about how I could make Stan a nonfiction book if I were so inclined.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to the right investigative reporting for your next book!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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Organized chaos? What’s your method for outlining and keeping your story on track?

Virtually every author,  fiction or nonfiction, needs a method for outlining and staying organized. Day 10 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to describe their outlining and organizational processes. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 10 writing prompt:

Describe your process for outlining your book. What do you do to stay organized? Do you use a software like Scrivener? Index cards? Sticky notes? Giant posterboards taped to the wall?

Sometimes, the desire to write the book shows up before we even know what the book will be about. That was somewhat the case for me with Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World. It was also the case for my friend, Joe Torres.

Joe’s been attending the Phoenix Publishing & Book Promotion Meetup (PP&BP) for a few months, and every time he comes, he’s made some significant progress on his book. A couple sessions ago, he described his outlining process: grabbing several huge sticky-back sheets of poster paper, slapping them on the wall, and recording the ideas for his first novel as fast as they come to him.

Joe's outlines

Joe’s outlines

My process was a little tamer. Mind you, there is NO right way or wrong way to do this. It’s just important that you have an outline of some sort and know who your characters are, where they came from, what they did yesterday, what they will do tomorrow.

My story is about a man who travels around the world, visiting 23 countries over the course of a year-and-a-half. It’s an audacious undertaking, as I personally have visited five of those 23 countries. Which means the book required research. Back in 2004 when I began writing, the Internet was still young and there were no such sites as TripAdvisor.com or LonelyPlanet.com. But there were Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, and I used them heavily in the planning for Stan’s trip.

As I mentioned yesterday, the novel began as a submission for the 3-Day Novel Contest. The rules prohibited writing ahead, but allowed participating authors to construct a full outline before the contest got underway. So I spent the three days prior to the contest ensconced in travel books up to my eyeballs, deciding where Stan would go, and how he would get there. Knowing I’d never been most of the places he would go, I made a deliberate decision to keep many of his visits off the main tourist thoroughfare. For example, he doesn’t go to London, Paris, Rome. Of course there will always be a reader who’s been there to catch me up on an error or inaccurate description, regardless of where Stan travels – but why give them extra ammunition? I have had several globetrotting friends as beta readers, asking them to check the descriptions for accuracy. The reports thus far are that my depictions are quite good, particularly for my not having visited most of these places in person.

Microsoft Word - schedule - lo 2013

Since the novel is told partially in flashback, I also had to create a timeline so that I could keep track of Stan’s past. When did his dad leave? When did he graduate from college? Get his MBA? Start dating Gretchen? Meet Paula? As new details find their way into the story, I add to the timeline. It’s just a Word document, stored in the “Stan” file of my computer.

I’ve tried Scrivener, and it seems like a great tool for someone who needs a lot of help to get and stay organized. I was already so far into my novel by the time I came across it, though, that moving all the information into the Scrivener system seemed like more work than reward. Fellow author C.K. Thomas wrote a blog post for the PP&BP blog about the importance of writing character profiles, something I would not have initially thought to do, but now consider a worthy time investment.

The tool you use to organize your outline, keep your characters straight, and move your plot in the right direction is unimportant. What’s important is that you do those things. Readers notice inconsistencies, like moving a scene from the beginning of the story to somewhere toward the end, but forgetting to remove subsequent mentions that now pre-date the original mention of the episode. They notice when a character started out as a Boston native, but somehow and inexplicably morphed into a guy who’s originally from L.A.

A screenwriting system I learned from Jeff Schimmel could easily be applied to novel writing. It involves a couple of decks of index cards. One set is for the characters. Each character gets a color, and every detail about the character is recorded on a different card. Physical description,3d cover significant relationships, education, hobbies, etc. Another set of cards is for the scenes. In Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, it would make sense to use a different card (or set of cards) for each country Stan visits. Dialogue goes on another set of cards. What eventually emerges is a storyboard – a graphic organization system that allows you to pre-visualize the story.

Please be sure to check out my next post, which overlaps quite a bit with this one: about my research process for #StanTravels.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to staying organized in your writing!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

__________________

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Dinner with a friend kicked off the 11-year novel

Back in 2008, I bought a book called A Book Is Born, which presents the stories of 24 authors and how their books came to be, from idea to publication. Day 9 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to offer descriptions of their books’ genesis. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 9 writing prompt:

Describe how the idea for your book first came to you. Where were you? Who was the first person you told? How did they respond?

The idea for Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World came in increments. The precipitating event was dinner with a good friend. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever known, but life circumstances made him very security conscious. If you know anything about the Enneagram personality typing system, he is a 6.

So we were having dinner one night, and I asked him, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where Enneagram 6would it be?”

Deadpan, he answered me, “I think I’d like to walk around the world.”

I laughed – which annoyed him.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Because in a million years, you’d never walk around the world. You’re too safe.”

“No I’m not,” he pouted, unwilling to admit I was right.

“Yes you are. You’d never give up your job, your apartment, leave Jennie…”

The pouting continued. “I don’t like that you called me safe.”

And then the conversation eventually drifted to another topic.

FAST FORWARD 2 YEARS

I was running a little weekly writing group (and by little, I mean three or four people) for a short time (and by short time, I mean three or four weeks). Each time we got together, we’d take turns suggesting a writing prompt. Then we’d put pen to paper and see what we came up with in half-hour or so. One of the prompts was: Early one morning…

So I started a story about a guy who sets off on a trip around the world. I got four paragraphs written.

FAST FORWARD 18 MONTHS

I heard about an international writing opportunity known as the 3-Day Novel

3d Businessman standing on earth globe: European and African side. Isolated on white

Contest. It takes place every Labor Day weekend, beginning at midnight on Friday night and running through midnight on Monday night. If you’ve been reading my previous Author Blog Challenge posts, you know that I was a nonfiction major, and fiction was never my strong suit. Nevertheless, I decided I could spare three days to give novel writing a try.

Then, I had to come up with a story I could tell in three days. Enter Stan. The contest rules said that the entire work had to be created that weekend. You couldn’t pull out an old manuscript, dust it off, and submit it. I’ll admit a wee bit of cheating, in that I had four paragraphs already written before the contest kickoff. But the rest – 107 pages – I wrote over those three days. Tomorrow I’ll tell you the process of researching and outlining the book.

So, realistically, three days is not long enough to write anything of substance. But it was enough to write what my friend Carol described as “a really good outline.” I showed an early draft to my sister, who I know will never mince words or tell me she likes something if she doesn’t. She said, “Of all the creative stuff you’ve done in your life – and you’ve done a LOT – this is, by far, the best.”

Those two positive responses kept Stan alive for me throughout the years. He’s getting there, now. Hell, I wrote past the biggest episode of writers’ block I’ve ever experienced just a couple days ago. So now it’s onward. And upward. And outward, into the vast, vast world around which he traveled.

For the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to your book idea, and getting the damn thing written!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

__________________

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Eclectic cast of characters at this Dangerous Tea Party

Day 8 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks about favorite literary characters. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. As you will soon learn, I would invite a variety of characters for tea. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 8 writing prompt:

Who is your favorite literary character? With which literary character do you most relate? Which literary character would you most like to invite for tea/coffee? What would you ask him/her? What do you think you could teach him/her?

I can’t find it now, but I remember reading an article on HuffPost about a year ago describing how women prefer angry, bitchy, hard, difficult, emasculating – frankly, awful – female characters. According to this article, modern women (I don’t recall the specific demographics) despise likeable characters. Now, it’s just common sense that even the strongest protagonist must have a flaw or a foible – perhaps a big one, if the story arc allows for such a character trait. But I, personally, also want characters to whom I can relate.

Though not a smoker, I could relate to schleppy Bridget Jones. Though neither a witch, a resident of Oz, nor a woman with a green patina, I could relate to Elphaba’s good intentions and unintended ostracization in Wicked. I’m not sure how likeable either was – but to me, at least, they were relatable.

I’m not much for favorite characters, or rereading a book again and again. I don’t care for series – never having made it past the third book in any series, going all the way back to my junior high days and the Joan Lingard “Kevin and Sadie” series about a Catholic boy and a Protestant girl growing up in Ireland. I suppose it’s that I prefer to learn something new, see a new place, and/or meet new characters, rather than reading volume after volume of a continuing saga.

LP & Harold

Childhood favorites include The Little Prince and Harold and the Purple Crayon. My sister asked me yesterday, “Why Harold? He doesn’t really do anything, and nothing happens to him.”

“He can draw anything and go anywhere he imagines!” came my strident response.

“Oh, right. If he can picture it, he can bring it to life with that purple crayon,” she nodded in agreement, after a few thoughtful moments.

Tigger, Horton, MP, Franie Nolan, and Dread Pirate Roberts

Tigger, Horton, MP, Franie Nolan, and Dread Pirate Roberts

As for whom I’d invitee to dinner or tea, the question came to me years ago, in a daily email from the inspirational author Sark. The suggestion at the time was, “Invite someone dangerous to tea.” I liked the concept so much that I even started a blog called The Dangerous Tea Party. I wrote a few posts for it, but never to the extent that I anticipated. Then, an actual dangerous Tea Party became a thing … and I let the whole idea fade mostly away. Until recently, when I was trying to come up with an icebreaker for a networking-only meeting of the Phoenix Publishing & Book Promotion Meetup. I resurrected this tea party question, and voila: today’s prompt.

So whom would I invite? Tigger, Horton (he heard a Who), Mary Poppins, Francie Nolan (from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and Dread Pirate Roberts (from The Princess Bride), come to mind. Lord – can you imagine a single dinner with all of them? That’s enough to get one’s imagination spinning in a hundred different directions.

I suppose if I could meet any character at all, though, it would be my own main character, Stanford Crowley. Though loosely based on a good friend, Stan has developed his own personality, over time. While I don’t think I’d much like him at first, I would love to sit with him and have him regale me with tales of his travels once he’s come back to the states. And where would this mythical meeting take place? A pub in Ireland’s County Cork, maybe. A café overlooking the Bosphorus River in Istanbul, perhaps. Or a nondescript bar in Athens – all places he visits on his trek around the world.

Please be sure to check out my next post, about how the idea for Stan came to me.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to hosting your very own Dangerous Tea Party!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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Writers block cure? Keep writing!

Day 7 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge brings to light a condition all writers likely face at one time or another: writers’ block. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 7 writing prompt:

Do you ever experience writer’s block? What do you recommend to help overcome writer’s block? Any foolproof tricks that always work for you?

From the time I was in maybe sixth grade all the way through high school, I hated on-the-spot writing assignments. The teacher would give us a topic and tell us we had the rest of the period to write; the paper would be collected at the end of the class. In a 50-minute class, I would spend the first 20 to 30 minutes doodling, going to the bathroom, cleaning out my book bag – anything but writing! I’m not sure why, but I was never able to just put pen to paper and scribble out an essay. I’d watch the clock, baiting it to keep ticking. Then, at the last possible minute, I’d start writing and pour out an essay, dotting the final I’s and crossing the final T’s just as the teacher said, “OK, pens down. Pass your papers forward.”

beautiful journalist looks typewriter

I think there’s a distinction to be made between writers’ block, where the words simply will not flow, regardless of the genre, subject, or deadline looming, and procrastination, where you could write if you tried, but you’re just plain putting it off. My episodes in junior high and high school were obstinate procrastination, but I don’t think they could have rightly been called writers’ block.

For many years since high school, neither writers’ block nor that kind of intense procrastination about writing were a problem for me. Of course, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, nonfiction is easy! Fiction is another animal entirely. Presently, I find that I’ve created a scene in my novel-in-progress that is very difficult to write through. I’ve considered eliminating the scene, erasing it entirely from the story – but I don’t want to do that for a couple reasons. For one thing, it adds to the travelogue/personal discovery aspect for the main character, Stan. Secondly, I’m bigger than this small episode of writers’ momentary challenge. I will vanquish the writers’ block and be done with it for good!

NOTE: I paused writing this blog post to go and actually write the scene that was giving me so much trouble. Really! In writing about my writers’ block, I realized how easy it would be to just finish, so I opened the file, went straight to the last unfinished paragraph of the scene in question, and added the 169 words it took to finish it. Whew!

So, do I have any suggestions for overcoming writers’ block? Well, I just shared what worked eternal strugglefor me: describing it in detail. Maybe you can try it, too? Other ideas include free writing (write anything for 5 or 10 minutes, without picking up your pen(cil), even “I wish I knew what to write. I wish I knew what to write. I wish I knew what to write.”); writing in a different place than usual; writing in a different way (e.g., longhand if you typically type on a computer, or vice versa); taking a walk; playing music; having sex

I think the only answer, really, is just to write.

Check back tomorrow when I’ll be dishing on my favorite literary characters.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to whatever it takes to let the words flow!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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Music-lovin’ night owl writes when the mood strikes

Day 6 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge focuses on the writing process. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. My writing process for my novel is a bit scattered. Nonfiction is a different story entirely! I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 6 writing prompt:

Take us through your writing process. Do you keep a regular writing schedule? Do you write on your laptop or longhand? Do you have a favorite place to write? Are you most inspired in the morning, afternoon, evening, or middle of the night?

Oh, how I’d love to tell you I am an organized, orderly writer. We have prompts coming up about the outlining process and about where the idea for our book originated – in hindsight, those probably should have come first, as there’s overlap, to be sure. I was amazingly organized in my outlining and will share those details on Day 10.

writing at night

When it comes to writing, however, I’m more of a “when I have a few minutes” … “when I look at the calendar and feel the time ebbing away since the last time I sat down to add a couple of paragraphs to Stan’s travels” … “when I have a new idea” … “when I want to re-read a section to see if I got a detail correct” kind of gal.

About 10 months ago, I went up to a friend’s home in New River – a town about an hour north of my home in Metro Phoenix – to stay in her guest house, isolated from TV, laundry, and other distractions. I got a lot of writing done in those two days, and probably need to make another similar mini writing sabbatical soon.

That’s the fiction side of things. When it comes to nonfiction, I’m in my zone! I’m organized and write straight through until a blog post, paper, or book (OK, increments here) is finished. This makes sense, if you think about it. Nonfiction has a specific message that must be conveyed in a particular order. If you know your material (and/or work from a well-developed outline), you know what comes next. Fiction, on the other hand, is always a work in progress. It develops little by little, one character or scene at a time. Unless they’ve got an amazing imagination and a photographic memory, no fiction author knows every detail that’s going to unfold until they sit down to write.

I most definitely write on my laptop – a machine without which I cannot fathom getting any work done. How did we do it when we were strapped to a desk? When our phones had to plug into one wall and stay there? Without research of the world available at our fingertips via the Internet? Without the unobtrusive communication mechanism of email?

My hours are, without question, nocturnal. I’m not one of those who complains that a 7 a.m.

Night Owl Society

Night Owl Society

meeting is too early, but you won’t find me scheduling meetings at that hour. I’m usually sitting down, ready to work no earlier than 11 a.m. – but then, again, I’m awake and often working into the wee hours. There’s a fascinating piece on HuffPost about night owls – one characteristic of which tends to be creativity. It also mentions a guy who created a group called the Night Owl Society, which is dedicated to creative freelancers who are regularly up late.

I tend to prefer working to music. If it’s Pandora, it’s usually the U2 station or Celtic Radio. (Just an aside, I also have Chicago Radio on my playlist – but every time I listen to it, they play three Eagles songs for every song by Chicago. WTF?!) I have a graphic design colleague who says he can’t work with any music or noise at all because it’s too distracting. For intense editing or really focused writing, I would agree. Any work of graphical nature is only enhanced by music, in my opinion.

What about you? Do you have a special writing space, hour of the day, or ambiance enhancer that brings your muse to life? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Check back tomorrow when I’ll be discussing writers’ block.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to whatever it takes to let the words flow!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

__________________

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Does your writing influence your reading, or vice versa?

Today is Day 5 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge, for which all of my posts will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. It’s interesting how my new book has influenced my reading, though I’m sure my reading has influenced the book, too! I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 5 writing prompt:

There’s a Stephen King quote that says: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” How do the things you read impact your writing? What do you love to read? What do you avoid reading at all costs? How would your writing change if you read more of the things you typically avoid?

toilet reading

This picture used to be me, all the time. Now that reading is so readily available at every turn (Want to know when Nineteen Eighty-Four was released while on a cross-country driving trip? Check the Google!), I’m one of the few people I know who can walk out of the house without my smartphone and not drive 10 miles back to get it. I think all the social media and blogging distractions are doing a disservice to my reading actual books. I like ebooks well enough (I have a Kindle), but I generally skim them, as opposed to sitting down to read them. Which you would correctly deduce to mean that I don’t read a lot of fiction ebooks.

I enjoy fiction quite a bit (see yesterday’s post about some favorites), but over the years have been drawn more to nonfiction of all types. If it’s interesting and well written, I may give it a chance, even if I don’t finish the whole book. Like Bill Soroka (another ABC participant), I usually tend to have many books going at one time. But one always wins, and I wind up reading more of it and finishing it first. I keep books in the bathroom, on my night stand, in the car, in my handbag, near the couch, on my desk … almost anyplace I spend a concerted amount of time.

Right now, I’m reading How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, The Sufi Book of Life, The Red Tent, and Broody New Englander, by fellow Phoenix author Ken Weene, among others.

I’m not much of a sci-fi or paranormal fan, and I steer well away from horror – same with the movies. I enjoy my tranquil existence and have no need to inject that kind of ick into it, even if it’s fictional ick. Guess I get enough of that following politics. That’s not to say I never read sci-fi or paranormal, on occasion. Sometimes a change from my own status quo is refreshing.

Stan and Isis in Liverpool

Stan and Isis in Liverpool

I’ve never been a big fan of travel writing, but now that I’m writing about a guy who travels around the world, I’m reading a lot of travel books and blogs. As with every genre, some are better (and more useful) than others. I would describe Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World as part travelogue, part social commentary, and part fiction.

I tend to avoid overly religious books and highly technical or scientific works. I think I’m getting better at reading outside my comfort zone, though. You never know where the next idea or tidbit to enhance a blog post, story, novel, or screenplay will come from. Not to mention that you cannot help but become a better writer by reading good writing across all genres. As I listen to a rap song (not my favorite genre) on a contemporary alternative radio station I happen to like quite a bit, I’m reminded that this must also be true of musicians, visual artists, chefs, and other artists of all stripes. Studying outside our niche arenas is important if we want to grow as artists, and doing so makes all of our work stronger.

Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be describing my writing process. Maybe I should come up with one by then! Kidding… I promise to impress you, even if it’s with smoke and mirrors.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to reading everything you can get your hands on!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

__________________

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Admiration for attention to detail: From Elvis to Sting

This is my fourth of 35 posts in the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge, all of them on the topic of writing, publishing, and book marketing. I went back and skimmed what I wrote in answer to a similar prompt for the 2012 Author Blog Challenge. As I imagined, my thoughts are in a different place today. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 4 writing prompt:

Who are your writing role models? Whose writing has most influenced you? Who are your writing mentors?

One of my earliest assignments for a fiction class in college involved writing description. A fraternity guy named Hunter received a low grade for handing in his third paper about surfing. Blonde, tan, and good-looking in that frat guy/surfer way, all he could do was shake his head because he just couldn’t understand why the TA wanted him to stretch and write about something – anything – else. Another guy wrote in detail about a one-night stand. I still recall his depiction of noticing the girl’s underarm stubble as she slept the next morning. Interestingly, I don’t remember what I wrote about.

travelin' elvis

The paper I remember most, however, was by another coed, about my age. She wrote the most glorious description I had read to that point by anyone other than a seasoned author of classics about … the traveling Elvis museum. She detailed the steps up into the RV-cum-museum. She wove word pictures about the glass cases and the trinkets and memorabilia they contained. She described the kitschy gift shop with its gaudy gadgets and t-shirts and velvet paintings. And most memorable of all, she captured snapshots of the visitors – people of every age, ethnicity, and economic background. It seemed no one was immune to the draw of all things The King. I don’t have a clue what this gal’s name was, or what’s happened to her since. Only that she was 19 or 20, and I was 19 or 20, and in a million years, I don’t think I could ever master her gift for description.

Perhaps because my strength has always lain in nonfiction writing, the writers I admire most are those who write wonderful fiction. Sue Miller’s first book, The Good Mother, is still a favorite, as is Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. Both of these authors are masters of details that bring fictional characters to life. Miller describes a harried woman cutting her leg shaving one rushed morning, while Follett notes how the townfolk crane their necks until they hurt, looking up at the stone masons at work on a grand cathedral. In Gold Coast, Nelson DeMille captures perfectly the slow shifts in his main character, John Sutter, a Wall Street attorney who finds himself defending a mafia don. And one image from the classics I will never forget is the turtle on its back, legs waving wildly in the air in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Fantastic writing is not solely the domain of fiction authors, however. Besides being an amazing lyricist, it turns out that Sting can also write quite beautiful prose. His memoir, Broken bubblesMusic, is one of the most gorgeously inspired books I’ve ever encountered. Another nonfiction book I’ve recommended often is From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives, by Robert Fulghum. This one challenges you to question conformity on all levels and may – at least subconsciously – have played a role in why I chose to wear a green gown for my St. Patrick’s Day wedding. Of course, there’s also the grab-you-by-the-throat-and-throw-you-against-a-wall motivation to be found in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. If procrastination, or its first cousin perfectionism, is hounding you, this book will help you turn the corner and leave it in the dust.

Lastly, in terms of inspiring authors, is a fellow I “met” during the 2012 Author Blog Challenge, Robert “Chazz” Chute. This guy is a writer! And an author! He’s prolific, talented, and so willing to share his knowledge. If you like mysteries and thrillers, read his books. If you want to learn how to write, design, market, and create a fan base, read his blog.

Well, this post kind of overlaps with tomorrow’s prompt … about what we both love and hate to read … but it also conveys my heartfelt gratitude and colossal admiration for the really great descriptive writers who can also challenge the hell out of me. Tune in tomorrow. I promise it will be at least mildly interesting…

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to continuing to hone and improve your writing skills!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

__________________

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