Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Joy of NOT Writing

November for me was like spin cycle . . . on the back of a moving semi . . . with the brakes blown out. It was intense to say the least. I was doing a rather major rewrite of my latest novel for my publisher, my husband’s Grandpa died and I was in charge of the church Christmas Party.

But all good things come to an end, as do crazy and overwhelming things, and as of yesterday I am done! The rewrite I finished last week, the obituary bill has been paid and the church Christmas Party was a success if I do say so myself. And now what am I going to do?


Of course, nothing is a big deceiving, cause I’ll be doing a lot of somethings, but different somethings that have been sorely neglected—like cleaning out closets and hiring someone to fix the light in my closet so I can see whether or not the shirt is black or brown or red or purple. But as far as writing goes, I’m taking a break. One I feel I much deserve.

Let’s face it, there is only so much creativity to go around and quite frankly when my house is falling down around my ears and we’re having hot dogs for the third night in a row it’s hard to expect the muse to want to stick around anymore than the kids do. There must be a certain level of order amid the chaos and any order I had a month ago is long gone now. So it’s time to rebuild, organize, take a deep breath, admire the Christmas tree, do some shopping, make some cookies and snuggle with my sweetie on the couch.

Do I feel guilty? Yes, I do. I have been writing furiously for the last 10 months, deadlines looming and ideas bursting within my brain. But I’ve felt guilty about the hot dogs and the closet light too, so it’s all relative. In the meantime, until I sit down and spill out my literary brilliance come January, I am thinking, planning, having fictional dialogues in my head with characters I haven’t written yet and I’m loving every minute!

And so what’s the point of all this? Simply that there is a time and season for everything, and for everyone, and right now, for me, I’m taking the season to enjoy the egg nog and figgy pudding . . . okay, not the figgy pudding part—but perhaps a fig . . . Newton, maybe two.

Merry Christmas, may you find the time to enjoy it!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Recipe for a Launch Party

Since doing my first Launch Party, or Opening Night Party, almost a year ago, I’ve been asked on several occasions just how I put it together. First, let me explain the objective of the night.

1) In order to create a buzz about anything, there has to be a reason. The Opening Night party becomes the reason to promote the book.

2) Sales. Promoting the event is promoting sales, and the more books you sell that night the better for everyone.

3) Ego. Orchestrating an event where people go out of their way to come is very satisfying and a big confidence boost.

So, we’re all clear on the objectives? Great. Here’s the secret recipe

Josi’s Launch Party

1 bookstore
1 newspaper (or more)
200 postcards
1 Radio interview (optional—more if wanted)
20 posters
1 Website mention (or more)
300 half page fliers
2 e-mail campaigns
8 Door prizes
1 Grand Prize Drawing
200 Postcard Stamps

A month before:

Step 1—Order postcards be sure to get full color, with a few sentences on the back but space for a VHS sized label you can print up. You can do this as soon as you have a jpg of your cover. Compile your address list as well—anyone that would be interested in knowing about your book.

Step 2—Contact you publisher. Your publisher may be willing to help with posters, paying for newspaper ads, getting you a radio interview and helping you find a bookstore for the event.

Step 3—Bookstore. Explain that you’ll be doing a lot of the work and driving business directly to them. Determine a date and time that works for all of you within the FIRST WEEK of your books release. Ask if they will distribute half page fliers for 2 weeks before the event.

Step 4—Newspaper and Radio. Query them via e-mail if possible, telling them about the event—not necessarily the book—offer the newspaper a pre-written article, Ask about Advertising prices and who you should contact with help to design an ad that you will be paying for (this encourages them to support you since you’re a paying client).

Step 5—Donations. Ask for a $15-$20 value of a donation, either tangeable or gift certificate. Tell the donors that they will get advertising through your postcards, posters and newspaper ads.

Step 6—Find Grand Prize Drawing. A gift certificate to a local restaurant is a great option, or an overnight stay at a hotel or resort. Something BIG.

Three Weeks Before

Step 7—Write it up. Write up your article, the labels you’ll be putting on the postcards, design the posters and fliers, help design the ad for the newspaper Come up with lead questions for the radio interview Once things are written up, get them printed.

Step 8—Follow up. If you haven’t heard back from the Radio or Newspapers, try again and again and again. Be sure your donations are in line, you know when your picking up the donations. If you have a website (which you really should have) make sure this is mentioned on it. Design an e-mail announcement and send it out to your mailing list.

Step 9—Mail the postcards. Affix the VHS label description, affix the address labels, be sure you include an online ordering option for out of towners, include your e-mail address, and stick those things in the mail.

Two Weeks Before

Step 9—Pass it out. Put posters on community bulletin boards and in store windows. Take the original for the flier to the bookstore and remind them that they were going to put them in bags.

Step 10—In Print? The article about the event should run this week or next week, depending on the paper and the arrangements. Keep your eyes open for it.

Week of

Step 11—Radio. Be sure to mention the event, be upbeat, go into the studio if you can, be prepared to talk a lot. Dead air is dead radio, so if you pause, the hosts will start talking.

Step 12—Gather Donations. Pick them all up, be gracious. Make tags to put in front of the donations with the name of the donor, once the prizes are gone you still want to show who donated.

Step 13--Reminder. Send your second e-mail, reminding your e-mail list of the event.

Day of

Doorprize drawings—I allow all attendees to enter the doorprize drawing, but they have to be present to win. This keeps the evening moving and it keeps people in the store longer. Display the prizes on a separate table.

Grand Prize Drawing--One entry per purchase and you don’t have to be present to win. You won’t draw this name until everything is all over and done. It’s nice to have the item on display.

Refreshments—Make sure you discuss with the bookstore what they are okay with. It’s nice to have the refreshments at the back of the store, it encourages customers to browse and keeps things from getting congested at the front of the store.

Mailing list—Be sure you have somewhere for people to sign up for your mailing list. Then the next time you do this, you have their contact information.

Week After

Thank you Cards—Happiness is a grateful heart. Take an hour and write thank you cards to the donors of prizes, the bookstore, publisher, newspaper and radio stations that helped you with the event. Not only is it good for your soul to realize how many people helped you out, but it insures that next time you contact them they have felt appreciated.

Report Back—Be sure to get a number from the bookstore on how many books they sold, and relay this info to your publisher so they see the success of this event and know what you’ve done to pull it off. Thank them for anything they did to help.

I realize this sounds like a lot to do, well . . . it is. It’s a major event, it’s your opportunity to celebrate your accomplishment and get the word out. You don’t have to do everything I have listed here, feel free to put your own spin on it. The point is to make a BIG deal out of it, cause it is a big deal. Your book was just PUBLISHED!! That’s definitely worth celebrating.

(If you would like a more detailed description, please e-mail me

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I AM a writer...I think

I’m a pretty good writer (if I do say so myself), but not much of a runner (as my neighbors can attest). My dad is a great runner. Marathons, track coach—that kind of thing. Last summer and fall I spent almost three months making running a priority. I got up to three miles and had actually started to . . . get this . . . like it! But then it started snowing, and it was really cold at 6:30 in the morning and since I like my ears I decided to avoid the inevitable frostbite.

I told myself I’d run on the treadmill, but I didn’t. And come spring I was ten pounds heavier and out of shape again so I put it off . . . and off . . . and off. Well, this morning I decided to run. I figured I’d huff and puff my way through a mile—but guess what? I made it a full two miles without stopping. When I finally stopped for my one block cool-down-walk, I wasn’t completely sucking wind.

So what’s the point? Even though it’s been several months, I’m better today than I was when I started running last summer. I’m not necessarily where I was—why should I be? I didn’t keep up with it. But I’m not so far behind as I thought. As it is with writing. We all have breaks, roadblocks, really really big sinkholes on the track of our writing. There are times when whether by choice or by circumstance we can’t give it our all. But, that doesn’t mean that what we have done is lost. One thing that kept me from running was that I felt like I would be starting all over again. But it doesn’t really work that way. The college course we took sixteen years ago, or the conference we attended right before that bike accident, are still gifts to us. Chances are, we’re not so out of shape as we might think. We need to look at our writing realistically and not beat ourselves up over what we haven’t done. We can write, try and make it a habit that fits our life and better yet, enjoy it.

I will not live a normal life—that is the first step of being a writer. Being willing to accept the weirdness of our passion—but live your life is the next step. Beating yourself up for what you haven't done is only going to make it harder to jump back in there. The best thing you can do for yourself is simply do better tomorrow. Look at yourself, look at what you know and what you've done and say to yourself...I am a writer!!

Friday, June 02, 2006

A word on your lips is worth two on the page

So I finished my latest novel—and it was, of course, brilliant. I wrote it in about 4 months, but it was perfect. Just to be sure, however, I read it out loud to my husband as we traveled to Idaho and back for Memorial day weekend. I’m not one that has read out loud very much, in fact my last book (#7) was the first one I ever did read aloud—and that was only because my husband never sits still enough to read it for himself. It was effective last time and so I thought, sure, I’ll do it again. I’d heard the advice for years, but never thought it was necessary for little ol me.

Well . . . there’s a funny little thing that happens when words are spoken out loud and when the scenes are read in order. You might, hypothetically speaking, realize that you have your character saying the same damn thing five different times. You might find out that your first 100 pages are dead boring, and you might, possibly, realize that you’re not half as brilliant as you thought you were. I know, I know—it’s an unconscionable idea—but come on, if we really want to make something of this whole writing thing we have got to be able to admit it when we really screw something up. That’s not to say that the book is dead, not at all, it’s just got some serious internal bleeding issues that are in serious need of attention.

Hence, my sage advice to all writers everywhere. Do you best work, revise it like crazy and when you think it’s great, read it out loud to another person. Had I not been filtering everything I read through another person’s auditory system I don’t know that I’d have found the perspective necessary to know that I can do better than this. I also found things like using the same word four times in one paragraph, using the wrong name on a dialogue tag or using the same phrase of speech such as ‘it was only a matter of time’ twice in the same chapter.

It’s back to the writing desk for me, and I’m a little nauseated at the task before me, but if I know what’s wrong I can fix it, right? That’s what I’m banking on. Do not be afraid! And face it, isn’t your husband, sister, neighbor, or friend a better bet than an agent or publisher telling you it’s not quite done? In my mind there is no contest.

Happy Writing.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Measure twice, trench once

In addition to my love of reading and writing I have another passion. Chickens. I love em! Recently we have decided to move our chicken coop (the house they live in) and build a bigger chicken run (fenced in outdoor area). The coop is currently set atop one of five garden grow boxes, a little tunnel thing leads to the chicken run which is built on another grow box. I wanted my garden space back and it seemed like a pretty straightforward project to build a new foundation and get my grow boxes back.

So the other day I set aside an hour to trench out the area where the new foundation of cinderblocks would be laid for the coop. I tilled it, trenched it out and then realized I probably ought to measure my coop to see if my trenches were the right length. Dang, I had underestimated the length. Retrench—dang, is that an underground power cord? I remeasured and retrenched it a third time. Dang—I’m sweating like a pig and I have to pick up my daughter. It had been four hours.

Was I discouraged? Sure, but I’m just oblivious enough to not give up. So today I went out and started again. My husband came out to help.

“You have to go deeper so that the cinderblock has enough dirt around it.”

“You need a carpenters square to make sure you have your angles right.”

“You need to make it perfectly level so that the coop doesn’t wobble.”

I was very close to saying, “What do you know?” However, I’m the chicken lover, and the only reason we keep chickens is because my husband loves me enough to let me have my fun. I did not yell at him, instead I asked questions.

“Can’t I just pile dirt around the edges?”

“What’s a carpenters square?”

“Does it really matter if it’s level?”

After he answered all this he looked at me. “Is there an easier solution to this?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what if we just moved the coop to this one grow box and then built the new run around it. You’d free up one grow box for the garden and we wouldn’t have to build the foundation.”

It was one of those breakthrough moment. “Hunny, you are brilliant.”

And so it is with our writing. Sometimes we just want to write and write and write (dig and dig and dig) without having a goal (measuring) and without having properly prepared (checking for underground cables). We just get in there and write. Then someone asks about our plotting—out characterization and we grind our teeth and think to ourselves. “What do they know?”

That is the fork in the road. Where do we go from there? Do we simply keep digging, intent on finishing the task? Or do we step back, cock our head to the side and look at things a little different.

Is there a more powerful way to show my characters weaknesses?

Could I add a little more conflict to make my story more compelling?

Is it possible that perhaps having 19 points of view is a little confusing to my reader?

Knowing what tools you need and what details you need to cover can save you a lot of retrenching. Don’t stop learning, don’t turn your back on advice. Be open to learning new skills, developing better writing habits and finding a little more objectivity in the process. Sometimes we are our greatest stumbling block—we make it harder than it needs to be.

So my advice? Take a step back from your work, cock your head to the side, think about what you’ve learned, what feedback you’ve had on other writing projects. Is there a better way? Can you save yourself from the embarrassment of a poorly done book or hundreds of deleted passages if you’re better prepared? Usually, there is and if you can’t see it then maybe you need to take a little break from your writing—give yourself some distance. Need something else to do during all that writing time? Ever thought of raising chickens?

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Would you like that Shrimp cooked?

My hubby and I went to a new restaurant last night. I quickly focused on the seafood alfredo. The blurb read "sauteed shrimp and crab mixed with Fetticine noodles and a creamy alfredo sauce". I've always been an alfredo kind of girl, it wasn't a hard decision.
When the meal arrived I knew right away that I hadn't been fully informed. First of all, in addition to the shrimp and crab in my fetticine there were also mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes and onion. The mushroom and tomato I can live with--the green peppers and onions, no way. That's what I get for not going to Subway.
Amid my trying to pluck the onions and peppers off I noticed that my shrimp was still grey--not pink like COOKED shrimp should be. I picked one up and it was cold. I took French in Jr. highl and though I barely eeked out a C I know that sautee does not mean partially thawed. After more inspection I had three shrimp still FROZEN together. I quickly scooted my bowl to the side. The waitress said she'd get me some more--I said I'd rather have the halibut (which was dry, by the way).
The moral of this story--how often do you pick up a book to read with high hopes and find out that there were onions and peppers included? How often to you expect a nice satsfying read and find that the shrimp is frozen? In days gone by, this has happened to far too many people that pick up LDS fiction. And then what happens? Well, do you think I'll ever go back to this restaurant again? Probably not. With so many restaurants to chooose from, why would I bother? The cold sad truth is that too many books that have been published into the LDS market are undercooked and poorly presented. Too many people have read the book and decided that LDS fiction isn't written well enough to be worthy of their time. They simply read in the national market from that point on. And even though every other meal on that menu may have been great, the two I had weren't--am I going to try each individual item to see if I find something I like? Or will I simply go to a different place that serves what I know I like? It's not rocket science.
Last night my husband and I tried to figure out how the mistake was made. The shrimp was SUPPOSED to be sauteed. How does an important step like that get overlooked? We were truly befuddled. I suppose in a poorly written book one might wonder why on earth there was a plot hole big enough for a halibut to swim through and be just as perpelexed.
So how does one avoid this? Just as the cook should know what they are doing, so should the writer. Sautee means to cook--plot structure means that every scene relates to the other scenes and is a necissary component to the growing conflict that leads to climax that ends in conclusion. Any cook worth their season salt should know what sautee means, just as every writer ought to know what plot structure is. So as a writer--learn your craft!! A well written book will always be more satisfying to read then a poorly written story.
I promise you all the halibut you can eat that if you rush through the production of your book, if you don't ask for feedback from people that will give an honest opinion, and if you write the story YOU want to write rather than the story THEY want to read--you will regret it. You can't un-publish anything. Hopefully no publisher will pick you up--and if that's what you are banking for in avoiding education...uh, doesn't that seem a little unsupportive of the goal? But if you want a published book with your name on the cover that you can not only touch and feel, but you can also be proud of, then know what you're doing. Make sure your book isn't full of onions and peppers that would offend the sensibilityies of your publisher and/or your reader.
The Market is changing. What people used to overlook in favor of a clean story, is no longer so palitable. What publishers used to publish because it was 'cute' is no longer on the top of their list. The competition is getting fiercer, but that's a good thing. It means that those readers who once had frozen shrimp, might be convinced to sit at our table again. But if they do, we have to make SURE that they leave that meal satisfied. I think it will happen--but only if writers do their best.
Just like Mama always said--do your best. It's never been more true than in creating a book you hope to bless and inspire peoples life. Happy Writing!!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Capturing the Nothing Moments

Of all the questions I get asked about my writing—this one is asked more than any other ten to one.

“How do you find the time to write?”

It would perhaps be annoying to hear it over and over except for that fact that of all the questions I have asked, and continue to ask, of other published writers, it’s the first one I pitch as well. Even though I have been doing this for awhile, I’m still curious for the tricks and tips of other writers. Over the years the continual asking of that question has paid off. So what did I learn, you ask? Well, basically this

1) Turn off the TV—I love TV, just ask my kids and husband they will agree. But at some point I have to ask myself, and I encourage you to ask yourself the same thing, are THEIR stories better than mine? The fact is that Gilligan never got off the island, ER is still blood, guts and convoluted love affairs, and regardless of whether you text in your vote or not—America will get another Idol. All those shows, scripts, layouts etc. are the handiwork of a talented writer somewhere. Why watch their stuff when you can write you own? TV is perhaps the biggest time waster in our nation next to the DMV and blog reading so before you sit down and pick up the remote ask yourself if their stories could possibly be more satisfying then creating one of your own?

2) Find the hidden minutes in your day—see that picture up there, that’s me on the beaches of Costa Rica and what am I doing? Why, I’m writing. I’m on vacation which means no kids, no phone calls, no schedules. My husband, before he took the picture, was dozing in a hammock next to me. And I was writing. I wrote 45 pages on that trip without having to MAKE time anywhere—I just wrote a few lines now and then. In my normal un-beach life I write when I wait for the kids after gymnastics, I write when I show up on time for the dentist but the guy before me didn’t, I’ve even written in the checkout line of the grocery store when I got stuck behind the woman with eight kids that shops once a month. We all have them—the nothing minutes in your day. The trick is to catch them. Some writers use a laptop, some use a good old fashioned spiral notebook, I use an Alphasmart. It’s a portable word processor that I later can download to my computer. It turns off and on with the touch of a button and has no features other than typing words. It’s been priceless to me and I’m shocked every time I do a download to realize how much I wrote in those minutes that would have passed me by otherwise. If you want more information go to they have a variety of products—mine is the 3000 model and I love it.

3) Make time—this might mean waking up early, going to bed late, it might mean making breakfast, lunch (in a sack) and dinner (in the crock-pot) while the kids are getting ready for school. It might mean only scheduling your appointments between 1:00 and 3:00 so that your mornings are free, or if you work it might mean taking your lunch break at the computer a few days a week. It’s never worked well for me to have a set time to write everyday. I, like you, have a crazy busy life. What works for me is to look at my day the night before and see where I can fit one hour in my day. Then I plan accordingly and sit my fanny in the chair. I write for one hour. I get up about a dozen times to answer the phone (I won’t turn off the ringer if anyone in my household isn’t at home), to fetch drinks and snacks and answer the door. I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down for an entire hour just to write—in fact I don’t know that I could do it if I had the chance. In the beginning I only wrote when I had a 4 hour block of time. Now I do most of my writing in ten minute segments here and there. But I do try to schedule one hour for writing. It doesn’t always work. But most of the time it does.

Those are the tips I have gleaned from other writers and made my own. Apparently it’s working just fine for me. My seventh book comes out next month—that’s seven books in 6 years. Not bad. If the idea of finding/making time for your writing is overwhelming and not worth your time, that’s fine too. Don’t bother writing if it’s not worth sacrificing something. But the cold hard fact is that we all only have 24 hours—that’s it. None of us can control our lives enough that we get exactly what we want, but we can capture those moments, put the fanny in the chair and write toward our destiny.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

That Red Pen

Steven King said "Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings"
The darlings he refers to are those scenes you've toiled over, fallen in love with but they really just don't work. For the good of the book, they need to be sacrificed. I can attest to the fact that the book will be better with a few tombstones in the background. THAT is why I love my little red pen. It's said that every girl should have that little black dress--the essential item in their wardrobe. Well, every writer, regardless of genre, sex, experience, and resume, should have their little red pen. If you want to write the best book in you, you've got to be willing to kill off the unecessary elements.
And it doesn't JUST apply to the words you write. That little red pen, the killing of your darlings also factors into how and when you write. Can you kill off that 1/2 hour sitcom on Tuesday nights? Can you sacrifice the alarm that goes off at 7:00 and set it for 6:00? The only way to find that time is to kill off something else you've come to value. Will it be easy. I certainly hope not--because ease breeds idleness and if you're idle about your writing, then what time you do find will be wasted. No one wants to read the words of a pampered pontificator.
As a member of the LDS church I find continual self-evaluation to be a priceless gift--my own personal red pen for my own personal development. The fact that I can do better today than I did yesturday and better tomorrow than I did today is both a gift and a challenge. It's the same with my writing. To make it the best it can be, means I have to figure out the weakspots and make them strong or cut them out. In my own life, if I want it to be the best it can be I have to do the same.
So cheers to the little red pen!! Long may you bleed upon my pages, despite my egocentric little scribblers heart. I'm better because of you.