IWSG: Spring Fever

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Still hammering away at Faebourne! Looking down the barrel at that August 7th pub date . . . Also nervous but excited to have started doing Facebook videos. So if you have any questions you’d like answered, ask away and I’ll answer in my next video!

Question of the Month: It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?

Spring lights a fire under me in terms of writing because I realize that the kids will be out of school soon and my chances to write will become smaller. At the same time, I find myself wanting to be out in the warm weather (when we have it). Why not write outside? For whatever reason I find that nearly impossible. The glare on my screen or off the paper in particular makes it difficult for me. And I have to sit in the sun; for me, that’s the point of being outside to begin with. So writing in spring usually ends up being a kind of internal tug-of-war. A real need to sit down and get some work done versus a restlessness and desire to be out and about.

Book Covers?

I wanted to start a new Pinterest board of great book covers, but . . . For whatever reason, I wasn’t finding any I liked enough to pin. Maybe I’m in the wrong frame of mind, or maybe I’m just jaded. Or maybe my tastes run contrary to trends. I tried looking up “best book covers” but those that were pictured just didn’t do it for me.

Looking at my bookshelves now, it occurs to me I do really like the Peter Grant series covers . . . And the Shades of Magic covers are nice, too . . . But nothing is igniting my soul at the moment.

So now I’m asking you to show me your favorite book covers. Tell me what you like about them, too! I know I’ve seen gorgeous covers, so where have they gone and why am I not finding them now?

Favorite Books on Film

I saw this post on another blog (sorry but I don’t remember which one), and it got me thinking: Which book-to-film translations have I enjoyed? Sure, we all [usually] think the book is better, most likely because there’s a lot you can do with words that is difficult, if not impossible, to film. Inner dialogue, for example. But some books have translated pretty well to the screen anyway.

One I see on many lists—and yes, it’s on mine too—is Pride and Prejudice, in particular the BBC miniseries. Yeah, I love that one, too. Though it took me a while to warm to it because I had a college roommate that watched it over and over again. At that point I was avoiding her and the series, so when I finally did sit down to watching some years later, I found it was quite charming. And I do love Jane Austen.

Another book whose movie I enjoyed is Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I saw the movie first, though, and then felt compelled to read the book, which was wonderful as well. There is a prequel I’d like to read as well, though I always hesitate when an author revisits a scene after a long break. (See: Anne Rice’s most recent vampire novels, which I just could not get into.)

I’ll admit I liked Interview with the Vampire, too. I have no excuse for why except that maybe it came out at a time when I was receptive to Tom Cruise as an overacting blonde and boy does Brad Pitt look pretty in that movie.

1939 — British actress Vivien Leigh on the set of Gone with the Wind, based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell and directed by Victor Fleming. — Image by © Metro-Goldwin-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

Gone with the Wind is a favorite movie of mine as well. I used to lay on the couch and watch it whenever I was home sick from school. My freshman year of high school, we had to read the book. So, again, this is a situation in which I’d seen the movie first. And I know the romanticization of the Antebellum South is problematic, but Scarlett is such a vivid character that I can’t help enjoying both the book and film.

Another book/movie combo that makes my list: The Ghost Writer. Robert Harris both wrote the novel and the screenplay, so that probably goes a long way toward the two hanging together well. And you know I can’t say no to Ewan McGregor.

Finally, an oldie but goldie: The Haunting. I mean the 1963 version. I love, love, love Shirley Jackson’s novella “The Haunting of Hill House,” and this movie did it justice. Of course, maybe that’s because my friends and I stayed up late one night to watch it and scared ourselves silly. Fond memories can color one’s perception of how good a book or movie really is, I suppose.

What book adaptations have you enjoyed? Maybe later I’ll post about some terrible ones. I think it can be tricky to capture a book well on film, which is why good screenwriting is so important. Some day I still hope to see St. Peter in Chains make it to the screen . . . If and when it does, let’s hope it turns out well!

SFWC 2018: Why Am I Not Writing?

Writers love when the dam breaks and the words flow. If only that could be all the time. However, sometimes the words dry up. Sometimes life simply gets in the way.

One of the final sessions I attended at SFWC this year was a presentation by David Rasch. While on the surface it can be easy to say, “I’m too busy,” Rasch delves deeper into reasons we might stop writing. He pointed out:

“Writer’s block” is a universal issue for writers, but it’s not the same for everyone. The consequences are profound. It causes internal distress. Once you can write again, however, your mood improves.

I’ve generally found this to be true.

Why is writing so hard?

Writing is a neurologically complex task. It may seem simple—you put some words on paper or type them on a screen—but there’s a lot more going on than that. Effort and concentration are required—it’s work! Hard work! And it’s often solitary work, so a writer has to be okay with being alone. He or she has to find the time and space to focus on the task. Sometimes the practical demands of daily life pull you away, or sometimes mental chaos and distractions do it (the Internet, anyone?).

Also, the public nature of the final product, the fear of exposure, imposter syndrome can all play a part in writer’s block. Past bad experiences with writing can cause trauma that prevents you from making progress as well.

What are the barriers to productivity?

Well, first you need motivation—a desire to write. Then you’ll make writing a priority. There’s an old saying that if you can walk away from writing, you should. If you can’t, then you’re a writer. Time management, too, can be an issue for some people. If you don’t plan well or are disorganized, you may not be as productive.

Also, health issues (physical, mental, emotional) may impact your ability to write. Natural talent or ability, too. Writing is easier for some people than others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write if it doesn’t come easily, but you should be aware that the challenge of writing may stop your progress.

Making sure you have a writing space that works for you, a place where you can concentrate and relax without interruption, is key. And developing writing habits and a regular routine is also important. Pinpoint your behaviors for when you’re avoiding writing. Do you clean the house? Bum around on YouTube? Once you’ve figured them out, put a stop to them.

In school we were given deadlines for our work. Now that we’re grown, if we don’t have an agent or publisher, we may have no deadline either. Setting one for yourself is too easy to ignore, so have someone you trust set a deadline for you—someone who will hold you accountable and not let you off the hook too easily. This person might be a fellow writer, or even members of your critique group. They should check in regularly so you can account for your progress (or lack thereof).

What are some of the problems writers run into?

  • Time (scheduling/prioritizing) – Write every day, even if only for 15 minutes, and protect that time. Eventually it will become a habit.
  • Difficulty starting – Better to jump into a cold swimming pool than dip a toe in. Else you might never swim.
  • Freezing up – Sometimes you stare at the blank screen and can’t think of anything, which causes anxiety.
  • Feeling overwhelmed – The project or idea might feel too big, and you feel like you can’t start writing until you’ve figured it all out. But the best way to figure it out is to start writing. The writing itself will help you clarify the story.
  • Procrastination/binge cycle – You put off writing for days or weeks and suddenly sit and write for hours at a time.
  • Excessive early editing – You feel the need to fix that chapter, that page, that paragraph before you can go on. This causes you to write at a micro pace. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect the first (or second, or even third) time. Just get it written.
  • Perfectionism – Similar to the previous. Save your perfectionism for the final polish.
  • Excessive research – Falling down the Wiki rabbit hole.
  • Revision loop – It’ll never be perfect, and at some point you’ve got to stop revising and say it’s good enough.
  • Unable to finish/not wanting to share your work – A fear of criticism may keep you from submitting or publishing. But not everyone will like what you write. That’s just part of the package. If you want to write just for you, that’s fine. But make that decision early on.
  • Fear of success – Rasch told the story of a man who couldn’t finish his book because he was afraid Oprah would pick it for her book club and he’d have to go on TV. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Take things one step at a time.
  • Fear that you’re a fluke – A one-hit wonder? Beginner’s luck? Maybe you’re afraid you only have the one book in you.

Hard work often pays off after time, but procrastination always pays off now.

Every time you procrastinate, you strengthen the habit of not writing. You feel relieved at first. At the end of the day, you may say to yourself, “Well, I just didn’t have the time. Oh well.” But eventually you feel terrible.

How do I change my habits?

  • Make success unavoidable – Be consistent by writing every day, even if you’re not working on the “big project.” Write anything.
  • Know your avoiding behaviors and create a strategy for dealing with them
  • Set realistic goals and break things into bite-sized chunks
  • Be okay with imperfect drafts
  • Set contingency plans – As in, “I can only go online after I’ve written for at least 15 minutes.”
  • Have a relapse strategy – If and when you fall off the wagon, have a plan in place for getting back on.

I’ll tell you some of my writing obstacles: I’ve had some bad experiences with criticism and a lack of overall success with my work. These things really undercut my motivation to keep writing. I begin to ask myself why I bother and whether I’m just wasting my time.

Also, I’ve recently gone through a serious bout of depression. That definitely impacted my desire and ability to write.

This session helped me see my way clear to getting back into writing. The energy of the conference overall was good for that as well. And it’s so important as a writer for me to have support from friends and family. So be sure that you go support your fellow writers because you’ll need theirs in return.

Do you have avoidant behaviors that cause you to procrastinate? What are your coping strategies when you’re finding it difficult to write? Tell me about it in the comments!

SFWC 2018: Synopses

One of the most onerous parts of being a writer is having to boil down the entirety of your book into 1-2 pages. I’ve often said, “If I could tell it in a page, I wouldn’t have written a book!” Still, many agents still require a synopsis. So here is some info on how to write them.

Some agents ask for a 1-page synopsis. If so, you should write it single spaced with a break between each paragraph. If you’re asked for a 2-page synopsis, you should double space with no extra break between paragraphs.

A synopsis is always written in third person present tense, regardless of the POV of the book itself. Also, a synopsis is the one place where you’ll be asked to tell instead of show. For example, if your character is old and miserly, you might literally write in your synopsis: “SCROOGE is a crotchety old miser who hates Christmas.”

Notice that I also capitalized Scrooge’s name. The woman running this session said to do that the first time you introduce a character in a synopsis. I’ll admit I’d never heard that one before. It’s something we do in screenwriting, but I have never heard of anyone doing it when writing prose. I suppose it can’t hurt.

Although a synopsis tells the story of the novel—and yes, you should give away the ending—do not simply list the events that occur by saying, “And then . . .” Vary your transitions and keep it interesting. Give character motivations, too: “Seeing the vial of poison beside Romeo’s body, Juliet kisses him in the hopes that she might also be poisoned. When that doesn’t work, she takes Romeo’s dagger . . .” You get the picture.

In fact, reading a sample synopsis for a book you’re familiar with can help you figure out how to write your own.

Final rule: omit backstory and secondary plot lines unless these things tie in with the main plot. The example that was used in this session was that of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Could he be included in the synopsis? Sure. Is he entirely necessary? Probably not.

The goal of a synopsis is to give the skull of the book. I say that because, you know how forensic pathologists can recreate a face from a skull? The agent will construct a sense of your book from the synopsis. That’s probably a really weird analogy, but there you go.

SFWC 2018: Exploring Your Print Options

Let’s assume you’re going to self-publish your book. You’ll do an e-book, certainly, but then you have to decide whether or not to also do a print version. Some indie authors don’t. They say the print books don’t sell enough to make it worthwhile, especially since print-on-demand (POD) books aren’t stocked in stores. Especially not books printed by Amazon’s CreateSpace, which many bookstores view as the enemy. (I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve run into this problem myself. One of my publishers used CreateSpace for the paperback version of my book, and none of my local stores will carry it because of that.)

Still, there are people who don’t read e-books, and many industry professionals say it’s best to offer some kind of print version to maximize your chances of being read. Also, I’ve noticed many indie book awards require you to have your book in print.

So you want to print your book, and you don’t want to use Amazon. What are your other options? Well, it’s possible to do offset (traditional) printing, even if you’re an indie author. Let’s look at the differences between POD and offset.

POD
Pros: environmentally friendly since books are only printed when ordered; costs little to nothing for the author; the author doesn’t have to warehouse any stock
Cons: costs more per copy; there is no discount for a bulk order; choices of paper and trim sizes, etc. are limited; quality control issues; general stigma; bookstores won’t stock and libraries seldom order them

Offset
Pros: the more you print, the more money you save; more printing options overall; greater quality control; bookstores and libraries are more willing to stock them
Cons: costs more money up front; authors must warehouse the books or pay to have them warehoused by a distributor

How to decide? Sometimes it comes down to whether you have the money and the room in your garage to do your own print run. But really you need to know a couple things:

1. Who are you selling to? If bookstores and libraries, then you want to do offset. If directly to readers, POD might be fine so long as you’re relatively sure the books will print at good enough quality.

2. How many books can you realistically sell? Offset only makes sense if you print 250+ copies. Do you have space to keep those somewhere? Do you think you can sell that many at events, etc.? You also need to be prepared to fulfill orders from home.

Can you do both? Sure. You can have POD and a print run.

Why do bookstores balk at stocking POD titles? Because bookstores are used to receiving a discount (of about 55%) from distributors. They can’t get that discount with POD. Also, bookstores can return unsold books to distributors, but not POD books. And, again, many POD titles come from Amazon, which bookstores see as a competitor.

A viable alternative is IngramSpark, which does have a POD option but also lets you set a discount for bookstores. And Ingram is a known distributor that bookstores and libraries are comfortable working with. You’ll still need to market your titles to bookstores and libraries, but you’ll be able to say, “It’s available from Ingram” and they’ll know what that means.

Be sure, when doing a print version, that you have a good formatter and designer. The skills to create a good print book are somewhat different from those needed for an e-book. Many book designers can do both, but do your homework and find a good one.

Clear as mud? Great! Indie authors have to make a lot of decisions, and how (or whether) to print the book is just one of a long list. I hope this post helps you choose the best way to bring your book into the world.

90s Kid Book Tag

I wasn’t exactly a “kid” in the 90s. In 1990 I finished eighth grade and started high school. But I still want to try this 90s Kid Book Tag.

The Rules

  1. Please, please, please steal this tag and spread it around! I only ask that you link it back to The Literary Phoenix so that I can see everyone’s answers!
  2. Tag, you’re it! Even if you weren’t a kid in the 90s, so long as you’re old enough to remember the 90s, I want to hear about those memories! And if you do participate, don’t forget to tag someone.
  3. Have fun!

Gotta catch ’em all!

Pokemon was big in the 90s. But we’re here for books. So: Which author do you need every book from? For me it’s Tana French. I received a copy of In the Woods when I was a reviewer for Blogcritics and it hooked me. Even though it took me forever to read The Likeness because I couldn’t immediately forgive French for dumping Rob and going on to another character. Now, though, I understand that’s kind of the point of the series, and I’ve learned to love it.

Ready, AIM . . .

Remember AOL Instant Messenger? How great it was to chat online before mobile phones let us text? What book(s) connected you with your best friend? Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I can’t even begin to describe how those books affected us. I checked Interview with the Vampire out from the school library (it’s a wonder our school had it) and read it in secret. Guess it’s not a secret now! Sorry, Mom.

Monstrous!

Furbies were all the rage. Well, okay, I didn’t have one, nor did I want one. Bottom line, though, Furbies were demon-possessed robots of pure evil that would go off in the middle of the night at random and never shut up. (I only know this because my children now have them.) In the book world, what book seemed like a good idea but turned out to be, well, a bad one? I have to say, nothing immediately springs to mind. I’ve probably blocked it out. I’ve read plenty of disappointing books in my day. Recently I tried to read The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman. I’d enjoyed The Lake of Dead Languages, and the idea behind The Ghost Orchid sounded really intriguing, but I just couldn’t like the characters. I wouldn’t say the book itself was a bad idea, only that it didn’t work for me. I’ll add that I feel that way about pretty much anything written by Roald Dahl, too—his books are supposedly classics, but I’ve never liked any of them.

Bye, Bye, Bye

N’Sync was the big thing. And while we still have Justin Timberlake to entertain us, what book did you hate to say goodbye to? So many! Anything by Zilpha Keatley Snyder for starters, The Changeling in particular. I really identified with that book. Du Maurier’s Rebecca, too, which swept me away.

Barth Burgers

You Can’t Do That on Television ended in 1990, so I guess it still technically counts? On that show, Barth would serve up disgusting meals at a restaurant one had to wonder how it ever stayed open. What book did other people eat up that you just couldn’t stomach? I’ll admit I never tried to read them, but I remember my friends going on about Francesca Lia Block books . . . I also never read Goosebumps or Christopher Pike. I feel like I sort of skipped a layer of reading in my life; I went straight from Judy Blume to Dean Koontz and never looked back.

Kill Me Now

Oregon Trail is something I hear people talk about a lot, but for whatever reason we never played it where I lived. Still, I’m now very familiar with the idea behind the game. What book made you wish you’d died of dysentery? For me, The Scarlet Letter was a real trial. I also don’t at all enjoy Moby-Dick.

On Permanent Rotation

Mix tapes (or CDs) were all the rage. It was the biggest sign of affection to create one for someone. We didn’t have MP3s, after all, so making a tape or CD took real time. And it was a great way to introduce people to your favorite songs or bands. (My husband made me a mix tape when we first started dating, and Marillion’s “Kayleigh” remains one of my favorite songs.) Which three books would you put on your “playlist” by recommending them to anyone, anywhere, anytime? I often find myself recommending Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch. Also, A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice and The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero.

Dialing In

Who can forget the sound of the modem connecting? And how it took forever to connect, often only to be ruined by someone either picking up the phone or calling? What book took ages to read? For me it was Watchers by Dean [R.] Koontz. I loved that book, and I’m a quick reader, but I remember that one took time, maybe because I was savoring it.

Water, Water . . .

In the 90s you couldn’t escape things like Adam Sandler. What book do you feel like you see referenced everywhere and is in everything? The Harry Potter books, of course. Those books have entered the general lexicon. Also Shakespeare.

No Peeking!

Cover your eyes and count to ten. Did you look through your fingers to see which way everyone ran to hide? What book did you read the end of first because you just couldn’t stand the suspense? I’m proud to say I’ve never done this. In fact, I can’t stand the thought of doing it. For me, all the fun in reading a book is in getting to the end.

Red Slice Anyone?

We all have fond memories of old foods and drinks that are no longer with us. I remember drinking Red Slice in the UT cafeteria. What are some of your favorite bookish snacks? I find when I’m reading, weirdly enough I crave bread and butter or toast.

Spooky Mulder

Did you love The X-Files? Did Eugene Tooms or the Flukeman rob you of sleep? (For me it was Brad Dourif in “Beyond the Sea.” Something so much more creepy about a realistic killer.) Name a book that kept you up at night. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Remains one of my favorites by him, too.

Mr. Wizard

Like You Can’t Do That on Television, Mr. Wizard’s World didn’t last much beyond the 80s. Still, I learned plenty from him, and from MacGyver, too. Name a book that taught you something new. Though fiction, King and Goddess by Judith Tarr taught me about the female pharaoh Hatshepsut and engendered my interest in ancient history in general. The Memoirs of Cleopatra likewise gave me a deeper vision of that queen’s life.

I hope you enjoyed this book tag. Pretty extensive! Try it yourself if you’re brave enough! Or just tell me about your favorite books in the comments.

IWSG: Genre Love

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

I’m insecure about no one wanting my words. I’m tired of being invisible. People keep telling me to “take a break,” but I haven’t written in over a month. Never mind a break, I think I’m flat-out broken.

Question of the Month: What do you love about the genre you write most often?

I’m not sure I have a genre I write most often. I write a lot of different things, and none of them any more than the rest. Well, let’s say it’s an even split between mystery and fantasy (but there’s more historical romance coming!). But really, no matter what I’m writing, I love two things: (a) the characters, and (b) the world building.

I’m a character writer, no question. I really do fall a little bit in love with each of mine. As for world building, I just love the craft. There’s something so satisfying about creating a whole world—even if it’s not a fantasy world. Even if it’s just another time period or a made-up town, I enjoy the work immensely.