Tuesday, August 07, 2012

DON'T FORGET THE ANGST


When was the last time you cried or laughed aloud while reading a book? Do you remember why the story affected you so? Let's discuss what it takes as a writer to create fiction that will make our readers laugh or cry.

Is it the story? The answer to that is yes and no, for a story alone has no power to make the reader's emotions erupt. Yet a bad story can ruin everything. Most importantly, for emotions to come to the surface, the reader has to have people to care about. Real people with all their faults, their dreams and cares, their happiness and sadness. Okay, easy to say. There's probably not a writer alive who doesn't know the truth of this. Sadly, though many writers don't know how to go about creating characters readers will embrace.

If you have a problem making your readers laugh and cry, and grow so involved in your story they can't put down your book, then it may be because your characters are two dimensional cardboard people. Who cares if they live or die? You've heard the expression, 'too dumb to live.' We don't care if their dreams come true, or even if they have dreams. Just who cares?

What is sometimes missing is often referred to as angst. The dictionary calls angst an almost neurotic feeling of anxiety. Translating anxiety to anxious for the sake of characterization, we find a second meaning: intent, fervent, desirous.  As writers, we know that feelings are caused by something that is almost intangible.
A little off the subject, but something that illustrates the point I'm trying to make about characterization. I once read this explanation by someone with a terribly high IQ, that if you leave a fan running in a room, the room will not be cooler, it will only feel like it. WHAT? Clearly, this woman does not understand human perception. If we perceive something, then it is.

So, when you create a character, first get under their skin until you feel their heart beating, hear the voices in their head, see a loved one with their eyes, hear a child's laughter with their ears, feel the smooth skin of a lover with their fingers, smell the love pheromones with their nose, and taste morning coffee with their tongue. I could go on, but I'll stop there. This is not easy.

Here's the way I do it, but dealing with this dilemma of emotions in your story is different for each one of us. Find your own way if this won't work for you. When the story and the voices of my characters begin to form in my mind, I do not write long outlines, or for that moment, don't even take notes. My creativity stems from the freshness of each word, paragraph, page. I step into my character's shoes and begin her story, writing like crazy. First draft probably runs on for four or five chapters. I'm getting acquainted with my protagonists, usually two, and my antagonist. The others are on the periphery for the moment. A bartender with a bald head and squinchy eyes, the little boy next door whose nose always runs, the woman my hero once loved who is so beautiful. These don't concern me during the first draft, other than putting them in place as they show up.

By the fourth of fifth chapter I'm beginning to know my characters. Now I'm excited. For the next few days my mind plays with the story and the people and I make notes madly. Notes on envelopes, on toilet paper squares, on table napkins, on anything that's handy wherever I happen to be when the idea hits. Each day I continue to write, but those notes begin to pile up. I'm fleshing out the scenes because I've grown acquainted with the people. I'm giving them a back story that will be dribbled through the book. I'm learning their faults, and give them some doozies, I'm learning why they behave the way they do. Where they came from, where they're going, what they want. And best of all why the two of them are coming together. This I did not know when I wrote those first chapters. Often they paid little attention to each other.

Once I jot down all these new ideas, I return to the beginning and flesh out my scenes for the characters I now know so well I can live under their skin.  And the story unfolds from there with few problems. This is always the way I've written my books. Some writers may not feel comfortable working this way. Find what works for you, but for goodness sake, don't leave out the anxiety. And don't forget: fervent, raring to go, intent and desirous emotional conflicts. Dig down deep inside yourself. There will be dark moments that will strengthen your character. Use those as well as the happy times, the fulfillment of dreams, the falling in love. And your readers will laugh and cry and turn the pages of your book as fast as they can read them.

Monday, July 30, 2012

WOMEN CONQUER AND RULE


Besides being a writer, I’m a woman, a wife, mother, grandmother and a great grandmother. And I’m a human being, an American, a daughter of pioneers.

Over the past 28 years that I’ve written and been published, I’ve seen the role of women in novels and stories evolve from the meek to the mighty. Some could say this has happened much too slowly, some could add that the female role has become a bit ridiculous in some instances. Women who fight and conquer monsters might seem to some to be outrageously impossible. Yet isn’t that what has been done since that day in 1920 when the lowly female of the species was at last allowed to cast her vote? It was once outrageously impossible. A monster which women conquered.

I can’t help but point out, being a writer of much that is western in fiction and non fiction, that the first time women were allowed to vote and hold public office took place in Wyoming as early as 1858. I have long wondered why this happened there, of all places. Could it be that because women were in such short supply on the western frontier, they were deemed more important? Or more probably, there weren’t any men who would consider holding these offices, and so it fell to women. Let’s hope it was because the women were stronger and more stubborn, having survived the challenges involved in going west and living on the frontier.

I know that is true of such job offerings as post masters of small towns on the early frontier. The pay was so small that no man would apply for the job. It was also work that could be done from home while tending to the washing and ironing, the scrubbing and cooking, the birthing and raising of children. Today, women are fulfilling all sorts of jobs, not because it’s easy, but because it’s difficult.

My favorite quote, and here again I’m paraphrasing: Women who behave don't make history. In other words, if we don’t raise all holy Ned, then our names and our deeds will soon be forgotten. Take my very distant cousin, Clara Barton. She did what most other women of her day disapproved of. She cared for the sick, including the male of the species. My grandmother was so infuriated by such actions that she would not lay claim to our relationship to this courageous woman who began the Red Cross in this country. Barton dedicated her life to seeing that soldiers and indeed all those who fell ill or were injured, received the care they deserved.

Women who move beyond the limits set by their culture often gain other women’s disapproval. For instance, Mabel Dodge, who dared marry the man she loved who happened to be not only a Tewa Indian, but a man who worked as her chauffeur. She and her husband  went on to build The Sagebrush Inn in Taos.

My book, Fly With The Mourning Dove, is about a strong and determined woman, who from early childhood enjoyed the freedom of ranch life. A difficult life lived on the high desert of New Mexico where women were breaking out of the mold in so many ways. Edna Smith Hiller, who lived the life I wrote about, faced plenty of adversity, much of which the book doesn’t touch on. During her 92nd  and 93rd year, she shared her stories with me, the great adventures of her life, going back to the age of six. Her memories were precise, her stories amazing, and she recalled so much of the early Anglo settlements in New Mexico around Taos and Santa Fe. This admirable and amazing woman is also a distant cousin, and today, at 97 has handed over the management of her ranches to her daughter and son-in-law. Until recently, Edna had a hand in managing two of the ranches that have been in her family since the homesteading days after World War I. As far as Anglos and this United States are concerned, New Mexico is young compared to other states.

Women like those who were courageous and strong enough to settle unknown country, build homes, families, churches, businesses, molded our lives in so many ways, for which we should all be grateful.





Monday, July 23, 2012

RECONNECT TO THE PAST



Work soon destroyed this old dam where our house once stood, but the site itself remains as a picnic area abover the new lake.

On a lovely day almost forty years ago I drove south from my new home in Winslow, Arkansas, intent on revisiting my childhood past. Though Highway 71 had changed a lot, I had no trouble at all recognizing Old Creek Road. Back in the early days it was rutted and narrow and meandered through the remote hollow where more than a dozen families lived. I turned off with some reluctance. This would be hard, for what I had always known was gone. Deep down in the valley where the sun only shines a few hours a day, I caught first sight of the glistening waters of Lake Shepherd Springs and pulled over. For a moment I couldn’t drive across the neat mound of rock and dirt that held back the lake, but could only sit there and gaze through the glare of my tears at all that remained.

That great gnarly cedar once lived in the back yard of my childhood home. Scattered at its feet masses of jonquils bloomed, their golden heads nodding in a sweet, cool breeze off the water. Beneath the cedar once grew a climbing rose, red as blood when it bloomed. Moving the tiny grave of my baby sister must have killed the thorny bush.

I sighed and nudged the car forward. Shards of brittle sunlight sparkled off the water and brought more tears to my eyes. Gathered in the hollows, the lake covered the fields where my father and grandfather once plowed the rich dark earth to raise beans and okra and tomatoes to feed us.

A rush of water roared over the spillway, tumbling around boulders big as houses. They lay scattered where they had come to rest when dynamite blasts tore great chunks from the mountain and destroyed the path where I once walked hand in hand with my mother on the way to grandmother’s house.

Grandma's house on the mountain above our place. It's now a historical site along the hiking trails at the new lake.

But we left this place long before the dynamite and the moving of my baby sister’s grave. Our course was already set on a different life out in the world, away from the poverty and the simple Ozark cradle that was a peculiar kind of childhood for all of us. My brother, my mother, my father, and I left behind tiny pieces of our hearts and souls, buried with the two little ones who found the going much too tough and gave it up.

I parked and climbed out, strolled gingerly across the hallowed ground, and sat for a time on one of the picnic tables, embraced by what had been my entire world. Turning from the lake, I pictured the log house built by my father, the rock chimney I once believed pierced a hole through the blue of the sky.

A breeze off the water soothed me and set the flowers to dancing again. My mother planted those bulbs deep in this soil nearly sixty years earlier, and everyone knows the power of a mother. They have endured; nothing can destroy them, especially not those whose turn it is to enjoy this place, who come to hunt and camp and fish and chase their children from the thickets where copperhead snakes lie in wait.

While we chose to wander afar, those who remained out here in this wilderness of the Arkansas Ozarks lost their land too. For many of them the loss meant more than being deprived of something they had already left behind. Over the next few months, my goal to interview them would lead me along many roads and byways to a re-connection with my roots.

And thus I began my writing career, urged on by these memories I could no longer deny. One story led to another, taking me on the path that would one day lead to publication. First in newspapers and magazines, then on to novels which I continue to write today. It's been a long enjoyable road, but as I look back it seems only a few weeks or months have passed since I set the first words on paper.

Patience and perseverance are the key to success in this crazy writing life. The first three or four novels continue to languish in storage. A part of my learning process. May yours be as successful and enjoyable as mine has been and still is. 

Monday, July 09, 2012

CREATING A PROFESSIONAL BLOG...NOT



Sorry I haven't blogged here in a couple of weeks. Life sort of got out of hand, and chores piled up that had to be done. Know all of you out there will understand that.
So, I've been reading all the rules for creating a successful, professional blog and have decided I don't understand most of them. Turns out I haven't ever done anything right, as far as the rules go. I've never had a Feed Burner or FeedBlitz so that people could subscribe to my blog. Don't know anything about an RSS feed because I've been so busy figuring out what I ought to post that would be helpful to my readers that I didn't learn how to find or use those. Looks like the folks who provide the blogging space would provide that stuff, since it seems we have to have it.
Okay, I can hear the chatter and tongue clucking already. Why don't I Google that stuff and learn about it? Well, that's simple. I've spent the last year Googling all the thousands of ways I can promote myself, build a platform, create a brand, make myself visible to the millions of people who prowl the Web day and night…big breath…and sharing what I've learned. Fine, getting a proper blog should be a big part of that effort. Sometimes I feel like I'm standing in this hundred-mile-long line waiting to be served.
In an effort to fix this huge error in my education, later this month some of us local writers are attending a conference at the University of Arkansas where we'll learn how to use WordPress. Ah, a proper blog at last, one would hope.
It isn't that I don't know how to write stuff. I'm pretty good at that. And I'll share anything I learn in a way that makes it easy for others to comprehend. It's that all this other business defeats me. Go to my website and you'll see tons of stuff. History, photos, books, chapters, and almost anything you need to know about me. But click on the Blog there and you'll see one or two futile attempts. Mostly inane subjects I can't imagine anyone cares about.
Check out my other blogs. I have three including this one here at blogger. Why did I do that? Shoot, who knows? I wanted to separate my historical information from my writer information from a journal of sorts that would just contain random information. Aha, I read somewhere that a blogger should never write random information. We should have a genre for our blog just like we do for our books.
That's probably where I strayed into trouble. You see, I write in many genres, so it follows I'd do the same with my blogs. Historical nonfiction, biographies, creative nonfiction, essays, western historical romances, horror, paranormal fiction, short stories, newspaper articles, and women's fiction. Don't ever do that. Not unless you absolutely can't help yourself. Do as I say, not as I do because it'll mess up your writing and your promotion and your branding life forever.
If you don't believe me, check out my books on my Kindle page or my website,  or my blogs: Historical ; Journal.  Then maybe you'll be as confused as I am.

Monday, June 18, 2012

THOUGHTS ON PROMOTING


You know what? Before I go crazy and climb the walls, I'm going to have a nice quiet chat with my fellow writers. Some days it doesn't pay, as they say, to sit down to the computer. Because on those days life just slams into you. Then I read where someone has real problems and I think how dumb it is of me to stew about little stuff.
Tell you though, when all the electronics in the house rise up, like there are ghosts in the machines, and they begin to do whatever they want, it makes one wonder if we might be better off…no, bite my tongue. I read recently that Mark Twain was the first to write a book using a typewriter, and Tom Clancy wrote Hunt for Red October on a computer in 1985, another first. However, some say that Dune was submitted on 8" floppy discs, no doubt created on a word processor, which we in those days called a computer, in 1976 (could've been 1975) my brain did a long blink there.
My first computer was just that. A word processor. It had a screen about six inches square and used floppy discs without a hard drive. That was around 1988 or 1989. I'd already written three novels on a Sears electric typewriter. But I think I've written about this before, so nuff said.
What is really driving me round the bend now is promoting all my books. Why I decided to put all the back list up plus submit to three publishers all around the same time, I'll never know. Thankfully, seven of them are in the same genre, western historical romance. Two are paranormal and horror.
So I'm doing my best to get myself and my work on every networking site out there. This may be a big mistake. Maybe I should practice what I preach and concentrate on three or four that I really like, plus good blogs and website. But new stuff keeps coming up and I think, 'Oh, I have to have me and my books there or no one will know me.' So everything else comes to a dead halt while I get profile, excerpt, bio, etc for the newest site.
Okay, here are a few for you ebook authors, just to tantalize you. I'm not putting links, but just the names. If you're too lazy to jot them down and type them in your bar, then you probably aren't too interested in the work involved in promoting your latest book(s).
Bublish, Muttonline, Angie's Diary, Pinterest, allebooks.com
Now, get out there and Google indie book sites cause you need to have your Kindle and/or indie published books listed on those too. Don't forget Author Central on Amazon if you haven't filled it in already. Then find some blogs that are talking about what you write and make a comment there. Some fellow suggested that you should comment on five blogs a day for a week and include a link to your book in your comment. I didn't know that was acceptable, but he's talking about that rising your sales.
Gotta go and Google some more sites up. Take care, and look at what I'm doing on the sites I've recommended. Some aren't complete yet, but I'm working on them. Of course, I have things on western sites that I didn't include here, like take a look at westernebooks.com and see how they rotate books there. Only hope readers are finding these sites.
Remember, you're looking for readers, not other writers, who for the most part already know you and your work if you've been around a while.
Have a great remainder of the day. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

5 WAYS TO SURVIVE THE STORMS OF LIFE



Sometimes the best laid plans come to nothing, to paraphrase Shakespeare. As writers we often run up against a wall, despite all we can do. This week showed that no matter how well organized we are there are powers at work beyond our control. Yes, don't we hate to admit that, those of us who are determined to control our writing lives.

Last week I joined a new promotion site on invitation when I followed a link put up by another writer. Bublish advertised that it was for writers and our books would be displayed on shelves in what they call bubbles. If I would furnish information for a bubble for my latest book, it would be displayed at the New York Book Expo beginning Monday. The information was due Monday.

Following all the instructions and writing something for each request: a short synopsis, writer's input, an excerpt, a bio, images of the book and myself. I filed this away as it was supposed to be sent Monday, June 4. Not by Monday, but on Monday. These books posted by invited authors would be shown at the Expo. The site is free.

Sunday night a crashing thunder storm hit. The wind blew, thunder shook the house, lightning lit up the mountains, rain poured in sheets. At 4 a.m. the electricity went off. It came back on around 9:30 a.m. and I eagerly sat down to my computer. My chore on Monday is to take care of the pile of emails that pour in from Saturday evening when I stop work through Sunday, when I don't even turn on this machine and into Monday morning. But my first job was to send my information to Bublish. Didn't want it to be late.
Well, you remember those powers that be which I spoke of earlier? They were at work. No Internet. Okay, nothing unusual. I'd wait. Called my daughter who lives next to me out here on the mountain to make sure it was the Internet and not just me. Sure enough, DSL was off, so I worked on formatting a book to send off to my publisher. She called in a couple of hours, said the Internet was back on. So I eagerly hit Chrome Browser and waited, and waited. Nothing. A quick check and the computer said no deal. It couldn't repair the connection.

Okay, downstairs to the "hotspot." Unplugged everything, waited, waited, plugged everything back in. Still nothing. No WiFi to TV or other computer, so it wasn't mine. TV and DVD worked fine.
Last resort. Call computer guy, who also has a part time job. He can't come till Tuesday afternoon. Guess I lost my spot on Bublish. Expo goes on all week, so maybe if we get it fixed by this afternoon I can still make it. No way to know but to wait and see.

So this makes me think of a lot of things in life over which we absolutely have no control, no matter how we plan, or put things in order. Things will go wrong. But there are ways to remedy this, much like I've done following our storm:

1. Make sure what you've tried will not work
2. Try fixing your submission
3. Call someone for help
4. Search for another solution
5. Know when to put the piece away and write something else

When I was younger I would've gone from frustration to anger to a crying jag over something like this. Now that I'm older and more mellow, I just figure whatever happens happens. When we're young anything that deters our plans seems like the end of the world, but later we learn that isn't true at all. Something else will come along. But only if we help that to happen.

When the line I was writing for in New York closed after I'd just begun a good start there, four books published, sales rising, no best sellers yet, it spelled doom for my contract as it did many others. Some tucked their tails between their legs, quit writing and went on to something else. I couldn't quit writing, still haven't. I learned that out there somewhere is a place for all of us in which we can do what we love to do.
Now, to look at this properly, those who stopped writing and went on to something else to satisfy their creative needs, also learned how to solve their situation. That was best for them. Those of us who couldn't quit writing found our solution in other ways. We dug in and moved on. And along came small publishers, Ebooks, Kindle, with new opportunities.

So my lesson for this week: Do your best, organize, plan. If it doesn't work out turn to something else. Don't bemoan your dreadful fate and give up, because while you're doing that you could, instead, be organizing and planning something else. If we sit back and wait for good things to happen, they won't. If we keep putting our writing out there, more often than not, good things will happen. Some will come from the most unexpected places.

Ten years ago who could have imagined what is happening today in the writing world. Just as we can't imagine what is to come in the next few years. But if we don't stick around to experience it, we'll be missing out. So weather the storms, stand up, dust yourself off and get to work.

Monday, May 14, 2012

PROMOTING? GROW FLOWERS THAT BLOOM

Promotion is on the minds of many writers in todays market place. Over and over we're told that we have to do our own promotion. When this is mentioned in our large critique group we hear a lot of groans. But you know what, those who are groaning nowadays are those who are working on getting their first book published. If we're smart, we who've been in the business a while have stepped into Online Promotion already.

Well, guess what? If you're working on being a serious writer, you'd better already be serious about building that platform while you try to get your work published. Promoting online is no longer just for the nonfiction writer, and it's certainly not only just for someone with two or three books out there.

Getting ready to upload to Kindle? Nook? iPub? Recently I received an email from a close friend in the business for quite a while who had uploaded her first book to Kindle. She wanted to know how to check her sales. I told her, and it wasn't but a few minutes till she wrote back and said no copies of her book had sold.

The latest figures on books published to Ebooks weekly I believe was around 65,000 per week. Well, without promotion, we're not going to stand out in that field. We'll be amidst the tiniest weeds overshdowed by the tall brilliant sunflowers, the midsized wild larkspur and even the ground hugging but blooming clover. Everyone who blooms in the field of Epublishing has a better chance than those who are withered and dried.

I tell writers, pick three or four social media sites to begin with. Concentrate on becoming a blooming flower on them. What does a blooming flower do? It gives of itself, shares its beauty, its sweet fragrance. It doesn't overpower everyone with too much leaf flapping, or swaying so widely it knocks over other beautiful blossoms. It doesn't send out roots that steal water and nurturing from others. Shares is the critical word here.

When a friend posts something interesting on Twitter or FB, Retweet or Like and comment, Share on your own site when you can. Go to blogs aimed at those who might read your book, then comment nicely and share the link with others. Do Not comment about your book. What you are doing is making a name for yourself, and to do that you must be kind, considerate and soft-spoken. No shouting Look At Me everywhere you post. Do good and good you will receive.

To be invited to be interviewed or reviewed, let your kindness be known. Let your expertise in certain subjects related to what you write be known. Build this kind of platform, and the reviewers and intervewers and bloggers will come.