Top 3 Mashup

My top 3 favorite web finds of the week:

Creation of TEDx human kaleidoscope

If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s worth a look. I keep watching it. I had my kids watch it. I love that they did this by hand instead of with CGI. Check it out.

A warning for parents of teens and preteens

Head over to lifesitenews.com and read their article about the kind of porn our young kids are running into on the internet.

I personally know teens and preteens who have been affected by this. I think as parents we need to be diligent in protecting our kids, which includes having open, frank, age-appropriate discussions with them from a young age. In addition to teaching my boys about sexual health, we talk about healthy relationships and why inappropriate use of pornography can damage our minds, our sense of self, and our future relationships.

The disease of being busy

This is a concerning symptom of modern life. I thought this article at onbeing.org had some interesting insights.

How do we reverse this trend of busyness? I don’t over-schedule my kids. I embrace downtime and opportunities for them to get bored.

Them.

As for me, I’m constantly fighting my tendency to do too much. Then there’s the fact that if we’re to survive financially, we will be busy. So what do we do? I honestly don’t know.

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Gift of the Phoenix Wins the North American Book Award in Fantasy

North American Book Awards Fantasy winner Donna Cook Gift of the Phoenix

First place, Fantasy.

I’m starting to feel like I’m bragging. This was pretty fun though, so I thought I’d share. :)

In case you’re interested, this brings the total award count for this book up to 7.

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The Messy Middle – 6 Fixes When You’re Stuck Writing Your Novel

pen and notebook

Ah, you’re chugging along at full speed. Your characters are interesting and compelling. Your plot is exciting and captivating. You’re the most brilliant writer of your day.

Then, without warning, it all comes to a halt. Your mind draws a blank. What happens next?

Try these six tips to get out of that messy middle.

1. Make sure all characters are fully developed

All of them. Flat characters breed problematic plot lines. Fully developed characters have needs, desires, memories, fears, and activities that can inspire elements in your plot.

2. Try on a different point of view

Imagine looking at things from your antagonist’s point of view. If you were going to make that person the main character, what would they be doing? Too often, stories focus so much on the protagonist that the antagonist is quietly sitting in the background twiddling his thumbs waiting to show up on stage for the finale.

On occasion, I’ll see the opposite problem: a busy, interesting antagonist and an inactive, flat protagonist. In this case, it may be that your main character needs more development. Or it may be that you’ve miscast your story and the real hero is the one you keep writing about.

3. Develop your world

If your story takes place in the real world, this step involves fully developing the immediate world of your character. What does your character do on a day-to-day basis? What do they do at work? After work? At home? Radiate outward from your main character.

If, for example, your character works as a manager at a seaside resort, spend some time writing about the operation of that business both as it relates to your character, and how it functions independent of your character. Same with your character’s family. If your character is married, do you know how the spouse spends each day? The kids? What about your character’s extended family? What are relationships like with parents, siblings, cousins, and so on.

This is your character’s world.

If your story takes place in an invented world (think Lord of the Rings) or in our world with a twist (think Harry Potter) you have even more world building to do. A fully developed world will inform your plot. Consider how different people collide in this world. Is there a conflict you can use to your benefit? How might this affect your character?

4. Change directions

Instead of working from the beginning and trying to get to the end, try switching that up. Think about your ending and work backwards. Ask yourself, what happened right before this? And right before that?

5. Raise the stakes

You do know what the stakes are in your story, right? They should be high, externally and internally. If your story is stuck, look at your stakes. Even if you think they’re high enough, ask yourself, how could I raise the stakes even higher? Explore those ideas. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover a story with more zing.

6. Nuclear option

Do you like your story? Let’s say you’ve spent time developing a plot and it’s just not speaking to you anymore. You like this aspect of it and that character there, but this other part just doesn’t light your fire the same way or (worst of all) that part there is b.o.r.i.n.g.

Do this exercise. Pretend you’re going to take out everything you don’t like, keep only the fun parts, and start over. Try filling in the gaps in a way that excites you. Because, after all, if you’re not excited, your reader won’t be either.

As a final note…

I reject the notion of writer’s block. Assuming you’ve already tried working through it with the Butt-in-Chair-Hands-on-Keyboard approach, pick a method above and see what happens.

What tips do you have to get through the messy middle?

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A Newcomer’s Guide to Boise: Observations from an Arizona Transplant

Donna Cook Fall leaves in Boise

Boise’s nickname is the City of Trees. Trees everywhere you look. Fly into Boise and you don’t see a sea of buildings, you see a sea of trees. It’s a gorgeous city. As a result, if you live in Boise your yard likely has several trees. My yard has ten. Five are taller than my two-story house. That means come fall, we’re buried in approximately twenty-five tons of leaves.

Having moved from the low-desert region of Arizona (think saguaro cacti and Wile E. Coyote), I was not previously accustomed to the labors of fall. If this is a foreign concept to you as well, let me clue you in to a few intricacies.

1. You never get rid of all the leaves. They hide out in your flower beds and mate in the spring along with everything else.

2. On trash pick-up day, for two weeks each fall and spring, you line your curb with all the leaf bags you can manage and the city will pick them up for free. However, you’re bound to have one tree that drops all its leaves AFTER these free pick-up weeks. It will be the biggest tree in your yard.

3. You do not want to bag your leaves in black plastic lawn bags. The city only picks up the brown paper lawn and leaf bags. They look like giant lunch sacks and can be found in pretty much any store you walk into.

Incidentally, these bags are a wee bit awkward to get all the way open. By awkward, I mean completely irritating. I wrote a poem about it entitled “Death to the Brown Leaf Bag.”

4. From what I can tell, the leaf-raking population can be divided into two types: big pile people and small pile people. Big pile people, bless them, create mammoth piles of leaves in their yards. These monuments to fall are immortalized in comic strips everywhere, usually accompanied by a mischievous child ready to blow all that hard work into next spring. I tip my hat to the big pile people. I don’t know how they have the stamina.

I’m a small pile person. We have a support group that meets the first Thursday of every month at the Flatbread Pizza Company, drinks provided. (I’m kidding. You have to buy your own drinks.)

Donna Cook fall leaf piles in Boise

No leaves were harmed in the making of this post.

Speaking of first Thursdays, let me share a few more things about Boise.

Like most big cities (and several small ones) Boise embraces its art culture with late-night gallery hours, events, and readings all over town on the first Thursday of every month. This did not surprise me, but what would a newcomer’s guide be without mention of First Thursday?

Likewise, no newcomer’s guide would be complete without a vocab list. (Right?) Here’s a brief guide to Boise terminology:

The Flying Y. This is what the locals call the freeway that runs through town. (Also, they don’t call it a freeway, they call it a highway.) One arm of the Y dead-ends in downtown Boise. It’s actually pretty convenient.

May I digress to discuss a quirk I do not find convenient? Unlike the grid street system I’m used to, many Boise streets are tricky little chameleons. Like the staircases at Hogwarts, the streets here seem to rearrange and change names when you’re not looking, or at least that’s how it seemed to me when I first moved here. Glenwood turns into Gary, Veterans Memorial Parkway morphs into 36th Street, and let’s not forget the streets that seem to intersect with themselves. I live less than a quarter of a mile from the intersection of Shamrock and Shamrock.

That being said, Boise is a small enough city that if you get lost it’s not hard to get found again. And the partial overlying grid system (bless you, Franklin) is a good enough guide once you figure it out.

There’s nothing quite as delightful as getting lost in Boise anyway. You’re likely to stumble upon a tucked-away restaurant that serves the best food you’ve ever had. Until you find the next restaurant. We often try local eateries without foreknowledge or recommendation and rarely go wrong.

However did we get distracted from the vocab list? Let’s continue.

The Hole. When you hear someone talk about the hole, it’s not a euphemism. (Unlike Mix 106 DJs Mike and Kate talking about taking a trip to Oklahoma, which is a euphemism.) No, the hole refers to the new high rise on the corner of 8th street and Main, or rather, the hole that was there before the high rise came to be. For a long time, the only thing in that location was the excavated foundation for some other high-rise project that never got off the ground (no pun intended – Oh, who am I kidding, I totally did that on purpose).

How long does a hole in the ground need to exist before it’s no longer “a hole” but known to the entire city as “THE hole”? I don’t know when it started, but that sucker was there for something like a decade before Zion’s Bank figured out how to fill it up.

Maybe it’s just me, but things like the story of the Hole endear me to Boise. This city has spunk and personality without being pumped up on inflated ego. I feel at home anywhere I go. So if you’re ever a newcomer to the city, I’ll join my fellow Boisians in welcoming you.

Now where did I put that rake?

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Time Management for Writers and Editors

time management

This past week my mother and I made an impromptu, emergency trip to move my dad from Arizona to Idaho to live with me. His dementia is to the point where he shouldn’t be alone. We were on the road for four days. In the four days since I’ve been back, a significant chunk of my time has been spent getting him settled or just spending time with him so he’s not bored to tears. He misses his own routine and his own place.

In the middle of it all I managed to stay on track for a major deadline for an editing client, though I’m still scrambling to get caught up in other areas.

And in case you didn’t know, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is just around the corner and I have every intention of knocking out 50-70,000 words on a new novel in November.

(For those of you wondering about The Lost Branch, the follow up to Gift of the Phoenix, I completed two rounds of revisions and am letting the manuscript rest before I start tackling the fun but intense final draft. Meanwhile, I have another novel, The Crossroads, plotted out and will knock out the first draft in November barring any other unforeseen circumstances.)

Anyway. As much as I would love the world to accommodate the fact that I’m a writer and a working editor and stop screwing up my schedule, life isn’t like that for me. It’s not like that for most people.

Most of us live in the real word and have real lives full of the demands of work and family. So how do we go about making progress toward our goals to write novels in spite of it all?

A few months ago, I gave a presentation to the Idaho Editors Association. The topic was Time Management for Editors, though the principles apply equally to writers, or to anyone wanting more control over their time and wishing to make more progress toward their goals.

I thought it timely (har har), to share this information with you today.

Have a Good Mindset

Everyone is different. There are lots of different ways to organize your time. Find out what works for you.

“I’m terrible at time management.”

Ever think this? It’s all in how you look at it. Let me ask you a question.

“Where do you put your spoons?”

In your bathroom? Scattered all over the house? In a big pile in the cupboard next to the kitchen sink? No?

I bet I could walk into almost any house in America and find their silverware in under 30 seconds. I bet you could too.

The fact that most people keep their silverware in a caddy in a drawer in their kitchen is not a law mandated by Congress. It’s a self-imposed rule that works because it’s logical and easy to follow.

We use self-imposed rules all the time. Time management is all about creating rules for yourself that work.

Making Smart Self-Imposed Rules:

Be Realistic:

Unrealistic expectations lead to frustration and a sense of failure. Don’t try to schedule too much into a day.

Allow time for breaks. Don’t try to do so much at once that you’re not working effectively. You need to be able to concentrate on what you’re doing.

Be Flexible:

More on this later.

Expect the Unexpected:

Don’t have your schedule so tight that the unexpected or interruptions throw you for a loop. You already know “life happens.” So plan for it. Time management gurus (and gurus in training) have blocks of unscheduled time throughout their day. It may be 15 minutes between meetings or 30 minutes between running kids from place to place in the evenings.

Build in cushions and room to breathe.

Allow cushions for bigger projects too. If I plan to be done with a job on Tuesday, I may tell my client I’ll have it to them by Thursday or Friday, depending on the size of the job.

Things will change. Life will change. A schedule that’s been working for you may suddenly be obsolete. You will have to rethink your schedule from time to time and periodically readjust. That’s normal.

Use Routines:

When it makes sense. My kids go to schools pretty far away from my house. Every Monday I have an hour to kill between picking up two of my kids, because one child has an after school activity and the other one doesn’t. There’s a grocery store just up the street from the school. So I pick up one kid, we do our weekly grocery shopping, I pick up the other kid, and we go home. I never have to think about when I’m going to the store.

Routines that work save time and mental energy.

Prioritize:

Make sure your time is going toward your most important goals.

Have a way to keep track of things you must do to stay on top of deadlines and commitments. If you said you would get back to someone on Thursday, that’s high priority. If something unexpected comes up, have a way to quickly look at your calendar and know what you HAVE to take care of. You can reshuffle the rest without breaking key commitments.

Also, think about what you really want to accomplish in life. What’s important to you? I don’t spend a lot of time on hobbies because after work, family, and writing, there isn’t time for much else. As much as I’d enjoy, say, taking a drawing class or making a quilt like I used to do back in the day, pursuing those activities would mean less time for writing. And I already feel I don’t have enough time for writing. Someday, when I don’t have a household full of munchkins and sweet-but-perpetually-confused fathers, I’ll have time to write AND enjoy other activities.

Until then, I prioritize my time for those things that matter most to me.

Break Larger Tasks into Smaller Ones:

I know you’ve heard this one before. I’ll give you an example of how I use this.

If I have a top-level manuscript evaluation that’s going to take me 11 hours to complete, I break that up into different sections: 7 hours reading time spread out over a few days, 3 hours to do the write up, and one hour for the meeting with my client. I like to have a few days between the reading and the write up so I can ponder the manuscript while doing other things. I like to spread the write up over two days; I write it up the first day and come back to it with fresh eyes the second day to make sure it’s thorough and carries the proper tone.

If I tried to cram all 11 hours of the evaluation over just a few work days, I’d be miserable and probably do a terrible job to boot.

I schedule big jobs in small chunks. You can also monitor hours as you go so you know if you’re on track or not.

Write it Down:

You can use a day planner, Google calendar, your Smart phone, a small spiral notebook. Whatever works.

Remember, these things are meant to be tools, not taskmasters. The kitchen drawer and silverware caddy are not dictating to you where to put your spoons. You’re the one making that decision. You decide how to use your time and use whatever tool helps you keep track of it.

If you’re sure you’re using a good tool but tend to get overwhelmed trying to track everything, only track what you need to. I don’t need to write down when I pick up my kids from school. I remember just fine on my own. I do need to write down when my 10 year old has scouts, because even though it’s every week, I will forget. Don’t ask me why. I just do.

Which leads to the next principle:

Know Thyself

When are you most productive? Least productive?

Schedule heavy-duty work during times when you’re most productive. Schedule mundane or mindless tasks for when you’re less energetic.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

If you know you tend to get sucked into emails, which then leads to blog reading, which then leads to Twitter, work around it. Put in a block of time on work before you go to your emails. Or schedule blog reading time for the 30 minutes before you have to leave for a meeting, so there’s an unavoidable cap on your browsing time.

If you know you’ll be more productive on certain tasks if you’re working in a coffee shop instead of distracted at home, schedule yourself that way.

Track hours

This will help you schedule yourself more accurately in the future. This is especially important if you consistently find yourself running behind.

Tracking time into a job or task doesn’t have to be a big deal. I use sticky notes on my computer desktop as a convenient place to note start and stop times. Once I have a better idea of how long it takes me to do things and I find I’m scheduling myself more accurately, I don’t need to track anymore. So I stop. Remember, it’s all about doing what works for you.

One Woman’s Eye-Opening Experience

I don’t remember where I read this, it’s been so long ago, but I jotted down the figures as a good reminder of the value of tracking time.

Based on her personal goals, this woman jotted down her ideal schedule. It looked something like this:

Ideal schedule:

›1 hour — meditating/praying/spiritual reading
›3-4 hours — writing/revising
lunch break
1 hour — historical research (working on a historical novel.)
1 hour — walking/exercising (preferably outdoors)
1 hour — emailing/blog writing and reading/Facebook
dinner break/family activities/meetings
1 hour — reading other historical YA or adult novels (before bed)

Then she tracked herself for a few days to see where her time was actually going.

Actual schedule:

›0-.5 hours — meditating/praying/spiritual reading
0-.5 hours — writing/revising
2-3 hours — historical research
lunch break
4-5 hours — emailing/blog writing and reading/Facebook
0-.5 hours — walking/exercising
dinner break/family activities/meetings
0-.5 hours — reading other historical YA or adult novels (before bed)

If you track yourself and find you’re as far off the mark as this woman, it’s not like getting sent to the principal’s office. You don’t need to be afraid of getting an “F” in time management. This woman is perfectly free to spend 4-5 hours a day emailing and reading blogs and checking her Facebook if she wants to. But she doesn’t want to.

Tracking hours was a way for her to make wanted corrections so she could spend her time in ways that helped her meet her goals. It can do the same for you.

Beware Time Sucks:

    • Emailing
    • Social media
    • Internet use in general
    • Looking for things. (Remember the rule of spoons. It doesn’t matter where you put things so long as it’s consistent and it works for you. The same principle applies for documents. Files, physical and on the computer, should be well organized so you can find what you need quickly.)
    • Perfectionism (If I’m not careful, I’ll reread emails more than I need to. I’ll obsess about a written evaluation. Tracking time helps me stay on track.)Being the “Yes” man. (Don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t have time for something, or to book out a client if your calendar is full.)

Do you have other time sucks? Track your time to find out. Your time is going somewhere. Know where it’s going and make adjustments.

Block Method or Time Map:

If you have a calendaring method that works for you, don’t change it. But if it’s not working, it may be because you’re over-complicating things, scheduling every task in your life down to the last minute. You may like the block method, or time mapping, better.

Before I explain, a reminder. Do only what works and keep in mind that what works will sometimes change. There are times when life is calm enough that I have general guidelines in my head (mornings are for writing, afternoons are for client work) and only need to write down actual appointments. Other times I’m barely keeping up, so trying to keep stuff in my head is just overwhelming. I’ll write down just about everything because that helps me focus on the current task and stay on track.

With the block method, you divide your tasks (or your life) into categories. Keep them broad and general. Don’t have too many categories.

›Life categories may include

  • work
  • family time
  • physical health
  • chores and errands
  • couple time, etc…

›Work categories may include

  • client work
  • client correspondence
  • invoicing
  • bidding
  • marketing, etc…

Much as I’d like to create a sample time map for you, I don’t have the time. :) I’ll give you a few links to existing ones instead. Notice they’re all a little different, so you can do what works for you. Also, you don’t have to create a fancy Excel spreadsheet. Grab a piece of paper, draw up a quick map to use as a guideline, and call it good if you like.

Sample time map 1, sample time map 2, sample time map 3.

Benefits of a Time Map

  • ›Helps you funnel activities into their appropriate slots. Less chaos, more control.
  • ›Creates mental boundaries between work and play, which increases productivity.
  • ›Helps you make sure your time is serving your larger goals.
  • ›Offers the perfect blend of structure and flexibility.

That last one is a big one for me. I know what my work hours are, so I’ll fill up that time with work-related tasks, but not be bound to put them in order.

If I have 5 hours of work blocked out, I might give myself an hour for correspondence, 2 hours on one job, 1 to 1.5 hours on another, and 30 minutes to 1 hour for a cushion.

I work on what I feel like working on first, and use those times as a guide. I keep my eye on the clock, or use a timer, to stay on track.

To Do Lists, do you need them?

The key word is NEED. Just like with your calendar, do what you need.

I keep a to do list on my desk for small, miscellaneous activities that I can do in a block (scheduling a dentist appointment, ordering more bookmarks, whatever).

I use separate lists to keep track of small steps of a larger goal.

I use sticky notes on my computer desktop to track odd things that come up quickly and will be dealt with relatively quickly. Also for motivational quotes. Also for the mileage on my van the next time it needs the tires rotated. I’m not kidding. It works so that’s what I do.

We don’t use a hammer to drive in a screw, we use a screwdriver. It’s okay to use different tools and techniques for different tasks.

Some items on my to do list aren’t on a list. For example:

  • I sort my emails by unread. Those unread emails act as my to do lists. I keep it 25 or under (or far less) so it fits all one screen.
  • Mail or papers that need to be handled may be in a SMALL pile on my desk, to do when I have a few minutes. I sort them by order of priority.

Bag of Tricks:

  • Timers
  • Force an end time. (Start a task you tend to overdo when you know time will be limited, i.e., before a client meeting.)
  • Go somewhere without internet to do work
  • Unplug your router
  • Wrap up your day (At the end of the day, check the next day’s schedule to help prime yourself mentally.)
  • Don’t procrastinate (When you’re procrastinating, ask if it’s because you’re suffering from perfectionism. If so, dive in. If not, find another task you can do instead and come back to it, but don’t do this to the same task too often.)Honor boundaries (For the sake of your mental health, and general productivity, protect your non-working hours and space.)Be nice to yourself (No matter how organized you are, you aren’t going to be on the ball 100% of the time. If you consistently meet key deadlines and commitments, and if your schedule keeps you on track 80% of the time, you’re doing well.)

Lastly…

Be positive. This isn’t too hard to learn. You can do it.

What tricks do you use to organize your time?

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What Happens If You Get a Bad Review?

This statue gets five stars!

This statue gets five stars!

Before I published Gift of the Phoenix I knew it was inevitable that I’d get bad reviews, because any book that’s read by more than just friends and family will get at least a couple of bad reviews. No book is universally loved. There are even times when I’ll turn a prospective reader away from my own book.

Before publishing my novel, my only hope was that I’d have plenty of good reviews before my first one-star review, and that the good reviews would far outweigh the bad. I’ve been blessed because that’s what has happened.

Even though I knew to expect bad reviews at some point, I didn’t know how I would react to them. I mean, I knew I wouldn’t bad mouth or argue with the reviewer. I’ve heard there are a few authors who do this, but it’s not a good idea. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and people don’t have to like my book. If I posted a review about a book I didn’t like, and the author started arguing with me about it, I’d be irritated and a little creeped out.

So even though I knew I wouldn’t give any public response to bad reviews, I wondered how I would feel about them. I knew some authors get pretty bummed whereas others let it slide off their backs. I wasn’t sure which would be true for me.

Now I know.

And I have to admit, I’m surprised.

Like any self-respecting author, I can get a little neurotic about things. But in spite of a few bad reviews of my book, those reviews don’t bother me. I don’t have a temporary break down or reach for the chocolate. (Well, I don’t reach for the chocolate for that reason.) I just shrug my shoulders and think, well, no book is for everybody.

I’m not sure why I’m so calm about it. I think there are a couple of reasons.

First, the book has received some really excellent reviews and has a high overall average. Most people who read it like it, and as an author you can’t ask for more than that. If I had a low average or lots of bad reviews, I think that would be a genuine indicator that the book needed more work.

Second, I’m a reader as much as I’m a writer and I know that reader preferences don’t necessarily have anything to do with how well-written a book is. Years ago our book club read Memoirs of a Geisha. I loved that book. Loved it! And out of our entire group, I was the only one. Most everyone liked it. Some liked it a lot. But no one else loved it. Don’t ask me why, but I remember being shocked. I loved it so much, I figured everyone else would love it too.

When I walk into a book store, I gravitate toward certain sections of the store. I gravitate toward certain covers. Certain authors. That doesn’t mean all the other books suck. I’m just not as interested. I’ve also read wildly popular books that I couldn’t stand. Some I couldn’t even finish. Their popularity is a mystery to me. But I realize I’m just one opinion of many and we’re all different.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to watch people react to my book after seeing it for the first time. I’ve had people hold my book to their chest, they’re so excited to read it. And I’ve had other people do no more than give it a passing glance.

I don’t take it personally. I’m not writing for the people who don’t like my genre, my story, or my style. I’m writing for those people who do. I’m writing for the people who contact me asking when the next book will be out.

I think as writers, especially these days, it’s easy to get lost in all the noise of advice about how to become the next bestseller. Well, with over 4,000 new books published daily, only a tiny fraction of authors will hit the bestseller list. But plenty of authors are still able to find their readership, and that’s what we want.

That’s why a small number of bad reviews really is okay.

If you’re able to build a fan base of loyal readers who can’t wait for your next book, then  you’re doing just fine.

Write for yourself and write for them. Just keep writing. :)

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Top Three Things That Will Suck If I Ever Become Famous

marilyn-monroe-399431_640 (2)

This is the kind of stuff my brain will land on. I land on it long enough, and I feel compelled to share it here on my blog. So, without further ado, here are the top three things that will suck if I ever become famous.

Number 3.

No matter what I’m talking about on Facebook, legions of fans will ask me when I’m getting off my can and releasing the next book.

This is exactly what happens to Patrick Rothfuss, and it has to suck. Seriously, look at almost anything he’s ever posted on Facebook and you’ll see comment after comment asking about Book 3.

The upswing? Legions of fans adore his books. You can’t really complain about that.

Number 2.

My flakiness may be interpreted as snobbery.

I run a business, have 3 kids still at home and another 3 stepdaughters part time, and am trying to get another book written. I actively try to keep my schedule as simple as possible, but sometimes I just have way, way, WAY too much going on and there’s not a lot I can do about it. During those times, my brain just can’t hold on to everything. I forget names. I forget appointments. I forget to do things I said I would do. When stuff like this happens I want to say, “Please don’t take it personally, I flake out on everyone eventually.”

It already sucks.

But if I were famous? It’d be that much worse. If you’re famous and forget someone’s name, the odds that they think you’re just being a self-important snob increase exponentially.

And the number 1 thing that would suck if I ever became famous?

I won’t be able to talk to myself when I’m driving around town.

I do this a lot. When people say, “Hey I saw you driving over on such and such street,” I immediately wonder if they saw me talking to myself. Odds are excellent that they did. I’m considering investing in a Bluetooth just so it looks like I’m talking to an actual person.

It’s embarrassing enough as it is, but if I were famous? Just that many more opportunities to be recognized and therefore embarrass myself. For all I know, the word would spread and I’d be known as that crazy author lady who talks to herself all the time. It would suck.

Course, none of this undoes the fact that if my books and I ever become famous, it will completely rock. :)

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SLC Comicon Photo Bomb

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My last con of the season and it was a doozy! That place was so crowded the fire marshals had to close entry for a while. It was so huge it took me half an hour to speed walk from one end to the other and back. I was there three days and still didn’t see everything.

But I did meet lots of new readers and see lots of great sights. Here are just a few pics. If you haven’t been to a con yet, check it out. They really are a blast.

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I really want to do something like this for Halloween one year. It’s so pretty!!

 

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Okay, this is one of my favorite movies from my teen years. I’ve watched it countless times and used to know all the songs (and choreography!) by heart. When I saw these guys I wanted to start dancing and singing!

But I didn’t.

I only took their picture. Aren’t you proud of me?

These actually aren’t regular con attendees, they’re the cast of Little Shop of Horrors playing in Salt Lake. Too bad I wasn’t in town for their performance.

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I wish I’d taken some video so you could see this lady in action. When she walked around, it totally looked like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. Best puppeteer costume ever.

Thanks to everyone who came to see me in Salt Lake City. Catch ya at the con next year!

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Guest Post: 3 Things Editors Can Do For You That You Can’t Do Yourself

Welcome fellow writer and comrade, A.B. Michaels. Her first novel, The Art of Love, released to enthusiastic reviews and her second novel, Sinner’s Grove, is forthcoming. She’s here today to share her thoughts on editors and why every writer needs one.

Guest post by A.B. Michaels

Are you a great writer? Fine. I believe it. You still need an editor.

Listening to a panel of literary agents last spring, I was struck by the contrary advice they gave on the topic of when to submit your work to an agent for possible representation. One of the agents said, “The time to start looking is when your work is the very best it can possibly be.” The other agents agreed. Not ten minutes later, the subject of editors came up, and the agents all agreed they’d prefer not to see work that’s been seen by an editor. Their message was, “How would we know what was your work and what was the editor’s work?”

Huh? To me that’s a contradiction in terms: no one’s writing is the best it can be without being seen by an editor of some kind. No one’s.

All modesty aside, I think I’m a decent wordsmith. I’ve written in many different forms, from commercial to literary, and I think it’s fair to say I can string sentences together fairly well. I’ve received good reviews for my debut romance novel, The Art of Love. But there’s no question about it: I still need an editor.

Editors can do three things for you that you can’t do for yourself:

  1. They can point out weak points that you were aware of but hoped against hope that no one would notice.
  2. They can bring to light and give suggestions about problems you’ve recognized in your work, but for whatever reason (probably because you’re too close to it), you can’t figure out how to fix.
  3. They can really drive you crazy by bringing up problems you never even saw, but realized, after seeing it through their eyes, that they’re absolutely right.

TheArtOfLove_Front-small (2)During that panel discussion, I noticed that when the agents talked about not needing an editor, a lot of the attendees breathed a sigh of relief. Because let’s face it, professional editors cost money. In fact, I would venture to say that in the world of Indie publishing (assuming a Print On Demand, or POD production model), editing is the most expensive part of the process, right up there with having a cover professionally designed with original art. No wonder a lot of writers skip it, thinking, for example, that a friend’s read or a critique group is enough to get the job done.

But having a friend or your critique group do the job of a professional editor is asking an awful lot of them. Even if they have the editorial skills to analyze your work, it’s not what they’re geared to do, and frankly, you shouldn’t ask them to do it. So if you can’t afford a bona fide editor, here are some suggestions:

  1. Take on some extra work, if possible, to pay for one.
  2. Raise money through a crowd funding source (e.g. Kickstarter) to pay for one, or
  3. Look for a special person who:
  • reads a ton
  • knows the genre you’re writing in really well
  • has an excellent sense of what works and what doesn’t in good fiction
  • is willing to be totally honest with you (in a nice way, of course)
  • understands that you’re asking for editorial advice, not a rewrite from them, and
  • has the time—lots of it—to dig into your project and help you out.

If you are lucky enough to find someone like that, my advice would be to keep him or her happy by supplying them with legal substances they can’t live without, like homemade chocolate chip cookies!

One more thought about editors. In the olden days of traditional publishing, if a writer showed promise but was “rough around the edges,” he or she would work with an editor —extensively—before one word got published. Even the literary icons of today, when they first started out, had to run the gauntlet of the editorial staff.

These days, I don’t know how it works at the top of the heap. How extensive an edit does Stephen King go through, or Nora Roberts, or John Sandford, or Lee Child? Some would say, whatever it is, it isn’t enough. Because, as I said, it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how good the reading public says you are—you still need an editor to help you present the very best writing you can.

A native of northern California, AB Michaels authorA.B. Michaels holds master’s degrees in history and broadcasting, and worked for many years in the public relations and marketing fields.  She currently lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband and two furry “sons” who don’t seem to realize they’re just dogs.  The Art of Love, her first novel, is a prequel to her upcoming contemporary romantic suspense series, “Sinner’s Grove.” To learn more about “Sinner’s Grove,” please visit the author’s website at www.abmichaels.com or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Stop Telling People to Write Strong Female Characters

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Kameron Hurley wrote an enjoyable and thought-provoking blog post about challenging the false narrative of women in history and literature and what we writers need to do about it.*

I read articles like this with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it’s important to be educated about the false ideas created by narratives (both real and fictional) that portray women in a stereotypical and/or belittling manner. Or leave women out of the story all together. As far as we’ve come, we still have a long way to go.

However, I start to get twitchy when discussions of this nature turn, inevitably, into a directive. A suggestion about what I ought to be writing.

Here’s the first thing: no one gets to tell me what I should write. Not the oppressive male. Not the liberating female. Not the publishers. Not the market. No one.

I don’t mean this to sound like a rant against Kameron Hurley. It isn’t. Her article was well articulated and informative and I’m glad to have read it. I’m glad she wrote it. It’s a heartfelt, legitimate call to action.

And based on some of the tropes apparently littering the fantasy landscape (sex slaves? rape? gendered slurs?) and the authors who can’t seem to get past them, articles like Hurleys are clearly needed.

But just because women have fought in nearly every military resistance you can think of, doesn’t mean women haven’t also freely chosen to stay home and raise their children. Just because women shouldn’t be defined solely by their connection to another person (“She’s Joe’s wife!”) doesn’t mean women don’t seek and enjoy romantic relationships. It’s okay to write about any or all of those things.

I reject the idea that in order to break the stereotype we must reflect only the antithesis of that stereotype.

When I hear people talking about writing strong female characters, the editor in me cries out, “Shouldn’t ALL our characters be strong?”

By strong I mean fully-developed human beings with strengths and weaknesses who experience the full range of human want and desire. Our characters can want to conquer their little corner of the world (whether that means slaying dragons or rising to the top of the corporate ladder) AND want fulfilling romantic relationships or better relationships with their children. Male and female both.

Including characteristics and plot elements that happen to look stereotypical is not necessarily a betrayal to womankind and feminist objectives.

Because the reality is, we humans are many things. We are husbands and wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends and foe. But we are also just US. In spite of our many relationships with other people we also have that core element of SELF. This is what is lacking in the stereotyped female roles. It isn’t that it’s incorrect to portray women as wives and mothers, because many (not all, obviously) women are those things. It’s when we are reduced in our identity to ONLY that. Ditto when the anti-stereotype, kick-ass female warrior arrives on stage; her identity is stripped down to one lone element.

That is not reality. Nobody is just one thing.

I don’t purposefully write strong female characters. I strive to write strong characters, period.

My fantasy novel Gift of the Phoenix (and its follow-up, which is still in progress) has a huge cast of major characters, about evenly divided between genders. There is variety and depth among them all. Because there’s no one way for a woman to be. And no one way for a man to be.

I strive to write human beings in a way that feels real and genuine to me. If Kameron Hurley were evaluating my characters and plot lines, she would find all kinds of things to celebrate, alongside other things that look suspiciously like a stereotype.

Kind of like the world we actually live in.

*Just as an FYI, I discovered her article via John Ward, who shared it on Google+. This generated a lot of interesting discussion in the comments (both on his share and on the blog with her article). I commented on his share. I shared the article and added a few thoughts of my own. I subsequently decided I wanted to address the issue on my own blog, and freely borrowed from my own comments for the bulk of this post. :)
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