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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Writing Through Crisis With Guest Author Amy Freeman

Jax and Me

 *This Friday, we begin our first ever Hugs and Chocolate workshop. Tonia Harris will begin with a look at dialogue. But for now, we’re excited to introduce you to author Amy Freeman and her inspiring writer’s journey.

“You should write a book, but no one would believe you.”

I cannot tell you how many people say this to me when hearing about my life. I can think of three right now without even trying. But what most of these people don’t realize is that the degree of challenge in my life is not that uncommon. I know many people whose lives rival my own. Some far more challenging than mine ever was. Trial is a part of life, and each hardship is relevant to the individual enduring it. But how we come through it can be unique. It was during my own living hell that I managed to write my first publishable novel.

 Picture this. I was living in Florida at the time with my husband and five children. Writing was a luxury I abandoned years before to care for a disabled son and chase two teenage daughters around in the middle of the night. Somewhere in the mayhem the idea for my book pushed its way through the chaos and I began to write. I had forgotten how much I loved it. I escaped into my newly created world, becoming part of it, loving my heroes and loving to hate my monsters.

 About a month in, three major events fractured the bliss. I received a call from Orlando informing me that my oldest daughter had just been arrested and put in jail for driving on a suspended license. She bolted for New York with a friend two months prior to avoid jail time. The panic I felt when I received that call from South Carolina is not one of my fondest memories. She had come home for Christmas. She was arrested New Year’s Day. Two and a half hours away from any family, she sat in a cell. She was terrified. So was I.

 Not long after that my younger daughter, who was pregnant and also two hours away, called in tears because her friend’s mother was using drugs in her home and her boyfriend wouldn’t ask her to leave. We made the drive and brought her home to live with us. She was about two months away from delivering.

 The final blow came when our 17-year-old disabled son made a turn for the worse. Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a rare seizure disorder stunted his mental development early in his life, allowing him to function at no more than a five-year old level. Behavioral aggression is a common element of this syndrome, but never before had it escalated to events we couldn’t handle. Out of nowhere he became more violent, harming himself and others. We found him injured in the morning on more than one occasion as he would get up in the night, wandering in an incoherent fog until a seizure would bring him down. He wouldn’t eat and wouldn’t medicate. After bringing in a nurse during the day wasn’t enough we began an excruciating, year and a half long search for a facility to care for him…end scene. Whew!

 This all occurred at the same time. I dare say life couldn’t have been more complicated and frightening, but somehow a book came through it all with me, one entirely unrelated to the chaos pulling me down. “How in the world did you stay on task?” people ask. It’s a great question. I wonder myself sometimes. But honestly, writing my novel through the mayhem is partially what kept me sane. It truly was an escape for me. I would come home from work, do what had to be done, fight some battles physically and emotionally, and then I would retreat to my make-shift office, close the door and jump into another world. For those few hours every day I was able to set aside the panic, helplessness, frustration and sadness. I was able to go somewhere else and let the characters I created entertain and sooth me. There wasn’t a lot I could do about my current situation. I had to keep going. I had to take the blows and continue picking myself back up. Writing sustained me (and probably added depth to my characters!)

 We all find ways to deal with heartache, fear and pain. Some people exercise, some meditate. Other’s drink themselves into oblivion. I suppose with a side dish of constant prayer, when I feel overwhelmed by the world, I write. It’s a productive coping device, and if you can convince yourself to set an impossible situation aside for a while, knowing you are doing all you can do, it is healing and rewarding to know you successfully created something in the middle of the storm.

Amy Freeman has spent a lifetime building stories. She grew up in Salt Lake City in a family of five siblings, a conservative father and a highly entertaining mother. She spent most of her time daydreaming against her will, in class, at home, while she slept…wherever really. She holds a degree in Criminal Justice. She loves music, ballet, and ghost stories. She has lived in Wisconsin, Nevada and Florida. Five children have blessed her life and one grandchild thrills her beyond words. She has a fantastic, supportive husband and an identical twin.

Her stories revolve around the supernatural, the elusive but possible, and the potential of the human spirit. She wrote a stellar screen play at ten, her first full length book at age thirteen, with her second and third following at nineteen. She has since written two more that she plans to publish this year.  For more info go to her site: http://vedunywriter.blogspot.com

Contact Info:

Email: amyloufreeman@gmail.co

LinkedIn: Amy Freeman

Face Book: Amy Sipherd Freeman

Twitter: AmyVedunyWriter

Google +: Amy Freeman

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Performance Pressure and the Diamond in the Manuscript

20130125-172029.jpgHave you ever finished writing a manuscript, and after months of blood, sweat, and tears, you realize that even after all that work, your story doesn’t look at all like you imagined it in your head? In fact, after a second glance, you’re sure a toddler temporarily overtook your brain and scribbled 400 pages of crayon doodles? Of course you have…you’re a writer. You’ve probably felt that way about everything you’ve ever written…like I have.

Up until this point in my writing “career,” that hasn’t mattered much. Mostly my readers have been friends and writing groups. I post fiction online too but even in that venue, readers are generally pretty forgiving. Not so with publishing industry professionals. There is very little room for mistakes and if you make them, they better be small. Tiny. Miniscule. Talk about pressure.

Getting in the (Publishing) Game

Over the next couple of weeks I’m preparing for my first writing contest ever. I’m talking the big deal with two rounds, multiple judges, announcement of the finalists at the next conference, and the final round judged by editors of major publishing houses. Yeah…that kind of scary.

It’s an exciting adventure to be sure, a thrill to imagine where it could lead. The final judge for my category is an editor at Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Never before has every word, every period, and every character of my manuscript been under such scrutiny. Sometimes the anxiety to get it all right leaves me panic stricken. I only get one chance to put my best work in front of this woman who could potentially be my gateway into the holy land.

Previously, I’ve never had a reason to get this far into the process of editing. I guess I always imagined entering the chaos of the publishing world as something that would happen way down the road. Like, way down. I’ve taken my time, learning more about this, fiddling with that, but after five years of writing, getting critiqued, editing, and dreaming, it’s time to dive in, sink or swim. So despite my fear, I’m going through the first 20 pages of my manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. I’ve re-understood my characters, re-worked motivations, re-invented the details, and rewritten this novel so many times that I have more loose ends than the hem of grandma’s skirt.

Upping the Ante

Before I started this final-for-now edit, I had a long brainstorming session with my writing partners and nailed down what was working and what wasn’t, for better or worse. The time for flip-flopping has come and gone. And now, with that focus in mind, I’m sifting out the dirt and looking for the gems. And you know what? They are there. Actually, never before have they shined brighter. And I don’t think anything less than the pressure to perform at my best would have gotten me here.

I’m the ultimate perfectionist at heart, especially when it comes to my writing. I think every artist is that way. But putting myself in this position has taught me that I know more than I ever realized about who I am as a writer, what I want to bring to this ever expanding sea of literature, what my writing voice sounds like, what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it, and what process works best for me. The deadline and the stakes have forced me to stopped questioning myself and realize the truths that were already there, clouded by the uncertainty an unlimited time frame allows.

Get Out There

Do it. I know you’re scared. I know you don’t think you’re ready. Guess what–just like getting married and having kids–you’re never going to be ready. You learn as you go. Underneath all those scribbles is your story, and as soon as you trust yourself enough to find it, you will. Make the decision. Raise the stakes. And watch yourself rise to the occasion.

What’s holding you back from taking the next step? Or, what deadlines are you working toward? What steps have you taken that have forced you to grow as a writer?

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

 

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Focusing on Major Plot Points

2013-01-25 08.20.29How often do you read a book’s jacket copy? Probably every time before purchasing one.  The idea is fresh, original. The main plot point sounds like something you could devour in one sitting. But then you get home and start reading it. You’re waiting for the author to deliver, but … you keep waiting. While the book may be good, the story is not what you thought it would be about. The plot point you were so looking forward to reading is glossed over. It happens so quickly you’re left wondering if you missed something.

The jacket copy is pretty much the query letter. Sure, it’s tweaked some, but oftentimes it’s the same. When I’m editing, and I ask for the query (or the summary), I expect the main conflict in the query/summary to play a big part of the story.

Example (and this is a completely made up, terrible example): Jane Doe leaves home to follow her dream of becoming a circus performer, only it’s much more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. When one of the trapeze artists is brutally murdered, Jane must decide if she should stay and live her dream, or go home where it’s safe.

If you were to read that, you’d expect there to be a lot of tension since “it’s much more dangerous than she could have ever imagined,” and then there’s the murder. We would see all these dangers, and Jane struggling to decide what she should do. But what if when you started reading it, there aren’t really any dangers. Jane meets a cute clown-boy she falls in love with. Sure she may fall off the tightrope every now and again, but it’s nothing so dangerous you, as the reader, would think she’d consider giving up on her dream. And then there’s the murder, which doesn’t happen until almost the end of the book, and Jane doesn’t really struggle with her decision. She decides it’s what she loves, so she stays. You’d be disappointed, right?

While this may be a grossly exaggerated example, this is something I often see. The query will focus on something that is glossed over or not really touched on in the manuscript.

You have a certain responsibility as a writer to hold reader’s expectations. If one of your critique partners, or someone who has read your query/summary and your story tells you it’s not what they expected based on the query, your plot may lack focus. Take a good look at your query and decide if you need to rework your query or your story.

Chances are, the real conflict lies in the big issue you’ve pulled out in the query, it’s just not pulled out in the story. When you pull out the main plot point, your story will be much stronger, cohesive.

Have you ran into this before?

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Improvisation and the 1st draft

At the end of last year I read my very first autobiography. I don’t read these kinds of books, most specifically because I like my reading to be as fictiony as possible. It’s basically the same reason I shy away from contemp novels too. I’ll make exceptions if the back copy and buzz really catches my attention, but other than that I tend to stay away. Give me as improbable as possible and I’m sold.

Anyway. The book I read was Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants, and in it she talks about The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat*. I read this section and was struck by how applicable is to writing first drafts/plotting/outlining/writing new stories.

I want to share those rules with you, with my take on it and slightly altered fWordleor the writer.

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES.

Type improvisation into a word document, right-click on it, select Synonyms. It’ll give you things like creativeness and inventiveness. And isn’t that exactly what writing is, being creative and inventing stories and worlds and people and situations. When you decide to write, you agree to do all these things, and it’s the greatest thing in the world. You say yes to your idea. You say yes to giving it your all. Because at the end of the day, that’s all that’s expected of you: to do your best to write a good story and give it the best chance possible.

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but to say YES, AND.

With improv you’re supposed to agree and then ADD something extra. With writing I like to think we agree to write, and then attempt to blow it out of the water. We write. AND we aim to do it well. We aim to do our stories justice. We say yes, and while we’re at it we’ll learn. To plot better. To write better. To be better. Every time. Don’t just limit yourself to writing a story. Write a story AND tell a story.

The next rule is to make STATEMENTS.

Write your 1st draft and be confident in it. Write and make bold statements, even if you do it in a quiet, unassuming way(yes, that is possible). BE CONFIDENT in what you’ve chosen to write about, and if you’re not, make yourself so. Make statements in your story, because if you and your characters believe it, your readers will too. There will be plenty of time to worry about your writing later. When you draft, revel in it. REVEL. It’s an experience you’ll never have again. One of the reasons I like drafting, and pantsing the most of the entire writing process, is that I approach it as if I’m reading my novel for the first time. I get to make statements. I get to be surprised and discover news things. I get to revel in the newness of it.

There are NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.

Ok, sure. Your first draft will be riddled with things that need to be fixed, but not a single thing of it is/was/will be a mistake. Like the heading says, it’s an opportunity. You get to make what you have better. Be brilliant. A crappy first draft might be crappy, but you can turn it into something shiny and wonderful. LOOK AT WHAT YOU CREATED. It’s yours and it’s beautiful. You might trunk it later, but how could that ever be a mistake?

Try a little improv the next time you start something new. I’m doing it right now, and it’s exhilarating.

*Tina says improv doesn’t reduce belly fat. I am sad.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in Drafting, Motivation, Personal Experience, Writing

 

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I’m Fine.

blackness“I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.”  ― Sylvia Plath

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”  ― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

“Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. . . . It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.” -J.K. Rowling

“I am in that temper that if I were under water I would scarcely kick to come to the top.” – John Keats

Writers lead a lonely life. For all the social media in the world, with its cute kitten pictures and funny memes, we live inside our head and sometimes, that’s where the darkest shadows wait. They stay hidden until we’re at our most vulnerable and they pounce, dragging our mind deeper into a void where there is no light, no hope. Just darkness and pure, unadulterated hopelessness. There’s no way out and it slowly smothers you. It drains everything from a person. There’s no desire to get out of the house and be among people. There’s no thought about personal grooming. There’s nothing but the count of each breath and how hard it is to make that effort. Getting out of bed is a monumental task worthy of the highest honor – when and if it’s achieved.

Why is depression so common among writers and other creative types? Sylvia Plath, Agatha Christie, Edgar Degas, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Paul Gauguin, Ernest Hemingway, John Keats, Mozart, Edgar Allan Poe, J.K. Rowling, J.D. Salinger, Amy Tan, Vincent Van Gogh… these are just a few of the names that represent some of our great artistic works and yet they all have something in common – depression. Why is this? I’m not saying I’m great or putting myself into this illustrious category, but I’m a writer and I deal with depression – like so many others. When people ask how you are, you tell them you’re good, you’re fine – anything to stop the suspicion of darkness that has taken hold. Did you know that Rowling’s experience with depression is what inspired her idea for dementors? How horrible, yet perfect, a hell is that?

When I talk about depression, I’m not talking about the Facebook statuses like “I’m so depressed.” No. I’m talking about the ones who never say a word about it, because they’ve learned better. There are some who’ve turned their illness into a kind of joke, but it’s only a means of survival. True depression is something I’d never wish on anyone. It’s 11:35 at night right now. I haven’t gotten out of my pajamas from last night. I don’t care right now. Getting laundry done is right up there with running a 100 mile marathon. In other words, it’s not going to happen.

I used to have a friend who could talk me to the point where I could see the glimmer of daylight, but not anymore, I’m on my own. My son is the only reason I get up in the morning and plaster on a smile, but even he can see through it. He knows. I’ve told him about it. It’s frustrating for him to not be able to help, but he also sees that I’m trying, because I talk about it. We talk about it a lot, because I don’t ever want to lie to him. He’s too precious to me.

For all the people who say they’re there, if you need them. Are they really? How often do you vent to people about the darkness swirling inside your head? You don’t. You have to be careful and you learn that quickly. The deeper you sink, the more you keep it to yourself. It’s only at the surface do you reach out and ask for help – as ambiguous as it may be.

Right now, I’m hanging onto the anchor that is my son and the story I’ve written. I love it so much, but I’m stuck. I’m not sure what my next step is. I was so happy when I was writing it, but now that it’s done (though it needs work), I’m drifting. My mind is full of the next adventure to go on, but I have to finish this one first. I keep reminding myself to have faith that this one is really and truly good enough, but that’s when doubt creeps in.

Why do I find the only time I feel normal is when I’m writing? Why does the real world feel like a passing irritation and my made up world feel like home? Perhaps the made-up world is under my control while the real world keeps dishing heartache and hurt.

It’s not fun having a depressed friend. I don’t ask more from my friends, because it’s up to me and me alone to find the light. It’s just me and my mind. Why is it like this? I ask myself so many questions. I wonder why my mind sabotages me like this. I don’t know. I’ll survive, just like always. I’ll be here in two weeks posting, just like always. No need to worry or start suggesting the help available. I know. I’ve been down that road. However, for those who find themselves sinking into the black oblivion, please know you’re not alone. I don’t know how to help, but sometimes it just feels a little better to know there are others like you. Don’t stop reaching out. Don’t stop trying. Find something that gives you hope. Seek out your anchor and hold on tight. It’s there. When you’re sure of your grip, start following the rope until you reach the surface – no matter how many times you slide back down and have to start again. You can do it.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2013 in Depression, Writing

 

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Upcoming Events and a Call for Guest Bloggers

He likes to move it, move it. Image via Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

He likes to move it, move it. Image via Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

“I don’t think there’s a punch-line scheduled, is there?”

~ MontyPython

“Always look on the bright side of life.”

~ Monty Python

Dancing lemur + Monty Python quotes= Happy Saturday Morning.

Anyway, that’s the equation my caffeine-addled,editing-befuddled brain came up with.

We’ve had a brilliant year, so far- some wonderful insights and information from my fellow ladies-of-the-word, including guest Lara Shiffbauer’s post on self-publishing.

Our very own Heather Reid will be taking a short leave-of-absence while she and her Scottish husband prepare to move stateside and Heather prepares for the release of her debut novel, Pretty Dark Nothing, in April. We would like to extend a huge congratulations and send her our best wishes as she undertakes what I’m sure will be a fantasic adventure.

I am delighted to announce that D.D. Falvo and Vaughn Roycroft have accepted our invitation to stand in for Heather. Shoes of lead couldn’t keep D.D.’s feet on the ground as a child and as an adult, D.D. is known for her passion to connect(and often mentor, as in my case) with other writers. Vaughn Roycroft, a Writer Unboxed contributor and world-builder extraordinaire wrote this post for us last year. D.D. and Vaughn, thank you and we look forward to your posts.

We also welcome these guest contributors over the coming year:

January 29th- Amy Sipard Freeman

March 29th- Sevigne, a strong, and thoughtful presence over at the Writer Unboxed community page on     Facebook

April 29th- Connie Cockrell

May 30th and September 30th- Lara Shiffbauer will presents parts 2&3 of her Self-Publishing series.

While we plan for workshops and online critiques for the coming year, we extend an open invitation to bloggers. We look for pieces that motivate, inspire, and inform writers. Posts can be anywhere between 300 and 1500 words long and should include an author biography and high-resolution picture. If you’re interested, please leave a message in the comments section or email me @ andrew.tonia78@hotmail.com.

Available Dates for 2013:

August 30th

October 30th

November 29nth

Have a swell Saturday and here’s a cheeky Monty Python clip for your viewing pleasure:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxXW6tfl2Y0

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2013 in Guest Posts, Just For Fun

 

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Self-Publishing: Cheating or Ownership?

17183607Happy Wednesday everyone! Heather, here. To self-publish or not self-publish is a question that most writers I know have asked themselves at least once during their writing journey. Me being one of them. I think it’s something we all consider at one point or another. I know I did before Pretty Dark Nothing sold to Month9Books. So when my good friend and fellow writer, Lara Schiffbauer, told me she had decided to self-publish I had to ask, Why? I thought her answer and journey would be worth sharing with all of you. She’ll be checking in with us through the year to update us on her experience. I hope you’ll all help me welcome Lara to the blog today.

First, I want to thank Heather and the other fine writers at Hugs and Chocolate for the opportunity to share my story. Getting to guest post on one of the best, and friendliest, writer’s blog sites on the web is definitely a thrill for me!

Deciding to self-publish was not a lackadaisical choice for me.  Despite my husband’s encouragement from the time I wrote my first short-story to take the publishing reigns into my own hands, I regarded self-publishing as something I’d consider after all other avenues were closed.  I believed self-publishing was cheating. If I self-published I would be acknowledging I couldn’t make it in the competitive, traditional publishing world.

In other words, a lot of my worth as a writer was tied up in having “somebody who knows” recognize my story as worthy of publication. While there are many good reasons to seek traditional publication, I came to believe proving worth as a writer wasn’t one of them. Poor quality is only one of many reasons why a manuscript may be rejected by a traditional publisher and/or agent. I know several excellent writers with stories I can’t wait to read who have been rejected time and time again.

How did I go from actively querying Finding Meara to deciding to take my husband up on his offer to fund (within reason) a self-publishing venture? I can tell you it wasn’t because I decided to avoid the “Gatekeepers,” or because I had been rejected one too many times. (I sent out only eight query letters before I switched gears.) It wasn’t because I thought it was the easy road to publication (I already knew it is anything but easy), or because I was impatient with the traditional publishing system.

Oh, wait—I’m not being completely honest. Maybe I was a little impatient with the traditional publishing system.  And that impatience did spark the change of heart I needed to accept my husband’s offer.

I am not one of those writers who writes because I have to. I don’t write because I want to make art. I write because I want to entertain people. I write because it’s fun to create stories and characters. It’s a challenge to put a story together in a way that will affect a reader. I strive to make people laugh and cry and get out of their daily lives for the time it takes to read a chapter or two. I am not ashamed to admit I write to be read. Self-publishing provides the opportunity to turn my story over to readers sooner than later.

The reason I decided to self-publish was because I value my story and I have faith others will too. I’m not sure there is room in traditional publishing (right now) for a cozy urban fantasy thriller, though.  Instead of waiting for somebody in traditional publishing to decide my story was worth the risk, I decided to take the risk myself.

So began the roller coaster ride of publishing my own book. In my next guest post, I will share what I have learned so far and some of the resources available to aid in the self-publishing process. Some of the best information on marketing I’ve seen has come from self-publishing websites!

Have you ever contemplated self-publishing? What are your thoughts on the subject?

small headshot November 2012 Lara Schiffbauer is a writer, licensed clinical social worker, mother of two, wife of one, and a stubborn optimist. She loves Star Wars, Lego people, science, everyday magic and to laugh.  You can connect with Lara through Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or on her website. Her debut novel, Finding Meara, will be available in March, 2013.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2013 in Uncategorized