Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Galaxy Quest

I teach a workshop called “When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers” and it is based on a collection of stories – my own and other writers’ – of the things that can and do go wrong in the publishing world. There are so many elements involved in seeing a book move from idea, to manuscript, to submission, to revisions, to finished product. Because of all these complicated pieces, the opportunity for problems is as abundant as the steps are. Sometimes there are multiple challenges all with the same book. Sometimes these issues are just minor headaches, and sometimes they are enough to make you wonder why you ever thought being a writer was a good idea.

In my own little corner of the writing universe, I’ve had plenty of encounters with publishing speed bumps. I’ve had contracts cancelled due to one publisher buying out another. I’ve had a publisher accidentally send me a bill for what should have been my author’s copies. And I’ve had editors get ill, have family problems, and delay my revisions by months.  Most recently, I’ve had a book scheduled for release three times only to be delayed again because the original publisher is being bought out. It’s tough to go from preparing to celebrate the release of your book to being told, “We don’t really know when it will be released.”

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In a conversation with an acquaintance, I was explaining the most recent development with my book when he asked, “So why do you keep doing this?”

I didn’t even hesitate. “Because I can’t NOT write. I can’t stop.” And it’s the truth. I have stopped writing before for almost two years, and it nearly made me crazy. I tell people regularly that, even if I never made another dime from my stories, I would still keep writing and submitting. It’s my addiction. It’s what keeps me breathing and keeps my heart pounding. It is, very honestly, who I am. So in spite of all those speed bumps, I will never give up. I will never surrender.

There are only a few things I feel this much passion for. My family, obviously, is at the top of the list. Knowledge is another item on the list because I love learning. My pets, and really animals in general are also  high on my list. But writing is what fills my heart. It’s where everything comes together for me.  It’s why I search for detail in the mundane, why I listen for noises or voices that no one else pays attention to, and why even as I’m sitting in traffic, I’m creating a scene or writing descriptions in my head. It just is who I am.

When someone asks, “Why don’t you quit?” When I go through the occasional bout of self-doubt. When yet another speed bump surprises me and jolts me like I’ve been moving too fast, I might have a quick slip into that dark thought of giving up writing, but ultimately, my brain surges, my heart beats faster, and the passion takes over again. Never give up, never surrender.

work-hard-and-never-surrender

Resolutions – The 2013 Edition

It has been a VERY successful year for me, and I am grateful for the support of friends, family, teachers, librarians, and most of all readers! In June of this year, Angelic Knight Press made an offer for Death’s Kiss. In August, I sold a horror short story under my pen name Mimi A. Williams. That story, entitled Rita, will be part of the Axes of Evil: Heavy Metal Horror Anthology that will be released on February 1, 2014.  The Deepest Blue was released from Tanglewood Press in September of this year. This book has a long, winding history behind it, and it’s one that I am incredibly proud to see in print. All of this exceeded my goals for the year, although there were a few places I fell short

This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve done this exercise. It is a tradition now, and something I look forward in some sick and twisted way. It actually started further back even than the posts on this blog! All credit is due to Carol Lynch Williams who started the whole thing at least a dozen years ago and maybe even more. We are members of several list serves together, and every year about this time, we would publicly post our writing goals, and at the end of the year, Carol would hold us all accountable by posting our objectives on the list.

I like to do it this way: First, I review my resolutions from the beginning of the year to see how I did. That usually provides the motivation for my new resolutions. So here is what I aspired to a year ago and how I did:

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

The Afterward did not get the work I had hoped it would. It was shoved aside in favor of other projects. That’s not entirely bad. The other projects were both getting revised for publication. The Deepest Blue was the one that required the most time, followed closely by Death’s Kiss, which will be released early in 2014.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

Death Kiss was revised, and it was bought by Angelic Knight Press. It did find a home, and as I mentioned, it will be released soon under the revised title of “Death’s Kiss”

deathkiss final-front

3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

I did quite well with this! I attended 10 different events, including a workshop at Whitmore Library, Writing for Charity, Davis School District Literacy Night, SCBWI’s The Inside Story, and others. I have also upgraded my website, and learned new ways to use social media to help promote my books. The results have been very positive, and as I anticipate my upcoming royalty payments, I should have a more concrete idea of how effective these efforts have been.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

I didn’t quite follow through with this, though I did teach two workshops with good results. This year, though, I will follow through with the workshops, and I have recruited my talented writer friend C. Michelle Jefferies to be part of the fun! We have already laid the plans for the first workshop the first week of February.

And now it’s time to commit to the page (such as it is) my goals for the coming year. They came pretty easily this year, and I feel like I am stretching a bit and giving myself a challenge, but I don’t sense I’m setting myself up for failure. So here they are:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

That’s a lot to do in the next year, but I’m feeling confident and enthusiastic. It’s as much giving as it is taking. I’m focusing on quality and quantity. Overall, I think 2014 holds more promise than even this past year held, and that just makes me even more eager to get started!

Here’s to the coming year! My propellers are spinning and I’m ready to fly!

airplane

A Different Definition of “Writing Success”

It happens far too often: after a presentation, inevitably someone asks the visiting writer, “How much do you make?”

bigstock_Falling_Money_669153

 

Now, would you ask your doctor or your dentist, the guy at the bank, or the woman who checks your groceries how much he or she makes? Of course not. That’s just rude!

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But I can assure you that many writers are asked this question on a regular basis. Some people ask because they think we all make the same salary as Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Some people ask because they have a great idea for a book and they want to know how much money this awesome story is going to make for them.  Still others (like moms, worried siblings, or aunts and uncles) will ask because they are afraid you are starving to death pursuing this dream of yours.

The first time I was asked, it was by a small kid from a pretty impoverished area. I think I could have told this kid that I made $40 and he would have been impressed. But as time has gone on, I’ve realized that basically anyone feels it’s his or her right to stick his or her nose into your financial business. I understand the curiosity, and I can see how that curiosity manifests, but I don’t understand what compels those people to actually open their mouths and have the brass to ask the question. At this point, all I can really do is laugh!

My most recent experience with this happened when I did a presentation at a local library. I did my best to avoid the answer, but the individual continued to push the issue.  Finally I did the only thing I could do, and I told the truth. The person who asked the question sort of looked astonished. However, the experience for me turned out incredibly positive. It’s not the financial gain that keeps me writing, in fact I’ve often said I would write for free because – well – I just can’t NOT write.  But even beyond that, any writer who is honest will say that he or she writes in order to touch someone else.  I’ve been blessed to have six books earn feedback from readers, and now books seven and eight are prepared to do the same. When I do presentations, I’m heartened by the comments that I get from participants.  For example:

letter

No matter how many times I read Abby’s letter, I am still thrilled that I touched this young girl’s heart and that she felt inspired enough to tell me about it.  I’ve had wonderful reviews of my work, and I’ve talked with many readers, and this is the best reward I could ask for. I don’t measure success in terms of money, I measure it in terms of books I’ve had published, in terms of people who respond to those books. I look at success not in how others measure it, but in how I feel everyday, doing this job and pursuing this dream. And the truth is – I feel pretty darned successful.

Things of a Symbolic Nature – Take 2

Symbolism is a subject that I have a lot of interest in. I like finding it when I read (which was the only thing that saved me when I read MOBY DICK), and I love using it when I write. Obviously, not every story will have a place for symbols, but I like looking for places that I can include them, even if it’s very subtle and limited.

A symbol, as described by Robert Di Yanni in Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, is any action, object, person, or event that conveys a meaning beyond the literal interpretation or significance. An author will make a symbol known either by giving it emphasis, repeating is use in a story, by giving it detailed description, or by placing it in key moments within the story. These techniques may (though not absolutely always) indicate that the element in question is being used symbolically. Throughout literary tradition, symbolism is used to enhance and add meaning to a story; to bring the reader to a deeper understanding of the story.

Here’s an example: In Eudora Welty’s short story, A Worn Path, the main character’s name is Phoenix Jackson. The name Phoenix is a clue to the personality of the character – someone is resilient, determined, and perhaps mythical. The color black features prominently in the story as well. Phoenix is a black woman, she expresses her admiration for a large black dog that takes on the dog of white man who threatens Phoenix. And there are other examples. This story also features an assortment of birds, everything from little bobwhites to a buzzard among big dead trees which remind her of lynched men. Throughout the story, the symbolism is woven into plot, building upon critical moments, showing us more about the place and time where Phoenix lives, and giving us a greater insight into aspects of human nature.

a worn path

 

In my own work, I’ve used these techniques as well. Though it isn’t easy to spot (because I limited the use and held back) the shiny red dog collar in Kiss Kiss Bark serves as a symbol. Mattie sees the collar as everything that is wrong in her life: her unfair babysitting responsibilities; how her brother gets away with things she would never get away with; and ultimately, of her love for her brother and her acceptance of his role in her life.

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In a much more obvious attempt at symbolism, The Deepest Blue  uses several symbols throughout the book. The first, most obvious symbol is the color blue. Because it represents depression, it is an appropriate color to use at key moments in the story when the main character, Michael, is feeling the loss in his life. But a blue sky can also represent hope, the lifting of a storm, or the start of a new and better day.  Another symbol I used was the storm. It builds at important moments, it rattles windows and reflects the turmoil that Michael feels, and threatens him physically as well.  The last significant symbol is water. Sometimes the water is in the form of rain, sometimes it’s the ocean, and there are other uses as well. Water is an emotional connection for Michael, reflecting his feelings, tying him to his father, and signifying the importance of place in his life.

deepestblue

 

So why incorporate symbols? Well, for one thing, I think it’s fun! It’s an aspect of writing that appeals to me at a deep level. Another reason is that I respect the readers I’m writing for. They like the challenge that symbolic meaning represents, they like a deeper story. As a reader, I like this, too.  There are wonderful stories out there that use symbolism, but that aspect isn’t one that is often given much attention.

The book I’m working on now also has symbolic elements to it, and I’m enjoying the process of giving deeper meaning to the story as I find new ways to incorporate these symbols. Of course, my greater hope is that my readers enjoy it just as much as I do.

Change of Seasons

The weather is beautiful – around 75 degrees with a slight breeze to keep things comfortable. Our family took an amazing vacation to San Francisco where we indulged in fabulous food, tourist attractions, and a whole lot of fun with each other. The first handful of raspberries have been harvested, and the nectarine tree is heavy with the hard, green fruit that will ripen into sweet, juicy treats.

My feet have the tell-tale tan of my golf sandals, (no, these are not my feet!)  sandal-tan and my skin is faintly browned (though I’m very careful with sunscreen to be sure). There are camping trips scheduled for July and August, a new patio to be built in my back yard, and so many long walks and longer drives to be taken.

Summer has truly arrived full force, and so I find myself struggling with an annual dilemma: outside vs. writing. I love summer, I love being outside, I love working in my garden, I love going for walks, I love driving with the top down on my Mustang,

topless

and I love heading off somewhere to watch the sunset. What I don’t like is sitting at the desk in my office. That, of course, means that it is difficult to write during the summer months, and as I have experienced before, I am struggling to make progress on my projects. I was feeling quite negative about this; in fact, I was pretty much beating myself up mentally and emotionally because I’ve fallen so far behind on my work-for-hire project and on the new young adult novel I’ve started.

I don’t like making excuses. The truth is that I’m making choices. I’m choosing other activities over writing, and I’m suffering the consequences of those decisions. So I’ve been seeking alternatives that might somehow allow me to enjoy my summer hours while still achieving my writing goals. One example of my compromise is this specific blog: I’m using my laptop while sitting in my back yard and enjoying the warmth and the birds teasing my kitties. Another switch I’m trying, for those times when my laptop is inconvenient or not an option, is going old school – handwriting in my notebook. It’s worked for me before, and the really important thing is that it takes away the technology excuse. Millions of books were written without benefit of electronic devices, and while I often get frustrated (because I can’t write by hand as fast as I type), I can still record thoughts, work forward on scenes, and continue to make progress even when my laptop isn’t available.

I also use a rewards system with myself to provide the proper motivation to get my writing done. If I know I really want to go to the farmer’s market on Sunday, then I have to have at least ten pages written by Saturday night. If I want to sit on the porch after work and enjoy the garden, then I need to have written for at least an hour the night before. I’m pretty good about holding myself accountable, but I’m even better at it when I let others know what my requirement of myself is. I tell my friends at work, but I also tell my husband and my kids. If they see me trying to get away with something without having finished my writing time, they are quite good at scolding, cajoling, and flat out harassing me to get done what I need to do.

I love summer, but it comes and goes (every year – go figure!), but writing is my passion. So I find ways to make it happen, instead of finding ways to make excuses. Okay – times up. I need to get an hour of writing done now so I can enjoy a long walk tomorrow night!

Zounds!

The partial Shakespearean quote reads: “Zounds, I was never so bethumped by words . . .” Perhaps a bit out of context, but I am very clear on the concept. I need to clarify first that this isn’t a complaint by any means! I don’t know when I’ve been happier, and a good deal of that is due to the fact that I am – indeed – bethumped by words.

I’ve just finished the final, final revisions (at least on my part) for my young adult novel THE DEEPEST BLUE which will come on in October of this year. Right there, I’m a pretty happy camper. deepestblue

This book has been a long time coming, and I don’t mean the publishing process (though certainly, there is a little bit of that involved). I started this book in 2006, and early into the first draft, my dad passed away. The scene I was writing at the time had to do with the main character losing his own dad, and that just became too much for me to contend with.  At the same time, I was struggling with my own beliefs in my writing ability, and for a variety of reasons, it was easy for me to put this book, and all my writing, on a shelf. That shelf turned out to be pretty big. In fact, it lasted almost three years.  I’ll save part of this story for another post, but suffice to say that I took a renewed interest in it, sent it out, collected a lot of rejections, and ultimately in December of 2011, it sold to a wonderful publisher.

A few months ago, not sure what my employment status was going to be, I took a work for hire project. My job is to write the last three books in a nine-book series about a former secret agent type guy (sort of like Jason Bourne, only my character is a pretty upstanding guy who hates killing unless there is no other alternative). I am having an absolute blast with this project, and the first book is now almost 70,000 words long. I’m becoming a faster, more efficient writer because of this project. The edits from THE DEEPEST BLUE are informing my writing on this project, and overall, it has been a very meaningful addition to my writing life. The deadlines are rigid, and it forces me to write almost every day to stay on top of my work load. It also forces me to balance my life between a full-time job, my writing projects, and my family. The level of growth I’ve experienced is profound, and I’m grateful to the publishers for granting me the opportunity.

Now another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. My young adult novel, DEATH’S KISS, has sold to another publisher and I will begin working on those revisions within a few weeks. The publisher wants to release this book in September of this year, so I will have two books coming out within a month of each other. Those revisions will take place while I work on the second and third books in my work for hire project.

And the point to all of this is that, with limited exception, this is exactly how I’ve wanted my life to be for more than 15 years. Now I am here. Now it is happening. There is little to my life that I would change, but believe me, I understand the risks. I also know how very fortunate I am, but I know how hard I’ve worked for this as well. I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family, but I was the one who had to sit down at the keyboard and spill my brains through my fingers.  My life is bethumped by words, and that is exactly how I want it to be until I fall over dead at my keyboard, nose on the F key.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

One of the most common questions most writers are asked is the “Where do you get your ideas?” question. In a way, it’s a flattering question. It’s like seeing an outfit that you really like that someone is wearing and asking, “Where did you get that?” It’s a compliment.

How a writer gets his or her ideas is as unique as the writer him or her self. For some writers, a certain place will trigger an idea, like an old building or a quiet spot in the mountains. Some writers get inspiration from an interesting person they spot at the grocery store or walking through the mall. And others will overhear a piece of dialog that sparks their interest and generates a concept for a story. Or it could be any combination of these things and more. But the typical result is that the inspiration strikes and the writer begins asking, “What if?” or “What about it?” – and from there, the story ideas start to take off.

puzzled

Speaking personally, I find story ideas everywhere! This is great, because I’m never at a loss for things to write, but it can be a little annoying because at times I am overwhelmed with ideas! But how do these odd collections of inspiration turn into solid stories?  I’ve talked before about the “story behind the story” that led to the creation of the crime/horror novel “Beautiful Monster” so I won’t go into that one again. How about the young adult novel I have coming out in October, “The Deepest Blue” – because it has a good story.

It actually started with my oldest daughter when she was 15. Her biological dad had remarried a few years prior, and she was struggling with the new arrangements when she visited him. She had a step-mom, two step-sisters, and a new little half-brother. Over a period of time, she felt that she was being singled out and picked on (which a lot of teenagers feel in that situation). But for her, it became so bad that she came to my husband and I one day and told us that she wanted her step-dad to legally adopt her. This was not a spontaneous decision. She explained that she had been wanting this for more than a year, but that she just hadn’t found the courage to ask. After some nastiness back and forth between the two families, she finally got her wish.

A few years later, my step-son came and asked me to adopt him. It was not a complete surprise since his biological mom had pretty much dropped out of his life a few years earlier. There wasn’t a fight like there had been for my daughter, and in the end, I became his legal mom not long after he turned 16.

Having watched two of my children go through this process, an idea began to formulate in my head. What if a boy only had one parent, and then lost that parent unexpectedly? What if he had to choose a new parent, but then had to stand up for himself and for what he knew was best for him? The ideas evolved. The story took shape. Pretty soon, I was off and writing. One of the hardest parts of writing this book was that, just before I had to write the scene where the boy sees his father dead (dad gets hit by a drunk driver), my own father passed away. I was at his house within an hour of when he passed and sat with his body off and on for hours while waiting for the funeral home representatives to arrive and take him away.  Needless to say, writing those scenes became nearly impossible. It took me almost two years before I could finish this book. Even now, when I read the scene where the main character sees his father’s lifeless body for the first time, I become very emotional.

(That’s my dad!)

So how about the book I’m working on now? Well, there’s quite a story behind this one too, but it isn’t nearly so personal.

Early in my writing career, I had a contract to write an educational book for kids about Napoleon. I was hundreds of hours into the research, writing, and revisions on this book. In fact, the final revisions were being polished up to submit to my editor when I got a call no writer wants: the publisher had been bought out by another publisher (as was common in the 1990s), and the series that my book was part of had been discontinued. The editors were being let go or reassigned, and the contracts were being cancelled. I was allowed to keep the advance I’d been given, but there would be no finished book. SAY WHAT?? Yeah – it happens.

For years I let the research just sit and molder. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything with it because at first I was so angry, then so depressed, and then finally so exasperated by it that I just didn’t care anymore. But there were pieces of the research I’d done that stuck with me. There were details that would never go into that first book that I found quite compelling, and I would return to them over and over again. One piece of history that I knew wouldn’t go into that book was the information about the French executioners. They lived as social outcasts, even though they were paid quite well by the monarchy for the job they did. Even after the French Revolution, the executioners made a good living from the Republic, but they were completely ostracized by French society. Their children could not attend public schools, they were not welcome in shops or cafes in the towns or villages, and executioner’s daughter could only marry an executioner’s son.

This information has rattled around in my brain for years, and it has finally begun to take shape. I’m playing with several ideas, but already I know the book is entitled “The Executioner’s Daughter” and I know a great deal about this feisty young woman. She isn’t going to play by the rules that society has forced on her. She is going to have a little revolution of her own with far-reaching impact. I don’t know if the book is speculative fiction, or if it might even be Steampunk. (I envision my main character looking something like this.)steampunkdress

If you’re not familiar with Steampunk, I invite you to check it out on the internet. It is a subculture that fascinates me! It could also use some better literature.

So where do ideas come from? Well, pretty much anywhere and everywhere.  I don’t think it’s so important to know where they came from as it is to identify how best to use them! It’s not so hard as you think. Mix some mismatched concepts together, swirl around, and then ask “Why?” and “What if?” and “Then what?” – and then let it fly!