I read on one of the many writing group forums today, a novice author expressing their gratitude for someone pointing them in the direction of programs like Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid. They extolled the virtues of these software programs, proclaiming that now, their work would be “more professional.” Learning about these tools made them feel confident they were ready to take their book to press.
I say, “Yay!” How fantastic that someone’s creative spirit and confidence was lifted by the kindness of another and their suggestion to make an oft-times frustrating road a little less so.
And… (a mentor once suggested that I replace the word ‘but’ with ‘and’ whenever I want to build on a statement, rather than detract from it). While these tools are a huge boon to the newly initiated and experienced writer, they should not replace the wisdom offered by a professional editor. There, I said it. It’s harsh, perhaps, but (and) tools are not enough. While good tools certainly make the job easier, they don’t replace real, practical knowledge.
Okay, let me try it this way…
When I was a kid, I grew a few inches during the school year, and by the time summer rolled around, the seat on my bicycle was too low. I needed to raise the seat, so I could effectively pedal without slamming my knees into the handlebars, which would throw me off balance and make me fall over. I asked my older brother how to do this, and his answer was simple. “Just grab a wrench and loosen the bolt. Then pull up the seat to where you want it and tighten the bolt again. Easy.” He gave me the correct instructions and even told me which tool to use. So now, I was prepared to go out to the garage and make my bike “work” for me again, right? Nope.
I knew I needed a wrench yet had no clue which one to use. And, when I looked more closely at the seat, there were two bolts, not just one, and I wasn’t clear on the consequences of choosing the wrong bolt. Frustration washed over me as I stared from the open toolbox to the bike and back again. Tears began to fall down my cheeks as I quickly realized that I couldn’t do this one simple thing with enough success to ensure I wouldn’t fall flat on my face the next time I put sneaker to pedal.
Yet, from somewhere deep inside, I pulled myself together. I convinced myself I could figure this out if I just spent a little time exploring the problem and testing the tools. After all, if my brother, who was only eighteen months older than me, could figure it out, it couldn’t be that difficult, right?
Fortunately, I’d spent enough time with tools to know the difference between a wrench, a screwdriver, a hammer, and a pair of wire cutters. So, I had that going for me. I began by separating out everything I knew to be a wrench, leaving the others in the bottom of the toolbox. Step one, done.
Breathing a heavy sigh, I looked over what was left: a pile of box combination wrenches, a couple of allen wrenches, and a pile of socket wrenches. Oh, and there was a pipe wrench in there, too. I quickly threw the pipe wrench, and the allen wrenches back in the box. Just like with the three bears and their chairs, these tools were clearly either too big or too small for the job. My confidence grew stronger. Maybe I could figure this out.
Now I had a pile of wrenches, all of which I understood how to use… after all, I’d been helping my brother “fix” things around the house for years. I knew how they worked. I knew “righty tighty, lefty loosey” and how to snap on and off the extensions for the socket wrenches. I even knew that if you flipped that little switch on the side of the socket wrench, the ratchet would go in the opposite direction. I wasn’t a complete dolt. But (and) the problem facing me was which wrench to use, and which bolt to turn to raise the seat. It was a conundrum, to be sure.
I must have sat there for an hour, agonizing about what to do… testing out different wrenches on each bolt, discovering, with disappointment, that they were two different sizes. That made sense, considering the bolts probably served different purposes. Another confidence-laden sigh escaped me as I realized I’d solved another piece of the puzzle. But the sun was dipping lower on the horizon, and my bike-riding time was fading fast. In the next moment, all confidence was gone, and tears rolled from my face as I sat there in complete exasperation. It’s understandable. I was only eight years old. Losing precious biking time was a tragedy.
A few minutes later, my brother came out to the garage and asked me what I was doing. “I’m trying to raise the seat on my bike, just like you said,” I replied through tears and hiccups of frustration. “I know you told me to use a wrench and just loosen the bolt, but I can’t figure out which wrench, and there are two bolts!” By this time, I was lost to my agony, doubting my ability to do anything right. “I can’t do it right. I’ll never ride my bike again!” Yup, the melodrama of an eight-year-old is a real thing when faced with a tragedy.
As you might have guessed, my brother was equal parts amused and furious with me. “You’re a dolt,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. And then he said the wisest, kindest thing he’d ever said to me in our eight very short years together. “You should have come back inside and asked me to help you. If you’d done that, you could have been riding your bike all this time instead of sitting in the garage crying. You can’t be expected to know everything… so you have to remember to ask for help to get it right.”
Then he picked up the 7/16” socket wrench and loosened the bolt under the seat. This made the seat go up. Then, he used the adjustable wrench I’d missed from my sorting session and loosened the bolt on the side, which tilted the front of the seat slightly to make it easier to climb on. He dropped the tools back in the box and said, “There. Done. Now go ride.”
I looked at my brother in awe. He just smiled and walked back into the house without another word.
That was the day I learned that tools were great, AND they were basically useless unless you knew how and where to use them to gain the greatest success. The other take-away? It was perfectly okay for me to ask for help if it meant keeping myself from falling flat on my face in pain or humiliation.
So yes, editorial tools like Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid can be super-helpful as you work toward getting your manuscript as close to done as possible. Good tools will save you a lot of time and aggravation. AND you shouldn’t discount the simple act of asking for help from an editorial professional to improve the quality of your book and keep you from falling on your face.
It is well worth spending a little bit of money to save yourself hours of sitting on the floor of your garage overwhelmed with tears of frustration.
I hope this note finds you and your family well and excited about the summer season now upon us. I hope authors continue to be successful in their creation and sales, and I hope readers discover a little something they didn't know existed before, and enjoy the journey of storytelling.
First, some SILLY NEWS!
I'm trying to plan a thing... So often, we authors get together at festivals, or at conferences, or zoom meetings and talk about how much fun it would be to just hang out with each other and have a little time to know each other better without the stress of sales pitches, teaching, or learning. Just talking with each other like people might be a fun idea. So, that's the plan. If you're an Indie Author, and you think this is something you might enjoy, please follow the link and let me know your thoughts. On July 5, I'll look over your responses and see if there's enough interest. And, of course, my feeling won't be hurt if you all decide this is not what you want. I live my life on the premise that "You can't say YES if I don't ask the question." :-)
Now for the RELEASE NEWS!
I'm excited to announce the release for my new book, Marketing Matters for Indie Authors. This is the first of five books in my new series, the Passionate Plotter Guidebooks. The series is a self-directed writing workshop that helps adult writers along the path to becoming Independently Published Authors.
Designed for writers from grade seven thru adult, each book in the series takes the writer on a deep-dive adventure into the five primary stages of the writing journey Written in a highly accessible, casual, and conversational tone, each book in the series includes specific Reflection Prompts with writing space, to help you discover the ideas you didn't know were waiting. As you work through the program, each chapter will enhance your understanding of writing fiction, non-fiction, memoir, and children's books.
The Passionate Plotter program provides an engaging and entertaining strategy that will support your publishing goals with practical instruction and step-by-step guidance inside a program you'll want to use again and again.
Each book also includes a Special Secret QR Code which leads to the Online Access Portal for all of the Reflection Prompts as Supplemental Worksheets in Microsoft Word, in a fillable format. These worksheets are provided to you to aid in your writing quest, adventure after adventure!
The book is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1628282665?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860
Or you can buy a signed copy from me directly when you visit me at any of the fairs and festivals this year. Visit my website for a list of the events I'll be attending at http://www.dkpwriter.com/
I have also written a children's workshop workbook, The Passionate Plotter Kids, which is intended for children from second thru sixth grade, to discover the wonderment of a writing adventure. You can learn more about that book at http://www.dkpwriter.com/the-passionate-plotter-kids.html
FANTASTIC PODCAST NEWS! As our audience grows, I am expanding the podcast to offer more support for Indie Authored Books! This program is not just for authors anymore! The goal of the podcast is to help Indie Authors share their work with greater reach. To that end, I am now inviting Indie Authors, Illustrators, Adult Fans, and Young Readers to share their favorite Indie Authored books!
Indie Reads Aloud Adult Reader Edition: I've heard from listeners that they have discovered a great story written by an Indie Author, and they would love to read a bit of it on the program, as a way to help that author gain more exposure. I think that's a fabulous idea! So now, Indie Authors, Illustrators, and their Adult Fans are all invited to share Indie Authored books on the program... not necessarily written by the Adult Reader, themselves! You can read almost any genre on the podcast... Novels, Poetry, Non-Fiction, How-To, Memoir, Children's Fiction... the works! I know some of you aren't comfortable reading "on the air", but if you've got an adult friend who would love a shot at micro-stardom, this is their chance! This is also a great opportunity for you, as an Indie Author, to share the love, and perhaps read a bit of an author friend's work, to help them reach more readers. Remember, we are all colleagues, not competitors! I am now scheduling recording sessions for late autumn air dates. Find the sign up form for the Indie Reads Aloud podcast on my website.
Indie Reads Aloud Young Readers Edition. I am inviting Young Readers to come on the podcast and Read Aloud. Reading is one of the most valuable skills young people can acquire, and I want to support their growth in literacy. Giving Young Readers an opportunity to Read Aloud, and share why they enjoyed a book is a fun way to encourage them to become life-long readers. I know a lot of you Indie Authors are introverts, and you're not tremendously comfortable reading aloud. But, I also know a lot of you have young readers in your lives who are extroverts and would love the opportunity to share their theatrical and reading skills on the podcast to support your writing career. So, this is their chance! Young Readers must be between 10 and 18 years old, and the book they read must be written by an Indie Author. ***One safety note: Young Readers must have a parent or guardian present during the recording session. I am now scheduling recording sessions for late autumn air dates. Find the sign up form for the Indie Reads Aloud podcast on my website.
But Wait! There's More!! I'm also adding another layer of fun to the podcast, Indie Reads Aloud Conversations.
Sure, I LOVE hearing your stories, but I also enjoy talking with authors and illustrators about their craft. I love hearing about where you get your ideas, how you go about your process, and why you choose the genres you write and illustrate. So, this is my chance to have those discussions, and indulge myself in learning more about you and your process, while having a bit of fun. The idea is to pre-record these sessions, and invite readers to join the conversation, too. Perhaps we'll give away books or other nifty stuff with the Spinny Wheel of Happiness... Perhaps we'll play games, and Read Aloud a little. The program is completely unscripted... so as long as we keep it all family-friendly, we could have a really good time! I'm scheduling recording sessions now, to air in late autumn and into next year. So, if this sounds like fun to you, too... Sign up using this form on my website and join the Conversation! If you've already read aloud on the podcast, join us for Conversations. If you haven't read aloud yet, that's okay, you can start with a Conversation and then Read Aloud on another day!
Writing Hermitage 2022!
I'll be away at my little cabin in the woods from the middle of July through the middle of August on a Writing Hermitage. This is time I get to devote to almost nothing but writing, and it's glorious! During this year's hermitage, I'll be working on completing three novels... a western (Splinters), a paranormal (Tears Remember), and a suspense (Anonymous). I'll also be spending a bit of time working on the edits for the collaborative novels our community has been writing, helping a few authors edit their books, as well as catching up on my evening reading with my Indie Reads Challenge. I'll be home briefly, at the end of July for the Sterling Fest, and then returning back to the cabin the very next day, for a couple more weeks. I'll check in on Facebook and my Blog Thingy when the Internet cooperates. The cabin is literally in the middle of nowhere, so I make no guarantees on communication, but I'll try. I'm really looking forward to this time of concentrated writing, reading, hiking, and kayaking with Charlie. I'll see you all again in late August.
Where To Find Me At Events...
Saturday, July 30, 2022; 10:00AM - 4:00PM
SterlingFest Local Author Fair
40255 Dodge Park Road Sterling Heights, MI 48313
Friday, August 5, 2022 12PM - Midnight
Saturday, August 6, 2022 10AM - Midnight
Timberfest - Art on Kneeland
Lewiston Chamber of Commerce Park
2946 Kneeland Street Lewiston, MI 49756
Friday, September 9, 2022 12:00PM - 7:00PM
Saturday, September 10, 2022 10:00AM - 7:00PM
Sunday, September 11, 2022 11AM - 4PM
Charlotte Frontier Days Festival
Eaton County Fair
1025 Cochran Avenue Charlotte, MI 48813
Sunday, September 18, 2022 10:30 AM - 5:00PM
Morris J. Lawrence Building at Washtenaw Community College
4800 E. Huron River Drive Ann Arbor, MI 48105
Thank you for your continued kindness and support, and have a spectacular summer!
Whether fiction or non-fiction, reading is a preoccupation that requires a suspension of disbelief fostered inside trust. Those who hold books in their hands while curled up in the corner of the couch, studying intently at the library table, or hoping to be ignored on the subway during the evening commute expect excellence between the punctuation marks. They anticipate the reward of education or escapism after a long day’s slog through a frustrating encounter or an insufferable wait. Readers fall in love inside an author’s carefully crafted pages. They battle demons from the netherworld. They become more proficient at a skill, discover alien societies in distant galaxies, or seep into the comfort of places already understood and people already loved. It is our obligation to deliver on the promises of cover art and synopsis. It is a daunting task and a heavy responsibility. It is also a choice.
The act of writing, some profess, is a calling. It is a compelling conversation one has with Spirit requiring devoted attention of time, energy, sweat, blood, and tears. Many are driven to write because of an electric surge that prods at us. If we ignore it or somehow smother it, much like the consequence of refusing to inhale… we will die. Yet that is also a choice, albeit one too devastating to argue.
Because we decided to write, we must honor the process just as we honor good health. We must take in every piece of advice offered to nourish our craft. We must use every helpful tool we discover to polish our delivery. We need to learn all we can to protect our choice without regret – for ourselves or our readers.
It is a foregone conclusion that you will damage your relationship with your DNA by choosing to neglect your body’s essential requirements of life. So too, will you abuse your reputation with readers if you ignore their expectations of a solid story, engaging characters, and sentences that flow easily. Forcing readers to trip over grammar, spelling, continuity, and syntax mistakes may result in an agonizing punch to your writing career. Sadly, you may never recover.
Most authors can tell a fantastic story or impart tremendous wisdom while holding a reader’s attention for hours through a solitary, focused effort. Collaboration on the inside pages is not necessary for an author to enjoy success. However, suppose you violate a reader’s trust by allowing your ego to proclaim that your writing is above reproach. In that case, you are inviting a world of hurt that will cascade from one book to the next. Neglecting to connect with a professional editor simply because you ‘write well enough’ is unconscionable. Could you do it all on your own? Perhaps. Should you go it alone? Never. The skills, objectivity, and lack of emotional attachment a professional editor brings to your work are critical. We are far too close to our own stories to make the difficult decisions of which superlative passages to rephrase or which characters to help exit the story, stage left.
Only through the guidance of a professional editor can we avoid the plot holes, incongruencies of character, or misinterpreted messages that dissuade people from reading all the way to the back cover. Let alone lending or recommending our book to others. Even the best writers rely on editors. After all, they specialize in putting a sharper edge on the tension, deepening the authenticity of the emotion, and eradicating the oversights made in that fifteenth version we are sure is perfect.
Many Indie Authors edit themselves to control expenses and somehow balance the income against the art. It is a trick we play on ourselves to keep from falling headlong into a melting pint of ice cream and despair. It’s completely understandable. Retaining control of the budget validates all the long nights learning the multitude of steps involved in birthing your book on your own.
Find another area to skimp on as you develop your emotional and financial budget for your next writing project. Don’t snub the expertise of a reliable, knowledgeable editor just to save a few dollars. If you do, it will be at the peril of your book’s success and your writing career. Simply put, the fastest way to lose readers is to ignore or insult their intelligence by not hiring an editor. An editor may not make it perfect, but they will help you achieve excellence. That is what builds a dependable reputation of quality in your writing. With every stroke of the editor’s pen, you build trust with your reader. You will cultivate the strongest referral base for your future work out of that trust.
So, nourish your relationship with your readers. Deliver on promises and cultivate trust for accuracy and consistency within your work. You will be stronger in mind, body, and spirit because of it… and your career will reap the rewards. Do the right thing. Make the best choice. Always hire an editor before you publish.
A little while ago, I saw a post in an online networking group defining the term Brand. The writer supplied a bullet list of things that are not a business' Brand. Included were such things as a logo, business cards, YouTube videos, and blog posts. The writer explained that these things are ancillary and not at the heart of branding. They continued to explain that instead, a business’ Brand was defined as the connection between themselves and the customer or client. They refuted the expense of time and money on the other items, declaring them insignificant, and wasted effort.
I noodled this around in my head for about a week and considered the question from several angles. I've been active in various networking groups (in-person and online) for over ten years. As a result, I've been attentive to how branding is used across many different industries. So, after considering this writer's point of view and my own experience, I came to this understanding:
Perhaps the writer mentioned above overlooks the impact of having both a Brand and a Reputation. The first is meant as a marketing tool to provide comfort and accessibility for prospects. The second instills confidence and security inside an interaction that fosters loyalty and endorsements across years, and we would hope, decades.
As with speaking and listening, I believe that we should never focus on one without the other. This is especially true for Independent Authors as they grow their writing careers.
Speaking to readers with business cards, websites, YouTube videos, Amazon advertising, podcasts, and other marketing outreach is vital toward expanding the opportunity for discovery. Using these tools requires a fundamental understanding of message presentation and emotional aesthetics. A solid branding practice shares an author's "novel" approach to their iteration of a genre. Physical takeaways or digital evergreen content allows readers to see that our books are interesting, enduring, disarming, and desirable. Branding acts as a gateway for the reader to access the author, coming closer with a warm invitation. Branding is the coy smile shared between an author and a reader across a crowded room. Branding teases a love affair that will evolve in intensity over time.
Listening to readers is an entirely different set of practiced skills. The author's Reputation creates a safe space where the reader feels comfortable in the author's vulnerability as they share their imagination. It is the connectivity an author initiates with genuine interest as they engage in conversation at a festival or signing event. Always attentive, interested, and accessible to the reader; eager to hear their impressions of the work and how a reader was touched. Reputation is about building relationships, risking rejection, and delivering on promises made on the page and in person. Listening to readers and learning what they desire most through authentic connection is how authors pave the way for readers to develop a deep devotion to their books and encourage referrals to other readers.
Branding is the overture to the symphony of your writing career. Reputation is the intellectual and emotional connections authors establish in a safe space, directly with a reader's heart and soul. Branding and Reputation are intrinsically intertwined. An author cannot expect to reach readers without first extending an invitation, nor can they expect to maintain their Reputation without the emotional attention all relationships expect and require.
So, build book trailers, pass out rack cards, and design enticing table displays. But don't neglect the personal interaction between you and your reader. Respond to their conversations at festivals, interact with them on social media, and thank them for their honest reviews, regardless of whether that review was good, bad, or indifferent. Each relationship you invite and maintain will help encourage a footbridge of referrals to your future work.
Last week, my friend, Joan H. Young sent me a challenge. Joan is on a year-long hike across several States, which, for the record, I think is the most courageous thing I've ever seen anyone do. She began this amazing journey at the beginning of December 2021, and she's already logged 954.5 miles! She keeps us updated on her progress and the interesting things she sees along the way with a daily blog post. This is tremendously comforting for me. I like to know she is safe.
Along her journey, she came upon two old wooden cabins in the woods. She thought there might be a story in them, and challenged me to write that story. So, of course, I accepted the challenge. It's the least I can do to support her amazing quest!
Stay warm, Joan. Stay safe, and enjoy your amazing adventure. I'm looking forward to talking all about it with you when you return!
The Wedding Quilt by Diana Kathryn Plopa
The cabins were old, older than any other building I’d ever seen. Even though there were some slats missing in the siding, and I was sure a strong wind could topple them easily, I was grateful. I’d been on this route for at least two hours, avoiding the dedicated trail, desperately trying to find a place to hide. Wintertime is no time to be out in the elements unprotected, but I would rather fight the specters of snow and ice, with the threat of losing my fingers and toes to frostbite, than face what made me run. It wasn’t a choice any rational person would make… but rational thought isn’t something prisoners know.
The sun falling toward the horizon insinuated night’s approach. But I had no idea how fast that might happen. He took my cell phone, my wallet, and my watch. Walking toward the sun as it got darker meant east, I thought… but who knew? Orienteering class from scouts was decades ago, and I’d long since given up on adventures that didn’t involve carefully planned itineraries and four-star hotels. The snow started to fall again, and despite my concern about spending the night with rabid rodents, I walked closer to the largest of the two cabins, hoping for a bit of respite until the morning. If my luck held out, he would give up the search, chalk up my disappearance as a minor inconvenience, and give up. For the record, I have never been a lucky person.
I thought the door might fall off it’s crumbling hinges when I pushed through the entrance. There was no sound, but the wood vibrated the strain of movement through my hands and down to my elbows, as I pushed against a snowdrift to squeeze my body through it’s opening. I turned back before letting it close behind me. The snow was falling harder now, soon my tracks would vanish. A helpful thing to dissuade him from following, but a frustration when I thought of a rescue team who would be hindered by the same. I stepped across the threshold, and pushed the door closed, resting my back against its fragile planking. The rhythm of my breathing resonated through the door and traveled along the walls as the entire room seemed to inhale and exhale my anxiety.
My stocking feet were numb, and probably blue or white by now, but I didn’t dare remove the covering. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to remain conscious once I saw myself in the beginning throes of decay. Grateful for the blanket I’d snatched before climbing out the window. I was thankful that he’d allowed me to dress in sweats, rather than the flimsy lingerie from the night before. I chastised myself for kind the thought. He didn’t deserve it.
My eyes moved around the room as the dwindling light revealed what I was sure would soon become my tomb. Sparsely furnished with what I assumed was Civil War era poverty, I was reassured that Fate’s string would be cut here, with nary a whisper of argument from me. The place was empty with no signs of life… not even tiny footprints across the snow-covered floor. It would seem even the rats knew this was a lost cause refuge.
In an act of foolish desperation, I felt the mantle above the hearth, my hands like clubs, pawing across the years of decay in search of anything that might improve my situation. I’m not sure what I was looking for but doing something felt better than doing nothing. Miraculously, I discovered an old tin box. When I opened it, small sticks of wood with crimson tips laid before me in soldier readiness. “Matches!” I said aloud, my voice becoming lost to the insulation of winter’s blanket. Quickly, I closed the box and tucked it in the pocket of my hoddie. I dropped my blanket and grappled for the ladder-back chair that stood on its side just a few feet away. Even though the wood was brittle with age, it still took nearly all of my energy to break it apart, using my foot to stomp on it. Finally, I had firewood. “Now, what to use for kindling?” I looked at my blanket. It was the logical choice. But, if it didn’t work, I’d be worse off. “It doesn’t really matter. I’m probably going to freeze to death, anyway.” I arranged the wood in the fireplace as a sort of tee-pee, and wrapped the blanket around the outside, leaving a small opening in both the front and back for the air to circulate and feed what I hoped would soon be raging flames. Before I lit the thing, though, I needed more wood. “This little bit isn’t going to be enough to make it through the night.”
Exhausted, I crawled on hands and knees through the cabin, and into a small adjoining room, which I quickly discovered to be a bedroom. It was surprising. The cabin didn’t look large enough for a second room from the outside, but then, I didn’t take the time to walk all the way around. I found another chair, and two old, faded quilts on a decaying mattress laying upon a cast iron bed frame. Most of the batting was lost, but I thought these two together might make up for the blanket I was about to burn. I struggled to my feet, scooping up the quilts from the bed and dragging the chair behind me, using it for a bit of stability as I hobbled back to the hearth.
Upon seeing my tiny bonfire preparations, hope and a bit of rationality returning, I swapped out my newer blanket for one of the ragged quilts. After breaking up the second chair, I dropped to the floor and draped my blanket around my shoulders. I slid the second quilt under me, wrapping the extra end pieces over my lap. It wasn’t a tremendous physical difference, but in my head, hope swelled. It’s crazy to think how the brain will fool us into a false sense of security when we are offered the tiniest bit of possibility.
I pulled the match tin out of my pocket and cradled it in my hands. I opened the box and counted. “One, two, three, four, five… Five chances to get warm. Five chances to not die. I hope I don’t screw this up.” I scooted a little closer to the hearth, and leaning in, my nose nearly touching the baby bonfire tee-pee, I struck the first match.
“One.” Nothing. I dropped the spent match inside the hearth and tried again.
“Two.” Nothing. The second dead soldier followed his brother to the bottom of the hearth.
“Okay, they say three’s the charm. Let’s hope they’re right.” I closed my eyes and struck the third match. A tiny flame erupted but died before I could get it close to the fringe of the blanket. “RATS!”
I inhaled slowly, trying to calm and steady my hands. I scooted a bit closer, and this time, held out the tin so that it was almost touching the fringe of the quilt. “Let’s try this again.”
I focused my vision, blinking a few times to be sure I was seeing the world correctly. I took a deep breath and this time with eyes wide open, struck the next match. “Four.” Again, a tiny flame exploded, and this time, caught the thin threads. The fire slowly began to travel along the bottom of the quilt. Heaving a sigh of relief, I blew on it a little bit, adding whatever confidence I could to the fire’s life. I tucked the tin with the final match back in my pocket and pulled the blanket tighter around my shoulders. As the flame ate at the old quilt, some of the chair wood also began to burn. My little fire was beginning to grow, pushing a small billow of smoke up and out the flue.
Warmth pushed itself toward me, and my hands began to ache as blood once again made its way to my fingers. I felt a little light-headed and found it difficult to keep my eyes open. I steadied myself, pushing one hand to the floor. The fire had taken hold now and was dancing before me in a reminder that perhaps death wasn’t right around the corner. “Oh, I’ll probably still die, but at least I’ll be warm when death gets here.” I thought about the smoke becoming a beacon for my assailant to find me, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be warm.
I threw one of the slats from the second chair on the fire and felt myself swaying in dizziness again. I no longer had the energy to sit upright, and in a slow-motion moment my face flushed, and I curled myself into a fetal ball, my face finding the cold floor, my vision fading to black.
“That’s when I found all of you here, standing around me as if I was an exhibit at a museum.” My voice was raspy, and my vision was still slightly blurred as I tried to recognize the people staring at me, their faces glowing in a warm illumination from the hearth. “Who are you?”
“I’m James Coffrey, and this is my wife, Anna, and our two children, Abigail and Charles.” He reached for my hand and helped me to a nearby chair. Anna brought me a blanket and draped it around my shoulders. It was heavy and warm. Abigail handed me a mug of tea. I blinked several times, pushing the tears of being found… being rescued… from my eyes. “What is your name, Miss?”
“I’m… um… Valerie…”
“We’re pleased to have you in our home, Miss Valerie, but we’re a little startled and surprised about how you got here.” James continued to talk, his words reaching my ears as indistinguishable mumbles.
I sipped from the mug in my hands and looked around the room as James spoke, recognizing the cabin, and realizing that it was somehow new. There were no worn slats through the siding and there was no snow upon the floor. Glass sat in the window holes, and a delicious aroma of stew floated through me, stimulating my stomach to lurch with a growl of insistent hunger. “How… Where…” I began to feel dizzy again.
Anna reached out a hand to steady me in the chair. As I regained my balance, I took another moment or two to look around the cabin. Everything screamed old America. I was in a small cabin, just two rooms, from what I could tell. Under the window, stood a dry-sink sideboard with a pitcher and bowl for washing. The family’s clothing, their shoes, the style of furniture… all clearly hand-made. The open hearth had a cook pot hanging above the log fire, and finally, a sepia-toned photograph of President Lincoln in an oval wooden frame placed prominently above the mantle. In elegant script, the caption read Inauguration Day, March 4, 1861. This wasn’t just an off-grid tiny house. This was a cabin, and a family, from another time.
“James, can’t you see the young lady is famished? Let your questions be. She needs to eat. Abigail, please bring a bowl of stew for our visitor.”
Abigail, who must have been about eight years old, replaced my mug with a bowl filled with meat, potatoes, and vegetables, steeping in hearty broth. Charles, who may have been five or six, handed me a spoon. “Thank you,” I said feebly. I raised the spoon to my mouth and felt the stew’s warmth fall through to my stomach. I took two more spoonfuls as the family watched in silence.
“There, that’s better,” said Anna as she looked to her husband. “You can’t expect a person to speak with half a brain unless they’ve got at least half a stomach.” She sat in the chair next to me. The others joined us at the table and began to eat the bowls of stew Abigail set before them.
After a few minutes, James offered me a slice of bread, and again asked, “Who are you, and where have you come from?”
“I’m Valerie Thompson, I was being held captive by a man… I escaped out a window and ran. I got lost in the woods and found myself here, at your cabin… but it was different. Everything was different…” I looked down to notice that my hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants were gone. In their place was a long dark blue muslin dress, white apron, and black lace-up boots. “What happened to my clothes, did you dress me?” I asked, reaching up to my head and feeling a muslin bonnet perched there.
“Of course not, my dear, we would never do such a thing,” said Anna, a bit flummoxed by my suggestion that they would be so forward as to take away my clothes. “This is how we found you, huddled in front of the fire when we came in from the fields.
“Who is this man you say kept you prisoner?” asked James. The look on his face was all worry and seriousness.
“Doug… Douglas Grady… my… husband.” The family grew statue-still and just as silent.
“Why on earth would your husband keep you against your will?” Anna looked to her children, sitting silently, eating their supper as a mild disgust fell across her face with concern that I might be a poor influence on their young ears. Wives didn’t escape from their husbands, after all. It was scandalous.
“He is my ex-husband, actually,” I told them, regret dripping from my words. I set the bowl of half-eaten stew on the table. “A judge granted us a divorce last year because he was beating me.” My face grew dark at the memory of his brutality. “He came for me three days ago, vowing to get even for tarnishing his name and forcing his business clients to pull their contracts. He builds houses. No one wanted to work with him since they found out what he did to me. He took me in a revenge-fueled rage…” My voice trailed off into the foggy place words go when you can’t find the energy to say them aloud.
“How horrible,” said Anna, as she made the sign of the cross. Her face changed to concern for both me and my soul.
James looked to me with a gentle strength. “Well, you are here with us now. He won’t hurt you again.” It was a promise I knew I could believe. “But we need to get you back to your home. I’m sure there are people looking for you… family…”
“There is no one,” I said, a tone of finality in my voice. “I have no children, or siblings. My parents passed away four years ago, in an accident.” I picked up the bowl of stew again, and helped another spoon bring energy to my exhaustion. “Besides, I’m not sure where I am.” Or when. “I don’t know how you would get me home.”
“Well, surely, you know where you were when you were taken? We could go back there,” suggested Anna. She noticed that the children were finished with their supper and gestured for them to go to the other room. They did as she asked, without a word.
Quiet obedience, I thought, taking another few bites of stew. That’s not normal. This is not my time.
“Where is your home?” asked James. “Perhaps we can help you find your way back.” He stood from the table and walked to a small desk in the corner of the room, returning with a hand-drawn map. “Now, this isn’t official, but this map has got me out and back enough that I know it works.” There was a hopeful confidence on his face as he unfolded and smoothed out the paper before him. “What town are you from, my dear?”
“Lewiston,” I said, finishing off the last of my stew and bread. I set the bowl on the table and waited for James to find the town on his map, although I knew he wouldn’t. Lewiston hadn’t become incorporated until 1891, thirty years after where I believed I was, or rather, when. I felt a sense of calm knowing that Doug wouldn’t be able to find me… but what now?
“Hmmm… I don’t see it on the map, but that’s not unusual. As I say, this is not as accurate as it could be. How long have you been traveling, perhaps we can find your town by the distance you traveled?” James was trying hard to be useful, but I knew the futility of it.
“I… I can’t remember. I collapsed in the snow on my escape. So much is a blur, I’m just so grateful that I was able to find your cabin before I froze to death. I’m sorry.” I hung my head in sincere apology and sadness. I wasn’t sure how I’d found myself here, in this place and time, and I wasn’t sure how I would manage… but I knew the first step would be acceptance. “I don’t think we’ll be able to find it.” Tears began to roll down my cheeks.
“Well, there’s no need to fret about it. You’re safe now, and that’s all that matters.” Anna looked to her husband, covering the hand on his map with her own, and drawing compassion from his heart. “You’re welcome to stay with us for as long as you like… perhaps one day, you’ll remember. But until then, you shall find a home with us.” She moved her free hand to cover mine, and James nodded his agreement.
Thirteen years later, I sat at the kitchen table, helping Anna prepare for Abigail’s wedding. Winter came early, and we struggled with making a headpiece of dried Black-Eyed Susan and Goldenrod. Late year weddings were unusual, but Abigail’s parents couldn’t deny her love simply to have a nice party in the Spring. Her suitor was a butcher, a nice young man, named Noah Taylor. He was very kind and promised her every advantage. Anna and James thought highly of him and supported the union.
“This is going to be such a pretty wedding, Abigail,” I said, full of the anticipation of the next day. This is such a special time for you. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.” A smile exploded from me that engulfed both women in warmth.
“Oh, Valerie,” said Abigail. “You have been a true joy to us. I’m so happy you came to join our family.”
“Indeed,” said Anna, echoing the sentiment. “Our family has become so much more since you came to stay with us.”
It was true, these past years had been the happiest of memory. When I found myself laying on the kitchen floor, I had no idea how my life would change… how it would be so much better. At first, I struggled with the work life required in the late 1800s, but soon, it became as second nature to me as carrying a cell phone and checking email in my old life. There was a simplicity of this life that brought peace. More than that, it was a life I could count on. There were no surprises and no brutality. There was no competition for a lifestyle beyond what was needed. Frivolous status and commercialism didn’t exist in this small farming community. This co-existence with Mother Nature wasn’t easy, not by any stretch. But it was comfortable, and it meant something. I discovered that was more valuable to me than all the technology, pizza, and Netflix binges I now only barely remembered.
I made many friends over the years, but never took a suitor to husband. That was the one piece that never felt right. My first marriage hadn’t gone so well, and I wasn’t in a hurry to repeat that history. James and Anna understood that my heart was broken, and they didn’t force me to pretend anything different.
Shortly after I arrived, James built a second, smaller cabin near the main house for me. It was just one room, but it was heaven. This was my refuge. Anna taught me to sew, cook, and manage on my own in this new wilderness of comfort. I planted a small vegetable garden and helped with the family farm and their small collection of livestock. In the evenings, I read and joined the family in storytelling with mugs of tea near the fire.
Before I came to this cabin in the woods, I was afraid of guns. But in the time I spent with the Coffrey family, I became a fairly decent shot, able to take my own rabbits and birds when necessary. It was a skill James insisted I learn. He never wanted me to feel obliged to take a husband, but knew I needed to be able to fend for myself, if that’s what my heart demanded. I regret none of it. In those years, I became a better person, inside and out.
As we prepared the flowers and sewed the veil for Abigail’s dress, James, Noah, and Charles were out deer and rabbit hunting for the wedding feast. We sang the songs of childhood and talked excitedly about the wonderful mother Abigail would be one day.
“I’ve been working on a special wedding gift for you,” I told Abigail as we finished sewing the veil.
“Really?” she asked, her voice giddy with excitement. “What is it?”
I smiled at Anna and looked over to Abigail as I began to pack up my sewing kit. “I don’t know if I should tell you… after all, you’re not quite married yet.” I shared a giggle with Anna, knowing how much Abigail detested secrets.
“Oh please,” squealed Abigail. “You know I’m a horrible waiter… Please tell me what it is!” Her face instantly transformed to that eight-year-old girl I saw my first day at the cabin in the woods. I was delighted beyond words.
“How could I say no to that face?” I said, clutching her cheeks gently between my hands. “Stay here, I’ll go get it and be right back.”
I ran to my little cabin next door and pulled the quilt I’d been sewing from the shelf above my bed. I held it carefully in my arms, considering the past year, and how much I learned. It was a triangle-pattern tapestry done in blue, green, yellow, and red. I’d added extra batting to make it thick, warm, and durable. Each square represented a year spent with a family who took me in and loved me unconditionally.
Just as I was about to open the door and walk back to the main house, I heard a shot. It was too close to be the hunters, but too loud to be anyone but them. I put my hand on the door handle and heard a second shot. The surprise of its reverberation through the door of my little cabin knocked me to the floor. I hit my head hard as I fell against the corner of the table on my way down.
The world went black.
I awoke, dizzy and with an ache in my body I’d not felt in years. I heard strange voices around me but couldn’t focus on their words. I was cold, my hands and feet were numb, and my face was covered with a layer of fresh snow.
“In here!” a man’s voice called.
There was a flurry of action as four men in dark clothes came rushing toward me. I opened my eyes to see one of them wrapping a blanket over me, and three more struggling to bring a gurney to me through the snow.
“One, two, three,” came a voice. I was lifted to the gurney and another blanket was tucked around me. Safety straps were tied gently about my legs and torso. As they took me from the cabin toward the waiting ambulance, I looked to my right and saw an officer zipping up a black body bag, laying on the ground between the two cabins.
“What… who…” I asked with an exhausted whisper.
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” came a voice nearby. Douglas Grady won’t hurt you ever again.”
After they put me in the ambulance, the EMT pulled away the blankets the police had wrapped around me, to start an IV.
A sad smile came to my face as I realized I was still clutching Abigail’s wedding quilt.
The impact of a book review cannot be overstated. As Indie Authors, we all know this. We live it and breathe it… But do we, really?
Book reviews are coveted by Indies. Whether it is a few words or a few paragraphs, the response from readers, whether good, bad, or indifferent, helps us understand how our work impacts people outside of our imagination. We crave reviews. We love getting reviews so much that each time we receive one, we share it on social media and our website. We grab our most comfortable bullhorn and tell the world about the nice things people have to say about us and our books. Even if our work has been poorly received, we still covet the review.
Reviews are not just “ata-boy” pats on the back, or at least, they shouldn’t be. They help us become better writers. They allow us to see our storytelling influence from a distance. A few sentences of constructive critique help us realize what works and what doesn’t work. Reviews help us to grow in our art and remind us that there is more to the act of writing a book than simply answering to the Muse. Book reviews are what connect us to the reading world. Yes. It is also true that reviews can help Indie Authors make money by bringing more attention to their books, boosting them in the rankings, and helping to sell more. As much as we’d all like to think that we’re artists unaffected by the whispers of economic pressure, the impact reviews have on our income cannot be ignored. Book reviews mean word-of-mouth advertising, which sells more books. Reader reviews are vital to our future in this industry.
However, Indie Authors, too, need to remember the importance of writing reviews for their colleagues. We are not in competition with each other, or we shouldn’t be. Rather, we’re all part of a community whose main goal is to improve the world around us through the written word. One of the best ways we can do that is to offer constructive critique to our fellows and be open to learning from each other. After all, who understands our industry and its nuances better than we do?
Just as a swimmer cannot improve without their teammates pushing them to strengthen their stroke and improve their times, writers need the same support and encouragement to improve their performance.
Writing and receiving book reviews is akin to the techniques that must be mastered by Olympic swimmers. Reach back on one side and breathe, then thrust your arm in the pool and pull. Then turn your attention the other side, reach again, breathe, throw in the other arm, and pull. Only through this bilateral approach to offering and accepting constructive critique can we, as writers, improve. Book reviews from our fellow Indie Authors build stronger writing muscles and advance the forward momentum of the entire publishing industry. We inhale story and exhale impact. We train through our writing, stretching with every page. Then we coach with our reviews, offering an above-surface perspective of our authoring. Only by becoming attentive to training and receptive to coaching, can we become proficient and help our entire team to the gold medal podium.
If a swimmer stands on the sidelines and offers silence to his teammates, only focusing on their own success, they may earn a gold medal for their individual achievements, but when it comes to elevating the sport as a whole, they do more harm than good. They divert attention away from the smaller ripples in the pool, creating an atmosphere where fans only cheer for the record-holders, and ignore the rest of the team. There are so many other swimmers who are strong and could achieve so much more, if only they had the support of their teammates and a bit of enthusiasm from the crowd.
I see plenty of Indie Authors asking for reviews of their work in the back pages of their books, on social media, and in newsletters. Memes are rife with reminders about how book reviews feed Indie Authors and sustain us through self-doubt and imposter syndrome. We beg and plead for reviews… even if it’s only a single sentence. But sadly, I don’t see enough reviews actually written by Indie Authors.
No doubt, there are a few well-known authors who we all wish would write an endorsement “blurb” for our book… that would be heaven realized, right? The thing of dreams. It would be the recognition and validation we all crave. But do we do it for each other when just beginning… or when struggling through the adolescence of our writing careers… or even when we’ve been at it for a while and need a bit of reassurance that we’re not wasting our time? Not so much. If we don’t cheer for each other, how will the spectators sitting in the stands become infused with our enthusiasm for this thing we love? Why should they care? Why should they put forth the effort of publicly responding to our work, if we don’t even do it for each other?
Leaving a review for a book isn’t just about boosting that Indie Author’s monetary gain to help to sell more books. That might be a nice by-product, but it’s not the most important impact of a review. Leaving a book review–especially if you’re an Indie Author–is also an act of support for the entirety of the writing profession. It is one of the strongest ways we can coach each other toward becoming stronger writers and strengthen our team. Not to mention adding ripples of attention to the reading pool.
Go back and watch some of the old footage from the Olympics when Michael Phelps was swimming. You’ll notice that when his teammates were cheering him from the pool deck he swam stronger and faster. Of course, focus on strengthening your stroke and improving your personal skills. Don’t ever neglect your own writing career to cheer for others. But also, cheer for your fellow Indie Authors, share above the surface observations that might strengthen their craft, and support their momentum toward publishing their next book. If you do it for them, they’ll do it for you.
As with any profession, there are tools of the writing trade that will carry an author from their first book to their last. There are a bunch of other tools that are fun to use, and sometimes even useful, but don’t get hauled out of the toolbox very often. As with any tradesman, we carry lots of tools, but we’re most comfortable with a small handful. We like they way they feel to our hands and our imagination. There are also tools we may never touch, but we have them, just in case… you know… because you never know what the new book might need to give it a certain edge, texture, or polish.
I have a large arsenal of tools. I have my phone with a Bluetooth headset and a small hand-held tape recorder (from my days as a newspaper reporter) for dictation. Because even if it is the most amazing idea ever… I learned early that it’s not really a smart plan to write what Drake quacks at me while driving a 5-speed manual transmission, on the freeway at 70mph, with a ball point pen and notebook on the seat of your car. That ticket took me a little while to pay off. Moreover, I’m lucky we both lived through it.
I have multiple screens for my computer because I like to have one open for research, one for writing, and a third for email and social media (or during NaNoWriMo, the Discord server). I use a bunch of websites, some of which are listed in another article, HERE. Someday I’ll update the list. Plus, a bunch of “extracurricular” software tools that I use to do specific things while I’m planning my projects. I use them for things like developing deep-dive character maps, to design marketing materials, and book covers. I have one that makes e-book layout in multiple formats so easy I actually enjoy doing it, and I have a day planner software to keep my calendar so I can stay focused and not completely lose my mind from overwhelm. I also have the obligatory portable back up hard drives because sometimes clouds explode into monsoons, and all is lost. I’ll save the details about my “sometimes” tools for a future article.
To be safe, and because sometimes it can be invigorating to “get back to basics”, I have analog tools, too. I use writing craft reference books and writer’s magazines. My shelves, and my tablet, are full of them. I have a collection of “feel good in my hand” pens that I use for Galley edits (and actual writing, when I’m out in the world, away from electricity… which, oddly enough, happens fairly often). Finally, I have a stack of empty notebooks and reams of paper, along with a home binding machine to help keep my hardcopy archives together… because you never know when we’ll be hit with an EMP and be forced to go back to crafting on paper.
But out of all of these, I would say my favorite and most effective tool is a keyboard. When I was much younger, I was forced to write most everything by hand – which I hated. I’ve never enjoyed looking at my own penmanship… it’s just not that attractive to me. After a long writing session, my fingers tend to seize and writing can become painful (more so now that I’m getting older). A pen in my hand can never keep up with the ideas flowing from Drake’s imagination to me for translation and development. However, long-hand writing is beneficial when I write in my daily journal. It forces me to slow down and really think about what I’m writing… but that’s a study in meditation more than it is my passion for creative writing.
Even though I railed against my mother forcing typing class on me in High School, I am grateful for the torture. If not for typing, my stories would never have graduated from poofs of quacked concepts to physical books. I wrote my poetry collection, Ideate Avail (my first book), in my very early 20s, on an old Underwood manual typewriter that my Grandfather gave me. This is when I learned that writing is an endurance sport. I can’t tell you how many times I retyped entire pages until they were perfect. In those days, I thought White Out was cheating. I was tremendously grateful when electric typewriters and then computers came along. I probably never would have written a second book if not for the advancement of technology. Insert, copy, delete, and undo are four of my favorite words in the writing craft. I still keep that typewriter close to my desk. Not only is it a beautiful reminder of my Grandfather, it also reminds me that there is nothing magical about the writing process. It takes focus, work, and tenacity. Writing isn’t “play”, although most of the time it is fun. Writing is serious business, not for the faint of heart.
This brings me to my favorite tool, Writing Software, the focus of today’s article. I’ve used a few different software packages over the years. Simple text programs just weren’t enough for me. As my writing evolved, and I became more aware the importance Passionate Plotting was to Drake and me, I frequently went on pilgrimages to discover a software tool that would do everything I wanted it to… and I found several. Some didn't work for me, some I loved but are no longer available, and others worked for a short time, but left me wanting more.
About one, or maybe two years ago… I can’t recall the exact year now… many things about the COVID era are blurry for me… I discovered my current software love, Plottr. This is an amazingly well-developed tool! It started out as an elegantly simple writing tool that included a timeline and writing dashboard for plot points, plus space to develop characters. I found the fluidity of moving through plot points and writing directly inside the program a delight.
Since I made my discovery, the software has evolved into an incredible tool that keeps answering every “I wish” request Drake makes. It not only has a timeline with an integrated outline, but detailed plot point writing space, character development and place development spaces, a fantastic collection of “get started” templates, character templates, story bibles to keep all your stuff organized, color coding for almost everything, tagging features, the power of drop and drag rearranging of your outline without losing continuity, and so many other incredible features… PLUS, it exports to MS Word. This is important for that final edit and layout process.
Not to mention… but I will mention it (haven’t you always found that an odd phrase?) They are constantly adding more features, every month, or so it seems.
Aside from all these wonderful things that make writing with Plottr a joy, the price is astounding! At the time of this writing, to have this program installed on one device is just $25 per year! For three devices, it’s just $45! Nope, that’s not a typo. It’s really THAT inexpensive. Go visit their website and look it up for yourself!
I’ve got it installed on my laptop and my tablet. I save my documents to my cloud storage… but now, they’ve just come out with a new version, called PRO (available shortly), which will sync across devices, seamlessly! That, and this new version does a bunch of other nifty stuff, too. I can’t say enough about the wonderful customer and technical support, and the great tutorials and video walk-throughs. These fine people make it very easy to fall in love with their program. I hope this company never goes out of business. I can’t imagine finding another writing software package that meets all of my needs and is as intuitive to use.
Okay, look, I’m not a paid spokesperson, or even an affiliate. They’ve given me a way to be rewarded for my referrals, but for the price they’re NOT charging me to use this fantastic software, I’d rather they keep the money to work on the next development version. I’m telling you about this software because I use it… every day. I have seen how it has improved my writing process, and I want to help you find a tool that perhaps helps you, too.
Not all writers are Passionate Plotters. I have lots of friends who are dye-in-the-wool Pantsers. I have friends who still love to write long-hand and produce 400-page novels doing it that way… J.A. Bullen, I’m looking at you! I’m not quite sure how you do it, but the fact that you do it in a way that works for you is Sacred to me… not to mention, but I will, Fascinating.
As I’ve said in blog articles and on social media posts before, one of the things I love best about our writing community is that there is no “one” way to do it “right”. Artists find different tools and methods that work best for them through their creation process. It makes the work more interesting to watch at a creation level, as well as more lovely to enjoy at an audience level. I LOVE that about us!
Not all writers will use this software to its fullest extent, either. You don’t have to. But if you’re a writer who enjoys having a bit of a plan, and someplace to keep that plan organized, I can’t think of a better tool to help you do that than Plottr.
Three times, in as many days, I’ve seen posts in various groups on Facebook asking whether writers work on multiple projects simultaneously, or just one at a time. It’s an interesting question, to be sure.
Before I go any further, let me say this… There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. Writing is a creative endeavor, and as such, each creator has their own method and strategy. What works for one artist, may not work for another, and that’s perfectly fine. Any way you want to create, I support. Well, except painting or writing with blood… not a big fan of that medium.
Okay, disclaimer over… let’s talk about this for a few minutes.
My answer to this question is that I write in multiple projects simultaneously. I always have, I probably always will. At any given time, I have between three and five projects in process. Sure, they may all be in various stages of “done” but I’m working them all at the same time. I usually do a little bit on each one over a long period of time, and usually with classical music playing in the background.
One project may be in final edit, another may be in rough draft version two, another in rough draft version one, another may be in outline, world building, and character mapping, and yet another might be in synopsis development and story design. You get the idea. There are lots of spinning plates in the air at all times, which I find exhilarating. I’ve tried working on just one project at a time before. I didn’t enjoy it. Here are a few reasons why…
When I work on a single project, I find myself getting bored quickly. I have a Gemini brain. No, I’m not a Zodiac person… I don’t put much stock in that stuff, beyond the simple recognition that if we NEED labels, or tidy explanations for how we function in the world, this one fits me. I live in a continuous duality of emotion and thought. (I have one author friend who lovingly refers to me as slightly schizophrenic.) While processing through my day, my brain is nearly always going at full tilt. My imagination is constantly working on at least two different things, while my logical brain is working on strategies for my business and my home life. I find story in pretty much everything I see, feel, and experience… all the time. I don’t do singular focus effectively. I can’t imagine being forced to ignore all those other great ideas bouncing around in my brain while working a single novel. That seems tremendously stifling to me.
Writing multiple projects means that “writer’s block” (or as I call it, “writer’s laziness”) has no room in my life. If I get stymied on one project, I can simply move to another. Shift gears, and keep moving. There is no excuse for imagination shut-down in my world. I have too much I want to create to allow for any extensive “down time” while I “regroup” my thoughts. I write because, like breathing, if I don’t do it, I’ll most certainly die. I truly feel that. Nope, creative stagnation doesn’t serve me. Instead of wallowing in the frustration of not working in my project because I can’t think of the next thing… or more likely, Drake (my muse) is being stubborn, I move on to something else, and allow that other frustration to work itself out. Usually, when I return, the problem has been solved, and I’m able to move forward.
How do I do this? Well, I’m a Passionate Plotter. I keep outlines and timelines and notes of all sorts to help me remember what a particular group of characters are doing or the places they are going. Okay, the fact that I work in different genres helps tremendously. I don’t have a problem with overlapping characters or storylines because each project I’m working on is very different from the others. Think about all the television shows you watch throughout a week. Each one is different… maybe in the same genre (because humans can be creatures of habit), but each has a different storyline, with different locations and characters. Do you ever get them confused? No? My brain processes writing and books in the same way.
I’m also quite good at compartmentalization. I find it easy to tuck details from each story I’m working on into its own little box in my brain, and rarely do they mingle. I also read multiple books for pleasure, and I edit multiple projects for other authors, all while I’m working on my own novels. So, I suppose compartmentalization could be considered my “super power”, if I have one. Reading and editing help with story and character empathy, which makes me a better writer. I don’t think story creation happens in a vacuum. I believe you need exposure to other creative outlets to feed your own voice… whether that’s books, television, film, music, or art… I think it all contributes to making my work better.
There has only been one instance where I’ve noticed a comingling of my work, and that was with my romance novel, A Tryst of Fate. For those of you who are interested, the new edition will be available in early January.
So, how was this project different? Well, it was almost a deliberate process. At the time I was writing the first draft, I had an idea that I wanted to write a collection of short stories. As I finished the draft, and began editing, I realized that each of the stories had an overlapping theme, and they weren’t truly separate. Drake came up with a great idea to weave them into the larger tapestry of a single novel. So that’s exactly what I did. Sometimes, the Duck comes up with some great ideas.
So, the collection of short stories I was working on became the stories that my male lead tells my female lead, as a way to reconnect with her. Each story is a parable of the character’s history together. Then, I sewed them together with an over-arching main plot, and built in transitions specific to that story. It was a fun exercise in quilting a book.
The biggest overlap came when one of the short stories migrated into a separate book of its own. I read that particular section to the critique group I was working with at the time, and they suggested that with a little reworking, it could be a stand-alone middle-grade book. So, I did that. It's called The Griffin of Greed. I changed some of the language for a younger audience and wrote a second book, before the romance novel was published. That wasn’t in the original plan, but it worked out. Looking back, I’m happy, that I chose to link the shorts together into a full novel. They are much more vibrant as part of a bigger story, and together, they supported the main plot, as individual subplots. It was a fun writing process.
Sorry, I got sidetracked there for a moment. Gemini, remember?
Back to the original question. Yes, I think that writing multiple projects, if you can do it comfortably, is a fantastic opportunity to revolutionize your writing practice. It will keep your imagination engaged in the work, and help to eliminate the excuse of laziness by cloaking it in the term, “writer’s block”. For Drake and me, writing many stories at the same time, makes us very happy. Does it take longer to publish writing this way? Yes, definitely, yes. But it’s the method that works for us. It’s how we have the most fun. And if you’re not having fun, what, exactly, is the point?
So jump in. Try writing a couple of different stories at the same time. You may just surprise yourself with what the new forks in your creative road reveal to you, your characters, and your readers.
While I was doing my usual scrolling through posts on Facebook last night, I saw that an author posted an important question in one of the groups. He was excited to share that he received an offer from a small house to publish his book. The author shared with the group the specific royalty splits and asked if the group thought that what he was offered was a "fair contract".
I understand the excitement and overwhelm involved with the prospect of being rewarded for all your diligent writing work with a “traditional” publishing contract… even one from a small or hybrid publishing company. It’s a big deal. It screams legitimacy to every fiber of our being. A contract reinforces our dreams and places “real world” value on our work. It’s the one thing so many authors hope and pray for… a “real” publishing deal! For authors who prefer this publishing path, receiving an offer on a manuscript is a huge leap forward for their writing career. It SHOULD be exciting. Authors SHOULD celebrate.
However, I see far too many authors jumping at these offers without doing their homework first. Many don’t investigate what costs are involved with publishing because they don’t see their writing as a career, but instead, as a hobby. Many authors don’t think about their writing as a business. It makes me sad. It makes me sad to see authors devaluing themselves this way. I think creativity is one of humanity’s most valuable assets, and it’s discouraging to see so many people discount their own contribution.
So, not that anybody asked, but here’s my two cents…
If you get an offer… first, open the champagne, enjoy the chocolate, and celebrate. Scream happy things from every rooftop you can find. You DESERVE that party!
Then, cool your jets just a little bit. Before you sign ANY contract, or even, any print agreement, always have an Intellectual Property Attorney look it over. I know it’s tedious, but it’s important. The language in these documents may influence your writing career for decades and may even impact the works you haven’t written yet. Google “Right of First Refusal in publishing", and you’ll properly scare yourself into doing more research.
I know IP Attorneys can be expensive, but I think it’s worth it to protect your copyright, legacy rights, print, and distribution rights. You wouldn’t sign a mortgage, or a car note without first making sure you understood the language and the terms of engagement… don’t neglect this important step with your writing career. Think about this… if the book does really well, and some Hollywood film company wants to make it into a movie or a TV series, you’ll REALLY want to make sure your rights are protected.
And yes, I am THAT weirdo who actually READ the terms before I Indie published through Amazon/KDP.
If all this seems a little daunting, or too expensive, let me suggest an alternative.
There is an organization called The Authors Guild, that works with authors to protect their interests and rights. I first discovered them about ten years ago, when I attended the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference in Minneapolis. The Authors Guild website states that their mission is "To support working writers. We advocate for the rights of writers by supporting free speech, fair contracts, and copyright. We create community and we fight for a living wage.”
Think of The Authors Guild as your “Writer’s Union”. They help with contract understanding, negotiation, and disputes, Media Liability Insurance, and they have a host of other resources that are extremely valuable. They offer At-Large, Student, Emerging Writer, Associate, and Regular Membership levels. Memberships start at $100/year and go to $135/year, depending on your needs and who you are as a writer. Really, $12/month to protect your writing… it sounds like a bargain to me.
When you consider all that goes into writing a book… the investment of time, creativity, unique ability, sleepless nights, awkward conversations about imaginary friends with non-writers, never-ending social media engagement… plus the costs of notebooks and a really good pen, or software, heaps of tea, coffee, or cocoa, snacks, editing, interior formatting, cover design, and marketing outreach… I can’t imagine why you would agree to skimp on protecting your rights and future writing career just because you were offered a shiny contract from a publishing house.
Don’t let your excitement make decisions for you. You are not a raccoon. Don’t grab the shiny thing until you know for sure that it’s something that will sustain you over the long haul.
It you don’t have an IP Attorney, I highly recommend you look into becoming a member of The Authors Guild. It could save your career. No, I don’t get paid for telling you about them. My only goal is to help you protect your books and your career from poachers.
Disclaimer: I know that this organization works with United States authors. I don’t know if they work with authors from other countries. But I would imagine it to be a question easily asked, and answered.
Whenever I meet someone new, and tell them I’m an author, there’s always one question they ask… “What kind of books do you write?”
For most people, this is a fairly straight-forward question. From the time we’re first introduced to books, we learn about the Dewy decimal classification system, where books of similar type are grouped together. Notice I said books are grouped by type, or genre; not by the author’s name. This makes sense. Most of us don’t always know who wrote a book… unless the author is super-famous, or they are a particular favorite… but we know what types of books we enjoy reading (by the way, this is why pseudonyms can work… but you can read about my opinion on that question HERE).
So, if you like horror, you’ll find books by Stephen King, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Anne Rice all in the same area of the library. If you enjoy romance, you’ll see work by Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks, Margaret Mitchell, and Sidney Sheldon all sharing shelf space at your favorite bookshop. This is helpful for people who want more of the same but can’t identify authors. It’s also easier on librarians. Imagine organizing the entire library alphabetically by the author’s last name. That would be a shelving nightmare, I think.
Authors usually have one genre that’s a favorite, and they write lots of different books, keeping their stories within that genre. Some will divide their loyalties between two genres. However, the majority of authors I’ve met don’t write books in more than two, and usually, they’re closely related. Horror writers may also write paranormal; romance authors might also write cozy mystery, and science fiction writers often write fantasy (although personally, I think those last two are farther apart than most people assume). The point is, it’s rare to find a sonnet poet who also writes spy thrillers, or a science fiction author who also writes picture books for children. It does happen, I personally know several authors who write in multiple genres (I tend to seek them out), but it’s not the “norm.”
Enter stage right… My verbal stumbling when asked what genre I write.
You see, I haven’t figured out my favorite one yet, so it’s difficult for me to choose. It’s kind of like ice cream… or cheese… there are so many different, amazing varieties to devour – how can you possibly only have one kind for the rest of your life? You really need to try them all. After that, chances are likely that you’ll find a few that you return to again and again, but that doesn’t mean you’ll completely ignore the others forever. After all, cheddar is amazing, but for me, life just wouldn’t be whole if I couldn’t also devour swiss, colby, parmesan, gouda, muenster… you get my point.
Back in the days when I wrote for a newspaper, reporters rarely only wrote one type of story. One week I might be writing a feature about a holiday celebration; the next I might be covering a sporting event; and the week after that, I could be writing about a political rally. Diversity in writing is what helped me keep my job, and quite frankly, made the job more interesting for me. I took that experience with me when I began writing books. Since the editor at the newspaper didn’t see a good reason to limit my writing, I figured that I didn’t have a good reason to do it, either.
When I finally made up my mind to write and publish a book – for real – I found that I had so many ideas swimming around in my head, I couldn’t decide on what to write… which genre would be best, and exactly how many were there? When the Duck quacks, I listen, but sometimes, he’s not real succinct on his intention. So, I did what I was taught, and was soon wandering down several research rabbit holes. I needed to find definitive guidelines on what genres were out there. This is when I discovered an article by Mark Nichol, “35 Genres and Other Varieties of Fiction” to use as my guide. Most of these can be shoehorned into one of the more familiar, “most popular” genres, but I really like the lines of distinction Mr. Nichol draws. There is far more room for creative ingenuity in his list.
I used the article as my template, and started brainstorming on book ideas. I’m a Passionate Plotter. Working from an “idea list” and then building that into an outline is helpful for me (more on that another time). The best part about discovering this genre article was that now, I had some parameters in which I could corral all my story ideas. I was able to put pieces into lists where they would fit to meet reader expectations, rather than working to include all the flailing nuances into a single story. This is an important consideration if you don’t want to give librarians a fit of frustration trying to shelve your books. Also, if an author actually wants to sell books, they should at least be able to describe it accurately for readers. If you can’t identify what type of story you’ve written, readers will have a hard time deciding if they want to take a risk in reading it. I understand these rules, and I know why they exist… it all makes perfect sense. But that doesn’t mean I have to be restricted by them.
So, after reading Mr. Nichol’s article, I still couldn’t decide on a favorite. It’s hard. I love reading a lot of different types of books, and I have stories in my head that have elements of so many of these. How would I ever choose what to write? Then it hit me… why not do it all? Think about it, we’re not restricted in how many different sports we can play, how many different types of food we eat, or how many different places we can vacation… so why should writers be held back by a simple five-letter word – GENRE? My seven-year-old-writer-self stomped her foot and screamed, “It’s not fair!”
It was on that day, that I resigned myself to simply write one book in each of the thirty-five genres. I felt that I needed to do that before I would be able to choose one or two on which to focus my writing practice… and knowing me, it would probably be more like five or six… but at least I’d be able to narrow things down a bit.
I started writing… I wrote nine books, all in different genres. I’m in the process of writing five others, and surprisingly, I’ve caught a lot of consternation for it. Not from readers, but from other authors. Who’d ‘a thunk!?!
Some authors, at festivals, on social media pages, and at writing conferences, seemed to have a problem with my answer to the question, “So, what do you write?” My answer, of course, was longer than the standard one-word genre description. “I write in nine different genres, so far… my goal is to write in thirty-five genres, and then find my favorite after that.” The looks I got, I swear, could have stopped a steam locomotive.
“You’ll never sell books that way,” they said; “You’ll confuse and disappoint your readers, and you’ll never be able to build a solid fan base.” Hogwash! I believe people enjoy diversity and are intrigued by authors who take creative risks. Also, I have frequently “out-sold” other authors who focused on only one or two genres at the festivals I’ve attended, but that’s a different blog post, too. The point is, creative pursuits can’t be hogtied, nor should they be, by what has always been done before. Where’s the fun in that?
I recently discovered a book written by A.A. Milne, “The Red House Mystery”. For those of you who are unfamiliar, find my review HERE. Anyway, most of us know Milne for his children’s books; Winnie The Pooh and his little gang of merriment makers. Most of us don’t realize that Milne also wrote a “closed room” mystery for adults (among other writings). Two very different works, on two completely opposite ends of the genre spectrum. Did the fact that he wrote this twisty mystery deter fans of his children’s books? I think not. But, I do know the fact that he wrote the mystery now gives me the opportunity to share this amazing author’s talent with my friends who don’t have children, don’t like children, and don’t want to read children’s books. Why anyone would avoid Piglet and Rabbit is baffling to me, but those people are out there, I assure you. Furthermore, there is the possibility that once my friends adverse to all things kid read “The Red House Mystery”, they may then decide to read about Eeyore and Tigger, just to see what else Milne has to offer. There is a distinct possibility for cross-pollination of this author’s writing, and I think that’s a spectacular idea.
Here's my final take on the question. I think that the great thing about literature is that what we do as authors demands that we do it with a full measure of creativity. There are no “Genre Police”. No one is going to start writing tickets. We get to write with multiple points of view, in different tenses, and in different genres, whenever we like, as we like. There are so many vibrant readers out there, and each reader is allowed to read as many genres as they enjoy. Therefore, I believe that as authors, we have a responsibility to stay true to our Muse and write in as many genres as tickle our imagination; be that one, two, or thirty-five.
We should respect our readers, and trust that they will find the books that interest them, and they will continue to support the writing they love... whether it is created by a single author focusing on a single style and genre, or by thousands of authors writing in multiple genres simultaneously. To offer them anything less is to allow the complete degradation of the vitality of our particular form of entertainment. Not to mention, films are going to get really dull if we don’t offer Hollywood writers new books to translate to the screen.
So, I say, write what you want. Write the characters you love, and the situations that stimulate you. Don’t worry about following the rules too much (except for all those nit-picky things your editor will remind you about, you know, spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.). If you allow the Muse to spur you on in whatever direction intrigues you, I am certain you will find a following of readers who will continue to buy your books… and perhaps even refer them to their friends.
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