Write Despite

The write-20-minutes-a-day-for-365-days-come-hell-or-high-water challenge

Writing Conference Takeaways

conferenceFrom Cathy

I recently attended a great writing conference in Washington, DC and swore I’d go straight home and compile all the information for Write Despite and post it ASAP.

That was in April.

But hey, I’ve finally done it.

At the Conversations and Connections: Practical Advice on Writing conference, I took pages of notes, and I highly recommend you do this too if you attend a conference yourself. I can’t believe what great little gems were included in my notebook and in the handouts from the sessions, all of which I would have forgotten about if I hadn’t re-read them, and then re-keyed them for all of you. So thank you. And you’re welcome.

From the panel Cross Genre: Tricks Fiction Can Steal from Nonfiction (And Vice-Versa)

This was a panel discussion with writers Roy Kesey, Tom Bligh, Kathleen Wheaton, and Eric Boyd. I took down some cool, inspiring quotes. Sorry I didn’t also take down who said them.

  • “Use truth in your story, and something will happen.”
  • “Pretend you’re in a bar, and write like you’re talking to the person next to you.”
  • “Believe that you’re writing the news of the world. Whatever you’re writing is universally shared. Believe it, and your writing will be richer.”Just Believe
  • “You can’t spell authority without ‘author.’ The reader must believe what’s happening. Do your best; let life do the rest.”

From Publishing: The Editor’s Panel

Editors included Rae Bryant, TJ Eckleberg Review, Sarah Boyle, The Fourth River and Pank, Mark Drew, Gettsyburg Review, Nate Brown, American Short Fiction, and J.W. Wang, Juked and Potomac Review

The panel was asked to tell us a bit about the nuts and bolts of submissions.

Brown: American Short Fiction gets about 8,500 submissions a year, 250 a month. Three editors decide on the stories, and all must agree on what they choose to publish.

Boyle: Pank reads July 1 to September 1 and in December. If a story gets two likes from our student editors, it goes to the genre editors, and they decide.

Drew: At Gettysburg Review, two editors make all the decisions, but interns pass them along first.

Wang: Initial readers look at stories, but I choose all of them, and therefore the editorial focus is very tight and distinctive.

What exactly are you looking for?

Drew: Openings are important, but the writing must be sustained. Language is the most important thing. It can’t be clichéd, and no grammatical errors. Interesting characters and compelling motivation are also big factors.

Brown: The sentence matters most. String enough good ones together, and the story will be published. I can’t care more about the piece than the writer does.

Wang: Voice. Must be confident and assured, so I can trust it to take me somewhere.

All agreed they want authority of narrative.

What if things in a story put you off, say an unlikable character or upsetting event?

WarningDrew: If it’s authoritative, I’ll stay with it. But it must be earned. Things like animals being killed in stories has been way overused.

Wang: Like it or not, every story is political.

Brown: The higher the moral stake, the better the writer must be.

Boyle: I won’t publish certain stories, such as those that contain violence against women, animals, or children. But it’s selectivity, not censorship.

From Scene-by-Scene: Writing the Irresistible Story

Panel discussion with writers Laura Ellen Scott, Jen Michalski, Lauren Foss Goodman, and Catherine Belle

The most important person to have in a scene is the reader. Bring them there. You want them to experience it, not just read about it, by:

  • Using their physical senses
  • Giving them a position, a point of view
  • Giving them some attitude
  • Not telling them everything; leaving something out, and leaving it up to them, so they have to make an investment

Quick notes on scene building:

Consider the large structure and the relationship of the scenes within it. Use the “Scene plus Sequel” pattern, which is:

  • Each scene includes a goal, conflict, and disaster.
  • Each sequel includes reaction, dilemma, and decision.

The job of a scene is to:

  • Advance the story
  • Show conflict
  • Introduce or develop a character
  • Create suspense
  • Create atmosphere
  • Provide information
  • Develop theme

Remember that:

A scene should start with action. Use it to differentiate your characters. They should each move and speak differently.

If you’ve set a scene somewhere unusual, really describe what it’s like. But if you’re at McDonald’s, leave out lots of description, because it’s unnecessary.

A character wants something to happen. Your job is to never allow this to happen until the end. The story is the struggle to get there.

Go paragraph by paragraph through your work and ask, What work is this paragraph doing for the story? If nothing, toss it. If something, refine it or maybe move it, based on the task it’s completing.

Tips for organization:index cards

  • Write and write a shitty first draft, then go back and craft it into something. Get organized by using index cards. Not only do they force you to be succinct, but you can color code them by theme, time, and character. Use them for a “reverse outline” (where you start from something instead of nothing). Then turn them around and shuffle them up to mix up the plot.
  • Use a word processing program like Scrivener. This solves organization problems. It gives you a binder, chapters, bulletin board of notecards, pictures that inspire your work, an archive for your research, tutorials, a note taking tool, etc., all for $40. Or you can try WriteWay Pro, WriteItNow, or yWriter5 (which is free!).
  • Try flow charts: Draw the structure to re-see your work off the screen and think about it differently. Use Google drawings, or mind mapping apps like Scapple and Scrivener.
  • Use a spreadsheet to create a scene list, or a “God’s eye view” of a story. Color code it.
  • Get project management apps like Workflowy and Trello.
  • Or use content curation apps like Pinterest, Scoop It!, Flipboard, etc., and social bookmarking apps.
  • Google Apps Suite is cloud-based and free, and lets you work from anywhere.
  • Try the snowflake method for designing a novel.
  • Stuck? Bored? Come up with new ways of seeing your story: Print it. Draw it out. Change the font. Read it out loud. Record it. Carry it around and touch it. And don’t forget to share it when you’re ready.

Multiple Points of What-Am-I-Doing

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Okay, so who told me to write a novel with multiple, third-person points of view? Three, to be exact. I’ve never attempted multiple viewpoints. It’s a whole new narrative world.

While I’m enjoying the separate viewpoints, I’m not so sure I’m merging them in a very, um, skillful way. But that’s what revision is for, right?

I’d forgotten what it’s like to be smack in the middle of a first draft—when the thing is unfolding, but you don’t know where it’s taking you. First drafts are a hot mess—as the current lingo goes—an untamed rush of great flailing promise, over abundance and poor judgment. I’ll worry about reigning it in later.

When I’m feeling especially lost, though, I recall the great novelist E.L. Doctorow’s words on first drafts. Doctorow passed away this month at the age of 84. R.I.P.

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

–Keep the faith, friends,

Karen

Retro Writing: Hello Pen & Paper

Technology is your friend. Except, of course, when it isn’t. Who among us hasn’t succumbed to the seductive whisper of Facebook or Twitter when we’re supposed to be writing? The Internet is an incalculably valuable resource in all sorts of ways, but it can also be a hugely wasteful time-suck.

Author Alex M. Pruteanu ran into a different problem when he was writing his early books. Now working on a new novel, Alex has sworn off technology and reverted to pen-and-paper while he cranks out the first draft. The benefits have been surprising.

Please welcome Alex to Write Despite.

PruteanuProfileWhy have you opted for a low-tech approach in writing your new novel?

My new book (which is being read currently by—my unscientific count here—12 publishers, with at least 30+ rejections already in the bag) is called The Sun Eaters, and it would be considered “literary fiction.” It’s not a big book at all—only about 60K words—but I wrote it around my day job and life in general (dad, husband, cook, mixologist, part-time jazz drummer, thief, liar, etc.), so it took nearly two years of fairly consistent work. It’s been making the rounds (read: rejected) with both literary agents and publishers (indie and “biggies”) since June of 2014.

The Sun Eaters is a simple story set just-post WW II in an Eastern European country. The story follows two brothers (14 and 9) as they struggle to survive shortages of food, the brutal winter, and a new politically repressive ideology (communism.) It’s a happy-go-lucky book, as you can tell. But it does have a happy ending. Well, sort of.

After having written and published a novella and a collection of published short stories using all available technology at those times, I thought I’d do the same with The Sun Eaters. By the time I started writing it in 2012, “the cloud” was available as a storage option, so I decided to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, between constantly saving my in-progress manuscript in the cloud, on various laptops, thumb drives, and on a regular ol’ desktop, all to ensure the security of not losing my work, the novel became an additionally huge pain (outside of the regular ol’ pain of just writing it.)

Many times I’d forget to save the newest version on some device or other, so I’d end up with outdated versions on some devices and up-to-date versions on others. Keeping track of things like that cut into my available brainpower, all of which I needed to write my book. When I finished in 2014, I swore I would never ever use a computer for my writing, even short stories or flash.

I am now in the process of writing my second novel, which is tentatively called The Long, Oil-Stained Life of Rosetti. For this go-round, I’ve opted to write it all out by hand, with a #2 pencil, on lined legal pads. Writing by hand slows me down enough to allow me to truly cogitate about the material I’m committing to the paper and not just dump ideas that will later be cut. Now I don’t have to save ongoing manuscript drafts every day onto a dozen different devices. And what I also like about the “old-school” method of writing is that there exists a natural extra editing step when transfer the work, typing it onto a laptop.

How is the process of writing a second novel different than writing a debut?

I think every novel has its own life, its own path, and its own destiny. I think each book dictates to a writer how it should be written. My approach to writing the second one is much different from the first. Besides the whole paper-pencil thing, I’m more loose about working on it and don’t beat myself up at all if I don’t write for sometimes long periods (days or weeks even).

Also for this second book I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m writing down notes when I’m not working on it. Because the scope of this one is much greater than the first, I’m finding that I need to jot down on sticky notes ideas as they occur to me throughout the day. I’ve got a folder full of stickies that I often consult before sitting down at a writing session.

I’ve also learned a ton from having written a first novel. The most important thing has been: how to be in the thick of it, as I’m writing it, and still keep a general, subjective eye on the scope of the book. It’s hard for me to convey that—I’m not a teacher or professor and never have wanted to be one—but it’s just something that I can feel. I can feel myself being buried in the minutia of the words and individual ideas, yet somehow able to act like a deity of sorts—a god, really—and keep focus on the scope of the overall novel, as it’s coming together… as I’m weaving it. Does any of this make sense? If it doesn’t just know it’s not you, it’s me. But also know that I know what I’m doing, so buy the damn thing when (if it ever?) comes out. Ha.

Finally, something else that I’m doing differently on the second one: I am reading literature concurrently. With The Sun Eaters, I basically stopped reading anything literary or any type of fiction whatsoever. I found that I didn’t have the time or energy to devote to anything other than my daily life duties and writing the book (usually during very early mornings.)

But now with Rosetti, I’m not just finding that I’m inspired by reading fiction concurrent with my writing, I’m finding that I need to indeed read “big books” with “big themes.” So I’ve been gorging on novels like Bolano’s 2666 and Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost and Melville’s Moby Dick and Dostoevsky’s Demons and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Cervantes’s Don Quixote.

There is something truly inspiring to me about books such as these. They are all huge projects with huge scope and huge reputations, and I find that comforting to my own work. These books offer different worlds for me to enter and spend time in, and when I come out of them, I’m ready to create my own, in my own novel. It’s quite inspiring to read this sort of work.

How long had you been writing before you published a piece?

 I started writing around age 14 (horribly) and the first thing I ever had published was a very short prose piece called Center St. 2B. It was published in a literary journal (now defunct) out of California, Penn., called Peer-Amid. I was 26 years old. Since then, I’ve been lucky to have some pretty decent success. I’ve published short stories in literary journals such as [PANK], Guernica Magazine, The Stockholm Literary Review of Literature, The Prague Revue, and many others.

Any advice for writers still working for their first “breakthroughs?”

Yes: work. Work, work, work. Don’t get online and say you’re working (#amwriting is the most preposterous hashtag, imo; the epitome of cognitive dissonance for a writer on Twitter using it), or lament you’re not working. Don’t surf through Facebook photos or Twitter feeds because you’re “blocked.” Work. (I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” That’s the biggest load of garbage.)

And stay persistent and focused. Looking at my overall acceptance-to-rejection numbers throughout my career, I’d say about 7% of my stories have been accepted by magazines or journals. That is HUGE. I am lucky. I’d be happy with 2%. I believe 2% is the “standard” acceptance rate for a writer. I’ve been very lucky.

As of now, The Sun Eaters has received at least two dozen literary agents’ rejections and at least 30+ publishers’ rejections. I will never give up trying to find a home for it. Every time a rejection comes in, my mission the next day is to research and find at least two potential publishers to send the book to. Currently I’m looking at foreign houses that tend to publish in the English language. The research is exhausting, but I have no other choice.

Learn more about Alex on Amazon.

Q & A with Writer Art Taylor

“Art Taylor”

From Cathy—

Author Art Taylor will publish his first book—On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories—on September 15 of this year from Henery Press. His short stories have won many of the mystery world’s major honors, including two Agatha Awards, the Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards, in addition to twice making the short-list for the Anthony Award. A native of Richlands, NC, Art now lives in Northern Virginia, where he is a professor of English at George Mason University and writes frequently on crime fiction for The Washington PostMystery Scene, and other publications.

Please welcome Art to Write Despite.

How and why did you start writing?

Reading and writing were always directly related for me, even as a child. Books fed both my interest in stories and then my interest in storytelling. I remember telling my first grade teacher sometime before Christmas that I was writing a book and that it would be released sometime after Christmas. I think it was about mice (and wish I still had it now). Needless to say, it’s been a long time until now, when I’m actually (finally!) on the verge of having my first book out. But I think the connection is still the same. I love to read, and I just hope that my writing might give some reader out there the same kinds and ranges of experience that I’ve gotten from books I’ve loved.Del & Louise cover

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I always go back to Anne Lamott and Bird by Bird and that chapter on “Shitty First Drafts.” When the internal editor starts nagging at me that what I’m writing is terrible (and often it is), I have to remind myself that most writers go through that stage and that it’ll all get better (hopefully!) with revision. And when the journey ahead seems daunting, I have to tell myself that I’ll only finish it one step at a time.

Favorite three authors?

That’s such a tough question—only three? I like different writers for different things, of course. Mario Vargas Llosa has always been a favorite (since long before he won the Nobel Prize, I should add), particularly because of the texture of his prose and his attention to structuring narrative, intertwining stories, and juxtaposing points of view (among other things). I’d say I admire Ian McEwan as well, for many of the same reasons. In my own genre, I don’t know a writer stronger than Tana French. What’s interesting about all that is that I’m a short story writer, and each of these writers are novelists often working on much, much bigger canvases: complex, intricate story lines.

What was your first published piece?

Back in elementary school, I had a poem published called “If I Were An Ace”—third grade? fourth? I probably have it stuffed away in a box somewhere, but more than the poem itself, I remember sitting on the couch in my parents’ house late at night (late for me) and writing, writing, writing it and just being so thrilled at the way it was coming together. I couldn’t have been prouder—and wish now that the act of creating was always so much fun, so driven.

Could you talk about not having an agent, and how that’s affected, or not affected, your being published?

In today’s swiftly, swiftly shifting publishing landscape, I don’t think that having an agent is as necessary a step in the process as it may have once been. I don’t have an agent now, though I did try that route with a previous manuscript and earned some interest but never an actual rep. With the growth of small presses who are willing to take a chance with unagented authors and with programs like #pitmad on Twitter (where you pitch your manuscript to agents and publishers both) and with the rise of different publishing models, including various degrees of self-publishing… well, it’s a new world, as I said. I was very lucky in my own case for two reasons. First, my success in the short story market helped to give me some visibility for both publishers and agents; at Malice Domestic two years ago, when I won my first Agatha Award, I had agents hand me their cards and then had Henery Press approach me even more directly about when I was submitting a manuscript to them; the latter was an invitation I couldn’t refuse. Second, and related, I’ve been fortunate to develop a lot of strong relationships in the mystery community, with other writers, with editors, and with publishers—and being part of the fabric of all that does, I think, expose you to possibilities. By that last, I’m not saying that it’s all about networking or about who you know—that’s hardly the case at all. But being an active part of the literary community can go hand in hand with honing your craft, doing your best work. Marketing yourself without developing your craft—that’s a poor move. But toiling on your craft and not being attuned somehow to the community and the marketplace…that might prove a poor move as well.

Advice for those now on the road to publication? 

The previous response probably includes some implicit advice, but I want to focus back more explicitly on craft issues here.

First bit of advice: Whether you write every day or not, touch base with your writing somehow every day. In the past, I’ve tried various ways to keep on a writing schedule: writing for a certain amount of time every day, for example, and at the same times each day, or maybe writing for a certain number of words each day. While I know those systems work for others, they have ultimately seemed artificial for me—and really it became increasingly tough to adhere to any sort of set schedule or word count in the midst of juggling work and parenting and household chores and errands and… and in the end, I more regularly felt guilt about falling short of my goals than elation about meeting them. I won’t say I’ve lowered my standards but instead that I’ve readjusted my sense of pacing. If I sketch out a full scene or revise a scene, that’s great. If I make notes about what to do next, that’s great. If an idea pops into my head for a plot complication or a way to amplify a character, and if that’s the only thing I jot down in my notebook for the day, then that’s great too—because it’s keeping my mind going on the project, and a lot can happen when your mind is working, working, working on ideas, even if you’re not pushing up the word count on the page, even if you’re not at the computer at all. Maybe all of that goes back to the bird by bird advice above. Some days have more birds than others.

Second bit of advice: Ignore what I just wrote—if some other approach works better for you. The worst advice I’ve ever gotten is that we writers have to do certain things in certain ways to be a success. Each writer has his or her own approach; success can be reached through many different paths. Just check out the chart here.

What are you working on now? If you’re taking a break, what are you reading now?

Right now, I’m drafting the second of three intertwined novellas that may become my second book. Beyond that, I don’t want to say too much more—else I jinx the small progress I’ve made on it so far!

As for reading, I’m at various points in several books: Charlotte Armstrong’s Night Call and Other Stories of Suspense, Patricia Highsmith’s The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Rules of Thumb: 73 Authors Reveal Their Fiction Writing Fixations. Beyond that, I’m always browsing stories in several anthologies that I have at home and in the office, including the most recent several that I picked up at the latest Malice Domestic convention—Fish or Cut Bait from the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Murder on Wheels: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move from the Austin Mystery Writers, and two volumes of The Whole She-Bang from Sisters in Crime Canada—and the Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries, which has become a regular bedside companion.

You can pre-order your copy of Art Taylor’s On the Road with Del & Louise here.

Pulling Those Weeds

From Karen:

Writer Friends,

In this season of gardening, I think you’ll enjoy this thoughtful essay from Ann Mehl, business coach. Great advice, and very applicable to us!

http://www.annmehl.com/weeds/

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“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” — George Eliot

Author Betel Arnold learned through experience that dumping the toxic baggage that damages her writing process (competitive frenemies, a nasty inner critic) is just as important as a regular writing routine. Betel’s inspiring and inspiring spiritual self-help book, Buried Beneath the Words, is available now in English and Spanish.

Please welcome Betel to Write Despite.


The idea of writing never occurred to me until the day my five-year-old daughter showed me her drawing. “Look mommy,” she said. Purple buildings sat side by side on a hilly street. “Who lives there?” I blurted. She shrugged. As a way to keep her engaged I suggested we write a story about the people who lived in those buildings.

At the computer, I was surprised and a bit ashamed when I tried to control the story. My daughter who is easygoing gave me free reign. Eventually though, she got bored and wanted to stop, I didn’t. I typed until motherly duties called. About five years later, while browsing my documents, I came upon the story and my interest was piqued. Could I finish the story? Also, what is the fate of the characters I created? I had to know.

I joined a writing group. Here, I met people who were serious about writing—it was their life. I felt like a complete fake but I continued to attend. Also, something that happened to me in fifth grade gave me hope.

That year, all students attending P.S. 19, were required to submit a story for a contest. The winner’s story would go in the teacher’s handbook. I remember writing that story. Since, the possibility of winning never crossed my mind; I let myself go and wrote without care. I can’t explain the utter shock and disbelief I felt when my name was announced as the winner. I couldn’t believe it. But this experience is what kept me in my seat when I wanted to run out of that writing circle.

Since then, I’ve published, Buried Beneath the Words, I have co-authored, 13 Lucky Ways to Beat Clutterism Disease—due out in September, and the young adult novel I started years ago, Jordan City, is complete.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things that I would like to share with you. Things that support my writing.

  • I show up. I made a personal commitment—if writing was what I was going to do, then, I would show up. And I do. Everyday, I get up early, grab my cup of coffee and head upstairs to my office. I write a minimum of a thousand words a day. It doesn’t have to be good or perfect or for publishing. If something happens to interrupt my schedule, I go with the flow, but I make sure, that before my head hits the pillow, I’ve written those thousand words. The majority of the time, I exceed my goal.
  • I do not criticize myself or my writing. For too long, I beat myself up and felt like a fake. I compared my writing to those who had been writing all their lives and came up short. I no longer do that. Everyone’s journey is their own. I stay in my lane. If I am struggling with a scene and I become frustrated, I stop. I go for a walk, a bike ride, or I take a shower. These activities work for me. They bring clarity.
  • I take care of myself physically and emotionally. I eat well, I go to bed early, and I exercise at least four times a week. I take myself on dates—I enjoy my company. I recently went on a writing retreat to a house atop a mountain all by myself. The peace I experienced is indescribable. In taking care of myself, I analyze my relationships. Toxic friends destroy peace of mind. I no longer ignore the stress certain friendships can cause; for the sake of my writing and my peace of mind, I am prayerful about my relationships.

Today, I view writing as my friend, as a great teacher. The changes I made in my life because of it are priceless. I am so glad—“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” — George Eliot

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The Power of Faith, Family and Friends

From Karen:

Think you have trouble squeezing writing into your day? Try throwing five kids into the mix. Tamara Grantham does it, and her debut novel, Dreamthief, will be published on September 1, 2015. It’s a fantasy tale, full of elves, fairies and intrigue.

Tamara says the loving support of family and friends, and her own steadfast faith, have made it possible. Read on and be inspired. Please welcome Tamara to Write Despite!


tamara's book

I started writing on September 1, 2010. I remember the date because it was a beautiful day. The leaves were beginning to change, the summer heat had cooled, and my son had started Kindergarten. I was at home with my two youngest, a 3-year-old girl and 1-year-old boy. I’d overcome the stresses of buying a new home in a new city, and my husband had started his 2nd year of residency. The past year had been pretty brutal. I was a small-town Texas girl transplanted to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’d never lived so far away from home, and my husband’s 80-hour work weeks were a killer. Luckily, I was blessed to make some friends who were true kindred spirits.

One of these kindred spirits loaned me a book called Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George. It was a fun, creative story, not unlike the stories I’d created in my own imagination. In her bio, the author wrote that she’d written the book while raising two young children and one on the way.

I stewed on this information for a few days. How did she do it? I couldn’t even find five minutes to check my email. How had she done it? And if I were to write a book, what would it be about? Would it have magic? Romance? What would my characters look like? Where would the setting be?

I couldn’t leave all the information stuck in my head. I sat down and wrote a 10-page outline about a girl named Ivy who lived on a Texas farm. I called it Forbidden. The story was a mix of Anne of Green Gables meets Tess of the d’Urbevilles, with a little magic and romance thrown into the plot. It never got published, but I still have my hopes up.

After I wrote my outline, I was hooked on writing.

I finished the first draft of Forbidden a month later on October 1, 2010.

Oddly enough, I’ll publish my first book on September 1, 2015, five years to the day that I started writing.

My first published book was actually my fourth novel. Dreamthief started out as a question asked by my brother-in-law. He worked as a military policeman at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. Apparently, he’d pulled over quite a few people who were a little off. They also happened to display fairies and unicorns on their car’s bumpers. “Are people who read fantasy books and collect fairy stuff a little weird?” he had asked.

Hmm… Were they? And if they were, then why? These questions evolved into my book’s premise. What if they’ve really been to fairy world and can’t remember it? And what if their lost memories are causing their societal abnormalities and mental disorders? And if so, who would treat them? A half-elf who can remember both earth and fairy world? After that, I had a fresh new book to write. But I didn’t do it alone.

My husband was a huge influence on my writing. Every Christmas he bought me several books on writing. I read them all. Some of them I read twice. He read everything I wrote and gave me critical feedback. And for the most part he loved all my writing.

I queried agents for four years. I got some requests for pages, and even a few full manuscript requests. I attended writing conferences. At one conference I had all three agents request my book, but nothing came of it. After doing some research, I realized that my inability to snag an agent might not entirely be my fault.

The industry was changing.

Self-published and smaller press-released books were gaining steam. These authors were not taking a huge profit pay cut, and they were successful with their sales. I looked into several methods of publishing and found my dream publisher. Clean Teen Publishing did beautiful covers, they had a professional online presence, and most importantly, their authors were selling books.

I submitted Dreamthief, my novel about Olive Kennedy, a Fairy World psychologist, to two publishers. A day later, I had two manuscript requests. And the next day, I had two offers.

I signed with Crimson Tree Publishing, the adult imprint of Clean Teen Publishing, on November 8, 2014. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

I have so much in my life to be thankful for. I have two wonderful parents, two sisters and a brother who support and love me. I’ve been extremely blessed to have five beautiful children who fill my world with laughter.

I have a husband who also happens to be my best friend, who is stronger than me in so many ways, who supports his family and tries his hardest to give us the best life possible. I owe so much to him.

And lastly, I have a loving Heavenly Father. He is my savior and redeemer. He blessed me with the gift to write, but more importantly, the motivation to keep going when I feel like I can’t, and for that I will forever be grateful.

Connect with Tamara on Facebook and Twitter.

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Forget Me Not

(From Karen)

So, yes, I’m once again sharing a post from Women’s Fiction Writers. We should really pay them a royalty.

Like most writers, I struggle to stay organized and keep my lines from getting tangled when I’m working on a long piece of fiction—like my new novel. So many details, so many threads to remember and keep straight.

Outlines and notes help, but author Amy Sue Nathan relies on a handy method to index the issues.

Sometimes it’s the little tips that help a lot.

Read on

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Writing Through Grief

Much has been written about the therapeutic effects of writing, about its ability to help you sort out the noise in your head and push on. For Sarah Kilch Gaffney, the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, has become a “lifeline.”

As a young widow and single mom, Gaffney turned to writing to help her process her grief and to forge a new life with her toddler daughter. She writes beautifully of the experience in a recent Washington Post essay.

Please welcome Sarah to Write Despite.

SarahKilchGaffneyBW

I have always been a creative type, and I started writing in my late teens. I studied creative writing and environmental studies in college and went on to work in the conservation field for a number of years. I never stopped writing, but I also found it challenging to write with any sort of consistency. A poem here or there. A fiction story started but rarely finished.

Fast forward several years and I found myself in starkly different circumstances. My young husband was dying from a brain tumor and I was caring for him and our toddler daughter.

And I felt compelled to write about what was happening to us, like there was somehow no possible way that I could not write it all down and get it all out. During the last weeks of his life, I wrote an essay about our decision to have our daughter despite his terminal diagnosis. I remember desperately wanting to get it submitted before he died, having no idea if anyone would even want to publish it. In a surreal series of events, I sent the essay out on a Tuesday and the following day my husband’s hospice nurse told me we were looking at hours to days. He died that Saturday night, and Sunday morning the essay was accepted for publication.

I’ve continued to send essays into the world ever since.

Writing about my husband’s illness and death, and the challenges of raising a child as a young widow, has helped me work through my grief more effectively than bereavement groups, grief therapy, and anything else I have encountered. Everything has helped, but writing through it all has been the most fruitful. Knowing that there are others in the world finding comfort in my words, realizing that perhaps they are not alone in their suffering, has also given me a deeper purpose. That my grief might help others with their grief was an astonishing revelation.

Right now I am in a state of great flux in my life. My daughter and I just marked one year since losing my husband and her father. I recently left nursing school, which was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but which has also brought me great relief and closure. I started nursing school to take care of my husband, to save him in the only way I could think of. I returned to school after he died, but my heart was no longer in it. Though I was succeeding in every aspect of the program, it became clear that I was succeeding despite myself and that I was not happy. I have learned the hard way that life’s far too short for that sort of thing.

As I start the process of rebuilding my life with my daughter, of figuring out what I want to do and what direction I want to take, my writing remains a constant source of grounding, problem-solving, and emotional expression. For me, writing is both an escape and a way to face my grief head-on, with all of the rawness, beauty, and love that I can manage. Writing allows me to focus and reflect on the small moments in life that are so, so important: reading with my little one, going for walks in the woods with her, acknowledging all of the good things in my life. It also gives me a chance to spend time with myself and to work through my grief on my own terms. It is a crucial and tangible lifeline, and I’m holding on for dear life.

Advice For a Monday Morning

good_advice_mutt–From Karen:

Okay, I’m sharing this image just because I love it. Welcome to a new week!

I’m sharing this post from one of our favorite blogs, Women’s Fiction Writers, because I think you’ll love it. Women’s Fiction Writers Blogstress Amy Sue Nathan has just published her second novel! Check it out and support a sister.

In this post, veteran author Cathy Lamb shares her publishing history and some unconventional advice. DEFINITELY worth a read.

An exerpt:

“Your packet out to agents, online or by snail mail, looks like this: Cover letter, one page. Twenty pages of your story. Synopsis, one page.

Send this packet out to ten agents at a time. Yes, I did say ten. Everything you hear or read, here or on Jupiter, will tell you to send your partial manuscript to one agent at a time. Don’t follow that rule either. As you can see, I don’t really like rules. Too confining, too dull.

Why submit to multiple agents at the same time? Many agents will never, ever respond to you or your pages. Other agents will take months to read it. With others, the rejection slips will come back so fast, you will think the agent didn’t even read your book. And, he may not have. He may not be taking on clients.

Want more mean truths?  An agent will read the first paragraph of your work, MAYBE the first page, of your book, before he tosses it if his attention is not grabbed. If he likes the first paragraph, he reads the first page, then the second page, then the third.

He knows QUICKLY if your book is something he can sell to a publishing house. They’re experienced, they’re smart, they’re efficient. Never forget: They are BURIED in manuscripts.”

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