Summer Reading

summer-reading-006Summertime and the reading is good this year. We’ve selected our seasonal picks, and will surely be spotted toting them on vacation and to neighborhood parks. Here’s what we’ve chosen:

 From Karen:

My extremely well read sister has shamed me into reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Okay, there are a few holes in my education. This is one I’m going to fill.

Then I’m onto two new novels that I can’t want to get my hands on. They’re from two of my favorite contemporary authors.

caninstrout

 

From Cathy:

My book group never fails to steer me toward books I certainly wouldn’t choose for myself, and usually end up glad to have read. The one I’m reading now is no exception. Even though I’m not much of a nonfiction reader, Missing Man, about a spy who disappeared in Iran, grabbed me from the start. I’ll pass it along to the hubby too.

man

After that somber read, I’ll need a pick-me-up. And my all-time favorite, Anne Tyler, is just the ticket with her latest–a modern-day version of Taming of the Shrew, coming out on June 21:

vinegar girl

 

 

 

 

 

What are YOU reading on the deck, at the pool, by the ocean? We need more ideas. Please leave us a comment and share your summer reading picks! (By the way, no need to insert your name or email address when you comment. Just type and hit Post.)

 

 

 

Spring Writing Contests

Going through some recent contest announcements and thought we’d share. Here are some writing contests coming up (some very soon), so get those fingers flying, and best of luck!and the winner

Writing Contest: Flyway

flyway.submittable.com/submit

Entry fee: $12

Deadline extended until April 27

Sweet Corn: A spring contest for short fiction and poetry, celebrates work that surprises, shocks, moves, or affects the reader while exploring human and natural environments. Submit up to three poems or a single short story of 5,000 words or less. First-place winners receive $500, publication in Flyway, and a box of organic Iowa sweet corn. Runners-up receive $50 and publication.

Editor’s Reprint Award 

www.sequestrum.org/contests

Entry fee: $15

Deadline: April 30

Sequestrum is accepting submissions for its second annual Editor’s Reprint Award. Open to reprints of fiction and nonfiction in any original format (electronic or print). Length and subject are open. One $200 prize plus publication. Minimum one runner-up prize including publication and payment.

Not previously published? No Problem! They always accept general submissions: www.sequestrum.org/submissions.

Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition

http://www.writersdigest.com/writers-digest-competitions/annual-writing-competition

Entry fee: Varies

Deadline: May 6, 2016

Big money prizes for this one, up to $5,000. Categories are:

  • Inspirational Writing (Spiritual/Religious)
  • Memoirs/Personal Essay
  • Magazine Feature Article
  • Genre Short Story (Mystery, Romance, etc.)
  • Mainstream/Literary Short Story
  • Rhyming Poetry
  • Non-rhyming Poetry
  • Stage Play
  • Television/Movie Script
  • Children’s/Young Adult Fiction

New Anthology Competition: Finding Mr. Right

findingmrrightsite.wordpress.com

Entry Fee: $5

Deadline: May 15, 2016

Finding Mr. Right, an upcoming anthology, is seeking true story essay submissions from female writers worldwide. In addition to paperback publication, cash prizes of $200, $100 and $75 will be awarded to the top three authors that win our judges’ hearts in the categories of “Love At First Sight,” “Near Mrs.,” “Stupid Stuff I Did For Love,” “Were You There Along?” and “Table For One.”

Raymond Carver Short Story Contest
www.carvezine.com/raymond-carver-contest/#.U1ec2_mSwSa
Entry Fee: $17
Deadline May 15, 2016

Prizes: $1,500 first, $500 second, $250 third, and two $125 (Editor’s Choice). Winning stories will be read by three literary agencies. Honorable mentions and semi-finalists will be listed online for up to six months. No genre fiction (romance, horror, sci-fi); literary fiction only. Limit 6,000 words.

Creative Nonfiction Prize
www.creativenonfiction.org/submissions/joy
Entry fee:$20
Deadline: May 16, 2016

For an upcoming issue, Creative Nonfiction is seeking new essays about JOY. Creative Nonfiction editors will award $1,000 for Best Essay and $500 for runner-up. All essays will be considered for publication in a special “Joy” issue of the magazine to be published in winter 2017.

Blue Mountain Poetry Card Contest

www.sps.com/poetry/index.html

No Entry Fee

Deadline June 30, 2016

First prize $300. Second prize $150. Third prize $30. Poems can be rhyming or non-rhyming, although we find that non-rhyming poetry reads better. We suggest that you write about real emotions and feelings and that you have some special person or occasion in mind as you write.

Q & A with Author P.J. Devlin

pag–From Cathy

P. J. Devlin tells stories about relationships. Whether writing of a witch, a dwarf, an elderly woman, teenagers, or indentured servants, her characters exist in the Philadelphia of her birth and share her love of the Wissahickon Creek. She is currently working on her third book with Possibilities Publishing Company.

wissahickon coverWissahickon Souls is Devlin’s historical novel set in the early 19th century, which follows the life of a free black woman born to free black parents in Philadelphia. 

Becoming Jonika is her coming-of-age novel set during the cultural upheaval of the late 1960s.

Please welcome P.J. Devlin to Write Despite!

jonika cover

 

 

What is your writing process like?

The genesis of each of my stories, including my novels, comes from an image. Most of these images have bounced around my mind for years before they emerge and announce themselves as ready to write. For example, the short story titled “Original Sins” (which will appear in my short story collection to be published summer 2016), developed from a visit I made as a teenager to a house where statues of saints appeared in every nook and cranny. That image stayed with me for more than 40 years before becoming a story (unrelated to that household except for the statues).

Once I have a story idea, I need to visualize the last scene. I think of my writing process as being a journey and I want to know where I’m going before I start. I’ve come to realize my best work results from thinking through the entire story by way of structure—especially the three-act structure.

When I know the story ending, I go to my white board and note the story’s theme, characters, plot, and initiating incident. Then I make three columns and label them: Act I, Act II, Act III. In Act I and Act II columns, I list scenes and turning points. In Act III I list the final complication scene and the resolution. For a novel, I make a list of chapter titles as points of reference to help with the forward momentum of the story. Then I start to write. While my initial thoughts about story scenes change as the story progresses (the value of the white board is that it’s easy to erase), I find the time I spend before I get going to be my most valuable investment in the finished product.

Do you write every day?

A writer whose name I don’t remember was asked that question in an interview I happened to hear. He said his practice was to write 5 hours a day 5 days a week. That’s the model I try to follow, although many weeks I write every day, especially when I’m working on a deadline – self imposed or for publication. I work best in the morning, but those mornings when something interferes—a doctor’s appointment, a household repair, it doesn’t take much—I know I won’t be able to focus later on. Those days I read instead of writing. I read craft books as well as fiction and nonfiction.

Favorite five authors or books?

I love Stephen King, especially 11-22-63, The Stand, and It.

I’ve read most of Jodi Picoult’s novels. She’s a great storyteller.

Donna Leon writes wonderful, rich mystery novels set in Venice, Italy.

Octavia Butler, the first black woman to write sci-fi novels, is one of my favorite authors. Kindred is an important novel, in my opinion.

And George Mason University’s Susan Shreve is a brilliant writer—Daughters of the New World, A Student of Living Things, Warm Springs, and A Country of Strangers are my favorites.

It seems you came to be a writer later in life. Why, and how did you accomplish it?

I’ve been a writer from the moment I learned the alphabet and put pencil to paper. My mother saved a little notebook in which I wrote stories in a baby scrawl when I was five years old. I’ve always known my destiny is to write stories. I wrote stories throughout grade school, high school, and college. But I’m a practical person and before I started my junior year in college, I decided what was most important was to be independent with the ability to support myself and my family whether or not I was married. I changed my major to economics then and studied to earn a BA, MA, and PhD. While my husband and I raised our four children, I worked for Fairfax (Virginia) County Government as a financial analyst and for five of those years, also taught Economics at Northern Virginia Community College. But I never lost sight of my goal to write fiction. As soon as I put in enough years to earn my pension, in 2008, I retired from Fairfax County and entered the George Mason University Creative Writing Program. I knew I had some talent but I was well aware I lacked skill and craft. To the extent I’m now a published author, the Mason faculty and the writers I attended classes with have been instrumental in helping me find my path.

In many ways my ability to live the writing life now results from my youthful decision to live the earning life. I’m awed and impressed by my young colleagues who manage to write while raising their families and paying the bills.

Why did you choose to go the nontraditional publishing route and not through an agent?

At writers’ conferences, I always attended sessions with agent panels and those about finding an agent. (I casually spoke to a few agents and found them to be lovely people). I also attended sessions with newly published writers who’d found agents and who spoke about their experiences. Each of these authors told of years-long (eight years or more from novel completion to publication) struggles to find an agent, for the agent to sell their book, and for the publishing company to include the book on its publication list for an upcoming year. A Caldecott Award-winning author reported that for a number of years (five perhaps?), the publishing house that owned the rights to her book dropped it from annual lists until she despaired of it ever being published. It eventually was published and won awards. I’ve spoken with other authors and learned of similar time-consuming and soul-stealing experiences with traditional publishing.

With my background in economics and lifetime of financial analysis, I spent some time considering the benefits and costs of pursuing the traditional publishing model versus self-publishing versus small press publishing and decided the small press publishing model offered the optimal solution for me. Time was and is my most precious resource and traditional publishing, even in the best-case scenario, requires more time from book completion to publication than I’m willing to accept. Furthermore, all publishing models, including traditional, require the author to engage significantly in the advertising and marketing of her book. For me, the reward-risk ratio excluded the traditional publishing model.

Fortunately, I met my publisher, Meredith Maslich, CEO of Possibilities Publishing Company (PPC), at the 2013 Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University. I liked her business model and I respected her vision. Furthermore, PPC is a local publisher. PPC is hands-on and author-centric. Within one year of signing a contract, my first novel, Wissahickon Souls, was published. A little over a year later, my second novel, Becoming Jonika, was published. In July 2016, a collection of short stories, Wishes, Sins and the Wissahickon Creek, is scheduled for publication. It’s inconceivable that my work would be published so expeditiously following a traditional model.

What have been the best and worst parts of your publishing journey?

The best part of my journey is the respect, integrity, and commitment of Meredith Maslich, my publisher. In addition, Kirsten Clodfelter, a Mason MFA grad, has edited my novels and is a joy to work with.

I don’t know that I’d call it the worst, but certainly the hardest part of this journey is advertising and marketing. I’m no good at it. And since my publisher, PPC, is a young company, we’re struggling together to figure out how to get my work and other PPC authors’ work noticed by a wide audience. I admit that I don’t have the knowledge, skill, or even inclination to utilize social media as a means of reaching a wider audience.

What are you working on now?

I’m completing the final requirements for the upcoming short story collection—Wishes, Sins and the Wissahickon Creek. As soon as I can, I’m returning to the magical realism novel I’ve been working on. I can’t wait to get back to it.

What advice do you have for others (publishing, writing tips, inspiration, etc.)?

Writing is work. It’s often joyful, fulfilling, and gratifying. But it’s work. Some days each sentence is a struggle. But if writing is the work you love and the life you desire, then you have to go for it. I advise writers to study the craft—through books, conferences, and other writers. My breakthrough came after I studied story structure. One craft book I often refer to is Oakley Hall’s How Fiction Works. I believe a writer has to find her or his own inspiration. Mine is the little memo book with stories I wrote at age five, which my mother saved all her life.

My advice on publishing is that I don’t have any advice. My decision to go with a small publisher was based on a concept I learned in economics—optimizing my personal objective function. If you can stomach considering that concept, then figure out what’s your most important objective for your finished work and what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to reach that objective. Then go forth.

 

Commercial? Upmarket? Literary?

Of course we all know the differences, right?

Maybe.

Way, deep down.

But in case you’re curious to see them explained succinctly, in colorful little infographics with real-world examples no less, take a glance at these little gems.

Originally posted by Women Fiction Writers, who credit agent Carly Watters for their creation. God love them.

commercial fiction

upmarket fiction copy

literary fiction copy

Fall for the Book Festival

If you find yourself in the metro D.C. area next weekend, please stop by for my reading at the Fall for the Book Festival. It’s a week-long fest hosted by my MFA alma mater, George Mason University. I’m reading at 1:30 on Saturday, Oct. 3, with two fellow alumni. All details on the Festival’s site.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 5.49.16 PM

Cathy, also a GMU alum, will be on hand. We were roommates for two-and-a-half years, and now we’re both hoping to reconnect with old friends and meet some new ones.

Check out this stellar lineup of participants.

Hope to see you there!

— Karen

Multiple Points of What-Am-I-Doing

images-1

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

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.”

Want to Sell Your Book? Read on…

By Karen Guzman

Please settle back for a very informative interview with Christina Hamlett. It’s the truly useful kind of information we all need. Christina has an awful lot of experience in the wilds of publishing. She’s eager to share what she knows and give new writers a leg up. I know. Christina was kind enough to feature my debut novel on her You Read It Here First blog.

A former actress and theater director, Christina is an award-winning author and media relations expert whose credits to date include 31 books, 157 stage plays, 5 optioned feature films and squillions of articles and interviews that appear online and in trade publications throughout the world.

She is also a script consultant for the film business (which means she stops a lot of really bad movies from coming to theaters near you) and a professional ghostwriter (which does not mean she talks to dead people).

Learn more about Christina’s work and hook up with her on her various platforms:

www.authorhamlett.com

www.mediamagnetism.org

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Christina-Hamlett/155417084517326

Please welcome Christina to Write Despite.

Christina and Chief Canine Officer Lucy
Christina and Chief Canine Officer Lucy

1. What advice can you offer new writers looking for markets to sell their work?
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, it’s critical to establish yourself as an expert in your field. To do this, you need to embrace an enthusiastic mindset to write articles, compose blogs, teach workshops, participate in chat rooms, utilize social media, write reviews, and endear yourself to the media by being the entertaining, informative and dependable guest they’ll want to invite back time and again. The more visibility you can generate for your work, the more “name recognition” for your prospective readers and, subsequently, the more trust they will have in your brand. Freelance markets abound these days for not only getting your work seen but also getting paid. Some of my favorite resources are Hope Clark’s Funds for WritersWorldwide Freelance, Where Writers Win, My Perfect Pitch, Authors Publish Magazine, Freedom With Writing, and Wow! Women on Writing.

A cautionary note about the plethora of content mills out there: don’t devalue yourself. A site that pays $25 for a 500 word article is only a viable option if you can actually compose that entire article in an hour or less. If it’s going to take you time to do research, rewrite, edit and potentially get it sent back for revision, your pay comes out to about $.10 an hour. Seriously. You’re worth much more than that.

 2. What are some of the biggest publishing mistakes you see new writers making?

  • Not understanding who their target audience is.
  • Not putting any thought into their marketing platform.
  • Telling an agent or publisher, “My book is the next Hunger Games.”
  • Telling an agent or publisher, “Everyone says my book would make a great movie.”
  • Not reading dialogue aloud to see if it sounds doofy.
  • Not doing sufficient research.
  • Not doing sufficient proofreading.
  • Sending more than an agent or publisher has specifically requested.
  • Sending an unsolicited manuscript as an email attachment.
  • Starting a story in the wrong place.
  • Writing a story without a compelling or sustainable conflict.
  • Not listening to agent, editor or publisher feedback.
  • Believing that a book can only be validated as “real” if published traditionally.

I think the worst one, though, is whenever I hear a defeatist author say, “Well, I guess if I can’t sell my book to a traditional house, I’ll have to self-publish.” I’m reminded of a homely classmate in elementary school who told her daughter, “Well, I guess if no one wants to marry you, you can always go become a nun.”

3. How much of the burden to sell a book is on the writer these days? It seems like publishers want you to already have your market established before they’ll touch you.

Like any other industry in this woefully drekky economy, publishers across the country have downsized and their marketing departments are typically the first to get outsourced. Rarely these days will a publisher take on a fledgling writer unless that writer is already creating a buzz for his/her work and demonstrating a willingness to work hard and promote it. In turn, this has given rise to the popularity of self-publishing in which authors not only have more control of their own intellectual property but they’ll also be working just as much as they’d be expected to for a traditional publisher. The difference is that self-publishing will get them 70+% royalty vs. 8-12%. Another consideration is that unless a book really flies off the charts, the average shelf-life for a new title at a brick and mortar bookstore is 2-6 weeks (as opposed to indefinitely in cyberspace), and 30% of paperbacks and hardcovers end up in landfills. It should also be noted that agents and publishers are sometimes reluctant to take on someone who has only written one book and has no immediate plans to write another one. That said, you not only have to have that first book completed but also be a whirling dervish about fleshing out ideas for multiple works thereafter.

4. What are some innovative ways writers can get the word out about the projects?

I love this question! And I just happen to have all sorts of creative ways to accomplish this. Try these for starters:

  • Suppose you’ve written a murder mystery that unfolds at a winery. Instead of sitting at a table in a bookstore and hoping someone will walk by and notice you, create an event wherein you schedule a reading or a talk at an area winery. Customers who buy an autographed copy of your book are then entitled to a modest discount on their wine purchase. Since they were already on the premises to buy a bottle or two, half your work of selling is done before you even start talking.
  • For cookbook authors, do a cooking demonstration at a gourmet shop that not only whips up excitement about the products and utensils they sell but also reinforces your “expert” status. Pass out free recipe cards featuring the cover of your book on the back.
  • Are you writing YA books? Offer to be a speaker for Career Day at neighborhood schools. In concert with the exciting advice you dispense about what it’s like to be a writer, distribute pencils and pens with the titles of your books imprinted on them, hand out free bookmarks, and give them mini-teasers in the form of a tri-fold brochure or simple booklet that contains the first chapter and ends on a cliffhanger.
  • Give your fictional YA characters their own blog and encourage teens and tweens to contribute to it, post reviews, and ask advice about writing, relationships and life. This strategy will also keep you in the loop on the topics that interest them.
  • Volunteer for literary events and festivals. Organize readings and discussion groups at the library. If it’s not cost-prohibitive, attend national conferences/conventions and participate on panels. Leverage your expertise through consulting, mentoring and training gigs. Teach workshops at community centers or through distance-learning forums. Build your email list from registrations and routinely forward articles of interest and monthly tips that supplement the classes your recipients have attended. The goal is to keep your name active for every outreach group with whom you come in contact.
  • Civic organizations (e.g. Rotary) are always looking for dynamic speakers for their luncheon meetings. Whenever you have the opportunity to give a talk to these groups, be sure to not only have copies of your books on hand but also what’s called a one-pager to distribute to attendees. The one-pager is a tidy summary of your background, your publications, your website(s), your professional affiliations and, most importantly, your availability as a speaker. Gregarious people typically belong to multiple clubs and organizations (including the Chamber of Commerce) and what you’re providing them is an easy way to make their next meeting a hit. The more you can become a known – and reliable – commodity, the more bookings you’re going to get and, accordingly, the broader your platform will become.

I love hearing from aspiring authors of all ages and can be reached at authorhamlett@cs.com. Just put the words “Karen Sent Me” in the subject line and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. I do request, however, that you not send me attachments to critique for you. Since I do this professionally, I charge professional consultation fees which I’m happy to provide upon request.

New year, new goals

dreamCall me crazy, but I’m planning to sort of do double-duty in 2015. From a writing perspective, that is. I’m pushing ahead on my second novel, while also working on a short story collection that’s just really calling to me right now.

Biting off more than I can chew? Maybe. It’s all up to the gods of time and energy in the end. But I’m going to see how much progress I can make.

I’m also continuing to promote my debut, Homing Instincts. Please pick up a copy if you haven’t, and honor me with a review on Amazon or Goodreads?

What are your writing goals in the new year? Drop us a line. And if you’re looking for some inspiration, check out this story wherein a nice writer gets a big, and much deserved, break!

–Karen

Networks and Breakthroughs

Nancy Young, author of Seeing Things, has published a variety of work in a range of genres. She was kind nice enough to share her publishing secrets with us. Please welcome Nancy to Write Despite!Seeing Things 200x300

Learn more about Nancy’s work

NY

 

 

 

 

 

Please tell us about your “breakthrough” publication—that first publication that felt really significant to you. (of course, goodness knows, they’re all significant!)

I’ve published in many genres over the years, but I think that having my novel Seeing Things accepted for publication made me feel that I’d arrived as a writer. I wrote the kind of book I want to read and can rarely find—one that has rounded characters, suspense, romance, humor, and a plot that I haven’t read before. The book goes beyond plot to explore the idea that we choose what we see—not just in the paranormal realm, but in all the realms of our lives. I spent a year crafting and polishing Seeing Things, tweaking chapter after chapter, incorporating suggestions from a dream team of writers. By the time I was ready to send that baby out into the world, it felt like I was sending a kid off to college.

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

My first piece published in print was a short story that appeared in a junior high literary magazine! I think I was twelve.

What was you reaction upon learning your piece was accepted? Disbelief? Joy?

When I learned that Seeing Things had been accepted, I jumped up and down screaming, then ran around the house, totally alarming the family.  Our cat didn’t recover for days.

How do you go about trying to place your work? How do you choose markets?

That depends on what I’m writing. If I have a new poem or short story, I send it to an editor whose taste runs to what I’ve written. For instance, one editor might like political satire, while another publishes nature poetry. If I have a newspaper article about an author, I send it to local papers and to publishers for posting on their sites. If I have a play, I submit it to whatever group I’m aligned with at the moment. For this novel, I surveyed the requirements of various publishers, read articles on publishing, found publishers and imprints that matched the novel I’d written, and submitted the manuscript to two or three houses before the last one accepted it. I don’t think I consciously chose a market, but I now realize how vital knowing your market is.

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

First, network. You can meet other writers and editors at various readings. Sometimes editors will hear a piece at an open mic and request it. Small presses are easier to break into that large ones. If you write romance, joining a chapter of the Romance Writers of America can prove very helpful.  Finally, pick an editor who deals with books like yours and learn to write the query letter, since an unsolicited manuscript generally winds up in a publisher’s slush pile.