Periodically! #9: The Lost Seasons Edition

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Well, well, well. I’ll bet my followers thought I must have fallen off the edge of the world. (Pretty damned close.) The last Periodically! was released in February. Friends, that was a good five months ago. Let’s just refer to this black hole of nothingness as the Lost Season (as in Lost Weekend…only much, much longer).

In the blur that was the Spring (that wasn’t – we here in Michigan were hosed again with cold and snow until the end of May), several things happened: people died, people sickened, people were institutionalized, people adopted a homeless Detroit chihuahua, people bought a second home (heretofore renamed Money Pit), people bought another home (heretofore renamed Minor Money Pit), people dumped tons of money into the Pits and their adult children, people sprint-planted a vegetable garden, people applied to an art contest, and people readied to enter the Ann Arbor Art Fair while working a full time job (business is b-o-o-m-i-n-g!). Some people actually wrote for a hot minute.

Now this Person will take a break and fly to San Francisco for a long weekend and eat decadent food and search for sea glass. It’s not running away from home, but it’s the next best thing.

Outdoor Updates: The Guerrilla Urban Garden

The wacky spring wreaked havoc on my fruit trees. They blossomed, then we had a frost. This means NO cherries and precious few pears, so if you were expecting a hand-crafted cherry tart or pear preserves, not this year.

The potatoes, on the other hand, are none the worse for wear, but they are underground for the most part, so they managed to survive the snow. My first planting is nearly ready to harvest (that’s what four weeks of hot weather will do for you).

We’ve eaten our first peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and blueberries. The backyard is a jungle of edibles.

What I most enjoy from vegetable gardening (besides the eats!) is that working the soil bonds you to Nature. There are many analogies to the writing perspective as well. Gardeners take seed; add water, light, and fertilizer; tend by weeding and warding off pests; and finally reap the reward at the end of the season. Writers take a small idea; expound it by adding characters and plot; work the literary landscape until it makes sense; and finally reap the reward at the end of the story.

On Writing

Ever hunker down on your Twitter feed looking for inspiration? Ever buy all the writing reference books Amazon offers during that dry spell when you can’t seem to scratch out your grocery list? Yes, I’ve been there, mining golden nuggets, for inspiration and education. But here is a very good article on looking for and perhaps not taking advice. There is such a thing. It’s called a grain of salt. (I know. Funny coming from me, who is always looking for writing references online. See more below.)

Your brain is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, it will get flabby. So in the spirit of mental gymnastics, Book Baby’s article on using your TV and movie time as devices in your own writing make a lot of sense. My husband and I actually did this a lot with our kids, in pointing out the “bad” guy, the struggles of the “good” guy, and what the projected ending might be. (Now that our kids are grown, he just likes to guess the ending sometime within the first ten minutes. He’s usually right, dammit!)

Is it really stylish when YOU do it? Probably not. That’s why reading this (gently) ass-kicking blog post on the rules of writing (which can be broken – sometimes) can serve as a wake-up call for those of us writers that might be a tad full of ourselves.

Read Lately

One thing I do is write scenes in a real notebook. (By hand. In pencil.) I’ve taken classes with Christina Katz and this is a very easy way to commit to prompts on a daily basis. The summer I started doing these prompts, I would write different scenes with the same characters. I’m putting these together in a novel about random strangers who meet in San Francisco in 1978.

I started the sequence of scenes during modern times, but I liked the idea of a lack of modern conveniences like cell phones and online banking for this story. My characters weren’t easily traced, meaning they had time before they could be found out (and therefore, time for the story to be told). In some ways, 1978 wasn’t that long ago, but in others it’s light years in the past. Placing the setting of a story four decades ago makes for some interesting challenges. Most of my reading time in the last few months has been devoted to research, which might sound dry, but is actually quite compelling.

The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge is one such book. Since the Golden Gate Bridge and suicidal souls figure prominently in my story, I thought this should be a fine reference, and it is. Besides providing a wealth of statistical data, John Bateson also interviewed survivors including family members and those who lived.

No foray into Bridge jumpers would be complete without diving (sorry, pun not intended) into Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, by Kevin Hines. He miraculously survived his drop from the Golden Gate too.

Ten Years that Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978 by Chris Carlsson helped me to define the mood and tone of City. However, I happened upon the biggest bonanza of paraphernalia through my Twitter feed, when SF Gate posted this breathtaking photo essay.

Movies

I don’t go to them anymore (too expensive, too crowded, I’d rather be comfortable in my own house, thank you), but I do have a Netflix account. Here are a few movies I found to be entertaining. Keep in mind that my mentions might have sustained some terrible reviews along the way, which is why I don’t read reviews until after I’ve seen the movie/read the book/dined at the restaurant/etc.

The Fundamentals of Caring: it’s a Netflix original movie. Honestly, I’m starting to like Netflix originals. They did a kick-ass job with House of Cards, right?

Life is about a Life magazine photojournalist who finagles a way to cover James Dean just before Dean scored his role in East of Eden. Overlook Robert Pattinson as the journalist, because he still looks like a Twilight vampire to me, but Dane Dehaan as James Dean…WOW.

The Do-Over, (another Netflix original) but I’m a sucker for Adam Sandler. Yes, even his terrible movies hold an appeal to me.

Question of the Issue

What is your preferred method of reading? Are you digital only? Or do you like the smell and heft of a bound edition? Mix and match?

I personally love a nice hard-cover, particularly if it’s signed by the author – and if signed by one of my favorites, I’m in heaven – but I admit to reading books on my iPhone. I haven’t picked up a magazine in a doctor’s office in years. For traveling, it’s paperbacks all the way (same entertainment, slightly less poundage), and I’ll leave them in airport waiting areas or at friend’s houses just to share the love.

Quote of the Issue

The idea is to write it so that people hear it & it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart. ~Maya Angelou

Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I do have an Instagram. I’ve had it for a long time. Be forewarned, I take a lot of photos of food, either what I’ve made or my restaurant choices. My Instagram is also littered with photos of dogs and cats.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.

With any luck, I will see you next month.


Periodically!, PO Box 207, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068

 

 

GIVEAWAY A Pocket Star EBook Kentucky Derb-E Treat!

I’m happy to spread the news for this giveaway. If you like horses, Colorado, and Colette Auclair, you’d love these books.

One comment, and you’re entered.

The Aspen Valley Series:

The Kentucky Derby is just one week away and we are giving away promo codes for the EBooks Thrown, Jumped, and Branded in Colette Auclair’s award-winning Aspen Valley series!

THROWN (December 2013; $5.99) is the first book in The Aspen Valley Series.  Professional horse trainer Amanda Vogel dreams of riding jumpers in the Olympics, but after seeing her best friend die in a riding accident, she’s so traumatized she can’t compete. Broke and desperate, she takes a summer job in Aspen teaching some big-shot widowed movie star’s spoiled daughters to ride—and braces herself for three miserable months. But the movie star is funny, down-to-earth, and gorgeous—and his spoiled daughters are just desperate for a mother figure. By Labor Day, she has to choose between capturing a gold medal…and the man who has captured her heart.

JUMPED (August 2014; $5.99), the second book in The Aspen Valley Series, is Colette Auclair’s steamy sequel to her “page-turning debut” (Library Journal), Thrown. A young woman in the equestrian fashion business finds herself head over heels for her ex-husband.  Thoroughly enjoying herself at her best friend Amanda’s wedding, Beth is shocked when she is seated next to her ex-husband, Finn, at the reception. Determined to not let this fluster her, Beth strikes up a conversation only to learn Finn isn’t the same man she walked away from.

Relieved the reception is over, Beth is looking forward to a relaxing weekend against the beautiful backdrop of sunny Aspen at Amanda and Grady’s estate.  Little does she know Finn will be partaking in the weekend activities.  But just as Beth decides to keep as much distance between her and Finn as possible, Finn has a terrible accident and Beth is stuck being his bedside nurse.  Over the course of the weekend, Beth and Finn discover that the wounds of their failed marriage are not all that’s left. There are sparks…and hope. But just as they decide to give it another try, Finn confesses a huge secret that could destroy everything he’s fought to get back—Beth, their relationship, and another chance at love.  Will Beth turn away, or will she take a leap of faith and say “I do” once (again) and for all?

BRANDED (December 2014; $5.99), the third book in The Aspen Valley Series, will take readers on a wild and dreamy ride through the beautiful valleys and mountains of Colorado.  Professional, polite, and pearl-wearing, dressage rider and resort consultant Cordy Sims is the last person anyone would expect to initiate a weekend of debauchery. And yet, that’s exactly what she does after meeting a handsome stranger at an Aspen resort. Agreeing that they’ll leave personal details at the door, they indulge in a memorable weekend of carnal recreation. On Sunday night, Cordy doesn’t want to leave this charming, seductive man, but she must play by her own rules.

On Monday, Cordy sits in a meeting at the ad agency that’s hired her as a freelancer, and her professional and personal worlds collide. Turns out agency owner Jack Cormier looks just as good in the boardroom as he did in the bedroom. Forced to work together, Cordy and Jack can’t ignore the chemistry that crackles between them, or the deeper feelings that have developed. But secrets and scars from their pasts may prove too formidable, even for a love that’s as powerful as it is unexpected.

Praise for The Aspen Valley Series:

“The story portrays two convincingly flawed but likeable characters who find each other’s aults both provocative and exciting, as they try to decide whether a second chance at marriage is worth the risk.”

Publishers Weekly on Jumped

“Harris, the Brunswicks’ chef, is a clairvoyant Cupid, full of honest evaluations of people and their love lives. He adds a spark to the story as Auclair continues to build her cast of series characters and develop their varied personalities.”

—Library Journal on Jumped

In JUMPED, the author returns to the Aspen area with many of the same characters that were in her well–received debut novel, THROWN…Major and minor characters are interesting and likable, and the friendships add to the primary romance. There will be at least one more book in the series. Look for BRANDED to release in December. If you like horses, a tangled relationship, and a series that flows from one book to the next, check out these titles.”

—Romance Reviews Today on Jumped

“If you’re looking for a highly entertaining, fast-paced, horsey beach read, Jumped should fill the bill.”

—Horse Nation on Jumped

“There is enough tension among all the forces at play to keep the pages turning. Debut novelist Auclair is a 2012 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalist, winner of the 2011 Winter Rose Contest, and a finalist in the 2011 Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest.  Recommended for most romance fans.”

—Library Journal on Thrown

“Romantic fiction with an equestrian theme gets a fun new twist in this novel which follows trainer Amanda Vogel… the star is single, handsome, and has the hots for Amanda. But both characters are carrying hefty loads of their own baggage, and as they navigate through various dramas and horse-related mishaps, the layers (both physical and psychological) start to come off. Thrown weaves horses into the story with a practiced tone, and the accuracy of equine knowledge and horse people adds to the plot. For a fun, entertaining read, be sure to pick up this debut novel by Colette Auclair.”

Horse & Style on Thrown

“Totally accurate, as far as HorseGirls go…Colette Auclair nails the horse stuff…whether it’s describing Amanda’s selection of appropriate mounts for Grady’s beginner daughters, or setting up a human cross-country course for the girls to play Olympics over, or accurately detailing an episode of colic (including the joy when the horse finally poops), or explaining the feeling of connecting with a once-in-a-lifetime horse…my favorite part about the book, aside from the discussions of how horse training prepares just about anyone for human training…is the humor…Aside from getting the horse stuff right, the characters are also well-developed…The story is quite a page-turner, so be prepared to be completely unable to stop–like a runaway horse except actually fun.  And the book does have one pretty detailed sex scene and multiple explicit make out sessions, so it’s not for kids. Bottom line: if you like romantic comedies, you’ll definitely enjoy Thrown.”

Horse Nation on Thrown

Colette Auclair has been a copywriter for more than twenty years.  She’s ridden and shown horses since she was ten and owns a lovely twenty-year-old Thoroughbred mare.  Thrown, her first novel, was a 2012 Golden Heart finalist in the single-title contemporary romance category.  It also won the 2011 Winter Rose Contest (Yellow Rose Romance Writers) and finaled in the 2011 Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest (NE Ohio Romance Writers Assoc.)  Jumped is second and Branded is third in the Aspen Valley series.  Please visit coletteauclair.com.

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Querying…Again

OK, so I’ve been over this manuscript, what? A million times? Rough draft, second rough draft, third rough draft, final draft, three edits with MR ED, after which, a year of self-imposed edits, one edit with a completely different, third party editor, several contests, a half dozen SmartEdits, another edit this month, and finally a proofread or two. I even thought of a scene that I’d forgotten to put in, and have bookmarked a scene to take out in case I can’t get permission to quote two lines of lyric. This baby about as tight as it’s going to get.

And so today, with tentative fingers, I decided to open my query (newly polished from a LitReactor query class I took in December). I spiffed it up, and then opened QueryTracker and scanned down my list of agents (since it’s January, thankfully many have opened to queries again), studied their web sites, including the types of clients they represent and the titles of books they’ve helped get published, and, OH MY GOD, I clicked SEND on three of them.

“No big deal,” you say.

Are you shitting me? I started hyperventilating after the first one.

Especially when I saw my email after I sent the first one. Why is it my formatting is so wonky? Many agents want the first few chapters imbedded into the email. Once I copy and paste, the formatting goes right to hell and stays there. I’m not a newbie, I know how to format a manuscript now. I’m doing it the right way. And this story is so straightforward; there are no text messages and very few email, only some italics, so it’s not like I’m trying to perform literary gymnastics.

It’s not just the query letter, or my email server problems. I’m well acquainted with my story, and it think it’s a good  great one. I’m well-versed in penning business letters, I do that every day. I’ve married the pitch to my business style in a beautiful ceremony that’s not too staid and not too sappy.

That part doesn’t bother me. My (now) angst is the result of moving on to the next step. This story is finished, complete, as good as it’s going to get. Now I leave the artist phase and enter the hopeful-for-an-agent phase, to be continued on to the product-selling phase.

I queried three agents today.

*deep breath*

I’ve done it before, and it’s not any easier now than it was then. It’s like getting on a roller coaster and realizing your seat belt isn’t secure. WHEE! and oh, shit.

This part of the process takes time, and you can’t take it too seriously, or you’ll lose your mind. I have a plan, though. I’ll distract myself by working on the next edit. It’s been nagging at me for a long time.

And maybe I’ll query someone else tomorrow.

Another Kernel of Wisdom via the San Francisco Writers Conference

I know. I am pitifully behind. That’s because I’m semi-recently returned from the 2013 San Francisco Writers Conference. Thanks to this great conference, my head is *b-u-r-s-t-i-n-g* with ideas. Unfortunately, having been out of town for over a week, the other areas of my life are bursting as well.

Before I forget, I would like to relay the best advice on storytelling that I have ever received, thanks to a SFWC workshop lead by Mary Knippel and Teresa LeYung-Ryan. These are two, very smart ladies, and I don’t love them because Mary and I shared lunch and Instagrams of Mark Hopkins’ famed room service hamburgers, or that Teresa is so effusive, she dragged me into a photo after last year’s workshop.

Are you ready? Because this is the wisest sentence I’ve ever heard about writing:

Someone we care about wants something very badly and is having a difficult time achieving his/her goal.

Honestly, it was a lightbulb-over-the-head moment. (Yes, I know. I’m slow. That’s already been established.)

Wiser words have never been spoken. Okay, so you can study hard and obtain a Masters of Fine Art in literature. You can take all the classes on story arcs and layering and the intricacies of denouement the world has to offer. You can belong to the critique group made in heaven (I’d have Edgar Allen Poe, Ayn Rand, and Carly Phillips in my fantasy crit group), or to national writers organizations. You could line the basement walls with past issues of Writers Digest. You might even be able to lock yourself in a room for eight hours straight with no internet and no distractions and tap at the keyboard until your fingers atrophy. You can hang out at conferences and learn from the best.

You can do all these things and more, but if your story cannot be told in this simple sentence, you don’t have a compelling story.

I grew up eons ago, when creative writing teachers claimed a good story had to have conflict – man against man, man against nature, or man against himself. I’m also a fervent believer of having a beginning, a middle, and an end. (You wouldn’t believe some of the writing I’ve read that has none of this.)

Someone we care about [protagonist] wants something very badly [possible end result] and is having a difficult time [the journey] achieving his/her goal.

It’s so simple, I’m wondering why I’d never considered it before. Like, DUH. No wonder I had a difficult time writing the first novel. (By the second one, I’d kinda-sorta figured it out. By the third, I’d fleshed out stories for each of my characters before sitting down to write.)

My new mantra also makes for an excellent measurement for the casual elevator pitch or for the first sentence of a query letter. Breaking down your story to its most basic form (a single sentence) crystallizes the concept, making it easy for the prospective agent to see what the heck your story is about.

I spent the plane ride back to Detroit devising a simple sentence to explain each of my novels. See?

Finding Cadence:

After her husband dies, Cadence Reed tries to find a new normal, but confronted with Carter’s secret life and with finances in disarray, she battles a powerful attorney (and once friend) for control.

Virtually Yours:

A bereaved parent wants to get closer to an online moms’ group, but traverses a minefield of secrets that could blow up the friendship, until the truth finally comes out.

Virtually Yours Forever:

Janna and Ashe are (finally) getting married – that is, if she can lose ten pounds, if Ashe can get over his cold feet, and if the Virtual Moms can book flights through a Snow-maggedon Nor’easter.

Acorns and Oaks:

Amberly Cooper escapes frozen Michigan to her tony life in LA despite a few minor roadblocks: her grandma is crazy, her mom doesn’t want to leave, her Cali friends are uninspired, and oh…she’s 14.

While these aren’t perfect, completing this exercise helped focus my attention on the story, the guts of the matter.

Everything else is icing.

 

Some Covers to Consider

Now that I’m winding down on the edit, it’s time to look at cover designs. I participated in Indies Unite for Joshua (a great cause, by the way, check it out) and bid on a cover designer, and that’s how I’m now working with Sessha Batto. Here are a couple:

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Then there’s this one:

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Can you say “excitement?”

🙂

Where Was the Battle of the Log Lines on This One?

I hope everyone’s Christmas (or whatever you choose to or decline to celebrate) was merry and bright. That goes without saying.

Last week, the Query Tracker blog featured a must-read post on log lines. For the new writer or others out of the loop, a log line is a one sentence explanation of your book (or movie) meant to hook the audience. Think bubble blurbs under a channel you have surfed to, or for those who remember TV Guide, a comprehensive yet pithy summary of this week’s episode. An example from one of my favorites, That ’70’s Show:

Bohemian Rhapsody
Donna takes some “creative” photos of herself to send to Eric, but unfortunately they end up in the wrong hands.
One sentence. We know who is experiencing the dilemma, and we can deduce what “creative” means in the sentence (racy? pin-ups? NUDE?). From there, the imagination takes us on a course of possible plot twists that might result from the shift in story line. There is enough information there to either tease a fan to flip the channel (or put in the DVD) at the appointed time. For those who despise the program, there is also enough for the hater to make a decision to pass.
A log line is the basis of the standard elevator pitch, where the author has three to five minutes to convey the essence of their work to an agent. Sometimes we pitch via email, but more frequently the pitching is done at crowded conferences where every wannabe author is nervous and perspiring. Been there. You could chop through the anxiety with a machete and build huts for the homeless with the resulting debris. Building a pitch is much like writing a news story. Start with a solid log line, then attach the next most important sentence, and the next. Make the first 25 words the best you can and read it out loud. And then of course, you’re going to edit that baby until it sounds professional, and you’re going to practice it so many times, you’ll be blurting it out in your sleep.
In my case, on my first effort, I found it nearly impossible to get the gist of my story down to 50 words. I had a hard time getting it under two pages. Thank goodness, with some coaching from my cheering squad, some great reference books, and years of practice, I’m doing much better now.🙂

This isn’t the only reason why, but writers should practice crafting log lines, and pitches, even as you struggle to write to those magic words “The End”. Your novel might be the next New York Times best seller, but in order to sell it to an agent, your pitch, whether written or verbal, has to be totally outstanding. Even if you decide to self-publish, if your blurb doesn’t catch the eye of your potential reader, you might as well go home and start over. If the premise doesn’t sound massively appealing to you, how do you expect it to sound to a stranger? You might also want to practice log line writing in order to test your story. Is there something about your novel that sets it apart from the others in your genre? If the premise is the same old formula (for example, boy meets girl, they fall in love, there’s conflict, they get back together and live happily ever after) (or, for those action lovers, man goes to work just as the world is beginning to end, the government enlists him to help save the world, there’s conflict, but he saves the world and everyone lives happily ever after), how is your log line/pitch written so that it transcends stereotypes and sounds fresh?

I am musing today over log lines, because this weekend, after a marathon of cleaning, a massive consumption of food, and the requisite present opening, I had the opportunity to catch two movies. Both were released in 2011. Each starred a former actor from That ’70’s Show. Both were cute, light, romantic comedies. And both were basically the very same story. Blatantly the same.

One was No Strings Attached, the other was Friends with Benefits.

Or, boy and girl suffer from bad relationships, decide to hook up with unsuspecting friend for relationship-less sex-capades, but eventually – and despite many denials to the contrary – fall in love with the booty call, and live happily ever after.

Watching these movies made we wonder if the same writers were working on both projects. Or if Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis discussed their simultaneous projects in friendly phone conversations. (Maybe they don’t talk to each other anymore?) I then wondered if anything could be done to either one to make one movie stand out from the other. (No. The only thing that could have been done was to release one of the movies a year from now.) Maybe Kutcher and Kunis should have done one of the movies together, leaving Justin Timberlake and Natalie Portman to do the other.

As a writer, I think of my stories as completely unique. But is anything really unique? The challenge is to write the best story you possibly can, and use your log line as a tool.

Writing: For Pleasure or Profit?

Now that I have my manuscript wrapped up (for now, at least…I hope I don’t open it again for last minute tweaking), I’ve been researching the agents I want to target. This includes cyber-stalking on Facebook and Twitter. Of course, I click on almost every link. I would click on every link, but who has time? There’s a lot of good information in there. Stories about success in getting published, and of course, the sad tales of repeated rejection, and if not outright rejection, then a facsimile of it based on agent teasing. Mind you (agents in waiting), I have no first-hand knowledge, only anecdotal notes from my friends and colleagues.

It’s not enough to spell correctly, un-purple your prose, toss out the cliches, and tighten weak grammar. An author must get out and SELL. You not only have to write a book that wows, you must write a query letter with zing and a synopsis that won’t leave the potential agent snoozing. It’s a tough market out there; the ocean is full of fish, and a lot of them are way more talented than I am.

This caused me to think: Do I want to write for pleasure or for profit? This journey has been a long one, to be sure. It’s tough writing a book. You not only have to be reasonably creative, you also have to have a strong work ethic. Do I really want to peddle my baby? And once sold, I know it won’t make enough money for me to quit my day job.

Since I am hunkered down in my castle waiting for the Snowpocalypse, I thought I would explore this. Why do I write?

The biggest reason is because I must. I have ideas in my head, and stories I want to tell. So far, a select few have read my book, and the consensus is that most like it. A few like it a lot. I love the fact that I have written a 95K story that entertains. To me, that’s the best part of the whole deal — taking my idea and molding it to a complex and mildly funny tale.

It’s not all fun and games. I wish the words would fly from my head and into my computer without any thought at all, but writing is hard work. There are rules (yes, some to be broken); there is always something to learn.

I honestly wish I would have started earlier, or not stopped when the kids came. Although I must say, being able to write witty notes to elementary school teachers came in handy.

So, even though I’ve sent out 1.25 queries every week this year, I won’t take the rejection personally. I won’t quit; I won’t get depressed. I’ll keep plugging along, getting the next story out of my head and onto the page.

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