A Word (or Several) About Writing Conferences

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I’m not going to lie, I’m a lazy bastard some days. And I’ve got plenty on my plate to make me feel justified when I rehash an old blog, especially if it still fits with what I’d like to talk about.

This, being April and the start of the Writing Conference Season (I’m not sure if that should be a capitalized title, but it seems like an event so…I’m going with it) I thought it would useful to budding writers out there to go over some conference basics as well as some advice that has really helped me get the most out of them. This also being a totally new era, I’ve added some modifications to reflect our new Zoom/Teams lifestyles (not NEARLY as cool as a Rock n’ Roll lifestyle).

So, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writer’s conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.


How do you choose which one to attend? 
 
•	Firstly, most conferences, at least since last year, have had to switch to some type of online format or perhaps online-in person hybrid to make accommodations for safety during the pandemic. So, the good news is, you may not have to shell out so much for travel expenses as they can be taken from the comfort of your home. Bad news is that you’ll still be at home and all the challenges that can go along with it. I’ll touch more on that later on. 

•	If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference, along with which classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.
 
•	Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America used to host in fun and far-off lands like…San Diego and…New York City…*le sigh* remember travel? Now things have changed. I was lucky enough to attend last year’s Wordsmith Institute’s Romance Writing Conference online and it was simply amazing. (they are offering the conference again this year and here is the linkhttps://www.wordsmith.institute/writing-events—totally worthwhile. In the fall they host a Sci-Fi conference that is equally engaging and informative). Genre specific conferences are awesome if you’re looking to polish skills or start out in a new genre that you don’t normally write in. Don’t be afraid to flirt a bit (outside of your genre, that is *wink)
 
•	If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.
 
How do I get the most out of my conference?
 
•	Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes (or, via online conferences, log in with only dress clothes on your upper half). They start the year before, during writing when you self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:
 
•	Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter or trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. Why do athletes cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better in all aspects of your work. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.
 
•	Push your limits. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.
 
How do I not get overwhelmed?
 
•	For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I’m a classic victim of; “I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes!” Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into a self-made mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own. 

Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round. This is especially true for online conferences! Take the computer to different rooms (if they’re still quiet) or outside if available, take walks in between sessions, take eye and body breaks (look far off for a spell, or ‘rest’ your eyes away from the screen, get up and stretch as often as available). Its’ almost like interval training—the space between, the recovery is what sets you up for the next round, so take it.
 

 
•	If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing beforehand. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.
 
•	If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.
 
•	Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (or conversely at home for online conferences—having my own espresso machine) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you’ll have things to do the next day and Underoos will stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail. 
To conclude, I’d like to share one of the best lessons I’ve learned from conferences.

For every conference I attend, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.

The whole that is me as a writer. 

And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience. 

Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school brown-nosing self. 

Something happened one year, while at the meet and greet “networking” event. I found myself long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field. I was mentally exhausted, untethered and I felt like I was on emotionally shaky ground. I realized after a long day of learning and being ‘on’ that I didn’t want to be there. 

I didn’t understand my limits or that honoring them was at the core to being successful at a conference (and let’s face it, in life)

I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.

But…the more stories I heard, the more classes I took, the more advice I tried to apply—the less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.

Until everything was just noise and words.


Then I learned a secret. 

You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it. 

Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scene. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans. And it comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.

During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write.

If \the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes.

Did I miss a little of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.
 
Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. Conferences have given my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls. 

In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.

I had to make it OK for myself to listen to that want, in order to get the most out of my time at conferences. These events open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson. 

Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds. 

So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired. 


Romancing The Story

Please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers these movies. I think, they may be partly to blame for my current profession (not the karate instructor—the other one, that pays even less). I loved the quirky, unrealistic way that the original frumpy romance novelist came upon adventure and began living the kinds of stories she only wrote about before. I also loved that by the second film we see her living this exotic and adventurous life and still suffering writers block brought on by lack of romance in her characters.

How I imagine I look as a tough-ass romance novelist
What I actually look like, flannel pjs and all.

Because no matter how much adventure, vine-swinging, sheik angering, and Jewel finding you do, if you’re not in love with your novel, no one else will be either.

Bam. Mic drop. Blog finished, I can go take a nap….

*sigh* ok, I’ll elaborate.

Romance isn’t just about what happens between the sheets in a typical Harlequin. Romance is about creating a smolder, a heat, an intrigue between your characters, and between your story and your readers.

When I titled this blog, I worried I would lose those writers who focus on different genres and have little need for ‘romance’. Suck that (respectfully), we all need romance. Humans are born to seek out connection. Now, the phases of it and levels of requirement are different. But the truth remains that if there isn’t chemistry between your characters…be it platonic, hate, or lust…the story will fall flat.

Well, gee whiz, Sarah, what do I do about my Scifi Cowboy Inter-dimensional six book series where no speaking women exist because I’m THAT kind of author.

how much talent, great story writing, and acting did we lose in this era from all the stereotypical, misogynistic bullshit? The world may never know.

First of all—ugh, way to cut out 50% of the entire thinking, capable, and amazing population and demote us to some hot object in a skimpy space suit, so 1960’s of you. Secondly, your ‘lone star’ lead has to have some connection to someone or something. A loyal side kick, his long-lost brother, his space ship, or *puke* if you must, even some hot object in a space suit.

Otherwise, he lacks a pathway for your reader to connect to him. Characters that ‘don’t need anybody’ are fine, but you may find that attitude extends to your readers. They won’t need him either. Characters, even the lone wolf, are better if they really do need people and are just too afraid to say something, until somewhere in act three.

“Hurrumph—well, I write non-fiction only. There is no romance. Its fact and common knowledge. I do not deal in fluff.”

Lady, (or mister?) listen. The numbers of readers you will get from a book that is all fact and no heart (i.e. romance) will be disappointing. I can’t think of a single person who goes back to their high school American history book and eats up 100 pages on the American Revolution (I’m sure they exist okay, there’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ informative book). I can, however, name numerous people all salivating over Hamilton tickets. Why? Because THAT story, makes us fall in love with the characters. The writer found romance in the people, situation, and actions of the time. It created a bond by connecting us to common feelings, needs, and emotions. And that’s what romance is really about in writing. Appealing to the human divine in all of us.

So, in this made-up month of love, explore your current work in progress and ask yourself if you are in love with these characters, their story. Ask if your character is hell-bent and heart centered on someone or something three-dimensional to ground themselves to. Is it throwing spice into the reading? Or is the plot fizzling? Where and how can you use romance to draw in and maintain your reader’s attention?

After all, romance is not romance, if it doesn’t have an anchor of reality at its heart.

2021 Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology Submissions

From now until September 30th I will be accepting poetry submissions to be considered for The Beautiful Stuff 2021 Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”.

This anthology will loosely follow the themes of nature, growth, transformation, self-awareness and personal resilience.

Poems may not exceed 80 lines, must be previously unpublished (unless it was on author’s website), and must be the original work of the author. Please send all submissions to: sereichert@comcast.net, or via The Beautiful Stuff website: (https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/contact/) with the subject line “Wilderness of Soul Submission”

In the body of your email, please include the title; your poetry, your name, and a short bio. You may submit up to three poems for every entry. You may submit as many times as you would like, but please ensure that each submission includes different work. If your work is a simultaneous submission please let me know.

There is no fee for submitting.

Every submission will be read and, if selected, the author will be notified by October 15th, 2021 via the contact information provided.

Winners will receive 2 free copies of the anthology, promotion through The Beautiful Stuff Blog, and a chance to have the book entered into the Colorado Book Awards for 2021. Authors will also have the option to purchase more copies at a discounted rate.

You may email me or message me via Facebook with any questions or concerns you have about the contest rules and submissions. As usual, I welcome poetry along the entire spectrum of creativity (from the traditional to the strange, from the sparkly-sunshine to the darkly macabre) but will reject any work that glorifies or promotes extreme violence, racism, sexual degradation, or harm against another human being.

That’s the long and the short of it. So send me something good. Give me guts and heart, all the dark and light of your thoughts. I look forward to reading your poems and giving you a chance to showcase your work!

Have a little poetry:

CONNECTION

Photo by Martin Lopez on Pexels.com

Beats the rhythm

Inside my chest,

Shaking the tender bones of my ear

Arousing the eternal chorus

The human heart beat,

The womb of sound and voice

That speaks in vibrations to

The celestial mathematician

Caged inside my cells

How we dance,

Humans

How we shake our heads and hips

Filling up the empty dark

With the pulsing light-magic of sound

Pouring warm caramel voices

over triplet beat

Reaching into the inner primordial

Tying strings to our bones

Weaving stories through our

Muscle fibers,

Puppeteering our

hip locks and drops

In the same wave of motion

Connecting us

Without color or god.

Resonating with all

That is

Our divine.

2021 Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology Submissions

From now until September 30th I will be accepting poetry submissions to be considered for The Beautiful Stuff 2021 Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”.

This anthology will loosely follow the themes of nature, growth, transformation, self-awareness and personal resilience.

Poems may not exceed 80 lines, must be previously unpublished (unless it was on author’s website), and must be the original work of the author. Please send all submissions to: sereichert@comcast.net, or via The Beautiful Stuff website: (https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/contact/) with the subject line “Wilderness of Soul Submission”

In the body of your email, please include the title; your poetry, your name, and a short bio. You may submit up to three poems for every entry. You may submit as many times as you would like, but please ensure that each submission includes different work. If your work is a simultaneous submission please let me know.

There is no fee for submitting.

Every submission will be read and, if selected, the author will be notified by October 15th, 2021 via the contact information provided.

Winners will receive 2 free copies of the anthology, promotion through The Beautiful Stuff Blog, and a chance to have the book entered into the Colorado Book Awards for 2021. Authors will also have the option to purchase more copies at a discounted rate.

You may email me or message me via Facebook with any questions or concerns you have about the contest rules and submissions. As usual, I welcome poetry along the entire spectrum of creativity (from the traditional to the strange, from the sparkly-sunshine to the darkly macabre) but will reject any work that glorifies or promotes extreme violence, racism, sexual degradation, or harm against another human being.

That’s the long and the short of it. So send me something good. Give me guts and heart, all the dark and light of your thoughts. I look forward to reading your poems and giving you a chance to showcase your work!

Have a little poetry:

CONNECTION

Photo by Martin Lopez on Pexels.com

Beats the rhythm

Inside my chest,

Shaking the tender bones of my ear

Arousing the eternal chorus

The human heart beat,

The womb of sound and voice

That speaks in vibrations to

The celestial mathematician

Caged inside my cells

How we dance,

Humans

How we shake our heads and hips

Filling up the empty dark

With the pulsing light-magic of sound

Pouring warm caramel voices

over triplet beat

Reaching into the inner primordial

Tying strings to our bones

Weaving stories through our

Muscle fibers,

Puppeteering our

hip locks and drops

In the same wave of motion

Connecting us

Without color or god.

Resonating with all

That is

Our divine.

2021: The Master Plan (Also Known As: “Isn’t she cute when she gets all ambitious?”)

First and foremost, I’m rarely, if never, cute.

Secondly, I’m often falsely and overwhelmingly ambitious. Like my brain fails to conceptualize how much time 24 hours actually is, or that I’m a fallible human, or that I don’t live in a vacuum where I can do everything I only want to do every day. Still, consider this my “feeling cute, started as ambitious, I’ll probably delete it later” selfie.

(Thirdly: I hate selfies and actually, most pictures of myself. They’re too–static and flat–I prefer the reality of curves).

So, without further mumbling on my part, here’s the *tentative* plan for The Beautiful Stuff this year.

  • I will be opening up calls for submissions at the end of this month (January 21st to be exact) for the next Poetry Anthology, tentatively titled “Wilderness of The Soul”. Last time it was pretty much all willy-nilly and I broke book up by ‘like’ poems. This year, I picked a theme–well, because I’m all grown up and shit.
  • This year’s Anthology theme focuses on the aspects of Nature, Self-Discovery, Internal Conversations, Growth, Change, and Resilience through Hardship. I’ll be offering the exact details (length, format, bio information and all the fun legal small print) later this month so stay tuned for that.
  • Also beginning this year (also on the 21st–Jesus did I not realize there were twenty nine other days in this month?) I’ll be running a fun little slice of a novella I’ve written on every third Thursday, sort of like the serial stories one would follow in the ancient days of magazine subscriptions. I labeled it Dime Store Novel because the features are campy, light, fun and adventurous. If you are interested in contributing to this experiment, reach out and lets taco about it. Yep. I meant taco.
  • I am entertaining the idea of having guests bloggers (I have a limited number of posts available for those interested and with something Beautiful-Stuff-esq to contribute). More on that to come in February.
  • Lastly, I will be running a poem or two every month and I encourage your feedback, sharing, and comments on those. Other than that, I’m still reserving one slot a week for a writer-writing-about-writing essay to offer advice, tips, and tricks that have helped me.

And that’s my Blog Plan–I won’t bore you with the other list plastered to my wall at my desk about finishing three novels, earning my 2nd degree black belt, continuing to learn two languages, revisiting piano, and 6 to 8 14ers I’d like to climb. Like I said, ambitious to a goddamn fault.

Take care out there kiddies, start dusting off some of your poetry so we can get it published.

Comment, email questions, or contact me anytime through this site. I look forward to a not-too-cute-but-hella-ambitious-year ahead.

Happy Writing.

The Brink…

The eve of the New Year feels different this year.

We’re standing on the precipice of a deranged, hurtful, hateful, fearful time of existence, wishing that the turn of the calendar will somehow magically allow us all to step into a new world, free of the worries and trials nipping at our heels. The hope that a new vaccine, a new administration, a new awareness, a new number on the end of the date will lead to a year that won’t be a complete and total shit show is riding on our shoulders and settling into our veins, like a bandage to a too-deep wound.

Picture a six inch gash that needs hundreds of stitches, antibiotics, and physical therapy. We’re talking muscle deep. And the change from the 31st to the 1st is the Curious George band aid you got from the elementary school nurse.

I’m not saying this to be a Debbie Downer.

I’m saying this to be cautious (Cautious Kate?) that a socially constructed but otherwise meaningless mark of ‘time’ doesn’t determine a great paradigm and brink-of-destruction shift.

I’m saying this to tell you—if you need that date to start a different way of doing things, then Hu-fucking-zzah to you and get on it, Girl (or Bro?) but don’t think that the minute shift to a new year is going to change the world itself.

That calendar flip won’t do anything until we change.

Until we start giving a damn about other human beings.

Until we start understanding if our environment dies, so do we.

Until we start to understand that science seeks truth and power corrupts.

Until we stand on our own, think for ourselves, and treat everything we touch (physically, mentally and emotionally) with the same care, empathy, and love as we would our own child (or cat if you’re a fur momma) our world will never improve.

I’ve thought often of ending this blog in the past year. Sometimes it feels like it’s all for nothing. One voice shouting into a vast expanse of darkness. One voice raised against so many overpowering facets of corruption. One voice aching for connection.

But I know I’m not the only one. And as long as our collective lights continue to shine, there will never be complete darkness. So I will stand for another year. For another day. For as long as it takes until love overpowers hate, for as long as it takes for humans to wake up to the gift of their existence.

For as long as I draw breath, I’ll write. I’ll shine.

This next year will bring about more poetry as well as a new request for submissions from readers and poets for a second anthology from The Beautiful Stuff. There will probably be some ranting, some raving, and some venting. I can’t help that—and I’m not going to try or even apologize for it.

I’m also planning on running a ‘dime novel’ series that will include some weekly submissions of short stories (a la novella style) ranging from sci-fi/fantasy, to romance, to speculative fiction.

Stay in touch, and I’ll announce submission dates for not only guest blog pieces, poetry, and anthology submissions, but also for “dime novel” contributions.

Until then…keep shining.

If you must make New Year’s resolutions, don’t think about a smaller pair of pants, but how you can make your voice and your power bigger in this world. Don’t think so much about an organized closet, but an organized movement towards social justice.

Let’s aim our sights on living large of heart in this new year.

The Moment of Pay Off

Every year I learn something new from participating in National Novel Writing Month. This year was no different. This year, I learned that sometimes, the project you think is a total loss, is reborn into something amazing with a little time and added experience.

The story idea that I began the month with was an old short story I wrote before my children were born. That’s probably 14 years ago people. Nearly a generation. I don’t know what drove me to pick it up again. I actually don’t know what drove me to keep it. But there it was on my computer—converted from an older version of Word, ratty and thin, barely holding ink on a page.

I’d seen the file, hanging on the end of my groupings of files like an unwanted 41st wheel, always in my peripheral. There’s that really odd one. Yeah, the one I wrote when I was in massage school? All about the herbalist turned witch. The one where I was still clinging to my Anthropology degree and geeking out over the prehistory of Scotland and Norse invasions? The one with the Mary Sue characters that fell flat on the page and fit too perfectly into every stereotype a 20-something inexperienced writer would believe?

Some of you may be asking why I didn’t just start a new project. Some of you are probably wishing I’d just get to the point, since you’re reading this out of a strange sense of obligation.

Well, when I went into a blank document for this year’s challenge, with 2020 hanging like a wet and heavy blanket over my body, squelching (yeah, I used the word squelching—don’t judge me—that’s the kind of word that needs to be brought back into the vernacular) any creative fire that might ignite, I just didn’t feel like I could accomplish the goal. I needed a buffer. A little boost. Something I wasn’t tired of working on, something not always shouting in my face to finish it…

Something in my peripheral.

And there it was—over there in that file innocuously labeled “Scot1”.

On to my point—

Knowing it was a shitty short story didn’t dissuade me. Because, somewhere in my brain, I knew there was potential. And the only reason I knew that, was because (and here’s the point) in 14 years of writing I’ve learned stuff.

Ah, here reposes the introverted house slave–bereft of even her rodent companions.

Since I wrote the story, I’ve taken numerous classes, conferences, and workshops, on everything from plotting and character development, to crossing genres and writing fight scenes. I’ve taken classes on editing and how not to write. I’ve written some novels. I’ve done a lot of hard cutting. I’ve explored different genres and played around with suspense techniques and “aha” moments. So when I saw this shabby little house-maid in the cinders of the proverbial fireplace, I looked past the soot and rags and saw the potential beneath, not because I’m all-knowing about what would work, but because I had learned, through investing in my craft, what didn’t work about it.

And maybe more importantly, that it could be changed.

So, what was lesson number one? Trust in the process of investing in yourself as a writer. Admit you don’t know it all, and that others have good advice to give. Soak all the information in, approaching each class or workshop as a beginner, no matter how many years you’ve been writing.

With knowledge, even the worst story can be made better. Knowledge also loosens the hold of fear that sometimes keeps us from progressing. Knowing how to cut and change becomes less heart-wrenching with the perspective of a better finished product. Knowing what makes a more interesting character, learning to take some of the polish off the Mary Sue, and turn her into more of a Jess Jones.

You can take a Snidely Whiplash and turn him more into…well…

When you give yourself the gift of knowledge, the list of what you can do breaks the boundaries of what you can’t.

Sometimes…you may even discover doorways that will bring over characters from other beloved series you’ve written…

Ladies and Gents–have a little Faith.

So there you go—look forward to a future magical realism/Norse mythology mix up with a delicious little love triangle, and the potential for a new generation of crooked smiles and bouncy red curls.

NANOWRIMO Week Three: The Midlife Crisis

Hey there writer.

I know I don’t have to thank you for being here with me because if you are akin to me, you’re looking for any excuse to change up the monotony of this novel-writing month and escape that mad-dash. Perhaps you’re feeling like this story you’ve been pouring your heart and soul into for what seems like years is starting to stale. Things are getting drab. The plot line is petering out. The characters have run out of things to say.

This is the dreaded, dead-ended doldrum (say that one a few times over fast) of week 3. And it can often feel like middle age in its sunken sails, stagnant air, and the questioning of the choices that brought you here.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

With only days left in this crazy adventure, you may feel like you just don’t want to go on. That perhaps it would be easier to abandon your project all together and take a hot little novella out for a spin. Maybe start seeing some poetry on the side. Perhaps dabble in a little erotica?

While I encourage some dabbling (especially in erotica) I would argue that all of those exploratory practices can be done right in your own work in progress. So you’re bored, so you don’t know what the characters will say to one another…I urge you to start a new chapter, in the same document, where your characters take a jump off of the tracks and do something completely unexpected. Put them in a different time, put them in a different dynamic…hell, switch their genders and see what happens. Write a poem that serves as a synopsis to the story, first from one character’s perspective, and then from another’s. All of this play might help unlock the paths your novel needs to get going again. Think of it as putting some wind in those sails. A little spice in between the pages.

And all of those words you put down, even if they may be edited out later, still count as words towards your 50,000. Let’s be honest, at this point in the process, any word count is better than none.

It’s normal to feel a bit discouraged and bogged down in week 3, but what you’re building is worth hanging on to. It’s worth the investment of time and thought in this, the darkest, dreaded, dead-ended doldrums.

Hang in there kid. Go get freaky with your WIP and spice things up to see you through to the end.

Next week, look for the final, and highly inspirational installment of my NANOWRIMO survival guide.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #8–Talk To Me Goose…or Dialogue

All right, listen. Top Gun did not have the best dialogue. At all. Like…not even remotely. BUT… I liked the headline so deal with it.

Today in the blog we’re talking about…well, your characters talk. Affectionally known as Dialogue. Writing dialogue like any aspect of your novel is an art, and one that will allow you to not only reveal character traits and all of those ‘shown’ details, it will also drive your plot. If you’re good at it, it will help your reader to know your character better and *gasp* if you have a flair for it, will provide extra entertainment. I’m a HUGE fan of witty banter when it’s appropriate. I’m a HUGE fan of letting dialogue tell the reader how two characters feel about each other.

Take this little gem from “Finding Destiny”: Hank and Daniel are two of my favorite characters to create a scene with. They’re brothers and love each other deeply. But they’re brothers, so that love is shown in obnoxious teasing. Take a gander–

“Everything OK?” Hank asked after an uncomfortable amount of silence.

“Yeah, I just… I just have this gala thing to go to for the university in a couple of days and, I… I’m supposed to bring someone.” Daniel paused and looked at Hank.

Hank took a moment to swallow. Then he batted his eyelashes and waved his hand in front of his face.

“Oh! I’m just so thrilled you’d ask!” he shrieked in a falsetto voice. “Oh! You’re so dreamy!”

Daniel threw a piece of bacon at him and laughed. “Not you, jackass.”

“What about Maggie?”

Daniel shook his head.  “Maggie and I don’t really—”

“Do anything that requires clothes and public places?” Hank raised his eyebrow.

“We sort of haven’t seen each other since the once…” Daniel’s voice trailed off. He still didn’t feel exactly right about what had happened between him and Maggie, or how Destiny had witnessed the start of their one-night stand.

“No wonder she’s been shooting nasty glances at me the last few weeks,” Hank chuckled into his coffee.

Daniel sighed in exasperation. “I was going to ask you…if you’d mind…if I took Destiny.”

Hank inhaled his biscuit and started coughing. His face turned red and his eyes welled up. He looked sideways at his brother as he pounded his chest with his fist.

“Destiny?” Hank wheezed.

“Yeah.”

“Destiny Harrison?”

“Yes,” Daniel said, annoyed.

“Red hair, tall, drawly, hates-your-guts Destiny Harrison?” Hank took a drink of coffee to clear his throat.

“Yes, Henry! That Destiny.”

Hank held up his hand.

“First of all, there’s no need to call me Henry. Second, I thought you hated her, too. But mostly, why in the hell do you think I’d mind? She and I aren’t…like that.”

“Well, I didn’t know! You spend a lot of time with her. And I don’t exactly hate her. I just—” Daniel sat forward in his frustration and loss for words and looked out the window.

“Well, we only spend so much time together because neither one of us has a life outside of the shop.” Hank stopped with his coffee halfway to his mouth. “How embarrassing is it that I just admitted that?”

“It was pretty pathetic.”

“Yeah.”

“So?  Do you think she’ll go with me?”

Hank shook his head in bewilderment. “I don’t know, Danny. What about that ‘hating you’ part?”

Daniel remained silent and watched out the window. What about that?  He thought of her warm body pressed to his in the fervent moment of thanks. He thought of her shapely breasts beneath the nightgown, and the smell of her. The shyness of her kiss. The way she had gotten snippy when Maggie had stayed over. Hank paused at the unusual look of self-doubt on his big brother’s face.

“I think if you could get her in a dress, she’d do all right. Assuming she did say yes,” Hank said.

“Yeah,” Daniel said, displaced.

“Maybe if you ask her nicely…you know, not like you?” Hank said.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Well, you know…come down off of your high horse. Just a bit. And stop being such a surly son-of-a-bitch!”

“You sound like her now.”

“I’m just saying that a little honest humility and admiration goes a long way.”

Daniel stayed quiet. Humility wasn’t really his thing. He wasn’t very good at admiration, either.

Hank continued. “And if she says no, I can rock a strapless like you would not believe, girlfriend.” Hank snapped in the air and winked.

Daniel threw his biscuit at his brother with a laugh. “Shut up.”

So, we get to see some deeper dimension here, with Daniel’s secret insecurities, his blossoming interest in Destiny as well as Hank’s affection for them both. We set up for a minor climax (asking Destiny on the date) as well as establish the risk involved. All while doing it with a sense of humor.

The import aspects to remember in writing dialogue are below (been a while since I bullet listed for you)

  1. Dialogue needs to be real. By that I mean if it is forced (for the purpose of info-dumping), contrived (how convenient to drop that info into conversation even though they had no other reason to talk…), or sounds like an outside narrator suddenly taking over your character’s body (Hey! Where did their drawl and/or British accent go?) your reader is gonna know. So make it a conversation.
  2. As mentioned above, keep your character’s in their character. If they don’t normally say much, save the monologuing for others or some big reveal moment. Many a time I’ve had to edit a dialogue because I saw too much of me in there. Tricky me, trying to steal the conversation. This comes with knowing your character and what they would or would not say.
  3. If the dialogue doesn’t do any of the magical things listed, (furthering plot, character development, information snacks etc) and its just in there to fill space or act as a buffer don’t be afraid to cut it.
  4. Read your dialogues out loud! It’s the only way you’ll know for sure that they sound real and authentic to your characters and to the story. This is also a great way to catch mistakes and to ensure dialect and vernaculars are in place.
  5. Don’t be afraid to use abbreviations and slang if it’s true to how your character talks. Destiny Harrison said “ain’t” a lot. Spell check hates “ain’t”. Doesn’t matter what the spell checker wanted, she ain’t changing for it.
  6. I could give you a spiel here about dialogue tags (ie ‘he said’, ‘she yelled’) after your character’s speak. I’ve heard both sides. In my kids’ writing classes they are encouraged to use something other than ‘said’ to liven the action, express the tone, etc. In my adult-y writing classes, I’ve been told to cut the flowery bullshit and stick with ‘said’. The idea being that if your writing is good enough, the tone and character already established, the reader will read the dialogue in the feeling intended. My advice? I don’t like either of these approaches. Sometimes a simple ‘he said’ works, sometimes, I get bored as shit with that and when my characters talk in my head, they rarely just ‘say’ stuff. I may err more on the side of the flowery therefore, but I don’t do it so much that very ‘please pass the butter’ moment is fraught with tension.

Okay. That’s it for dialogue today.

I think…(she said with a gasp), that might even be the end of our writing series on the Novel! (she yelled?) I’ll check in on that and get back to you next week. Until then, go over your dialogues, check their authenticity and tone. How can you make them better? More real human-like? Read them aloud, don’t ALWAYS listen to your spell checker. Write. Write Write. Good luck out there. See you soon.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #7– Setting

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Good morning! So, here we are. Working our way through the bulleted list on Novel Writing. Today is about setting, but before I build up that world, I would like to remind you:

Keep in mind, there are many intricacies to writing a novel. It can’t all be learned in 7 points. Or 25. Or even 100. Most novelists have one or two ‘starter’ novels that never see the light of day. Because the process of writing a complete novel is, in itself, the real lesson of what does and doesn’t work. Until you do it, write it, fight through it, you won’t truly grasp which elements are most important, and how to get through the problems that you will inevitably face.

Now–on to Setting.

Setting is the world where your characters live, where the plot takes place and what influences those major themes. Setting includes physical space (mountains, city, country, house, street, etc), time period (modern day, future, Elizabethan England), multiplied by fiction and non-fiction (3050 space opera set on a distant planet versus 1944 Italy during the Second World War).

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I am a firm and staunch believer that setting is, itself, integral as a character in your story. Setting will dictate so much of your novel. The physical and temporal surroundings of your characters limit or promote certain behaviors, patterns of speech, choices, and opportunities. The setting, say a creepy old house on the coast of Maine, can even be a character itself, lending an influential factor to the events that play out. (Wouldn’t be the same if Destiny Harrison had moved into a swanky new apartment in L.A.)

My first piece of advice for setting is that if it is someplace or some time you aren’t personally familiar with, do a shit-ton (yes, that’s a real measurement) of research. If you can (time-machines not withstanding) visit the place, the area. Get a feel for it. Even better, do it in the season or hour that takes place in your novel.

If you have a scene on the harbor at dawn, your description will be more apt if you’ve been on a harbor at dawn. If you’ve never seen the bursting yellow of aspens in October, it’s hard to capture the exact shade of gold against the pinion green.

Secondly, when building the world of your novel, utilize all the senses. How does the sunlight break over the mountain? In dusty, slow waves or in a brilliant flash? Does the air feel crisp on the tongue or heavy with heat? What do you hear? This all goes hand in hand with showing the audience, not telling. Jack didn’t feel the heat of the fire. The fire seeped beneath his skin.

Thirdly, when you approach setting it is VITAL to find the balance between description and information dump. A common mistake (in my humble opinion) in even the most prolific writer, is to go on a little too long building the “world moment” to the point the reader is bogged down or the pace slows. Now, I understand, that some novels require a good solid understanding of their worlds (often if it’s unfamiliar to the reader– ie a sci-fi/fantasy or historical fiction). But, if you can manage, feed these tidbits to the reader throughout. Think snacking not gorging. Offer what is relevant, what moves or enhances the scene, or gives hints or important clues for later on in the book, then draw back and let the audience digest it.

Setting is a great place to build imagery, be a little poetic, and really put your reader in the middle of your novel. Similarly, sometimes the most simple of descriptions can be effective so don’t overwhelm with too long or heavy paragraphs.

Make it a living, breathing entity of the book, something that becomes part of the whole in a way that is inseparable from the action, characters, dialogue and voice.

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This week, look at your work in progress, pick out a particularly rough scene and ask yourself what’s going on with the setting. How can it influence or help your characters actions? Look at your longer paragraphs, are there moments where your readers might be caught in a deluge of description? Boil it down to the instrumental aspects of setting. What tone does it overlay? Does that enhance the other pieces?

Okay. Good luck out there. Let me know how it goes.