Purple Moon Blog Tour with Tessa Emily Hall

It's always fun to meet folks via their blogs. Tessa is one cyber friend that inspires me. She's a teen writer who has worked hard--and her novel, Purple Moon has just published! Don't forget to check out the giveaway at the bottom of the post.

First, here's the back cover copy:

Selena's life isn't turning out to be the fairy tale she imagined as a kid. That hope seemed to vanish long ago when her dad kicked her and her mom out of the house. This summer might finally hold the chance of a new beginning for Selena ... but having to live with her snobby cousin in Lake Lure, NC while waiting for her mom to get out of rehab wasn't how Selena was planning on spending her summer. She soon begins to wonder why she committed to give up her "bad habits" for this.

Things don't seem too bad, though. Especially when Selena gains the attention of the cute neighbor next door. But when her best friend back home in Brooklyn desperately needs her, a secret that's been hidden from Selena for years is revealed, and when she becomes a target for one of her cousin's nasty pranks, she finds herself having to face the scars from her past and the memories that come along with them. Will she follow her mom's example in running away, or trust that God still has a fairy tale life written just for her?

Tessa is stopping by today to answer some questions about her journey to publication. Listen in:

DMA: Can you give a brief overview of your path to publication?

Tessa: I’ve always loved writing, ever since I was in preschool. I never really had a doubt I would become published one day either—not necessarily because I thought I was talented, but because I really felt that writing was my calling in life. I didn’t have a desire to do anything else. So once I reached high school, I decided to take an online school so I could have more time to pursue writing. I wasn’t necessarily trying to seek publication—I started off mainly just studying the craft and trying to incorporate writing into my school schedule. I bought several books on the writing craft, took a creative writing class through my online school, and took a course through the Christian Writers Guild as well. I was fifteen when I began to write “Purple Moon”, and I completed it when I was sixteen. It was also during my sophomore year in high school when my parents agreed to let me attend a Christian writer’s conference, which wasn’t too far from where we lived (Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference). It was there that I met Eddie Jones, the acquisitions editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. After showing much interest in “Purple Moon”, Eddie asked for me to email him the rest of the story. Eventually—a few months later—he ended up offering me a contract. =)

DMA: What do you feel were some of the things you did 'right' as a pre-published author? (i.e. critique groups, conferences, contests, etc.)

Tessa: I’ll start off by saying what I did wrong, and that was the fact that I didn’t enter any contests or join a critique group. I did, however, attend Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. Obviously, that paid off very well. =) I’ve attended five more conferences since then, have learned so much at every single one of them, and have met some incredible people there as well. I’m also very glad that I decided to start studying the craft of writing when I was fifteen. I started my blog when I was sixteen which was great—because not only did I force myself to write on it three times a week, but I also met other writers from around the world (including you!). I was also able to build a following and a brand, both of which have paid off tremendously. 

DMA: Did your young age factor into publication in a negative or positive way? Or was it a non-issue?

Tessa: Oh, it definitely did! I’ve had a few people (professionals in the industry) who had advised that I waited until I was “more experienced” and in my late twenties before pursuing publication. One of them also said that she wouldn’t advise that I pursue writing at all, only because it involves so much work and is not as glamorous as it appears. I understand why people are so against teenagers pursuing publication—it’s because they believe that teens’ writing isn’t quite developed enough. They also don’t think it’s fair that a teenager might find publication way sooner than an adult would, simply because of their age. One author even told me that many teens who do find success in the publishing world eventually fade from the spotlight as they become older—therefore, being published as a teen eventually becomes negative for that person rather than positive. I don’t think a person’s age should be a factor at all, but instead the person’s talent and experience. Besides, there are many teens whose writing is actually far beyond their age.

My mom has attended every writing conference with me that I’ve been to. And at almost every one of them, I’ve been the only teenager there—so naturally, people would think that my mom was the writer and I was only with her for support. But when they realized that it was the other way around, almost all of them would treat me with respect rather than looking down on me. That has always been really nice to witness, especially since there are so many adults who try to discourage teens from pursuing publication.  

DMA: Give us an idea of what Purple Moon is about.

Tessa: “Purple Moon” is about a 16-year-old girl who is forced to stay at her snobby cousin’s lake house for the summer while her mom gets treatment in rehab. It’s a character-driven book, following Selena’s journey throughout that summer. I’m hoping it’ll become the first in a three book series.

DMA: How did you come up with your main character?

Tessa: Selena was sort of based on a combination of people that I know. I’m not saying that I wrote her with certain people in mind, but that I have witnessed so many people in my own life who have started out as a “good person”, but eventually started falling away from the Lord when they became a teenager. It’s always been difficult for me to witness these people start making bad decisions, only because I know how good of a person that they really are. They just might not know how to deal with the issues that they’re facing. I wanted Selena to represent those kind of people, and to show them that there is hope—that God still loves them, despite the mistakes that they’ve made, and that He has the power to turn things around. I’ve also given Selena many of my own qualities as well. For instance, she’s a dreamer, introvert, an artist, coffee-drinker, wears the same style of clothing as I do, etc.  

DMA: Describe your writing process, and how you balance writing and school.

Tessa: I am now a sophomore in college and am taking a semester off school in order to promote “Purple Moon”. But when I did an online school my first three years of high school, I would usually wake up early and get my writing done first, then begin my schooling. (I always feel most inspired in the mornings. Plus, I almost always have to drink coffee while I write. =) When I attended school my senior year of high school, I would wake up very early to write for an hour. I’ve been doing the same in college as well.

DMA: Thank you so much for coming by! It's so encouraging to see a writer achieving success.

If you'd like to check out Purple Moon, you can find the book through these links. I'd love to encourage this new young author! If you'd like to congratulate her, please leave a comment below.

Tessa Emily Hall is a 19-year-old author of Purple Moon, her YA Christian fiction novel to be published September 2013 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is also the editor over the faith department for Temperance Magazine, a column writer for Whole Magazine, a contributing writer for More To Be, as well as the PR for God of Moses Entertainment. Other than writing, Tessa enjoys acting, music, Starbucks, and her Teacup Shih Tzu—who is named Brewer after a character in her book, as well as her love for coffee.

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The Road to Publication: Backroads vs. Superhighway

Hi there! Summertime has invaded life, and kept me busy (plus a new job). But today I'm blogging over at Writing from the Peak. We're talking about whether it's a good thing to enjoy a rapid path to publication, or if there's some benefit to the process being dragged out (many times far longer than we'd like!). Stop by and say hi.

How to Road Trip a Novel Idea

I recently took a road trip. A long one.

2487 miles to be exact.

I spent four days in the driver's seat. Four days away from a keyboard. Four days without a pen in my hand.

But I got a lot done.

Turns out, driving (or riding) in a car is a great way to brainstorm a plot, construct a scene, or get to know a character.

Open Road, Open Imagination

It seems that a disengaged mind is often more creative than a "focused" one. I can't tell you how many times I've labored over a scene, only to have the solution play itself out as I weeded the garden or drove my kids to activities.

In the car, unless you're making conversation, your mind can wander. I select a scene, visualize it, and "watch" it like a movie. You may be completely surprised at the twists your plot takes, or what pops out of a character's mouth (if you struggle with natural-sounding dialogue, definitely give this a try).

If you're the drive, you'll need something other than  pen & paper to record these nuggets. You can get fancy, with a digital recorder, or just call yourself on you cell phone and leave a message. Gmail has a free service that transcribes all your cell phone messages and emails them to you.

Off-Road Creativity

What other places can you try some of this "open road" time? How about during the morning commute? While washing dishes, or sitting on a bench at the mall (any form of people-watching is great for making your characters more three-dimensional). Think of any task where it's fairly safe to let your mind wander.

But keep a notebook and pen handy. You never know just when inspiration may strike.

My best "off-road" thinking time comes as I fall asleep or wake up. My mind lets go, sliding into dreams, which is fertile ground for story writing.

But I need a little focus, or I'll end up with nonsense.

As I head to bed, I select a scene to mull over as I drift off. I watch the story play out, sometimes from different characters' points of view. In fact, I wrote part of this blog post last night in the pitch black of my bedroom at 11:42pm.  I've nearly perfected the art of writing in the dark, so as not to disturb my sleeping husband.

The bonus is that I'm often still thinking about the same scene as I wake up.

The most important thing is that I must write it down. Even if I remember the idea I had, I rarely remember exactly how I phrased something, or the descriptive words that came to me. Even the most fantastic idea can be lost to sleep.

So if you're stuck, or bogged down in a boring plot, try "tripping'" you novel. You never know where you'll end up. Have you ever tried it?

Nail that Query with Evil Editor

Queries are hard work. Lots of writers spend days and weeks trying to get it right. The good thing is that most agents I've spoken to won't hold an imperfect query against a writer--if the story premise catches their attention.

However, if you'd like some feedback on your query before you hit send, check out my guest post on the Pikes Peak Writers blog: Ready to Test-Drive Your Query Letter? Check Out Evil Editor.

Today is also graduation day for my son. This month has been chock-full of graduation events and busyness that have taken a toll on my writing. Hopefully, I'll be back in the groove next week. 

Make Novel Timelines and More with Scapple

Yesterday we sat out in 75 degree weather. This is today.
For some time now, I've been searching for timeline software to help me visualize what happens before my novel begins. I've experimented with outlines and notecards, but I wanted to keep adding events without having my document look messy. Enter Scapple.

I've heard about Scapple for some time, but hadn't taken the time to try it out. Scapple comes from the same folks that make the amazing Scrivener writing software, so I knew the program was worth a look.

Since we're having a lovely snowstorm today (three inches so far on the first of May), I decided it was a great day for Scapple.

First, I watched the brief video that shows Scapple's features, and some of the shortcuts.

Then, I tested it with a writing problem I'd encountered. I wasn't satisfied with my current chapter,
and wanted to visualize what would happen if I changed some events. This is what I came up with. I think I solved my problem, though I only used the very basic Scapple options.

Next, I tackled my timeline issues. Some of the nice things about Scapple, are that you can:
  • write notes anywhere
  • move notes around
  • connect notes with dotted lines, arrows, or contain them in boxes
  • import photos, documents, etc.
  • use color and outlines to differentiate notes
  • export notes into documents (or into Scrivener, if you use that)
Here's a portion of my timeline, which is changing as I remember new details to add and connections to make. I'm using different colors for notes and borders of notes for different characters.

I'll definitely use Scapple to map out where new chapters are heading. It's also a great tool if you're writing a short story, and want to visualize what's happening. I can imagine using Scapple for non-writing projects, too.

Later today, I'll try Scapple for fine-tuning a query letter. I have a Word document with lots of query notes, and it's confusing to sort through which lines to keep, and which aren't strong enough. I'll import the document into Scapple, which will ask if I want to make individual notes from each paragraph. Once I've got that imported, I can slide the notes around, and link together the ones I plan to use.

Scapple is free to try for 30 days. That's 30 days of actual use, so if you only use it once a week, you'll have it for 30 weeks. Check it out and see if it might make sense for you.
What do you think Scapple might do for you?

What did I do last weekend?

What a weekend! I'm so sad the Pikes Peak Writers Conference is over, but I don't think I could have continued at that pace for one more day. I'm still recovering.

The workshops I attended (between my volunteer responsibilities) were fantastic. Among them:
  • Hooking your readers in one paragraph--or less, with historical novelist David Liss. Liss covered famous and not-so-famous first lines and paragraphs, analyzing what makes them entice the reader, and which ones (surprisingly) don't do the job well.
  • Creating Dazzling Worlds, with YA author Laura Resau. Though I'd never heard of Resau, I was really impressed with her writing exercises to help bring freshness and dimension to both storyworlds and characters. Her excerpts from her books made me want to go read them.
  • How to avoid the sophomore slump, with Barry Eisler. He explained techniques to make your second novel as good as, or better than the first.
  • Ghostwriting Panel. This one was interesting, with three authors talking about their experiences both working for book packagers (and ghostwriting for some seriously famous people), and using your writing skills to barter for services. Something to think about.
  • The Neuroscience of Writing, with DeAnna Knippling. Such a fascinating workshop, helping writers understand exactly why they should avoid cliches, among many other topics.
  • Plot, structure, and pushing your characters, with agent Hannah Bowman. A seriously helpful and interactive workshop, with a plot diagram you've never seen before--but it makes so much sense!
Pitches & Critiques
I pitched both formally and informally--one of the best things about going to a conference!
  • Pat Van Wie, editor at Bell Bridge Books. Though Belle Bridge hasn't published YA historical fantasy, Pat was willing to take a look at my manuscript and see what she thought.
  • Barry Goldblatt, agent with Goldblatt Literary. Though Barry has represented both fairy tale retellings (Shannon Hale) and YA historical fantasy (his wife, Libba Bray), he felt that the market wouldn't support more books in the fairy tale genre.
  • Hannah Bowman, agent with Liza Dawson Associates. I caught her in the hall and asked her opinion, and she disagreed with Goldblatt's assessment. She recently sold a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and the publisher is marketing it specifically as a fairy tale. She'd like to see my pages.
  • Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, with Larsen Pomada Literary Agents. I spoke to her while driving her to the airport. Like Bowman, she feels there is still room for well-told fairy tales. She'd like pages, too. And while I was talking to Pam, I had author and actress Amber Benson (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in the back seat. Such a crazy weekend!
Meals at conferences are a great way to network with other attendees, and spend time with faculty in a more relaxed setting.
  • Lunch with SourceBooks editor Deb Werksman was so much fun. Though she edits romance exclusively, she was so kind to genuinely engage the three male sci-fi writers who happened to sit at the table. I also had a great time going along on her Colorado tour and yarn shopping.
  • Nicole Resciniti, agent with The Seymour Agency, is so well-read and smart. I think I'll definitely query her.
  • Dinner with author Libba Bray was amazingly fun, as was her keynote speech the next night. She could easily make a living as a stand-up comic. And she was kind enough to sit down with my daughter and her friend and work through their story worlds.
  •  Barry Eisler (who went from traditional publishing to indie) gave a keynote that shared the different sides of publishing. Some industry professionals did not take it well. If you want to know more, read the recap on Joe Konrath's blog.
 All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. I can't say enough about how much fun it is to volunteer at a conference. Have you ever volunteered at a conference?

How To Pitch Your Book

I'm over at the Pikes Peak Writers blog today, talking about resources for pitching your project. Come on over and take a peek! Later this week I'll be doing some pitching of my own. I'll report back next week on how the conference (and my pitches) went.

Agent Friday: Barry Goldblatt

It's time for the annual, amazing Pikes Peak Writers Conference--one of the 10 best in the country (according to agent Donald Maass). This week I'm racing between volunteering for the conference, and pitching, too. Here's who I've been matched with for pitching. Hope my nerves can take it!
Barry Goldblatt began his career working for several large publishing companies in subsidiary rights. His dream was to work as an editor in science fiction, but along the way, he fell in love with children's books. In 2000, he opened his own literary agency, Barry Goldblatt Literary.

Though you may not write young adult, middle grade, or picture books, there is a lot you can learn from this publishing veteran. Consider this quote:

"Don't write because you want to be published, write because you have to. Not every writer is going to get published, and if that's the only measuring stick you have as a writer for success and satisfaction, you are going to be in for a world of disappointment." 

Most of Goldblatt's blog focuses on his clients' new books, but here are a few posts you won't want to miss:

The 4 things agents learn about your from your query, in Query This.

Goldblatt's take on an almost perfect day. I like this quote: "And another thing: all you writers out there, agented or unagented, struggling to find a home for that book you've slaved over, worried over, revised and refined...don't ever give up. Sometimes it just takes a little while."

An interesting fact: Goldblatt gathers all his authors for a yearly retreat. I've never heard of an agent doing this, but it sounds fascinating. 

Many writers dream not only of publication, but of getting their book optioned for film. Goldblatt, married to stellar author Libba Bray(who has one of the funniest author websites around), explains what film options really mean, and what authors can expect.

Find out more about Barry Goldblatt in his Writer's Digest interview, and this interview.

Thinking about Goldblatt's first quote, do you write because you have to?

7 Tips for Marketing Your Indie Book

Publishing on your own is a big job--authors are not only responsible for writing, but all the editing, cover design, layout, and back cover copy. And then there's marketing.

Some writers have natural gifts for marketing. Others struggle to make the shift between writing and promotion. I've collected seven helpful posts that might make things a little easier.

Reviews are a huge part of marketing. Many authors join sites like Goodreads (recently purchased by Amazon) to connect with readers. But if your book is an indie (self-published), it's sometimes difficult to find readers willing to post reviews. Empty Mirror lists ten ways to find reviewers for self-published books.

Buy Buttons
Your book is live on Amazon, and everywhere else. You've got a website set up. Now it's time to let readers purchase books from your site. I never knew how many potential problems could crop up with a 'book page' on a website. Thomas Umstattd is about to solve them all. He's created an easy way to add attractive buy buttons to your site, while still participating in affiliate programs. Imagine, getting paid twice for each book purchase. Right now (for just a few more days), he's running a Kickstarter project, where donors can receive discounts on the product. It's called My Book Table.

Kindle Direct
The Kindle Direct Program at Amazon can give books a much-needed boost at any stage of the marketing game. However, Amazon changes things from time to time. Check out what Lindsay Buroker has to say about what's working (and not working) right now at Amazon.

If you haven't heard of Kickstarter (and others like it), it's time to check out what this site can do. This site is crowd-sourcing at its best. Worthwhile ideas make money, the not-so-great don't fly (kind of sounds like publishing, doesn't it?) Thomas Umstattd's idea above has nearly tripled the monetary goal he set. But it's important to plan carefully, and learn from others who have traveled there before. One of those is Clinton Kabler, who lays out three basic steps to using Kickstarter for literary projects. He focused on several realities that are important to understand for a successful experience. And Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds covers some typical misunderstandings with Kickstarter.

Most authors want readers. And sometimes the best way to find them is by giving things away for free. My post last week highlighted some of the positives and negatives of pricing books low or free. Joe Warnimont lists the reasons why direct email marketing has such a big impact, and how you can entice potential readers to sign up.

 If you're marketing already, what techniques have worked best (or not at all)?  When you become convinced to buy a book, what made the difference in your decision?
Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

Free Publishing Teleseminar: get your questions anwered by three professionals

 You've heard their names before. I've blogged about them. Former publishing CEO Michael Hyatt. Uber-agent Chip MacGregor. Up-and-coming agent Amanda Leudeke.

Next Wednesday, April 10th, at 8pm Eastern Time, writers everywhere have an opportunity to participate in a free teleseminar with all three. It's called the Get Published Teleseminar.

The seminar is one hour long, and will answer many publishing questions, including questions on platform (which Michael Hyatt wrote a book about). Even if you can't make the meeting, sign up, and you'll receive an MP3 link replay after it's done.

When you register, you have the chance to ask any question you want--great if there's a few things you really want addressed.

If a writing conference isn't in your future, make sure to take advantage of workshops like these.

What is the publishing question you'd most like the answer to?

Self-Publishing Tips for Indie Authors

 These days, you can barely click a link without hearing something about ebooks, self-publishing, or indie authors. Along with all the other decisions and jobs a writer undertakes, this one is a big one. I still don't know which way I'll go when my manuscript is ready, so I figure it's a good idea to stay on top of what's happening.

And there's a lot happening.

A new title.
There's something new. Authors who start out putting their own book up for sale and later accepting print deals are now called 'hybrid authors'. Agent Kristin Nelson explains what's going on with hybrid authors.

One of those authors is Nelson's own Hugh Howey, the author of Wool. Nelson (and many other agents) courted him. A nice way for things to work out, right? Check out Howey's own account of how things went down.
Another author enjoying great ebook sales that led to a print deal is Jennifer L. Armentrout, with her book Wait for You. Forbes published an article on her, titled The Fast-Track to Making a Million Dollars from Writing Books.

A new perception.
There used to be quite a stigma attached to those who took on publishing themselves. There's still some stigma, but not like it used to be. In fact, indie authors are increasingly proving that they don't need publishers at all--or might accept them on their own terms. Check out this post called Self-Publishers: The New Generation of Cool Kids.

Even the Big Six (or five) are discovering huge sales in the ebook market. Lucrative electronic sales were documented by Publishers Weekly.

A new opportunity.

Many authors are discovering the benefits of publishing single short story titles and anthologies in ebook form. Author and writing teacher James Scott Bell promotes this idea. He's got a nice list of traditionally published books, but found extra money by publishing his short story titles. His article (which includes some great plotting info for short story writers) will encourage writers who have found little success querying literary journals. And speaking of literary journals, it was fascinating to read how one writer used an actual New Yorker story to query literary journals. His results are worth reading in The New Yorker Rejects Itself: A Quasi-Scientific Analysis of Slush Piles.

A new perspective.
Pricing ebooks remains a murky area. With hundreds of thousands of individuals making their own decisions, as opposed to a handful of long-standing publishers, there's a huge number of different ideas on pricing. One idea is to offer the first book in a series free, in order to entice readers to take a chance on a new author. Writer Jordyn Redwood examines this idea in Is Free Always Good? On the other hand, some authors believe that free or low-cost pricing devalues the product. Dean Wesley Smith makes some pertinent points on the subject in The New World of Publishing: Book Pricing from Another Perspective. Definitely worth some consideration.

So where do you fall? On stigma, pricing, perception, etc. Is the idea of going the indie route attractive to you? Have you already taken the plunge?

Free Resources from Author Alton Gansky

I'm all about free resources. And when I stumble upon an author who shares what they've learned, I like to share those tips with you guys. 

You may not have heard of Alton Gansky. He's published dozens of novels and non-fiction books. He has co-written more. He runs his own writer's conference each year. 

One of the things Gansky offers is 'Writer's Talk' interviews. He chats with other authors, agents, and publishers, giving writers great information they might only get at writing conferences. Check out his YouTube channel for the complete list.

But that's not all Gansky provides. He offers a series of screencast videos where he explains how he uses certain software, and gives other tips for writers. I love his voice, and his calm, teaching manner. Here are a few I found interesting:

Google for Writers: several different Google applications that make a writer's life (and research) much easier. Do you use them?

Pitching Agents & Editors: how to pitch your project in a conference setting--great principles if you're gearing up for a pitch session!

Organize your novel: Gansky explains how to use a free online application called Trello to keep track of your novel's details and structure.

What are page proofs? What writers can expect when they receive page proofs (also called galleys) and what to do with them.

Manuscript formatting: How to format your manuscript in standard form before sending it off to an agent or editor.

Tight Writing: helping writers to look for what clutters manuscripts and invites rejection. Have you ever heard of 'pleonasm'? You'll want to watch for it in your writing.

Kindle Singles: for writers with shorter works, great information on the hows & whys of loading them onto Amazon, and he also demonstrates another platform called Atavist, where readers can choose to read or listen to the book.

What authors do you rely on for writing information?

Storytelling Tips from the Pros

 Wouldn't you love to see the credits roll--and there's your name? Most writers would consider it a dream come true to see their name on a book, much less on the big (or small) screen. What can make the possibility more likely?

Study what your readers are watching.

What shows are the ones talked about on Facebook (the virtual water cooler)? What movies generate the biggest crowds? Which dvds get snapped up the moment they hit the shelves?

These are the shows that become a writer's text book. No, they don't do everything perfectly, but they're doing something that grabs viewers and encourages them to spread the word.

It would be a nice thing to happen to your book, right?

So I've done a little of the work for you. Here are links to posts where others have analyzed what works for particular movies and TV shows. If you want more, just do a search for "storytelling tips from _____", and you'll find lots more. 

one of their own examines what makes them successful.
find out what a 'mcguffin' is, and how it can transform your plot.
This one is a book. The writers of the show carried on an email correspondence, and compiled their conversations in a book called The Writer's Tale. Fascinating.
And may the odds of a bestseller be ever in your favor.

Which movies or shows do you cull writing tips from?

Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

Free Online Storage

The always-encouraging Jim Maxwell.
My dad is amazing. He's always passing on great ideas that help in my writing endeavors. Having been a journalism major, he loves the idea that several of his children and grandchildren write. So he definitely wants us to save our words in a safe place.

As writers, one of our biggest tasks is getting the words onto the page. But the next job is to make sure they stay there. Back in January I wrote a post about backing up writing, which listed several ways to get the job done.

Dad first encouraged me to sign up for Dropbox. It's an easy way to make sure my novel is saved automatically every few minutes, and it's free. Click here if you want to give it a try.

Just the other day, Dad sent me another great link. SkyDrive offers free online storage with greater amounts of cloud storage that's easy to access from anywhere. Users get up to 7GBs to ensure documents (and your amazing manuscripts) are safe and easy to access from any computer (and devices, too).

Quite a few companies have joined the online storage market. Many offer a certain amount of space for free, with paid options for more space. Check out this comparison chart to see how SkyDrive stacks up against Google Drive, Apple iCloud, and Dropbox. The nice thing is that you can take advantage of the free space from all these vendors--just be sure you know what you've stored where. Oh, and make sure that's not the only place you've saved your documents.

And after you've written the words, and saved the words, it's time to share those words. Whether in a critique group, with your family, with an agent or editor, or online to the world. Don't just keep them holed up in the cloud.

Do you spend more time writing, saving, or sharing your words?

Allergy update: So many of you have been so kind (and patient with my sporadic blogging!) during this transition into feeding my son with multiple allergies (if you missed the story, you can read it here). Things are getting better, but I'm sure getting a workout in the kitchen. This morning I've got three crockpots of different soups going, and I pulled three veggies from the dehydrator. On tap today is making 'gummies' and snack bars, and perhaps some cookies. Maybe I'll get to write in between!

Coming Out of Hibernation

I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last post. My son's diagnosis with over 50 food allergies gave me a choice: feed him or blog. Thankfully, after a month of research, analysis, and experimentation, I'm beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

And I'm writing again.

What a relief! It feels good to have at least a few moments to put words on a page. To dive back into my storyworld. To reconnect with characters I love.

I've also joined a new critique group. There are five of us, and only two have been writing fiction for long. At first, I was kind of skittish about it. But having non-fiction writers critique fiction is actually a good thing! These amazing ladies are helping me tighten my prose and banish the fluff that inflated my word count.

My critique groups in the past met monthly. That was hard because so much time passed in between meetings that readers lost the thread of the story, and only twelve chapters a year were critiqued. My new group meets weekly, which keeps me polishing my chapters, plus writing new material because they'll need it sooner than I think.

I've missed you all. My plan is to post at least twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. See you next week!
Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

Make yourself write with Jeff Goins

You might remember the post where I mentioned several free books from writer Jeff Goins. He started like most of us, wishing he could write and get published. And then he did it.

Why not you?

A writer's determination, drive, and will to see a project to its end is one of the biggest hurdles we face. Time management, insecurity, and fear (even of success) can be major roadblocks in the pursuit of our dreams. It's easy to let the big and small emergencies that pop up every day keep writing at the bottom of the list of things that must be done.

I know. I'm there right now.

So here are a couple of posts that helped.

Study the habits of great writers. Even the great ones must have had sick kids, and financial reversals. Days of no energy or stretches of time when ideas seemed scarce. What did they do when writing seemed like the very last productive thing they could do with their day?  In 15 Habits of Great Writers, Goins posts a free mini-course that goes along with his book You Are a Writer (so start acting like one). Read through one each day, and two weeks from now you might enjoy a different mindset.

Focus on the basics. Writing a book can be hard, but the individual components are pretty basic. Why do some people finish, and others live knowing their work languishes on a thumb drive? Goins breaks down the essentials into three groups: getting started, staying accountable, and staying motivated. Check out his 10 Ridiculously Simple Tips for Writing a Book. Sometimes simple is exactly what I need. 

How about you? Are you inspired by the lives of other writers, or do you forge your own path?
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When Writing Gets Difficult: 5 Things I Learned from Sue Grafton

This post is especially true for me today. For the last two weeks my head has been immersed in researching and making food safe for my son, who has been diagnosed with over 50 food allergies. For the moment, it's really hard for me to relax my brain enough to write, but hopefully I'll see the light at the end of the tunnel soon!

If you love mysteries, you already know about Sue Grafton. A prolific writer, she is currently on book twenty-one of a twenty-six book series, each titled with a letter of the alphabet. Her first novel was A is for Alibi in 1982. With a career that spans almost three decades, an author is bound to develop some sound advice. I ran across a Writer's Digest interview with Grafton, and made a list of what I learned.

Writing is hard work.

Aspiring authors often think that if you're a "true writer", the words just pour onto the page. That happens sometimes, but the fact is, writing is hard work. Like any other job, there are days when you can't wait to get to work, and at other times you have to force yourself into it. Combined with the fact that new writers must have a finished product before they have even a shred of hope of getting paid, it can be difficult to spend time and energy on a dream.

Even successful writers fear they've lost their edge.

Novice writers wonder all the time if they're any good. They crave feedback. Positive comments keep them writing, while negative ones often shut them down--somtimes for good. We imagine that if we can just get an agent, or get published, or sell so many copies, that we'd have all the assurance we need. Not so. Even bestselling authors, with piles of awards and accolades, wonder if this next book will prove they've come to the end of their talent.

Don't let your ego get in the way.

Sue Grafton believes that while her ego thinks it has the ability to write, it's actually the still, small voice inside her that really has the skill. So even if you have received some great feedback--a contest win, an article published in a magazine--don't let the heady scent of success derail you from the work of writing. 

Be ready to learn new things.

Your characters will need skills that you don't presently have. Take lessons, ask experts, and keep your eyes open. Whether it's self-defense, spinning wool, or bussing tables, your readers will be able to tell if you're making it up or you've really tried it.

Give yourself time to get better.

I was thrilled beyond belief to finish my first novel. Though it might never see the light of day, it proved to me that I was capable of completing something that made sense and was 100,000 words long. Now, several projects later, I am only beginning to see how much I need to learn. Being a writer means being in it for the long haul. There is no instant success.

If you'd like to read the entire interview with Sue Grafton, go here. We've all got a lot to learn.

What are the biggest things that keep you from writing?

How to Describe Your Characters Well

After talking about dialogue last week, here's a reminder about character's looks.

Writing a novel is hard enough without having to invent your character's features. Some things are hard to make up. Take the guy to your left. His name is Torbar. He's a Croatian peddler in the middle ages ('Torbar' is the Croatian word for peddler, by the way--creative naming on my part, right?).

I found this guy on a photo-sharing site, doing a search for 'Croatia' and 'old man'. I love how one of his eyebrows curves normally, while the other is shaped like the letter 's'. If you cover one side of his face, he looks sleepy, but if you cover the other side, he appears stern. These are details I would never have come up with on my own.

Of course, I had to describe the rest of him, too. The wonderful internet came into play again when I spent a relaxing hour perusing the image files at the New York Public Library. I was thrilled to discover a series of drawings detailing the costumes of fifteenth century Croatians, from peasants to soldiers. And in the middle of it all was a Croatian merchant.

The internet is a fantastic place to inspire character descriptions. Some writers peruse the head shots of modeling agencies. I might do that if I was writing a romance, but I don't want my characters to look perfect. I want my characters to have some character.

So here are a few resources to help you get inspired. You may want to bookmark the page, since I'll be adding resources as I find them.

There's a huge amount of stock photography sites out there. While it's not the biggest, I'm partial to Stock.xchng, because the photos are free. I usually find just what I need.

Photo-sharing sites are another place to check. Websites like Flikr and Photobucket are just two spots to start with. And don't forget about Google Images. Do a Google search like usual, and then click the 'images' button on the side. You'll be amazed at what you come up with.

I've done searches for 'eyes' and 'hairstyles'. There's even a blog by a guy who is growing (and documenting) every conceivable beard type! If you need it, it's probably out there.

How do you come up with character descriptions? Any resources we should know about?

3 ways to improve your dialogue

Characters say stuff. Writers have to make what they say interesting, or readers will put down their books. Each writer has strengths and weaknesses, and I know dialogue is not one of my strong suits.

What to do?

Like everything else in writing, it's time to learn. Yes, some other writers will always write more stunning dialogue than I do, but mine can be improved. Here are a couple of posts that have helped me recently.

Learn Organic Dialogue. Rob D. Young lists nine ways to make dialogue more organic. He's got things I 'knew', but seldom insert into my writing, like mishearing people, and self-interruption. I'm making note of his tips so I can watch for places to use these in my manuscript.

Know Good Dialogue. Nathan Bransford came up with the seven keys to writing good dialogue. He points out the specifics of what good dialogue should do, like build towards something (he calls this escalation).

Edit Dialogue. Stephanie Morill has come up with a great checklist for editing dialogue. She poses thirteen questions to ask when going over a manuscript. Several are aspect I wouldn't have thought about other wise, like: Do your characters use different words for the same thing, or are their phrasings too similar? I'm planning to print out the list and adding it to my editing notebook.

Which authors are gifted at dialogue in your opinion? How do you edit the dialogue you write?

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How to make your contest entry the best it can be

Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng
With the new year still shiny, one of your goals might be entering a writing contest. Why, you say, would you subject yourself to all that potential rejection?

Yes, you get feedback from your critique group. And your relatives stand in awe of your prose. But it's time to develop your rhino skin and hear from someone to whom you're not near and dear. Someone who will point out what could be wrong, but also what's working. What better way to re-energize yourself on a project that might make you feel weary.

A contest entry forces you to analyze your manuscript in new ways. I once wrote about five ways a contest entry can hone your novel. And if you're having trouble with motivation, there's nothing like a deadline to get things moving. I'm planning to enter a February contest just to get myself in gear.

 If you make it to the final rounds, many contests use agents and editors as judges. It's not uncommon for entrants to field requests for their manuscripts from contest judges. And it's a lot quicker than the query process!

If you've decided to enter a contest, the first order of business is finding the right one for you and your genre. I've got you covered there, with six ways to find writing contests.

Then, it's time to work on your entry. I've lined up a few posts to help you make it as good as it can get.
Staging your manuscript. This post give tips on contest entries, depending on what the rules ask for.
Pimp your prose. Understand why adjusting your sample pages can lead to a contest win--and sometimes a contract.
Pimp your contest entry. A fantastic post with specific advice on how to tweak the formatting of your sample pages, while still keeping within the rules.
Six ways to win with writing contests. Advice from setting your goal, to debriefing after the contest is over.

What has your contest experience been like? Even if you didn't place, was it worth it? If you've never entered, would you consider it?


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