Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Probing For Answers In 2009

I have no idea how to sum up 2008, except to label it an eye-opener. It was the year our son Cory was deployed to Afghanistan (he's currently serving the last half of a 7-month tour). It was the year I published Dead Witness, my second manuscript that I began in 1991 and finished in the mid-nineties. It was also the year I started this blog and collaborated in the creation of EveryDayBloggers.

My husband and I honour our son's commitment in Afghanistan, but as a mother, I am sometimes immobilized by fear. What keeps me going is knowing that so many mothers before me have gone through this and survived. And I am a survivor.

As a published author, holding my book in my hands for the first time was definitely surreal. Yet despite being an experienced writer, I was not prepared for what being published entailed, nor was it what I expected. The marketing required was frightening. The knowledge needed was endless. The stone walls I hit were frustrating. As for how I feel now, I'm still in the middle of marketing and promoting Dead Witness, so it's too soon to tell.

Yet, as I look back on the last eight years, I'm amazed at how far we've come. And, like everyone else, I'm curious as to where technology will take us next. Will I keep up? How many times have I taken great pains in learning a new program only to discover soon afterward that it was now obsolete? Can an internet of endless information change not how I search for answers but how I discern the distinction between information and knowledge? Is the axiom that if it's on the internet it must be true more questionable than ever? Am I correct in feeling slightly paranoid?

I'm no psychic. I can't even imagine what's coming next. What I do have is faith in human beings. Every week I'm invited to partake in a new discussion on writing. Every other week, my presence is requested at yet another online workshop on learning more about my craft. I'm surrounded by writers who want to learn.

There is a distinction between knowledge, information and education. And while I'm bombarded with an endless connection to information, I still need to decipher how to use it. For instance, it's not enough to do a google search on Grammar. There are 2000+ websites. I can't read every one of them. So, how do I apply what I read to the creation of concise and structurally correct sentences? If I simply copy the information, am I still learning? Will I be able to narrow my search in such a way that I accumulate enough knowledge to adequately build a credible story? And can I accomplish all this without getting lost on the information highway?

I don't know. All I do know if I'm going to keep probing. Because it's not enough to thank my lucky stars for the Internet; I need to learn how to best use it.
I'm taking my friend Marta's lead and summarizing what 2008 meant to me:

January - 2007 is spent grieving the loss of a loved one. Early January, we pay off our mortgage. Our achievement is overshadowed by the conditions in Afghanistan. Our son hints that he'll be deployed to Kandahar in late summer. By mid-January, fighting has escalated. 2,500 Canadian soldiers are serving in Afghanistan. To date 77 have died. I teach Tai chi and continue marketing Dead Witness.

February - Visit for two weeks with my best friend in Kelowna. Catch a nasty flu and spend week two sic in bed. Flying home in a blur. Late February, a friend from college succumbs to cancer. Life seems very fragile.

March - World Changing paperback edition published. Novel is a best-seller. The 600-page how-to-book offers solutions to a sustainable future. North American is beginning to take our environment seriously. Green is the word of the day. Fighting is fierce in Afghanistan; casualties continue to mount.

April - A friend publishes one copy of his novel. I'm so impressed with how professional it looks that I follow suit. I work on the cover for Dead Witness. No thought goes into what will happen next. I'm still marketing. I've stopped hunting for an agent though; they all seem a bit squirrelly. Our son, Cory suggests I buy a ticket in August to visit him. He's 99% sure he's being deployed to Kandahar in September. Casualties in Afghanistan mount. My mother-in-law celebrates her 92nd birthday. She still lives on her own, but she admits that being old isn't fun.

May - My copy of Dead Witness arrives. My husband is thrilled. I'm so pleased I order two more copies, one for my best friend's birthday, another for my critiquing buddy in New Mexico.




Saturday, December 27, 2008

Neil Young's Childhood Home

John Kiernan owns Neil Young's childhood home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The excerpt below is from CBC News.


From CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/story/2008/11/10/dylan-young.html

When you live in the house where a world-famous musician grew up, it's expected to be a bit of a draw.

But John Kiernan, who occupies Neil Young’s former Winnipeg home on Grosvenor Avenue, never imagined another famous musician would show up at his door.

Kiernan told CBC News on Monday that he was looking out the window a week ago Sunday and saw his wife talking with two strangers on the front lawn.

“And I'm looking around, and I realize, this guy having a tuque on has really great boots on, these sort of cowboy, motorcycle boots. And he was wearing really nice leather pants. And I realize I'm staring face-to-face with Bob Dylan.”

After the music legend and his manager were invited into the house, Dylan asked a lot of thoughtful questions, including about Neil Young's old bedroom.

“OK, so this was his view, and this was where he listened to his music. It suddenly dawned on me, when you're looking at Bob Dylan standing in a hallway, that he had a very parallel experience 200 miles to the south, sitting in his room, listening to his music, looking out his window.”

Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minn., about 500 km southeast of Winnipeg, while Neil Young spent his formative high school years playing in Winnipeg rock band The Squires.

Kiernan said Dylan and his manager visited for a while before heading off to tour other areas of the city.

Dylan then played a concert at Winnipeg's MTS Centre later that night, Nov. 2.


John Kierman was embarrassed because there was dirty laundry next to the washing machine and the house was messy. After Mr. Dylan left, John asked his wife how she could be so calm. She gave him the deer-in-the-headlights look. "That was Bob Dylan," he told her; whereupon she ran outside, screaming, "Bob Dylan in cab! Bob Dylan in cab!" to her neighbours.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Time Traveling

Last night I dreamed I was transported back to the farm I grew up on. I sat at the kitchen table talking to my dad, who's been gone since 1983. I explained to him that I'd returned from the future. He gave me 100% of his attention, then asked some questions. When I told him I was married and lived on a lovely lake in central B.C., his beautiful blue eyes glazed over; I think he was picturing himself sitting on our deck or fishing in our lake. He looked sad when I told him his grandson was also a soldier, and he was fighting a war in the Middle East in a place called Afghanistan. In my dad's day, it was part of the Soviet Union. He was shocked when I told him how much gas was, what we paid for a bottle of Crown Royal, and how much a new 4x4 went for. He laughed when I said I was twelve years older than he was at that moment. I guess no matter how old I get, I'm never going to stop missing him.


If you have nothing but time on your hands, here's a delicious eggnog recipe I found online:

While whisking eggnog by hand is fine, a hand mixer is best. It not only speeds things along, it also creates an eggnog with a creamier texture and body.

While the yolk and dairy parts of the recipe can be assembled the day before, wait to beat and add the egg whites until just before serving. This prevents the frothy bubbles formed by the whites from deflating.


The world's best eggnog

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 10

6 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 ounces good quality bourbon (such as Maker's Mark)
3 ounces sherry
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus a pinch to garnish

Place a large bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill.

Meanwhile, separate the egg yolks and whites. Refrigerate the whites.

Once the bowl has chilled, add the egg yolks and use an electric hand mixer to beat for several seconds. Add the sugar and continue mixing until the sugar is dissolved and the yolks have turned light yellow, about 1-2 minutes.

Add the bourbon and sherry, then beat until well mixed. Add the milk, heavy cream and nutmeg, then beat until well mixed. Place the bowl in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Just before serving, place the egg whites in a second large bowl and use an electric mixer to beat until they form stiff peaks.

Use a silicone spatula to gently fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture. Finish by gently whisking the eggnog to smooth the texture. Serve immediately.

--Merry Christmas

joylene

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Better New Year.

I'm guest blogging over at EverydayBloggers until next Thursday. Please stop by. If anything, I've got one yummy turkey recipe. Don't you find every few years it's nice to try a new recipe? Yes, me too.

On a personal note, I was discussing the internet with my friend Pat Bertram. I happened to mention that I'm grateful for the Wide World Web because it's made me a better person. I'm taking liberties and repeating what Pat said because it's very poignant.

"I too am a better person because of it. On the internet, you can create yourself as the person you want to be, and in that creating, you can become that person."

That's a good thing to ponder as we race toward Christmas and the New Year. Let's all become naive this coming year and turn into wonderful, creative and loving human beings. I'm definitely going to try. Meanwhile, here's a yummy Brownies recipe:

Quick-Fix Cheesecake Brownies


Ingredients (Makes 32 brownies)
1 900-g package brownie mix
1 250-g package cream cheese, room temperature
1 tspvanilla extract
1 egg yolk

Instructions

  1. Prepare brownie batter as directed on package. With an electric mixer, beat remaining ingredients in a small bowl until smooth and spreadable.
  2. In a greased 9" x 12" ovenproof dish, pour in half the brownie batter. Drop half the cream-cheese mixture by spoonfulls over the brownie batter and spread. Pour in remaining batter and dot top with remaining cream-cheese mixture.
  3. With a knife, gently stir batter and cream-cheese mixture together to create a marbled effect. Bake as directed on package.

Nutritional information

Nutrients per brownie: 148 calories, 4 g fat, 25 g carbohydrates

Friday, December 19, 2008

Constructing Memorial ...




I found two sites, thanks to help from Careann with the list of Canadian casualties in Afghanistan. I'll be spending however long it takes constructing a memorial page at The Ghan Memorial. Please stop by when you can. It's vital that we show the families of our fallen soldiers that they're in our thoughts and prayers.
"Lest We Forget"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A War Memorial Under Construction

What started off as simply a sign of respect has turned into an obsession. As a mother of a Canadian soldier serving in Afghanistan, I searched yesterday for a site that showed all of the 103 soldiers who have died in and around Kandahar since the war began. I was preparing to leave for town and had a few moments to spare. What I thought would be a fast retrieval of information hit a dead-end fast. And after a few more dead-ends I was shocked to realize there was no one site that I could go to for a list of names or photographs. A War Memorial.

I'm hoping the problem is me. And so I'm going to continue my search today because I can't let go of this. It's the least I can do. The family and friends of these brave Canadian soldiers need to know their sacrifice has not gone unnoticed.

If you happen upon any sites that have this list or might redirect me to where it is, please email me privately at cluculzwriter@yahoo.ca. How I'm going to construct this memorial, I'm sure yet. Please feel free to contribute any ideas you might have. Meanwhile, God Bless our Troops.


Best Regards,
--
joylene






Sunday, December 14, 2008

WRITING INSIDE THE BOX


Hello, my name is Marty, I am a writer of both screenplays and novels and the blog author of Dark Star Discovery. Our friend, Joylene Nowell Butler, has graciously invited me to guest blog here today.

Writing a screenplay differs from writing a novel in that (for a screenplay) everything that happens must take place inside the box. That is to say, the screenplay writer does not have the luxury of internal thought to provide reason for actions taken. Even the most astonishing turn of events must fit inside the flow of the story without reference to personal human perception.

To do otherwise, would make the screenplay too "talky" or the action too unrealistic. Motions and motives can later been explained but that explanation must also fit within the framework of the film. The following scene is from the first act of my screenplay "The Book of Tobit" a story based on one of the deuterocanonical books found in the Catholic Bible.

EXT. THE WATERS EDGE -- NIGHT
A boat is silently moving in the night haze. We see GABAEL cowering in the shadows. As the boat approaches the shore he cautiously creeps out to the light. Gabael notices a figure running near the waters edge and falls back into the shadows. To his surprise and relief, it is TOBIAS. The two men meet and embrace briefly as the boat makes a landing.

The landing party consists of three men. TWO GOONS hang back while the third person approaches Tobias and Gabael. This is the CAPTAIN of the boat. He is bearded and beady-eyed; gruff in the manner of a smuggler and extortionist.

CAPTAIN:
Have you got the rest of the money?

GABAEL:
Yes, it is all here...five thousand dollars!

CAPTAIN:
It is not enough for the two of you.

GABAEL:
But is the sum we agreed to... it is all we have... it is everything we have.

CAPTAIN:
Things have changed; five thousand dollars only buys you ONE passage. I picked up a man earlier and I could not get him to leave his children behind. There is little room left in the boat.

A view of the boat shows a father huddling two children close in his arms. Although he looks terrified he is reassuringly running his hand through the children's hair. The captain develops a growing smirk.

CAPTAIN: (CONT'D)
But for an extra two thousand I am sure I can persuade him to leave one of the children behind. And for five thousand more we could all reach the Swedish Coast in comfort.

The Captain and his men stand with Tobias and Gabael near the water.

GABAEL:
We have no more money, our family's whole fortune has been taken from us, confiscated, stolen by the Nazi's and other men like you. Our contract was...

Gabael steps forward - but the goons now come menacingly into the scene irritated by his last statement. Suddenly, Tobias steps to the center.

TOBIAS:
Captain, please give us a moment to confer.
(addressing Gabael)
Come with me, there is no use in arguing here - come.

The captain waves off the goons and speaks with irritation as Tobias pulls Gabael out of the scene.

CAPTAIN:
Decide quickly how you will pay or we leave without you. We must keep to our schedule if we hope to make it through.

Tobias pulls Gabael far away from the Captain and his men and turns to face him. The boat is bobbing in the background between Tobias and Gabael. As they face each other their exhale in the chill night air inter-mingles and obscures the shadow-draped boat.

GABAEL:
(angrily)
We have no more money to spare for this man. The price of passage to America still must be purchased.
(in resignation)
Maybe we could earn another two thousand while in Sweden, but that may take us years.

Tobias looks out toward the children in the boat. A small boy is sleepily looking back at him.

TOBIAS:
(comforting)
Gabael, listen to what you are saying.
Are not the lives of these children as sacred as our own?
We are no better than the Nazi's if we can bargain away their existence.
You go; the price for one to travel is five thousand dollars... take all the money and go. Others may later demand double price for the trip to America. Take MY money... it will assure you of survival. Accept this gift and GO!


Tobias (unseen by the others) holds out his PURSE to Gabael. Gabael is in shock by Tobias' offer; he is shamed by his own selfish concerns; and he is humble in the discourse that follows.

GABAEL:
Tobias, I am sorry for my words and my weakness. I pledge to you that I will never again, think to harm another. I promise you, that half of all I ever own is yours. In America, I will labor with your gift always on my mind. May God preserve you until the day when we can meet again. Then you shall have all that I promise you. I make this promise perpetually, to you and, if God wills, your children. Only remember my name; Gabael Ben-Gabri and I will remember yours; Tobias Nahum. When these two names are spoken in turn, I will honor my pledge.

Gabael takes the money from Tobias' hand and they embrace. Suddenly something is happening over by the waters edge. The captain and his men are running to the boat. The sound of a truck is heard in the distance and the sweep of headlights is seen approaching. Tobias and Gabael race to the boat.

The Captain and his men are grabbing oars, and tossing them into the boat. There is great anxiety and expedience in their action. Tobias and Gabael rush to the side of the Captain.

CAPTAIN:
(quickly)
The night patrol is early. We must leave now. What have you decided to pay?

TOBIAS:
Five thousand dollars will buy us one passage, we will take one.

CAPTAIN:
Uh!?!

The captain is startled by this unexpected answer and chagrined at the loss of extra money. But with the night patrol closing in he has no more time to bargain. He motions for the passenger to get into the boat. Gabael quickly steps forward and climbs aboard.

CAPTAIN: (CONT'D)
Come on get in, get in.


Gabael standing in the boat turns and strikes his fist over his chest and again pledges his promise to Tobias.

GABAEL:
I promise you, that half of all I ever own is yours. To you and to your children. REMEMBER our names are TOGETHER!

The goons push the boat out into the water and then climb aboard and row into the night and out of the scene. Tobias is alone, the sound of the truck is now very near. Tobias turns to run from the scene. A series of AUTOMATIC GUNFIRE rings out and bullets erupt in the sand at his feet. A chorus of SOLDIER'S VOICES beginning to rise ahead of him.

SOLDIER'S VOICES:
Halt! Halt! Halt!

Are Thoughts Sent Out and Received?

I love the story about the chimpanzee first observed picking up something by grasping her index finger and thumb together. Within weeks, chimpanzees all over the world were recorded doing the same thing. Scientists speculated that this phnomenon happened because the thought went out into the world and the rest of her kind received it. Her decision to pick something up using this new technique was thus shared throughout the world by thought alone.

Seems remarkable, doesn't it? We have a thought and it is sent out and received. Otherwise, where do our thoughts go?

I think: call me. And suddenly the phone rings and its you. I'm running late for my next appointment, but I need to make one stop. As I pull into the parking lot, my thought is: make a space available out front. I pull in and there it is.

Like so many unanswered premises, I choose to believe that thoughts do enter the world and are received. Like microwaves, they ignite inside my head, are processed and released. The universe (God) in His infinite wisdom brings electromagnetic waves and wavelengths or frequencies in line to accept my thought and to rearrange the universe to fit with its conception. Human and fallible as I am, I'm not always able to witness the consequences of my thought, yet I trust that something will happen regardless. I call it: praying.

Yesterday, three Canadian soldiers, from my son's homebase in Gagetown, New Brunswick, were killed in a roadside bomb outside the base in Kandahar. The same base where our son Cory is stationed. Several hours passed before the tragedy was broadcast on the news. My daughter-in-law works on the base in Gagetown, and aware of the incident, called me to say that Cory was okay. Having not heard, I was shocked, devastated and yet grateful.

As a writer, I should be capable of expressing my thoughts on paper. At a time like this, I'm not. 103 Canadian soldiers have died since the war began. Each time I learn of another death, I'm speechless. Yet, my thoughts immediately go to the families of those fallen soldiers. Sadly, we've lost loved ones and understand what these families are feeling. With each death, we in turn experience our tragedy all over again. The closest I can come to describing the feeling is it's as if somebody took a ladle and scooped out my insides.

Words fail me. All I can do is send out a thought and hope the families receive it and find a measure of comfort. If scientists are correct and thoughts are received, then my hope is that the mother and father, husband or wife, brother or sister, grandmother, grandfather, daughter or son know that in a very real way, the world is grieving with them.


Even if you don't have any connection to the war in Afghanistan or Irag, please take a moment to send a thought to these families. Let them know that they are surrounded by sympathy, compassion and sorrow. And then put out another thought: only peace (God) will save us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

If You're A Writer...

One thing last weekend's book signings taught me is I can spot a writer within the first few moments of speaking with them. Even though they say, "No, I'm not a writer" I can still see the yearning in their eyes. Because writing is a yearning. It's the desire to express ourselves even if we don't understand why.

My mother gave me a diary for my eighth Christmas. It had a little clasp and lock. It was supposed to give me a sense of privacy so I'd be able to write without fear. Yet, I remember censoring myself. At eight, I understood that some things aren't meant to be put to paper, lock or no lock.

Today when I write in my journal, I feel the same way. Only now I'm thinking about the generation that will come after me. Do I want them to see my self-deprivation? Or hear my venting? Or witness my distaste?

Novel writing is an out. While a writer does have to answer for the beliefs, attitudes and prejudices of his characters, he can hide behind the fiction. If he's a good writer, he's not his characters and they aren't him. To master his craft, it's essential that he be honest.

Some of the writers I met last weekend are still at the stage where they worry they have nothing to say or no time to say it. What will their family think? How will friends deal with this new side to their personality? Truth is: they may not get it, but every other writer they meet will.

That's what separates writers from everyone else. Succumbing to the yearning. What separates good writer from bad writers is the need to be honest. They must reach down to the bottom of their gut and write the truth. Yes, it's a scary process. But that's where the source and desire to write comes from. All a new writer has to do is recognize the fear of discovery, ignore it and learn to write what's in his heart instead of what he thinks others want to read.

When I hear wannabee writers say they don't have time, my first response is, "Make time." When they look at me with skepticism, I know the yearning isn't strong enough. If instead, they nod and commit to even 100 words a day, I see success in its earliest form.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Facing My Fear Turned Out To Be A Good Thing.


I faced my fears and survived my back-to-back book signings this weekend. Both days turned out to be good learning experiences. Though they were quite different, there was a common denominator: the staff at both locations were outstanding. And because I booked signings so close together, I was able to analyze both to see how future signings could be improved.

Did I have reasons to fear either signing? No, apparently not, but hindsight is generally 20-20. Apprehension is never a bad thing, if held in prospective. I could not foresee that I would sell any books, no matter how much I believe in my product. And judging by some of the horror stories I've heard, I was luckier than most. I sold 6 books at the first signing and 9 at the second. While the patrons at the first signing found my presence easy to ignore, the shoppers at the second were genuinely curious and had no problem stopping to take a closer look at my book.

Because the first signing was in a bookstore, I took it for granted that sales would be high. Not the case. The shoppers at the groceries were much friendlier. Except for one Fundamentalist Christian who, in so many words, told me I was doing the work of the devil. My mother would have been proud though; I kept my other-wise big mouth close and instead, smiled sweetly.

Strangely, I saw very few people I know. Again, that may be a good thing. I was forced to be resourceful and present a confident front.

What would I do differently next time? Wrapped candies aren't as appealing as suspected. I think I'd switched to postcards or coloured pencils or even free Christmas cards, depending on the season. I'd make a free copy of my book available, and I'd brandish coupons for the particular store. In other words, I'd appeal to the customers by giving away something useful.

But a total of 15 book sales for a 6 hour work-weekend is nothing to sneeze at. In the end I remembered that my product is a good addition to anyone's reading entertainment. Did I mention I received an email from a reader 6 hours after my first day. He wrote to say I'd done good and he was already at chapter 13.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Face the Fear.

I wish I could gather you all up and take you with me tomorrow to my book signing at Books and Company. Not that I'm scared. I'm an experienced book signer. I did one this summer at the PGX in Prince George.

Okay, I'm a little nervous. And not from past experience. Will I do okay? Yes, I'm sure I will as long as I remember Dead Witness is a good story. Valerie McCormick is an endearing, honest, and honourable protagonist. I've lived in the Prince George area for 28 years. My sons grew up here. My friends and family are here. What's the worst that can happen. Okay, I'll tell you on Monday.

Part of living means facing your fears. I'm nervous for several reasons. The road conditions at this time of year can be treacherous. Especially if freezing rains are in the forecast, as they are this weekend. Nobody could show up. Or I could make a complete fool of myself by stuttering, blubbering or worse going blank.

What i need to keep in mind is readers are people. Writers are people. We can't survive without the other. If I can keep a smile on my face, offer a good book and accept the consequences, I think I can grow as both a reader and a person.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mum Dies in Toronto Protecting Family


I am doing something a little different this morning. Please take a moment to read the story of Leslie Kelly, the mother who died in Toronto last Sunday. Leslie stepped in when a crazed lunatic stabbed her husband and then tried to kill her children. There's no doubt in anyone's mind that her actions saved their lives.

Mom died protecting husband from deranged man

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Interview with author Marta Stephens

I'm thrilled to have you here today, Marta. “Silenced Cry” was a wonderful book, and I'm really looking forward to “The Devil Can Wait.”


1. When did you know you would write a sequel to “Silenced Cry?”

“Silenced Cry” was actually written as an afterthought to the three other Harper books I wrote. The first three, “Silenced Cry,” “The Devil Can Wait,” and “Grave Witness,” (working title) were originally written as novellas. I wrote “Silenced Cry” to complete the set and give the character of Sam Harper a proper introduction to readers.


2. How long did it take to write “The Devil Can Wait?”

“The Devil Can Wait” was originally written in 2004. It was actually the first book I wrote in the Harper series. I put it aside while I worked on the other books and it wasn’t until a few months before the release of “Silenced Cry” in April 2007, that I began to expand “The Devil Can Wait” into a novel. By then, however, my writing style had changed and the characters were fully developed. I decided to toss the original 45,000 words and start over keeping only the essence of the plot. This rewrite was completed in 83 three days, but work continued throughout the year until I submitted the manuscript to my publisher, BeWrite Books (UK), in December 2007.


3. Did it require a lot of research?


I spend a huge amount of time researching the information that I use in this series. In many ways it’s a study in human nature—how the criminal mind works and what mistakes will lead to his or her capture. I’ve researched everything from police procedures, investigation practices, forensics, and autopsies to Massachusetts law and weather patterns. Every detail, large and small, is critical and worth taking the time to get it right.


4. What do you feel is the most important question present in “The Devil Can Wait?”


“The Devil Can Wait” is a story about greed, power, and the consequences of allowing those things to rule these characters’ lives. If asked to put it into a question, I’d have to say: “Who or what controls your life?”


5. What makes your story appealing to other genres besides Mystery? Why?


Suspense. Although I hadn’t intended to create a branding, I think what makes my writing stand apart from the traditional mystery is the complexity of the plot and the number of characters who bring into each book their own set of circumstances that create the subplots. Sam Harper, described by one reader as “a thinking man’s detective” is confident, knowledgeable and always follows his instincts. But just when he (and the reader) thinks he’s found a solution, a new bit of information surfaces and confronts him with another set of problems.

One reviewer described my writing as: “It is part police procedural, part noir, touched around the periphery with the realistic ugliness of crime, and the complexity of human interaction.”

Another wrote this about the second book: “‘The Devil Can Wait’ interlaces a complex plot that grabs the reader and doesn't let go. This book will appeal to readers with varied interests as it has everything: tension, conflict, murder, mystery, romance and the ability to keep the reader turning the page.”


6. We're told to write about what we know. How were you able to overcome the stymie of successfully creating a male protagonist even though you're a woman?


I used to think that “write what you know” referred to the places I’ve been to and/or things I’ve studied—what I “knew.” But in reality, it encompasses so much of who we are; our likes/dislikes, experiences, fears, grief, joys, shame, etc. Gender aside, both men and women are capable of experiencing the same full range of emotions. That’s what I “know.” However, writing in a man’s voice was something I had to learn to do. I took those emotions and slipped into my character’s head to see what triggered emotions in him and how he would act/react. In the early years, I often asked my husband to read through my work, and invariably he’d say things like: “A guy wouldn’t say that.” Or “He wouldn’t do or say it that way.” Even though there was nothing wrong with what I had written, it wasn’t in a male voice and that made me realize I needed to do a study of it. Through my job in human resources, I’ve read through the results of numerous studies conducted to help identify the differences between the communication styles of men and women. What I’ve discovered that it’s not just what and how men say things, it’s how their minds work. Most aren’t interested in details, they want the straight-forward facts, etc. Unlike women, their facial expressions don’t reveal their thoughts either and that’s what I think makes Sam Harper an interesting fellow—the fact that the reader sees his actions as well as his inner dialogue.


7. What is the hardest part of writing novels?

Although each book created a unique challenge, the focus of the first book was to make it marketable and appealing to a publisher. Now my challenge is to make sure each subsequent book out-shines the one before.


8. Which is your favorite part of writing?


I enjoy every step of the process—even the edits. I especially like to work on the plot to see how original and complex I can make it. Creating quirky characters is great fun too.


9. Was the anticipation for “The Devil Can Wait's” release different this time around?


“Silenced Cry” received an honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book festival and ranked in a few other competitions which helped to validate my writing. Still, I knew very little about the publishing world when “Silenced Cry” was released in April 2007, and in spite of my public relations background, I knew even less about how to promote it. The obvious difference between the releases of the two books is that now I have a little more experience, a readership and following of the series, I have a base of reviewers who are familiar with my work who were willing to read “The Devil Can Wait,” and I have a track record. In the 20 months since the first release, I gained a better grasp of what works and what doesn’t with respect to marketing. My network of contacts has more than doubled and this time I knew what to expect and was better able to plan for it.


10. Marta, you've been around a long time, you've written a successful mystery, you've just released your second book, and you know you can't please everyone. Are you now immune to the worries over negative reactions, poor reviews or lack of support from family and friends?


I began writing fiction in 2003 so compared to most authors I’m fairly new on the scene. Initially, I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in my work or if it was marketable. No one was more surprised than I was to see “Silenced Cry” gain the modest success is did. That put pressure on me to make the second book in the Sam Harper series, “The Devil Can Wait,” better. Negative reviews or reactions sting, but I can’t control what a reviewer will say about my books—there are just too many variables that can affect someone’s opinion. As far as family and friends, I haven’t lost their support yet, and I’m very grateful for it. The most important group of people, however, are my readers. I’ll admit I’m more confident with my style of writing now than I was in the beginning, but I don’t stop worrying until readers get my books in their hands. After all, I write for them so it’s not a matter or worrying about negative reactions; it’s all about fulfilling the promise of a good read.


11. Now that your second book is out there in the world, is there anything you plan to do differently this time around as far as promoting goes?


I don’t necessarily plan to do anything different, just more of it. I’m doing more locally to promote my books through talks and signings, but my primary focus continues to be Internet promotions. There’s a 20-month span between books. In that time, I have created a wider network of contacts and attracted a readership that has helped to spread word of mouth. Last year I conducted my own virtual book tour which gave me some great exposure to new target audiences. This year, I plan to conduct a virtual book tour in December with the help of a virtual book tour company.


12. How do you keep interest alive for your books?


My website is the hub of my marketing and promotional efforts. It is where I showcase my writing and post readers’ reactions/reviews to my books. I keep my site up-to-date and have tried to make it attractive and easy to navigate. I draw readers to it through numerous articles I’ve written relative to the process of writing. I post on a regular basis in numerous other websites and author/reader forums.


13. Do you have any advice for those experienced writers who have yet to find a publisher?


Find someone whose work you admire, listen to their advice, but always remember to be true to yourself. Don’t be swayed by advice that leads you away from your unique writing voice/style and never settle for less than you dare to dream.

Thanking you for dropping by, Marta. Best of luck with “The Devil Can Wait.”


My pleasure, Joylene. Thanks so much for the opportunity to share a bit of my writing journey with your readers and congrats to you on your release of “Dead Witness!”


You can learn more about Marta and her work at:

http://murderby4.blogspot.com/
http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com/
http://www.martastephens-author.com/

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Meatloaf: Even Writers Have To Eat.

This is one of those easy recipes that's just perfect is you're short on time, facing a deadline or simply experiencing a surge of creativity and wish not to be disturbed.

One pound of hamburger.
1/2 cup onions chopped finely
1 cup of smashed cornflakes
salt & pepper
garlic powder
a tablespoon of onion soup mix
a squirt of HP sauce
a few drops of soy sauce
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients together. Form into a loaf. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. If you double the recipe, the family can have meatloaf sandwiches for dinner tomorrow night.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Marketing a Novel Doesn't Have to Be Stressful.


Yesterday morning I read chapter one of Dead Witness at CFIS 93.1 FM in Prince George, BC.

I didn't realize just how stressed I'd been. In fact, up to that point, I was pretty impressed with my calm attitude. Ben Meisner is a popular radio personality in BC, and I conversed with him as if he were my neighbour. Then I sat down with Reg Feyer and recorded my first chapter without a hiccup. It airs Monday night at 6 pm as part of The Storytellers on 93.1 FM.

The night before I'd slept badly. I dreamed several different versions of my book signings for December 6th and 7th in Prince George. Either both bookstores were so packed that I ran out of books and everyone stormed out; or nobody showed up and there I sat surrounded by stacks of Dead Witness.

Yesterday morning, instead of breakfast, we left for town early so Ralphie could have some blood tests done at the clinic. Nothing urgent, just his annual checkup. We left the house at 8:20 and reached the clinic at 9:19. I had an appointment with the radio station after 10 am. I left one poster at Books and Company, and one at Save-On Bookstore, announcing the signings. The taping at 93.1 FM took 10 minutes. I have an okay-voice, not too deep, nor too scratchy. My mother was an entertainer during WW2, and she'd instructed us as kids on how to speak into a mike. After 40 some years, all that came back to me.

After the taping was over, I stopped in to see Teresa at the Prince George Free Press. We chatted about writing and all the marketing that entails. As I stood there, an invisible weight literally lifted off my shoulders. I became lighter, (hallelujah) and it occurred to me that the small-town girl from Maple Ridge had come a long way. It's one thing to be interviewed on television; but to sit down and read a chapter from a work that I'd sweated over for 4 years, was in deed a huge accomplishment.

Book signings are difficult. You don't know if you're going to be received well or completely ignored. I know Dead Witness is a good book, but times are tough. Our economy is suffering. Can readers afford to buy books?

That I don't know. But I do know I like people. I'm not afraid of smiling, chit-chatting or even talking about everything else but my work. I know my readers will be transported and able to escape life for a short period of time. If asked why anyone should buy my book, I'd be quick to answer, "Because Valerie McCormick is a fascinating, noble woman who reminds us how important family is."

I owe the Bulkley-Nechako District my deepest gratitude. They've been very supportive. They've gone out of their way to make me feel welcomed. Since publishing Dead Witness July 2, 2008, I've received numerous emails from readers who remarked on how much they enjoyed my book. Some have even stopped me on the street to thank me for the entertainment. One lady said, "Thank you for writing a good book and not wasting my time." That was music to my ears.

If you're near Books and Company, Saturday December 6th between 11 o'clock and 2:30, please stop by. I'll be at Save-On Bookstore at Spruceland the next day: Sunday; same hours.

I look forward to seeing you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Write What Scares You Most.

I read a riveting piece by Toni McGee Causey at Murderati. The article is called COMFORT READING and its listed under November 23, 2008. It's the kind of article that will wrench your heart and pull you in so tightly that you're breathing the same air as the character.

Few writers can truly pull that off. Toni is one of them. And what's so remarkable is she can do it in so few words.

To paraphrase, in COMFORT READING, Toni asks you to imagine the most horrendous situation a character could experience, and then to write that character's story. The purpose is to provide an antidote for writer's block. But it also asks: how would you escape such pain? Would you pick up a book? If so, which one?

Interestingly, I read the article and realized I don't read to escape. I write. I use those low, desperate moments to show a character at their most vulnerable. In Dead Witness, when Valerie decides to commit suicide to save her children, I listened to Dire Strait's Brother in Arms. The music and lyrics reduced me to the point of desperation that I believe Valerie felt at that precise moment. While, as a mother, I can imagine myself preparing to give my life for my children, Brothers in Arms transposed me into the moment instantly. All I had to do was close my eyes, listen to the music and experience life as Valerie knew it. Every time I hear that song now, I'm back there with Valerie, broken, defeated and yet prepared to die.

It sounds so noble to hear a parent say that they'd be willing to make the biggest sacrifice; and while it's easy for me to assume, until I am in that situation, who knows. Still, I can't count how many times I've seen parents outside their burning house, screaming for someone to rescue their son or daughter. Or what about the mother who races down the beach, yelling for someone to save her drowning child? Why isn't she in the water? And why did those parents escape the house without their children?

Ah, but that's a story for another time. The point is to write that nightmare, the scene that tears at your heart and renders you a blubbering idiot, you have to separate yourself from the character and yet still write it from their perspective. You have to be as deep inside that character as humanly possible without subjecting yourself to the horrors of what they're experiencing.

Not an easy task.

Case in point:

In Dead Witness, Valerie is stalked by a killer with the means to destroy everyone she cares about. The authorities can do little to stop him. When Valerie realizes this, when she accepts that her children will never be safe until she's dead and no longer a threat to the killer, she sees no alternative but to end her life. He's not going to stop hunting her. He has strong motivation: self-preservation. Either he stops her or her testimony sends him to the electric chair.

That would motivate a lot of people.

To write that scene as convincingly as I was capable of doing, I listened to Dire Straits, and jumped inside Valerie, then wrote what I experienced. It wasn't enough to simply report what I saw. I had to believe it.

Afterward, when I knew I couldn't write anymore, I put down my pen, had a good cry, then went and watched my teenage sons play touchball in the front yard.

Seems like yesterday. But it was September 1991.

Which book would you pick up?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Keep Dreaming.

There are some wonderful blogs out there. I can't keep up with all of them, but I'm trying. The information they provide is mind-boggling. I keep thinking if only I'd had the Net when I was in high school and college and university. Maybe I would have achieved more. Maybe today I'd have six books published instead of one.

It wasn't that long ago that I equated my self-worth to publishing. If you're in the profession, whether it's writing, teaching or reading, you've probably heard one or many ambition writers say "If only I was published." Or "I'm not a writer until someone pays me." Or "I dream about the day I can hold my book in my hands; everything will change. Then, people will respect what it is I do."

That's all true. Yes, publishing changes the way old friends and new friends treat you. There's exceptions, but on the whole people that generally wouldn't notice you, suddenly do. You can see the admiration in their eyes. You wrote a book and now you're one notch higher in their book.

Dreaming about getting published is like dreaming all your life about being 115 pounds instead of 215 pounds. One day, you luck out, fate intervenes, and voila your dream comes true.

Yeah, right!

It takes work, lots and lots of hard work. There is no magic pill. You work hard, you exercise and one day you look in the mirror and see the body you've always dreamed of. Or you hold the book you slaved over for ten years.

If you've ever lost fifty pounds or more, you know what I'm talking about. If you've recently published and now you're marketing, you get where I'm coming from. And you don't need me telling you that the new body or the new book won't change what's inside. That's a whole different equation.

Don't stop doing whatever it takes. If your goal is to get published, use the astronomical amount of information available to make your dream come true. Learn your craft. Revise, edit and rewrite until you're positive your manuscript is as good as it will ever be. Build a query package that is equal to none. Build your readership. Learn how to blog. Send out submissions. Start networking. Write the perfect blurb, synopsis and cover letter. Keep writing. Prepare yourself for that moment when somebody says, "Yes, we want your book."

Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking. Being published is not the be all and end all. It's just the beginning of a whole new set of job descriptions. And that probably sounds as if being published is a letdown. Something that never quite measures up to what you thought it would be. All those changes you expected are replaced with demands that you can't imagine fulfilling. You, the storyteller, the one who would rather sit at the computer hour after hour, day after day, composing what you hope is the great novel, are now required to sell yourself on a nonstop tour of duty.

They call it marketing. I'm in the middle of it right now. It is daunting. I do wonder what the heck I was thinking. But during those moments when I actually do sit down and write, I feel more alive than I have ever felt. Writing is who I am. The storyteller, the writer destined to doubt, question, worry, fret and keep writing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tums or Rolaids, Anybody?

Dead Witness has been shipped. My distributor is contacting Chapters.Indigo's head office and the Save-On stores in B.C.. I had hoped to visit Kelowna and do some book signings before Christmas. As luck has it, those personnel in charge of my signings are unavailable until the second week in December. Too late. Winter is unpredictable. The highways could be closed because of snowdrifts or slides or become too treacherous to travel on because of freezing rains on top of big snow dumps. Another reason why I'm hating winter more and more each year.

And that's a shame. There is so much to appreciate about the season. The beauty of it. You know what I'm talking about. It snows two inches and all the trees are laden with a white fluff that quickly freezes, making the landscape look like a magical wonderland.

And the silence. So quiet you can hear the whish of air when a transport truck motors down the highway a kilometre away. Or you feel a eagle gliding past without sound before you ever see him.

And then there's the steam rising from the snow melting on your deck and evaporating in the sun.

Being the optimistic person that I strive to be, (not always successfully) I think things happen for a reason. I can either wallow in self-pity or accept that a trip to Kelowna would work better in the spring. I could concentrate my efforts in the Prince George area now, giving me some public relations experience and allowing me to market my book first on friendly ground. Besides, I'm not under the gun; I don't have deadlines to meet.

We've lived in the Buckley-Nechako distinct since 1979. We raised our family here. We have lots of wonderful friends and relatives. What better way to prepare for the outside world than on home turf.

In the meantime, on my next trip to the store, I'll make certain to stock up on Tums and/or Rolaids.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lest We Forget


In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow



HISTORY OF THE POPPY

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the Canadian doctor who wrote the poem "In Flanders Field," wasn't the first soldier to make a connection between a barren battlefield in Europe that exploded in red poppies after the fighting was over. When the First World War ended the lime was absorbed and the poppy disappeared.

Although Lt.-Col McCrae had been a surgeon for many years, the horror of his time in Ypres never left him. After the battle at Ypres, he wrote:
"I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days... Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done."
It was after this relentless battle that he sat at the back of an ambulance and pour out the anguish in his heart. Believing he couldn't adequately express what it was he saw, he tossed the poem away. A fellow officer picked it up and later sent it to a publisher in England. It was rejected. Punch published it on December 8, 1915.
The first person to wear a poppy in memory of those who died was American Moina Michael. Two years later Madame Guerin, on her return to France, decided to use handmade poppies to raise money for orphaned French children. The first poppies appeared in Canada November 1921.

Canada lost 116,031 soldiers in the Great War. Every November since, we wear the poppy to remember those soldiers and the soldiers who died in Korea, World War II, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia, and the war in Afghanistan. The red scarlet poppy represents the blood of those soldiers who fought for our peace and freedom.

My family and I also wear a poppy in honour of our son, who is currently serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan.



Stay safe, Cory.





Friday, November 7, 2008

My Best Friend Doesn't Talk Much

In preparations for the second release of my suspense novel Dead Witness, I've spent a lot of time at the computer this month, and away from my friends. There's no end to the things I have to do to promote my book. My friends and I managed an impromptu tea one afternoon, but I haven't seen as much of them as I'd like. Writing is a solitary act, there's no doubt about it. Maybe that's why I've become so attached to our dog, Bandit. He's my constant companion these days.

Bandit would much rather be running through the bush and down the road, stopping long enough to sniff out friends, or leave his special "Hi. I was here." When he goes up to Tchentlo Lodge on the Nation Lakes, there are two foxes he plays with. Though they continually try to coax him into the forest. He knows.

Bandit's a dog. He enjoys living outdoors more than indoors. Generally.

All summer long, we had to bribe Bandit in at night. We can't chance a bobcat or bear going after him. That was this summer. The last few weeks, though, apart from his walk/run with his dad in the morning, he stays outside only long enough to relieve himself. Then it's back indoors.

The first few days I thought maybe he wasn't feeling well. But it's not that cold out. He's eating. Drinking normally. There's nothing that exciting on TV. Bandit has a special spot on the end of the chesterfield where he curls up and watches HGTV during the day. At night he likes football or hockey. He loves Dog Whisperer.

One day, I asked him what was wrong, why did he suddenly want to stay indoors. His reply was simple. He nudged his cold nose under my hand and looked up at me with those sad icy blue eyes. He wanted pats?

After a few rubdowns, he laid down on the floor beside me and closed his eyes. It was only when I got up to find a particular reference book that he followed me. I sat down. He laid down. A little while later, I threw a load of laundry in the dryer. I turned and almost tripped over him. Once I was back at the computer, I looked over and he was curled up on the couch. Maybe he was feeling insecure? Do dogs even feel that?

This has been going on for weeks. Bandit runs in the morning. He plays with his bone on the floor beside my desk. He lies on the couch. Or he stretches out on the throw rug in the middle of the floor. But when he goes outside, it's only to pee, do some quick sniffs, then he scratches to get back in the house. Unless I go out with him.

Gads, have I turned my pooch into an old man before his time? Maybe I should hire one of the neighbourhood kids to take Bandit for a run after school? I would except there aren't any kids big enough. Bandit doesn't walk, he pulls. Great sled dog.

As I type this he's stretched out under the dining room table a few feet away. Maybe I'll have to settle for my best friend simply wanting to spend time with me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

FISHING FOR FISH IS FINE, but...

Global BC's meteorologist, Mark Madryga warns it's going to snow this afternoon. That's a perfect time to sit back and watch the bald eagles fish -- Oops, I mean a perfect time to edit, write, or revise. An eagle just flew by my window and interrupted my thoughts. Which illustrates just how easy it is to distract me.

Cluculz Lake is approximately fourteen kilometers long and a kilometer wide. Our home is situated roughly in the middle on the north side of the lake and about fifty feet above water level. We can see approximately four to five km to the west and two to three to the east, before the lake disappears around the bend. At this time of year, there's a lot of activity with large flocks of birds preparing to migrate. The robins have long gone. Occasionally a lone swan flies past. (Did you know although they mate for life, they will "divorce" if there's a mishap building the nest?) I haven't seen a loon in weeks. There are still plenty of ducks.

Yesterday morning, I spotted two eagles fishing out front. I called to my husband so he could also appreciate them. Eagles are such majestic creatures. It wasn't until I looked closely that I realized they weren't fishing for fish. Fifteen to twenty ducks were swimming past, fighting the waves. The eagles took turns dive-bombing the ducks, then flipping over with talons extended. The ducks turned fast and swam toward the eagles, and literally "ducked" underneath those talons. They don't turn away from eagles, ever. It as if they're saying, "We're scared to death, but bring it on, buddy."

I live in the wilderness and yet it never fails to make my stomach lurch when I see nature at its most ... I want to say savage, but it's really MotherNature's way of balancing nature. I had to turn away from the window. My husband stood guard and reported that the eagles were unsuccessful and now sitting in my neighbour's trees. The fifteen or so ducks were hiding under the wharf.

I let out a deep sigh and went back to my desk overlooking the lake. Forty minutes passed before the eagles took off to the east. Seconds later, the ducks popped up from under the wharf and headed in the opposite direction.

Nature has its moments. And this article definitely encapsulates my favouritism. Fishing for fish is fine, but not for ducks.

Back to editing....

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's Your Book About?

synopsis
noun

a brief summary or general survey of something: a synopsis of the accident - an outline of the plot of a book, play, movie, or espisode of a television show.

ORIGIN early 17th century: via late Latin from Greek, from sun-'together' + opsis 'seeing.'



The hardest part of being an novelist is writing a synopsis of your book. Try to described your child in three sentences or less. It's a daunting task. Not impossible, but difficult. On the eve of Dead Witness's new release date, and in full edit mode with Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries, I'm determined to write a synopsis for Omatiwak's prequel Broken But Not Dead. I'm determined to do so because I need to understand why I wrote the book. If I can summarize the plot in its best light, maybe I'll learn something about myself.

Each time I begin a new book it's because I've changed. My ideals, dreams, fears are different. It doesn't mean I'm smarter. As each stage in my life comes and goes, I seem to evolve into something more complicated and yet perhaps a mite smoother, like a rock on the beach. Enough wind and the waves are bound to sooth away my jagged edges.

It took me fifteen years to write what I hope is an effective synopsis for Dead Witness.

Canadian wife and mother, witness to a double murder in the States, has her life torn asunder when the FBI kidnap her so that her family and the men hired to kill her, believe she’s dead.

To come up with this short, brief, but effective synopsis, I stepped outside myself and discovered why I'd written this story. It started with a 'what if' question. What if I disappeared and my brother didn't believe I was dead? Would my children survive without me? Would I survive without them? At that time in my life, early 90s, what was the worst thing that could happen to me?

My first manuscript, Always Father's Child was a bid to keep my dad alive. I understand why I wrote that book, and I understand why it will never be published. I know, never say never. What I learned was I am a storyteller. I write about characters I can relate to. The stories become their stories. Their questions.

English professor, Metis Brendell Kisêpîsim Meshango is being stalked by the two deranged sons of a powerful politician. I have nothing in common with this woman. Or do I. At fifty, I also wasn't willing to sit back and let my life continue without direction. I needed to reevaluate what I wanted out of life. Just as Brendell does in the opening of Broken But Not Dead. She goes off to her cabin out at Cluculz Lake to reassess her life and to make changes.

And so it would seem that I've answered my question. I understand why I wrote Broken But Not Dead.

Well, then why did I write Broken's sequel: Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries? How am I connected to 60 year old Sally Warner, widow, mother of two dead sons, a woman who believes she's losing her mind?

No wonder 'they' say writing is a solitary, private, personal journey. I'm not even sure I want to answer these questions.

I say this and I worry. Sally isn't Broken's Brendell Meshango or Dead Witness's Valerie McCormick, or Kiss of the Assassin's Marina Antonovna Abramova. Sally isn't attractive, sexy, exciting, or deadly. Will my readers care about Sally? The way I do? She's not young. She's not on an adventure. All she has are her wits, and they're shaky. But maybe it's no coincidence that she has RCMP Corporal Danny Killian keeping her on her toes.

Danny is more than Sally's equal. He's an intelligent seasoned investigator. He's damaged though, in a way that Sally understands. He's grieving for his murdered wife, Angie. Sally grieves for her destructive sons Declan and Bronson. As the story opens, her nasty-husband-turned-nice has just been murdered.

In the end, it seems the most important reason why a novelist needs a synopsis on each book is pretty basic. When someone asks, "What's your book about?" it's our duty to know. When somebody asks, "What's Omatiwak or Broken or Dead Witness or Kiss of the Assassin about?" I owe it to myself and my characters to say, "Omatiwak is about ...."



What's your book about?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I'm Editing!

I'm editing. I know in itself that's not very exciting news, but honestly it's big news to me. I'd gotten so accustomed to finding other writing-related jobs to do that I'd become an expert on generating diversions to stop me from writing fiction. This editing I suddenly find myself doing is the closest thing to real composing in months.

Blogging isn't the same thing. Blogging is work. I don't know too many writers who enjoy it. Blogging takes dedication because you have to pull personal data out of your brain. Storytelling requires simply writing down what your characters do. If their actions and goals are exciting, all the better. If they aren't, well, that's where editing comes in.

I'm a writer. More than that, I'm a storyteller. I've been procrastinating for so long that I'd begun to wonder if I'd ever finish the other 5 manuscripts I'm so close to finishing. Close as in: except for number six, four are probably one draft away from being marketable.

I've been busy promoting Dead Witness since its release July 2ND of this year. Then I started this blog. For me, it takes hours of revising. And just recently, last week in fact, a few friends and I started a new joint blog. Which I'm proud to say is going strong.

But all that means hours and hours of prep work. Not to mention the critiquing I do for friends and colleagues. Then there's my all time favourite pastime: reading.

You get my meaning. I'm good at procrastinating. I've made a fine art out of making excuses. And now that I'm editing again, it's amazing how invigorating I feel. I'd forgotten just how wonderful it is to see my fingers coursing across the keys. My brain's coming up with juicy new ways of energizing my scenes. It's as if my old friends, my characters were off on vacation and decided it was time to get home and back to work.

Experts call what I've encountered as writers block. I don't like using that term because it implies a deficiency. Like a clot in the brain, stopping information from traveling from the cerebral cortex down the arm, past the fingers, keyboard and onto the screen.

Besides, I needed to get caught up on a lot of other important issues. Like spending three weeks with our youngest before he was shipped overseas to Kandahar, Afghanistan to serve a seven-month tour. Some people can work under this kind of pressure. I needed to formulate a positive attitude first. It was only yesterday that I concluded it wouldn't do to fret about Cory's duty in the middle east. He's good at his job, he's well trained, and I need to trust that he'll make it home safe.

So, the question remains, what was it that set me on this fabulous creative journey? I have to think on that for a while. It may have been the recent opportunity to read a draft of an unpublished work by Martha Engber titled Winter Light. It's the haunting story of a fifteen year old burnout. Suffice to say, I think you'd be wise to put Martha Engber's name on your watch list. She's an outstanding literary writer who will eventually catch the eye of a publisher. Then you can say, "Joylene told me so."

Meanwhile, all this negative talk about blogging begs the question: if it's so hard to do, why am I doing it?

That's a question for another day.

Friday, October 31, 2008

FEELING NOT VERY GROWN UP

Last Friday, my suspense novel Dead Witness went to press for the second time. In a few weeks, it will be in the hands of my distributor Sandhill Books.

I should be thrilled. Yet, I’m scared to death.

I published one copy of Dead Witness through Lulu in April 2008 on a lark. One copy was meant to encourage me to carry on searching for a publisher. You can receive just so many rejections letters before you start doubting yourself. I wanted to hold my novel in my hands, thus making what it is I do feel real.

One thing led to another; my family all wanted one, and my husband was sure people would buy a copy; and I was printing 100 books. I’d already found several local stores that agreed to sell Dead Witness for a commission. Nobody was more surprised than me when they sold out in the first week.

Because I’m a realistic person, I assumed eventually sales would slow and I’d have enough books to last the summer, if I printed 150 more. Summer sales aren’t generally high. It’s Christmas that retailers aim for. At least that’s what I was told.

I sent a dozen books to reviewers, stocked the local bookstores, and by the end of August, was out of books. Clearly Lulu would never support me online. I’d reached my targeted audience, and the fun was over. But that was okay. I accomplished what I set out to do. Great reviews had come in; I could bow out with my head high.

And then one day my best friend’s daughter gave a book to her boss at Save-On Foods, formerly known as Overwaitea Foods. Her boss loved it, showed it to her boss, and the next thing I knew she’s calling to ask if they can stock my book on their shelves.

What could I say? I couldn’t afford to print more copies. I’d lose 70 cents on every book.

The nice lady at Save-On Foods replied, “Why haven’t you called Sandhill Books?”

Mainly because I had never heard of them.

She explained they were the distributor Save-on Foods dealt with. I’ve since learned they are a highly respected Canadian book distributor. Mention their name in any bookstore across the country and you’ve got somebody’s immediate attention.

What did I have to lose? I called Sandhill, and the owner Nancy suggested I talk to Hignell Book Printers in Winnipeg. She wouldn’t commit to distributing Dead Witness until she had a chance to read it. I understood. I called Hignell and we negotiated a very fair price. Now I needed a distributor.

I called Nancy back at Sandhill a week later and asked if she’d distribute my book. She hadn’t read Dead Witness yet. And to make matters worse, she had the flu. I agreed to call back in a week.

To make a long story short, the flu was a bad one and it took an additional two weeks before Nancy agreed to distribute Dead Witness, even though she hadn’t finished reading it. However, she did strongly advise that I change the blurb.

I called Hignell back and said, “Okay, what next?”

What next turned out to be a long exhausting process. Just before we were to go to press, Nancy asked me if I had the CIP. CIP? Something else I’d never heard of. Turns out it’s the library numbers on the backside of the title page. To which I had to apply for online, then wait sixteen working days before I’d receive them.

I contacted Hignell and we spent the next two weeks getting Dead Witness’s format-ready. The proofs arrived by mail, I approved them, and now I’m back at the beginning:

Dead Witness went to press seven days ago.

In a few weeks, a few hundred books will arrive at my door. 800 more will be sent to Sandhill. I’m scared to death.

Yes, I know I’m being silly. Dead Witness is a good story. I’ve received wonderful reviews. Of the 242 books sold, one person didn’t like it, and one said it was mediocre.

That’s not what’s scaring me. I have to sell myself. I have to do book readings and book tours and book signings, virtual book tours, not to mention all the stuff I’m already doing online: marketing, blogging, networking, I’m a writer. Writers are solitary people who like to sit home and write.

I’ve written 4 other stories, but what if all these accolades are in vain? What if I lucked out because I belonged to so many outstanding writers’ lists and it’s really because of my critique partners that Dead Witness is as good as it is? What if once I get out there in the public and start talking, “they” will realize I’m a fraud?

I know, I know, I’ve got to suck it up and be grown up about all this. And I probably will once the time comes. But for now, I’m sic to my stomach with fear. Tums anybody?

A day in the life of a writer. Humph.

Friday, October 24, 2008

New Blog site

Starting today, we have a new blog site at EverydayBloggers.blogspot.com

This new blog will showcase writings from Ernie Johnson, Judy Avila, Helen Kitson, Merilyn Liddell, Christopher Hoare, Bliss Addison, Kathryn Neff Perry, Darlene Oakley, and Joylene Nowell Butler

See you there.

http://everydaybloggers.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another day closer to our new blog

It's all about being part of something bigger. A village, a community, a network, it doesn't matter. The important thing is to share your experiences with someone else. Never feel as if you have to go it alone.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Blog site in the works.

Along with a few of my closest writing buddies, we're developing a new blogsite. Not sure what's it's going to be titled, or what we'll blog about, but I'm excited. These are a bunch of terrific writers, & I'm positive you're going to enjoy what they have to say. So, tune in soon & I'll redirect you to our new page.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Interview with author Jo Linsdell

Before I began my blog, I searched for a logline that best described what I had to offer as a blogger. I finally chose The Day in the Life of a Writer because that's who I am and how I see my life. Part of that is being on the outlook for inspiring authors such as my guest today. Jo Linsdell has gone one step further than most bloggers and has created a site that showcases some of the finest authors around. And by addressing many of the concerns we face as writers, Jo has found answers to some difficult questions.

I'm very pleased to be interviewing Jo Linsdell from Writers and Authors best writers blog of 2006, and the author of Inside Out.


Jo Linsdell
Born in Gillingham, Kent (UK) in September 1980. Married name Joanne Denise Feliciani. She uses her maiden name, Linsdell, as her pen name. Having passed 10 GCSE’s, she went on to study Business Studies, History and Art A-Levels at Yateley 6th Form. She left England and moved to Rome, Italy in June 2001, where she now lives with her Italian husband and their baby son. She has had various jobs including working in hostels, being a tour guide and teaching English as a foreign language. She now works full-time as a freelance writer. She writes regularly for various websites, newspapers and magazines. Her books, Italian for tourists and A guide to weddings in Italy plus her ebooks; Il dolce Natale: Christmastime in Italy, Some risks are worth taking, INSIDE.OUT, La Befana and The Patron Saint of Lovers are all available to buy at www.lulu.com. Visit her at http://jolinsdell.tripod.com or http://www.lulu.com/jolinsdell or http://www.myspace.com/jolinsdel


You'd be surprised (or maybe not) on how many authors choose their own pics for their blog page, and they turn out looking less than professional. But your profile photo is adorable, not to mention clear and professionally looking. Was it taken in a studio?

Jo:
Thank you very much. I actually took this of myself using the timer on my camera. It was taken in the lounge of my appartment.


Is living in Rome as wonderful as it sounds?


Jo:
I came here originally with the intention of staying for 3 days back in 2001 and I'm still here, so yeah you could say it's pretty wonderful ;) I met my husband here at Piazza di Spagna and now we have a lovely little baby, so I don't think I'll be leaving Rome anytime soon.


How has your experience been working with Lulu?


Jo:
Lulu are a great company to use if you self publish. It costs you nothing as a writer to publish and they are very reliable with royality payments. You have complete control over every aspect of your book. The only down side is that they do nothing to promote your book. If you don't get out there and market your book, you're not likely to sell many. That being said, however you publish these days you will need to do a lot of marketing yourself.


How did you get started blogging?


Jo:
I got the idea from a member of a non-fiction writers groups that I belong to. We were discussing ways to promote our work for free and she mentioned that she wrote for several blogs and found them to be a great way to get more visability.


How do you see blogging advancing your career?


Jo:
Blogging is a great way to be seen and a useful tool for making a name for yourself. There's a lot more to being a writer than just writing and there are millions of people trying to make it. Blogging can give you a regular readership and help create a fan base and interest in your work. For example I use my blog http://astheromansdo.blogspot.com to help promote my Italy related books and I use http://writersandauthors.blogspot.com to learn more about the writing industry, network and help others promote their work.


What are some of the biggest mistakes Bloggers make?


Jo:
Not having a focus and aim to what they post. Everything that you blog about should meet the goal of the site. There are lots of people who blog about "nothing'ness". Write things that people want to read. Offer them a reason to visit your site and to keep coming back to it.


Where do you see blogging going; what's next?


Jo:
The number of blogs on the internet is constantly growing and the possibilities of what you can add to the site are too. The way technology is progressing I don't think there are any limits..


How did you get the idea for your webpage: Writers & Authors?


Jo:
I'd visited loads of sites for writers and found through my various writers groups that others were doing the same to learn more about the industry and find ways of marketing their work. It occurred to me that I could create a site that had all the information we were looking for in the one place. This would mean less time spent search the net and more time doing what we really wanted.
I'm also big on finding ways to promote myself and my books for free. You don't need to spend a fortune to spread the word about what you do. At Writers and Authors I offer interviews with other writers free of charge. They obviously want people to see their interviews and so send them to my site. This gets me publicity too. It's an all win situation.


Freelance must be a difficult field to break into. There are so many freelance writers. What do you think you offer that no one else does?


Jo:
I write mainly about Italy related topics and I'm an expert on Rome. My husband is Italian and having lived here for years I have first hand experience of the country and people. I can give the feeling of being here to what I write that someone researching on the internet or in other books can't.


Does success depend upon showcasing yourself or your writing?


Jo:
Yes. If you don't get out there and promote no one will know who you are.


Thanks so much for your time, Jo. And best of luck with all your endeavors.


Jo:
Thanks Joylene.

Jo Linsdell
Creator and Manager
Writers and Authors

http://writersandauthors.blogspot.com

Monday, September 29, 2008

No response?

We've all had this happen: you put the word out that something very exciting has taken place in your life, then sit back and wait.

Only... two hours later, there's nothing. No blinking lights on your telephone keypad. No flooding of emails in your inbox. No text messages. No call from your children, best-friend, or mother.

Nada.

So what do you make of that?

Are you unloved and unappreciated? Unimportant? Or just plain lousy at getting the word out?

It's a fast-paced world. I'm betting you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who is totally so unimportant that nobody gives a hoot. Especially mum. And really, if all that were true, why would something exciting be happening to you in the first place?

Any chance you thought you clicked SEND, but it turns out that important message is in your DRAFT folder by mistake?

You've checked your DRAFT folder and, sadly, it's not there. The chances of everyone not finding the time to respond is slim. But not completely unlikely.

First of all, it's not personal. They aren't ignoring you. They're caught up in life's dramas, just as you are. They saw your message. They had a reaction. Good, bad, indifference. They just didn't (for reasons that probably have nothing at all to do with you) find the time to respond.

People care. That's why you're on their Facebook, Twitter, Gather, etc etc. That's why you're on the wedding list, maybe even in the wedding party. It's why you're invited to parties, dinners, barn raisings, and all those many other events you sometimes wish you weren't invited to.

However, if that all-important message ended up being sent to colleagues, people who don't necessarily adore you but who respect your contributions, not to mention your God-given talent, then chalk it up to lack of time. Nobody thinks they're the only one who can't respond at that precise moment. They're hoping if you don't see a message from them, you won't notice because you'll be swamped with messages.

Okay, that may not work if you posted you message on a public bulletin board, for everyone to see. If that's the case, maybe you are the most unimportant person you know. Just kidding. There are always reasons for a lack of response. You're new. Your timing is bad. Something momentous is happening at work, or on your list. Your little message was swallowed up by the bigger picture. Or everyone who didn't answer assumed everyone else replied privately.

Again, trust me, it's never personal.

For whatever reasons your message was missed, it doesn't matter. And it shouldn't stop you from ever posting again. Simply lift yourself up, brush yourself off, and next time somebody posts an announcement about something exciting taking place in their lives, take a moment and acknowledge them. Even a simple "Bravo" goes a long way.

And besides, it'll say volumes about you.