Winning and Not Winning During NaNoWriMo

December 2, 2014

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is over. I did not “win,” because I did not write 50,000 words, but I won is so many other ways and I did write 41,314 words! In truth, I hadn’t really set out to “win,” My goal was to finish my YA novel project – but sadly, I didn’t achieve that goal either. I had 23 chapters under my belt with what I thought was only 8 more to go, but my muse had other ideas. I am currently writing Chapter 39 and while there is an end on the horizon, I’m not going to predict how many more chapters it will take to get there.

Here’s a few things I learned so much from the NaNoWriMo process:

1). It takes me about 2 hours to write about 1600 words.
2). It doesn’t work for me to focus only on word count when I am writing historical fiction. I need to spend the time on research. (Maybe next year I will choose a different sort of project).
3). My pre-made muse board was a huge help to keep me on track.
4). My story has more depth and I think is more cohesive because of the discipline of writing something on a daily basis, even if I skipped a day now and then or didn’t get a chance to write down the words that I’d conjured. I was more grounded in the world I created.
5). I love, love, love to write.


An Interview with Andrew Benzie of Andrew Benzie Books

November 28, 2014

Bloggers Note: Andrew (as well as Melanie Denman and Dina Colman – see previous posts) will be speaking on a panel on Top Ten Tips on self- and independent publishing at the December holiday banquet meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club. The meeting will be on December 13, 2014 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. Cost is $20 members and $25 for guests. Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.

1. How did you get involved in the self publishing business? Did you take classes? Was there a part of your educational background that helped you pursue this career?

My art degree from UC Santa Cruz combined with 25 years’ experience in the design/print industry has prepared me well for the self publishing revolution. I first became involved in self publishing when I designed, published and marketed my father’s first novel The Elusive Immigrant in 2008—since then I have published over 20 books for local Bay Area authors.

2. Have you written a book? If not, what would you write about if you had all the time in the world to do so?

I have written bits and pieces here and there, but haven’t managed to complete a book just yet. If I had unlimited time, I might explore creating an interactive animated children’s ebook.

3. What is the most common problem you’ve encountered with manuscripts submitted to you, i.e. formatting? What do your clients do that makes Andrew nuts?

After I enter a client’s manuscript into one of my templates, I always go through the text and check for things like the number of spaces between sentences, indents instead of tabs, make sure the use of em and en dashes is consistent, do a final spell check, etc., so I really don’t run across anything that drives me nuts formatting wise. I tell my clients not to worry about the formatting—that’s my job, just focus on the writing.

4. What is your favorite color and why? How many walls in your home are painted your favorite color? Is your car that color?

Blue, because my wife’s eyes are blue. Yes, she told me to say that. Sorry, I have no blue walls or cars.

5. Who is your favorite author?

That’s a tough one, it changes all the time I suppose . . . but I recently enjoyed plowing through Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.

6. Other than Curious George, what is your favorite book? How many times have you read it? (Not Curious George but your favorite book.)

I have probably read the Lord of the Rings trilogy more than any other book as it was the first book I really enjoyed reading as a child. And that was way before the movies came out!

7. You play the drums. Which rock star would you like to be?

There are a lot of drummers out there who I admire, but I think I’ll just stick with being me. Even if that means I still have to lug my own drums around. One of these days I’ll hire a roadie.

8. What is your favorite food?

Pizza. It’s the whole food pyramid served in the shape of a food pyramid.

9. What advice would you give someone who is considering self publishing, other than seeking the expert services of Andrew Benzie?

I would suggest anyone considering self-publishing do as much research as they can about the many options available to them, and to learn as much as they can from others who have been through the process before. And don’t forget to have fun, it can be a very rewarding process!

10. From your point of view, what is the most challenging or difficult thing about self-publishing?

Often its the marketing side that’s most challenging for my clients. To offer assistance, I offer marketing consultation services to help authors find ways to promote and market their books.

To learn more about Andrew Benzie Books, visit http://www.andrewbenziebooks.com/Home.html.


An Interview with IPPY Winner: Dina Colman

November 19, 2014

Layout 1 (Page 1)Bloggers Note:  Dina will be speaking on a panel on Top Ten Tips on launching a book based on her indie publishing experience at the December holiday banquet meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be on December 13, 2014 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $20 members and $25 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.

  1. In one paragraph, summarize your book, Four Quadrant Living: Making Healthy Living Your New Way of Life.

Many people worry about getting cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, or heart disease because it “runs in our family.” Four Quadrant Living is about nourishing the four quadrants of our lives – Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment – to create our new health destiny. Four Quadrant Living shows us how to take responsibility for our health and make healthy living a part of our daily routine. Everyday we make choices that impact our health—the foods we eat, the products we use, the exercise we do (or don’t do), the stress we allow, the people we surround ourselves with, and the environment we live in. Four Quadrant Living offers practical suggestions for nourishing the four quadrants of our lives, including ways to reduce stress, live mindfully, eat well, exercise more, sleep better, engage in healthy relationships, and detoxify our environment.

  1. What advice do you have for nonfiction writers?

Write about your passion. Bring your personality into your writing. Share your story as to why you are writing about your topic. Use examples to help illustrate your point. Believe in yourself. Don’t try to please everyone, write your truth.

  1. How important do you think social media is to a book’s success?

Social media was critical to my book’s success in several ways. First, it helped me get really powerful endorsements such as Dick Bolles, John Robbins, Ken Wilber, Sarah Susanka, Guy Kawasaki, and more. I used every way possible to contact people – LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Second, it helped me hit Amazon Top 100 at book launch. I had a 24-hour promotional campaign on the day the book was published. My book actually hit #2 in its category! You can see what readers received if they bought my book in the first 24 hours on my website at http://fourquadrantliving.com/book/book-extras. I have changed the marketing of the page to have it be an ongoing offer, but you can see what I gave away. Readers actually sent me their Amazon receipt to get their free book extras. Social media worked!

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

As a new writer, every step of the way felt like a challenge. It felt like I was constantly at the bottom of a new learning curve with each new step of the way – getting a publisher, getting endorsements, editing, designing the cover, launch, and so on. It was a hard road, but so worth it. My book has won 11 awards. The biggest reward is hearing from readers on what chapters or ideas resonate the most with them and how the book has inspired them to live a healthier life.

  1. Do you write organically or do you outline? If you outline, how close is the finished product to your outline?

I write organically. I did have a Table of Contents that was in the book proposal so I did know most of the 48 chapters ahead of time. Most of that stayed true in the final book. I didn’t have any sort of order for writing the chapters. My book is organized into four sections: Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment. I did not have a plan for how I chose which chapter to write. For example, I could have written one chapter in Mind, then Body, then Relationships and then Environment, and then repeat. Or I could have written all Mind chapters, then Body, and so on. I just looked at my table of contents and wrote what I felt inspired to write on any given day.

  1. If you were to give any one of your four quadrants more priority, what would it be?

That’s like being asked to choose your favorite child! The essence of Four Quadrant Living is that all four quadrants are integral for our health and happiness. In this country, we tend to focus on the Body quadrant when we think of health, but this only tells us one-fourth of the story. We may be eating well and exercising, but we cannot truly be healthy if at the same time our mind is stressed, our relationships are toxic, and our world is sick.

  1. What is your greatest writing weakness?

My biggest writing weakness is just to make the time for it and not let life get in the way. I love to write and I love to edit my work. I have fond memories of spending hour upon hour sitting on my couch with pen and paper editing my book. I write at the computer and edit with pen and paper. Perhaps because I wrote my book as a new writer, I didn’t have expectations or know to follow any specific way of doing it (either the process or the content). I just wrote my book as I wanted to without any preconceived notions of how it should be done.

  1. Do you think owning a dog affects your health? What about another pet (cat, bird, etc.) that doesn’t require exercise?

Yes! There is a chapter in my book entitled “Four-Legged Therapy” about the health benefits our pets give us. It’s not just about the exercise a dog can give us, it’s about the love and nourishment any pet can give us. As I write in my book, “Is there a prescription drug that can make us feel as good as a puppy licking our face or a kitten cuddling in our arms?” Spending time with our pets has physiological and psychological health benefits including lower resting heart rate, improved mood, lower anxiety, and less loneliness. The chapter goes on to explain some studies with other shown health benefits including higher survival rates after heart surgery and fewer doctor visits. I will always have a four-legged animal in my household. I can’t imagine life without my furry friends.

  1. Writing is a sedentary pursuit. How do you balance writing with a healthy lifestyle?

What a great question as I type the answers to these questions as I’m walking on a treadmill! I have a treadmill desk so I can walk and type at the same time. I found myself spending so much time at my computer that when I heard about a treadmill desk, I knew it was for me! I’ve walked over 80 miles on my treadmill desk. Some people wonder how you can type and walk at the same time, but it is pretty easy. You walk at a much slower pace than you do if you were walking for true exercise, but in an hour of work I can walk 1.5 miles. Even if you can’t have a treadmill desk, there are ways to balance writing with a healthy lifestyle. I had a timer that I would set and after an hour of writing or editing, I would be sure to get up and stretch. You can do five minutes of jumping jacks, jumping rope, lifting weights, squats. I have a very active lifestyle so I’m pretty motivated to get out and exercise. Running is my exercise of choice, especially outside on the many local trails with my pup Kora.

Dina Colman, MA, MBA is an award-winning author, healthy living coach, and founder of Four Quadrant Living. Dina has a private practice helping clients live healthier and happier lives. Her Amazon Top 100 book, Four Quadrant Living: Making Healthy Living Your New Way of Life, guides readers to make healthy living a part of their daily lives, leading to greater health, vitality, and happiness. Contact Dina at dina@fourquadrantliving.com


An Interview with Melanie Denman – 2014 IPPY Award Winner

November 15, 2014

VTS Front Cover

 Bloggers Note:  IPPY Award Winner Melanie Denman will be speaking on a panel on Top Ten Tips based on her indie publishing experience at the December holiday banquet meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be on December 13, 2014 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $20 members and $25 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations are required.  Contact Robin at ragig@aol.com or by phone 925 933-9670 by 12/10 to secure your seat.

1. In one paragraph, summarize your new book.

Set in the Bible Belt of Deep East Texas, Visiting the Sins is the story of three generations of women whose lofty social aspirations are exceeded only by their unfortunate taste in men and a seemingly boundless capacity for holding grudges. A legacy of feuding and scandal lurches from one generation to the next with tragic consequences that threaten to destroy everything these feisty but perennially dissatisfied women have sacrificed their souls to build.

2. Tell us about the signature drink that was developed for your book.

The “Pokeyteeny” is a drink named in honor of one of my main characters Pokey, the love-starved, pistol-packing matriarch of the Wheeler clan. Like its namesake character, the “Pokeyteeny” is nicely aged, a little dirty, and packing heat! It’s made with tequila and will liven up a book club discussion, for sure.

3. Who are your favorite authors? 

William Faulkner, Larry McMurtry, Leon Uris, Paul Bowles, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. I like Katherine Anne Porter’s short stories. All of Mary Karr’s memoirs. And mysteries by James Lee Burke.

4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

Learning to appreciate criticism.

5. Where did you come up with the idea about your devil painting? 

I grew up with a big painting of the devil hanging on the wall in our living room.

6. If you were to describe yourself as a type of southern food, what would you be?

My favorite southern food is Mexican food, so maybe I would be an enchilada with mole sauce.

7. What did you think the major advantages to doing a professional program like the Stanford Writing Program as compared to being involved in a critique group?

Actually the writing program and my critique group were both instrumental in the development of my book, just in different ways. In the Stanford novel program, we dissected a lot of novels and worked on improving specific aspects of our own novels, such as character development, dialogue, point of view, setting, and plot arc. It sort of forces you through a process that refines all aspects of your novel. Within a critique group, the writer chooses what to submit for critique, so you can really drill down and work on whatever aspect of your novel you think needs the most work.

8. How did growing up in east Texas influence your writing? 

It probably infused me with the joy of storytelling. Humor, suspense, cadence, irony, the element of surprise.

9. Since you are writing about an East Texas family, do you fear any repercussions? Will anyone write you out of their will? Will you ever be able to go “home” for Thanksgiving after your book is released without someone trying to poison your turkey?

No, all my characters are fictional. But I think all my female family and friends harbor a secret wish that I will write a book about them that gets turned into a movie so they can play themselves and have a kissing scene with George Clooney.

10. What have you done (will you do) to broaden the appeal of your book since it reflects a specific area in Texas? Are there common themes or threads with which people in other States can identify?

In my experience, people enjoy reading about settings and cultures different from their own. Most people can relate to personal struggles with ambition, forgiveness, and self-destruction. And some things about human nature are universal, such as the ability of mothers and daughters to make each other homicidal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Melanie Denman. Learn more about the book and purchase Visiting the Sins at http://www.melaniedenman.com.


An Interview with Alfred J. Garrotto

November 9, 2014
  1. In one paragraph, summarize your book: There’s More . . . : a Novella of Life and Afterlife

Relief pitcher Jack Thorne stares at his catcher’s target. His single focus is to get this batter out. If he does, a coveted World Series ring will be his. But, will this pitch be his last? The Universe might have a different plan for this Catholic priest-turned-ballplayer. There’s More is a creative imagining of the ultimate human mysteries—death and Afterlife. This story invites readers to expand their existing concepts and consider broader cosmic possibilities in answer to the universal question, “What’s next?”

  1. What was the inspiration behind writing this book?

There are two sources of inspiration for There’s More . . . 
First, I am a passionate baseball fan and student of the game. I’ve always wanted to write a baseball story. This particular tale was inspired by a friend I knew well, who gave up a career in baseball to become a Catholic priest. His name was John Thom. At the age of 32, he was murdered “in the line of duty.” My main character, Jack Thorne, is a lot like my priest-friend.

My second source of inspiration came from the catalyst character in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Bishop Charles Francois Myriel. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a novel based on him. Jack Thorne and Bishop Myriel first met, when I began writing There’s More. They immediately liked each other, and the story took off from there.

  1. Who are your favorite authors? 

I’ll try to keep my list as short as possible by focusing on fiction writers. Number one is Victor Hugo, primarily as author of Les Miserables, the most amazing novel I’ve ever read and the one that has had the greatest influence my life. I also admire Ann Patchett, and I’ve often said that Bel Canto is a novel I wish I had written myself. (She beat me to it.) I like Ken Follett for being able to write in epic style, which I cannot. My stories are small and tight. I greatly admired his novel, Pillars of the Earth. I have read the first two volumes of his 20th Century Trilogy and found them to be great models of telling an epic story from the point of view of an international cast of ordinary people with real lives and passions. Other favorite novelists include Jussi Adler-Olson and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication? 

Although my earlier novels were published by commercial houses, they were always off the mark from what the current market was looking for. My biggest obstacle to commercial success may have been my inability to write for the “hot market.” I’ve chosen, instead, to write the stories that were in my heart and send them out into the universe.

  1. Was this book easier to write than your previous novel, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story?

Yes, but only in the sense that I already had a lot of the material that ended up in There’s More. Let me explain. I was writing a baseball novel that just wasn’t going anywhere. At the same time, I was gathering material for a novel about Bishop Myriel of Les Miserables fame. And that wasn’t going anywhere. Reluctant to give up on these two projects, I got the idea to put the two stories together and . . . voila! It worked. The odd couple of Jack Thorne and Bishop Myriel melded quite well, and I’m very happy with the result. I think they are too.

  1. What advice would you give to new writers?

Let me speak to first-time novelists. (Nonfiction is a different animal, usually rising out of an area of the author’s unique experience and expertise.) Often, writers must make a choice—write what’s in your heart, chase what is currently hot, or try to “divine” what might be the next “hot thing,” by the time you finish writing your book. Make whatever choice you wish, then give it everything you’ve got. Set your imagination free and sit your bottom in a chair. Work as long as it takes to get the book written, edited, proofed, and published. Most of all enjoy the process of story building. Have fun watching your characters blossom and grow.

  1. If you were to describe yourself as a character in There’s More . . . , who would that be?

I’d be Bishop Myriel. In a way, I’m a lot like Victor Hugo in that respect. His personal life was far different from the lives of his two heroic figures, Jean Valjean and Bishop Myriel. I’ve always thought that Hugo saw in these two characters the best self he truly wanted to be—spiritual, compassionate, forgiving, faithful. Like me, the real Hugo could not bring himself to maintain these desired qualities in his personal life.

  1. What are your writing strengths?

The first is perseverance, the ability to see a project through, from concept to publication. As a novelist, I create characters who act and talk like real people. The best compliment I ever received was from a reader of one of my early novels. She was present at a book signing at a local Barnes & Noble store. She commented that my writing “read like poetry.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do think my writing has a comfortable flow to it.

  1. What do you see as the challenges in adapting a novel to a screenplay?

So far, I’ve adapted one of my novels, The Saint of Florenville, to a screenplay. It has garnered a lot of interest, but so far no option. I will soon begin adaptation of There’s More for the big screen. The challenge is to think visually. In a novel, you can rummage around inside a character’s head—for a long time. Film is visual storytelling and demands that the adapter be able to create memorable images on the page that will later translate to the screen. Learning the technical aspects of screenwriting are not all that difficult, but it helps to have someone “in the business” to offer advice. My advisor is my friend, the Italian director Max Leonida, whose career as a filmmaker in the U.S. is heating up.

    10. How do you balance writing with a full-time job?

Although I’ve passed retirement age, I still work full time. There are weeks when I do not touch my manuscript. Even so, characters and plot are always present and active somewhere in my imagination. Then, at other times I feel so compelled to write that I find cracks in my schedule where I can do that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Alfred J. Garrotto.

To learn more, visit his website http://www.alfredjgarrotto.com.

He blogs at wisdomoflesmiserables.blogspot.com (e-mail him at algarrotto@comcast.net).

There’s More . . . is his seventh novel and eleventh book. They are available on Amazon.com at (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred%20j.%20garrotto) and other online booksellers.


An Interview with Susanne (C.S.) Lakin

October 25, 2014

 

  1. Including your nonfiction, you’ve written 18 books. Do you sleep? But seriously, how long did it take you to write your first book, and how long did it take for your last?

I don’t sleep all that much! I suppose I’m a bit neurotic. I am mindful of how short life is and how many things I still want to do with my creativity and imagination. In the time I have left on this Earth, I want to use every minute in a deliberate way. That also means living a balanced life—exercise, rest, recreation. I’ve tried to streamline my activities to waste the least amount of time. Which ties in with your question about my writing. Like most new authors, my first novel took a bit of time, probably a year, to write. But I really didn’t know what I was doing (and that book will never be published). It was a really good exercise in discipline and experimentation, but after spending years not only writing fiction but studying writing craft books and taking workshops, I learned novel structure and trained myself to write quickly and efficiently. I am now writing my sixteenth novel and it’s hard to say how long it’s talking since I only write a couple of days a week, but best guess is I write about 800-1,000 words an hour and although I started this novel in September, I plan a pub date of Dec 1.

  1. Can you give us some highlights from your book: Writing the Heart of Your Story: The Secret to Crafting an Unforgettable Novel?

There are a lot of writing craft books published that teach novel writing, but I’ve never seen one that teaches writers how to truly get to the heart of what they are writing, which is a lot about the writer herself. At the core of a great novel is a passion the writer has for the premise and themes and characters. In my book, I teach ways that writers can get to the heart of their story and create a novel that is infused with rich characters that are driven by their core need and the things they long for and believe in. This book explores ways writers can infuse meaning into all the components in a novel, including the setting and all the secondary characters.

  1. What authors have most influenced your writing?

For my fantasy, mostly Patricia A. McKillip, who, I feel, is the consummate fairy tale writer. She is unmatched. Also, Elizabeth George has greatly influenced my contemporary fiction. She is the queen of deep POV and characters. I have a lot of favorite authors, mostly contemporary.

  1. You’ve grown quite a following on Twitter (https://twitter.com/livewritethrive). What is your secret to success?

I don’t know if it’s success or not. My blog is the hub of my work and presence online. I use social media to direct people to the free content I provide via my blog, which is extensive advice and writing instruction for both fiction and nonfiction writers (www.livewritethrive.com). I promote my posts and encourage discussion on writing-related topics, and I guest blog on top writing blogs. I love helping writers, and my editing clients are all over the world.

  1. How important do you think endorsements are?

I am sure a great endorsement by a super famous writer would help book sales. Experts say having a lot of great reviews on Amazon or other sites does help sales, and I imagine having some wonderful endorsements by professionals in one’s field can only help. That doesn’t negate the need, though, to write a terrific book. Better to have the terrific book and no endorsements than a lot of endorsements and a lousy book.

  1. In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes new writers make?

They don’t take the time to really learn the craft, whether novel writing or memoir writing or nonfiction. It’s good to “just write” and get in the habit of putting thoughts down. But many writers think if they just keep writing, eventually they’ll turn out a masterpiece. Kind of like the evolutionary claim that if you put a hundred monkeys behind typewriters, eventually they would accidently write the Bible, or something like that. Learning the craft of writing should be a very deliberate study, just like learning to become a doctor. New writers should subscribe to writing blogs, attend workshops, study books, and then apply what they learn. And the best way to learn to write is to tear apart the books of great writers and see how they construct them.

The other big mistake new writers make is they don’t get professional help in assessing their writing. Hiring an editor and/or writing coach can save them years of flailing about without knowing what they are doing wrong or need to work on. They often rush to publish without getting this help, and the result is problematic, because once they put out awful books, their reputation will be difficult to repair.

  1. If you were to describe yourself as a character in a fairy tale, what or who would it be?

I have no clue. I am in all my fairy tales in one form or another. I’d probably like to be a unicorn or some magical creature.

  1. What is your greatest writing weakness?

I don’t know. The hardest part about writing novels for me is getting the climax right. Not so much a weakness but the biggest challenge. Sometimes I feel I nail it and it’s perfect. But in some of my novels I really struggled, and I feel I could have done better.

  1. What inspired you to write fantasy/fairy tales?

I’ve read fantasy all my life and was greatly influenced by Ray Bradbury’s stories growing up. I always wanted to write in that genre. However, after writing some psychological mysteries, I came across G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and he has a chapter in that book all about fairy tales. That is when I got excited about writing fairy tales specifically, because they have such incredible power through use of metaphor and archetype to reach readers’ hearts. 

  10.  Are you a fan of the Game of Thrones series?

I’ve read the first three books in the series. Martin is a master at scene structure, and I encourage any writer who wants to really see what great scenes are to study his books. I could teach my entire scene-writing workshop using his scenes as examples.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about C.S. Lakin. To learn more visit her website/twitter (www.cslakin.com/ https://twitter.com/cslakin). You can find her books at http://www.cslakin.com/store.php.


October workshop

September 24, 2014

Originally posted on :

AmandaMcTigue8x10We’re fortunate to have Amanda McTigue joining us on Oct. 11 to conduct a workshop on the subject of “voice” in our writing.  Visit our “Next Program” page to learn more about it.  This month, as a new feature, you will also be able to register online via PayPal in advance of the workshop.

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