Keeping the Love Alive (in your writing career)

christmas advice

 

This article first appeared in the December 2015 issue of The Romance Insider. To subscribe, please scroll to the end of the article.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can stop creativity dead in its tracks. With such busy lives, how do writers keep the goal in front of them? How do they sustain momentum?

If you’re the writer’s bestie, a romance reader, I’m guessing you wonder, too. How do writers overcome injury, death of a loved one, switching careers, jobs, or passions, committing to a major project, moving house, or raising a family—all this to stay on track with the dream? My own writing went underground from my mother’s death in 1991 to about four or five years ago. I met my then-contract obligation to Harlequin Books in summer 1992, but it was a struggle. So I can talk about loss, trauma, staying the course (or not) and coming back to writing when the brain isn’t as young. But let’s be positive.

How do we overcome all hesitation and crisis to sustain that haunting dream of being a published writer?

“Learning to write in a world where I am the sole provider and have multiple demanding obligations is a huge challenge,” says Frances Amati (“Heart Hound” in the anthology Romancing the Pages).  “I had to learn to carve out niches of opportunity and to quiet my mind to listen when the universe speaks to me.  It’s about being organized and effective with the little time I have. I can’t feel guilty about what I didn’t do; it is a waste of energy. I need to focus on what I can/did do, no matter how small.”

Here’s a list of focus aids (must be done regularly to keep up the spirit):

  • Frequent walks on the beach or in the woods, prayer, or listening to music.
  • Luxurious weekly bubble baths, with or without the drinkable bubbly.
  • Writing daily positive statements such as “I’m writing and loving it every day!” “I’m paying for my house on the Pacific with my writing!” “I’m expressing my misery through my writing—and loving it!” or “I’m writing. How can it get better than this?”
  • Counseling therapy. Chocolate therapy. Shopping therapy. All three, once a week!
  • Writing out your woes in a diary or to a fictitious person; mine is a letter to grandma, though both grandmas are gone.
  • Long showers. Meditation. Creative cooking. Working with animals.
  • Setting an “easy” writing schedule. A realistic one, even if it’s a half-hour a week.
  • Doing timed writings, sequential 15-minute blaze-writing sessions to get the juices flowing.
  • Allowing yourself to write crap. Every day. Thanks for the tip, Anne Lamott.

Although there’s no sure answer, the most powerful insider trick to staying motivated is to belong to a positive, driven, professionally-oriented support or critique group, even it’s one other writer. Although I was teaching and mentoring authors back in ’91-92, I did not have a critique group that I could go to for criticism, support, and encouragement. If I had, perhaps I’d be onto my 40th book instead of my 7th.

Thankfully today I have best-selling author Debra Holland (the Montana Sky series and others) as well as several other of my brightest students available for feedback. The Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, in fact many in the literary cannon had critique groups—letter-writing, home visits, luncheons in London, and periodic discussion/critiquing get-togethers. Famously, the Algonquin Roundtable in New York in the 1920s featured meetings with writers, artists, and critics who played cribbage and poker and enjoyed daily luncheons and discussions. We have an offshoot today called the writer’s conference, where we learn craft techniques, stay up on market trends, and network with our fellows.

In year-round writing courses and critique groups, I do as much as humanly possible to keep writers motivated, but ultimately the drive has to come from within. “The support will help but the drive must be there no matter what,” asserts Alexis Montgomery (Seducing Susan). “I always think back to Karen Robards saying she wrote her first book during bathroom breaks at work, balancing a yellow legal pad on her lap…it doesn’t get more driven than that.”

One of my Wednesday-night-group writers has been in the group since the 1990’s; Dennis Phinney has written six books, has a top agent, and hasn’t sold. A full-time engineer, he’s still producing amazing work, coming to meetings, and submitting his novels and stories to criticism. It keeps him motivated; it keeps him constantly improving.

There are lots of ways to stay on course. Setting butt in chair is the first step. But like Frances Amati and so many of us, quitting the day job isn’t an option. “Thomas Hardy was an architect,” Phinney points out. “Herman Melville worked in a customs office. Today many work as teachers.” As babysitters, physicians, homemakers, scientists, therapists. As pilots, stage directors, managers, and singers. As explorers and tinkerers.

“So the dream becomes to share epiphanies and to create a work or two of excellence, or maybe even just one really great short story,” Phinney adds. “The goal is to help [readers] to think, to ask questions, to laugh, to love, to see the miracles in everyday existence; it’s also to set forth your own truth in all its damnable ambiguity.”

I couldn’t say it better.

Two closing pieces of advice: 1) Don’t do it for the money. (It may well come.)  2) Quitting is not an option.


Best-selling author Louella Nelson is an award-winning writing instructor in Orange County, CA. Her next novel, Rye’s Reprieve, will release in February 2016. www.LouellaNelson.com Graphic image by the author.

This article first appeared in the December 2015 issue of The Romance Insider.

Romance Insider MastheadTo subscribe to The Romance Insider, click here: http://lararwa.us9.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=29cb9d556d4c84408d2f70843&id=7d8372aba9

 

An Exciting, Atmospheric New Mystery

book cover

Cameron Harvey’s first novel

The Evidence Room is a debut police procedural mystery by my former student Cameron Harvey. Her prose is rich, evocative, and full of the nuances and subtexts we expect from someone who loves the written word and has the prodigious brainpower to raise language, image, and character above the mundane and into the realm of great fiction. The author is particularly bold in her characterizations, especially of the scratchy workaholic medical examiner who opens the book but also in the cherry supporting roles that linger in memory like a fine Bordeaux. Readers who anticipate being swept into a maze of unexpected twists and turns in pursuit of whodunit won’t be disappointed. Above all, setting is where the author deploys her paint box of metaphor and atmospherics, making the bayou a place where terror and the sublime coexist and where the artist’s brush plumbs the depths of our emotions. My prediction: If Ms. Harvey keeps on the way she has begun, she will end up in the ranks of the finest mystery writers of our time.

“This atmospheric and beautifully written police procedural is set in Florida where a murder of a young mother shook a small bayou town to its core,” reads a description of the work on Amazon. “Twenty years later, the victim’s daughter returns to the scene of the crime and learns that the tragedy of her past has very real consequences for her future.”

Cameron graduated from Stanford University and UCLA Law School. She completed novel-writing coursework with me at UCI, was a long-time member of my Tuesday night critique group, and not that long ago, she won the Editor’s Choice Award at the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference. The awarding editor from Minotaur Books (a division of St. Martin’s), Kat Brzozowski, saw the book into print-and-release today in both hardcover and electronic editions. P.S., Ms. Brzozowski, the cover art is stunning!

I wish Cameron phenomenal success with this book and many more. I’m exceedingly proud of her accomplishment.

There’s Something Healthy about Cats

Edited from an online post by Kit Sudol. See her awesome blog posts at http://www.upworthy.com/kit-sudol

So … cats are basically magic. And this can be proven. With science.

visual about cats

This visual appears with Ms. Sudol’s post. Graphics by Gemma Busquets.

FACT: Cats can help you live longer.

But science says that in studies about pet owners versus non-pet owners, folks who owned cats had significantly fewer stress symptoms. Dog owners were #2 in low stress. And in last place? People without any pets.

And here’s the kicker: Owning a pet (cats and dogs) in general reduced stress-related blood pressure more than medication designed specifically to do that (aka ACE inhibitors).

Now, having way lower stress because of an adorable little fuzzball in your life is actually a really big deal health-wise because…

FACT: Cats can reduce the likelihood of having a heart attack! By 40%!

The University of Minnesota found that owning a cat might actually be good for your heart, and not just in an, “Oh my gosh, I am just so overwhelmed with love for this animal!” kind of heart stuff way.

In their study, they found that folks who did not own a cat were 40% more likely to have a heart attack and had a 30% higher chance of dying from heart disease than cat owners did. Which is just like … what?!

So, why is this? Well, researchers at the University of Minnesota said this:

“If we assume that cat ownership is directly responsible for the benefits, then the most logical explanation may be that cat ownership may relieve stress and anxiety and subsequently reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.”

See? Less stress, less anxiety = fewer heart and blood pressure issues. Also, probably more tripping over cat toys at two in the morning, but I couldn’t find anything about that in the study. Oops.

From http://www.upworthy.com/here-are-a-few-brilliant-ways-cats-are-secretly-helping-their-owners-live-healthier-lives?g=2&c=reccon1

Thanks for the heads up on this article, Debra Holland.

To pay them back…

Give your kitties fresh water every morning, quality food morning and night–food with no corn or other fillers and no “meat by-products” or “chicken by-products”–and lots of hugs and kisses and playtime every day. If they look lethargic, try to hide, or seem grumpy when you try to feed or pet them, they may not be feeling well. If this continues for hours, take them to the vet for a quick check. You may save their life, just as they are saving yours.

cat eating

Tuxedo likes to eat solo.

cats eating

Some like to eat together and others like their own bowl.

My cats get 8 drops of colloidal silver suspension in their morning water; this keeps their immune system boosted and seems to prevent fleas (See earlier blog on this topic). I also give them pro-biotic powder from the pet food store to help prevent digestive issues that crop up from eating commercial cat foods for years and years.

They get supervised visits outdoors in a protected yard, where they can bird-watch, eat grass,  and roll in the catnip.

cat i catnip

Tuxedo cozies up to the catnip.

Inspiration for writers who aspire to be published

author photo

Debra Holland is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author.

My student and developmental editing client, close friend Debra Holland, inspires us all with her talk for authors in the Kindle Direct Publishing January 2015 newsletter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y17orcCg_Cg&list=UUNrC87LRD8yAuhU0pw90QwQ&ref_=72

If you want to learn from Debra’s mentor and writing teacher, sign up for Intermediate Novel & Memoir Writing, an intensive 10-week series beginning February 19 at 6pm in Lake Forest, CA. Email: lounelson@cox.net

2014 November 01 Sale: 20 books at 99 cents each

I’m reposting this to alert my friends and fans that there are a few more hours of the 99 cent book sale; some prices go back up at midnight tonight while mine and others have a few days to run. You can get your copy of Emerald Fortune with its more interesting new cover art at http://amzn.com/B008S4PH1W
Happy reading! Lou

Michelle Knowlden writes...

JACKE FELL DOWN COVER 4500 X 2820)I’m starting November 2014 with something special. I’m adding 20 fabulous books to my digital library.

It’s a privilege to join these writers by adding my first novella in a new mystery series about finding missing children. JACK FELL DOWN was released July 2014. In case you missed it, November 1st would be a good time to pick it up. If you already have it, consider giving it to someone as an affordable but oh-so-thoughtful gift: an early Thanksgiving gift, a birthday gift, a thank you gift or “just thinking of you” gift.

Below are the books I’ll be buying November 1st. This list has books of all sizes including popular genres like romance, mystery, fantasy, suspense, paranormal, and historical. Wow. Not only will I be buying these books for my own reading pleasure, but at this price, I can gift several to my reading friends.

Yes, you got it. This diverse list includes books I know will score…

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Launch Your Next Book From NaNoWriMo

M81 Galaxy is Pretty in Pink

M81 Galaxy is Pretty in Pink

Update to my earlier post: I’m entered in Nanowrimo again this November. If you are too, please find me and be my writing buddy. My project this time around is Mail-Order Mom: Serena.

Nanowrimo sounds like a navigational command from StarTrek but it’s actually code for Sit Butt In Chair and Write With a Vengeance. Beginning November 1, writers from all over the world gather electronically and challenge themselves to write a novel, 50,000 words,  in 30 days.  The gathering spot: http://www.nanowrimo.org/.  There are chat rooms if you get down on yourself, and a whole cheerleading squad in The Office.* You can even buy a Nanowrimo coffee mug and fill it with your fave java so you can launch yourself into fictional orbit.  It’s totally zen. Is it odd that my maiden project for NaNoWriMo will be a writing text instead of a novel?  To answer your question—no.  It’s not odd because for a published author to use NaNoWriMo to get up and running on a long-overdue project simply means NaNoWriMo is working.  It’s working to get me motivated; it’s working to get me organized for the Big Day, the first day in November.  I have the flutter in my gut writers get from time to time when they are eager to begin.  It’s been a long time since I felt that flutter (about writing, anyway), and it’s all good. Too many years have gone by in which my students have reminded, hounded, and bullied me about writing a book they can share with their writing friends and peruse for any nitpicky trick or tip their tired-from-sitting-in-the-chair-writing-all-day brains cannot recall.  I feel duty-bound to get the danged text written so they will quit pestering me; and so aspiring writers will have something to lean on in the scary predawn hours of their novel-writing career. Courage is an illusive thing.  I used to see a poster that fascinated me in the cafeteria at Chapman University.  It pictured a sailboat and featured a misquoted quotation by Andre Gide, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947, which I adapt here: You cannot discover new galaxies unless you have the courage to lose sight of the earth. Do you dream of being published?  Does that goal seem a far galaxy?  Why not carpe-diem yourself on over to the Nanowrimo website and, Hey-oh!  We will do this together, all you princes of prose, and it will not be odd.

Louella Nelson blastoffblastoffblastoffblastoffblastoffblastoffblastoffblastoffblastoffblastoffblastoffblastoffblast

To show you that the all-volunteer launch team at The Office of Letters and Light (Support & HQ for Nanowrimo) is behind you all the way, I give you my own personal message from Captain Kim: Hi again Louella, Thanks so much for sharing your story! I am totally invigorated. I’m so glad that you are taking on this challenge of writing a guidebook this November. You are a NaNo Rebel of the highest order: you’re giving back to the writers who are coming after you. We’re rooting you on. Best of luck this November! Tim Kim Office Captain *The Office of Letters and Light You can make a tax-deductible donation to the Office of Letters and Light at http://store.lettersandlight.org

Point of View: Vision of Writer & Character

 

POV Image

“There is an inside to experience as well as an outside.”
–Aldous Huxley

The way a character (or author or other narrator) perceives the world and interprets it is called point of view. We are in Sally’s head and heart when we read,

Sally couldn’t wait to get into the classroom and confront the students about their cheating ways. She felt her stomach clench; she was so angry she could spit.

This is an example of Sally’s point of view (POV). We are in her head (she can’t wait to confront the students), in her body (feels her stomach clench) and in her emotions or heart (so angry she could spit). This is an example of “deep-penetration” or “close” point of view, or point of view that goes deeply inside a character and reveals their attitudes, emotions, and motivations. Nothing is held back, as it is in a more distant, omniscient, god-like point of view. Deep-penetration is not the only type of POV used today, but it is by far the most common and, some would argue, the most satisfying to readers.

Point of view is a filtered perspective on two levels. First, Sally is made up of a set of values and ethics, traits, background, economic situation, old injuries—physical, spiritual, and emotional influences—the various factors that the writer fabricated to bring her to life in the story. Second, Sally is also created from the writer’s memories, world-view, and emotions. It is difficult to separate the fabricated Sally from the writer’s world-view; the two levels blend without our notice; we almost can’t stop ourselves from imbuing Sally with some of our personal hopes and fears. That’s okay; go there. It takes courage to reveal our deepest selves—and doing so creates great characters, memorable stories.

The influence of the writer’s essence happens automatically, behind the scenes, and influences not only Sally’s persona but also the decision about who will narrate her story. There are many choices: the author, termed “authorial point of view”; the character Sally herself, as in the example above that utilizes the “deep-penetration point of view”; Sally plus a cast of other characters, called “multiple point of view” or “multiple deep-penetration point of view”; a made-up “voice” who drops into her story like a visiting aunt to explain things called simply a “narrator” (which gives “narrator” two meanings); or a god-like presence who sees into every room and every mind and dictates or comments on the action of the story, called “omniscient point of view.”

Note: Memoir is often written from the omniscient point of view but in recent years is trending toward the deep-penetration single or even multiple point of view story with omniscient passages.

As you gain knowledge about the craft of writing, you will encounter other experts who hold a variety of opinions about which point of view is best, or best for a given type of work. The varying opinions bewilder. However, the wide array of memoirs utilizing multi-character points of view, first-person or third-person authorial point of view, and a host of other combinations suggests that there is no one right way to master or to deliver point of view. That’s true whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

What do I recommend for new writers? I’m always suggesting the first-time student write a deep-penetration work because (a) I know a majority of readers like it and (b) the new writer tends to hold back from revealing emotions and this form encourages the opposite. The deep-penetration book is flexible; it can be written in first person (“I”) or third person (“he/she/they”) and still be an effective read.

I also recommend that writers working in a deep-penetration third-person point of view stick to one point of view per scene. Doing so develops reader loyalty to the character, makes the reading experience more satisfying than the head-hopping variety, and staves off confusion.

Ultimately the read has to be satisfying to the reader or the book may never get read let alone adopted as a favorite.

So here’s a definition:

The way a character (or author or other narrator) perceives the world and interprets it for the reader is called point of view.

The Big Two Points of View:

  1. First, omniscient point of view is found in classical literature, notably in the noir writings of the 1920’s through 50’s, and in some of today’s good fiction and memoir. Utilizing the he, she, they pronouns, the omniscient narrator is rather like a mastermind moving chess pieces on a board. In addition to masterminding the action in entire books, bits of omniscient narration appear in many third-person narratives, particularly to open the book or a chapter set in a new location.Omniscient passages are often characterized by exposition, by “telling” rather than “showing” in cinematic fashion. We “tell” children a story at bedtime, often opening with “Once upon a time.”
    Authorial omniscient utilizes the author’s opinions and perspective about the characters, their activities, their feelings, and their plans; many first-time writers cannot avoid being intrusive—a condition sometimes termed “author intrusion.”
    The omniscient narrator typically can delve into several characters’ feelings or avoid feelings altogether and report actions and reactions. The distance narrator floats above to watch and report on several characters’ activities.
  2. Second, the deeper, or deepest, reader access to character is called deep-penetration point of view. There are two types:
  • First-person narration, using the pronoun I, is both classical and used widely these days; it’s easier to learn than the other types; and most of all, it’s the most facile when you’re trying to learn how to include character emotion in your writing. Because the reader is unavoidably inside the head and heart of the central character for the entire book, and there is no omniscient presence to narrate, the writer pretty much has to devote attention to “feelings” and “motivations.” The feelings and motivations can be “reliable” (the character never lies to the reader) or “unreliable” (character lies on purpose or due to some illness or incorrect thinking or bad information).
  • The second type of deep-penetration narration is close third person point of view; it’s what huge numbers of readers enjoy reading, and the technique gives the writer a great deal of flexibility and depth. One option is to write the entire book in third-person deep-penetration point of view, revealing a central character’s mind, heart, motivations, and reactions. Another is to write it using one dominant point of view, supplementing with one or more supporting points of view that reveal other characters’ inner emotions and motivations. The pronouns he, she, and they populate this viewpoint.

In a nutshell, point of view is all about perspective–whose? It’s about seeing the world through a unique set of perceptions, senses, and attitudes. You are the god of your story: you have to decide how best to tell it. By understanding and mastering point of view, you have the power to create worlds with unique visions and perspectives.

My New Best Seller: Cora Lee

This is what happened on April 4, 2014 that put me on top of the world.

“Cora Lee” made it all the way to #6 on the Amazon Top 100 Best Sellers Literary Short Reads List. Yikes!!!

cover of "Cora Lee"

Best-selling short story

OMG, I was riveted to my laptop.

I watched my humble short story rise up from #81 to #15 to #10. Then it got really exciting.

I was part of a book promotion lead by Jacqueline Diamond, author of more than 90 novels of suspense and romance. The promotion was called “Twenty books for less than $20.” The night before the sale, working with marketer Tobey Crockett, I sent an email flyer announcing my two new short stories–”Cora Lee” and “Falling for the Prosecutor“–to about 1300 of my students.

Once my story started creeping up the Best Sellers list, I emailed my current students and my extensive family. Both groups supported me beyond my expectations, buying “Cora Lee” and even writing reviews, that all-important step to support an author.

I Tweeted to promote my story as well as the books and novellas of the Twenty. I Facebooked (love the verb) till my followers were probably sick of hearing from me. But hey, this was exciting news and I wanted to share!

Once “Cora Lee” hit #6, right behind stories by Lee Child, Jodi Picoult, and Stephen King, it stayed there over night. At 8:30 the next morning, I was shocked to see it still ranked #6.

Later in the day, of course, as sales slowed, it began to drop in the List (As of this writing, it’s still in the Top 100). But the excitement of the ride remains.

I feel grateful to my friend Jacqueline Diamond and the others in the Twenty, and I adore that my students and family members got behind “Cora Lee” on the exciting ride up the Best Sellers list.