Thursday, January 22, 2015

SXSW Collaboration: Inspiration

This month best-selling author Shannon Barczak and I decided to write about something that all artists encounter.  Inspiration.

*With it being a new year I decided to redesign my blog, so while my responses will appear in black, Shannon's will be in pink.  
If you’re a writer or involved in any of the arts I’m sure people ask you, how did you come up with that?  I always think of what inspired me.  That is something that changes constantly.  Sometimes it is a song that I hear on my way to work.  Other times it’s an experience, not even anything profound but just a dinner with good friends, and one sentence from our conversation that evening will linger in my mind and evolve into a story.  

Inspiration is different than ideas or focus it is the driving force that makes you feel like you are going to explode unless you get something written.  It is what pushes a story forward even when you’re tired or hungry or completely consumed with other things.  It is what makes you feel that you are creating something of importance.  It is reassurance. 

More than anything inspiration is about being open, allowing your mind to wander; giving yourself permission to daydream.  Inspiration comes from anywhere and usually when you least expect it.  As a writer that’s why it is so important to always have something to write on.  For me, once I am knee deep into a story I will often get ideas or storylines out of nowhere.  But there are times when I am working on one project and something will come to my attention, sparking an idea for a whole different story.  I don’t discount whatever that new project may be, instead I write it down and save it for when I actually have time to fully flush it out and provide it the attention that it deserves. 

This may sound maddening and counter-productive and believe me it can be, there are at least three different story ideas going on in my mind on any given day, not to mention the regular grocery lists, kid’s playdates, work, puppy appointments, and all the other stuff that is also floating around in there.  But my simple mandate of writing it all down, even when it doesn't make sense seems to help.  This is why inspiration tome is a bit of sly devil.  It never seems to come when you need it.  It never appears when I have the house to myself and a blank document opened in MSword.  No instead it will rear its trixy head when I have two kids in the bath, and a stack of papers that I need to grade.  Oh the arts, no one ever said it’s easy.  

Shannon's take:

This month’s SXSW collaboration with my fabulous author in crime Valerie Day-Sanchez is about creating characters and finding inspiration before, during and after writing a novel. Let’s start with what inspires me as a writer.

 I’m going to be honest with you. I find inspiration in the craziest and sometimes most mundane things in everyday life. I recently experienced a complete lack of direction after taking a few weeks off before starting my third book in The Fae Witch Series, The Cursed Dagger.

The problem wasn’t that I didn’t know what direction my book was going to go because I always have a clear picture and general outline of what I want to convey in each story. Any author who has written a trilogy or series, can relate to the fact that you are essentially writing all the books in your head when you start the first one, but no my friends, the issue with me just a few short days ago was the dreaded first chapter.

You have to do some sort of recap because just in case there is that one reader (you know who I’m talking about) starts reading your book and has no clue there was a first or second book before that, you as the author, are obligated to go over every important piece of information to bring them up to speed, but you also don’t want your faithful readers to roll their eyes and shout, “I already know this crap, come on!”

I struggled with this, as I always do, and then one simple phrase from my teenage son had me 
scrambling to my laptop. He had to write an essay explaining the famous quote from the Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities, and when he flung out, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ I suddenly had this flash of inspiration.

The third book in my series is a bit darker and my main character goes through a lot of emotional upheaval and self-discovery. The quote inspired me to firmly see that I needed to have, even with all the recapping, a faint premonition of what was to come and that is how the inspiration of setting an effect of the calm before the storm came about in my mind.

Character development to me is more organic. I always have a pretty good idea of who my characters are but until you really started writing their thoughts and words, I don’t think you can truly connect with them. 

I have always been a big proponent of imagining and daydreaming about your story much like a mini movie before sitting down to write it out. I think it gives you a clearer vision of the path you are setting for yourself as a writer and for your potential readers. I like to write the characters names out in my outlines and give myself specific guidelines on who I want them to be, but eventually, in the end, I am always surprised at some of the quirks that seem to flow from my mind as their personalities begin to take shape the further I delve deeper into the story.

Any inspiration you have, whether it is, about your story or your characters can either be gradual or hit you like a freight train. Yes, sometimes you have to look for it, but in some cases it can just be one little phrase that you hear or a picture that you see on your Facebook news feed that can drag you out of the depressing writing doldrums and into the creative light.

So I guess my advice is to just wing it and see what happens… ;)

SXSW Collaboration: Promoting Your Book Via Social Media

This month Shannon Barczak and I decided to dish about marketing.  Being Indie Authors means that not only are we expected to write an awesome book but we also have to sell it.  Telling your friends and family about your accomplishment is just the beginning, after that marketing becomes a full time job.  Both Shannon and I have embraced social media in hopes of getting our books out there, and hopefully we have a few pointers. As always my responses will appear in black while Shannon's will be in pink. 

Shannon how do you feel about Marketing?

I’m just going to go on the record by saying that I am probably the least inefficient author when it comes to doing the whole promoting thing. I think it’s because when I first started writing my book, I really didn’t give much thought to the actual promoting and marketing that I would have to do at the end of the whole writing a book process.  I still feel like I’m a published author in training sometimes but I have learned a few tricks along the way. I know that there are thousands of people that are far more educated and informed than little ol’ me but I hope that I can give a novice like myself a few words of advice.

Yes please share:

-1.  First and foremost, you need to have a plan in place when you start writing. I know that it’s pretty much the furthest thing from your mind when you sit down to write your novel but you have to figure out how you are going to market and promote your book. Being a self-published Indie writer has some perks but it also has downfalls. One of those downfalls is that you don’t have an agent or a publisher singing your praises to everyone involved in the publishing world every second of the day. You are responsible for getting the word out by whatever means are necessary.

That is SO true.  As an Indie Author you’re in charge of it all, from writing, editing, publishing, finances, and of course the dreaded marketing.  As authors I think we tend to be more introverted and we want people to read and love our work but having to put ourselves out there is a whole other story and it makes us uncomfortable, but it is 100% necessary and part of the job.  After I wrote Harlow Whittaker & The Soothsayers, I sat down and thought who’s my target audience i.e. who the heck is going to want to read a book about a nineteen year old, samurai sword wielding, future-seer?  As authors we’d like to say, everyone can enjoy this book, it’s a story that reaches everyone, but that is just not true.  Your book is a product like any other, think of deodorant, there’s a reason there is an entire aisle dedicated to them at the supermarket, because one deodorant isn’t made for all people.  So make your job easier and figure out who your target reading demographic is and go after them, and only them, at first, and then you can venture out after you’ve built your die-hard fan base.  Shannon, Any other tips?

- 2.  The best way to promote your book is by word of mouth. You need to tell every person you have known in your entire life that you wrote a book. Don’t be ashamed to use guilt or even blackmail when you go about doing this kind of self-promoting. I’m sure you have an embarrassing picture of one of your buddies in high school that they don’t want to ever see the light of day. Tell them to buy the book or it’s being uploaded and tagged. When you’re done with the people you do know, move on to any random person that you come into contact with as you go about your day. Cashier in the grocery store? Check. Your children’s teacher? Check. Weird lady who walks her cat in the stroller in your neighborhood? Check. The annoyingly cheerful telemarketer who wants to sell you a time share? Check, check! 

Hahaha I love it.  Yes be shameless, I am constantly trying to find ways to stick my book into everyday conversation.  When they ask, “paper or plastic?” and the grocery store I say, “Oh yes I did publish an ebook version as well.”

-3. Start a website immediately. I love to read other authors blogs. I find it interesting that sometimes writers, like myself, who are just starting out have the same issues of more successful authors. Writers love to read not only books but also other writer’s ramblings (say that ten times fast). I sat down the other day and read a 600 word article all about commas which completely fascinated me. 

Great advice, when I told one of my best friends that I was going to self-publish he was like, you should start a blog.  I was like, a what?  It makes perfect sense, it’s easier than starting a website in terms of effort and it allows writers to do what they do best, write.  Blogging is excellent because it allows your readers to see you ‘behind the scenes’ and it allows you really connect with them on a more personal level as well as write every day or at least once a week which is great practice for your next novel ;)

-4. Twitter is the second best place to spread the word and the first best place to give you the
Twitter is the second best place to spread the word and the first best place to give you the support you need. I was never a big fan of Twitter but I have to say the best thing I ever did was create an account after I started my blog. Almost all my followers and those that I follow are writers. I have met some really great people through Twitter and it’s always fun to get retweeted or mentioned. 

I couldn’t agree more!  Twitter is a fun way to advertise to more people than you could reach with the more personal Facebook, and it allows you to choose who you want to reach, did you write a YA book then look up YA authors and readers. You can get free advice, find copy editors, and retweets are basically free advertising space.  

-5. Don’t worry about blowing up your friends and families newsfeed on Facebook when you start posting stuff from your website. I know that for years I have had to see pictures posted daily of other people’s children, cocktails that are being consumed and the always lovely ‘Do you think I should see the doctor’ photo of an infected limb. If they don’t like the fact that you are trying to sell a book or writing about what’s going on in your life then so be it. Unfriend!

I am always updating my Facebook status so that it hints at my book or just blatantly discuses my book, remember the more ‘likes’ you get the more people see your plugs.  What other means have you utilized in order to promote your work?

-6. Set up an author page on Facebook. I am not the best at promoting this aspect. I pretty much have my friends and family that I have bullied into liking it and a few lovely diehard fans. It’s necessary and let’s face it, people love to stalk other people, so give them an all access pass. 

I like that my author Facebook page is separate that way I can plug as many book signings, author giveaways, starting new projects, pics of me doing all of these things on one site without people getting numb to the information, also that way people that I met at book signings don’t get to see my more private photos unless I friend them.  So you’re still able to be a private person even if using social media to promote your book.

-7. Book release party. This is probably my favorite!  I have had two book releases for the first book in my trilogy.  It’s a fun way to promote your work, catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and most importantly make connections.  I can’t tell  you how many people I have met who have either, offered a free venue for another book release party, asked me to appear on their radio show, or simply said, I now someone that reads and I’m going to tell them about your book.  All of things would not have happened if I hadn’t sat at a table with a stack of my books offering to sign them after I sold them.  So it’s an easy way to drastically increase sales and just awareness of your material.  And you can have them wherever you want!  I had my first one at a Wine Tasting Room and that was super fun because people could sit back with a glass of wine, buy a cigar and one of my books and BOOM-perfect Saturday night :)  Shannon any thoughts on this?

This is actually something I haven’t done yet as of yet but I am planning on throwing one when the third book to my trilogy is finished and released. I spied a lovely little bookstore in my new town and I am going to pop in and chat with the owner when I have a minute. 

-8.  There are also other tools to help you market your book, like giving it away.  Shannon do you have any experience with this? 
I choose to publish my book with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. I think it’s the best platform for new authors and I really like the benefits of enrolling in the KDP select. Although you do have to give them exclusive rights for 90 days, you can use a few marketing tools that are at your disposal. I have taken advantage of the 5 day free promo twice now for Isle of Skye and because of that I have had over 3000 downloads. I know that every author may have stars and money signs in their eyes when they get done writing their book. You hit publish and think ‘Wow I’m a published author, I’m going to be rich and famous’… that is a lovely but unrealistic goal. Keep in mind that with your first book the most essential part of promoting is just to get your name and work out there to the masses.

Yes I love Amazon.  There are numerous platforms that you can use but I like Amazon the best because I knew I didn’t want to just have an Ebook but also a print edition (something about seeing my name on a book’s spine and resting on my bookshelf) so I went through Amazon’s Createspace and they are awesome because of their expanded distribution channels.  (I have an entire blog post dedicated to it actually so check it out if you want more info.)  But KDP has a free book promo option as well as their Kindle Countdown Deals and yes like Shannon said it would be nice to make millions off of your book and have adapted into a screenplay but that probably won’t happen and if it does it’s because it’s already a huge success.  In order to make it a huge success people need to read it.  And even if they read if for free that is still a success because that means they can post a review or just tell someone about your book.

The most important thing to remember is that you will always be your books best cheerleader.  Think of your book like it was your newborn baby. You have to love, nurture and protect it at all times. Like any mother, you also at some point need to let your child spread its wings. If it’s a good book, it will do well on its own but you must first put in the time and effort for it to do that in the first place.  Lastly, have fun! You wrote a book for goodness sake, enjoy it and spread the word. Writing a book is a major accomplishment and you should feel proud and happy to tell every single person you come into contact with about your story. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your book. Nothing that truly is important to you comes easy but that just makes the reward even better!

Amen to that!  Promote, Promote, Promote, in whatever way you feel comfortable, or in a way that only makes you slightly uncomfortable.  Your friends and family will grin and bear it when you talk about your book but mostly they won’t be able to hear you shameless promoting your work because they’re too busy talking about their daughter, aunt, sister, cousin, friends, that just wrote a freakin book.  Surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed and remember if you’re not uncomfortable you’re not marketing your work enough :)

Want more from Shannon?

September SXSW Collaboration: #thestruggleisreal

It's funny that this month, fellow fantasy author, Shannon Barczak and I decided to write about the trouble of juggling all of the rigmarole of life along with our passions because I swear this month has been a whirlwind.  Remember my piece will appear in orange, while Shannon's will be white.

I honestly don't know how I find time to write, Although I do find myself doing it EVERYDAY.  Like Shannon said, we all wear many hats, but I noticed that no matter if I'm wearing the "mom hat," the "wife hat," the "home-school teacher hat," or my new, Realtor hat, I have to express myself with the written word at some point of the day.  

So no, I don't always have time to crank out a novel, or to edit one of my projects- maybe I'm just writing a cover letter for a job, or commenting on my student's assignments, but, I have to write.  I know some of you "novel purists" are thinking, 'hey that's cheating, that's not really writing,' but I disagree.  

One of the most spoken tips for authors from authors is to write everyday and if we interpret that as, we have to write a short story, or begin a bestseller everyday, we will feel like failures.  

I define writing as, getting my ideas coherently on paper.  I strive for my ideas to be as similar to what I envisioned in my mind as possible.  It doesn't matter if it's nonfiction, if it's for work or personal use.  So when I define it that way, I'm ecstatic that I was allowed the opportunity to write outside my genre. It keeps me fresh and it allows me to force my mind to work in a different direction than it would naturally go.  This has led to the development of characters that I may have never stumbled upon had I not had to write a nonfiction piece for work.  It makes me extend my vocabulary which I'm sure my readers appreciate.

Life happens, no matter what, and while Shannon discusses having the gift of writing taking away, I have to admit that I too have felt that way when life (kids, husband, dog, work) didn't allow me to work on my trilogy, or complete my SciFi novel, but the truth is, that is just the way it is.

Sometimes it seems as though, when you have uninterrupted hours on end to write we don't have an idea, and when we have an idea, everybody wants a piece of us.  So being an author is all about adaptability and knowing ourselves.  I know that if I get an idea I have to hurry and jot it down before it's lost in between diaper changes and showing houses.  And then when I get a free minute I can fully utilize it as opposed to dicking around on Facebook.
Writing is less about the time, or slowing life down, it's about recognizing what you love and going for it, even if it means you have to do it five minutes at a time.

Check out Shannon Barczak's article on surviving a month without writing:

I am horribly happy to be collaborating once again with the fabulous Valerie Day-Sanchez. Last month was a real doozy for both of us and funny enough it has inspired this month’s column on life as a writer with all the many outside interferences we face on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. We all have several different hats we wear and sometimes our passions can get pushed to the side for the mundane or for circumstances that are not entirely our doing.

I have been laid up with a pinched nerve in my neck for a whole month now. It has literally kicked me in the ass and my recovery has been decidedly slow and painful. I can’t even begin to describe the agony of pain but I can try to offer some insight into the horrific realization that I could not write.

Now, I am perfectly aware that my injury occurred because of my tenaciousness and let’s face it, downright stupid resolute goal, which led me to sit at my desk for hours on end and write out a book in three and a half weeks. I have only myself to blame and even though I have accepted my fault in this incident I was still faced with something remarkable.
You see, I never realized how much I would miss writing until it was taken away from me.
If you are a parent, a professional, or both, then you know how hard it is to carve out time for your work and artistic expression each and every day. When the opportunity is ripped from your life though, it is rather like losing something extremely precious. So how do we authors do it? How do we deal with our lives and incorporate writing without hurting ourselves or pissing off our family and friends?

I’m not sure if I have the answer but I do know that not being able to work on my book or other writing projects was like a blow to my heart and soul. I realized that my long desired and new found occupation as an author was what kept me fulfilled on previously unknown levels as of late. I had to do something or else I was going to go mad.

I decided to take control and went back to the doctor, was ordered physical therapy and I also purchased a laptop. I have always been pro desktop but I have caved into the pressures of modern technology. I sit now in mild pain but my heart is happy and light as I type.
I figured out that it is not so much as making time for my writing that has given me pleasure it is simply the fact that I am writing again. I realized that as an artist, you don’t make the time; you create the time for your passions. It’s not about punching a clock. It’s about ignoring the tick tock of that clock and listening to the beating of your heart.

We all have busy lives to lead. Each and every one of us has demands and obligations to fulfill every day. As a writer though, we need to feed our souls with our work otherwise what’s the point of this so-called life if we can’t make the effort to live our dream.
Besides, we’re writers. Sleep is of no consequence for us nor is pain. The only real torture is not being able to pour our heart and soul onto paper with our words. In the words of Anais Nin:
~If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing , then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.~

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why I Don't Instagram My Food

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Last night I got a hankering for quiche. I started making pie crusts and raiding my fridge for any ingredients to complete my "breakfast pies."

It wasn't long before the aroma of bacon, eggs, mushrooms, and green chile* (*it's a New Mexican delicacy that the rest of the world desperately needs) consumed my house. 

The anticipation only grew over the course of the 50 minutes that it took for the filling to set and the crust to adopt the golden brown hue that signified it was ready for consumption.

After pacing around my kitchen and fighting the omnipresent desire to open the oven door to sneak a peek, my excitement nearly boiled over.
Finally it was time to remove my double delectable dishes from the oven. 

Suddenly I had the strong sensation that I needed to document this moment. The same urge I get when my kids do something super cute. I needed to savor it. I reached for my cell phone and began to simultaneously plan and nix all the settings for my impromptu photo shoot of my beautiful food.

I began my best photog impression; playing with lighting and attempting to capture the perfect kitchen counter to quiche ratio. How many times do we do this, before finally surrendering and being grateful that Instgram has filters that can make any picture look truly amazing? (Even a photo of late night breakfast food, thank you Hefe & Mayfair).

After 5 minutes of taking a couple pics and considering a witty caption and/or hashtag, I stopped. Not because Kim Kardashian says Instagramming ones food isn't sexy but because I realized I should actually savor this moment and eat.

Why would I let the wonderful flavors that had melded together perfectly at 350 degrees pass me by? For a few likes? It wasn't like years from now I would look at the framed picture (yes I would print it out and hang it amongst my family photos- just go with it)of this and go, "Oh that was that one night I wore yoga pants and a bathrobe and had a gooooood time consuming dairy products!!!"

Photographs are about capturing a moment preferable something that elicits feeling, not manipulating or faking it for likes but at the very least documenting something that tells a story. What would the story of my quiche tell? What moment in time did I need to preserve? More importantly why was I comfortable with being a spectator rather than a participant in my life?

Two more thoughts and I will promptly get off my soapbox:

1. It's a new year lets try to live in the moment, even when it sucks ( it will save us a lot of money in future therapy and prescription meds).

2. Post the first shot you take to social media, no more 30 different photos of you slightly tilting your head more in the same direction. Don't be afraid to keep it honest and vulnerbale. Since when are those bad things? #live