Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Step Out of Your Story by Kim Schneiderman



An excerpt from Step Out of Your Story by Kim Schneiderman:

Every life is an unfolding story, a dynamic, unique, purposeful, and potentially heroic story with bright spots, turning points, and abounding opportunities for personal growth and transformation. From the day we’re born, we become the star and spin doctor of our own work in progress, with the power to tell our stories as triumphs, tragedies, or something in between. Our story has supporting characters who provide love and assistance and antagonists who cause us to realize the substance we’re made of and what’s really important. Like stories, our lives are filled with suspense. Our personal decisions, both big and small, affect our storyline — the relation- ships we choose, how we spend our day, and how we nourish ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Yet few of us take time to explore the character we’re playing. We don’t stop to discover what our story is about, who’s writing our script, and how the challenges we face can help us develop the insights and skills we need to move to the next chapter.

Stuck in the same old story, many of us remain so entrenched in tales of victimization and martyrdom that we can scarcely imagine an alternate, positive, or redemptive reading of the text of our lives. Perhaps because we have been taught to view life through one particular lens, we simply don’t see other, more inspiring versions of our tale that could liberate us.

Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly sifting through various competing narratives to make sense of our world for ourselves and others — whether it’s describing our day to a loved one, explaining why we didn’t get promoted, sharing our political perspective, or justifying why we spend a fortune on organic produce. We may struggle with many contradictory stories to explain our biggest decisions: why we got divorced, or never had children, or changed careers, or never pursued our dreams. Our perspective can change from day to day, and even moment to moment, depending on our mood and where exactly we are situated in the timeline of a problematic chapter. For example, the bitter tale we tell a month after ending a failed romance is probably not the sentimental story we will tell twenty years later after we are happily married to someone else. And neither of these stories will be the same as our former romantic partner’s, even though it’s the story of the same relationship.

You can see this for yourself. Think of something funny, touching, interesting, or meaningful that has happened to you in the past few months. Now imagine telling this story to your spouse or your best friend. When you’re done, imagine describing the same story to a parent or a boss. What about to a stranger in a café? What about five years from now, or twenty years? How might it be different?

While some details might remain the same, you might, depending on your audience, emphasize certain aspects of the story over others, or omit certain details that seem irrelevant, inappropriate, or too complicated to explain. As you tell it over and over, you might remember certain parts you had forgotten initially, or new insights might lead you to spin the story in a totally different direction. Over time, your values might change, and so you would revise your story accordingly, or hindsight might connect once-disparate episodes of your life.

Following a loss or a tragedy, many people engage in a prolonged period of story-wrestling in an attempt to make meaning of events that are hard to digest or that seem to defy explanation. Whether you consider yourself a heroic figure overcoming obstacles or a tragic victim of destiny often depends on how you choose to read the text of your life and the way that you tell your story.


Kim Schneiderman, LCSW, MSW, is the author of Step Out of Your Story. She counsels in private practice and teaches as a professor and guest lecturer at venues including New York University. She also writes a biweekly advice column for Metro Newspapers and blogs for Psychology Today. Visit her online at http://www.stepoutofyourstory.com.

Excerpted from the book Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life ©2015 by Kim Schneiderman. Published with permission of New World Library http://www.newworldlibrary.com

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Launch Day for Kindle Scout winner, Indiscretion.

Today is launch day for my Kindle Scout winner, Indiscretion. This isn’t my first book, but after my debut novel, written under a pen name, this is probably the biggest deal for me. To win a Kindle Press contract, which includes a $1500 advance, I first had to be accepted into the program. Then, for the next thirty days, my book needed to remain “Hot and Trending,” as much as possible. I tweeted, posted on Facebook, and gave shout-outs to people on my writers' groups to nominate the book if they liked the multi-chapter sample.


Those thirty days were very stressful, especially when my book went off the H &T list. I gave another push on social media and hoped my fate improved. Here are the thirty-day stats: 370 hours of Hot and Trending out of 720 hours. That’s a little better than 50%. 2,195 page views. That does not mean 2,195 nominations, just readers who looked at the sample. 51% came from the Kindle Scout site and 49% came from external links, mainly Facebook. Some came from my website, and others from this site, The Blood Red Pencil. Surprisingly, very few came from Twitter. I always wondered how many of my tweets were actually read, or do they just turn into retweets. There’s always been a bit of a “preaching-to-the-choir” element on Twitter, at least for writers. I know the couple of Facebook groups I belong to were very supportive, and most members nominated the book. Nominations cost nothing, and if the book was selected, the nominators would get a free copy two weeks before the book's release date. This is a good thing and a bad thing. Good because the nominations resulted in success for winning the contract. Bad because so many people got it for free that when it goes on sale today, many of my readers already have it. That means promoting it to readers who don’t know my work. Part of that goes to Amazon, as that's part of the lure of the program. You can't been the Zon for its marketing strength.

I don’t know what criteria the Kindle Press people use to make the final determination. I do know that people with more Hot and Trending hours than I had weren’t selected, and others with even less were chosen. I imagine part of their decision is based on a writer’s sales history and part on what the Kindle Press editors feel has potential to be a good seller.

After being selected, I got the edits. Mine were fantastic. The editor found a big plot hole that all my previous readers and critiquers didn’t catch. Obviously, neither did I. It required a rewrite of nine pages and became a better book. There were other edits, some a matter of style, others punctuation, some just nitpickers. I accepted those I agreed with and ignored the rest, which was my prerogative.

I always create characters with a complicated past or present. Characterization is important to me. Besides the crime fiction part, Indiscretion goes deeper and more seriously into a deteriorating marriage, so it becomes women’s fiction in parts. That’s a little different for me, and it was also challenging to depict that part of the story and still interweave it into the mystery.

So, as I mentioned, today, September 1st, is release day. As I give this piece my final perusal on August 31, I have already accumulated eight reviews from people who nominated the book — all excellent, so I’m happy about that. A couple of the reviewers claimed it’s my best book. I’m not a good judge of my work. It stands to reason I like the books I write, or I wouldn’t publish them.

The following is the blurb:

Separated from her controlling husband, romance author Zoe Swan meets a charismatic art history professor on the beach and begins a torrid affair. But who is he really? By the time Zoe finds out, she’s on the run with her husband, his jewel thief brother, and a priceless painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With the FBI and the murderer in pursuit, the trio heads to Boston. The only way to prove their innocence is to make a deal with the very people who want them dead.

If this sounds interesting to you, you can download it on Amazon. Happy reading.


Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Who Needs an Editor...

...when they have kids? 

Since this month has been devoted to writing about kids, or including kids in our stories, I thought I'd share a bit about writing around kids. Several years ago I wrote a blog piece here about how our kids  Help With Our Writing, and this piece today is how mine helped me with editing. This excerpt is from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck, and originated as a column for a Dallas suburban newspaper, which is where I was first legitimized as a writer. 


 In those early years of writing I didn’t have an editor who did more than a copy edit of my work, so I was on my own when it came to content. Thank goodness I lived with five eager little editors who were willing to help me with my work and my conversations. They took it upon themselves to keep the record straight and bail me out of the perpetual state of chaos and confusion in which they were convinced I lived.

"Last Monday, when I went shopping —"

"That wasn't Monday, that was Sunday."

"Okay, so it was Sunday. Anyway, I bought six Twinkies--  "

"No you didn't. You only bought five."

“I distinctly remember buying six Twinkies."

"That was two weeks ago on Tuesday—"

"Okay, stop. I don't really care what day it was. Who ate my Twinkie?"

If they truly cared about the state of my mind, they would have realized that my mind was in fairly decent shape before they started messing with it.

At least I knew where my Twinkies were.

It became a major undertaking for me to carry on a conversation with a friend over coffee, without having one or more of the kids run into the kitchen to remind me that I was not relating an incident exactly the way it happened.

"You did not send me to Grandma's by parcel post."

"I didn't say I sent you, I said I wanted to send you parcel post:"

"Why?"

"Because I wasn't looking forward to a long car drive with a thirteen year old know it all."

"I don't know where you ever got that idea."

If I commented that my house looks like the Ninth Infantry just marched through it, a friend totally understand and overlooked the minor exaggeration, but the kids had to know why I didn’t call them to see the parade. They just had no appreciation for the subtleties of exaggeration, and by the time they finished correcting me, they’d wrung all the humor out of a story and it had about as much appeal as a limp dishrag.

I didn’t let them near my columns.

***

Please do share how your kids have helped or hindered your writing. I know any young mother can relate to the challenges.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Art of Word-Painting, Part Two

Photo by Dennis Jarvis, via Flickr
As noted in last month’s post, we all want our readers to become immersed in the world we are creating. Using sensory imagery is a key element when it comes to bringing your fictional world to life. One effective technique for “translating” sensory impressions into words is to use figurative language.

The term figurative language encompasses a barnyard of rhetorical devices.

The twin work-horses in the stable are metaphor and simile, with style points for originality. Your average junior high school English student can be excused for trotting out a sentence like The stars were like diamonds scattered across against the black velvet sky. Aspiring writers need to aim higher. It’s no big deal if one of these old chestnuts finds its way into your first draft, but make yourself a mental note to upgrade your figurative language the second time around.

A good metaphor or simile depends on a single bold stroke of the imagination that establishes a previously undiscovered connection between two unlike things. The reader is invited to see both objects in a new light, sometimes on more than one level. One of my favorite examples occurs in Chapter XXVII of Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. At this point in the book, Tess is working as a dairymaid on a thriving dairy farm. Her admirer, Angel Clare, comes looking for her on a mid-summer afternoon. Tess has been asleep, and when Clare gathers her into his arms, he notes that she was warm as a sunned cat. This simile translates the heat of the day into something palpably sensual on two counts.

Finding a good simile or metaphor demands extra imaginative effort if you’re trying to describe something big or intangible like cold or darkness. The African American poet James Weldon Johnson pulls off a beauty in The Creation. In the opening sections of the poem, he describes the primordial void:
As far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
This wonderful hyperbole anticipates the world even before God has called it into being.

Another factor to bear in mind is that the elements you bring together in your metaphors and similes should be appropriate to your narrative context. I.e., you don’t want to disrupt your own narrative continuity.1 To put it another way, the similes and metaphors you use should contribute to the overall ambiance of the story. For instance, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men is set in the American South in the first half of the 20th century. Early in the novel, the local sheriff, lounging with his feet up on his desk, abruptly snaps to attention. Warren writes His feet hit the floor like a brick chimney collapsing. The sound effect evoked by this simile never fails to make me wince.

These few examples will have to suffice for now. Watch this space for further installments.



1 If your story is set in a pre-industrial fantasy world, you need to avoid coining similes and/or metaphors that involve modern/mundane technology.


Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stage a House, Revise a Novel

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee

My husband and I are selling our Denver, Colorado home at the same time I’m revising my novel. I can’t help but notice parallels. Let’s look at a few:

1) Staging my house: A real estate agent told us it might take two weeks to repair, repaint, de-clutter, and clean. It took five weeks, more than twice what we expected.

Revising my novel: Last August I hoped to finish my novel revisions by February. That would have been six months. It’s August again, and I won’t be done until October. That’s fourteen months, more than twice what I expected. I’ve always believed, “Everything takes twice as long as you expect.” Since “twice as long” is what I expect, sometimes I double that.

2) Staging my house: While de-cluttering our house, I began deciding what to keep and what to throw away for our move to Ventura, California. I recently watched a video about the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. Here’s my favorite of her tips, and I paraphrase: jettison anything that doesn’t bring you joy. I kept some things for years because they seemed “important,” but they did not bring me joy. I’m now tossing them, giving them away, or selling them. It’s liberating.

Revising my novel: Although I add material when I revise, I also catch plenty of overwriting. Some of my initial descriptions are so dense I need a machete to get through them. Here’s an example from my manuscript: "Yankee swayed forward and back, as if plowing through the push and pull of the water, as if he could will the invisible man across the water by moving in rhythm with him." Maybe the words sound nice, but they were part of an overgrown jungle that needed pruning so readers could see the forest for the trees. I’ve decided to keep the one image that gives me joy, and dump the rest. Here’s my revision: "Yankee swayed forward and back, as if he could will the unseen traveler to make it across by moving in rhythm with him." Now we’re getting somewhere, somewhere simpler to imagine.

3) Staging my house: When I saw online photos of our home, I noticed a personal item I’d left in the kitchen: a refrigerator magnet. It’s a big kitchen, with cabinets, a table, appliances, and plants. Still, that magnet pulled me in like, well, a magnet. It features an image of a fifties-style magazine model, who asks, “was she in love…or was it just allergies?” Fun, yes, but I should have removed it so it didn’t distract from the overall inviting feel of our kitchen.

Revising my novel: Sometimes the details I love most draw attention away from character development, plot, or theme. The distractions must go. However, I tread carefully. Sometimes what seems to be a distraction—say, a woman’s face on a fridge magnet—might be the most interesting thing in the scene. In that case, I would reduce the kitchen to a sketch and zoom in on the woman: who is she, what’s she doing here, what’s her secret? Either way, something has to go, so I can focus the reader’s attention where I want it.

4) Staging my house: I hate shopping. I didn’t want to buy a shoe organizer or flowers to stage my house for showings. I wanted homebuyers to see our home at face value, to say, “I can see the lovely closet floor beneath the shoes.” But now that I have a shoe organizer, it’s easier to pick shoes for the day and the closet looks nicer. Oh, and the flowers? Just three strategically placed bunches have brought the house to life.

Revising my novel: I liked my book the way it was. So did early readers. I had already reworked each chapter as I went. Why do more? But now that I see the story as a whole, I’m discovering possibilities I couldn’t imagine when I first created it from nothing. As I rearrange and add material, the story grows easier to understand, the words more beautiful, the characters more alive.

5) Staging my house: “When you de-clutter, you need to depersonalize.” – a real estate agent

Revising my novel: “This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” – Stephen King

Sometimes I read chapters I wrote, and once considered exceptional, only to ask, “Who wrote this drivel?” (Except drivel is not the word I use.) Let such thoughts not intimidate us, but instead serve as proof that we have the talent to recognize what our story—our home—can become if we’ll admit there’s more we can do…and do it.

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation Press, Rivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor, a writing coach, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Denver.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Put a Child In It

Country singers, Brooks & Dunn, sang a song called, "Put a Girl In It." Its basic message implies a guy can own tons of toys, yet his life is not complete without a gal in it.

For the purpose of this post, let's substitute the word, girl, for child. There are many couples who yearn for children, and feel their lives are not whole without at least one child. Others consider children a curse.

Readers' tastes also follow on differing lines. Some enjoy reading books, no matter the genre, as long as a child is mentioned somewhere. Others feel children just get in the way of a story. I'd say, that depends on the story. Throwing a child character into the mix, with no real purpose, doesn't make sense. Every character, no matter what age, should move a plot forward in some way.

Then we come to authors, like yours truly. I usually write romances and thrillers, but happened to fall in love with a stock photo of a baby. Suddenly I was inspired to write a story wrapped around a child.

Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? is about a couple happily expecting their first child. Their unmarried neighbor is also pregnant, but is in no way happy about her situation.

When a natural disaster strikes their small town, the couple's hopes and dreams fly out the window. Then their neighbor offers a startling suggestion. The wife is leery about taking her up on the offer, yet still can't help hoping somehow she can still have a child in her life. 


Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? is actually the prequel to my previously released Christmas novella sweet romance, called Christmas Carol, and is set in the same fictional small town of Deerview, Wisconsin. I should mention that while writing Christmas Carol, I happened to fall in love with Deerview. I'm hoping to write more stories about that town's inhabitants. This particular one is not a romance per se, but a blend. I'm calling it a Christian Women's Fiction Gentle Read, for want of a better description. If you click on the Amazon link, you'll get a chance to look inside the book's beginning and decide for yourself what to call it.

Anyone care to share how or why you wrote or read a certain book? 


Experience the diversity and versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman, its sequel, A Perfect Angelstandalone reality show romance; Girl of My Dreams.  Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse,its sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer CareerMystery:Two Wrongs. Short  and Sweet   Romance: Christmas   Carol
Christian Women's Fiction:  Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3?  Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com    Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Dream Chaser: The Beginning

Over the last few years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet many successful authors. I have listened to their stories and learned from them. Two things are certain: Every writer’s path to success is seemingly different, but they all begin with a passion for books and knowledge.

I’ve learned that best-selling authors are not mutants with special powers. They’re human. They are people who have had ‘real jobs’ and regular lives, who have struggled, and have doubted themselves. But they have also persevered, standing steadfast in the pursuit of their dreams. They believed in what they were doing and kept writing until they found their place on a bookstore shelf.

My own path has been anything but conventional. Until about seven years ago, the idea of being a writer never crossed my mind. However, like so many writers, I have been obsessed with books and knowledge since childhood. I always preferred books over television and read encyclopedias like many kids read comics. Looking back, I am thankful for that obsession. Still, I spent many years thinking it was more of a curse. In a previous blog (Beat The Bully), I mentioned how I was the lonely kid at the back of the class. When I was called on by the teacher, having the right answer meant everything to me. It was my identity. That was the moment, even if fleeting, that I stood out, that I had something to offer. Being wrong was not an option for me and when I was, disappointment was an understatement.  

My life has been dictated by that need to know. If a job had nothing left to teach, I became bored and my nomadic tendencies pushed me in new directions. Among other things, I’ve been a preschool teacher, road worker, coach, tutor, competitive fighter, bouncer, horse trainer and a reptile handler. I settled on a career as a manufacturing manager for a while, but only after walking away from the music industry. I convinced myself that I was living a life of fantasy and needed to do as society dictated; get a job, build a family, and become content with my misery. 

(My path reminds me a lot of that classic Fisher Price toy where you have to fit shapes into the matching cut outs on a plastic ball. I was the toddler and my life was the block. I constantly contorted in different directions, trying to bend, squeeze, and force into molds not meant for me.)

It was that eagerness to learn, to do it all. How could I possibly know who I wanted to be if I had not yet tried everything? If there was still so much knowledge to be had, how could I find my place in the world? I went through a period of depression. I nearly conceded to all the voices that said there was no room in the world for dreamers.

Then I started writing.

At first, it was just fun. I scribbled down a few really bad poems, wrote a few kid’s stories that weren’t half bad, and I tried my hand at sports articles, covering a high school in a small town paper. Then came the inspiration for my first short story. Driving through Waitsfield, Vermont one winter I saw a frozen pond. In the middle of that pond, sitting on the ice, was an outhouse. For the town of Waitsfield, that porta-john was part of an annual contest. For me, it inspired a short story called Thin Ice. The story that would spark a wild and crazy notion to write a novel.

I dropped everything. From then on, every step I took was leading me to Colorado. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I understood it wouldn’t be easy. I was certain that it could only happen with the Rocky Mountains in sight.

So, here I am.

The first novel is complete and seeking adoption. The second novel is half written. I have a dozen others started and more ideas than I have time to write. I’m a proud, active member of Pikes Peak Writers and  director for the next Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I’m fully immersed in the writing world.

I found my place and the dream is alive. Thank you for sharing this amazing journey with me. Perhaps one day soon we can celebrate together. Not just my achievements, but yours. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the best path to success is rarely walked alone.

When he's not working with the dedicated and passionate people of Pikes Peak Writers, Jason P. Henry is lost in a world of serial killers, psychopaths, and other unsavory folks. Ask him what he is thinking, but only at your own risk. More often than not he is plotting a murder, considering the next victim, or twisting seemingly innocent things into dark and demented ideas. A Suspense, Thriller and Horror writer with a dark, twisted sense of humor, Jason strives to make people squirm, cringe, and laugh. He loves to offer a smile, but is quick to leave you wondering what lies behind it. Jason P. Henry is best summed up by the great philosopher Eminem “I'm friends with the monsters beside of my bed, get along with the voices inside of my head.” Learn more about Jason at JasonPHenry.com

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