Tag Archives: Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Researching for Fiction Writers

Happy May to all. Are the growing light and warmth lifting your spirits? I hope you’re finding new energy and inspiration for your creative endeavors.

I’m back at my desk after a month-long road trip. One benefit of a break from the same-old-same-old is an appreciation of the passage of time. Unlike my usual routine, days spent exploring new places don’t blend together in a blur. And for once, I don’t feel like I’ve just finished writing last month’s IWSG blog post.

In case you’re new to this discussion, the Insecure Writers’ Support Group hosts a first-Wednesday blog hop for writers. IWSG is a great resource for writers of all types. I’ve really enjoyed meeting and learning from other scribblers via this blog exchange. Give them a look here and join the conversation: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

This month’s question: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

Well, I’ve spent lots of time learning about poisons and historical erotic art. No, I didn’t use them both in the same story, but perhaps I should. Hmm…

So far, my stories all have contemporary settings, so I really don’t spend much time researching places and times. My settings are fictional, though based loosely on favorite towns. This gives me the freedom to plop down the people and places I need in a charming setting that becomes a character which both comforts and challenges my protagonist.

Poulsbo, Washington, another source of inspiration for my fictional settings.

Two of my as-yet-unpublished novels take place in a fictional Northern California town that blends  details from Half Moon Bay and Pleasanton in California, as well as Port Townsend, Enumclaw and Edmonds in Washington, and a dozen other charming, small-town Main Streets I’ve visited. You know the type: a few restaurants, some art galleries, a funky clothing boutique or two and, a tavern, a wine bar and, of course, a marvelous bookshop. The town is populated by local artists, artisans, entrepreneurs, and other colorful, sometimes prickly characters. It’s just the kind of place I’d like to live—but it works out much better in fiction.

In real life, small towns like that can be closed-up and closed-minded, not very welcoming to newcomers, and full of petty jealousies and interpersonal drama. People in a larger town, like the one I inhabit in real life, are less interested in poking their noses into others’ business. I like that freedom, as well as the access I have to lots of cultural events and beautiful places to walk.

But wouldn’t it be nice to live in a close-knit, funky, artists’ colony on the coast? Wouldn’t it be great to be part of a close-knit community that feels like family?

This month’s question has tickled my curiosity. I think I’ll make a point of visiting more charming little towns this summer—as research, mind you.

Is that tax-deductible?

So, when can I read your book? Also, two new books for you.

The first Wednesday of the month brings our monthly question from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. IWSG is a great resource for all us scribblers, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting other writers via this blog exchange. Give them a look here and join the conversation: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

This month’s question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

Um, yeah. About that…

There comes a time when an as-yet-unpublished writer starts to wince when asked “What have you published?”

Nothing, okay? I’m still flogging the query circuit, submitting to competitions, tweeting like a sparrow, and hoping for a bite. I’m cheered by tales from traditionally published writers who received fifty, a hundred, even more rejections before getting that golden ticket.

And I’m starting to educate myself about self-publishing. The steamy romance novel I’m working on? If I don’t get a publisher for that one within six months of completion, I will self-publish. So there. But I won’t be one of those self-published writers who flings a half-baked, poorly edited story out into Kindle Land, so that means beta readers, and editor, and more time…

But it takes so long! And I was feeling okay about that, continuing to plug away, a thousand words or more each day, until, over the weekend, I received a text from a critique group member whose work I enjoy and admire: “Do you have a book out?” We’d talked about his previous book publicity events, and discussed doing one together. That was several months ago. At our last meeting, he showed me the pre-order page on Amazon for his latest self-published novel, a speculative fiction tale called The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe. If you enjoy creepy, eerie tales in a realistic setting, check it out here:

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_21?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+secret+deaths+of+arthur+lowe&sprefix=the+secret+deaths+of+%2Caps%2C241&crid=2JTP5BUK2GDVS

Meanwhile, on I plod, perhaps the slowest runner on the track, and using this blog to connect with other writers and practice creative non-fiction. Happy scribbling to you!

And speaking of publishing, my blog buddy Stephanie Faris has a new children’s book out in her charming Piper Morgan series.

Piper Morgan tries her hand at acting in the fourth book of the charming Piper Morgan series.

Piper’s mom is helping out at a local pool shop, and the owner wants to shoot a commercial for his store. Piper thinks it’s the PERFECT opportunity to get in front of the camera and experience a little bit of showbiz. But will Piper’s contribution to the TV commercial make a splash—or will it go belly-up?

Bio: Stephanie Faris is the author of the middle grade books 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses, as well as the Piper Morgan chapter book series. An accomplished freelance writer, her work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Pacific Standard, Mental Floss, and The Week, among many others. You can find this latest book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Piper-Morgan-Makes-Splash-Stephanie-ebook/dp/B01GD9CQC6/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/piper-morgan-makes-a-splash-stephanie-faris/1123861540?ean=9781481457170

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781481457170

And here’s where you can meet Stephanie: https://stephaniefaris.com/

Reworking an Old Story, or the Blob That Ate the Bully

Wow, February just flew by. Like, zoom! Once again, it’s time for the IWSG question o’ the month. IWSG is a great resource for writers. and hosts a monthly blog hop. Give them a look here and join the conversation:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

March 1 Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Why, yes I have! There were a few months when I was deep into edits for my second novel and had no new material for my twice-monthly critique group, so I unearthed a few old short stories lurking in my hard drive. Their style and content was quite different from my usual MO: instead of women’s fiction and cozy mysteries, these were Twilight Zone-esque speculative fiction.

How did that work out? I got enthusiastic feedback from my group members, most of whom write sci-fi and fantasy. The experience was a good reminder that I am capable of writing in a variety of styles and genres, and that doing so is good exercise for my writing muscles. Here’s a sample from the middle of The Vengeance, the tale of a little girl whose fear and anger at a bully manifests in a surprising way.

Miss Craft kept her promise. She stood at the school yard gate and watched as Katie quick-stepped toward the bushes, a thick patch of scratchy junipers where generations of kids had burrowed tunnels and hidden from teachers. Kids talked about the ‘cave’ inside there, but Katie had never worked up the nerve to peer inside.

As she passed, she heard scrabbling and whispers.

“Katie!” a voice hissed from inside the thicket.

Katie jumped, then looked back over her shoulder. Mr. Cricks, the principal, was talking to Miss Craft. The teacher glanced at Katie and waved her on, then turned to her boss.

A strong hand clamped onto Katie’s arm, yanking her inside the bushes. Another hand, cold and clammy, pressed over her mouth. Sharp twigs scratched her face and bare legs, and her backpack caught fast on a branch. For a moment, there was a tug-of-war between the backpack and the hand, but eventually Big Joyce won, and Katie was pulled into the “cave.”

Deep-green junipers arched overhead, leaving just enough room for the shorter kids to stand. Big Joyce had to hunch over, which only made her look more menacing. Katie whimpered and wrapped her arms around her shivering little body. Snarky Kelly and the other toadies grinned at her like hungry dogs waiting for a treat.

Big Joyce glowered. “Thought you could just walk on by, huh? Told you I’d be waiting for you, bitch.”

Katie could only stammer. She’d never heard a third grader say the B word. But that didn’t matter now, because she was going to die here, in the bushes.

Big Joyce yanked off Katie’s pink headband. “Nice bandage,” she sneered. “Want another one?”

“Naw, she wants more. Lots more bandages,” Snarky Kelly yapped.

“Yeah, cover up her ugly face,” Skinny Wanda crowed.

“Stupid little …Katie,” Dumb Laura chimed in.

The pack of toadies and their queen encircled Katie, blocking any chance of escape. Everything seemed to slow down, and Katie’s vision became watery as she swayed on rubbery knees. The cave smelt cool, and damp, and earthy–and a little bit rotten…

Joyce twirled Katie’s pink headband around her thick finger. “Think I could choke her with this?”

The toadies snorted and cackled.

Just behind Joyce, Katie saw a movement on the ground, as if water were flowing from the wall to pool around Joyce’s feet. Katie shivered, feeling colder and colder.

“Look at her shaking. She’s gonna pass out.”

“Hey,” Kelly asked the others, “can you really die of fright?”

“Let’s find out,” said Joyce, and lurched toward Katie. But her feet didn’t follow. They were stuck fast in the clear, thick goo oozing up her scabby legs.

“What the hell?” Joyce looked down, screamed, and toppled forward, taking Katie down with her. The toadies scattered, scrabbling out of the bushes like rats. Kicking hard, Katie managed to wriggle free.

The goo thickened as it expanded, sucking Joyce in. It reached her waist, then her chest, then her shoulders, making slurping sounds as it swallowed the squirming child. Joyce bucked and thrashed, her clawed hands scrabbling in the dirt, her eyes wild. The goo flowed up to her neck. Joyce gasped, her face purple, her mouth wide–but no sound emerged, for now the goo had filmed her face, stopping her screams.

Joyce fought a long time, her motions jerky, then sporadic, and then she was still, floating twisted inside the blob. The thing shivered, slid like a great slug back toward the wall, and then extended a thread of clear slime toward Katie. She scrabbled backward like a crab, “No! No please!”

The thing paused, then slowly extended its—what?—tentacle?—and gently brushed Katie’s leg. She braced herself for pain, but it felt cool, gentle. And though it made no noise, somehow she heard it say, “You’re welcome.”

It slithered back under the wall and was gone.

 

IWSG February 2107: Reading as a Writer, and Vice Versa

Can you believe how quickly another month has whizzed by? It’s time once again for our monthly question from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. IWSG is a great resource for all us scribblers, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting other writers via this blog exchange. Give them a look here and join the conversation:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Our question for February: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

  1. Being a writer has reduced the amount of fiction I read, because I’m busy writing, or reading about writing. I’m working to change that, because reading widely makes me a better writer. It also teaches me about publishing trends, as well as changing tastes in fiction. And it’s fun. With all the dire news landing with juicy splats all around me, I find myself reaching for love stories, comedy, and other light-hearted literary diversions.
  2. Being a writer has made me a more critical reader. Having gobbled so many workshops, books, blogs, and magazines about the craft of writing fiction, I’m now much quicker to notice craft elements that, if mishandled, dampen a story’s impact. During my many years of teaching high school English classes, I looked at stories primarily from a reader’s point of view. If a story didn’t grab me, I just set it aside without much thought as to why it left me flat. But having studied the craft of writing from a writer’s point of view, I’m much more aware of issues like:
  • Characters who talk alike
  • Stories knitted together out of boring, predictable clichés
  • Protagonists I just can’t relate to, or whose actions don’t make sense
  • Lengthy flashbacks that don’t move the story forward
  • Long pauses in the narrative to insert info-dumps
  • Formulaic writing, such as ending every scene with a breath-taking cliffhanger
  • Purple prose and thesaurus abuse: writing that distracts me from the story rather than enhancing its impact

The good news is that because I notice these issues in others’ writing, I’m less likely to commit these crimes in my own work. So I hope, anyway.

So, what have you been reading lately, and has it helped your writing?

On Writing Rules We’d Rather Forget

Can it really be the first Wednesday of the month already? With each passing year, the time seems to fly by more swiftly. That may be good news, considering what the next four years may hold.

In any case, it’s IWSG time again! The Insecure Writers’ Support Group is a place where writers encourage each other, express their doubts, and offer help. According to their website, it’s “a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.” They also offer oodles of resources for writers. Visit them here:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

January 2017 Question: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

I’m bolder than I was when younger, but I’m still quite conflict-averse. This is not a good trait in a writer. When creating a story, I resent the pressure to inject every scene with conflict. But all the craft books, all the writing teachers, all my critique partners remind me that I must. We’ve all heard the adage: “Put your protagonist up a tree, then throw rocks at her, then get her back down.”

Whether on the page or on the screen, a narrative with too much constant conflict tires me out. All that strife can feel phony, contrived. Must I really throw that many rocks? And then drop my protag over a cliff and leave her clutching at slippery tree roots by her fingernails?

Why can’t I intersperse high-conflict scenes with cozy, funny scenes in which nothing goes wrong for my poor protag? I know I’ve enjoyed books in which there were plenty of low-conflict scenes. Alas, I wasn’t yet writing “for reals” and didn’t take notes on those writers’ technique and structure.

OK, here’s one: J.A. Jance is one of my favorite mystery writers. Her stories include many low-key scenes in which the protag interacts with friends and family. These scenes provide backstory, comic relief, or just a breather. Of course, Jance’s stories never lack for adequate conflict—we’re trying to solve a murder, for goodness’ sake.

I get it—my job as a writer I to show a big change in my character. But I enjoy just spending with my protag, getting to know the colorful characters she meets. I’ve created a fictional town for her which incorporates aspects of my favorite places. Most of us don’t live in coastal artists’ colonies like my protag does—most of us live in overcrowded cities or boring suburbs or out in the country where nothing much happens. Do I really have to chase poor Lola down the streets of this lovely town, threatening her with the loss of all she holds dear?

I know, for a story to sell, the stakes must be high. But I wish that weren’t so; I wish readers, editors, publishers had a little more patience, were more inclined to stop and smell the coastal breeze as it wafts over my protag and her wise, funny friends.

IWSG Question o’ the Month: What’s Your Five-Year Plan?

It’s time once again for our monthly question from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. IWSG is a great resource for all us scribblers, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting other writers via this blog exchange. Give them a look here and join the conversation:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

December 7 Question: In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

Ah, the five-year plan. I’ve heard of these. Having worked so long in an institution that doesn’t offer much “career advancement” (I was a high school teacher), this sort of planning is new to me. Here goes:

Five years from now, I will have published a book, probably more than one. I’ve spent the two plus years since I’ve left teaching learning my craft and learning about the publishing world. I have two complete manuscripts to show for all that effort, a cozy mystery and a women’s fiction novel. The former would be a good candidate for self-publishing, as it takes place in the community where I used to work. I’m betting that at least some of my fellow teachers and former teachers would enjoy reading about a fictional murder in their midst.

My hope is still to be published in the traditional sense, but I’m also working on a story that will be my first foray into self-publishing. It’s a steamy romance, which is great fun to write. And FUN is my guiding star. I prefer to read, and write, light-hearted stories with plenty of humor. When I open a book, I’m not looking for a cathartic sob-fest, nor a fog of ennui, nor a shiver of impending doom. Life hands me plenty of sorrow, weariness and fear—I want to offer my readers some fun. And I want the time I spend in my fictional worlds to be fun as well.

So—my plan is to have fun learning the process of self-publishing, to have fun finishing my next two novel projects, and to have fun connecting with other writers via workshops and forums (fora?) like IWSG. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that fun and hard work are mutually exclusive. I just want to enjoy the process and the journey to published authorship.

Five years from now, this blog will contain links to my published books, one way or the other. And you? Do you have a five-year goal for your writing or for another endeavor? Do you find such goals helpful?

IWSG Question of the Month

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, when all the IWSGers post on their blogs about their writing insecurities or offer some encouragement to others.

November’s Question: What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?

I’ve always had a hard time answering questions about favorites. How could someone possibly narrow down all the best songs, books, movies, foods to one shining pinnacle? I’m just not that decisive, I guess. That said, here’s a list of what I love about being a writer.

  • Working in my PJs. After years of jetting out of bed before dawn, I now roll out when I’m good and ready, pull on something comfy, pour the coffee and head straight for my office, located right between the bathroom and the kitchen. The only better location I can imagine is a magical wi-fi equipped treehouse.
  • treehouse
    • Working undisturbed. Few other jobs give one the opportunity to sit for hours at a time in focused concentration. Teaching high school sure didn’t.
    • Putting my imagination to use. All that daydreaming finally has a productive outlet. Though I’m not a fantasy writer, I’ve created a fictional town on the Northern California coast, full of the kinds of people I’d like to surround myself with. And I get to visit every day. Cool.
    • Revenge! Evildoers beware—I shall slay you (symbolically, anyway) in my stories.
    • Discovering the good side of bad people. This is often too difficult in real life, but on the page I must round out my villains.
    • Finally having the last word. In real life, when someone says something insulting or snotty to me, the perfect retort arrives a few hours later. But on the page, my protagonist can rip off the perfect zinger. Zap! (Picture a verbal lightning bolt obliterating the snotty person.)
    • The company of other writers. Even though our stories and preferred genres vary widely, we’re all creatives walking/hiking/slogging/clambering on the same path. We understand each other deep in our bones.
    • Feedback: I trust (most) other writers to point out issues with my writing that merit my attention.
    • More than any work community I’ve belonged to, writers cheer each other on, prop each other up, comfort each other when bad reviews arrive like flaming bags of dog poop on the front stoop, when editors/critique partners call for yet another revision, when a promising plot thread fizzles. And they point me toward craft books, websites and workshops that give me tools to climb out of the whole I’ve dug. Thank you.

    And you, fellow writers? What are your favorite bits?

 

ISWG Question o’ the Month: How do you find time to write?

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

It’s ISWG time again. The Insecure Writers’ Support Group is a place where writers encourage each other, express their doubts, and offer help. According to their website, it’s “a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.” They also offer oodles of writerly resources. Visit them here:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

This month’s question: How do you find the time to write in your busy day?

Well, that hardly seems fair. I’m retired, y’all. I had the great good fortune to retire from teaching high school at age fifty-two, and I’ve been writing with the energy of a demon-possessed squirrel ever since—and the focus. Oh look, there’s a peanut!

I have my own little office in our new home, and here I sit, BICFOKTAM. (On the very small chance you haven’t seen that acronym, it means butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, typing away madly.) Right now I’m revising a manuscript, carving out great swaths of extraneous sub-plot, filing away unneeded secondary characters for future stories. It hurts a little, but mostly it’s an interesting challenge.

I’ve always functioned best with deadlines, and now I have to create or find them, such as the upcoming Women’s Fiction Writers Association conference, critique group meetings, and contests.

Still, there are temptations to stray. Like sexy sirens perched on the treacherous rocks, email, Facebook and Twitter constantly tempt me to put aside my writing “just for a moment.”

“Take a break,” they sing in their velvety, soothing voices. “Look at this interesting article, that blog post. They’re about writing, so it’s OK.” It seems the song of the sirens actually sounds like “Ping, buzz, ping, ping, buzz” as my laptop and phone tempt me to stray from the path of righteousness.

It’s hard to focus, especially when the words aren’t flowing easily. Coffee helps. So does keeping track of my daily word count, a good habit cultivated during NANOWRIMO.

After a lifetime of deadlines and schedules imposed from without, it’s challenging to handle all this writing time in a productive way. And it’s a very frustrating feeling to realize I’ve frittered away a day on social media, errands, chores and TV without writing much. I find I actually write with more focus on days when a chunk of my time is scheduled for other things—appointments, tutoring and the like. Then I know I must buckle down and produce something in, say, the next two hours.

But as for finding time to write, no prob’. For me, it’s a question of focus. See coffee, above.

Blood-Red Ink

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

It’s ISWG Wednesday again. The first Wednesday of each month, members of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group answer a question about writing and then hop about the blogosphere, checking out each other’s answers.

From the ISWG website: “The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a home for writers in all stages; from unpublished to bestsellers. Our goal is to offer assistance and guidance. We want to help writers overcome their insecurities, and by offering encouragement we are creating a community of support.”

ISWG offers an impressive number of resources for writers. And this month’s question is: What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring writer? Where is it now? Collecting dust or has it been published?

In Writing Fiction from Point Zero, June 6, 2016, I wrote about my first act of murder on paper, a story inspired by a crazy student during my early teaching years. I never finished that piece. Further literary murders followed as my then-marriage descended into nastiness. Just last week I found two short stories from that era than involve the demise of a scornful, demeaning husband. So therapeutic! I had no intention of publishing back then; I was just flexing my muscles, enjoying the creative process.

The first piece I wrote for publication was a cozy mystery entitled Murder on Principal. It’s the tale of a high school teacher who finds her principal dead in his office. Of course, she falls under suspicion, and when a second staff member is found dead, she tries to find the killer’s identity before s/he can strike again. You can read a sample in this year’s Guide to Literary Agents, in the section where a panel of agents critique first pages. Their comments were mixed; it’s a first novel, after all.

While my goal is traditional publication, I had a pretty realistic idea of my chances for getting this first novel published—that is, slim. Whisper-thin. Like, one cell thick. I used the revision and submission process as my training ground for future, more salable novels. I’m still entertaining notions about self-publishing it, though. There must be teachers like me who would enjoy reading about the demise of a sadistic principal. For now, my first novel is waiting patiently on the shelf for further attention.

Meanwhile, the blood-red ink continues to drip from my computer, as well as from my revision notes. I’m happily remarried and retired from teaching, and yet I can’t control my murderous impulses. I guess once you’ve tasted blood, there’s no turning back.

High Praise from the Other Side

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

“I don’t usually like stories like this, but I really enjoyed reading yours.”

What’s the best thing someone has ever said about your writing? That’s this month’s question from the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a collection of bloggers whose topic is, at least sometimes, the writing life. Support and commiseration from other writers has been so helpful during these first years of my writing “career”—nothing published yet, but I am working on it.

My face-to-face critique group meets twice a month, an ever-revolving batch of local writers with a few core members, of which I’m one. We’ve had submissions of historical fiction, memoir, vampire romance, literary short stories, mortal romance, blog entries, folk tales, military fiction, speculative fiction, fiction for children, and poetry, but the greatest number of writers in the group are working on science fiction and/or fantasy. And then there’s me, with my contemporary women’s fiction and cozy mysteries. No explosions, no aliens, no vampires, and only a little sex.

It’s a valuable exercise for us all to look carefully at evolving stories in genres we’d never pick up off the book shelf. In general, romance novels send me into a diabetic coma. Anything that smacks of post-apocalyptic leaves me cold—I mean, we all face enough tragedy and hardship in real life; why wallow in it? I don’t find vampires at all sexy. Descriptions of military weaponry make me snooze. Fantasy can be so predictable: flying dragons, magic crystals, some chica finds out she’s the hereditary princess and must lead her people in an epic battle against Snog the Despicable… And don’t get me started on YA. After more than a quarter century of teaching teenagers, I don’t want to read about some kid coming of age in predictable ways, whether it’s on Planet Zoltron or in fourteenth-century France. And, other than the occasional female writer around my age, no group member would reach for a lighthearted tale of a middle-aged woman reinventing herself after her kids finally leave the nest.

And yet, good storytelling is good storytelling. My writing is definitely richer from having plunged into all these other genres. I’ve really enjoyed watching these tales of talking animals, mysterious space ships, time travel, epic battles, psychotic breaks, and teenage family drama coalesce into entertaining, moving stories. And when one of the group members tells me that he enjoys my writing despite a lack of interest in the subject matter, I know that I’ve hit the mark. So here’s to stretching ourselves as writers by sharing and critiquing across genres. We have so much to teach each other.