Monday with Aunt Noony – and a Fireside Chat with Kimberley Troutte!

My friend, Kimberley Troutte, is up for several awards and I wanted to chat with her about the awards process and how it fits in with the rest of her writing. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with me. Grab a cuppa and join me as I get to talk with Kimberley Troutte!

ACN: Kimberley, you said you received word that your manuscript, Epicenter (also called Her Guardian, His Angel), is a finalist in the RWA contests Launch A Star AND the Melody of Love. You also have a second manuscript, God Whisperer, in the finals of the Hot Prospect contest. First, congratulations! That’s awesome news!

Can you tell me a little more about Epicenter?

KT: I would love to. Epicenter, is the dramatic story of an American philanthropist and a Haitian doctor who are fighting to save lives when the greatest earthquake Haiti has ever known rips their world apart.

ACN: How did they get considered for Launch a Star and Melody of Love? Is that something you had to submit, or were you nominated? How does that work?

KT: These are writing contests in two different RWA Chapters (Romance Writers of the World). I entered online, paid my fee and kept my fingers crossed. Preliminary judges read all the entries, score them based on predetermined scoresheets, and determine which entries are good enough to move to the final rounds. I was honored and thrilled to hear that I was moving to the finals where agents and editors determine the final standings of the winners.

And the nail biting begins…

ACN: Is there a contest fee?

KT: Yep. Usually around $15-35 USD.

ACN: How about God Whisperer? What is that about?

KT: It’s the story of a mother and her eight-year-old son who are hiding for their lives in a Danish community in the hills of California when the boy becomes famous due to an ear surgery that allows him to hear God.

God Whisperer is near and dear to my heart. I wrote it because my little boy was born without an ear canal or eardrum in his right ear. The outside of the ear looked normal (albeit a little smaller than the left) but he had no hole! Very rare. The amazing surgeons at UCLA recreated his ear, drilling the hole, making an eardrum from his own tissue, and lifting the bones so that they could pick up sounds. It was a miracle when my boy could hear out of both ears for the first time in his life and I wanted to pour that love and miracle into a book.

ACN: How did it get selected for Hot Prospect? Is that something you did on your own, or were you nominated? How does that work?

KT: I entered it in the online RWA writing contest. I was so pleased that it was a finalist in the single-title category that I cried.

ACN: What made you want to be considered for these?

KT: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to win :-), but mostly I entered these contests looking for answers. I had made huge revisions to the beginnings of both manuscripts and wanted to know if the changes worked.

First chapters are hard for me. I tend to revise them several times before the book is ready. I always worry that I might be starting in the wrong place, or in the wrong point of view, or including too much backstory, or…

The questions I hoped that the judges would help me answer were:

  • Would readers be hooked enough to want to invest their precious time to read on?
  • Am I clear—not too much backstory but enough information so that the reader is not confused?
  • Are the character likeable?
  • Is the plot interesting?

I was thrilled to pieces to see that the preliminary judges liked my first chapters, OMG they really did.

ACN: How do you find contests fit into your writing process? Is it something you do out of enjoyment, or is it part of your overall marketing strategy?

KT: Contests give me a chance to see where I am succeeding and falling short so that I can improve my story before other readers and publishing professionals see it. I always keep in mind that judging is subjective but if two judges touch on the same weak point, it probably needs to be changed.

ACN: What advice would you give to a writer wanting to start out competing? Where would a person start and what strategies could you recommend?

KT: I would recommend going to the RWA [Romance Writers of America] website. There are all sorts of contests for the unpublished and published alike and you don’t have to be a member of RWA to enter. Make sure you read the rules carefully and email the contest coordinator if you have any questions. I would choose a contest that offers judges feedback so that you can learn and grow from their advice. And remember that it is a subjective process. All judges, just like readers, are not the same. I have had one judge love the chapter while the other disliked it rather intensely. That’s the way it goes sometimes. If you are willing to put yourself out there and enter with an open mind, determined to use the contest as a tool, you should be able to learn something from it.

ACN: I wish you every success and, regardless of whether you win, you should be proud for having entered. That takes guts and I’m sure proud of you.

KT: Thank you so much. I am in a place of happy shock. I’m so grateful that judges gave up their time to help me become a better writer. It’s such a gift.

Write on!

Kimberley Troutte

On Blocks and Other Frustrations

Have you ever set a goal for yourself, like, “I’ll finish this story by X date,” and then realized your mind’s gone blank?

Yeah, me too.

I wanted to have the next chapter of The Night Is a Harsh Mistress today, and set that as my goal.  Then, when I sat down to write, my mind went blank because I worried about whether it will be any good.  Rather than fight the goal, I figured I’d chat about what works for me for getting around it.

First, be careful about what goals you do accept.  If you know that setting your expectations can tend to block you, then be selective about what goals you do try to struggle for.

Second, set small goals for doing the work.  For example, try using a timer and set it for 30 minutes.  Even if you just stare at your computer for that 30 minutes, (and no cheating on Facebook or garbage surfing), see what happens.

Third, if that doesn’t work, try sitting with your journal for a while.  Write about why you don’t want to work on your goal.  Write all the nasty, petty, complaining little putsy comments that you can think of.  Sometimes, just getting them out there can help.

Fourth, try something else.  If you have another craft, like knitting, do that for a bit just to get moving creatively.  Or, try a blog post, like this, for example.

Fifth, give yourself permission to fail.  By the time it got to be dinnertime, I realized I wasn’t going to get the chapter done today.  Instead, I decided to be honest and write about my block, and in the process, came up with some ideas for how to get around them.  It doesn’t make my goal happen, but it does keep me moving in the right direction – and that, in and of itself, can help you.

Above all, remember we are all imperfect beings.  It’s not about the goals you accomplish, but the journey you take along the way.  As they say, you win some, you lose some.  Just keep moving forward and you might be startled by how many you start finishing.

Happy creating!

Why Big Goals Don’t Work – Baby Step Your Way To Success

Every so often in writer circles, there is talk about goal-setting and success and word-count and other such lofty things.  I repeatedly hear writers moan, “My word count is too low.”  “I need a kick in the pants.”  “THIS month it’ll be different and I’ll write a NaNo length manuscript.”  (NaNo refers to the National Novel Writing Month held every year in November; more information at their website.)  What these goals fail to do is offer a workable way to achievement.  They’re not bad goals, exactly, just ineffective ones.  Why?

The secret lies in why we don’t write more.  The common misconception is that we don’t write because we’re lazy, or because we’re doing other things, or because that other person got there first and there’s just no use, or because all the good stories have been told and there’s no space for us and our stories.  The reason is rarely because we are physically incapable of writing.

I’d like to tell you an anecdote.  A professional friend of mine, under deadline for a novel (and her novels are over one hundred thousand words each), became very ill.  After hospitalization, she returned home and was given the wrong medication.  She nearly died.  Her ability to sit up at a desk at all was gone.  She could not type.  She could hardly see the monitor in front of her face.

What did she do?

She typed that novel, word by painful word, with one finger.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

If that doesn’t blow any excuse out of the water, I don’t know what will.

What’s the lesson there?  When we have large projects in front of us, the only way to accomplish them is by one bite at a time.  One does not eat a chicken by stuffing the whole thing in one’s mouth.  One has a nibble at a drumstick.  A bite of wing.  One eats the chicken, slowly, swallowing each bite before going on to the next one.  So, too, with writing a novel.  One does not sit down in one sitting and write a novel (unless under rare circumstances).  To have sustainable growth, one gets into the habit of writing a small amount, each day, which add up to a completed manuscript.

Next time you have the opportunity to make a large goal, why not try taking a step back and set a small one instead?  Maybe, “I’ll write 3 pages a day.”  Or, “I’ll write 1,000 words a day.”  Or even, “I’ll write 3 pages today.”  See if that unlocks some of your potential and gets you onto the page.  That way, at the end of the month, you won’t be one of the writers who laments, “Wow, I had such high hopes for this month but… [fill in the blank].”

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Write on!

Writer Wednesday: Business Cards – Do You Need Them?

At a recent writing group meeting, one of the members asked me, “Do I need to get business cards?” It’s a good question, and it deserves a good answer. And that answer is not, necessarily, “Yes.”

The first question to ask ourselves is, “Do I want business cards?” If the answer is, “Yes,” then my answer is, “Then go get them.” If we really want them, then why not get them? That would imply there’s something wrong with having them, or a worry that we might not be important enough to have them. That’s nothing to be concerned with, because there’s nothing bad that will happen if we have a business card. There are no Business Card Police that will come and arrest we if we have one.

The next question to ask ourselves is, “Why do I want business cards?” What do we want to use them for? This leads to a philosophical question, what is a business card to be used for? It’s something we can give to others so they can contact us. The minimum we’d have on a card is our name and either a phone number or an email address, or maybe just a website. But it’s unlikely we’d give someone a card with no way to contact us and just a pretty picture and a quote (though if that’s what we want on our cards, then go for it).

Once we know why we want them, for networking or to promote ourselves, the next question is easier: “What do I want on my business cards?” Here are the obvious ones:

1. Our name

2. How to contact us (be it a phone or an email address)

Here’s the less obvious string attached to those two questions: do we want to protect our “real” identity and use a pen name? If we want to protect our identity and don’t yet want to do the work required to launch a pen name, then it’s perfectly permissible to put only our first name on the card. Be prepared for folks to be curious, but all we need to tell them is “This is what I’m comfortable sharing on a business card right now.” Most folks will accept that answer. Using whatever name they were given when they met us will lessen confusion. If we go by “Bob,” then using our internet handle of “Wicked Dog 41” will confuse people. Putting “Bob” and then “wickeddog41@yahoo” works, but make sure that folks can figure out who the heck gave them the card. Otherwise, it loses its effectiveness as a way for them to contact us – which is the whole point of the card to begin with.

The less obvious question is a little trickier: “What else do I want on my business cards?” These can include:

1. Our website, if we have one

2. Our blog(s)

3. Our Facebook or Facebook page (if we do this, get a unique username and use that instead of the alphabet soup Facebook uses in the beginning)

4. Our Twitter name or names

5. Our LinkedIn profile

6. Any other online presence that we’re part of

7. A description of who we are an what we do; for example, “Writer,” “Author,” “Creative Designer,” “Web Programmer,” etc.

8. Some folks I’ve seen use #7 as an opportunity to put something funny or offbeat, such as “Cat Wrangler” or, simply, “Geek.” If that fits with the image we’re trying to project, then by all means, put that too.

The next question is, “What happens if I have these cool cards and then change my mind about what’s on them?” No problem. We can print up just a few cards, if we decide to do them ourselves with templates from Avery or another similar provider; we can also get cards from somewhere like Vista Print and that’s only 250. Worst case scenario, they go into a drawer or we get creative about changing them (handwriting the changes or even printing up labels to paste over the parts that have changed).

And the big question: “What if I’m not published yet? Can I still have cards?” Of COURSE we can. What’s the purpose of a business card? So people can contact us. We will make friends and connections on the journey to being published, and presumably, those folks would like to continue to contact us. Giving them a way to do so just makes good sense socially – otherwise we have to handwrite it, and maybe on the back of one of THEIR cards (how embarrassing, no?) Plus, if our handwriting is out of practice because of all the internet usage and typing that we do these days, it’s probably safer to give them a nicely-prepared card rather than an illegible scrawl.

There’s no reason not to get ourselves business cards and, with a little thought, we can have fun and create a card that reflects ourselves and becomes part of the entire presentation of ourselves. Like resumes, clothing, websites, and blogs, they are simply a reflection of ourselves to the world. The more thought we put into how we want to do that, the better.

So, the next logical question, now that we’ve cleared out the “why’s,” is “How do we get business cards?” The next thing to decide is, “Do we want to do them ourselves, or buy them?” We’ll take them one at a time.

If we want to make them ourselves, we can use Microsoft Word or a similar program, or something like Adobe InDesign. I’m going to make the assumption that Word is the software most of us have available, so I’ll explain how to use it. Inside Word, there are templates for Labels; inside that list are a number of pre-made templates for popular business card manufacturers. The ones I use are Avery; 3M and other manufacturers have them as well. Under older versions of word, go to the “Tools” menu to get to the label function; under the new version go to the “Mailings” tab and click on Labels.

The labels you purchase will have a number associated with them; find that number in the list and select it. Create a new document and edit it from there. We can add graphics or fancy type if we want to; however, remember that it’s more important that it’s legible than fancy. If we use a fancy font for the name, then make sure we use a simple font for the email addresses, phone numbers, etc. Make sure the person to whom we give the card can easily get a hold of us.

If we prefer to buy cards, a great place to start is Vistaprint. If we keep our eyes peeled, Vistaprint runs regular specials for 250 cards for free. They offer a number of color schemes and graphics. There’s less flexibility than doing your own designs, but they offer a good way of designing the cards and coming up with a quality product. If we choose to, we can also load up our own graphics instead of using the free templates; doing that will cost a little more can simplify the process.

Whatever we ultimately decide, remember that all of this is to support our writing process. As we make contacts in the industry, and make new friends, business cards can help us build our network. The more thought we put into that, the better off we are. Don’t be afraid to experiment and change cards as time goes on. Nothing is set in stone; it’s okay to have trial runs. After all, the card is simply a tool to facilitate communication.

Have fun!

Writer Wednesday: Daily Maintenance

As my daily round brings me back to the first Wednesday of the month, I find that the post I intended to write has evolved. Originally I wanted to discuss writing conferences, since the RT Booklovers Convention is here in Chicago this year. While that is a fabulous thing and I’ll write about it in other places, today I wanted to downshift and return to home base. It’s easy to forget, in all the fuss and bother, that the daily round is a daily round, not a line, and that the things we thought completed come around again and again. And not just laundry or dishes.

I’ve been working with Julia Cameron’s book Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance and find that, as is usual for Cameron’s work, many of her ideas resonate with me. In particular, one passage jumped off the page at me: “I must write. I must walk. I must pray. I must content myself with small amounts of progress. Above all, I must not binge on drama and despair.”*

As I talk with other writers and creative people, I find that many of the folks who I talk to assume that creatives must be able to do what they do just because of who they are, because they are creative, and not because of concrete, grounding behaviors that they must invest effort, time and care on an ongoing basis. In addition, the thought process seems to progress to the idea that if we, ourselves, cannot do that kind of thing – prodigious art creation without any real grounding – then we must not be “real” artists.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Regular creative output is like any other kind of output, be it legal briefs, laying bricks, or cooking and cleaning for a family of adults and children and pets. It takes energy, effort, and consistency; it also requires rest and recharge for the creator unless one wants to have an ugly breakdown. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, we end up at breakdown anyway.

What is the lesson there?

I think it’s just as Cameron says, above. There are several simple things that, done daily, help us stay on track. It’s like Curly says in the movie City Slickers: you have to find your One Thing (see below). You have to respect your own process enough to know what works for you, and if you don’t know, then you need to find it. I suspect, though, that you probably already know a few of them: get enough sleep, eat clean, write daily, etc. Whatever your “things” are, respect them and do them. It’s the only way I know of to get to where you’re going.

Write On!

*Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance, by Julia Cameron; Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, New York; 2006; page 40

Deep Point-of-View or “How Do You Really Feel About That?”

As I learn more about the old writer’s dictum, write, revise, revise, and revise; and as I get practice submitting my work to publishers, I’ve found that one of the hardest parts is when you get to the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty “let’s clean up this sucker because we’re about to hit ‘send’ to give it to the publisher and it’s time to make sure it’s free of any dumb-dumb errors.”

Dumb-dumb errors. Kind of like Dumb-Dumb Bullets in Lethal Weapon IV.

But in all seriousness, I wanted to share with you my magic list of POV [point-of-view] problem words that I got when I attended a self-editing workshop put on by my editor, Tera Kleinfelter, Assistant Managing Editor at Samhain Publishing:

  • assumed 
  • considered 
  • decided 
  • felt 
  • figured 
  • heard 
  • knew 
  • realized 
  • remembered 
  • saw 
  • thought 
  • wondered 
  • worked out

One of the challenges with writing deep point-of-view is that there are so many different definitions for it, but little concrete advice on how to do it. I have found that doing a “find” command on my manuscript for these words, then rewriting the sentence in which they occur, does wonders for deepening my POV.

Which leads me to my next point. WHY are these POV problem words? After all, fiction is full of “He felt a shiver,” and “She wondered if he would ever get up the nerve to ask her out.” So why are these words “problems?”

In deep POV, the objective is to get as deeply as possible into the mind of the character. The better that I, as an author, get at giving the reader the exact thoughts as though my character were thinking them without translation, the better I’m accomplishing my goal of going deep into POV. I do not profess to be an expert that this, by any means, but here’s how I understand that to work. Let’s use the “He felt a shiver,” as an example.

What is the statement? It’s the author telling the reader what the character is feeling; it’s not the character himself doing it, nor is the author showing the reader anything. (Remember that old saw, “Show, don’t tell”?) “He felt a shiver” could apply to the President of the United States entering a room in which the President of Russia and the King of Monaco are sitting; it could be a spy entering a room in which his target is dancing with the person with whom the spy has fallen in love; it could be a serviceperson discharged from the Army after a tour in Iraq and finding out that his baby brother has been in a car accident. It doesn’t show us anything unique about the character.

“A spasm shivered up the side of his neck, vibrating all the way into his ear and making his stomach roil with dread.”

That tells us a lot more about the character. It’s probable, of the three examples I listed above, that it’s the serviceperson finding out about his brother. It’s unlikely that the President is going to report a feeling in his stomach as “dread,” particularly when meeting two other heads of state (although, if it is, you can use this description to “sell” the reader on WHY it’s plausible that the feeling belongs to the President). It’s unlikely it’s a spy, since a trained spy is unlikely to feel dread like that, and certainly not upon seeing the person he loves in the arm of an opponent or an enemy.

The more directly you can describe for the reader the emotional flavor that is referred to by one of our problem words, the more deeply you are showing the reader the character and, therefore the more deeply you are getting into POV.

Happy writing!

Wiley Wednesday: Life After NaNo

Those of us who have done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) share one thing in common, whether or not we actually completed our project or not: there’s a sense of let-down after November is over, a feeling of “what now?” Rest easy, writers; you’re not alone. There are others out there to play with, other projects to tackle, and other crazy goals to set.

A great place to look, even if you didn’t do NaNo itself, is the “I Wrote a Novel, Now What?” section on the main NaNo site. It has several sections useful to writers of all stripes:

Revision Advice – After the draft is done, the editing begins. There are as many ways to revise as there are to edit, and this section features excellent suggestions to make the process less painful.

Revision Pep Talks – never underestimate the power of a good pep talk! Marathoners and long-term Weight Watchers can tell you, attitude is everything; a good pep talk can help give you a well-placed attitude adjustment.

NaNoWriMo-style Events On the Horizon – I love this section! It is comforting, particularly in the first and second weeks of December, to find that there are others out there doing what you’re doing – or, in some cases, doing WAY more. There are blog-everyday-for-a-month people, editing people, and NaNoNotNovember folks. This is a great place to come to get ideas about where other writers hang out, and what you can do to keep up the madness of NaNo. Momentum’s a beautiful thing.

Novel Writing Contests Without Entry Fees – This is a great way to test your mettle. Many contests out there do not require entry fees and this is a place to find many of them. Not all of them are for novels, either – the Writer’s Digest “Your Story” contest is 750 words or less – a great way to prime the pump.

Some Thoughts on Publishing – This is a very useful section. Rather than pimping for the publishing industry, it contains links to some excellent advice sites, particularly helpful for avoiding scams.

More OLL Goodness – Last, but not least, this is the place to come to find out what else the crazy folks at the Office of Letters and Light (the organization that brings you NaNoWriMo every year) are up to.

Bottom line, if you love to write, there are others out there who love it too. Even if you don’t have an in-person writing group in your very own town, with the internet, you don’t have to. Writers all over the world connect and support each other every day. What are you waiting for? Get out there and write!

Wiley Wednesday—Custom Facebook Fan Pages

One thing I always admire about the bigger-name authors is their beautiful custom designs–Twitter backgrounds, websites, Facebook pages…things I didn’t think the averaged e-published author could afford.

I was SO wrong.
Let me tell you about the company ShortStack. They’re new, hip, and with it. The FREE version of the program would allow you endless ways to customize your Facebook fan page. And it’s fairly simple to use–just click and drag the elements you want added to a new tab (y’know those things along the left column under your picture? Those are the tab elements) and then connect your account to Facebook. POOF! You have a new tab! (For an example, look at Skylar Kade’s page–thought it’s on the edge of NSFW)
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This is what the tab composer in ShortStack looks like. While I’m sure you’ll enjoy exploring on your own, I’d like to highlight ten elements of the program that you should know.

1. Your composition tabs: design (where you put the elements together), CSS (where, if you know this coding language, you can make your tabs look even more slick), and PUBLISH, where you apply the Facebook tab you’ve just created to your Facebook page. The image below shows the PUBLISH tab, and there are two very important things to change before you officially publish your page. First, change your tab name to something descriptive, like “Welcome”
or “Contest”, otherwise it will default to “Tab 1”. Second, if you want this to be the first thing that your visitor sees, you should change it to the “Default landing tab”.
2. Tab name: like I mentioned above in the Publish tab, also change the name here to match.
3. Add widgets: These are the different elements you can add to your page.
4. Basic tools: You can add elements for pictures, slideshows, text, links, and a shopping cart, though I primarily stick to the pictures and text (NOTE: there is also a text element at the bottom of the widget column; this is for HTML text. The top text element is more like a word processor that allows you to choose font, color, style, etc)
5. Promotions: from left to right, the widgets are Promotion, Voting, and Entry Count. Note that if you are running a promotion there’s extra work involved because you have to create the promotion information and entry form–but it’s well-worth it. What I prefer to do is create two tabs–a “Welcome” tab with basic information, and a link to my “Contest” tab. (NOTE: while you can’t create two tabs at a time, the free version of Short Stack does allow you multiple tabs)
6. MailChimp widget: Have a newsletter or thinking about sending one out? You can add a MailChimp sign-up widget to your Facebook tab. I love MailChimp as much as I love ShortStack–and it’s equally free.
7. Integrations: YouTube videos (for those book trailers), twitter streams, and RSS feeds–all can be added to your tab. To keep things from being crowded, consider creating an additional tab for your RSS and twitter feeds.
8. Forms and Promos: This is where you’ll be directed if you add the promotion widget (#5)
9. Edit Widgets: This is where you drop any element you want added to your tab. To rearrange their order, grab the top left corner and move the element. The pencil allows you to edit the widget–definitely explore all the options available to you there. The teal button at the bottom, “show titles and borders” is something I usually unclick. Otherwise, each widget will be boxed and titled on your Facebook page.
10. Live Preview: This is what your page will look like to a visitor. Note the three options: A key (what the page administrator would see), A thumbs up (what a fan would see) and a red-lined thumbs up (what a non-fan would see). If you look back to #9, each widget has these similar images below them so you can determine who sees what. This is useful for what is called “fan-gating,” where you show exclusive content only to your fans. So, for example, you could have a promotion widget that is set to fan-only (click the thumbs up at the bottom of the widget box) and a visitor would have to “like” your page before seeing the contest information. (NOTE: in place of the key, the Edit Widgets area uses two people to represent what EVERY visitor sees)
11. Status: This will show you whether your tab is Unpublished or Published.
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I know this is sounds complicated, but play around with it–if there’s something you don’t like, you can always edit it.
Feel free to direct any questions at me (@caseylynnmms) or at Jim from Short Stack (@shortstacklab)–they’re really good about helping their customers.
Happy Fan Paging!