Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Art of (Racing) Pacing


Kathleen Kaska
It’s that time of year when thoroughbreds have been running the big races: the Dubai World Cup, the Arkansas Derby, and, or course, the Triple Crown races. I love watching the horses run. The jockeys make it look so easy—load the horse in the gate, take off, run fast and finish—all in about two minutes. I usually pick a longshot, hoping to watch it blow past the favorite. That rarely happens, but it’s exciting when it does. What amazes me the most is when one of the favorites breaks from the gate and the jockey pulls back the reins, instead of immediately taking the lead. After hanging back, a power-hungry machine of horse and jockey gain momentum, steadily weaving through the throng. One by one it passes all the other horses and finishes first right at the finish line.
            Over the years, I’ve realized that winning horse races is not so much the art of racing as it is the art of pacing. This concept applies to my writing as well. With writing blog posts, newsletters, social-media promo bites, articles, and books, sometimes I feel as if I’m racing through my writing life. When that happens, I remind myself to slow down and set goals, prioritize my projects, give myself a pat on the back, and like the sharp jockey, hang back a while and ready myself for the final push. True, I don’t beat other writers to a finish line, since this race is run by only me. I don’t get a blanket of poses draped over my shoulders. I don’t get a silver cup for my trophy shelf. And, as of yet, I haven’t been awarded a gigantic purse. But by pacing, I get the job done. Afterwards I feel like a winner because I’ve accomplished something I’m proud of. 
Me and my hero, Secretariat

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Mystery of the Unknown Soldiers

As I attended the annual Memorial Day ceremony today and listened to the reading of the names of area soldiers who died this past year, I couldn't help thinking of mysteries solved and unsolved. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice, yet their identities are still unknown.

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore-the-Cemetery/Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier

It's a shame these Unknown Soldiers can't be individually recognized for their gift to us.

Without them, we would not enjoy the precious freedoms we enjoy today.





Find Morgan Mandel's mysteries & romances at:
http://www.amazon.com/author/morganmandel

Excerpts: http://morgansbooklinks.blogspot.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/morgan.mandel

Twitter: @MorganMandel




Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Worry List

I don’t remember where I read about this, but it’s a brilliant idea. It’s saved me lot of worry, several anxiety pills, and probably an ulcer.

All writers seem to have a pervasive sense of overwhelming, ill-defined anxiety. At times it verges on panic and even despair. We’re universally puzzled as to why we’re doing this. We often say because it makes us happy. And it does. It keeps us sane and gives us moments of elation and joy. But those are only moments. The rest of the time, we’re worried.

We worry that we can’t write a book. We worry that we can’t finish it. We worry that we’ve done a horrible job. We’re worried we won’t ever get published. When we’re published we worry that our books won’t sell, that we’ll get horrible reviews, that the world will discover what shams we are. Then we worry that we’ll never be able to write another book. After that, the wonderful merry-go-round starts again!

I found a great help for all of this! The Worry List. I typed up a list of everything I was worried about. I included deadlines and sales, forgetting blogs, but also, since my first list was in the fall, Christmas presents and birthday presents. (Our family, me included, tends to have children during the fall and during winter holidays.) I also added some personal health, family, and money-related things. They totaled to 21.

Then, with all my worries solidified, defined, and recorded, I closed the file and went about my way, worrying only about the specific project I was working on at the time. Whenever I began to feel anxious, I would open the file and there would be all my worries, still safe and sound.

Some people advocate setting aside a regular period of time to spend worrying about the list items, but I found I only needed to check on them and give them a moment, as needed.

Two months after I made the list, I went over each item and discovered that I could remove 3 of them. Just lately, I removed 5 more. They are still “things” but they are things that I’m not going to worry about anymore (except the birthday and Christmas giftsthose will be added back). There are still 13 items on the list, so it is alive and well. I imagine I’ll add to it someday, but haven’t had to yet.


Why does looking at my Worry List make me feel secure? Doesn’t everyone know that writers are different? What can I say?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Using Character Knowledge

by Jean Henry Mead

Most writers have experienced plot block at least once during their careers. The story’s going along great when all of a sudden you come to a complete stop as though a stone wall stood in your path. Surprised and a little fearful, you can’t seem to get going again. You either abandon the project or put it aside, hoping you’ll eventually come back to it.


A good plot is like a good marriage. It begins with plenty of enthusiasm and energy, but after that first rush you have to settle in for the long haul. Your story has to deepen and acquire rich details so that your reader doesn’t lose interest. Sometimes, when you’ve run out of action and detail, you might begin to hate the story and wish you’d never started it. That’s when you’ve run out of what William McCranor Henderson called “character knowledge.” He said, “When you hit that wall and don’t know where to go next, the best solution is to dig deeper.”


It's time to unearth intimate facts about your characters. Not everything about them, "just the stuff we really need to know about our characters. Ideally, this includes the two or three key nuggets of personality or character history that can make you fall back in love with your story."


An example of character knowledge might be that your protagonist, who is allergic to peanuts, risks exposure to the deadly dust when he follows the killer into a Georgia canning factory. His allergy doesn’t necessarily add up to character knowledge unless it causes something crucial to happen to the storyline. 


One way to dig deeper into your character's past is to interview yourself. In a focused free-write, jot down a few lines and answer the questions honestly. Such as:


Q. Why would John marry a woman he doesn’t love?

A. Her father owns a large company and will offer John a management job. His wife will inherit the company some day, making John a wealthy man. Maybe the old man will have an unfortunate accident and John won’t have to wait that long for the money.
Q. But won’t his wife know that he doesn’t love her?
A. He’ll shower her with gifts and pretend that she’s the love of his life.
Q. But everyone thinks he’s a great guy.
A. So did I until I started researching his character.

If you’re not getting the right answers from yourself, interview your characters.


Q. Brandi, why were you involved in the accident?

A. I lost control of my car.
Q. Were you texting while driving?
A.  No. A threatening call caused me to drop my cell phone.

Properly interviewing characters can unearth traits and faults you didn't know existed, which can lead to plot complications and solutions. Then, when you rewrite that blocked scene, you can take a new run at the wall and watch it disappear because you have character knowledge that will allow you to view the scene through new eyes. 


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Slavery to the Technology Gods

by Janis Patterson

I have been forced to cave. Again. You all know that I am not only a techno-naif, but a techno-phobe. I wrote my first books on a 1939 Smith-Corona portable typewriter. It was manual made completely of metal and came in a case made of ¼  inch plywood. The whole thing was heavy enough to make a dandy anchor and the only reason it was called it a portable was because it was smaller and lighter and easier to move than the elephantine office models. By the way, I still own it and always will. It was my father’s in his youth, and he gave it to me the summer before I entered the fourth grade. I treasure it.

As dependable as the old portable is, however, computers are so much easier. Or at least, they’re supposed to be. Don’t get me started on the continuous “upgrades” and “improvements” that have been made. (Said in full sarcasm mode.) I don’t see why – when my work method (putting one word after another and then saving the whole) has not changed appreciably since the days of the old SC manual – every few years I should be forced to lay out a lot of money and then spend time learning a lot of things I don’t need to know simply because Gates et al want to force everyone in to giving them a few more millions. If the techies want all those new frills and fol-de-rals, fine; let them have them, but they shouldn't pull support from other systems preferred by many. To do so is nothing but greed in its purest and most hateful form. In my opinion Word 2003 was the optimal word processing system. All the commands were on one row and of a size that one could see without squinting, the design was crisp and no-nonsense and easy to use, so naturally it could not be allowed to stay.

Of course I realize I am the oddest creature, and probably a thorn (I hope!) in the side of computer designers. Just because I pay for something and I am the one to use it, I feel I should have it set up the way I want. I should not be constantly subjected to the whims of some tech-crazy designer who changes and “improves” (sarcasm mode back on in full spate) something just because he can – and can not only charge for it, but force us to accept and pay for it.

I’ve written about how my beloved 15 year old Dell finally had to be replaced – it was on the now-unsupported XP operating system, which was made unsafe to use on the ‘net. As a lot of my work is done on the ‘net, I couldn’t put my work computer at risk, so I found (at a price I could actually afford!) an almost new 17” Gateway through the good offices of a friend. It was a love/hate relationship from the beginning, with the emphasis on ‘hate’. It had Windows 7 and Word 2010, both systems that have complicated things to a ridiculous degree. What took two clicks to accomplish in 03 now take seven or eight. The designs are fussy, the procedures arcane, the negotiations around ‘networking’ ridiculous. ‘Networking’? What part of “personal” computer don’t they understand? Still I was glad not to have to deal with the much-maligned Windows 8, which I understood to be hideously complicated and more like a cell phone than a computer. I prayed never to have anything to do with such an unnecessary design.

Until we went to Egypt two months ago. As this was a working trip, I bit the bullet and took along my computer. My 17” laptop computer. I had a smaller ‘purse’ computer, but it was 5 years old, had no virus protection and was starting to act wonky. Besides, I didn’t know what off my computer I would need. (Turned out to be nothing, but that’s with my 20/20 hindsight.) The purse computer weighed just a little over a pound less than the big one, too, and I thought I could manage everything quite easily.

I did manage everything… but not easily. Despite the best and very physical efforts of Lufthansa airlines to force me to put my computer and cameras in the luggage compartment for the flight from Hell I never let them out of my hands, and that did terrible things to my shoulder and already problematic back, causing problems that persist to this day. (They are getting better, though – just not fast enough for me!)

So, when I saw a tablet on sale that I could afford, I caved and bought it. It’s an ASUS, comes with its own keyboard which makes a case when closed and the screen part can be removed to make a traditional tablet. It also comes with Windows 8.1 – which is just as ugly and uselessly trendy as I had feared – and I’m terrified of it. I spent most of yesterday with my sainted software man at our local computer store as he set it up in the way I prefer and drilled the basics of use into me.


The little tablet with keyboard weighs less than two pounds, and will fit into most of my purses, to say nothing of my traveling ‘office’ backpack. For that alone I will love it. I still fear what will happen when it is deliberately made obsolete and once again I and everyone else will have to pay for “new and improved” technology we neither need nor want. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What is Success for an Author?

Some would say becoming a best-seller.

I've been in the writing business for years, published since 1982--and I have not yet acheived the best-seller status and probably won't in my lifetime.

Other might say having your name recognized.

I suspect a lot of folks do recognize my name because I'm on three blogs on a regular basis, and have my own where I not only promote myself, but many other authors. I also promote like crazy when I have a new book out, and I seem to be compelled to let all my Facebooks friends what I'm up to.

Being able to give up a day-job seems to be another sign of success.

I did that a long time ago--but my writing certainly doesn't support me.

A sign of success to me would be making more money than I spend with promotion.

Yep, some promotion does cost. When I did my freebie for Kindle, I paid for several sites to promote it. Which ones worked best, I have no idea. But I over 5000 copies of the book were downloaded and other books in the series have been purchased (the whole idea of the free download) and new reviews are popping up.

When you do in-person events, there are many costs:

The cost of purchasing books to sell
Gas to get to the venue.
If it's faraway, a hotel room and food to eat.

Often the amount of books sold doesn't begin to pay what you had to put out.
So why do we do it?

I can only speak for myself:

I like meeting readers and talking about my books.
It's fun to get away.
And if you went on vacation, you'd have to pay for a hotel and food--so I consider these trips mini-vacations.

So far I've planned several of these "mini-vacations."

Now I can hear you saying, so why on earth do you do all this if it's not paying off?

One biggie is that as a working writer, all of these expenses are tax-deductible.

But the most important of all is, I'm not going to quit writing until I'm not capable enough to do it. I have this strong compulsion to keep on writing--to find out what my series characters are up to, to create new problems for them and help them solve the problems.

Ah ha! Maybe that's the real sign of success--doing something that I love.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith


Me and hubby a the Jackass Mail Run--this one was right down the street and cost a fraction of what most of these venues charge.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The rules of winning

During my day job, I say I've won the day if I get more stuff off my desk than comes on it. I'm knee deep in the urgent there, hoping to keep the urgent from becoming the fire that consumes my time.

Writing a novel is different. Here, to use Covey's (Check out First Things First if you're looking for a time management book) terms, I'm working more in the important quadrant. It's turtle writing, slow and steady, making sure my weekly word counts are being met or exceeded. It's this pre-planning and driving with a flashlight in the dark that gets me from an idea about a book to a full fledged novel up for sale in your local bookstore.  Or with kitten masks on your face.


It's like magic. But not the magic wand kind. Writing a book's a lot like planting a seed. If you walk away and leave it alone, the seed will probably die or be eaten by a crow. However, if you tend the seed. Water it when it needs a drink, clear out the weeds surrounding the tiny sprout, and keep it from being eaten, you might just take your seed to a full grown plant. Then maybe to a producing plant, one that gives you back your rewards.

But the magic isn't in the seed. It's in the work.

Johnny Appleseed taught us a little seed can change the world. But they forgot the most important part of the story, the work that went into making those trees grow.

Currently, I'm starting a new story. Actually a new story in a new series. So my flashlight at times is pretty dim, causing me to slow down and write more carefully. I'm hoping my struggles day to day will combine to be a pretty good book by the time I finish. Editing is the time when the lights are all on and the sun is beating down on your sentence structure. That's when you find the loose threads and tie them into knots.

But I'm not there yet, I'm still in the dark. And I'm hoping the magic really is in the work.

What about you? What measure do you use to define a successful day?

Lynn