Friday, December 21, 2012

What's in a Name? How Do You Name Your Characters?

YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday #161, What's in a name?

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link - or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.

This Week's Topic is:
 The list of top baby names in 2012 had us talking about naming characters. How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?

When I began writing shorts and intro's to novels, I would always use the names of family and friends. My heart was in the right place, I thought, When this book becomes a world-wide best seller, [blank] will feel so loved because they are a character in my awesome story. And I tried it. I named characters after people I love, my kids, my friends, my family....but after trying this for many, many times, I realized that I had to break free of it.  The reason? Because it's limiting.

Primarily, this is because I find that if I name a character for someone I know, that character begins to act as the person I know would. Perhaps this is fine IF the character's nature is similar to the real counterpart, but often, I am melding various characteristics of many people or creating someone that I've never met and therefore, it becomes hard to keep the fictional person acting in tune when they hold the namesake of someone I know. So...sorry everyone, I love you but you'll have to settle for being in the credits and dedications.

Instead, I have used various methods. For main characters, I usually know their names as I am thinking about the concept for the story. They're as integral to the story line as the plot elements are. In my post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy (unofficially referred to as "The Paragon", I chose the name "West Lambert" for the lead. Now, it is true that her last name is also the name of the airport in St. Louis and since I'm from Missouri that was a little bit of love for the Midwest, however, it has very little bearing on the story. West, however, does. The name invokes something a bit androgynous and strong. West is far from girly. She's brave and ready to blow where the wind takes her and for all her faults, she's a wise soul. It seemed fitting for her.

Some names, such as Laura "Lula" Fontaine, the character from my middle-grade fantasy novel, which I'm now calling "The Girl Who Lost Her Imagination and How She Came to Find It", had the right mix of somber and whimsy to make the plot elements work together. 

Sometimes it's trial and error- some of the supporting roles have names I change half-way through the rough draft, just to see how I like them when they're in use. For example, in "The Paragon," I changed Bastian's name from Benjamin about 20 pages in. I just got sick of writing it and it didn't feel right, so I switched it up. I have also looked up names from various eras and cultures and would consult a baby name website if I just needed a way to get the ideas flowing.

Naming characters is fun though. Once they have a name, they come to life. There's a lot in a name and if affects their personality, their actions, and the way other characters relate to them...just like in real life. 

If you want to share your process, tell us about it- create a post on your blog and post a link in the comments or, share what you decided to name your child and why...perhaps it was a family namesake, perhaps you liked the meaning? It's all creative wordplay and I love hearing from you!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Rough Draft is Crappier Than Yours!

So you get to the end of your rough draft! Yay! Congratulations! Sure, it's rough- I wonder if that's how it got its name...yes. It is because rough drafts are supposed to stink like last month's dirty diapers. Thank goodness mine doesn't disappoint.

Okay fine. So maybe I'm being overly critical (or dare I say it...dramatic?!) but I haven't been able to take my eyes off of it since I completed it and since it's been hard to concentrate on anything else (see date of last blog post for confirmation), and the more I look at it the more I feel like taking a red pen and marking out every. single. word.

Then I "talk" to my Facebook writer's group- a collection of people from whom I receive a huge amount of support (which is something fantastic indeed since a lot of online writer's groups post a lot of self-promotion and not a lot of writer-to-writer talk)- and I read about what to do next, and I'm told by anyone who has walked this path to step away from it for a good long while- 4 to 6 weeks to be exact- which may seem like a small task, even a blessing, but when you are wholly vested in the 60,000+ words of your story and you have a date in mind when you want to see it on your shelf (summer 2013), you don't have time to dilly dally with letting your story marinate and your eyes see it fresh. Fresh. I can look at it with fresh eyes after only 4 days- just watch me. Oh wait, go back to previous text...It stinks. Mark out every word. Start all over again.

Seriously, people, at this point, I've totally rewritten about 2,000 words with a totally new voice, a new story line in mind, and you guessed it- a new working title. Know another way to describe this...yeah- writing a NEW BOOK. I don't know if that is covered under the guise of editing but I'm about to find out.

If you clicked on this post hoping to get a tidbit of advice from an old pro- back up in your browser and try the next article- this girl is as green as green bowl full of green peas in the green grass covered in moldy green mint cookies. Green, green, green. However, if you clicked on this hoping to commiserate, laugh at a completely disillusioned writer, or perhaps feel a little better that you only want to mark out every. other. word, then let's hug and have a good laugh because that's what I'm here for.

If you think that this is a sign of me giving up. Forget it. Not happening. If you think that this is the sign of me reading any and everything regarding editing, rewriting, and bugging every person I know that has published a book for sage-like advice, then ding-ding! you're totally on target. (And no, I am not feeling aggressive, just passionately convincing myself that failure is not an option.)

Get your red pens 4 to 6 weeks.

Uh-huh- I've cartooned myself editing without a shirt on. I work from home, aren't you glad?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cherry On Top Tales #3: Bad Career Day

Photo Courtesy of my friend, Rachael Garneau

Bad Career Day

Lorelei lived in the shadows like everyone else, but for some reason, she never fit in. 

She tried and tried, but whether she wore her black outfit with white accents or her white outfit with black accents, you could always pick her out in a crowd.

Aside from making her terribly uncomfortable, it never mattered much, until the day they went to war with the Nighttime. And then, she realized, she should have chosen a different profession.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I WON NaNoWriMo 2012! Now What?...

I can't believe it. After 30 days of writing abandon, we made it through. A relatively small number of us won the challenge and wrote a jaw-dropping 50,000 words during the month of November. Pat yourself on the back, raise a toast, eat a whole chocolate cake by yourself- what ever it takes to make you feel the weight of this accomplishment. That's a lot of work, people. It's 150 pages in a paperback novel- it's 100 times the length of the average college freshman English paper, and it required a daily commitment to put writing at the top of the list. Really. Wow.

But now what?!
You know you love my little naked stick person sitting at her 2D laptop. Hush!

Now we have ourselves 50,000 words (or more- you overachievers) but where do we go from here? Most of us are only half way up the ladder at this point. 50,000 words, although a trial to produce in a month's time, is not quite what most consider a full-length novel. But it's close! In the book Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham he states that the average novel is between 60-90,000 words finished to meet both minimum standards of most readers and maximum costs for publishing- though I'd wager those figures aren't set in're losing us A.B....

Ok, sorry- so what do you do now? The point of the previous paragraph was to let you know that if you're not quite done with your novel, then you're probably right on track. If you are done- well, that's fine too because next is....

That's right, ol' buddy ol' pal, when you finally get to "The End" you'll have to start over again at "Once Upon a Time" and rewrite your baby from start to finish again. This part is often dreaded, but I'm looking forward to it....perhaps I'm nuts. But I've gotten a lot of inspiration from fellow writers including Veronica Roth, Liz Schulte that are super first draft cheerleaders. "Just get it on paper," they say, "then fix it!" And I'm looking forward to fixing this one, because let me tell you- it's a MESS! 

I changed characters'  and places names half-way through, wrote scenes out of order, and flat out skipped portions that I didn't fully realize yet in favor of those that I did- all in a mad dash to scrape out my 50K- which worked, so I have no hard feelings but the re-read may just leave me scratching my head on where to begin. But for that, I have help- authors that have come before me and detailed their struggles and their tried and true ways to attack that monstrous first draft and make it a lovely best seller.

So, for those of you that have post-NaNo letdown and lots of free time now that you have cleared your calendar and created for yourself some mighty fine daily writing habits- enjoy a few days of free time, reconnect with your loved ones, feed your pets (actually, you should have done that the whole month, I forgot to tell you), or even write to fill that aching void, but come back

We can't just leave seedling masterpieces to rot in the dungeon, freeze in the rain, or collect dust like an old relic. They still need babying and lots of love to get where they want to be, CAN BE, and WILL BE-- on our book shelf in hardback!

Lots of writing love, A.B. Harms

Monday, November 19, 2012

Traditional or Self Publishing? That Is the Question...

I have found myself asking this question recently, perhaps it's because I have been talking to illustrators, cover artists, and editors, people who routinely are hired by the Traditional Publisher to do these tasks for you. And as I ponder the expenses and the process of becoming published, I have to wonder what is going to be the best route? Traditional or Self?
Image courtesy of Master isolated images at

First, let's just assume we will get published- regardless of the route, becoming a published author is within our grasp.

Second, let's define traditional v. self publishing. When I'm talking about traditional publishing, I'm talking about the route of having a publishing company offer to produce your book. I won't get into the nitty gritty, but in the most basic sense this involves submitting queries, possibly getting an agent, negotiating a contract,  and earning between 5-15% royalties on each book sold. Boom. This process can take literally years to accomplish (something that is hard to stomach in a world of instant gratification), but is the route that nearly all authors took up to recent history.

Self publishing, however, is where you glean the control and therefore all of the accountability of your books production. There are many "self-publishing companies" (here's one that make an arm and a leg producing your book. These companies can cost the author anywhere from $1500 to $10,000 and though your book will indeed be printed, most stores will never see them because they get lost in the sea-of-books-that-never-make-it-to-the-surface. These companies will edit, illustrate, and print your book.

Then there is what I consider self-publishing in the context of this article, having our own hands in the pot with every step of the way. WE write the best manuscript we can, WE have a test audience read it, WE hire a editor to professionally critique and proofread it, WE hire our cover artist and/or illustrator, WE format it for eBooks and print, WE set the price, WE are in complete control over every step in the process, and we earn a lot more for each sale- up to 70%! Plus, our out of pocket costs are generally less because we can shop around for the services we hire out, something that is important for those that are just starting out.

But is it worth going through a traditional publisher when we can do much of what they do without waiting for them to come around? Great question.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

I think, and not to totally wimp out of offering any real advice here, but it really depends. It depends on how patient we are. It does take a lot of effort and time to query publishers or to win an agent. It takes thick skin to persevere in the face of rejection letters, and there's sacrifice, less control over editing, design- even the title can be changed. Plus we earn less money from every book sold. When the downsides are spelled out, it's no wonder that more and more authors are leaving the traditional publishing world with many others going straight to self-publishing.

But, if you do have what it takes to live through the process of getting a traditional publisher to notice your manuscript, then it has a better chance of ending up on the shelf at your local Barnes and Noble. Though, a self-published eBook can easily be sold for the Nook, it takes more to get a space in a brick and mortar shop.  Some people may also argue that marketing is easier or better from a traditional publisher. However, I have heard that this is not necessarily the case. Most successful authors will report that they didn't wait for the publisher to market them, they stepped in and did it themselves.

But being published traditionally doesn't mean that you're going to be a success, that takes an indeterminable combination of things such as a good book, great word-of-mouth marketing, and a whole lotta' luck. There's no shortage of advice out there, but what works for one author may not work for another. Some of it is being a well informed entrepreneur who makes good choices along the way, some of it is just timing, being at the right place with the right story. The right answer isn't always the first one we pick. Through experience we will learn what works for us.

If you have a burning desire to be traditionally published, then do it right. Do your homework and find out how the process works, and don't give up easily. If you know that you want to give self-publishing a try, then again- do it the right way. Get your manuscript edited professionally, be choosy about your cover art (we do judge a book by its cover by the way), pay attention even after your book is available- like how pricing affects your sales.

Some people will advise that it's better to start with self-publishing to have real sales to show a traditional publisher that you're a good investment. Others will say the exact opposite, to start with a traditional publisher then, if you want to self-publish, you have a fan base ready to buy your books. Yet others stay consistently either traditionally or self-published. People have been successful in all these ways, and not. 

If we accept that we will not be successful overnight, and that even with a lot of research, we understand we still have a lot to learn, we just may find the right niche for what we have to offer the world. In the end, it is a personal preference and something that we are allowed to decide for ourselves. There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Win or Lose, NaNoWriMo is Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul

This month has been a fog of 4:30 a.m. writing sessions and coffee induced hallucinations. I've been neglecting my blog, getting up before the rooster (I assume anyway, I don't have one), staying up late, avoiding wine, keeping my "thinking pad" with me at all times, and all for what you ask? For NaNoWriMo, duh!

In case you are not already aware, NaNoWriMo is something that I am doing for the first time this November, which is National November Writing Month (hence the catchy acronym, which I often shorten to NaNo, which often makes me think of Mork of Mork and Mindy, but I digress...)  In this month, it is my goal to write 50,000 words (that's like a paperback novel of at least 140 pages, people!) before midnight on November 30, which is truly hard to accomplish because this month my stomach also has very important plans involving turkey, pie, and family coming in town.

But what does NaNo really do? What do I win? Well, oh ye writer-who-feels-the-need-to-get-paid-before-producing-a-final-product, here is my answer to you. (I know this answer because I am just now finding out myself) You get lots.

For starters, it's fun. We writers, well, we like to write. Whether we win or not, we get to write the beginning, middle, end, or some variation thereof of a story that began as gray matter, no matter how great or awful it is. Like musicians live to play, writers live to write. Having a reason to write just makes it all the better and joining in a worldwide writing challenge is a GREAT reason.

Secondly, our book could be the next big thing! Perhaps in that part of us that believes that we are the awesomest writers ever and we just need our chance to shine, we hold out that hope that ours can become one of the wonderful books started during NaNo. It could end up on the shelf of Barnes and Noble, get a movie deal, or have actual merchandise like bookmarks, popcorn tins, and scrunchies (my hair is too short for them, but I still remember) that become ads in SkyMall. How sweet would that be?
I personally believe that the best reason is that it makes us better writers. The more you write, the more your skills develop, and by writing 50,000 words in a single month (or at least trying to), you create some hardcore writing habits that may pave your way to success. Statistically, if you keep trying, it has to happen eventually, right? That's my thought anyway. 

Before NaNo, I was lucky to write 500 words a day, if anything at all. But now, if I write less than 1500 words, the day is a wash. Seriously, 1500 words?! That's a lot- but I raised the bar for myself because now I have achieved over 4,000 words in a day (while raising kids and cooking dinner- though arguably, not doing dishes). Whew!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

So far, I have pressed myself farther than ever this month- and it's barely half way through! Even if there's no movie and no scrunchies, I feel that the benefit that it has brought me will last forever.

For anyone that is doing NaNo with me this year or has done it in the past, let us know what you think, how does it benefit you, if not just for bragging rights, what makes you strive to be a part of the winner's circle?

"NaNo NaNo" everyone!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Self Publishing, No Respect By: Jen Leigh

I came across this blog post today in between chasing after kids and hearing the plumbers saw into our pipes. Sort of serendipitously (I'm just making up adverbs now), I have read a few blog posts about self-publishing v. traditional publishing, specifically about what challenges each side of the industry faces. Jen Leigh, who I just learned about, has some great observations and the idea that writers of the indie movement would all benefit from working from a more "community" based perspective, helping one another- rather than having each author operating as an island in a sea of self-reliance.

Click HERE  to her post called "Self Publishing, No Respect". Here is the article as you will find it on her site. It's a long read but it's worth the time as it does outline comparisons of various heavy-hitting issues that face all Authors including editing, cover-art, formatting, and of course, marketing.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at

"However, I was chatting with a friend over the weekend and considering the self publishing game. Face it, traditional publishers and agents handle a great deal of work for an author. Now I don't think that justifies taking 90-96% of book profits or taking 1-3 years to actually produce a marketable book. The industry is a slow moving machine that eats up the profits the author is due (since the author does the most difficult and time consuming portion of the work).

So let's look at some issues for the self-publishing author:

     1 - Editing. So many sites put down self published authors because of inferior work that isn't always apparent until after a purchase is made. A legitimate gripe, because traditional books are heavily edited before release (and sometimes the end product looks nothing like the authors original work). The best solution to this is to have a network of beta readers and freelance editors to review the final product before publication. Editors cost money, up front (something traditionals handle for you for 'free'). I really enjoy beta reading and editing as I read, however, I can't do it 8-16 hours a day and not make money. I don't have time. And you, the author, can't afford to put up inferior work, reviews will crush what little reputation you've been gaining and no one will buy your future books either. So it's best to finish revisions, submit to a beta reader, make corrections, then submit it to a freelance editor before publication. Searching the net, freelance editors and writer services are a dime a dozen, but all charge about two dollars a page, some less, some more, and it depends on what you want them to look for. Question: If you've hired an editor you like, please email me (bottom of the page, Editor in subject) and I'll try to get a list of reputable editors together for another post. Things I'd like to consider with editors, time they take, price, and how thorough they are.

     2 - Cover Art. Something else publishers take care of. Now with traditional publishing the author has little say in the art work for their cover. The publisher handles it and you get what you get. What irks me is that the artists don't read the book, so how can they draw something that suits? Or does the publisher have a stack of photos with various people in various situations that they sift through until they find one they like? As far as cover art goes, it makes or breaks the book and I can't see that traditional publishing holds any ground here over self-publishing. Again, cover art takes money and artists are expensive if you want to have something unique drawn up. You can do it yourself (but often, not always, it looks like you did it yourself and that isn't a good thing) or you can hire it out. Artists aren't like editors, they have nothing to do with stories, story telling, or working with words in general. They draw and they are talented at what they do, but it's going to cost you, before you even begin selling a book. In an effort to help new authors, I'd like to see college age artists, working on their degree or getting established, join with self-publishers to help each other launch careers. The artist would get publicity for their work, maybe a fee to be paid later based on the success of the book or a percentage of profits from the book for a certain amount of time? Details! The author would get an artist with some vested interest in their book, who would put forth the effort to help sales, and in return make money on their art. Question: Know an artist starting out that would be interested in helping authors get established? What are their fees, are they interested in reading the book first, and how quickly do they work? Email with Cover Art in the subject.

     3 - Formatting. Seems like every day there's a new ereader or some type of contraption that can display a book for a reader. How do you format for each one? There are programs out there that allow you to save a file in various types, but then you'll have to read each version to make sure the format is right. The last thing an author wants is to have a reviewer/reader post that the story was good but the format was odd or worse,  they couldn't get through the book because the formatting was all messed up. You lose sales on the current work as well as future sales if you have a stigma placed on your work. You have to format correctly, or hire someone with experience to do it for you. Formatting can be time consuming if you have an error and have to learn how to fix it on the fly. You'll learn more in the process, but at what cost? Another few chapters you didn't get written? A delay on the publishing of your book? Question: Know of someone who's experienced at formatting ebooks? How much do they charge? How quickly can they get it done? Do they guarantee a perfect a format? Email with Formatting in the subject.

     4 - Marketing. Now you have your book edited, the cover art, and format complete, time to sell the thing. Marketing isn't something publishers do for new authors, they expect you to market your book. They do get you on distributor lists, but other than putting your title and blurb in their listing, don't expect much from publishers. An agent might come in handy here, if they can set up appearances and help you find venues to promote your book, but again, the cost is going to fall to you for food, hotels, travel etc. Some libraries will pay you through grants, but I'm not so sure that they pay enough to cover expenses. Social Media helps, but a lot of people complain about constant posts on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ promoting a book (generally a buy my book! or if you like authors x, y, and z, you'll love my book) and I can heartily agree. I do, personally, like the excerpts of books, with the title and author following. I think I'd be more apt to purchase something promoted by excerpt than a comparison blurb. I mean, really, if I like author x, y, and z, why not buy their new book? I know I'm going to like it, it'll be well written, and offer me an enjoyable afternoon. Stop promoting famous authors and find something special about your own writing please! Anyhow, marketing tips can be found everywhere, and some can be purchased. Problem is, there are no real marketing statistics for books. It's trial and error, again, time consuming. From what I understand, Amazon has a clause that forbids authors to talk about sales numbers or they'll be removed from Amazon for life. For self publishing that's a death sentence, hence no numbers are posted on sales by week or month or year. Me personally? I plan to finish at least two books, if not up to five before publishing. Then I plan to take a few months hiatus from writing to promote said books, releasing them six months apart and building an audience. During the first six months I might pay to have hard copies printed, probably paperback and I'll be willing to speak at any library or book store that will give me at least thirty minutes and advertising that I'll be speaking. So at my own expense I'll be travelling and posting online where I am and how it went. Now will this work to get my name on the map? I have no earthly idea, but it's the best I've come up with so far. Question: Have any marketing tips that have worked? Know of any marketing company that is reasonable that can really help launch an author? Please note that any specific statistics emailed to me will stay with me. I don't want authors getting in trouble with any epublishing market. Email with Marketing in the subject.

     5 - Audio Books. I think this is another way to promote your book and get it to more markets while working to make sales. I could only find one company online that would translate your book into audio, but for 100k words it cost over five thousand dollars to do. I understand with equipment, man power etc audio books are probably time and cost consuming. Again, if self published authors banded together they could probably find a few among them that can read well and others willing to help edit the thing until you have a finished product. So far, Audible dot com offers best selling books for audio download. Amazon does have a section for audio cd, but there are no real outlets for downloadable audio books by self published authors. I'm not sure how well audio books really sell, but there are apps for phones etc that allow people to listen to books. With lack of downloadable audio choices out there, it'd be difficult to find any statistics on sales and marketability. is a website I've found helpful with information on how to create your own pod cast and get it on a website or blog. This I could definitely see as being a useful tool, i.e. if someone purchases your ebook you could send them a link to a password site to download the same book in podcast form for their use. I haven't researched this too much yet, but I'd love to hear suggestions and experiences concerning audio books and pod casts.Question: Anyone with any experience here? email with Audio in the subject.

I understand some indie authors are protesting the traditional publishers and agents in pursuit of fortune and fame on their own. But lack of organization is going to crush the self publishing industry before it even really gets going. I also understand indie authors like the creative control they enjoy, but without authors helping each other, there will remain mediocre work from writers who don't even realize they're doing anything wrong. I request a loose network of writers, readers, artists and tech geeks to support each other and find a way to trade services instead of money, or small fees, to help keep costs down. Is it possible? Who knows? But what ever information I receive through this post I will pass on to authors, artists, editors, who ever might benefit from a group effort. Again, writers need to understand there will be some fee for most of the topics here, but there are ways to minimize cost and help each other along the way.

I'm not proposing an organization per say, more of a resource where writers can connect with others and find everything from an artist to a critique partner. I've found a site similar that I'll be posting as my own reference, but first I'd like to see what everyone else has to say. If you'd like to email instead of posting here then drop me a line jenleigheight at yahoo dot com. I'll respond to everyone and try to gather enough information on the topics addressed here by next Sunday. I'll also include any and all topics brought to my attention that I haven't covered here.

Here's to Author Helping Authors (A-HA)"

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

If you would like to comment on any of Jen's questions or contact her with information, please do so using her email as listed in the final paragraph of her article or visit the original post and comment there. Though, if you do post here with info, I will gladly pass it on.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cherry On Top Tales #2: Double Trouble

Double Trouble

The right socks were gone, the spatulas too. Something bit my finger under the sheets, and tripped me with shoelaces when I went to the bathroom. The dog was upset, the lights started to flicker. It had been a rough day all around.

The kids were telling us that they found something weird. Two tiny holes in the walls of their room with bright green hairs stuck to the edges. “It’s just a mouse, Dear” I said to console her. “Mouses aren’t green, Mom.” The four year old had a point.

Then the clattering and shattering of glass commenced from the dining room. We all rushed in, already guessing what we’d see. My curio cabinet, which used to be filled with miniature forms made of crystal, was a mess of jagged edges and iridescent shards. Tiny mirrors of varying sizes were laid neatly in place, they looked untouched. But their occupants all had been decimated; it looked like a battlefield.

That was it. I had had it. Mess with my socks, give me a goose egg on my head, fine. But when you destroy the Swarovski Crystal menagerie, it’s war.

We followed the scritching along the baseboards then lured them out from a socket with marshmallows. They were so cute and so happy we couldn’t bear to hurt them. So now, they are our new pets, and we keep them in the garage.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Self Sabotage: The Absolute Worst Thing Any Writer Can Call Themselves

This one word has the ability to single-handedly undermine what could otherwise be a long and successful career. Aspiring Writer, Aspiring Author, Aspiring Musician, Aspiring Actor, etc. But what does that do for us? Why do we do it?

Saying you're a Writer is taboo. Sure, if you are already a success, it's easy to feel validated, but for the rest of us, the world says, "Don't quit your day job." and rolls its eyes. It makes parent's shriek, makes friends schedule interventions, and makes landlords search for new tenants. For that purpose, using the word "aspiring" gets us off the hook, it says, "Hey, I realize that I'm not successful, so leave me alone."

Referring to ourselves as "aspiring" also has the ability to give us a buffer- a way to fail without having to take on the accountability or fault. If you never remove the "aspiring" from your title, then you have a fail-safe way to make sure people are aware you're not taking yourself too seriously. Thus, when nothing comes of your new venture, no harm no foul. Right?

Image courtesy of Pixomar at

Everyone starts off as a no one. Calling yourself an Aspiring Writer subconsciously prevents you from making your dreams a reality. It is the little voice in the back of your mind that causes you to see yourself as an outsider. With that little disclaimer, you can never be a participating member of the writing community because of the self-inflicted distance you created to feel safe.

We are afraid of being judged, afraid of someone telling us that we're not who we say we are. That thought, the idea that we're impostors, keeps us from taking the bull by the horns and taking claim over what we truly wish to be ours.

They say one of the things that a writer needs to succeed is thick skin. Very thick, thick skin. This is true, and  it's not just because we have to accept criticism about our writing, but because the very idea of being a writer is fraught with scrutiny. However, if we do not believe in ourselves enough, or have the courage to call ourselves Writer. Author. Who will?

Still not convinced? Please tell me, when will you feel justified in calling yourself a Writer? When you get published? Wait...does self-publishing count (um...YES!)? When you earn your first dollar? Or maybe you have to earn a thousand dollars...or get an agent...That first book is a fluke, you will feel like a real writer after you publish your second book. Do you see what I'm getting at? No matter how much or how long you are doing the job you "aspire" to do, you will always have to deal with taking accountability for it at some point.

Drop it. Completely banish "aspiring" from your vocabulary. (Unless you're describing a tragic character in your novel.)

I'm here to tell you that if you are writing, you are a Writer. If you are a Writer, you are also an Author. As writers, we usually have to write the book to get the contract, to earn the dollar. Would you say that JK Rowling was a Writer even when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was just a word document on her computer. Hell yes, she was. And so are we.

I'm not saying that it won't take some getting used to. Our friends and family may snicker, we may chicken out the first few times, but we must do it anyway. We will hold our heads high and say it with conviction. We must fake it till we make it, as it were.

Read Kristin Lamb's book, Are You There, Blog? It's Me, Writer. She will tell you the same thing. If you tell people that you are an "accountant", "mom", "teacher", "shade-tree mechanic", that's what they will believe you are. If you want to be an Author, tell them you are. You'll be surprised how empowered it will make you feel. And when you feel empowered, you'll be more inclined to stick with it, to see yourself as a professional of the craft, and to create for yourself a long term career in the field.

It's just the beginning, but it's a great start.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cherry On Top Tales- No More Room

A little story for you...Happy Halloweeen!


Just an empty room, but you’re not allowed inside. Why’s that, you ask? You came all the way here, paid your entrance fee and managed to make it down the narrow, stone stairs without scraping your head on the low ceiling. The air is thick and muggy, which surprises you because you expect it to be cool. It is underground, after all.

We know your type. You don’t believe in God. You don’t believe in ghosts, yet every step you take makes you feel more uncomfortable, burdened. There must be an electronic field, you think, something that makes my hair stand on end and makes my stomach turn. It offers little comfort but it'll do. Something nags at you…you push it away.

There are many doorways, spaces in this underground maze. We see you explore. The blood in your veins hardens. Laboriously, your heart continues to pump though every beat racks your rib cage. You duck and squeeze through the labyrinth where so many have died with relative ease. The tour guide points this way. “For those with a sixth sense…” she taunts. A smirk plays across her lips. You roll your eyes, but underneath, her words weaken your composure.

In a straight hall, you peek inside this room. Off limits, though no sign is used or required. For some reason, you hold your breath. This is ridiculous, you tell yourself. Whispers float in the still air. We despise you. A man. Or was it a woman? The hissing of phrases in a foreign tongue caress your ear like the heat from a flame. Gooseflesh spreads over your skin as you glance around, realizing there's no one there.

The ropes are only plush sausages hung between two hooks. You could enter this space, but you don’t. You don’t even want to. Why? Because I follow the rules, you think. You’re fooling yourself. You know the real answer.

This room is already full.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Do You Love a Challenge? I've Got Just the Thing...


November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo- get it now?), which means that for those of us that enjoy writing, the next 30 days are an opportunity to write with abandon. Get wild. Get crazy. And let's do some creative storytelling!

NaNoWriMo has been happening every November for more than a decade. Aspiring writers (which is a term I have learned to hate but will explain at a later date), writers, authors, and people from any and every walk of life have joined the movement. To be perfectly clear anyone can do this. ANYONE- that includes you.

There are very few rules required to "win" this writing marathon, mainly that you write a new work of at least 50,000 words between the days of Nov 1 and Nov 30 at midnight. To do so means an average of 1,666 words per day will be typed, scribed, scrawled, and scritched toward a work limited only by the power of your imagination.

What is great about this is this is that it's a chance to join thousands of others in the world doing the same thing. Who knows? Just maybe you'll start a fire within yourself that you never want to extinguish. If nothing else, you'll have a guaranteed way to get out of any social engagement for a whole month. Also, it will stave off the gremlins that get in your brain to build cobwebs and turn off the lights. Yeah, that's right, thinking is good for you...go figure.

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at

So, we're getting interested, this idea sounds like it could be what?

Time to get those wheels a-turning, and if you want to make it "official" sign up for free on the NaNoWriMo website so you can track your progress and network with other challengers. I tell you, the writing community is full of some of the most inspirational and supportive people I've ever met! You can join forums and message boards to help cheerlead others and receive those essential pats on the back in return. Don't be shy!

Some of us are lucky enough to have an idea fluttering around upstairs, all we need to do is pay it some attention. Not so lucky? If you would love to act on this opportunity but don't have a clue where to start. Here is a good jumping off point. Click around on these pages and you're sure to get some sparks flying, or maybe look over here for some interesting seedlings.

But now you say, "But Amanda (that's my first name), what if I lose the NaNoWriMo challenge? Well then, my friend, large, muscular gangsters will knock on your door and give you an exuberant number of paper cuts. You don't want to mess with these guys, trust me. So, throw that defeatist mindset out the door and give it your all.

OOOH! I just got a great idea: Tell us what you want to write about. Post a comment with the tagline and genre so we can wait on the edge of our seats for the whole story. This is so exciting!!

While we're sitting around thrumming our fingers in wait of Thanksgiving's indulgence, let's do something productive.

You never know, you may be the next superstar!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Self Publishing and the eBook: How Credible Is It?

Image courtesy of adamr /

As an author, the allure of self publishing is definitely a draw. Higher royalties, no need for agents, no threats of rejection, and complete control (for better or worse) of your marketing and production. With the proper approach, it can be a way to launch us into a successful career as an Author- capital A.

Howsoever, for those of us that strive to write to the best of our ability, that aren't in it just for the money (not that we'd turn it down), and are honestly in love with writing, it's bound to get tricky. With so many "get rich quick" scammers and writers that purposely put out trash just hoping to ride the wave, the legitimacy of using eBook self-publishing stands to take a hit as consumers are burned. How many terrible books that don't entertain, educate, or have horrible editing can one take? If time and money is wasted on downloads, how many will a person buy before they begin to think that they have been duped and turn again to only the big names of traditional publishing. Probably not many.

How do we get them to take a chance on OUR book? What can we do or say to help keep the odds in our favor? I don't know all the answers.

My instinct tells me that if we write for QUALITY and not quantity, this issue will self-resolve. We build and utilize our networks from the moment that we make ourselves accountable as writers. We take responsibility for what we produce by making sure that the story is cohesive, that the information is accurate, and that it's readable and understandable. No cutting corners.

But, this may just be preaching to the choir. If you're reading this, you obviously care enough to wonder if self-publishing is right for you, which means that you're not just looking to make a quick buck. How do we combat those that take this Golden Age of authoring and flush it down the toilet? Sure, eBooks are here to stay, but how do we ensure that our opportunities as self-published authors aren't tainted?
Image courtesy of Tina Phillips at

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

80% of Us Want To Write a Book- So Why Aren't You?

Did you know that statistics show that 80-something% of people would like to write a book? That figure initially astounded me- why don't I know more authors? But truly, I can believe it. I am a part of that percentage myself, and as I have said before in a previous post, if the rest of humanity is into something, I probably will be too.

Maybe we've started writing but quit when the urge passed, when we got too busy, or when we realized we didn't know what in the world we were really doing trying to write a book. What was I thinking? I'm not a writer. But you are- if you write, then you're a writer. Taking it to the next level just takes a lot of perseverance and little education in the craft of storytelling.
Image courtesy of Simon Howden at

Usually, we just start with a seed. A tiny little thing that resembles nothing worth looking at. Don't throw it away, that tidbit can be the start of something wonderful. Collect them all you want, save them for a rainy day. That's when you start to find the story inside of you. Fiction, non-fiction, it makes no difference. These odd little threads of thought have burrowed out of our subconscious and made an appearance, fweeping like featherless baby birds we find in the middle of the grass. Where did you come from, Little Guy?

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at

Sometimes, one of these strange fellows will appear out of no where and try as we might to ignore it, push it away, discredit it, the more it refuses to go leave. Suddenly, it sprouts feathers, and starts hopping around- What? Now you're trying to fly? We can always choose what story to write, but sometimes, the story actually chooses us. Those are the easiest to tell and are a great place to start if we've always been wanting to write, and if we have one of these twerps fluttering around in our mind, we should take the hint!

If you have a seed germinating in your mind for a story, write that puppy down! Take all the ideas you have, make a list. Ponder it, see which one nags at you. That idea that is like a toddler relentlessly tugging at your shirt tail is the one you should develop first. But don't just throw it to the wolves!  Ask questions about plot, about conflict, about characters. Get wild and crazy with it, and most importantly, stick to it! Bad writing can be made better, but you can't improve what you never write.

Need help with that- did I just make it sound easy? It's not. Trust me, I know this. But here are links to Kristin Lamb's Blog that will help with plot development and structure:

Structure Part 1- Anatomy of a Best Selling Novel...
Structure Part 2- Plot Problems...
Structure Part 3- Introducing the Opposition
Structure Part 4- Testing Your Idea- Is It Strong Enough...
Structure Part 5- Keeping Focused...

If you have advice for the 80% of the population that years for writing creativity, please share it. We need all the help we can get!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Apocalypse! They say it's coming, what will you do?

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at

Who doesn’t love a good disaster movie? We eat it up from any source- books, movies, art, you name it. Sure, it’s morbid and a little twisted, but we love to think about how the world is going to come to a sudden, screeching halt. Why are we so sick?
First of all, let’s not be too hard on ourselves. I mean, it's not our fault that the "end of days" keeps coming up- we have a lot of experience dealing with the threat of an apocalypse. It's been shoved down our throats since...forever. Since the 80s alone, there have been more than two dozen predictions that our world would end (check out this massive list!) and yet, here we are still scratching our heads and searching for clues.
In case you didn’t know, we are coming up fast on another, December 21, 2012: The End of the Mayan Calendar —the day after my husband’s birthday. Better make this one count, Sweetie. The good news is it's unlikely to cause even a moment of inconvenience (at least that's what I hope.) But we're not out of the woods yet; there are many more predictions for the world to end in the future as well.
We are at our best and our worst when our lives are at stake. On any normal day, would we take in a stranger? Kill someone over a hill of beans? Pick up a hitchhiker? Probably not. But, throw a disaster in the mix, perhaps an epidemic, and we become so desperate for survival, companionship and power in numbers that something deep inside changes.
Whether we are faced with an asteroid (Deep Impact, Armageddon), global warming (TheDay After Tomorrow), solar flares (The Scorch Trials), disease (28 Days Later, The Stand), war (The Hunger Games), or zombies (Zombieland), we enjoy seeing how quickly humanity falls apart when the proverbial poo hits the fan.  But after the dust clears and the masses are dead, the few remaining band together, build alliances and unlikely friendships blossom. It’s really heartwarming stuff. Or so we hope...
Image courtesy of duron123 at
While we sit in our theater seats or relax in the comfort of our own home, we I the guy that gives up early just to avoid the stress? Perhaps I'm the undercover heroine that fights for life? Seeing it on screen is one thing. What if it happened for real? What would we do?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Next Big Thing!

This is part of an author’s blog tour. Each author who is tagged has the privilege of answering 10 questions about their current work-in-progress. I am honored to have been tagged by Melissa Lummis. You can see the link to Melissa’s blog at the end of this post. I've tagged two authors, who will post their blogs on October 10, 2012. (Their blog links are also at the end of this post.) After reading about my “Next Big Thing” be sure to check out the other authors to see what their NEXT BIG THING is!
What is the working title of your book?

The Paragon Trilogy is the name of the series. Book one is aptly named, The Paragon.
Where did the idea for the book come from?

A little over a year ago, when I was living in Okinawa, Japan, a friend of mine told me about a landfill in the middle of the ocean called “The Garbage Patch”. It’s a huge expanse of open water that houses masses of debris and pollution that floated into the gyre by currents and remains stuck. She told me it was larger than the state of Texas and I was flabbergasted! After researching it, I found out it’s REAL! The helplessness of what it would take to fix it was overwhelming…how do you stop plastic from entering the ocean?! Stopping it’s production is the only thing that I could come up with…impossible. Then it occurred to me, what if the world ended, and land was unlivable, and people fled to the ocean and made a home of this mess? From that spark of “what if…” West and her quest for life and freedom were born. The rest of the plot elements just fell into place.
What genre does your book fall under?

Dystopian fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic era. It’s also part of the Young Adult Fiction category.
What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I think I’d want “no names” to act in the lead roles. If this story became such a sensation that it warranted a movie deal. I’d want fresh faces. After all, I’m a “no name”, it seems only fair. (Though, if we could work Johnny Depp in there, I’d be OK with it.)
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In a world of hardships and unmentionable horrors, West Lambert’s search for purpose and freedom may save the human race…or be the key to its undoing.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m not fully decided but I’m leaning toward self publishing based upon my research of the industry and the advice of some trusted friends. I’d like to be traditionally published at some point, it’s kind of a “bucket list” thing…but I know it will help to prove myself in the Indie market first.
How long did it take you to write the first-draft of your manuscript?

I’m still working on it, actually. I’m about 2.5 months into book one, so I’m predicting about 5-6 months, hopefully less.
What other books would you compare to this story to within the genre?

I've been told from some that it has a “Hunger Games” feel to it, something that I’m not sure I live up to yet. I did get a lot of inspiration from the Hunger Games books though, as well as from Veronica Roth, the author of Divergent.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Writing is something that I’ve always done, and completing a book has a top place on my “things to do before…” list. It was probably my mom, though, that has pestered me all my life about writing that made me truly believe I could do it. Since then, my ambition has gone from just sending out my one contribution into the wild world to a realization that this maybe the niche I’ve been looking for all my life. Thanks for nagging me, Mom!
What else about your book might pique your readers’interest?

This book is geared toward young-adults, but I hope that people of all ages can appreciate the story. West’s perseverance through each obstacle is something that everyone can relate to. Her feelings of love, betrayal, friendship, and hope encompass the human condition. The philosophical dilemmas presented to her are heavy, and make you wonder, ‘What would I do?’ Not only is it a story of survival and determination, but it exposes a very real situation, the ever declining condition of Our Earth.
I was tagged by Melissa Baer Lummis

Tag! You're next, Allison Silver

Tag! You're next, LeeAnn Rhodes

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Excuses are like...

It's 4:10 AM, time to wake up. That's what my husband's alarm said this morning via the sound of shrill bells. Silly me, last night I thought it sounded like a good idea to get up and work on the book before the rest of the world joined me, and Ryan is good at making me follow through on my goals...too good.

Though I didn't get a lot of time to myself before a bad dream wrenched my 7 year old out of bed for the day (at 5:20 a.m!), I am choosing to be grateful that I made any progress at all. Look at the bright side, I could have just sat on Facebook or Twitter for my entire writing period, or even worse (or better?) I could have slept until 6 a.m. like usual.

Lately, I've found it difficult to make progress as I should. I haven't failed any goals, mostly because I haven't made any, but I have gone from writing every day to writing three times a week. I've gone from being willing to write anytime, anywhere, on anything, to demanding a computer. I've even gone so far as to require absolute silence and focus to write, something that as a mother of three, I'm rarely never. So what happens? I didn't write for a couple of weeks. Then, when I began again, I only did so when I could take a break away from the house for a few hours- how realistic is that on a long-term basis...I'll tell you. It's NOT. This is part of a downward spiral of excuse making, and potentially something that would tear apart my ambitions. I'D BECOME A WRITING DIVA! Not in the awesome way, in the "nothing is good enough" way.

Then I was gifted a Kindle book called "Are You There Blog? It's Me Author" by my pal, Liz Shulte (who is a fantastic writer, check out her books on Amazon!), which I began reading right away since I need all the help I can get. Not 20% into the book, I got totally busted. The author gave three sample excuses for not writing and not taking ownership. Guess what? I got 2 out of 3, but unlike it was for Meatloaf, 2 out of 3 is really bad! Those two were 1) I'd write more if I had a better computer, and 2) I'd write more if I had more uninterrupted time. Oh, man. That hurt. I was totally pegged.

My computer, which has always been a bit of a lug anyway, died for the umpteenth time a couple of months ago. We've attempted to resurrect it countless times; it has more lives than our cat. But it flat lined again and I lost my will to keep trying, leaving us with only a teensy, tiny netbook left for all household computer needs. *gasp* I wanted to buy one, REALLY BAD, a nice new one, one that doesn't threaten to die on a daily basis making me backup my work every other minute, just in case. But, we're purchasing a home, so we are saving like crazy...not a good time for a major purchase. Frustrations mounting, I created excuse #1.

As you may already know from my profile, I have 3 young and very spirited children. They adorable, they're sweet, they're my pride and joy, and they're NOISY! They rampage around, playing with the dog, chasing the cat, eating everything, asking for drinks, wanting to draw, paint, make things out of clay, play guns, play video games, run outside, fight, cry, tattle, jump, hug, kiss, wrestle, talk, sing, scream...rarely do they sit still and never are they quiet. Quiet means trouble.

Though when the story hit me initially, nothing could derail my tenacity to make words appear on paper, but over time, when I had to work harder to make the story progress, get through writer's block, come up with problems, solutions, character development, etc...every giggle, every tap on my shoulder was a force strong enough to derail my train of thought, which had gone from being a Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) to a rambling toy train half chewed by the dog. Why bother writing at home at all? I didn't. I wrote when I could leave and go to my favorite writing place...a certain coffee shop called the Inner Bean, which I could do only Tuesday and Thursday, because that's when they stayed open long enough for me to get there after my husband got home from work and I could escape. Wow, two days a week...regardless of the fact that I did get a lot more done during those times, my 2 year old would be in middle school before I could get this book published at that rate. Thus I beget excuse #2.

Forget the fact that we're moving (excuse #3). Forget the fact that movers are coming tomorrow. Forget that I need a new computer. Forget that I need work space and time. Life is messy and it will never be in a place that makes you slow down enough to take a breath, stretch out and say " I can do this." If I wait for that, I'll always be a writer that doesn't write, an author that never publishes. It's the only way I can be a failure.

So, I've made some changes.
- I'm going to make myself goals. I can't reach goals if I don't make them.
- I'm going to create deadlines.
- I'm going to get up early or stay up late, whatever it takes to find the time to write for a little bit at least 6 days per week.
- I'm going to make a plan to get a new computer, but in the meantime, I will work with whatever resources I have available. I will use the netbook, I will find a library, I will get out my pen if I have to.
- I'm going to keep a positive outlook and not allow life's curve balls to take me out.

So, for all those writers out there that fall victim to the "I would write more if..." thoughts, for anyone who thinks that the perfect moment to reach your goals will present itself naturally, WAKE UP! If you don't take accountability for your future, if you don't grab your excuses by the gullet and squeeze the breath out of them, they'll keep you down forever.

Remember, excuses are like Today. You've got one. What you do with it is up to you.

Have a great day. NO EXCUSES!

Thursday, September 13, 2012


You heard it here folks, I'm normal. Those aren't usually the words that I use to describe myself, though increasingly I realize that if something pleases the rest of humanity, ie McDonald's french fries, it will probably appeal to me as well. But that's not what I mean...

Over the past few weeks, I've had a hard time moving forward on the book. Mostly, I blame this sudden change on the fact that my attention has been diverted to moving forward in general- trying to buy a house in a new city, new state, and all the joy and logistical planning that goes into moving a family of 5 within the military. Yikes.

However, it's not all just about the move, though it came at a somewhat convienent time to get the bulk of the blame. I have just reached a point in the story that I knew was coming...the writer's block. (cue dreaded suspense music) I'm in an awkward position between knowing where I was and knowing where I want to be, and now, I have to write myself out of it.

Thankfully, inspiration is seeping into my brain by hearing the wise words of someone more experienced tell me that this is normal. NORMAL. I'm so excited. In the legendary words of Cpt. Jason Nesmith, "Never give up, never surrender."

I love that there is no wrong way to do this. I love that no matter how much trouble I have, the issues are not insurmountable, and I love that hundreds - nay- thousands of writers before me have walked this path. The only thing that I can do to mess this up is not to do it at all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hello Again

Writing these days is hit or miss. I'm in the process of moving from Georgia to Kentucky, which is a pretty huge undertaking and has therefore taken the majority of my creative thinking juices for the past several weeks. Howsoever, I'm pleased to be on our way to owning a home again and living in Louisville, KY, which is a fantastic city of which I am thrilled to become a resident.

Just when I thought it would be another month before I was able to focus on West again, the urge to write hit me today as did the desire to share another chapter with you, so here I am at Panera hoping to do both in the short time I have to work before my duties at home call me forth.

As before, I give this disclaimer: this is a rough draft of chapter two. As rough as they come. Like it, love it, hate it, it's okay. I've figured out that putting it out there makes me feel productive, like there's a piece of it that made it out of my hands. I'm sure someday I'll review this blog and scrutinize the choice, but for now, I'll ignore my future self and post away.