Category: Writing Life

Starting a Writing Group

I have had several folks ask me why I decided to take on such a complicated and time-consuming endeavor, with all of the work involved that forming a community writing group entails. A moment of insanity perhaps? Like the time I decided to coordinate a district science fair for my son’s charter school? Or start an ESL ministry at our church with four levels of classes? Actually, it is very satisfying to be operating in the areas that God has gifted me with, while helping others to be successful; it’s a “win-win” even if it’s exhausting at times.

To further my explanation, we have some tremendous writing groups in the DFW area of Texas, but none in Carrollton, a suburb of Dallas. I personally don’t want to drive twenty miles to Euless fighting traffic on a weekday evening every week, even though I am aware of a fantastic critique group that has met there for years. I thought perhaps there may be some like-minded writers in my area. I posted in our city’s community Facebook page and on Nextdoor to see if anyone was interested, and the response I received was HUGE! I created a Facebook group and now, in less than six weeks, we have had our inaugural meeting with twenty writers in attendance and have had forty members join our Facebook group so far!

The paradox for me is that in committing to this venture, I have actually reduced the time I have to write.  However, the payoffs have already been enormous. To see the excitement and enthusiasm our group is creating among our members is wonderful. To experience the generosity of Marshall’s Bar-B-Q and Carrollton Church of the Nazarene in providing free space for us to meet is gratifying. To reach out to established members of the writing industry in search of guest speakers and to receive an overwhelmingly positive response is marvelous.

So here we go – at the start of a grand adventure. I am learning as I go along, but we are blessed to belong to an industry that is known for giving back, so I know I am not going it alone. I am finding that starting a writing group is not easy, but it is also extremely satisfying to know that a real need is being filled:

Carrollton League of Writers exists to help writers in all genres and experience levels to improve their writing skills and to move towards publication if desired. We provide working writing sessions that include read and critique sessions and creative writing exercises. We also provide guest speakers to educate and inform from various facets of the writing industry, networking opportunities, and a chance to socialize and hang out with others who share the grand passion of writing.

If you are ever in the Carrollton area on a Thursday night – I hope you’ll join us. If you are thinking of starting a writing group in your own area – I hope you’ll go for it. It won’t be easy, but it will be well-worth it! Feel free to comment if you need help getting started. I am fairly new at this, but I can share my own experiences and perhaps help point you in the right direction.

Book Review: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

book2I have always had a hard time slowing down and just relaxing when there is always so much to do, but between a WONDERFUL book to read on a cold rainy day and the perfect reading companion – I just couldn’t resist. Kathleen Baldwin has managed to win me over to the historical fiction genre in a big way with her novel, A School for Unusual Girls. I must admit I initially purchased the book for my fifteen year old granddaughter who I was sure would enjoy it, both for her love of history and for her strong and intelligent personality, which seemed to me at first glance to also be an apt description of the main character. As I scanned the book before giving it to her, I realized that it had also grabbed my own interest and I ordered a second copy, both coming from Amazon. I’m so glad I did! There is so much fun stuff, I don’t want to give it away – but just know to settle in for a captivating read filled with strong and spunky heroines, handsome heroes, scientific experiments that sometimes go awry with lethal consequences, and ultimately a journey of maturation and finding one’s place; all back-dropped by an unstable and inflammatory time in European history where the individual decisions of the residents of Stranje House are pivotal in influencing the events swirling chaotically at a rapid pace around them.

The author takes the reader on a journey that leaves one reluctant to stop. Not only does she transport us to another time and place, she manages to make us identify with these unusual girls who have troubled pasts and to root for them. A wonderful message of redemption for those who do not feel compelled to follow the established rules of society but seek to remain true to their own calling, is woven through the story’s themes of transformation, love, and responsibility. Kathleen Baldwin writes with a masterful grasp of plot and pacing, keeping the reader thoroughly enticed with just enough mystery and intrigue (and the occasional breathtaking hint of romance). She strikes that amazing balance of fully satisfying at quintessential moments, yet leaving us yearning for the story to continue. Fortunately it does, in the next novel in the Stranje House series: Exiles for Dreamers. I have already purchased my copy and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the next adventure that the Stranje House has in store!

You can learn more (including reading chapter excerpts), discover lots of cool extras, and check out Kathleen’s other writing endeavors, as well as find out additional places where A School for Unusual Girls is available for purchase, at KathleenBaldwin.com

 

 

Our Need for Community

write-2930023_1920As writers, we often find ourselves working in a solitary place. For some of us, that is the only way we can unleash the thoughts in our head in a coherent fashion. It is time that many of us have to work hard to obtain – perhaps by shutting ourselves away from our busy and boisterous families by sneaking into the back bedroom for thirty minutes. For others it might look like a trip to the local library or Starbucks with our laptop in tow, hoping we don’t bump into someone we know, so we can use the precious minutes we have carved out of our busy schedules to actually write. Our understandable predisposition to gain solitary time in order to respond to our calling may become an obsession if we aren’t careful. It can become quite easy to duck out of social activities when our work-in-progress is tugging at our hearts. But many famous writers were notable as recluses, so what’s the harm?

lonestarActually, it can be harmful. I think it is important to recognize that God created us to be in community. Not only is it good as a writer to enter the social sphere, it is good for our souls. Writers are observers of life, and our writings reflect the truths we have found through our observations and experiences. You can’t observe or experience if you keep yourself segregated from the rest of humanity. Being in community also satisfies the yearning we all have to be part of something greater than ourselves, whether we recognize it or not. That is why I am so excited about the upcoming writing conference I am attending: Lonestar.Ink in Dallas this February. I have been a writer for many years, yet I have never made the time to attend one. I am not sure what to expect, but I am very excited about the possibilities. Sure, I expect to leat-grandmaearn some good stuff from some successful authors and editors who are willing to communicate their knowledge with others. I am also anticipating that this will be an opportunity to network. But I also see it as something else – as an opportunity to break out of my solitude and connect with other people that have similar dreams and goals. People who will get my grammar puns and appreciate them without rolling their eyes (well, maybe…) and of course enjoy the conversations and debates that arise as writers compare notes on both technique and content.

Another strong reason to get out into the community (and attend a writers conference) is explained by developmental psychologist Susan Pinker. She reveals how in-person social interactions are not only necessary for human happiness, but could also be key to health and long life in an intriguing TED Talk where she explains that social interaction is the number one predictor for longevity. She explains that this isTED not limited to close acquaintances, but includes everyone that we interact with as we move through our day. Further, “Face to face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like vaccines, they protect you now in the present and well into the future.” As a matter of fact, her entire speech made me really glad I signed up for the conference. Her research shows that brain activity becomes much more engaged with a live partner. Recruiters from Fortune 500 companies thought the candidates were smarter if they heard their voices, compared to when they read their pitches from a text, email or letter. So theoretically, pitching an agent or publisher at a writing conference makes me smarter then sending a query letter…quaking knees and all.

Pinker says, “It’s a biological imperative to know we belong.” She points out the benefits of social contact, “Building inter-person interhyperboleaction into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas, bolsters the immune system, sends feel good hormones surging through the blood stream and brain, and helps us live longer. I call this building your village, and building it and sustaining it is a matter of life and death.” So now I can extrapolate from this information that attending the Lonestar.ink writing conference is a matter of life and death. Okay, I might be slightly exaggerating, but hey, it’s still a great idea and what’s a little hyperbole among friends?

 

Guest Post: Books as a Catalyst to a Love of Learning and Reading!

I read this on Facebook and asked my friend Abigail Harper Christie if I could share it, because it really spoke to me about the value of reading and having access to books. As a writer, it validates my own endeavors as a way to contribute to humanity. Abigail’s story tells of the life-changing impact that books made on her:

harrypotterbookAs my trip to London and our Harry Potter Pilgrimage draws to a close, I have been thinking about the impact that Harry Potter has had on my life. I understand that it is just a book series, but for me it is a tiny bit more. Pre-HP, I had absolutely no interest in reading and was reading pretty significantly below grade level. I just didn’t care. My mom would try to force me to read to her at night and I would put up a fight every time. Then someone gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in third grade. I couldn’t put it down. Within weeks I had read the first three books. Before I was done with third grade I had read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit while waiting for the fourth one to come out. By the next time they did reading evaluations I was then reading/comprehending significantly above grade level. I remember taking my books with me everywhere and talking about them a bit too much.

Harry Potter is more than just a series of books for me, it was the catalyst to a love of learning and reading. So I know we are all busy these days with relationships, school, work, adulting, etc., but try to take the time to stop and read a book. It might just lead you to places you never imagined possible.

NancyDrewThanks, Abigail – I spent many a night in elementary school hiding under the covers with a flashlight and Nancy Drew mystery book (I am a bit older than you, okay, maybe more than a bit…and Harry Potter was still a long way off, but Nancy Drew had the same effect) so I can really identify with your experience and I wish that for everyone. Reading transports us to another world and allows us to see possibilities that we wouldn’t know existed otherwise. It empowers us with knowledge and reassures us with familiarity. It helps us cope by providing a means to take a break from our troubles. I think one of the best gifts you can give a child is to facilitate a love of reading. Thanks for sharing about the impact that books have had on you – as an author the best thing we can possibly hear is that we have made a difference in someone’s life!

Angry Robot Open Door Submission

I am very excited to announce that I have submitted Alien Neighbors to Angry Robot. Who are they and why is that exciting you might ask…

From their webpage (www.angryrobotbooks.com): Angry Robot is a global imprint dedicated to the best in modern adult science fiction, fantasy and everything inbetween. Our book line launched in July 2009, with physical books across a wide variety of formats, e-books as standard, and with all frontlist titles as audiobooks from October 2011.

Since I write science fiction and fantasy, Angry Robot would be a publisher that might find interest in my work. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book writingLanjo#1/publishing process, let me say in brief that it can be a very long and arduous journey. One typically queries agents first, and if one is successful and an agent offers to work with you (a process that can take months, if ever), the agent represents your work and tries to find it a home with a publisher. Rarely do publishing houses accept what is referred to as “unsolicited manuscripts,” they typically only accept manuscripts to review that have come to them by agents.

Angry Robot, however, has provided authors such as myself that do not yet have a literary agent, an opportunity to submit their unpublished manuscript for consideration. This has been HUGE for me for multiple reasons:

  1. These guys have promised to read every manuscript submitted. The chance to have a reputable publishing house consider my work is breathtaking.
  2. The timing was phenomenal. I was finishing up my second round of self-edits in October when I read the announcement. The door opened November 1st and closes December 31st. I submitted my manuscript yesterday, December 27th.
  3. The timeline motivated me to complete my self-edits and bring in a copy-editor to check for grammar, spelling, style, and punctuation issues. I managed to do one more round of revision when going through the copy-editor’s recommendations and I am now thrilled to have completed a submission-ready manuscript.
  4. Angry Robot requested the “dreaded” synopsis as part of their submission requirements. My least favorite part of the writing process (I had to condensed a 95,000 word novel into 2 pages), but it forced me to do it. This is a valuable exercise albeit a painful one, that takes several iterations to do properly. A synopsis not only tells the story (and shows you actually finished it) it can point out any flaws in the plot and is a quick way to evaluate if a story is of interest or not. In short, I needed to write a synopsis whether or not Angry Robot accepts my manuscript and their Open Door Submission motivated me (kicking and screaming) to do it. Now, I’m so glad I did!
  5. Writing is very subjective, and writing for a particular audience isn’t easy. Within that audience is an entire spectrum of what people want to read. I wrote the kind of science fiction novel that I would want to read. I hope to find a publishing house that shares my vision for it. Maybe its Angry Robot (I hope so!) but if not, they gave me a valuable gift already. Their Open Door Submission pushed me to do my best and get it done. For that, I am grateful.

Thanks, Angry Robot!

Shared Passion: Know Your Audience

I saw a pretty thorough rant as a blog post, regarding the superiority of the author’s work in comparison with other novels. This person pretty much lambasted the quality of other novels that were successful in getting published via the traditional route. Due to their inability to get published by a traditional publishing house, this person went the self-published route. According to the blog, due to their lack of expertise in marketing, this person was unable to market their book well, which resulted in poor sales.

I am being gender neutral to protect the identity of this person, because I believe they are writing purely out of bottled up emotion. Which is okay as a cathartic exercise, but not really appropriate on a public forum, especially when it criticizes an entire industry. While I felt this person’s angst, I think this kind of attitude is very dangerous. I can truly empathize with their frustration over the hard road it often takes to traditional publication, a journey I have only recently begun as I search for representation. However, one thing I have learned in both my academic and professional careers, is that writing is very subjective. What one person embraces as wonderful literature, another person may have absolutely no interest in. That to me, while frustrating at times, is actually one of the beautiful things about storytelling. It is about knowing your audience because you are also your audience, and then writing in such a way that you touch their hearts and if you are really good – stir their souls too. This is not something you can contrive, because as soon as you try, it will sound artificial. You must write what you are passionate to write about.

road

One of the best things you can do when traveling the road of traditional publishing, is to know your audience. This applies to both your targeted readership and to the professionals you are seeking to partner with as part of your publication journey. If your passion is their passion, you have found the right audience to present your work. For the person who posted their rant, I would respond by saying I feel your pain. But celebrating the successes of other authors rather than denigrating their work, is the better road. There is no need to insult other audiences, just because they are not your own. Nobody, and I mean nobody, ever claimed being a writer is easy. There are lots of times we are assaulted by self-doubt and frustration at rejection. In our chosen field, working hard does not guarantee success. But by working hard, we will grow. By being able to accept constructive criticism and apply it, we will grow. The road to publication may be long and difficult. We may receive multiple rejections. But that doesn’t mean we set aside our writing aspirations. We simply work harder to improve our work. Having people around that will pick us up when we are feeling down is always a good thing too.

I love the quote by Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Most importantly, if you are getting a lot of rejections, you shouldn’t be so inflexible that you can’t rethink your project. A definition of insanity that is often quoted is “Doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting different results.” A few rejections may simply be a matter of taste, but being rejected over and over by industry professionals is probably a sign that you are either submitting to the wrong audience or that some major revision is needed. Think of revision not as a negative activity – but as an opportunity to make your work even better. Don’t stop writing, revise that project. You can also start another project, being assured that you have grown in your craft through your previous labor. A writer must write, after all. But when it comes time to submit, know your audience.

[image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

I Write, Therefore I Am.

writingdeskI was thinking about why I write this morning. Writing, for one with a passion to express themselves through the written word, defines a good portion of who we are. Reading does not equate to writing, but without reading, writing for some seems almost pointless. Some of the greatest praises from a beta reader for me are, “I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to find out what happens” or “It really tugged at my heart” or “It gave me a whole new perspective.” Those phrases are what really get me going as a writer.

While it is perfectly okay to write simply for the act of writing, which can be a very private matter and can be very cathartic, sometimes revealing what one has written in those moments can touch people in a way that even our best efforts at creative writing can’t capture. I think for the writer, part of who one is must enter the story, if the story is to resonate with others, even if it is only a reaction to the writing rather than personal revelation. Does the story you are typing make you pause and think about what you just wrote in a way that evokes emotion? Does it make you stop and laugh out loud, or cause your eyes to water unexpectedly? Do you find yourself smiling while reading a scene you wrote, or empathizing with a character you have developed? Does it make you want to keep writing so that you can share the story with others? Do you wake up at night with an idea you hastily scribble down on the notepad you keep by the bed for that purpose? Do you hear someone say something and think, “That would be a great line to use in my story?” I think people write for many reasons. For me – I write because it is a part of who I am. It is a natural response to the thoughts rolling around inside of my head, having the potential to become a story that could touch the lives of others in a positive way. There are other reasons but for me, that is one of the most compelling. Why do you write?

[image courtesy of surasakiStock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]