Monday, June 19, 2017

No Such Thing as Vacation....

When you're a writer, 'vacation' doesn't mean the same thing to us as it does to everyone else. Kind of like when someone suggests a 'vacation' at a house instead of a hotel- you have to do laundry, cooking, dishes, straightening up, and at some rentals, bring your own sheets, towels and blankets. Besides having to make beds, you have to pack all the stuff for them. You call that a vacation??

Same thing with writing. Although the kids are out of school, for me it just means that I don't have to run the youngster around to fencing, SAT tutoring, school activities, etc. But this is what I will be doing on my 'vacation:'

1. Revising a number of novels because I still love them and hope a new agent/editor will too.

2. Continue the agent search/query.

3.  Outline new novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) because I still haven't suffered enough doing it four times already.

4. Redesigning a new website. I hate tech work, so this is probably a two year project. Unless someone feels sorry for me and offers to help (not that my boys would....).

5. Work on my marketing. I need more attention for my middle grade series, Evolution Revolution. There very little love out there for Indies (even if well written and illustrated).

Yep, this is what I have to look forward to...
All those tasks are in addition to non-writing projects:

1. Finish painting and maintenance of church parsonage for new pastor to move in.

2.  Paint the pool bar (been a few years, looking dingy).

3.  Scrape and paint the concrete area where the pool filter is (got too burned out when I had to do the rest of the deck, but this spot sticks out and this bothers me. A lot.).

4.  Paint ceiling and walls in my bedroom (water leak).

5.  Continue the de-clutter. Slowly. Inch by inch. Step by step....

How I dream of this....
So, I don't even want to hear the word vacation- until September when everyone's at work and school and the house is quiet... I may actually get a day of quiet to just write for pleasure.

What's on your to do list for 'vacation?'

Char

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Story DOES Matter!

At the NJ SCBWI annual conference last weekend, I took a workshop titled, "Writing Marginalized Voices in Children's Books," which was presented by Andrea Loney and Emma Otheguy. It's one thing to believe in writing diverse characters- and another in getting it right.

Recently, a publishing professional told me that if I wasn't the same ethnicity as my characters, "That's a problem," and getting my work published would be very difficult, if not impossible. If I were to follow that dictate, then all I could write are stories with characters that are German and Swedish- and I would then be accused of only writing from the white perspective. It's a Catch 22 with no win for me. I might as well just give up writing because that's NOT what I want: a strictly 'white only' point of view. (To read that post, scroll down).

I shared a dinner table with Emma, who is of Cuban descent, and I met Andrea, a woman of color, at the workshop. They discussed how unrepresented these voices, stories, and people are. And besides being underrepresented, sometimes they are represented incorrectly. There are books out there rife with stereotypes which need to be discarded. Also, she and Emma talked about how polarizing books and writing around ethnicity can be.

Andrea gave us opportunities to talk about these things. I mentioned that in my middle grade book series, Evolution Revolution (Simple Machines, Simple Plans, Simple Lessons), the main characters are animals, and the main secondary character is a boy of color. When I showed the cover of the book, which features Jack the squirrel, to white children, they bought the book. When I showed children of color the picture of the boy who looked like them, they bought the book but white children mostly didn't. Same book, different responses. It's such a conundrum to me on how to present the book. I don't want to use two different approaches to discuss/sell my book depending on the ethnicity of the audience. It's an animal book, a science book, an adventure book. (There are other humans characters of other ethnicities and genders). Should I just give in and make all my characters white like me, even if it doesn't fit the story? (The character is also physically challenged and is homeschooled.)

Andrea's response was for us to write the story. BUT- make sure to do the research. Is my character accurately representing this ethnicity without stereotype? If I feel confident it is technically correct, a 'sensitivity reader' - person of color who can point out any stereotypical flaws in dialogue, appearance, customs, etc. that I may not realize I've employed, will help further ensure that I am presenting a marginalized voice/character will all fairness.

This is what writers across the spectrum need to hear, understand, and embrace. We all hate the stereotypes that we're faced with (I get really tired of 'dumb blonde' jokes, Nazi references, misogynistic remarks). I'm sure that's only an inkling of what marginalized people face.

But I took away that the story matters. I can write marginalized voices and characters, and so can you. If we write precisely, no one should question that even though we don't have the credentials of being born a specific ethnicity, we can still write that story. The only way to bring marginalized voices and people to wide acceptance is to keep writing that story the way it should be written.

I've gotten much more from this workshop from both Andrea and Emma, who related her experiences of her Cuban heritage and the journey of writing her book than I can do justice in this short post. Check out Andrea's picture book, Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! and her other books here. For Emma's book, Marti's Song for Freedom, debuting Spring 2017, check here to pre-order or check for launch date.

Char


Monday, June 5, 2017

Love Lift Us Up...

I'm not going to get mushy on you, talking about love thy neighbor (though we need it), or love yourself (have you, lately?).

I'm sharing my 'love' of the children's book writing community. I'm an author, so I try to support writers- published and waiting to be. But today, I want to focus on the other half- the illustrators.

You all know I LOVE my illustrator, Cathy Daniels.


You've seen the Evolution Revolution series covers (I hope)- book 1, Simple Machines, book 2, Simple Plans,  and book 3, Simple Lessons. Here's a sneak peek at an interior illustration for Simple Lessons:


The picture tells a piece of the story (but read the whole book to see the other great pictures and get the whole story). Many people have been attracted to the book (kids and adults) because of the illustrations. When they're done this well, you know the illustrator put the best effort (and then some) into their work. If you're going Indie, don't be cheap and have your child scribble something. Hire a professional artist. You get what you pay for, and if your book is that important, doesn't it deserve wonderful illustrations? Check out Cathy's other works here.

My next gush is Mike Ciccotello. He's sort of newcomer to the New Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I 'discovered' him last year, walking through the juried art show at our annual conference. This was his piece:


When I told him how much it 'spoke' to me, he gave me the print! It hangs in my office so I can always remember the joy and spark of imagination of being a child. This year, Mike won the People's Choice Award! Here's the pic:


And it's sitting in my office! I'm having huge fangirl moments here! After his family, I think I'm his biggest groupie! So I have the Mike wall. Check out Mike's work here. (I think he should make his own coffee cups- these are fab, but make sure to stroll around his site and see all his work.) And notice that he'd make a good book illustrator too....

But there is so much love to go around. My friend, Colleen Rowan Kosinski, gave me her signed print! Check it out:


 Notice the character in the background to the left... Her picture book, Lila's Sunflowers, debuted a few months ago, and is a wonderful story about- well, I won't ruin the surprise. It's touching and moving (tissue alert for sentimental slobs like me.) Check out her book and her work here.  More books are forthcoming, so I don't have to tell you what a talented illustrator she is.

There are soooo many wonderful artists at the conference, and I wish I could showcase them all. My friend, Kathy Temean, is working on displaying as many of the artwork as she can, so check out her blog over the next week or so and see the other outstanding, incredible, I'm-so-damn-jealous-of-their-talent artists. Visit their websites/blogs, praise them for their work. Spread the love. In a frightening world, art soothes the soul, calms the nerves, and lightens the heart.

Now I'm going to doodle some stick figures....

Char

Monday, May 29, 2017

Doing it Legal, Doing it Right...

First of all, a thoughtful Memorial Day to all as we take time out to remember, honor, and miss those who gave all or some of their lives for our liberties and country.


My dad and two uncles served respectively in the Navy and the Army.  I salute them and all the members of the Armed Forces, past and present. May God Bless America.

On a different note...

Lookee!


Registration of Copyrights for Evolution Revolution: Book 1, Simple Machines, and Evolution Revolution: Book 2, Simple Plans! Book 3, Simple Lessons, coming soon!

Be safe, be grateful, be compassionate, be diligent....

Char

Monday, May 22, 2017

Blurb, Blurb, Blurb...

Congratulations! Someone asked you to write a blurb for their novel.

After reading the book, it doesn't feel like an honor anymore, it feels like a trap.

Because you don't like the book.

You don't want to insult the author/friend with an honest "I didn't like it" tag, nor do you want to lie "I loved it!"

Sticky situation, yes, but it doesn't have to be, you're getting yourself worked up for nothing. You don't have to say you loved it, or even liked it. You are not required to mention the love triangle would bore your 90-year-old Puritan grandmother, or the over-description slowed the pace so much a snail was Indy 500 worthy in comparison. Nowhere are there rules for writing blurbs- except one: it has to come from the heart. Seems like a conundrum?



Consider this: "Fashion, witty prose, intrigue, and action- Blonde OPS has it all!" Author/publisher/ friend Shannon Delany wrote this blurb. Does it tell you if she absolutely adored it? No. Couldn't put it down? Nope. Had to create a fan club or she'd die? No way. What Delany does is tell you what the novel has: fashion, witty prose, intrigue, and action (all true). Those key words alone should help the reader decide if they want to read it. Using my own books as illustration (lest there be any misunderstanding about how wonderful everyone else's book is), here is the review for Sirenz Back in Fashion from Booklist: "The experiences of this sartorial odd couple are funny and entertaining... Bennardo and Zaman are bringing the gods into the twenty-first century." What a great review, right?


Well, kind of. Booklist was middle of the road; it liked some aspects, didn't like others. Those ellipses means there are other words in between the quotes. When using a not-starred review, authors, publishers, agents, and publicists put a positive spin on it by kind of hopping over the not-so-nice parts.

That's how you have to think- compartmentalize. List what you liked about the story; it could be that it's sci fi, that it has a dragon, that there is a tender romance. A few choice words are all that is needed. If I was asked to blurb Game of Thrones, which after three years I still haven't finished the first book because it's so dense, here's what I would say: "Rich and vivid description, deadly royal intrigue, and a diverse cast of villainy, Game of Thrones will keep you wondering who's next to die..." All that is true. And really, I constantly wondered who was the next corpse. Nowhere do I say I love it, or that you should spend your money on the books. Readers have to decide that for themselves. Perusing a few pages will tell them if it's something they would like.

So don't fret if someone asks you to do a blurb. You won't commit a mortal sin by helping an author out with a few words, even if you don't like the story. Blurbs are important because it may draw a potential reader in when they glance at the back cover. With so many books out there, decisions have to be made where to spend limited money. Books without a blurb may leave the impression that they aren't 'good' because no one will endorse them. Celebrities and well-known authors have no trouble getting blurbs. For a mid-list or debut author without connections, it's a struggle. I have seven books (soon eight) with my name on them and getting blurbs from the writing community is a nightmare (and I don't know any celebs) because they are afraid to commit.

Blurbs are an important starting point to book success. If you can help bring a reader to a book, it's the author's job to keep them in. Please say yes and gift the author with a few well-chosen words.

Char


Monday, May 8, 2017

Toughen Up, Cupcake!

Being an author is not for the weak, easily offended, or aggressive person. One critique can send you home in a fit of anger--or tears.



And then there are the agent and editor rejections. Nothing will prepare you for this, it's worse than being last one standing on the gym field and the two teams fighting over who has to choose you.

As I go through the latest rounds of submitting queries, hoping to hear, and reading the 'no's', it's time to bite my tongue (oh, sometimes it's so hard...).I thought I'd share a few of those memorable rejections so you know that you're not the only one who scratches your head at a response and thinks, what the hell?

The "Worst Rejection EVER":

On a scrap of paper (it was 2 inches wide. This cheap publishing house got 5 rejection slips on one sheet of standard paper), it read that not only did they not like the submission, but to "never submit anything to us again." Wow. That editor was definitely not a people person. But, they needn't worry; any editor who could send such a nasty rejection is not someone my Sirenz co-author and I would want to work with anyway.

The "Funny in an ironic way" rejection:

We submitted queries for Sirenz to many editors and agents. I ran into one such editor at Book Expo America, and said hello. She expressed interest in Sirenz. It was hard to keep a straight face when I told her she'd had it for two years- and that my co-author and I were at BEA to do a signing for it.

Runner up: a letter of rejection by another editor over two years later. Guess he was cleaning out his in-box and we were on the bottom.

Most rejections are form letters which is fine-as long as it isn't years later. Really, if an agent/editor was queried over six months ago, and I've followed up to ask if they were still interested and they didn't respond, I've written them off- and sent out queries to others.

The "Are you kidding me?" response:

You have to wonder about people in any business who take the time to write and send an insulting letter. A well known editor from a top publishing house wrote that besides not liking my story, she didn't like my writing. She wasted time better spent going through the slush pile looking for a possible bestseller just to write me a nasty letter. Based on that, I know I would not have liked working with her, so it was a win both ways. I still run into her at conferences. I'm cordial, but would never send anything to her again.

Believe it or not, it's nice to receive a personally written rejection. It's rare and special because not only does it mean the person queried took the time to read my manuscript, but to respond with thoughtful insight. Some offered general advice (join the SCBWI) and some suggestions pertinent to improving my story. To me, even though they are not accepting my manuscript, they are encouraging me. For the rare few who take the time to offer advice or suggestions, I thank you.

Most however, don't respond unless they're interested. To keep yourself from hanging around, waiting, waiting, waiting as precious time slips away (you should be working on something anyway), send out more queries. Gone are the days of 'exclusive submission.' Agents and editors can't expect a submitting author to wait for a single response-when it may never come. I can't count how many submissions never got a response. Asking me to send one query out at a time is unrealistic, and, I think, selfish.

The "Oh, that hurts"  rejection:

You get a rejection, and from the response you know they didn't read the query/excerpt/manuscript because they mention things that either don't appear in your story, or it's all wrong. Possibly a simple mix-up, but disheartening because the impression you made was so blah they mixed you up with others in the pile.

It's time to put these rejections in the recycle pile. While it was sometimes funny, it was bittersweet to look through them and wonder if I'd be farther down the road in my publishing dreams. I'm a different writer than I was back then, even a few months ago, when this new search began. And that's the nature of being an author. You take the rejections and suggestions, learn from them and move on.

Char


Monday, April 24, 2017

1, 2, Book 3! Debut!

Here it is - the final cover in my Evolution Revolution series, Book 3, Simple Lessons!



While this is the last book in the series, there's nothing from keeping Jack my genius squirrel from coming back for a visit - maybe for a short story, maybe for one more book, maybe for another series. Stories never really do end, do they?

Cathy Thole-Daniels, the illustrator, exceeded all my expectations. She listened to my suggestions, explained why she chose certain images, textures, and scenes. We didn't have any difficulties working together. I stood back and let her take charge; she's the artistic talent right? I only got involved when Cathy asked my opinion or I felt a change was needed. (They were always small ones.)  I've said before that people have been drawn to the books because of the covers and the illustrations. I can't wait to see what the interior illustrations for Simple Lessons will look like!

While yesterday was World Book Day, celebrate during the week- buy a book from an Indie or less-well known author. We need the book love!

And stay tuned for a sneak peek at an interior illustration!

Char

Monday, April 17, 2017

Who Doesn't Love A Book Festival?

Like many authors, I attend book festivals. I like meeting and talking to people about books, being an author, giving writing tips--and selling my books.

Some book festivals are wonderfully organized, I return year after year, even if I don't sell a lot of books (you never know when you're going to make that one connection that changes everything).

Some are so awful, I don't return. I hear authors complaining about certain aspects of the festivals, so here's small punchlist of things to consider if you're planning a book festival- whether you're a librarian or a bookstore owner, it's going to be huge, or just a few authors. The list isn't all-inclusive as there are many aspects, but it's some of the things I notice most when fellow authors talk about the merits of one festival over another. Not in order of significance they are:

1. Let the authors know well ahead of time if there will be beverages/snacks/food available. If you aren't supplying them, fine, but we need to know so we can plan. It's impossible to do an event that is several hours long and go without food or water. When we travel for several hours, fresh food doesn't always hold up, so be humane let us know if there are shops or delis nearby.

2. With events in libraries and bookstores, sometimes you don't want us to eat at our tables. While this is understandable, we need somewhere to eat. A small room with table, chairs, and waste baskets is all we need.

3.  We all want to make the event successful, and that means getting the word out. Social media is the quickest, least expensive method. We have fans, but more importantly, you have ties to the community that are more lucrative. You can reach out to schools, PTOs, library patrons, bookclubs, and others in a larger area, especially if you are a county library or a city event. If you can publicize, and more than just a notice on your event calendar, please do so. We promise to blurb, tweet, post, and announce the event numerous times.

4. If you have someone in-house who designs event or specialty logos, share those logos with us. We love to showcase libraries or bookstores or whomever is planning the event. It brings you good PR, increases awareness of your organization or business, and maybe increases traffic for you. Plus, on our posts, it looks very professional that the event has its own logo. It means people are invested in promoting the event, they are in earnest.

5.  When authors apply to attend the event, please respond with a yes, you're accepted, or no, we've reached capacity. It's rude not to respond, and by letting us know-in a timely fashion- we can either fill our calendar with another event, or we can prepare properly for yours. We may need to create presentations, make travel arrangements, and order books. With email, there is no reason, even if a large amount of authors apply, for you not to respond (mass email is better than nothing). By not responding, you get a not-so-good reputation...

6. Make sure you have the space! The worst event I attended had authors in between book stacks at a library, and mixed YA and MG in the picture book section. There was almost no traffic-for the entire event. That's a set up for failure.

7. Another problem- putting too many authors at one table. Ideally, 3 feet of space, or, 2 authors to a 6' table, is perfect. Any smaller, and there isn't enough room for each display books, promo materials, sign, and sit. Card tables are a nightmare....

8.  Don't wait until January to plan a March event. Start a year in advance, even if you don't have a firm date. If you've never organized an event, you don't realize all the work that goes into planning. By starting early, you give yourself time to a) pick a good date, b) pick a rain date if applicablen c) get the space reserved if needed, d) start building a list of authors you'd like to contact, e) decide on a budget (do you have to pay for the space? will you offer food/drink to authors? etc.), f) work up a logo or promotional materials and have a PR plan (where will you advertise, getting info to authors for them to publicize, asking friends and colleagues to share, etc.), g) work out a schedule (will there be author panels and/or presentations? Will you have a well-known featured author?), h) recruit volunteers; one person can't do it all, i) make sure there is adequate parking for both authors and attendees. Just one snag and you'll be glad you left extra time to work it out.

9.  Talk to organizers of successful events, like YA Fest, BooksNJ, etc. (Google for a list of other events). Some planners may be too busy to respond, so my advice is to target librarians and smaller event organizers.

10. If you're going to charge the authors a fee to attend and sell their books, tell us up front. Your initial email should include this information, or if we're 'required' to join your organization to appear. Most authors will pass up an event if there is a charge unless it's a proven money maker. We have travel expenses and then to pay for the event is generally not cost effective. It's not fair, or ethical, to spring a fee on us at the last minute; and don't be surprised if authors do back out suddenly, leaving you with fewer appearing.

11. Don't forget to collect author bios, headshots, and book covers, plus book information. Do that at least several months in advance (we will update if a new book debuts). This is good info for your PR, especially if an author has a bestseller, won an award, or has a local/interesting connection.

12. We must know if a bookstore will be handling book ordering and sales, or if we are managing our own. Some authors won't do hand sales; you need to know this, and we need to know if we have to order books and pack them. Also, if a bookstore is handling the sales, we need a contact number in case we want to check that our books are in stock. Nothing angers an author more than going to an event and the bookstore didn't have the courtesy to tell them they couldn't/didn't get the book. So we traveled, and sat there, for hours, with no books to sell. And yes, this happens more than infrequently. Additionally, what are the terms; will the bookstore only order a maximum of X books, unless we buy back the unsold ones? Will they offer us a discount on buybacks since they won't have restocking /shipping fees? What about Indie authors: bookstores generally won't handle their books, so are they free to sell while traditionally pubbed have to take whatever terms the bookstore dictates? Can we opt out of bookstore sales if we think the terms are unreasonable?

13. Talk to Authors. We make the rounds of many events and know which ones are well organized. Maybe we can offer some suggestions, or give you the contact info of someone who might be able to help. You could do a quick email survey asking what they'd like to see, what they don't. While you can't please everyone, our input will give you a clearer idea of some of the issues that need to be addressed when planning these events.

14. If authors are making presentations, what about our tables, loaded with books and our things? Will someone watch them (people have 'thought' the books, left unattended, were 'free.' See the problem?) If a volunteer can't be spared, we may need to pack up our things, leaving a sign that we'll return after our presentation/panel. This is a huge hassle. Sometimes, our fellow authors can cover our tables, but if several of us are on the same panel, the tables are left unattended.

The best book festival I ever attended was PAYA (PA loves YA). And it was organized/run by a high school girl. It had a good number of authors, food, space- and one year, even with a hurricane on its way- the place was packed and I've never sold as many books at one time. She went off to college, and sadly, no one stepped into her place. I miss that festival!

So it can be done. These are only a few of the many things you'll need to consider, but if you're serious about starting a festival, or trying to improve one (very few are greatly successful the first year, so hang in there), you can do it.

We authors are cheering you on!


(This was at PAYA, one of the most successful, and best run book festivals.)

Char

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

You Are What You Write, Aren't You?

I'm trying to be thoughtful and careful with this post. I know some people are going to read it the wrong way, and be offended, but I'm opening this subject up for discussion, because it needs to be heard.

I recently had a publishing professional look at my middle grade manuscript. It's historical fiction, set in 1939-41 Berlin, at the zoo. The main character, Tomas Durr, is a young German boy, fourteen years old. The premise is based on actual events; with the backing of Hermann Goring (second-in-command to Hitler, creator of the Gestapo, and Nazi party leader), the director of the Berlin Zoo, Lutz Heck, and his brother, Heinz Heck, director of the Munich Zoo, embarked on a program to 'resurrect' (by faulty eugenics), extinct animals. Tomas and his family are fictional, but the Heck brothers and Goring, are of course real. Through the novel, Tomas discovers that animals are 'discarded' if they aren't perfect, paralleling the genocide of the Jews. The horrors of war-forcing children to join the Jugend (Nazi Youth) at ten years old, turning in family and/or friends for suspected treason, the increasingly desperate conditions, etc. are other situations that arise. This is not a Holocaust novel; the disappearance of the Jews is mentioned, not delved into. I've researched for historical accuracy to make the character of Tomas Durr acceptable.

Upon sitting for my critique, I was asked, "Are you German or Jewish?"

?

"If you aren't, that's problematic." It is because, in the movement to increase diversity, it seems that some in  the publishing world only consider authors whose ethnicity (or psychology or economics or experience, etc.) matches that of their characters to write the story.

I'm German (and Swedish), but if I wasn't, am I 'unqualified' to write a story which was my 'creation?' Will I have to give up my storylines to others because they 'match' the character and I don't?

I understand the need for diversity and the need for marginalized voices to be heard. But, if no one from that background writes the story or it is the brainchild of someone who is different from the character, should we kill the story? Take the story away from them?

Following this logic, I can only write female, German/Swedish/Christian/middle class stories set in Long Island, Connecticut, or New Jersey. No male point of view. No outer space. No science, crime, foreign shores, or even one of a set of twins story- because that doesn't match me. There goes my middle grade animal adventure story series, Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines/Simple Plans/ Simple Lessons- because I'm not a squirrel. I don't live in the woods. I don't know what it's like to fight off a fox, an owl, or construction machines. What about Blonde OPS? I'm not a hacker. but should I have learned to be, rather than research about it so my voice is 'authentic' enough? Where does one draw the line; at picture books? Unless it's scholarly, biographies might be suspect, and we can go on from there.

Won't this narrow our perspective, further dividing us? Can you imagine if Kathryn Stockett's  The Help was submitted under these guidelines? A white woman writing about the lives of black women. What about Shakespeare? No Romeo and Juliet, because he can't speak for women. Scratch Uncle Tom's Cabin because Harriet Beecher Stowe was not a Southern plantation overseer, nor an enslaved black man. Rudyard Kipling could not have written Kim, a story about young Indian boy- because Kipling was educated, white, upper class English. Think of all the stories that would be swept away if everyone adhered by this rule.

I support diversity and the promotion of marginalized voices, but instead of dismissing those authors who are vastly different from their characters and losing a vital story, if the voice is authentic, I think it should be heard. If I was writing about the Holocaust, I should use due diligence gathering my facts, and have someone who knows about the Holocaust read it for authenticity. During my elementary and middle school years, I lived in Bay Shore, Long Island. I had two best friends; Damari Colon, who was Puerto Rican, and Vicky Johnson, who was black. The schools and neighborhoods were culturally diverse. Does this give me any qualifications to include characters of different ethnicities, religions, economics, etc. in my stories? And if I don't include diverse characters because some would argue I'm not 'qualified,' then my writing becomes exactly like me- and I become guilty of writing with a narrow world view, which then becomes fodder for others to accuse me, rightly so, but from I situation I am forced into, of writing only from a caucasian point of view. How can both sides be accommodated?

What's the solution?

Char


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

There's Always Room For Improvement...

I'm pressed for time this week, so I'm going to admit my 5 biggest flaws; my writing flaws that is.

1.  I hate to revise. I don't mind once, maybe three times, but I hate doing it over and over and over. That's the business though; revise until you, the agent, or the editor are satisfied.

2.  Once I've worked on a novel for about a year, I'm done. I want to move onto something else. Of course I polish and revise and rework, but sometimes I take little breaks in between to work on a new shiny. I'm not one of those people who re-read a certain book every year.

3.  It bothers me when I'm told to cut some aspect of my work-by editor, agent, critique group, etc. that I absolutely love. I rave, rant, clean the house like a crazy person, and procrastinate. Then, I calm down and make the changes. Mostly. Some, I just can't bring myself to do.

4.  I keep writing down new ideas, even though I have so many projects in various states of progress. I have files full of ideas. I want to write them all, but unless I could just write them and let someone else edit them, they won't get written...

5.  If I could, I would just write and sign books at events. I hate doing the PR footwork. A personal assistant would be a dream come true. Would also keep my office clean.

I'm sure I have other faults, but I'm pressed for time. And I don't want to admit to anything else.

Now I have to go back to finishing those hated edits.


Char



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On My "To Do" List

I like lists. They help me feel organized and almost like I have control of my day and life. (Ha.) Here is today's list of Thing To Do (which may run for well over a month before I get them done):



1. Write this blog post (guess I can cross it off my list as soon as I post).

2. Upload 15 pages of manuscript for critique at NJ SCBWI annual conference.

3. Pack up books and supplies for the Pennsylvania State Local Authors book festival (at Hershey, PA. Details on my 'What's Up?' page).

4. Pack up books and supplies for the Barnes and Noble Educator's event at Marlton. (yep, details on my events page).

5. Follow up with agents who requested a partial or full manuscript. Keep fingers crossed.

6. Draft presentation for NJ SCBWI conference (cyber security and hacking).

7.  Drop off NJ SCBWI paperwork on Critique Day in Princeton to our Reg. Adv, Cathy.

8. Get in a swim.

9. Start revisions on MG ms requested by another agent.

10. Continue work on YA thriller.

I've already gone through emails (I have to monitor 3 accounts- family, my old yahoo one, and my author one on gmail), Facebook and Twitter updates, and checked in with my publicist. And, I fed the cats. Twice.

The writer's life- it's not all glorious writing.

I'll let you know how much I got done by next week...

Char


Monday, March 20, 2017

The Reviews Are...Not In

Reviews are important to an author, don't let anybody say they're not. They do help spread the word about a book. That doesn't mean only good reviews and tons of them are worthwhile. Here are 5 reasons why/how reviews are important:


  1. Reviews in Goodreads, Amazon, and similar venues spread the word among readers, which are generally the lifeblood of author sales. 
  2. Those reviews posted in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, School Library Journal, and similar publications are a way for a novel to get noticed by industry professionals: agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers, etc.
  3. A review can be used on an author's blog, website, press release, even at the bottom of their email as a quick shout out to grab attention.
  4. When applying to book festivals, library or store events, a quick review blurb, like "loved the whimsy!" by PW helps the organizer to decide whom to select and to publicize the event to draw in crowds.
  5. When an author is a guest speaker, a glowing review from a well respected source, like PW or School Library Journal is used in the introduction: "PW called this novel a taut, well-paced thriller." This helps excite the audience to listen more closely than if the speaker said the author writes mysteries.
So if you can write a review, help an author out. Here are 5 tips to writing a review:

  1. It doesn't have to be long. A few well thought out sentences are easier and more valuable than paragraphs.
  2. Be precise; if you didn't like it, say why: "I thought the plot dragged" or "I don't like love triangles." This specificity will help others decide whether the book is for them and shows that you actually read the book.
  3. Try to be balanced. It's okay if you didn't like the book, not every book will appeal to every writer, but say one nice thing so it doesn't look like all you want to do is a hatchet job. That might lead to suspicion that you're a fan of another author and are willing to diss any other book hoping to help your friend. It can be as simple as, "But I did like the descriptions of the setting; I felt like I was in that town" or "I loved the cover."
  4. Even if it's months or years after the release, books are being evaluated by new readers and sometimes publishers will re-release the book with a new cover or added material. Plus, reviews are cumulative proof that the book merits attention.
  5. Post your review where an author can see them. We need to know what's out there. While no author should respond to a bad review, if we see someone didn't like it because there are no dragons in the story, we have the opportunity, when someone mentions it (and someone will) that the story is set in 1920s Chicago, and there aren't supposed to be dragons. (Yes, sometimes people post reviews which don't make any sense, and therefore, we know they haven't read the book or are just being negative.) Likewise, if it's a positive review, we can use it in our PR material and we can link to your blog or website (thereby sending more readers your way). 
My final message: if you are a blogger, reviewer, published author, librarian, teacher, or someone in a position to do a review, please do it. It's hard enough writing the story, then trying to find someone to review it. 

And yes, I would like someone to review book 2 in my series, Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans. You can leave a comment or email me, and I'll get back to you. And thank you for taking the time! 

 

Char

Monday, March 13, 2017

Everything About Writing I Learned From...

Life.



Here are my 5 Rules about writing as taught to me by Life.

1. It's a job. Treat it with the respect, dedication, and seriousness that you would an outside-the-home job. That means putting in the hours, acting professionally in correspondence, and being mindful of who is out there reading, listening, watching...

2. There will be some people who will try to discourage, disparage, disagree, disapprove, disavow, disconcert, discredit, discriminate, disgrace, dishonor, disgust, disillusion, dislike, dismiss, disown, displace, disrupt, disrespect, disregard, dispute, distance, distort, distract, distress, distrust, and disturb you. Don't let them. Let them discover, discuss, and distinguish you. Your attitude should be pro YOU, but never at the expense of others, even if they are wrong.

3.  School never ends. Just because you got that B.A. or M.F.A. doesn't mean you're done. Did you know everything before moving out on your own? Getting married? Having a baby? Life changes and you've got to learn new things all the time. So too, with writing: latest trends, what editors are looking for, which agent would be the best fit, what to chop and revise, which POV works. etc. are things that you have to stay on top of.

4.  Copying isn't flattering-or legal. Don't try to be someone/something you're not. I love Sherrilyn Kenyon's, or Anne Rice's books, but copying them means denying my muse. Plus, it might invite a Cease and Desist Order. You want to leave your mark on the literary world-not hide in the shadow (however great) of others.

5.  You won't always win. Books get rejected or fail to sell, agents and editors cut you loose, reviewers tear you down. It's akin to getting sick, or fired, or breaking up. Bad things will happen, but life, and writing, go on. Keep going, don't quit.

Char

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Don't Ban This Book

Maybe I should save this post for Banned Books Week, but it crossed my mind the other night-and I needed a post (yep, it's late).

I don't believe in banning books, but I believe parents need to be part of the discussion with controversial books. Read them with your kids and discuss. The world is more scary than any book.

Most times I don't understand why some books are banned. Take for instance the perennially banned book, Huckleberry Finn. It isn't among my faves, but not because of its use of that word- nigger. I hate that word and personally believe it should be eliminated from the English language, but I don't think that should doom this book. The word was commonly used then. Yes, it's a bad word, but scrapping a literary treasure isn't the answer. Reading the book, understanding the context, and discussing why the book is still relevant is the answer. Huckleberry Finn is a not a reflection of a perfect world- show me a book that is. No one disagrees that some of the language and attitudes are racist and I don't believe that is the point. Nor is the book a simple adventure story. It goes deeper than that.

The Twain Library in Virginia acknowledges that "it was condemned by many reviewers in MT's time as coarse and by many commentators in our time as racist." That, I don't believe, has changed. However, The Atlanta Constitution, in May, 1886, noted that Huckleberry Finn "...presents an almost artistically perfect picture of the life and character in the southwest, and it will be equally valuable to the historian and to the student of sociology. Its humor, which is genuine and never-failing, is relieved by little pathetic touches here and there that vouch for its literary value."

There are further reviews on the Twain Library website both in support and condemnation of Twain's novel. You can read them here: http://twain.lib.virginia.edu/huckfinn/huchompg.html.

My point is this; every art has its critics and its admirers. Shoving aside, hiding, or banning a work does not make it go away. If anything, it has the opposite effect; it brings the piece to light. Although that attention may be short lived, I believe it's best to make the book widely available. Once you open its covers to the words and meanings inside, open your mind past narrow criticisms.


                             


Char

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hurry! Free Doesn't Last Forever!

Yes, the Amazon giveaway is done. Congrats to the 5 winners. But you can still enter the Goodreads giveaway!

HERE is the link!



Really, can you think of any reason not to enter to win a free book? If it's not what you usually read, take a chance and try something new. You might be surprised. Or, read it and pass it on (you'll know who would like it).

Hurry! Giveaway ends at midnight!

One last thing- please mark it as Want To Read!

Okay, two things- please share the book love!

Char




Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Second Chance...

So you think you missed the Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans Amazon giveaway ? No, BUT TODAY IS THE LAST DAY! (Click on the link. I've made it easy for you to enter!)

And if you win, please consider putting a review up- (it's ok, you don't have to love it, but please be specific why so people will know that you actually read it. Yes, people do this.)

But the great news is....(dramatic pause....) You can enter to win on Goodreads ! (See, I'm making it sooo easy to get a copy, that's how much I want you to have this book.) And while you're on Goodreads, would you please mark the book as Want to Read? Help an author out! :)

Doesn't this beautiful cover draw you in....?


It tells the second part of Jack's story. You do know that owls eat squirrels, right? You must be curious why Jack and Owl are working together, and how a wagon fits in...

Enter to win, and good luck! If you don't win, consider asking your local bookstore to order it. Or, your local library. (That's almost like winning a free copy, but the library keeps it safe for you, you don't have to dust it, and the author makes a sale.)

Stay tuned for the final book in Jack's story, Evolution Revolution: Book 3 Simple Lessons (although I'm sure I could write many more because Jack is smart, curious, and trouble-bound).

Char


Monday, February 13, 2017

What Are Sisters For?

Now that Evolution Revolution: Book 2, Simple Plans is out (available on Amazon or Goodreads, soon Barnes & Noble), I'm going to give you a sneak peek at another interior illustration by Cathy Thole-Daniels (in case you weren't convinced previously that this is a fun-for-all-ages book...)


This is Jack and Sister. That's a piece of nut she's snorting out her nose because she's laughing at Jack. She takes all the best food for herself, is kind of lazy, yet she has Jack's back during the great war with the machines. Isn't that the way with most siblings? They annoy us, don't do their fair share of the work, and want first dibs on anything good- but we can depend on them in a bind. But like siblings, Sister has her own story.

Stop by and get to know Sister, Jack, Owl, Bird, Rat- and two humans who are intent upon disrupting their lives in the name of science.

Happy reading!

And enter to win a copy of Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans by going here. And if you would be so kind to mark it as "Want to Read" on Goodreads or leave a review? Thanks! Whuck, whuck! (says Jack).

Char


Monday, February 6, 2017

Enjoying the Win...

Most of you know I'm a huge New England Patriots fan. (Or, now you do.) So I'm going to enjoy a day with my fellow Pats Nation, to enjoy this special win.


Why it's special-
  1. Ok, it's the Super Bowl. Some teams have never made it there. Some have made it there, but have never won. 
  2. The Patriots have been in seven Super Bowls (a record).
  3. Coach Bill Belichick has more Super Bowl wins than any other coach. (He has wins with 2 other teams as an assistant coach).
  4. There are Patriots fans in every state and many countries around the world.
  5. No other team has come back from such a deficit (25 points) and won.
  6. There has never been an NFL duo (coach/quarterback) with as many shattered records and wins as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Here's our quarterback, Tom Brady.




Why he's special-


  1. He's the only quarterback to win 5 Super Bowls.
  2. He's the only quarterback to win 4 MVP Super Bowl awards.
  3. He's the second oldest qb to win a Super Bowl.
  4. He's smashed so many records, I can't recount them all.
  5. He's not done yet.
Love/hate them/him, it was history and I saw it happen. I'm going to be happen and reapply myself to my writing with the same dedication and focus he exhibits. 

Except it'll have to wait until after I clean up from my Super Bowl party...

Losers focus on winners, winners focus on winning.

Go Patriots!

Char

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Small Thing, A Memory So Big

See this?


These are those cheap rings you get out of a gumball dispenser, or in a goody bag from a kid's birthday party. I don't know where my son got them, but he scooped up three and gave them to me as a present (wasn't a holiday or my birthday). He knew I liked sparkly jewelry. He thought he was giving me something precious.

And he was. It was a gift of love from his heart, as valuable as the dandelion bouquets he used to collect for me so many times during the summer and spring. All he saw was the beauty. When I look at them, I see his youthful innocence, hear his giggles, feel his tight hugs, and even smell the fresh scent of baby powder.

Memories like that are fodder not only for a story, but for a character. I have a novel, The Recalling, that is based on the memories a girl has for someone she lost. Suddenly finding a necklace stirs up those memories--good and bad. The story develops around those memories and the necklace.

Not just things, but our senses can revitalize memories. The smell of salt water makes my heart ache for the eastern end of Long Island where I grew up from seventh grade until my twenties. It brings back memories of going to beach parties, getting severely stung by a jelly fish (in the face), having my cousin spend summers with me, doing work around the old farmhouse my parents were restoring, and getting my first car. It also brings the sadness of the loss of five friends in car accidents, one the boyfriend about whom The Recalling is based on, my parents' divorce, and everyone in the family going separate ways.

The taste of homemade bread and apple pie returns me to our farmhouse kitchen when my mother baked. We had a fireplace in the kitchen, where the cat and dog would sleep in front toasty by the fire during blustery winter days, and where my mom would put bread on the mantle in a bowl to rise.

Songs and music evoke remembrances; the theme from Jaws gave me the chills (I lived on Long Island where the movie was supposedly set and sometimes there were shark sightings). Certain church songs bring me to tears because the music and verse are deep in meaning. And I will always rock out to classic songs like Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA because I have to sing and dance with it, like it's in my DNA.

Use your memory or make up one for your characters. In my middle grade novel, even Jack the gray squirrel has memories of his brother being eaten by Fox, and his mother searching for food, but never coming home. These memories make him cautious and wary for danger. We are, in some ways, defined by our past; we want to hide it, or forget it, or relive it, or use it. Memories are snatches of our past. If characters are to be believable, they have to be more than a person doing something in the present. Characters have to have regrets and longings, fears and desires, motivations and inhibitions. Memories are Nature's way of keeping our past ever present and fluid, able to be summoned.

No matter the age, culture, situation, everyone (and it's believed that animals do too) has memories. It should be true for characters as well.

Char

Monday, January 23, 2017

Just a Little Peek...

While I wait for Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans to debut, I'm going to tease you a bit. Here's one of the inside pics, created by my fabulous illustrator, Cathy Thole-Daniels:


The main character, Jack the gray squirrel, is learning quite a bit from his human friend Collin. (I'm not going to tell you what, but it's pretty amazing. Sorry, you'll have to buy the book or ask your library to get a copy.) If you've wandered around Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, you've seen stories about animals doing some amazing 'human' things: unlocking doors, dancing to music, skateboarding. This makes me smile because maybe this book will move from fiction to non-fiction. 

Strange things are happening...

Don't miss Jack's continuing story.

Char

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

You Know More Than You Think, But It's Not Enough


I prefer to spend my time writing or revising, but as every published author knows, you have to do public relations. If you're self published, you do it all, but even traditionally published authors get stuck doing quite a bit, especially nowadays with publishers pumping out more books than ever on shrinking marketing budgets, and, I'm going to say it, celeb or high profile authors (who don't need that much promo) sucking up unfair percentages. So keep that in mind as you seek an agent or editor-you know you have to start thinking about promotions (You've been told a million times: get a website, engage on social media, build a following, get involved in the writing community, etc.)

There are plenty of books and videos to give you the basics. You may surprise yourself by how much you already know and may be doing. Lately I've read Your First 100 Copies: The Step-By-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book by Tim Grahl, and I've been listening to video seminars by Steve Harrison. Neither, along with several other books I've read, was the complete  Holy Grail of public relations. Tim's book was for people with absolutely nothing done (not even a completed manuscript). As I have four traditionally published books, I'm not new to this game so I picked up very little from the book. (Hint: get marketing books from the library because buying them can add up.) As for the video seminars, I find them too basic (it's why I don't attend many writing workshops, they are geared for beginners), long winded (it could have been done in less than an hour), and a lot of these seminars are better suited for non-fiction and those who want to get into public speaking, presentations, and making money off what they know. The presence of a well-known person (who isn't a writer, but an editor/publisher) didn't help and rather hindered the presentation as it was a walk down memory lane for too long a time for me; I don't have hours to sit and listen to things I already know or don't need to know.

For beginning writers, it would be inspirational and especially helpful if you need tips on how to keep writing, perfecting your work, starting your social presence. For additional $$$$$, you can hire these people or buy a series of videos taking you step by step through promoting your book. I'm neither recommending nor not recommending; you need to decide how to spend your money based on your needs.

At least I've learned how much I do know. I'm not claiming to know it all, and I'll keep searching for more books, videos, seminars, and classes to help with book marketing, but I'm in a decent place for things I can do on my own. Things I can't do, like hook up with people in higher places who can push my book further is why I hired a part time publicist like Rebecca Grose of So Cal Public Relations.

If I discover any groundbreaking information, I'll share, but I'm finding everything you need to start is mostly available in books and videos you can get on your own.

Char

Monday, January 9, 2017

Discovering Her Creative Zen

This is one of my absolutely favorite pieces of art:



I love Asian inspired pieces, and this hangs in my downstairs library. Besides being painted, the geisha's dress and sash are applied silk fabric. I love the way the artist incorporated both visual and textural elements. You can't touch the silk because of the glass, but you can see it. (I wouldn't want anyone putting their greasy fingers on the silk anyway. This isn't a 'touch me' museum.)

The artist started painting, drawing, sculpting, and creating in other mediums later in life- in her 50s or 60s. Some of her pieces I don't care for, but just like with my books, there are people who don't like them all, and that shouldn't take away from enjoying the work that they do, or stop them from checking out newer ones.

What impressed me most about the artist is that she never thought she had creative talent. Artistic ability always belonged to someone else. I don't know what spurred her to say, 'Screw it, I want to paint.' But she did, and I'm glad. Maybe New York art galleries would laugh at her work if she tried to get a showing, but hey, I've seen some 'art' that leaves me cold (religious depictions in feces??), and I'm very choosy about modern art (I don't do 'Campbell's soup labels' kind of thing). Art is in the eye of the beholder even if beholders are few and far between. Art should be for one's self, itis personal expression and doesn't need to fit anyone's expectations. If others like or appreciate it, bonus. No one should be afraid to try, to experiment, to throw reservations to the wind.

So don't worry that your creative work isn't 'good enough.' If you don't like it, you can rework it. Artists are never happy with their creations, always wanting to tweak it just a bit more, but don't let it discourage you. I've perused my previous books and without fail, can find sentences that I'd like to rework, but it's done and I have to move on. I have to take the plunge on the next project.

Get working, express yourself, please yourself. And if you become afraid of what others will think, just remember my mom and her painting in my library.

Char

Monday, January 2, 2017

Leaving It All Behind...

No, I'm not running away to a cult or hiding in a cave. I'm just leaving all those things and people behind that need to remain in 2016.



I like to start the New Year fresh and new, no recycling here! Here's a partial list:

Manuscripts that don't work. Much as I love the story, some just won't work because of timing, plot flaws, or other reasons. They'll go in a drawer (like a few others) and will collect the dust of time until maybe one day they are resurrected. Sleep well, my children.

Negative Nancys. There are a few people I need to dig a moat against. There is enough sorrow, heartbreak, pain and suffering. Some people seem to thrive on negativity and maybe I'm too sensitive, but I can't deal with the constancy. I wish them luck and happiness.

Stupid tasks. What is the point of pulling out the refrigerator every year? No one sees under there, except a stray ant. When the refrigerator is pulled out for repairs or replacement, then I'll vacuum and wash the floor. Who'll know the difference, and I won't waste time doing it. Shhh, don't tell anyone. I'm sure there are many, many more time-wasting activities that I can cut.

Unnecessary stuff. I'm donating clothes that don't fit or I don't wear, cleaning out books, housewares, vases, furniture, etc. I don't use anymore. I'm beginning to understand the value- the serenity and peace- of empty space.

Stress. With my digestive issues now under control, I need to address how I handle stress. Nasty comment on social media? I can scroll on, hide or unfriend, no reply is necessary. Difficult person? Walk away. Bad situation? Spend time with people and activities that make me happy and give me time to work through the problems. I have to take better control of how everything affects me, even if it only works for my benefit and to someone else's detriment. 

Don't deny myself experiences (rather than things) that make life sweet. We have limited time on this orb so not taking advantage of all the wonders available to us is foolish. Life shouldn't be about acquiring things, but memories.

If it's broken, or doesn't work anymore, throw it out. That's mechanical things, relationships, or arrangements. Like some old time traditions, New Year's means sweeping out the dust and detritus. 

Wishing you all simple, priceless treasures of love, happiness, and contentment in 2017.

Char