Stay At Home Writer

A month and a half ago, I left my full-time job. Woo hoo, I thought, now I’ll have more than enough time fojpg_BPA0225r full-time writing and I’ll finish my new novel in a New York minute. Well, not so fast.

Even though the whole day is mine, stretching out before me like the road to Oz, there seem to be so many other things that muscle in on my writing time.

There are errands and food shopping—a person has to eat, right?

Or catching up with friends who were always worried I’d be too busy for a conversation.
And of course, the triple threat: Email, Facebook and Twitter. They reach out to me the moment I sit down at the computer. I could justify all this attention paid to social media as beneficial input rather than procrastination. Sort of.

There seem to be hundreds of obstacles that get in the way of writing my work in progress, including writing about not writing it.

I guess I’m still getting used to finding a routine. When I was working, I got everything in, including writing time. Maybe it was because I knew I had to make it fit; that my opportunities weren’t as numerous as the day is long
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So how about you? What’s your writing routine and how do you make it work?

Finding Your Inspiration

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I just got back from Mohonk Mountain House. If you’ve never heard of this truly exquisite mountain retreat, located in New Paltz, NY, check out the link. I’m not a world traveler, but this site, a glacial lake with a Victorian-style hotel dating from the late 1800’s, will take your breath away. So will the bill, which is slipped quietly under your door so you don’t pass out in one of the common areas.

Luckily for me, my 11-year old son broke his toe and couldn’t attend camp. The two-week camp refund bought me three nights at the mountain house, with my son and my mother. This post, however, is not about money or family vacations. It’s about finding those special locations that inspire creativity. These discoveries, of course, are priceless.

On my first excursion to Mohonk, about ten years ago, I so entranced by the brochures that I thought, for sure, it would be the core of my literary inspiration. I’d hike the trails, high on mountain air and then find myself the perfect perch with expansive views of the lake. According to my plan, I’d sit, lost in my thoughts for hours. At the end of the day, I’d curl up next to one of the many fireplaces, computer on lap, and write like I’d never written before — probably because I’d never written more than twenty pages of anything up to that point.

It was a good plan, until I checked in. I waited patiently at the front desk, itching to start my first book when I noticed the man ahead of me speaking in a hushed tone to the clerk. I was antsy. Didn’t the man know his idle chatter would cut into chapter one of my yet, unwritten book?

Finally, after many audible sighs on my part, he picked up his room key and turned toward the elevator. The profile was unmistakable. The offending guest was none other than Stephen King. No joke. It was really Stephen King. Apparently, I wasn’t the first person to discover the stimulating atmosphere of the century old retreat. Mr. King was also a fan.

As it turned out, I never opened my computer. I never found my perch. The only thing I wrote was my signature on the bill. I froze. I couldn’t help but imagine Mr. King, only a few doors away, writing something infinitely better than I could ever produce. It was like dancing next to J.lo and realizing you were better off just sitting down.

Alas, I’ve never been able to recapture that fleeting moment of visual inspiration, but I’m always on the lookout for a new location.

Any suggestions?

 

 

One Author’s Attempt to Create an Online Presence – Part III

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Remember when the only way to contact someone directly was to call them on the phone or maybe stop by their house? I long for the days where my social world was limited by the cord attached to my phone or the number of doorbells I could ring.

Now, it’s up to me to master the myriad of social media options which seem to pop-up faster than a game of Whac-A-Mole. Moreover, I’ve got to integrate my social media connections in such a way that readers develop a consistent image of who I am as an author.

Does that sound like a pile garbage? Well, I hope so because my main character, CeCe Prentice, is a dumpster diver and I have to find a way to translate her wacky love of re-purposing discarded items across the social media landscape.

Jann Mirichandi, at Westchester Marketing Café, forwarded me a helpful social media exercise that I might be able to apply to my work. The exercise highlights the unique strength of each media option. Here’s Jann’s example using donuts.

FACEBOOK:           I like donuts

TWITTER:               I’m eating #donuts

INSTAGRAM:        Here is a Polaroid-esque photo of donuts

YOUTUBE:              Here I am eating donuts

LINKEDIN:             My skills include eating donuts

PINTEREST:           Here is a recipe for donuts

Perfect! Let’s see if it works for my book, Drawing Conclusions, a soft-boiled mystery featuring my dumpster-diving protagonist whose alternative lifestyle proves instrumental in solving a murder.

FACEBOOK:           I like garbage

TWITTER:               I’m eating #garbage

INSTAGRAM:        Here is a Polaroid-esque photo of garbage

YOUTUBE:              Here I am eating garbage

LINKEDIN:             My skills include eating garbage

PINTEREST:           Here is a recipe for garbage

Hmmm, I’m not sure this is what I envisioned for my social media strategy. However, I’m still intrigued by the concept of integrating social media in a way that optimizes each media’s strength.

Perplexed by this exercise, but eager to solve this social media mystery, I started to think about visual elements related to my books that are appealing as opposed to offensive. No one wants to see someone eating garbage, but I still love Jann’s example and I want it to work for me.

Should I take pictures of dumpsters and rate them on cleanliness? Maybe I could decorate my garbage cans on holidays and post to Instagram? Am I talented enough to create garbage art? Is it legal to search through strangers’ garbage for clues to a crime they never committed?

Before I get ahead of myself, I quickly realized my effort has to be easy to execute and easy to replicate. The social media world expects updates regularly! As it turns out, I’m not in a position to drive around town searching for dumpsters, nor am I capable of creating garbage art or crafting with garbage.

I do, however, welcome new ideas on how to present the topic of recycling in a fun, friendly, and visually appealing way. I’d like readers to say, “Verne. Her main character is the MacGyver of garbage, a green heroine whose resourcefulness helps solve the crime.”

All comments welcome!

 

One Author’s Attempt to Create an Online Presence – Part II

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Here’s the nice thing about social media. If you ask for help, people respond. That’s exactly what happened after I revealed the challenges I faced while establishing an online presence (see my post on 10/22). Within a day of that post, I received many useful social media tips from people who know a whole lot more than me. This included comments from an old boyfriend, now a social media expert, whom I haven’t seen in twenty-five years. You gotta love Facebook!

 

In this post, I’ll discuss my experience of building a website. A few years back, I had decided, mistakenly, that the only way I could understand the Internet is if I built a website from scratch. Conversely, I live in a house I didn’t build, I eat food I don’t grow, and though I have no working knowledge of engines, I still drive a car. Yet for some reason, I insisted on the “from scratch” method when building a website.

 

I purchased a three-year contract from GoDaddy that translated into over 1,000 days spent harassing their customer service agents. My finished product, an awkwardly designed website, looked like a pre-school Lego project. By the end of my contract, all I wanted to do was tell daddy where to go.

 

Two important learning points: 1) I’m not able to manage and execute all aspects of my writing career and 2) I am responsible for controlling and maintaining my online image. On the outside chance a potential reader found me, the reader’s experience had to be positive, and my homespun site was telling the wrong story. So I went back to the Internet to find someone to help me use the Internet. I identified three local web designers. My final choice was based on my inability to function fully in a virtual world. Joe Tartaglione from OutBoost Media came to my home, sat at my kitchen table and patiently let me draw my web vision with a pencil and paper. Amazingly, Joe was able to translate my chicken scratch into a working website.

 

Next I had to tackle site content. As much as I love Katrina and the Wave’s pop tune “Walking on Sunshine,” I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder, a single-page site featuring a single book cover. I wanted readers to linger long enough to get a sense of my voice and the many aspects to my work. And for that, I needed to create content.

 

Luckily, I had a few short stories worth repackaging, and for that effort I sought Lois Karlin’s expertise. Lois transformed my word files into professionally formatted eBooks and then uploaded the finished products to online retailers like Smashwords. Partnering with retailers turned out to be extremely beneficial: it increased the Google search results for my name. Now when a reader searches for “Deirdre Verne,” the resulting entries fill an entire page. Suddenly, I had an online presence.

 

Did all of this cost money? Yes, but it gave me a sense of control that I can now extend through many social media channels. My current challenge is to integrate my online touch points, like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc., in such a way that readers receive a consistent and hopefully appealing message about my books each time they land on a page featuring my work. I’m not there yet, but I’m hoping this post generates more good advice.

Drawing Conclusions

Virgil’s Working on Deadline

Deadline by John Sandford is the eighth Virgil Flowers novel, and the quirky detective continues to put the pieces of some truly challenging jigsaw puzzles together. What sets these books apart is Sandford’s trademark humor and interesting police procedures.

51o81BLmPEL._AA160_Virgil is visiting his old friend, Johnson Johnson, who asks a huge favor of the BCA agent. Some scoundrel in the town of Trippton is kidnapping dogs. Though this hardly seems like a case for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Virgil starts investigating with the hope of avoiding trouble from the gun-toting citizens who are searching for their prized hunting dogs and valued pets.

In the midst of this curious investigation (and it is a strange one), Virgil is called in to check out the random murder of a local reporter. Like most of Virgil’s cases, the murder is the tiny tip of an iceberg. Much of what he needs is hidden well below the surface.

I feel Sandford scored another winner with this one. There was lots of humor, some good fight scenes, and an interesting case study. We know who the bad guys are, but it’s interesting to watch Virgil struggle to bring all the pieces of the whole together.

There’s a lot of hillbilly lingo and local slang in this one, but Sanford handled it well. It’s a small town, with small-town problems, and small-town people who think they can get away with, among other things, murder. As always, it has the perfect recipes: secrets, lies, and family squabbles.

Check out Deadline, especially if you’re a dog lover!.

Finding Your Writing Nook

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Every book written on how to get published includes a section on “making space” to write. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a spare room or an office you can call your own. If you’re like me, you may be relegated to a corner of a room. In my case, my writing corner was also being used to fold laundry, wrap presents and hem the occasional pant leg.

In a cleaning frenzy fit this past summer, I tried to reclaim my corner. The draft of the second book in my Sketch In Crime series, featuring CeCe Prentice, an eco-friendly, sketch artist, needed a permanent home.

I bought a plastic bin, tossed in the loose laundry and banished it to the hall. At a family meeting, I announced that I would no longer fold socks. My sewing machine went back in its case and piles of bows and tape found their way to the basement. While in the basement, I rescued a lovely antique oak table and dragged it upstairs. All it took was a light sanding and a dollop of antique oil, and I had a new desk. Yeah for me!

So about that desk? I’ve never used it. I have discovered, however, that it’s great for folding laundry. I’ve come to realize that my writer’s nook is anywhere I can craft a sentence. Right now I’m in my living room, but I’ve got my eye on my porch for my next stop. There’s a cozy wicker chair and just the right amount of light.

Time to move on.

.Drawing Conclusions

 

Making It Real

We are in the business of suspending disbelief. But have you, as the creator of the masterpiece, actually believed it yourself?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, among other works, coined the phrase, the suspension of disbelief. It was the late Eighteenth Century and the beginning of British Romantic Literature, according to online articles.

he mariner up on the mast in a storm. One of the wood-engraved illustrations by Gustave Doré of the poem.

The mariner up on the mast in a storm. One of the wood-engraved illustrations by Gustave Doré of the poem.

“Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink,” The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Some scenes live in my mind. I am walking in the protagonist’s shoes that I have created, smelling and feeling the summer morning air, seeing the street, hearing the traffic, living the suspense.

It is as real as any memory.

Have some of your scenes lived on in your mind as real?

 

 

The Long and Mostly Short of It

For a long time, I could not write short stories. I don’t mean I couldn’t write mystery short stories. I don’t mean I couldn’t write good short stories. I mean I could not write short stories at all. I could cover many pages with words and I would end up with exactly that- pages of words. They had no shape or form or plot of any kind, and this was true even after I had published a couple of books and was no longer a rank amateur.

This changed and I really have no idea why. There was a period of several years when I stopped writing. I thought, “So I’m retired. So what?” After awhile, though, I began to wonder if I had, in fact, “retired” ( perfectly ok) or just quit. If it was the latter, probably that was not ok.

A wise person I knew said, “You can’t answer that by thinking about it. You need to write something.”

I couldn’t face the long slog of a book so I tried a story. Very much to my surprise, when it was done it was done it had a beginning, a middle, and an end. It had a setting and a voice. Something happened in it and someone was changed. That does sound like a story, doesn’t it?

What I learned: not only does the word limit mean every word has to count, it gives us the opportunity to make every word count. We should be doing it in everything we write, sure, but with a mystery novel, we are also dealing with plot, characters, setting, dropping real clues but disguising them, dropping false clues -whew! There’s a lot to juggle and maybe we don’t polish every word. It is more manageable to do it- for every sentence, every phrase, every word, in the limited form of the sort story.

So I wrote some more. I took a shot at writing some traditional mystery stories.
They were sort of not half bad. They weren’t good, but they were definitely stories.
Then I wrote one to submit to an MWA anthology, Blue Religion, about cops and their own lives.

What I learned: you could use a character or setting in a short story you could not sustain in a novel. That was fun.

The story wasn’t accepted for that anthology, but it was set in New York and it was included in the first SINC-NY collection, Murder New York Style. (There wasn’t even a murder in it)

I wrote a story for the second edition, Fresh Slices, and that was accepted too. I wrote a story for another MWA anthology, and it was not accepted. I knew I wouldn’t be – not woo-woo enough for that anthology’s theme and not mysterious enough – but I loved it anyway. It was published later by King’s River Life, a mystery–friendly online magazine.

I just sent one in for the new SINC anthology. I did not intend to. I have a book that needs to be finished, I had no suitable story ideas demanding me to write them, and none already written. Then my husband made a joke and there was my story, not at all funny and almost complete in my head. I only had to write it down. That has never happened to me.

What I learned: you never know.

And that is true about a lot of the writing process, isn’t it?