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Still Battling the Demons

It’s nearly the end of January. Not sure how that happened. I don’t think it’s legal to set your New Year’s resolutions in February, even if you do have excellent reasons for being behind schedule (see my last post), so it’s time to get this done. Top of my list? Tackling my issues with procrastination.

Yeah, that was a joke, but I’m also completely serious. Remember the post where I said my twin demons were perfectionism and procrastination? Those demons have been kicking me around more than I realized. I’ve been reading a book by Richard Winter, PERFECTING OURSELVES TO DEATH: THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE AND THE PERILS OF PERFECTIONISM. Many of Winter’s words hit home for me—sometimes painfully so. Now that I understand the basis for my struggles with procrastination, doubt and indecision, I’m determined drive those demons back to the dark cave where they belong.

From the 15th-century Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

From the 15th-century Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

My Other Goals for 2014

I’ll spare you all my personal resolutions about broccoli, elliptical machines and being more patient with my boys and get straight to the writing-related goals.

Number one—submit THE AMULET OF ISIS to agents. Then submit some more. Repeat as necessary. I can’t say that I’ll have an agent and publishing contract by the end of the year—that’s not under my control. But I can resolve to keep submitting. I’m waiting for feedback from a few important beta readers before I send my baby out into the world, but the day is coming soon.

Number two—research, plot and draft book two of the series. I’ve got the ball rolling on this one, but there’s a lot of work ahead. Fun work, though.

Those two are the biggies. Everything else is little stuff—myriad ways to expand and refine my social media presence and prepare to market my novel once it’s published.

So how did I do in 2013?

Health and fitness—um, I can pretty much cut and paste last year’s goals into this year’s resolutions. Ditto with home organization. I didn’t make much progress on either front. If I’m honest with myself, those simply weren’t my priorities. What were? My little boys, of course. And my writing.

I looked back at my New Year’s 2013 post today—my first blog post ever. It was brimming with optimism for the coming year. Why? Because this was going to be the year I finally wrote a novel. And I did.

“When next December rolls around, no doubt I’ll still need to lose weight, to organize my house and to search for an agent, but I will have completed my first novel.

And that will make 2013 something special.”

I was right. 2013 was something special. But 2014 has the potential to be even better.

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Happy 2014!

2014

Happy New Year!

Yeah, I know, I’m late to the party. That’s been happening a lot lately. The last couple of months have certainly been an example of when life gets in the way.

First—five weeks of pneumonia, including a few days in the hospital, while my husband suffered from bronchitis and my youngest had a painful double ear infection with a ruptured eardrum. That was a good time.

I was healthy enough to run the Ozarks Romance Authors meeting in December, but probably pushed myself too hard in the process and suffered a bit of a relapse the next week.

ORA Dirty Santa meeting

As I gradually became functional again, I focused on getting ready for the holidays. My boys are three and six, so Christmas is still a magical time. Lights on the house, a tree dripping with ornaments, cookies, presents—the list goes on and on, and I wasn’t going to let my boys miss out on any of it, no matter how sick Daddy and I were. The toughest part was taking them to see Santa without killing ourselves in the process, but we got it done. Phew.

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The next task was moving out of the photography studio I’d been leasing the last few years. While I was sick, I did some hard thinking about my priorities and made the difficult decision that it was time to cut my overhead and downsize back to a home-based business. My lease was up at the end of December, so no matter how bad the timing was, it had to get done.

Now I just had one last major hurdle. As president of Ozarks Romance Authors, I was largely responsible for organizing and running the annual Mega Critique Group and Write-In Event we co-sponsored with Sleuths’ Ink Mystery Writers on January 4. Several days disappeared in a blur of lists and e-mails and all the little behind-the-scenes tasks that crop up when you’re running an event. Thank goodness I had a great support team! We had a fantastic day, as always.

ORA Write-In

When I got home from the event that evening, I immediately noticed that the house smelled smoky. Apparently, my husband tried to burn down the kitchen while boiling water for tea. For the record, he’s an excellent cook and knows his way around the kitchen. Obviously, watching the boys all day imploded his brain. There’s just no other explanation.

The next day, the polar vortex hit with its snow and arctic temperatures. That was fine. After all that activity, I was perfectly happy to be confined to my nice, warm house. Unfortunately, that meant my boys were confined to the house too, with day after day of school cancellations. My Facebook timeline filled with humorous memes about frustrated parents wanting to devour their young. I could relate.

Even more unfortunately, a frozen pipe burst, causing minor flooding in a few rooms downstairs. At this point, we’d had fire, flood and plague. What was next, locusts? Famine?

So there’s my rather windy explanation for why I haven’t posted anything lately. Things seem to be getting back to normal now (knock on wood). We’re all reasonably healthy, I have every reason to expect my boys will be in school this week and several days have passed without any new disasters. Life is good.

I’d like to say that through all of this, I followed my own advice about what to do when life gets in the way and continued working on my book, The Amulet of Isis, through hell and high (or frozen) water. Not so much. But after almost two months of neglect, I made significant progress on my manuscript this week. I tackled some of the trickier editing issues and added another 2,500 words. By Wednesday, I plan to have it ready to send to the next—and probably final—round of beta readers before I begin querying and submitting. Woohoo!

Maybe after that I’ll finally get around to my New Year’s resolutions.

Woo-Hoot!

One of the writing groups I belong to, the Ozarks Writers League, or OWL, had their awards dinner Friday night. I might have won a thing or two.

OWL 2013 Crop

I took home seven awards in all. Woo-hoot! (Get it? Hoot? OWL awards? I know, groan. I hate puns too. Shame on me.)

I’m particularly excited about the accolades for my debut novel, THE AMULET OF ISIS. It was named Best Unpublished Book and received the President’s Award for the best entry in any category. I’m truly honored and humbled that my book was chosen out of hundreds of entries. I’ve worked very hard on this project, and seeing it honored meant a great deal to me.

I also received First Place in the Flash Fiction Mystery category sponsored by Sleuths’ Ink Mystery Writers. What a crazy category! A 500-word mystery that must contain the words stumble, piranha and skeleton. That was a fun challenge. My stab at it is posted below.

My 1,000-word vignette of a girl dealing with sexual abuse, “The Lesson,” won Second Place in the Young Adult Short Story category. I also placed second in the Six-Word Memoir category and received First Honorable Mentions for 99-word Flash Fiction and Romance Short Story Based on a Photo Prompt sponsored by Ozarks Romance Authors.

It was a big night!

In case you’re curious, here’s what I came up with for that crazy 500-word Flash Fiction Mystery challenge.

Patient Privilege

Think piranhas will clean the skeleton?

You’re kidding, right? Just meet me at the swing. 3 a.m.

I stared at the texts, wondering what inside joke I was missing. Not that it was any of my business. This wasn’t my phone, after all.

I’d finished with my last patient and was about to lock up for the night when something purple and sparkly caught my eye in the waiting room. An iPhone. Latest model too.

I wasn’t trying to snoop. As a psychiatrist, I hear more than enough dirty little secrets. I just wanted to find who the phone belonged to.

That’s when I saw the texts.

The other texter was only identified as 262-73, but I found the owner’s name and went in my partner’s office to pull her file. Joe and I have been buddies since med school, so everything’s fair game in our office.

I scanned her record. Ritzy address. Troubled marriage. A long list of molehills turned into mountains—the type of first-world problems that kept our uptown practice open.

Then I noticed a newspaper clipping tucked inside. Today’s date. An article about a missing real estate tycoon.

Her husband.

My mind reeled.

What if those texts weren’t a joke?

I dialed Joe, hoping for a simple explanation. No answer. Could he be in danger too? Because she’d revealed too much during their sessions?

I thought about calling the police, but I didn’t have enough information to risk breaking client confidentiality. My hands were tied.

I was still thinking about those texts hours later as I untangled the blankets on my bed for the fifth time that sleepless night.

Meet me at the swing. 3 a.m.

I kept picturing the rope swing at the lake where Joe and I used to drink beer on Friday nights. That couldn’t really be it, could it?

I squinted at the clock. 2:07 a.m. What the hell. I obviously wasn’t going to sleep.

I turned onto the gravel road and switched off my headlights. Paranoid, I know. Just enough moonlight filtered through the trees to drive by. My tires made a lot of noise on the gravel, though, so finally I got out and walked.

As I neared the lake, I spotted two dark figures silhouetted against the water. A man and a woman.

I crept closer.

Closer still.

I probably could have heard their whispers if the beating of my heart weren’t so loud. Like a scene in a movie, they lifted a blanket-wrapped lump and heaved it into the water.

The body.

This was really happening.

As they turned, moonlight fell on the man’s face.

Joe.

I gasped and stumbled. Two sets of eyes locked on me.

“See, I told you he’d follow the clues,” Joe said to the woman.

She raised a gun and realization hit like an icy blast.

I was the patsy.

“Sorry about this, buddy. Truly, I am.” Joe grimaced. “But at least I made sure your consumed-by-guilt suicide note was a work of art.”

Tag! You’re it!

Tag

Author Jeanie Franz Ransom recently invited me to join a blog hop. She compared it to a kids’ game of tag—she tagged me, now I answer her questions, then tag three more writers who will continue the game on their blogs next week. Swing by Jeanie’s blog to learn more about her and read her answers. What a fun way to get to know other bloggers and learn a few things about old friends, as well!

What are you working on right now?

An upper middle grade fantasy adventure called “The Amulet of Isis.”

While traveling in Egypt, four kids find a magical amulet that transports them back to ancient times. Before they know it, they’re swept into a whirlwind of murder plots, vengeful mummies and a perilous trip through the dark underworld.

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you probably saw last week’s post celebrating the completion of the first draft. Woohoo! Now I’m knee deep in the first round of edits.

How does it differ from other works in its genre?

I’ve seen a lot of time travel fiction that is almost entirely a product of the writer’s imagination—inspired by history, but not truly rooted in it. Those stories can be a lot of fun, but for me, this genre offers an unparalleled opportunity to whet kids’ appetite for history and mythology, firing their imaginations and making them want to learn more. I take plenty of artistic license to create a magical, fast-paced adventure, but it’s always grounded in the real history and mythology of the culture they’re visiting. Education can be fun!

Why do you write what you do?

I LOVE research. I completed most of a master’s degree in ancient and medieval history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Although I decided teaching was not my calling, I could happily spend days on end reading about the wonders of ancient civilizations. History is full of fantastic stories screaming to be told, and I want to bring them to life.

What would you like to try as a writer that you haven’t yet?

I love writing in a middle grade voice, and with so many cultures to visit, I could spend many years writing about my time-traveling kids.

There’s something else, though, that I need to write someday—a set of adult historicals set in sixth-century Gaul. I spent years compiling research for this project. I envision novels combining the epic life-and-death political struggles of “Game of Thrones” with the intimate female characterization of Philippa Gregory’s work. They’re truly compelling stories that few people have heard.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about me and “The Amulet of Isis.”  Now I’d like to hear about you! Please drop me a comment sharing why you were drawn to your current project.

And don’t forget to check out the fantastic authors I’ve tagged for next week!

Beth Carter, July 24th at http://banterwithbeth.blogspot.com/

A. M. Buxton, July 26th at http://ambuxton.wordpress.com/

Virginia Lori Jennings, July 26th at http://www.virginialorijennings.com

Riding High

I FINISHED IT!

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The first draft, anyway. 12:27 a.m. Saturday, July 6.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then I’m sure you’ve already heard the news. I sat in my bed, my husband half asleep beside me, shouting my joy from the virtual rooftops.

This must be the highlight of the whole writing process—the afterglow of a freshly finished manuscript. Any author will tell you that writing is an emotional rollercoaster, full of highs and lows, but this has to be the highest of the highs.

Part of me never believed I could do this. Somewhere along the way, it would become too difficult, or I simply wouldn’t know what to write next. Well, those moments happened. There were days when I actually cried because it was so hard and scary. But I pushed through.

I slogged through the tough parts, cleaning up the mess later and shaping it into something worthwhile, and by the end the words were flowing easily. On Friday, I didn’t want to step away from my computer. I took it with me on our family day at the lake, squeezing in words here and there between boat rides.

When we took our final evening ride to watch the fireworks show at our local marina, I knew the end was within reach. I was only pages away, and could finish it that night. I sat in the boat with my family, watching the reflections of the fireworks sparkling across the water and listening to the booms echoing off the hills, and felt like this was my own personal celebration.

I can’t imagine a better feeling.

Now I know there’s still a tough road ahead. I’m already deep in my first round of edits, with at least two more rounds planned after that. Perhaps far more. Then it will be time to face the almost inevitable heartache and rejection of the querying and submission process.

But for now, I’m riding the high, and life doesn’t get much better than this.

Get More Twitter Followers–Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of my three-part series on how I gained 5,000 Twitter followers in less than six months. Last week, I offered advice on setting up an attractive profile people will want to follow. There are just a few more things you’ll want to do before you begin gathering those hordes of followers. Once again, unless you’re brand new to Twitter, you’ll already have completed some of these steps, but perhaps you’ll still find a useful idea or two.

Step 2—Get Your Feet Wet

It’s a good idea not to dive in too quickly. You need time to become familiar with Twitter etiquette and conventions, and you don’t want your ratio of Following to Followers to get too far out of whack. If people see that you’ve followed five hundred people and only fifteen have followed you back, they’ll shy away, thinking you’re a spammer. So for the first month or two, you’ll want to start slowly.

Follow your friends. The obvious place to start is with the people you already know. Very few of my personal friends are on Twitter, but most of the writers I know are. It can be tricky to search for people on Twitter, so you should get their Twitter handles if you can. If you belong to a writers’ group, they may have a list available. Post on Facebook, in Yahoo groups, etc. asking your friends for their handles and announcing yours. You can also scan through the Following/Followers lists of your friends looking for familiar names and faces.

Follow your groups. If you belong to writers’ groups, follow those next. You may find some friends you’ve missed that way, and the group may even help promote you with shout outs or Follow Friday posts.

Set up lists. This is the most important part of Step 2. You’re about to gather thousands of followers, and you better be ready! You can’t possibly keep up with all those tweets, so anyone whose tweets you don’t want to miss—friends, agents, celebrities, etc. -–need to be on a list. Preferably several, divided by category. Trying to set up these lists after the fact can be frustrating and time consuming, so it’s best to have the framework in place before your followers become overwhelming. Add important people to the proper lists as you follow them, and you’ll be ahead of the game. I have several lists, some of which are small enough for me to read every tweet, and others that I only scan from time to time. Combined, they let me stay connected without drowning in the endless sea of tweets.

Capture

Some people love HootSuite or other third party apps for organizing their Twitter followers. Personally, I’ve been satisfied with the list feature within Twitter, so I haven’t experimented elsewhere. Setting up lists is easy. Click on the name of the person you want to add. Beneath their bio, you will see a head-and-shoulders icon with an arrow. Click on that icon, and you will get a menu that includes “Add or remove from lists . . .” Now simply click the list you want to add that person to, or click “Create a list” to add a new category. Easy peasy.

Once you’ve gathered a base of followers from your friends and colleagues and set up lists to organize all those tweets, you’re ready to begin adding serious numbers. Come back next week for Step 3—Time to Fly.

Get More Twitter Followers–Part 1

Several people have asked me how I’ve gained so many Twitter followers since deciding to dive into the Twitterverse six months ago. My standard answer has been, “I followed people, and most of them followed me back.” It really was more complicated than that, though, so in honor of reaching 5,000 followers, I’m addressing the question in a series of three posts. This advice is geared toward writers, but many of the principles will remain the same whatever your field. Unless you’re brand new to Twitter, you will have already completed some of these steps, but perhaps you’ll still find some helpful ideas.

Step 1–Set the Stage

Create a profile people will want to follow. This is your first impression, so make it a good one, using a carefully crafted bio, a great photo and background images that reflect your writing style. You can see what I’ve done at @sdkeeling.

Bio—Ask yourself, why would people be interested in you? Who are you trying to connect with? You can’t capture your entire personality in 160 characters, so showcase interests you share with the people you most want to attract.

Be specific! It helps you stand out and find others with like interests. Don’t just say you’re a writer, tell us what you’re writing. Give the genre rather than the title. Titles often convey little information for someone who’s not familiar with your writing.

Use hashtags so that people can find you when they search for certain terms, like the subject or genre of your book.

Fill in your location. I’ve made friends on Twitter from the opposite side of the world, but it grabs my attention when I see another writer who lives nearby.

Don’t forget your website! People often click through to learn more about you. You can give a link to your Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon—just give them somewhere to go!

Photo—Don’t be an egg. Any photo is better than no photo, but it’s worth taking some time to choose the right one. This is a big part of your first impression, so think about the image you want to project—Professional? Friendly? Funny? Sexy? Edgy?

Seriously consider having a professional photographer create a headshot for you. You may be able to do this inexpensively at a writers’ convention, such as the Ozarks Romance Authors conference. A classic piece of career advice is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. That applies here as well. Successful agents and authors tend to use professional images to add polish to their presentation. If you want to look like you belong in that crowd, hire a professional photographer and dress for success.

Background Images—A custom header and background image can really make your profile stand out and contribute to your branding.

Published authors tend to incorporate their book covers or other artwork related to their books. I used images from my trip to Egypt, along with a little creative Photoshop work, to create an ancient Egyptian atmosphere to represent my time travel adventure novel.

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Pay attention to design details. I gave a single warm brown tone to both my header and background images, creating a harmonious look that sets a mood without being visually cluttered. Be careful that your header does not interfere with the readability of your bio text, and that important parts of the image are not hidden behind your photo. You may want to enlist the help of a friend who is talented at graphic design, or hire someone from Fiverr to help you out.

It can take some time to get your profile just right, but it’s worth the effort. After all, you never know when a fellow writer, agent or future reader might be taking a look.

Come back next week for Step 2–Getting Your Feet Wet!