Archive for the the writing life Category

Back on Track: aka New Rules

In November, while everyone else was cranking out a 50,000 word novel, I had a pathetically low word count. Why? Shit happens. More specifically, I spent a lot of time trying to drum up freelance work, I spent a lot of time babysitting, and I let myself get into the “I’ll make up the time tomorrow” mode. Wrong! It’s always today, and there’s never enough time to do anything extra.

So here’s my plan to get back on track:

First, I unsubscribed to half the e-mails I was receiving. Who has time to read all those newsletters? Sorry to those of you who put them out, but I just don’t have time.

I stopped opening e-mails first thing in the morning. In fact, it’s now a rule. No e-mail until I’ve worked on the novel for a few hours. (Unless the e-mail is from an editor/publisher!)

Another rule: No Twitter or FaceBook or reading blogs during writing time. They all have to wait until I move on to freelance work. (This will be the hardest rule to keep!)

I’m going to give longer deadlines for the freelance work I take on, then stick to working in the afternoons and evenings (if needed). Mornings are for writing!

And my husband is going to take our niece to school on one of the mornings she’s here, so I’ll only have one morning each week interrupted by that adventure.

And for balance, I’m adopting a new motto: Experience joy every day. Get up and dance! I do not have to be productive every second of every day… As long as I get my three or four hours of writing done, first thing every day.

When Is an Old Story a New Story?

Most novelists who have been writing for a while have an unpublished story or two that they haven’t given up on. You keep thinking that if you could just find the right twist or revise a character you can make it marketable. But how much do you have to change the manuscript to consider it a new story? Can you send a revised novel with a new name to the same editors and agents as though it were something fresh for them to read?

Or what about his scenario? You write a great sci-fi story called Death March into Armageddon. Publishers seem to like it, but no one offers you a contract. A few years later, you publish the story with a small press that goes out of business shortly after. Your novel only sells a few dozen copies. Five years later, you get a great idea for how to make the story better. You make those changes, spruce it up with a new name like Heavenly Invasion and submit it to a different publisher.

Can you consider this work to be “previously unpublished”? Is there a legal definition for how much a story has to change to be considered a new work? Do you have a moral or legal obligation to tell the new publisher about the manuscript’s history and the two dozen copies of the previous version that are still out there somewhere?

Has anyone been in this situation? How did you handle it?

A Break From Reality

So Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber both have book deals, with Sarah’s rumored to be worth $7 million. These kinds of book contracts are what make hard working, talented, undiscovered, underpaid writers (like me) CRAZY! That’s all I have to say. Except, maybe, WTF!

If you’d like to hear more from me today, check Pop Syndicate where I have a fascinating author Q/A with Angela Wilson.

http://www.popsyndicate.com/books

Living with Uncertainty

If I were a widget maker who went to work in a factory at the same time every day, I would leave work at the same time and the collect the same paycheck. There would be no uncertainty.

Instead I’m a novelist and freelance editor. No two days are alike, and uncertainty is a way of life. Will this novel I’m writing sell to a publisher? After spending 25 hours on this manuscript, will the writer actually send me a check? Will I have enough freelance work this month to pay my mortgage?

A little background: I’m a Type A personality and a bit of a control freak. I never leave on a road trip without a map and a hotel reservation. I am not cut out for uncertainty.

And yet, the life of a widget maker would drive me insane. Conversely, I love this life as a novelist and freelancer. So I must learn to live with uncertainty. Some days are easier than others. Yesterday got the best of me. Financially, this is the worst year my husband and I have ever had, and things will get worse before they get better. But in some ways, we are happier than ever.

Financial insecurity is not the worst of it though. The question of whether my recently completed novel will sell sometimes hinders my ability to move forward as a novelist. I have a new story outlined and two chapters written, yet a little part of my brain says, “Why bother?”

I always manage to push past this point. (Although, it once took a few years.) And I will again. I write because I am a storyteller. And the life of a storyteller is always filled with uncertainty.

Bouchercon Day 1

Up early after a late night to start the day with a panel called We Didn’t Start the Fire. They discussed the balance of writing about social issues in fiction without being preachy. It made me want to take another look at my novel. I met Karen Olson and Neil Plakcy, and Karen may guest blog here soon.

Second panel of the day was Does Sex Sell? The discussion was more about whether sex scenes were necessary in mystery/crime fiction. No consensus was reached, except that romance outsells mystery 10 to 1.

I introduced myself to dozens of writers, gave away about 25 copies of The Sex Club, and handed out bags of books as a volunteer. No one is going home empty handed from this conference. I also had dinner with Karen Syed of Echelon Press, a funny high-energy dynamo. I think we could be an ass-kicking combo.

Took exactly one bad picture today. I’ll do better tomorrow with visuals.

L.J.'s Footnotes

I’ve been tagged twice now, so I’ll play. Here are six things you probably didn’t know about me.

I once rode my bike from Oregon to the Grand Canyon, crossing Donner Pass on the way. It took us three days to ride uphill to Truckee and only 45 minutes to descend into Reno. There was 12 feet of snow along the sides of the road at the top and six inches of slush and sand on the road coming down. Crazy! (I was 23 at the time.)

I have jumped out of a perfectly good airplane (loved it!), gone up in a hot-air balloon, and often zoom downhill on my bike at speeds of 40 mph.

I was the third of six children in a fairly poor working class home. But in many ways, I was the oldest—the first to get a job and a car and the first to leave home. My siblings all live here in Eugene, they are my best friends, and we bowl together every week.

I tried to have my tubes tied when I was 20 years old, but no one would do it because I was too young. I ended up with one biological son and two stepsons and also took care of my sister’s twin girls. For a long period, my husband and I had six children in our home every night. Life often turns out differently than you expect.

In addition to writing a bunch of novels you’ve never heard of, I’ve also written five screenplays. Two thrillers: Beyond Conception and Breaking Point. And three comedies: Addictions, Shoes, and Lost in Hollywood.

Writing those comedy scripts led me to a comedy writing class. At the end of the class, we had to perform our material in a nightclub. It was terrifying and exhilarating. The audience loved my routine and they invited me back to perform again and again. Writing new material and performing again is on my list of things to do.

Do I Like This Character?

I’m reading a crime story with a fast-moving plot and terrific writing, but I may not finish it. What’s the problem? (Besides the fact that I’ve developed reading ADD.) The character, although well developed, is not someone I relate to, and the world she lives in is sleazy. I want to see how this story turns out, but every time I put the book down I feel like I need a shower.

I had this same problem with another book I read recently. In the middle of the story, the protagonist, supposedly a reformed criminal living a good life, participates in heinous crime. As a reader, I wanted him to get caught and go to jail. So I lost interest in the story. This happens for me with movies too. If there is not a single character who I find decent enough to root for, then I shut it off. I’m typically not someone who sees the world in black and white, but with crime stories, I want good guys and bad guys who are clearly discernable. (Elmore Leonard is the exception! And everyone can cheer for a likable jewel thief.)

Other readers in the book discussion said they didn’t have to like (or relate to) the protagonist to find a story compelling. I guess for me, good characterization means developing characters that readers care about, relate to, like, or respect in some way. But that definition may be narrower than the rest of the reading/writing world sees it. How do you define good characterization? Can it include protagonists who are unlikable or deeply flawed? Have you written a story with an unlikable protag, and what motivated you to do so?

The Power of Jack

Warning: This is a repost of a guest blog, but still a good read the second time.

Marketers and comedians have long taken advantage of the powerful K sound. Crime writers have too, they just may not realize it. Think about the name Jack for protagonists. Jack Ryan, Jack Reacher, Jack Keller, Jack Taylor, Jack Davis, Jack Irish, and Jack Palms to name just a few. Then there’s Taylor Jackson and my own Detective Wade Jackson. Not to mention the Jakes (Jake Riley, Jake Riordan, Jake McRoyan).

The K sound is especially powerful at the end of word, which is why Jack and f**k are both so fun to say. Can you think of a comedian who can get through his/her material with saying f**k or jerk or some variation of jack (jackoff, jackass, jackshit)?

The X sound is really K with a little S on the end, so Alex is almost as popular with crime writers: Alex Cooper, Alex Cross, Alex Archer, Alex Delaware, Alex Duarte, Alex Bernier. And Cooper and Cross are both pronounced with the K sound. Then there’s Kinsey Milhone and Greg McKenzie, which has a trifecta of winning sounds: the double K sound and the popular Z. Marketers like Z almost as well as K.

There’s plenty of K sounds in other protags too: Lincoln Perry, Lucas Davenport, Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, John Cardinal, Michael Kowlaski, Vicky Bliss, and Jacqueline Kirby. Apologies to hundreds that I’ve likely missed.

In my recent novel, The Sex Club, which has both K and X sounds in the title, the main characters are Detective Jackson and Kera Kollmorgan. Jackson’s daughter’s name is Katie. In women’s fiction, Kate is the female equivalent of Jack—a short, powerful K name (Kate London, plus many others).

It’s not just me. Author Jack Getze has a protag named Austin Carr who encounters a bad guy named Max, whom he calls Creeper. In as single scene, he writes about Carr and Creeper as well as an AK-47, Alka-Seltzer, a stockbroker, an Escalade, a Caddy, and a Lincoln.

And another writer told me, “I had so many K names in my first book I had to change all but one.”

What is it about the K sound that we like so much? One amateur theory is that as babies, we all heard a lot of K words and noises: cootchie-coo, cutie-pie, cuddles, etc. But it could be that this is simply one of those things that is hard-wired into our brains from human experiences long ago. Whatever the reason, readers and writers like the sound K, so keep it coming.

Find a Better Day Job

About halfway into my fiction writing adventure, I read an interview that changed my life. The featured scriptwriter had recently sold his first screenplay, which was made into a blockbuster movie. When the interviewer asked him if he would do anything differently (given the chance), he said, “If I had known it would take ten years to sell a script, I would have found a better day job.”

That hit home with me. At the time I was waiting tables and doing a little freelance writing. I had recently failed to sell a novel even though my agent had told me we had an offer. So I came to the immediate conclusion that I needed a better day job. I needed a job that put my journalism degree and inquisitive mind to work every day in some productive and satisfying capacity. I realized that I how spend every day is important. All we have is the here and now. The future (as glamorous as I envision it) doesn’t exist . . .yet.

So I stopped living for the future—that day when my novel would sell and my life would change. I found a job as a magazine editor, and I accepted, on some level, that magazine writing and editing would be my career and that it would be enough.

But I continued writing novels, and ten years later I have my first book out there getting great reviews. I am so glad I spent the last ten years editing and developing a successful career instead of waiting tables. So for all you aspiring writers (actors, artists, musicians) who are working at jobs you loathe or that don’t mean anything to you while you wait for your big break—find a better day job!

Life is short. Enjoy every day.

10 Writing Resolutions

I’m in an unusual space at the moment—waiting for feedback on my latest novel and trying to leave the manuscript alone in the mean time. But this phase is also an opportunity to write other things, form new habits, and expand my knowledge base. With those goals in mind, I developed 10 writing resolutions, some of which I’m already working toward and others that are new and exciting.

1. Write every day. That means during the week, spend a minimum of three hours on my current big project and on weekends, write blogs, articles, short stories, comedy material, letters to the editor—almost anything to keep the juices flowing.

2. Write bold. Do not be afraid to offend an occasional reader. I can’t make everyone happy. If I did, my stories/blogs/comedy would be boring.

3. Dig deeper into characters’ motivations. Who are these people and why do they act the way they do?

4. Make more trips to the library. I only finish about one in three books I start, so I have to buy books regularly. I’ve been ordering from Powells and buying a mix of new and used. It’s expensive, but I’m supporting other writers, so I don’t feel bad about the money. Yet I need to supplement my purchases with more library books (titles that I’m uncertain about and new books that I can’t afford).

5. Read more literary fiction. Maybe read an occasional poem for inspiration. My writing is straightforward and lean and could benefit from an occasional poetic flair.

6. Conduct research interviews. Meet with law enforcement personnel and others in the community to develop background knowledge for future stories.

7. Listen carefully to first readers.
Be open to criticism and willing to fix problems. This is the point of having first readers and why it’s called a first draft.

8. Do not be in a hurry to submit. Let the manuscript sit untouched for a few weeks. Then revise the story with early readers comments in mind. Then send it out to other readers.

9. Start outlining my next novel. So I’m already writing it when the rejections start coming in. It’s easier to think “This next story will be the one,” if I’m in the process and feeling good about the new story.

10. Write new comedy material. It’s hard work, but great fun at the same time. It’s an important creative change of pace to get away from the serious crime stuff. Then go perform that material.

Five-Time Readers Favorite Award Winner!

LATEST REVIEWS

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
~Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard
The author expertly intertwines multiple story lines, presents readers with fully realized characters that readers will feel they know, and keeps the action and suspense levels high. That’s a lot to expect from an author but L. J. Sellers delivers.” ~OverMyDeadBody
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