Monday, November 3, 2014

More Is Less -- I Hope

We all know that the way to go with book promotion these days is social media. Right?

We are also fed up to our eye bones with posts that say basically – “Buy my book.” “Buy my book.” “Oh did I mention that you should buy my book?”

Kristen Lamb has written a book herself that is the response to that fed-upness and maybe the cure for it too. She reminds us that this is Social Media not Marketing Media. The book is Rise of the Machines and every writer should read it.

Kristen tells us that the way to attract potential readers on social media is to develop social relationships with them. In other words post to them as people not customers. Post as your personal self not your commercial self. Simple but brilliant. Right?

Here’s where all of this gets personal for me. I’ve just published a book and I’d love for everybody to read it. That’s the short and I hope the sweet of my marketing message. But what about less is more? What about social/personal versus marketing/commercial?

This morning I sent out a single email blast with the link to the book’s amazon page. I made a last post on Facebook and Twitter with the same link. And I’m writing this one-time blog entry. And I promise they will be single and last and one-time. I really do. We’ll see what happens.

In the interests of full disclosure I must add that this book is probably a one off. I most likely won’t publish a memoir again (though never say never). My true writing love is popular fiction. Currently Romantic Suspense fiction. Therefore a proviso is in order.

When I publish the first title in my new romantic suspense series early next year – I may just beat everybody over the head with “Buy my book/Buy my book/I Beg You to Please Buy my Book” posts. We’ll see what happens then too.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting Out of Chapter Twenty-Nine

I didn’t want anything more to do with Chapter Twenty-Nine. The demon in my head was even suggesting I didn’t want anything more to do with the whole damned book. So I tripped into the avoidance dance.

First I decided our bedroom had to be completely reconfigured. This involved moving heavy furniture which meant I had to recruit my husband to the enterprise. He had no idea he’d become party to my scheme to avoid Chapter Twenty-Nine.

The bedroom actually did look better afterward but now I needed another detour. It occurred to me that we should be better entertained in there as well. [Please behave. I hear your sniggers.] I decided we couldn’t live without Amazon Prime on the bedroom TV.

Once again I enlisted my husband as my once again unwitting accomplice. He was much more enthusiastic about this project than he’d been about moving furniture. Who could resist the prospect of binge watching “Boardwalk Empire” for any entire weekend – which we then did.

Monday arrived with Chapter Twenty-Nine still lurking in my peripheral vision. I averted my gaze but I'd begun to feel a bit ashamed. I needed a truly justifiable diversion this time so I decided to pay the bills. I hate paying the bills but apparently I hated Chapter Twenty-Nine more.

During the night between Monday and Tuesday I developed a fortunate cough. Now I could tell myself I had a summer cold coming on. Grandma used to say “There’s nothing worse than a summer cold” and Grandma never lied. I downed a couple of pills that put my head in a fog and that took care of Tuesday.

This morning inevitably dawned and it was just as inevitably Wednesday. Hump Day – the day I had to get over the hump of Chapter Twenty-Nine or give up altogether. Would the previous twenty-eight chapters ever forgive me if I chose the latter? Would I ever forgive myself?

Somebody once said that the most important writing exercise ever is putting your butt in the chair. So I did that. I accessed Chapter Twenty-Nine on my computer and resigned myself to the discovery that it was still there.

Three characters were there too. The same three characters that had been boring the inspiration out of me five days before and all the days since. Something interesting had to happen or Chapter Twenty-Nine was DOA for sure.

I write romantic suspense so two of the three characters are stumbling toward falling in love. Sex is always exciting but the third character is the heroine’s mother. Sex wouldn’t work this time. But maybe I could tune up the suspense side of the story. Two cops arrived with two bad attitudes.

The rest was history as they say and I am out of Chapter Twenty-Nine at last.

I put my butt in the chair. In other words I showed up. I showed up for my story. I showed up for my characters. Most important I showed up for me. The writer who wants to get on to Chapter Thirty and all of the other chapters yet to come.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Writing in Shock Mode

My family and I are in shock mode right now. My granddaughter had major back surgery several days ago and is now in a world of pain – a world we inhabit with her in our own way.

At first I told myself I couldn’t write. It seemed almost insensitive to do the work that gives me satisfaction and makes me feel good. My darling girl was struggling. How could I do anything but grieve and pray?

I always carry a notebook with me now. A small flexible notebook from a 99 cent store that fits in my purse or pocket. It has a black and blue cover that seems appropriate at this time when we’re all feeling pretty bruised.

I used to have the notebook carrying habit. Actually I carried 5”x8” cards then. I took them everywhere and whenever I had a spare moment or two I would write. Then came a long hiatus from writing fiction and I forgot that good habit. Now it’s back.

So I was sitting in the hospital swallowing the tears I felt I shouldn’t shed in front of my already stunned family. Suddenly the black and blue notebook was in my hands and I was scribbling away with a pen I’d picked up somewhere.

I jumped straight into the next scene in my story. It was an emotionally fraught scene and that suited me fine. I was pretty emotionally fraught myself at the moment. I poured all of those feelings into that scene. Because – as I keep harping at here – strong stories are all about strong feelings.

When I got home later and started copying my notebook scribbles into my computer I was pleased but not surprised to see how raw that scene had turned out to be. My character was on her ragged edge just as I had been when I put her on the page struggling struggling struggling.

Our family crisis continues and I have kept on scribbling. I slip into a corner of my granddaughter’s hospital room while nurses and techs are bustling about and it’s best for me to be out of the way. I pull out the notebook and put my head down and write.

The hospital cafeteria is another writing haven. The loved ones of patients sit in near catatonia and stare into the middle distance. The medical pros actively avoid those stares. I eat whatever bad comfort food I’ve slapped on my tray and I write.

I drop onto the ground of the scene. I dig down into it. I bury myself there in these people born of my imagination and the terrifying trouble and wrenching choices I’ve created for them. I lose my own pain for a moment by crawling inside of their pain.

I understand that moments other may be coming when I won’t be able to manage the depth of focus that scene writing requires. I already know what I’ll do then. I will pull out the notebook and write what I am feeling myself.

I will describe the scene. What the cafeteria smells like. How the muted conversations strike my ear. The way the artificial air settles on my skin. The taste of the hockey puck cheeseburger I should have known better than to buy. The vista before me of devastated loved ones and nurses in comfortable shoes.

I will ask myself “What am I feeling right now?” Not just in my emotions but also in my body? Where is tension most taut? Is it in my ankles or my throat or the inch between my eyes? What can I compare this feeling to from my past history and from my imagination?

I will imagine one of these strangers walking up to me and saying “How are you?” I will hear myself blurting out the real answer to that absurd question. I will write down what I say in all its angry/shattered/dazed-but-lucid truth.

Meanwhile I wander in shock mode through this experience of personal torture. The kind of experience we unfortunately have all experienced and probably will experience again. I clutch my notebook to my pummeled heart. We are all still black and blue.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Truth About Emotional Truth

Emotional truth is what’s really going on in your story. The real truth of what is happening to your characters. The surface of things – what your characters allow to be seen and heard – can be manipulated to conceal what they are feeling. But great stories are all about feelings revealed.

This is exactly like real life and real life is the mother lode from which you mine your own emotional truth and refine it into storytelling treasure. The deeply felt emotions that are the beating heart of your story. The deeply felt emotions that make your reader feel deeply too.

I write romantic suspense novels. Scary things happen in my stories. The main character of the story I’m currently writing is assaulted and strangled. That happened to me once. My character and I both survived. Now we both benefit from my emotional truth of that awful experience.

The powerlessness while it was happening. The shock and numbness after it was over. The way others might have seen me at that moment had there been anyone present to see. I didn’t need to take notes. All of that was branded on my psyche in indelible emotional ink.

Unfortunately we have all had similarly indelible experiences. We have been changed by them – traumatized by them – sometimes stopped in our tracks by them. Now we get to convert them into the very raw material of intense and dramatic and powerful storytelling.

Stephen King said "For me, there have been times when the act of writing has been an act of faith, a spit in the eye of despair. Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life."

I say despair can be a way back to the act of writing at its most vivid and vital center. I’m not talking about memoir writing though digging for emotional truth is crucial there also. I’m talking about re-imagining real-life experience into the spit in the eye that is a riveting piece of original art.

Our emotional truth is not necessarily what we show on the surface of ourselves. It is more true than what we show on the surface. Our stories can be the expression of that subterranean truth brought to the light and wrought in words. The result can be the best writing we have ever done.

You know what these stories are for you. Write them the way your heart feels them to be true which may differ from factual truth. Facts are verifiable. Feelings are not. Someone else’s emotional truth may vary from yours. That doesn’t make your truth any less valid.

Emotional Truth is individual. Your characters’ truth is what they honestly feel. That honesty gives your story authenticity. That inner authentic truth is what really matters. It’s what will make your story really matter – to you as you write it and to your readers as they read it.

So dig down and dig deep. You’ll know when you hit the mother lode because it will zing straight to your heart – just before you zing it straight to the page.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Long Scar of Insensitivity

Last week at the WWAMatrix Conference I did the second public reading of my work ever. Given that I’ve been publishing for decades this is a scant performance record. There’s a reason for that.

Granted I’ve never been fond of readings. I’ve lectured to auditoriums and led workshops in classrooms filled with writers. But presenting my own writing – word for word – has always been something I preferred to avoid.

Then in the mid-nineties the offer came that I couldn’t refuse. Any instructor at an Upstate New York conference who’d been published in the past year was given what amounted to an ultimatum to read.

I was reluctant to say the least but resigned. I prepared a highly emotional piece based on real life experience – the night my grandmother died and my mother suffered a psychotic break when she found out – all while I at seven years old listened in terror upstairs.

Audience response was enthusiastic. I was elated and floated back to my seat on that ecstasy – until the next reader approached the dais. She was a popular instructor with a coterie of disciples. She announced her poetry reading in a mocking and acerbic tone.

“This is also about my mother but very different from what you just heard. I had a dearest mommy not a mommy dearest.”

Her coterie applauded and I was shattered. I never read my work to an audience – other than a few lines in a classroom for teaching purposes – from that night until a week ago when my friend Dorothy Randall Gray the Queen of WWAM convinced me it was time for a healing moment.

We all know how deftly a cruel criticism can stop us in our writing tracks – send us quaking into self-doubt and insecurity. In other words – silence us. That night in the nineties was my silencing. I didn’t stop writing but an aspect of my voice had been stilled all the same.

We must be careful of one another. We recognize the fragility in ourselves. We must recognize it in others also. Commenting on each other’s work must begin with honoring its strengths. The rest must be couched as suggestions for further strengthening.

Always we must temper our words with kindness. Because cutting words have the power to amputate a creative limb that may not grow back for decades – if ever at all.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Celebrating the Next Thing

I made a start on my next novel yesterday. Not because I’m finished with the last one. Just because I knew how good it would feel. And how encouraging it would be – and is.

I’ll finish revising the predecessor but I’m on to the next too because I’m into this writing thing for the long haul. I’m also now over the hump of dreading where the next one will come from. Or if there will be a next one at all.

There's a typical writer’s experience – a dark night of the writerly soul – where the next book is a source of dread. It starts happening for me a few chapters before the end of the story I’m currently working on.

This dread has actually been niggling at me for some time by that point but I haven’t yet truly acknowledged it. The general substance goes something like this. “Do I have another book in me? Is there another full long story I can get through all the way to the end?”

I already know the beginning of an answer to this because I have already taken notes and collected research – bits and pieces stashed in a file somewhere that attest to the bare bones at least of the dread next thing. So “Do I have it in me?” isn’t the real niggler here.

I do anticipate some separation anxiety. A deep relationship has grown and flourished between my writer self and the characters I’ve created and the world  I’ve summoned into existence in the thing I’ve been working on for what feels like a very long time.

My writer’s heart doesn’t really want to leave all of that behind. But I’ve said goodbye to beloved story people and scenarios before and the creative spark hasn’t guttered inside me. So that’s not the true dread either.

I believe that the questions flummoxing us – or at least me – at this delicate juncture are as follows. “Will my next story – or article or book or whatever I’m planning – be good enough? Do I still have IT? And if I do – is my version of IT still adequate and relevant?”

For a novelist the fine tuning of these flummoxers may sound something like this. “Will I be able to fall in love again with another bunch of fictional folks and their predicament? In love deeply enough to spend several months and 300 or so pages with them?”

That is a deskful of doubt if I ever heard one. So what do we do? What do I do?

Some of you know me already. Feel free to shout out if you do. You’ve been in my classes or you’re a Facebook friend or a real world friend. If so you may be able to guess what’s coming. I’m about to make a favorite shout out of my own.

DO IT ANYWAY! This is my mantra forever. Hold your nose and leap right in. Do not listen to your doubts. Do not avoid the next piece of work by distracting yourself with – well uhh – distractions. We all have a cartload of those to trot out when we think we need them,

DO IT ANYWAY! The thing you dread. Do it because that is how you discover you have nothing to dread after all. Do it and there it will all be. The spark and the wonder and the quickening of your imagination – the high that makes writing the positive addiction it is.

I promise you that when you stop looking and leap the most beautiful vistas will appear to you. How can I promise this? Because I just did exactly that. And there isn’t a dread in sight. And I’m celebrating!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Seven Deadly Sins of Suspense Writing

Do you write suspense novels or hope to write one? Then you need to be aware of the Seven Deadly Sins of Suspense Writing. Deadly – because they kill your chances of success.

Here they are. The seven biggest reasons agents and editors and readers could be left cold by your suspense novel.

1.         The terror in your story is not terrifying enough.

2.         That terror, or jeopardy to your protagonist hero or heroine, does not begin immediately, at the story opening – preferably page one, paragraph one.

3.         That terror does not escalate steadily and maddeningly to a bite-your-nails-to-the-bone climax.

4.         That climax is not a truly dramatic clash between good – your hero or heroine – and evil – your villain/antagonist.

5.         That villain/antagonist is not adequately formidable and plausible to make his defeat truly satisfying.

6.         This final confrontation is not drawn out sufficiently to let the reader savor the triumph of your hero.

7.         There is not enough story action and complication to sustain the length – approximately 80,000 to 100,000 words – of the novel.

Does your story avoid every single one of these deadly storytelling sins? Ask yourself this question. Be extremely hard-nosed and objective when you answer. Your future as a suspense novelist depends on it.

I’ll be talking about these seven deadly sins and much much more this coming Saturday February 22nd at my two-hour seminar workshop WRITE THE THRILLER-MYSTERY NOVEL TO DIE FOR: How to Make Your Story a Page Turner.

My presentation is sponsored by New Jersey Sisters in Crime and takes place in Monroe NJ. Contact Daria Ludas at to find out more. I’d love to see you there.