How to Make Crime Pay

Last weekend I attended the CrimeCONN conference held annually in Westport, CT. It was great fun and interesting for writers as well as readers. Among the people I met was Nina Mansfield, author of the YA mystery novel Swimming Alone. She’s written a good blog post about the conference, the beginning of which I’m re-posting below, with a link to the full post. here’s how she began:

CrimeCONN was an AMAZING CONFERENCE!!!

Seriously.

I had the honor of being on the first panel of the day, Who loves you, baby?: How to make your readers fall in love at first sight. Great openings followed by ways to keep the love alive. When I first saw the line up for the panel, I was more than a bit intimidated. Roberta Islieb (aka Lucy Burdette) has published 14 mysteries and has been short-listed for a host of mystery writing awards. Tom Straw has written numerous New York Times bestsellers under a pseudonym. But if I was the tiniest bit nervous (and I was) moderator John Valeri quickly put my fears to rest. He had fantastic questions, and he really made the panel a very enjoyable experience. You can see in the picture below just how much fun I am having!

From L to R: Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), Tom Staw, Nina Mansfield and moderator John Valeri. Photo: Chelsey Valeri.

From L to R: Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), Tom Staw, Nina Mansfield and moderator John Valeri. Photo: Chelsey Valeri.

One of the major points that the panel touched upon was whether or not a body needs to drop in the first chapter. The consensus seemed to be – GC. you can read the rest here.

And my next post will be an interview with Nina about how she wrote her first YA novel.

Guest Post: Carolyn Mansager doesn’t procrastinate

I was talking to a writing friend, Carolyn Mansager the other day about how she manages to avoid procrastination when she’s writing. She told me she has a couple of writing partners, one in Connecticut and one in California. I asked her to explain how it worked, and here’s what she had to say:

CMA writing partner does help maintain deadlines that you don’t otherwise have. But the other part of the equation is that a writing partner makes you accountable. The two combined are what makes writing with a partner the most productive.

If you are showing each other your work, each person knows, whether you share via email or in person, that you either did the work or you did not. There is neither honor system nor wiggle room around this fact. You assign your writing partner, for example, “email me 500 words by midnight tonight” and either you have an email with 500 words from them, or you don’t. Accountability.

Or, you tell your writing partner: “I have the goal of doing x, and will email you the first draft by Y (date and time) and either you do it, and they get it, with a thumbs up, kudos or comments (depends on your relationship) or you don’t, and you get the “Where is it?” In that case, you may be running late, or something happens in life, and you can share that event with them, and he or she will (hopefully) understand, and you move on from there.

A writing partner is also allowed to ask you this question, “Why aren’t you getting the writing done?” It becomes a friendship situation sometimes. Writing can be solitary and our brains work a bit differently. So being able to talk about it with another writer is a great help. Sometimes this can get worked out over coffee, or in the case of RG and myself; we met in the bar at Grand Central Terminal, while we were both, coincidentally, heading for the same train. Then we discussed it on the train ride home.CM1

As a result of our agreement, I am now waiting for RG’s 500 words, emailed to me. He has a deadline and knows I am waiting for his words. Chances are good, he’ll do it now. He’s waiting for mine, too. He and I met through the Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) group and ours is a writing relationship. It’s different from my writing relationship with Yvette, but that happens. Two people, two writers, work differently sometimes.
“My West Coast writing partner Yvette and I contact each other via Facebook i.m. and agree that it is “time to set the rooster” that means the alarm on my phone, and I keep the time. We negotiate when and for what amount of time we write. We write in separate rooms, sometimes in different time zones, for the allotted amount of time. Although we can’t see each other writing, we believe that’s what we are doing then. The word count says it all. Either you have words down at the end of the time, when the “rooster” crows, or you don’t. The rest is the same accountability as with my East Coast writing partner.
Since writing is a solitary event, we also make time to meet with each other, to have conversation as friends, and sit in the same room and write, when we are in the same vicinity. The overall goal is to support each others’ individual writing goals, and help guide each other to completion of individual projects, with support of another writer. I recommend making time to write, if only for a few minutes, each time writers get together. That way, we are alleviating procrastination and promote word count completion. We are also building writing connections and friendships.

 

Re-post: 5 Unusual Ways to Experience Books by Sally Allen

Sally Allen is the editor of Westport’s HamletHub  an online newspaper, and blogs about books and literature at Open Salon. She earned a PhD in English education from NYU. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. As a book-lover, a recent article got my attention right away, with it’s new and unusual ideas for ways to enjoy books.

Here it is:

5 Unusual Ways to Experience Books

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been running into fascinating projects that involve experiencing books in unorthodox ways. By ‘unorthodox,’ I mean not sitting down alone and reading quietly in your head but taking the act of reading into a social realm that feels very ’21st Century.’ And not in the kind of way that involves complaining about e-readers and the death of the book/publishing industry/library.

These ideas all offer exciting new ways to experience books that show how relevant reading is today and why it will always matter. Yes, always.

Since they’re all worth sharing, I’m going to do just that! Click on the link to visit the project then meet me in the comments to discuss:

Around the Watery Part of the World in 135 days: The MOBY-DICK Big Read

In an earlier blog post I sang the praises of “Moby Dick,” a novel that wasn’t appreciated in its time but that readers and scholars have been appreciating the crap out of since around the 1920s.

I don’t know that I convinced any of you to read it because—let’s be honest—it’s a really, really long book, a major time commitment. And when you have so many books to catch your eye (and capture your imagination), classics can get relegated to the back of the pile (especially the long ones). It’s kind of like how New Yorkers never quite make it to the Statue of Liberty.

With this project, you can get through “Moby Dick” with a chapter a day, and you don’t actually have to read it! The book is read TO you by a different person each day (Tilda Swinton read Chapter One!). The project began on July 9, but you can still catch up. Melville wrote pretty short chapters.

Moby-Dick Marathon NYC

Here’s another way to experience the American classic without having to sit down and read it for yourself and by yourself: a reading marathon to be held in New York City from Nov. 16 – 18. The website is pretty brief, but here’s what I can tell you: over 100 readers will gather over three days at three independent bookstores in two boroughs.

And also, the celebration marks the 161st birthday of “Moby Dick,” which was first published on Nov. 14, 1851.

“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night,” the Board Game for Book Lovers

I’m almost speechless with glee at this idea for making reading social—a board game that asks players to correctly identify famous first lines of books, from novels to mysteries to non-fiction to children’s literature to short stories. You can play as individuals or teams. It sounds hard but deliciously fun!

The Shakespearience

Launched this week in the iBookstore is this interactive e-book of Shakespeare’s works. Embedded in the text are translations into contemporary language as well as well-known performances featuring Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, and Orson Wells. The e-book also offers production notes, photos, and other fun features from famous stagings of the plays. The three included in today’s launch are Othello, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet.

Reading Parties

Here’s another idea I’m deeply in love with, offered by Book Riot writer Jennifer Paull as an alternative to the traditional book group. What’s the problem with book groups? Maybe that you have to read a book you’re not interested in, or you don’t have time to read the book that’s assigned? This idea takes care of both of these issues.

Instead of picking one book, having everyone read it before the meeting, then getting together to talk about everything but the book that none of you read, make the book group meeting about the act of reading itself.

What does that look like, you ask? Paull suggests setting aside time to read together, as in sitting in a room together and reading. You read the books of your choice, maybe even taking time to read a favorite part out loud to the group, which (incidentally) can be a great way to discover new books to experience in full. Genius!

Do you have a great idea for social reading? Maybe you’ve tried one of these or want to? Tell me all about it in the comments!

Looking for love in all the wrong places…re-post from Linda Howard Urbach

Seduced Again. How Scrivener Stole My Heart and Left My Novel in the Lurch

How could I resist reading this? I happen to love Scrivener, even though I don’t know how to use the extra fancy stuff in it, but Linda Howard Urbach, author of the best-seller Madame Bovary’s Daughter, has been looking for the ideal writing partner, and most of the candidates don’t seem to have been marriage material. Here’s the beginning of her article on Huffpost. There’s a link to the rest of it below.

It made sense that I would turn to software in my time of need. I was going through a very rocky time with my novel. I had fallen out of love with it. (I even hated the chapter titles.) I was lonely, desperate and needy.

I was not a complete ingénue when it came to software. I used Final Draft years ago on a couple of screenplays. But the relationship was confined to a lot of heavy tabbing that a screenplay format requires. (One tab for character, two for action, etc.)

I needed a more meaningful, fulfilling connection. Who or what could I get to help me with my novel?

I went on Writerstore.com. (What’s a nice writer like me doing on a website like this? Shouldn’t I be able to write on my own like Jane Austen did?)

Like Match.com I found all sorts of interesting possibilities… Read on here

Repost: Katharine Britton: The Art of Learning When to Breathe

I met Katharine Britton at a book signing for her first published novel, Her Sister’s Keeper, and was struck by her air of serenity, which was the more impressive when I read the book and saw that her characters have deep, not to say painful,  emotional lives. So when I read a recent post of hers about her writing process, I asked if I could reprint it here.

Katharine is  a member of the League of Vermont Writers and PEN New England. She teaches writing at Colby-Sawyer College, and is an instructor at The Writer’s Center. Her second novel, Little Island, will be published in Fall, 2013 and you can find her on Twitter and Facebook

I like her description of what she does in her spare time: When not at her desk, Katharine can often be found in her Norwich garden, waging a non-toxic war against the slugs, snails, deer, woodchucks, chipmunks, moles, voles, and beetles with whom she shares her yard. Katharine’s defense consists mainly of hand-wringing, after-the-fact.

Here’s the beginning of the article:

I like sentences. I like words. I have always liked stringing words into sentences, and then shuffling them around to see how the meaning changes. There is a spiritual component to writing. Stringing enough words together to create a novel that someone will want to buy is an act of faith.

The English word “spirit” comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning “breath,” and so I decided to subtitle this piece, The Art of Learning When to Breathe, because learning when to breathe was perhaps the most important spiritual lesson I have learned since pursuing a career in writing.

Anne Lindbergh describes the writing process so poetically in “Gift from the Sea.” She says that when one sits down to write, one must wait to see what “chance treasures the easy unconscious rollers of the mind might toss up.” Neither the sea (nor the page) reward those “who are too anxious, too greedy, too impatient.” This is wise advice. Writing, perhaps particularly a novel because of its length and complexity, requires…read more here

More 50 Shades of Grey Craziness

Susan Bright at Friday Morning Bookclub follows the latest trends in books, and has been fascinated by the success of 50 Shades…As have all we writers interested in self-publishing. But her latest finds are just too ridiculous. Read on…

Friday Morning Bookclub

 

  A hotel in England has replaced the traditional bible once found in every hotel room with copies of 50 Shades of Grey. A hotel in Seattle is advertising rooms with a bottle of Ana’s favorite, Bollinger Rose or a drive in an Audi, just like Grey’s!  A hotel in Oregon is offering a special “50 Shades of Grey” package which includes dinner, a helicopter tour of Portland and roses. ALL TRUE!

Soon you will be able to purchase Fifty Shades of Grey pajamas to sleep in.  How about surprising your partner with a pair of Christian Grey boxers? They are talking Fifty Shades key chains, wallets and journals. You name it and it will probably be in your local store!

Everywhere you turn, you hear someone talking about Fifty Shades of Grey. I expect as much at the hair salon, but even my doctor (who always discusses books…

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From Erin Bowman – A dystopian flowchart

As you know, I’m interested in (and rather fond of) dystopian literature. Some of the best being published right now is for teens. (You may remember my previous blog on this, which you can read here, if you’ve forgotten it.) Erin Bowman is a writer of YA fiction. Her debut novel Taken will be published by HarperTeen on April 16th, 2013. Here’s a quick description: There are no men in Claysoot. There are boys—but every one of them vanishes at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends…and he’s gone. It sounds intriguing. I found her website through another of my favorite blogs, Password Incorrect, who copied her flowchart of how to decode a dystopian novel.

I contacted Erin to ask if I might reprint it, and she graciously agreed. I’ve given you the beginning of her blog post on the topic, and I think you’ll find the whole post worth a look. Here’s the beginning:

A few days ago, the lovely Maureen Johnson started a conversation on Twitter about the dystopian genre and how it is defined. An #isitdystopia hashtag emerged. There were talks of flowcharts. One made the rounds, and while it was amusing and had me smiling, it made me think more critically about how I define the dystopian genre.

Personally, I believe that a true dystopia, at it’s core, has a lot to do with the main character discovering a fatal flaw in their otherwise perfect society. This means that at a book’s opening, the MC is usually blind to the injustices of their world. As readers we often see red flags off the bat, but the story becomes a journey, with the character moving from satisfied, to suspicious, to conflicted, and finally….click here to read the rest.

And here’s the chart:

Five key ingredients for a successful social media recipe

I first met Adair Heitmann at a friend’s book launch, but we’ve become closer friends online. That’s because she’s easy to find on Twitter, Linked in, Facebook and other social media. Having an unusual name helps (try Googling her.) She’s a creativity and wellness expert as well as an award-winning author, popular professional speaker, and a fine artist. She writes a regular blog for the Fairfield Writers as well as her own,  and gives regular workshops on how to use social media to promote your writing, so I asked her to write me a guest post on the subject:

 

Social Media has become a fact; any writer who wants to be taken seriously, be published, and stay published needs an online presence. Just as the basic ingredient for chocolate mousse is chocolate, it’s important for writers to use Social Media as a way to build their author platforms.

Social Media is also like chocolate mousse; if you’ve never tasted it, it’s hard to describe the velvety smooth texture or appreciate the rich bittersweet taste. I must confess I love chocolate mousse, and, full confession, I adore Social Media. However I think it’s easier to use Social Media then it is to make a good chocolate mousse.

As a writer, originally I was a snob, thinking that I was above the Social Media game. “My time should be spent writing,” I proclaimed, “not engaging in social networking trivia.” Then I tasted the power of Social Media and was hooked.

Various Social Media vehicles attract different personality types. In my workshops and programs I like to say, “LinkedIn is for introverts, and Facebook is for extroverts.” I’m an ambivert so I have found ways to navigate both. Every day however, there seems to be a new online communications tool – Google+, Branchout, Pinterest, Etsy, Prezi – the list goes on and on. As in any good recipe I suggest that you start with the five basics: LinkedIn, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Having Fun. Once you’ve mastered those you can add others (or not) to suit your own time and taste.

1. LinkedIn. Join LinkedIn first. It’s the world’s largest professional social network. LinkedIn is a living breathing, walking and talking résumé of you and your professional endeavors. It’s free, and you key in your profile on your own time. True story: I met a speaker at a health and wellness conference in Westport, CT. We exchanged business cards to meet over coffee at a later date. (Yes, you still need to have those in your pocket.) She then moved to San Francisco, so it was two years later when I added her to my connections on LinkedIn. I already had my writer’s website in place, and was a contributing author to two professional blogs. She got to know me through my online presence, not over coffee. I didn’t know that she was the editor of an online journal of women’s wisdom until she invited me to be a contributing author to that journal.

2. Blogging. If you have something to say, beyond your online résumé, and website, then you can start a blog. Blogging is free and you make it all your own. Defend your cause! Educate the public about your mission! Enlighten! Entertain! Blogs are like water to yeast, when used in the right amounts they can expand your platform and help you rise above the competition. Blogs can also be a perfect, soft-sell, e-commerce tool. Belgium-based nature artist, Paula Kuitenbrouwer, has a blog. Either she read my creativity and wellness blog first (through a LinkedIn writing group) or I read hers, but we have been subscribing to each other’s blogs for about a year. Her recent blog came into my email box. She is now using Pinterest on her Mindful Drawing. Pinterest is a content sharing service that allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their pinboard, and includes standard social networking features, plus a link to Etsy. Through Etsy she sells her hand-made note cards online.

3. Facebook. Facebook is free; you set up your page, and reach out to friends and colleagues. You can become magnetic, offering mentally stimulating posts, or be the information conduit about local writing conferences. I find out more about what’s happening in my writer’s world through Facebook then through any other medium. I learned about both NaNoWriMo and The Sketchbook Project first on Facebook. Are you into images? A local writer shows pictures of her colorful garden on her Facebook page. You don’t always have to write about writing. Some of the more interesting Facebook pages show diverse sides of a writer’s life. Author of Your Book Starts Here, Mary Carroll Moore, highlights her pastel paintings on her Facebook art page.  If you are stymied about what to say on Facebook use my rule-of-thumb: If you have something to say, say it, if you don’t have anything to say, don’t. Instead you can comment on other people’s posts or share their helpful information with your friends. You don’t have to do all the talking.

4. Twitter. Twitter is a fascinating social networking tool. For any writer I think it is the coolest thing since dark chocolate became available in grocery stores. With Twitter you have to say what you are going to say in 140 characters or less. It’s a great tool for honing your writing craft. Twitter is a micro-blogging free service. You can tweet your way to success! Before I added Twitter to my communications toolbox, I researched the funniest tweets of all time. The book Twitter Wit: Brilliance in 140 Characters or Less edited by Nick Douglas showed me that I will never be as funny as many tweeters out there. It did inspire me though to take a stab at tweeting. I use it to share information about literature, the arts, creativity, wellness, and all those things that interest me. I’m still searching for my inner twitter wit, but while I’m exploring I’m building a fan base of followers.

5. Have fun! Embrace your inner spark. Be fearless when learning new technology. If you enjoy doing something you are more likely to repeat it. I recently heard an introverted author interviewed on NPR. Sorry I forgot his name, but I remembered his niche is cats and writing about cats. His Facebook posts are all about his life from the point-of-view of being a cat. Brilliant! He’s an introvert but he’s using Facebook in an extroverted way, but, no wait it isn’t him talking, it’s his cat. Only an inventive writer could do that.

LinkedIn, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are communication tools that are all about building relationships. I encourage you to let your online relationships naturally evolve. Remember to avoid forcing anything and to set clear boundaries for yourself. Gauge how much or how little time you want to spend on Social Media and stick to it. Present yourself online in thoughtful, constructive ways. Support and promote other writers in your own Social Media platforms; it’s not all about you. Take time to reflect on who you are and to develop your unique brand. As a writer your business is writing, so promote yourself professionally. Lastly, whenever possible, refer people back to your writer’s website.

After you’ve added the Social Media ingredients, mix them well because they will help build your author’s platform. Then be sure to walk to your refrigerator. Swing open the door and take out that chilled, parfait glass full of light, airy, and rich chocolate mousse. Dip your spoon in, close your eyes, savor, and enjoy.

Repost from the Fairfield Writers Blog: 4 Old school sources online

My friend Alex McNab writes a blog for writers in Fairfield County as I do, but we don’t seem to cover the same turf, which is why I subscribe to his blog.. I particularly liked this recent post, which suggests several different sources for particular writing tips – sources you may not have thought of. Alex helps run (free) writing groups at the Fairfield Public Library, and is working on revisions of his own novel. He turned to fiction after a career in journalism, including being the Editor of Tennis magazine, and writing for The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Westport Magazine. His nonfiction books include The Tennis Doctor and, as co-author, Arthur Ashe on Tennis. So when he writes, I listen.

Here’s what he had to say about looking for writing help on the web:

Type “writing advice” into Google’s search box, hit the Return key and in a few seconds you’ll be looking at the first page of a list that goes on for “about 284,000,000 results.” That’s a lot of how-to about the writer’s craft.

As an old-school print magazine veteran, I’d like to suggest you monitor the digital offerings of four legacy publications for a while.

First, check out The Wall Street Journal’s weekly Word Craft piece. Every Saturday, a different well-known writer contributes an essay on a different aspect of storytelling. Some recent examples: Jeffery Deaver on writing thrillers, Hilary Mantel on historical dialogue and Carol Edgarian on desire as the driving force of fictional characters.

Second, stop in at Draft, a blog at The New York Times’ “Opinionator” area. Written by different grammarians, journalists, historians, novelists and others, it covers everything from punctuation to the value of diagramming sentences…

You can read the rest of the article here:

The Hunger Games and the teenage craze for dystopian fiction

British writer Amanda Craig has written a fascinating article for the Daily Telegraph of London on the current trend in YA reading for dystopian fiction. According to her,wizards and vampires are out. The market in teen fiction is dominated now by societies in breakdown. And it’s girls who are lapping them up. I happen to read dystopian fiction myself (trying to pass myself off as a YA …), so I was intrigued and thought you might find this interesting. Here’s the article:

Many parents might feel worried on finding their teenage children addicted to grim visions of a future in which global warming has made the seas rise, the earth dry up, genetically engineered plants run riot and humans fight over the last available scraps of food. Yet with the arrival of the film of the first book of Suzanne Collins’s best-selling trilogy The Hunger Games this month, dystopia for teenagers has hit an all-time high in public consciousness. The hottest genre in publishing and film on both sides of the Atlantic, it has rendered wizards and vampires redundant. And teen fiction is now so popular that it has entered the shopping basket of goods by which the UK calculates inflation.

The Hunger Games, set in a future America, now called Panem, concerns the ultimate TV reality game show, in which there can be only one survivor. Fantastically violent, the novel has sold 10 million copies world-wide, and is likely to be the hit movie of 2012.

Nor is it alone in riding the dystopian wave. This year, Moira Young’s best-selling debut, Blood Red Road, a kind of Mad Max for girls, won the Costa Children’s Award, and has been bought by Ridley Scott for film; Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now is about to start shooting with Saoirse Ronan as the lead in a story of underage passion in a future England plunged into war. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, set in a racist society that is a photographic negative of our world, has been successfully adapted by the RSC as a play and has been one of the nation’s favourite series for the past decade. Even Anthony Horowitz, the man who has done more to get boys reading than any other contemporary author, has just finished his own dystopian novel, Oblivion, which Walker will publish this autumn.

Teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic can’t get enough of this stuff. Why is dystopia so fashionable? Are they sunk in existential gloom caused by the recession, university fees and the prospect of never getting a mortgage?

Read the rest of this article here, and check out the first comment (by JB Williams 1991) – that was fascinating too.