Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Social Media and Comfort Zones

It's easy to get in a rut in your reading. After all, when you find something you like, you want more! But there is a such thing as too much. At some point, the sparkle is gone, the shine is off. It might still be comfortable, but it's not as exciting as it used to be. So it's time to try something new.

I know this pain as a reader. Trying something new is stepping outside your comfort zone, and it's so frustrating when you try something new and you don't like it. When you get burned like that, it is that much harder to try something new. You want to hedge your bets, to know that you're going to like the new thing.

So, how's a writer to get new people to try her work?

Well, we'll have to step out of our comfort zones, too, and try something new. As a writer in that very position, here's what I've been trying.

An "easy" thing that most people try at one point or another is social media. Whether you use Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest or some other platform, social media has several advantages for getting the word out there if you're a new author (and/or an introvert).

It's free.

It's popular.

It doesn't require that you leave your house.

But, oh dear, it can go badly when it goes badly. Cringing-ly badly.

Each of these social media platforms has their own aesthetic, their own etiquette and expectations. And a lot of excited new authors jump in with both feet, and their eyes closed, not looking around long enough to realize that they've elbowed someone in the chin flailing around like that. Hence you see feeds that have nothing but "BUY MY BOOK" or the same post with no alteration on several different platforms or worse yet, attacks or defensiveness about criticism. You make your potential readers uncomfortable or annoyed, and that can hurt not only one potential sale, but all your future potential sales to a reader.

Whatever platform you choose to play in, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Look around. Observe first. Make sure you understand how people typically use this platform. See what kinds of posts get positive response. Learn from what others do.

2. Do something there besides advertise. The users of all of these platforms aren't there to read ads. I mean, really, would anyone go anywhere specifically to watch ads (except maybe to YouTube to watch the clever Superbowl ads)? Don't forget the SOCIAL in social media. Make friends. Respond to what other users are doing. Post about something besides your work.

3. Always put the best version of you forward. We all have complaints, but these public forums are not the place. Save your venting for the private spaces in your life, among friends and colleagues. You don't have to be Pollyanna, but neither should you be Oscar the Grouch, hating everything. Be yourself, but with your filters on.

4. Pick a platform you enjoy. It's not necessary to be on *everything* or to drive yourself crazy trying to keep up. I probably do too many, but I'm an experimenter, and I use different platforms for different things. I like to try out new things and push myself out of my comfort zone. This will take some trial and error. You have to *try* something before you know if you like it, just like you're hoping people will give you a try as an unknown author.

For example, here's me trying video. I'm not very comfortable in the medium, but I like the idea of being able to give people a taste of what my book is like even if they can't make it to any of my events. I'm not ready to be flashy when it comes to video, but I could handle giving my phone to my sister and asking her to film me while I read at Con-Gregate.



5. Be honest. People don't like being lied to or scammed. If no one has reviewed your book yet, don't claim to have five star reviews. If you've sold ten copies to your friends and family, don't claim you're a bestseller.

That goes for your book advertising in other ways, too. Make sure your cover art and back of the book blurb give people a good idea what the book is about. People don't like bait and switch, and that's how it feels when you think you're buying a nice, straightforward romance, and suddenly a vampire descends from the ceiling. You don't do yourself any favors by getting people to buy your work under false pretences . . .they probably won't like it.

So, my author and other creative friends, what are you trying to get the word out about what you do? What's working or isn't?


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Congregating at Con-Gregate


I'll be at Con-Gregate this weekend, getting my geek on and talking books and all things nerdy with my people. I had a great time last year and can't wait to go back. Here's what I'll be up to. Look on my schedule and be jealous! (Or better yet, come out and join the fun, if High Point, North Carolina is anywhere near you). If you're not already familiar with Con-Gregate, you can read this interview with the organizers from last year to learn more.

Friday, July 14: 3:00
Full-Time Creative Work on a Part-Time Schedule
I'll be moderating this panel with Glenda Finkelstein, Chris Kennedy, Ian J. Malone, and Michael D. Pederson. We'll talk about how we manage our creative work alongside our families, jobs, and other commitments and what tricks we've learned along the way to be productive without driving ourselves crazy.

Friday July 14: 4:00
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Reboot
Moderator Mark MacDicken will lead this discussion with me, Stuart Jaffe, and Michael G. Williams. Looking forward to seeing what my fellow panelists think of the new team on the show.

Friday July 14: 9:00
Java and Pros I probably shouldn't be having coffee this late, but it's worth giving up a little sleep to share a reading with Darin Kennedy. Darin and I share a publisher for at least some of our work, and had our debut novels at around the same time. He's also been gracious to me in many ways as I found my comfort with the con scene. (And he's a damn fine writer).

Saturday July 15: 1:00
Writing from Different Perspectives Thank goodness for late starts on Saturday, because it looks like I'll be up late on Friday. But what a great panel to kick off my day with! We'll be talking about writing characters who are different from ourselves and how to be authentic, respectful, and sensitive in those portrayals. My fellow panelists are moderator Amy H. Sturgis and Barbara Hambly, Larry N. Martin, and Michael G. Williams

Saturday July 15: 5:00
Signing Table I'll be sharing a table with Kim Headlee and we'll both be signing our books and talking with anyone who has time to stop by. I'm extra excited about this since I'll have a new release to show off.

Saturday July 15: 6:00
And More Geeky Rants Come see what has our panties in a bunch. I'll be ranting and laughing with moderator Rich Sigfrit and panelists Misty Massey, Kim Headlee, and Tally Johnson.

Saturday July 15: 8:00
Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading A smorgasbord of authors, each reading a few minutes of their work. Just enough to leave you wanting more. I'll be reading alongside literary luminaries like John G. Hartness, Paula S. Jordan, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Gail Z. Martin, Misty Massey, Melissa McArthur, and Nancy Northcott (and maybe others will join the party, too).

Saturday July 15: 10:00
The Dichotomy Between Good and Evil I'll be moderating this panel about those lovely gray areas when good people do bad things and bad people do good things and how that plays out in fiction. Can't wait to hear what panelists Kim Headlee, J. Matthew Saunders, Edmund R. Schubert, and Michael G. Williams have to say.

Sunday July 16: 12:00
1987: Never Gonna Give You Up I'll be walking down nostalgia alley with other recovering 80s kids moderator JT "The Enginerd" and panelists Mark MacDicken , Gild the Mourn, and Misty Massey.


Sunday July 16: 2:00
Fusion: Alternative Histories and Mixing Genres: I get to finish by moderating one more panel with the fantastic Melissa McArthur and Glenda Finkelstein. We'll be talking about our favorite mash ups and what makes these stories so wonderful.

So behold my weekend and grit your teeth in jealousy! Or even better, join me. You can view the entire schedule here and learn more about Con-Gregate here.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

IWSG: Valuable Lessons

Writing has taught me a lot: about myself, about wordsmithing, about the business of publishing, and how to fireproof ordinary clothing . . . In fact, I think that's part of the joy of writing as a career choice. There's no drudgery, no same-old, same-old, not waffles again. Each writing project is it's own puzzle to solve, mountain to climb, or whatever metaphor you prefer. It's all learning.

IWSG is asking this month: What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing? I'm going to take "started writing" to mean "started seriously writing" because I've always dabbled and played, but I've only been serious about it since about 2013.

The most valuable lesson I've learned during this time is that you have to understand yourself as an artist to get anywhere. There are thousands of paths to a writing life, and myriad advice about when and how to work your way through the writing and publishing process, but none of that matters in the end. You have to find and do what works for you as an individual. That's going to mean trial and error to find a process that gets results.

I learned that I can write anywhere--I don't have to have a particular environment or time of day--but that I have to write every day in order to make progress and stay on track.

For me, the commitments I make only to myself have been the easiest to let slide. I've fallen off so many wagons that I have permanent spoke marks and hay in my hair. It took me until I was in my forties to understand that a little selfishness is necessary to get there (whatever *there* you've picked in your life: weight loss, mastery of a new skill, etc.). I began insisting on writing time every day.

I was reasonable about it. I didn't ask for twenty-three of every twenty-four hours or anything crazy like that. I tried to choose my writing time during hours that would have lower impact on the needs and wants of the people in my life. It took a little time, but we all adjusted and now writing is just something I do every day.

As of the writing of this post, I have written for 1,373 days in a row (250 words is the minimum to count as "having written" by my reckoning, though I shoot for 800 on schooldays and 2,000 on non-schooldays now, after building up my endurance). I've written 1,672,415 words since I started tracking with Magic Spreadsheet (1,373 days ago). I've finished drafts of six novels, and seen three through to publication (the third one comes out July 11). I've also written several short stories and novellas as well, and written a weekly blog post, articles, and guest posts galore during this time.

But all of that is after making a commitment to myself and keeping it, and getting to that point took all the forty-years that led there. My new struggle, what I'm learning now, is how to set priorities to make the most efficient use of my writing time. I still work full time, and am now managing book promotion and publication business as well as writing new words. It's a whole new ballgame.

I'm looking forward to reading the other posts by IWSGers on this topic and would love to hear from you in the comments. What have you learned? What are you still struggling with?
___________________________________________________
If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Joys of Cheesy Movies


I have a metaphorical cholesterol problem. I just can't get enough cheese!

No, I don't mean cheddar or muenster or gouda (though all of those are also good-ah).

I mean so bad they're good, groan-fests: cheesy movies.

Call them what you will. B movies. Cult Classics. Guilty pleasures. Misunderstood genius. Mistakes. Train wrecks. Disasters. Silly. Fun.

The "it factor" that defines them for me seems to be that in popular, general terms, these movies are not regarded as good. They wouldn't win Oscars for anything, not
even set design or soundtrack. They're melodramatic and overwrought. The plots are weak and require serious suspension of disbelief. Characters are drawn in broad strokes, not with subtlety or nuance. They don't grow or change. The journey is just surviving the adventure.

But they have heart.

I'm not as fond of the ones that are doing it on purpose, stuff like Sharknado or Snakes on a Plane. A truly cheesy movie has to be sincere, so it can't know that it's a cheesy movie. It has to believe in itself or the magic doesn't work. Sure, the costumes may be bad, the acting even worse, but there's something about the very lack of professionalism and controlled artistry that is a siren call for me. There's no distance. They *mean* it.

Especially in the summertime, when I'm in recovery from nine months of relentless, demanding classroom work and I want my escape, I turn to cheesy movies. Candy for my brain. Wonderful, possibly hallucinogenic candy.

I blame my father.

We used to watch the worst movies together after cartoons on Saturdays, so besides the attraction of the high drama and unbridled imagination or the allure of no-holds-barred who-cares-if-you're-offended transgressiveness, there's also a nostalgic comfort like Chef Boyardee and Ovaltine. Maybe it's not good for me, but it's cozy.

So, whenever I'm not busy this summer (and I'm awfully busy, considering it's summer: teaching, going to conventions, meeting deadlines, etc.), you can find me trolling the bowels of Netflix looking for the best cheese. (Or at the Carolina, where sometimes they play it for me on the big screen!).


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Blog Tour: Phoenix Rising: Naked by Alexandra Christian

It's my pleasure to host Alexandra Christian here on my blog today to celebrate the release of her latest book: Naked: Phoenix Rising. Alexandra writes fun, sexy, funny, adventures. You can read my review of this one on Goodreads or Amazon.  Learn more about her book below.


BLOG TOUR
Title: Naked
Author: Alexandra Christian
Series: The Phoenix Rising Series
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopian and Paranormal
Release Date: April 13, 2017
   
Librarian at one of Earth's last paper libraries, Phoebe Addison is about to have a romantic and interplanetary adventure wilder than anything she's ever read.
OUT OF THE STACKS
Librarian Phoebe Addison has lived her entire life within a seventy-five mile radius of her small Louisiana town, but when she receives a strange medallion from her adventurous, off-world sister, reality tilts toward the bizarre. Everything Phoe thought she knew is…well, wrong. Dead wrong. But bone-numbing fear has no place in this brave new world—nor by the side of the dangerous, exquisite man who saves her life.
…AND INTO THE FIRE
Following the tragic slaughter of his family, operative Macijah “Cage” St. John understands evil in a way no man ever should. He traded happiness for a magnificent and terrible power, and fate isn’t done with him yet. He wasn’t looking for comfort. He didn’t need tenderness. But today he’ll play hero to a damsel in distress, and his quest will deliver him to the uncanny Martian colony of New London—and his heart to the demure Phoebe Addison. The bookish beauty’s hidden talents and deep abiding love just might save Cage from himself.
Phoebe could tell he wanted to say more but wouldn’t. She held his gaze, but he looked away, as if he were hiding a weakness he couldn’t stand for her to see.
“What are you talking about?” she said. “Help me understand.”
“I can’t,” he said, pulling back and shaking his head as if to clear it. “I won’t.”
“But why?”
He rolled back on his heels and stood quickly, and in an uncharacteristically clumsy movement, his shoulder brushed against the bedside table and nearly toppled the glass of tea.
“Just leave it alone, Phoe. My demons are my own.” The weakness was gone, and now that hard-edged, barely contained anger had returned.
She knew if she pressed him he would lash out. She was starting to understand, to be able to read his moods that had seemed so random and mysterious when they’d first met. There was a scab, healed over, but beneath the surface it still burned in his soul.
“Rest up,” he said, turning to walk away. “We’ll leave at sunset. Sadie has a car.”
Swallowing her nausea, Phoe threw back the blanket and stumbled out of the bed toward him. “Wait. Cage.”
He stopped but didn’t turn. “Look, I don’t know what’s happened in your past, but we all have demons. Some of us more than most. I get it.” She laid a hand on his shoulder, feeling the quiver of muscles pulled tight. The sensation of gentle touch had evidently become foreign. His head turned, staring down at where her fingertips rested against him. Such a profile, his eyes gazing downward and the faint glisten of a single tear resting just under his eyelashes. “You can trust me.”
“I do trust you, Phoe.”
She slid her arm along his shoulder, and he turned, enveloping her in a gentle embrace. He brushed a hand over her brow, smoothing back the stray locks that fell around her face. Being so close to him, she felt small and skittish. If he loosened his grasp even a little, she feared she would retreat.
He took her hand, bringing it to his lips then pressing her palm against his cheek. Instantly his body relaxed, as if her touch were some sort of calming drug. Phoebe could actually feel the tension melting from his muscles.
His eyes were full of fire and his breathing labored. Phoe couldn’t believe that it was her doing this to him. That all of this was for her.
“I don’t trust me,” he muttered in a low growl.
She was mesmerized by the curves of his lips as he spoke, and without even realizing, she’d moved closer. Only a breath between them, and then their lips touched.
At first he kissed her lightly, but when her tongue slid across the seam of his lips, he became insistent. His sumptuous mouth caressed her lower lip and it made her bold. Instinct kicked in and she kissed him back with equal intensity. Cage stole her breath and then offered his own. His arms tightened around her waist as he pulled her in against him, his hands rested on her hips as their kiss deepened.
Alexandra Christian is an author of mostly romance with a speculative slant. Her love of Stephen King and sweet tea has flavored her fiction with a Southern Gothic sensibility that reeks of Spanish moss and deep fried eccentricity. As one-half of the writing team at Little Red Hen Romance, she’s committed to bringing exciting stories and sapiosexual love monkeys to intelligent readers everywhere. Lexx also likes to keep her fingers in lots of different pies having written everything from sci-fi and horror to Sherlock Holmes adventures. Her alter-ego, A.C. Thompson, is also the editor of the highly successful Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series of anthologies.
A self-proclaimed “Southern Belle from Hell,” Lexx is a native South Carolinian who lives with an epileptic wiener dog, and her husband, author Tally Johnson. Her long-term aspirations are to one day be a best-selling authoress and part-time pinup girl. Questions, comments and complaints are most welcome at her website: http://lexxxchristian.wixsite.com/alexandrachristian.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Teachers are Superheroes

Ah, another year over and what have you done? Well, I completed my twenty-first year as a teacher, and, is often the case when I'm finishing a school year, I've got mixed feelings about the sustainability of this as a career choice.

While I watched students take state and federally mandated tests for days on end and tried not to the let the rage and heartache of all that wasted energy eat me alive, I considered the idea that teachers are superheroes.

Now, I don't mean anything very touchy-feely by that, though, of course, we do change and save lives. But I'm at the cynical end of the year, and will need to spend summer recapturing my optimism and faith. Right now, I'm just thinking that you *have* to be a superhero to do this work.

There are so many similarities!

Teachers need secret identities. Remember that time you saw your second grade teacher at the grocery store and just about had a heart attack thinking that teachers might go shopping? There's also the way people FREAK OUT if it turns out that a teacher (who is old enough) drinks a beer in public, or is photographed wearing a bathing suit (at the beach) or cusses in a social media post.

It's changing, and is definitely better from the days when you couldn't teach if you had a husband and being a teacher was akin to being a cloistered nun in the public eye, but many of us still build a protective persona and keep our private life as separate from the work as possible. It's not quite a cool domino mask and a cape, but there is a whole separate me hidden from my work life.

It's a job, but it's also a calling. Just like being a superhero.

Teaching is also one of the few professions where people who have no qualifications, expertise, or experience beyond having attended school themselves feel free to pass judgment on how the job should be done. I try not to be bitter about this and dwell on the idea that this is because teaching, at least through high school, is a female-dominated field.

Like superheroes we are vilified or lauded in the press and public discourse with very little in between, and we are expected to do the job for very little material gain because we're supposed to have a nobler, higher calling (which apparently matters more than whether you are a college educated professional who qualifies for food stamps).

So, if get the vitriol and criticism of superheroes, do we get the powers? Here are some of the superpowers you need to handle this job.



Endurance: Depending on what's going on in your school building on any given day, you may have to go as many as six hours in a row without any kind of break--bathroom, food, coffee, silence, and personal time are for wimps! You also have to be "on" for six hours a day, responding with grace under serious pressure and dealing with every curve ball thrown your way.






Speed: Teachers in my building get 90 non-supervisory minutes a day (if you don't have any meetings
taking up that time) in which to prep 2-7 lessons (depending on your course load), complete any assessment and correspondence, research and collaborate with colleagues, eat and see to personal needs. I can get more done in 90 minutes than many people can do with an entire day.






Extra-sensory awareness: Alone in a room with 30 tweens? You'll need eyes in the back of your head AND a sixth sense for trouble. A little ability to foresee the future wouldn't hurt either. I'd stay away from mind-reading though. You *don't* want to know what they're thinking.







Bullet-proof flesh: Kids are mean. Adults are worse. You'll need that bulletproof flesh to protect you
from attacks of all kinds. (Sadly, some of these bullets are literal, but we'll keep the focus metaphorical for this blogpost).

Reflexes. Emergencies, real or imagined, abound in buildings full of children. A teacher has to be able to jump in with no preparation and build a functional airplane before we hit the ground, all while calming panicking people.



Flexibility. Make all the well-constructed lesson plans you want. They WILL change, usually at the last minute. Resources will fall through, disaster will strike. The wifi will fail.







Wealth. Okay, this one's a pipe dream, but you'll have to teach with fewer and fewer resources every year, because this country likes to SAY it values education, but if you go by where our dollars are spent, we value LOTS of things more highly than education. So, it would help to be independently wealthy, so you can afford to buy all the clothing, food, and school supplies your students come to school without. If I *were* Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen, you can bet my students would be spoiled rotten with all the best equipment, trips, and experiences.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#IWSG: I Quit (Or Do I?)


Recently a man I vaguely know on social media published his first book. It was not an instant bestseller. In fact, he got some critical reviews. With three days of releasing that book, he posted that he quit and would no longer be a writer.

Watching this unfold, I was gobsmacked. He gave up so fast! And so easily. Why? Was he just of the "instant gratification takes too long" mindset? Or that fragile? Or so lightly invested that he could just drop it without a second thought?

The IWSG optional writing prompt this month is about quitting: "Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?"

It's a good question. There are times when it might be good to quit. When what you're trying to do really has no chance of success or if failure is eating you instead of inspiring you to try harder or differently. When there's no joy. But sometimes, quitting is doing yourself a disservice, not giving it long enough to find out what your limits are and what you can do.

So, did this guy do the "right" thing by quitting? Or was he just being a special snowflake and reacting childishly to criticism? I don't know! I've never walked in his shoes, but it did feel like a fast trajectory to me.

I've never actually quit writing altogether, though my level of commitment and follow-through has varied over the years, building to what I have now which is steady, if slower than I'd like, progress.

I have, however, quit a particular piece of writing.

The first novel I ever tried to write is now abandoned. Really abandoned. Like left in the dumpster
behind the supermarket in another town across the country, wiped of DNA evidence so it can't be traced to me. I won't be picking it up again, ever.

See, it was the first novel I ever tried to write. It suffered from a lot of incurable flaws. It didn't have any kind of clear plot; it just sort of meandered all over the place. It was WAY too autobiographical, with characters who were thinly veiled cyphers for people in my life. It was unbelievable wish fulfillment, with everything going the way of my main character even though nothing in the story made that logical or reasonable. In other words, it was crap.

But I learned SO MUCH from trying to write it, so even though the months I invested in that work didn't lead to a finished product, I don't regret the time. My writing group was so supportive and kind. I'll always be grateful to them for that.

I don't think continuing to work on it would have helped me. I would only have become more and more frustrated, trying to make a silk purse out of that sow's ear. So, quitting that book was smart.

The next book I wrote was much better. It's not published, but I think it could be, if I pick it back up again and revise it with what I've learned since.

The third book I wrote is now published, and pushed me into what could now be described as a fledgeling writing career with three novels and several short stories out there. She *can* be taught!

But I never gave any serious consideration to stopping writing altogether. It's too much at the heart of me to simply set down like a less-than-delicious sandwich.

I don't quit easily.

Good thing! Building a writing career is  a hard row to hoe. Which makes it all the more satisfying when something starts to bloom. It wasn't easy, and continues not to be easy. Not just anyone can do this. It takes dedication, hard work, and perseverance. So I'm special :-) (My mother says so).

I'm interested to hear how the rest of you know when to quit. Like Kenny Rogers once sang, "You gotta know when to hold 'em/ know when to fold 'em/ know when to walk away/ know when to run." What he didn't tell us was HOW you know. Please comment below!
___________________________________________________

If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.