Wednesday, February 13, 2019

DIYMFA #10: What's on Your Reading List?

Welcome to the DIYMFA book club. They've got a very active group over on Facebook. If you're interested in exploring these themes about your own writing, I highly recommend giving them a look! Today, we're asked about our reading lists. 

Reading is such an important part of my author's life! After all, I began as a reader, back when the book were tall and thin and I read them out loud with my mother. I'm not dogmatic about much when it comes to what an author MUST do, but I firmly believe that you can't be a good writer if you don't also read. You need to read a LOT: broadly, deeply, and constantly. There's no better school for writing.

The problem with my TBR (to be read) list is that I want to read EVERYTHING. People have been writing books for a long time, and I want to read all the old, good stuff, and all of the new, good stuff. I want to read all the fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and even the plays. Starting in 2015, I set a Goodreads goal of 52 books a year, averaging out to one per week and I've exceeded that every year, thanks to discovering audiobooks and how reading in this format can double or triple my reading time each day. 

I know I can't actually read everything. It's just not humanly possible. So there are a few things that guide my choices these days. 

#1 Book Clubs
#2 Writers I Know
#3 My Mood

I'm in two book clubs right now (besides the DIYMFA one). 

I help run the First Monday Classics Book Club at my local library. It was the brainchild of another local writer, James Maxey, who like me, was looking for a structure and support to encourage himself to read all those classic books he'd been meaning to get to all these years. The group has been meeting for four years and those who've been in from the beginning have read 50 books together. 

Upcoming in the next few months, we're tackling Fahrenheit 451, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Haunting of Hill House, The Master and Margarita, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and In Cold Blood

I really enjoy this book club, both for the impetus to fill in "holes" in my reading history and for the wonderful discussions about the works themselves and whether they deserve the moniker of "classic" or not. 

My other book club is much smaller, consisting of three other women who live in my neighborhood and me. We don't really have a theme. We just take turns suggesting books and then go have coffee and talk about them. We do seem to have a taste for nonfiction as a group, and I've read some great books with these women. Our next meeting is coming soon and we'll be talking about Hidden Figures, which really disappointed me, so I'm anxious to hear what everyone else thought. 

Many of my other book choices come from authors I know online or in real life. Sometimes, I have promised to read and review something for a writer I'm acquainted with because they need the boost. It's so hard to garner those first few reviews that get your work some traction! Other times, I'm just curious what these folks I talk on panels with and appear in anthologies alongside are up to. One of the best ways authors can support each other is by spreading the word about books they enjoy, and keeping up with the work by my talented and prolific colleagues could be a full time job in and of itself. 

Since I just signed with a new publisher, I've loaded up my kindle with works by the other writers among Falstaff Books' Island of Misfit Toys. I try to keep up with my colleagues in Broad Universe and the Pen and Cape Society

I'm also judging a women's fiction writing contest for the Women's Fiction Writers Association, so I've got three novels to read between now and April for that commitment. 

Familiarity with others' work is part of networking, and also a way to pay forward all the kindness and support that others have shown me over my writer's journey. 

So, with all these external forces choosing a lot of my reading for me, I also just sometimes pick a book because it sounds interesting. A lot of times, these are contrast books to whatever I've been reading "too much" of: comedies, escapism, something "different." 

My most recent read chosen by my mood was Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. I follow Ms. Roanhorse on Twitter and had heard quite a bit of buzz about this book. I'm always looking to diversify my reading list, and Ms. Roanhorse is Native American and writes Young Adult, two categories my reading experience is short on. I'm so glad I read it! Maggie Hoskie is a delight of a main character, complicated, prickly, and so very wonderful. 

So, there's what I'll be reading for the foreseeable future. How about you? What's at the top of your TBR? I hope you'll give my books a shot (nudgenudge, know what I mean?) but there's a lot of good work out there. What's got your eye right now? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

DIYMFA #9: Trying a New Technique

Building a writing life is all about figuring out what works for you. It's also a lifelong learning experience because change happens: your life circumstances, your writing process, even you-yourself. So, I'm always seeking new things to try. Writing life "hacks" so to speak, despite the negative connotation of "hack" when it comes to writing.  Over the years, I've found some tools and ideas that have made me more efficient and effective, and I hope to keep on finding ways to grow as my career builds.

To that end, I've been slowly reading through DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community by Gabriela Pereira, which is a good compilation of a variety of writing advice with a focus on building a process that will work for you career-long. I've also been participating in the DIYMFA book club.  They've got a very active group over on Facebook. If you're interested in exploring these themes about your own writing, I highly recommend giving them a look!

This week's prompt asked you to try a new technique and talk about how it went for you. The technique I tried was scene cards. I wrote about it previously on this blog here.

It's a form of outlining.

Now, I've never been an outliner. The story doesn't seem to come to me whole-cloth enough for that. I'm more of a quilter as I write, building pieces and then stitching them together afterwards.

But, I was really stuck on my WIP (Thursday's Children, YA, dystopian with shades of romance) last summer. So, I decided to give this a go during my yearly writer's retreat. At worst, it wouldn't work for me and I'd just be where I already was, right?

Story cards ask you to make a card for each scene in your novel, indicating the follow things:
  • a title for the scene
  • the major players
  • the action
  • the purpose (structurally)
That last bit (the purpose) turned out to be key for me. It helped me see what each scene was doing in the larger piece. The best scenes had more than one purpose: characterization plus plot reveal moment or conflict building with scene setting.

I did this is as a sort of mid-process mapping. I had already written some 30,000 words on the project. So, I mapped out what I had already written, analyzing it for these four things. I added a color coding element because the book balances three points of view (Kye'luh, Malcolm, and Jason) and I wanted to see if they were balancing, so I wrote the scene card on a different color post-it, depending on whose POV it was told in. I used a fourth color for random thoughts I didn't want to lose and left those off to the side. 

I've done digital version of this before, labeling the chapters in Scrivener with different symbols and using the summary cards there to detail what the content of each chapter was, but the paper version hanging on my wall worked much better for me visually. The day after I finished my descriptive outline of what I'd already written, I made a list of "holes" I needed to fill and ideas for how the story should move forward. Here, six months later, I'm still using this chart to guide my progress and the novel is nearing its end. 

I still don't think I can outline before I write. But as a way to move past my wall when I've run out of steam and need to find my direction again? This was really useful to me. As always, YMMV, because any creative endeavor is highly individual and we all work differently. But hey, if you're stuck, what can it hurt to try something?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

IWSG: Ch-ch-ch-changes

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! it's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

The awesome co-hosts for the February 6, 2019 posting of the IWSG are Raimey Gallant, Natalie Aguirre, CV Grehan, and Michelle Wallace! Be sure to check them out today!

So tomorrow is a HUGE day in my writing life. It's the day my Menopausal Superheroes novels are re-released. They get ANOTHER book birthday. I'm so happy (and relieved) to be able to make this announcement so soon after I found it necessary to ask for my rights back from my previous publisher. (details here)

My blog image of the tightrope walker has never felt more appropriate than in the past few months, because this has definitely been a circus. (Though maybe a trapeze artist hanging in midair when we haven't seen if she will catch the other bar yet would be an even better image). 

Turns out, I don't like the circus. At least not when I have to perform in it. But now I can happily say, "not my monkeys, not my circus" and move on. Time for a fresh start. 

The Menopausal Superhero series will now be published by Falstaff Books of Charlotte, North Carolina. Check out my new covers! 

I really love the new look. They do a great job of capturing the heart of the series (superheroic women's fiction) and just look so good! 

I'm not letting myself get insecure right now, though transitions are always terrifying. Instead I'm focusing on the all the positives. After all, I'm the queen of second chances, having found a new lease on life in a second marriage, in a third state, in a ninth teaching job, and now with a second publisher. I got this, right? 

After all, I don't just write superhero, I am one.