Monday, August 25, 2014

Words of Wisdom From Writers

As writers, we all experience moments of angst. We become paralyzed with self-doubts. Is our latest work in progress so crappy we should hit the delete button? Go back to that job at the post office?
Writing is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work and can be a cruel business. If you’re a published author, perhaps there are moments when you wonder if you’re capable of writing another book. If you’re a new writer trying to break into print, you may be sick to death of rejections that damn with faint praise. “Your book is promising, but I’m going to pass. Good luck, yada, yada, yada.”  

Moments like these may cause the creative juices to dry up and blow away. When it happens to me, I visit my old friends, books about writing by writers: writers whose words of wisdom whack me upside the head and say, “Get a grip, girl! Stop wallowing in self-induced misery and get to work. Here are some of my favorites.

Waiting for your muse to inspire you? Here’s what Stephen King in his book, On Writing, has to say about his muse.

 “There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down to your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt work while the muse sits and smokes cigars and pretends to ignore you.”

Do you believe in the concept of writers’ block? Humor writer, Dave Barry does not.

“People simply give up and don’t want to put forth the effort to work through the barriers. No good writing is easy. It all has to do with overcoming the obstacles we find in the way of our creativity.”

Mystery writer, Sue Grafton, learned how to handle rejection from her father. She said the most important piece of advice he ever gave her was this:

 “Bend with the wind. When disappointments come along, as surely they will, don’t stiffen with bitterness. Be graceful. Submit. Think of yourself as a sapling, yielding to circumstance without cracking or breaking. Bending with the wind allows you to right yourself again when adversity has passed.”

Natalie Goldberg: “Have compassion for yourself when you write. There is no failure – just a big field to wander in.”

Nora Profit: “The fear of rejection is worse than rejection itself.”

Strunk and White, Elements of Style: “Omit needless words.”

Anne Perry: “Put yourself on the page and all that you think and feel about life, but do it with discipline; do it with skill.”

I’ll close with my favorite quote from prolific novelist Elizabeth George. Here’s her advice to aspiring writers in her wonderful book, Write Away.

 “You will be published if you possess three qualities—talent, passion and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination—either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline. But if all you posses is talent or passion, if all you possess is talent and passion, you will not be published. The likelihood is you will never be published. And if by some miracle you are published, it will probably never happen again.”

Do you have a favorite writing quote? If so, I’d love to add to my collection. Feel free to comment.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ashleigh from Down Under

This week’s guest on Book Blather is Australian writer, Ashleigh Galvin, the author of a remarkable fantasy titled Birth By Fire’s Embrace. Ashleigh Galvin was born in Toowoomba, Australia in 1990 and grew up in Wyreema, located in Queensland, Australia. She attempted to write her first novel in primary school and hasn’t stopped since. She enjoyed reading fantasy series as a young girl, which fuelled her desire to become a writer. Her first published novel, Birth By Fire’s Embrace, was released in May 2013. Ashleigh combines her vivid imagination and love of fantasy to create exciting and fresh novels featuring strong characters and non-stop action, designed to keep readers fully engaged. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia. After reading Ashleigh's responses to my questions, I believe we might be kindred souls. Welcome to Book Blather, Ashleigh.

Marilee: Like many other Americans, I’ve never been to your country (maybe someday). Tell us what it was like growing up in Australia.

Ashleigh: It was great. I hate the cold so the heat in Australia is perfect for me. I live in Brisbane which is the capital city of Queensland, Australia’s top right state. I grew up on a small property with my mother, father and sister plus a wide variety of pets and animals. One of my favorite past times when I was young was catching lizards. I was never allowed to keep them though so they were always released, unscathed back into the wilds. I guess this is where my fascination with Dragons started. I still have lizards around my current unit. They are good at keeping the spider population down.

Marilee: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Ashleigh: I believe the official year would be back when I was still in High School, probably 2006 or 2007 but I’ve been creating stories even since I can remember. I had my first crack at writing a novel when I was about 9 or 10. It was called The Scar of Athens. I made it to about 50 pages which was huge in my young mind. It lives on my computer with my other projects but it would take an entire re-write before I even considered releasing it. It was not my first masterpiece. My mother still has the stories I wrote even before that. So I’ve basically been creating stories since I could control a pencil but it was in High School that I decided to get serious and make a career out of my musings.

Marilee: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Ashleigh: The hardest part for me is the editing stage. Coming up with new ideas is easy. I currently have fifteen other book ideas just living on my computer. I’d love to write them all at once but I try to work on one series at a time. Otherwise I go a little crazy, trying to live in three different universes. Planning and writing, once again, are a breeze. Once I know where my book is going, I can plan and write with very little trouble. But then comes the editing stage… sigh. This is where I start to hit my head against the desk. My novels usually go through about 3 or 4 stages of editing before they are released. My current manuscript is in its early editing stages. The reason I struggle with editing is I have a hard time focusing. Once I start reading my manuscript, I can start to forget that I’m meant to be editing it. I’ll just read it and enjoy. Then it’ll hit me that I was meant to be editing it and have to go back a few pages and start again. 

Marilee: What do you like best about writing?

Ashleigh: I love the freedom I get when writing. It allows me to open my mind and channel my stories onto paper. My imagination is so strong, if I didn’t, I think my head would explode! Writing allows me to take the characters in my head and make them real. I get to watch them learn and evolve into better (or worse) people than when they were just figments floating around my ears. It also allows me to share my stories with others. I don’t want to keep them all to myself. I want to spread them around the world so that everyone can enjoy them. Writing Fantasy allows me to suspend reality. I can walk into a world with strange creatures and magic. To create a story brimming with the amazing and impossible, it’s utterly fantastic.

Marilee: Tell us about your plans for future books, or books you dream of writing one day.

Ashleigh: Standing In The Wind’s Shadow is currently in the publication process. My project at the moment is editing Book 3 of the Amethyst Series. I plan to keep writing until I can’t move and even then I intend to speak my stories. I’ve got fifteen book ideas on my computer with more being added regularly so I don’t think I’m going to run out of work any time soon. While I still want to write Fantasy, I’d like to branch out in the future and attempt other genres. For example I have a thriller concept as well as a sci-fi idea that may one day get written.

Marilee: What part of yourself did you include in the characters (hobbies, attitudes, background)?

Ashleigh: I put a lot myself into all my novels and characters. Sharrlette has quite a few similarities with me. For an example, we’ve both worked in a Clothes shop and prefer nature over the hustle and bustle of the city. She has my temper and also my love of reading.

Marilee: Now let's take a peek at an excerpt from Birth By Fires's Embrace.
 Scroll down for Ashleigh's links.

Moaning, she slowly got to her feet. The fall must have knocked something right, because her headache was gone. Looking around, she still felt uneasy. Although the forest here was not burning and felt cool, the deathly stillness unnerved Shar. Billea’s voice echoed in her head. He said to keep running against the wind. But down here, there wasn’t any. She turned slowly, her movements like explosions in the woods. Listening to the echoes, she bit her lip. A cool breeze gently swept along her sweaty face. Turning against it, she started to walk, hoping it was the right direction.

She had only taken a single step when she heard it. The crack of a twig, the scrape of fierce claws against bark, the rustle of leaves concealing danger. Then she heard the hissing. She tried to control the panic racing through her blood. Spinning, she desperately searched the forest for signs of the intruders. There, a bush a ways back, it was gently smoking. So was the tree to the other side of her. Every way she turned there appeared to be a thin smoke screen slowly creeping its way forward, closing its trap. Shar looked around, trying to find something, anything she could use as a weapon. Nothing. Turning, she quickly scrambled up a tree, thinking she could hide. The smoke blocked her from them as well. Maybe, if she kept very still and quiet, they would simply pass her by. Faulty footing brought Shar back to reality and the ground. She hit it hard, the broken branch falling a few metres from her.

Gasping, she held her chest. Everything she did today seemed cursed. Bringing her gaze up, she saw the fire lizards were very close. Climbing to her feet, she rushed to the branch, gripping its rough bark with sweaty hands. It was big and clumsy but she didn’t care. It was better than nothing. Slowly creeping through the bushes, the first wave of salamanders began to appear. There was so many, a lot more than Shar saw Dazzaroth call. Swinging the branch around, she managed to get three of them, knocking them back into each other. She struggled to keep the beasts away but for everyone she hit, she lost a little of her stick. Their burning skin was slowing turning it to ash. Shar could see this wasn’t going to last long. Desperately looking around, she tried to find the direction to run again, but it was impossible to tell the difference between the trees. Down to a mere wood chip, Shar knew she had to guess.

Looking down, she spotted a gap between two lizards. Both looked a bit beaten up so it was definitely her best shot. Throwing her branch hard at the lizards, she slid quickly between them. One was faster than the other. One snapped at her and missed, but the other latched onto Shar’s ankle. Shar didn’t stop. She couldn’t. The pain was intense but she knew the only way to survive was to keep running. It seemed like forever until he lost his grip and fell into the underbrush. Angry hisses followed her. They were hungry and gaining. Her heart pounded as she ran. She didn’t care which way she was going as long as it was away from them. Then she saw it, a bright light breaking through the trees. Finally, she was coming to the edge of this accursed forest.

Hope came with a renewed burst of energy. A tentative curve crept its way onto Shar’s lips. Surely, the lizards wouldn’t follow her into the crowded city. Roughly tearing her way through the last few branches, Sharrlette burst into the clean open air.

“No!” Shar screamed in horror. She ran the wrong way. Instead of going out, she ran further in. She came to a giant cliff on the top of Mt. Colt. She skidded to a halt just shy of the edge. Turning slowly, her lips trembling, she saw the salamanders surround her. They knew she was defeated now. Even if they missed, the cliff wouldn’t. It was a long way down. A hiker died here a few years ago. It wasn’t pleasant. Shar knew she wouldn’t survive.

 One of the vicious creatures lunged forward, delighting in terrifying her. It snapped eagerly at her ankle. Yelping in fear, she took a step back away from its jagged teeth. Her foot slipped off the edge, the loose dirt crumbling down the cliff face. Balancing on her other leg, she turned, looking down the cliff. She could see Billea. He was at the bottom, looking up at her. It was a pity he had to see this. The dissolving edge wouldn’t be able to hold her for much longer, but the salamanders weren’t in the mood to wait. The closest beast launched itself at her, screeching for her blood. 

Time slowed and Sharrlette knew it was over, but at least she had a choice. A fast painless fall from the cliff or the creatures’ razor claws ripping her body apart. Neither appealed but, if she must, she wasn’t going to submit to the salamanders. She couldn’t prove Dazzaroth right. If she must die, it’ll be by her hand not his.

Shutting her eyes, she took a deep breath in and threw her body backwards. She heard the hissing lizard fly past her head, narrowly missing her neck. At least one would fall with her. She could see the rugged cliff face rushing up. Tears flew from her eyes as gravity savagely pulled her down and the wind screamed in her ears, then . . . nothing.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Enjoy the Journey

Writing a book is hard work, but do you know what’s harder? Getting that first book published. Scores of rejections pour in, leading to self-doubt and discouragement. Many new writers drop out at this point. Not Laura Drake. When you read her post, I think you’ll agree she could be the poster child for persistence. I hope you enjoy her journey to publication as much as I did. For more about Laura, check out her bio and links following this post. Welcome to Book Blather, Laura.

Before I learned to ride my own motorcycle, I rode a hundred thousand miles on the back of my husband’s. I’d prop a book on his back and read during the boring stretches.  
One day, outside Kernville, California, a dog ran in front of the bike. After a sphincter-clenching scare, he trotted back the way he came, and we rode on. But it gave me a germ of a story that wouldn’t leave me alone.

I debated for over a year. Who was I to write a book? Authors were way smarter than I. One day, while staring at a blank Word doc, I looked down. Hey, I had a ‘delete’ key! I could write the book, and no one would ever have to see it. So that’s what I did. But a year and a half later, when I finished, I had a new goal.  I wanted to hold a book in my hand with my name on the cover.

So I sent queries to agents -- 170 of them. I had a few requests for full manuscripts, but ultimately, everyone turned me down.

So I started writing another book, and finished it nine months later. I sent out 132 queries. There was more interest this time, but still no takers.

So I wrote another book. Even I felt this one was good. My crit group told me it would be sure to sell. So I sent 120 queries. I entered contests, and even won four of them, but STILL the rejections poured in.

I belong to a local writers group and had volunteered to be their treasurer that year. We had an editor coming to town to speak, and since my office was close to the airport, I offered to pick her up.  Friday afternoon traffic in Southern California is brutal, but that day, a tanker spill meant that poor woman had to sit a massive traffic jam with an aspiring author for two and a half hours! She eventually asked me what I wrote, so I pitched my story. When she asked me to send her a partial, I reached in the back seat and handed it to her (I had a goal, not pride!) She was a bit taken aback, but promised to read it on the plane on the way home.

She was good as her word. She called me Monday and said, “The first thing we need to do is get you an agent.” Yeah, like I hadn’t thought of that. She introduced me to my perfect agent, Nalini Akolekar, of Spencerhill Associates.Within nine months, she’d sold a three book series to Grand Central, and nine months later, she sold that very first book – my biker chick’ book -- to Harlequin’s Superromance line.  This month, I’ll have two more books released, have had 7 under contract, and I was lucky enough to DOUBLE final in the RITA® contest this year (for those who don’t know, the RITA is the Oscar of the romance industry).

The time from that dog incident to today? 15 years.

I don’t have a muse. Don’t believe in them. If I did have one, she’d be a saggy old broad, smoking a cigarette and giving me the finger. Much like the person pictured below.

I get up to write at 3 am. Every day. I used to do it to get two hours of writing in before work. Since I retired, I do it because that’s my routine.
But guess what? It’s not about the time of day. It’s not about the ambiance of your writing space. It isn’t even about butt in the chair.
It’s about wanting something. It’s just as hard and simple as that.
I’m not going to blow smoke up your skirt and tell you that I didn’t get discouraged. I did. Many times. But when I got down, I reminded myself why I began this journey – and it wasn’t for the RITA, or even for the book in my hand. It was the writing that I loved first. So dive into the writing – wallow in it. It will sustain you when the path gets rocky.
The below I’ve adopted as my mantra:
 “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
Don’t let walls stop you.

Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women's Fiction and Romance.
She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot (May 2013), Nothing Sweeter (Jan 2014) and Sweet on You (August 2014). The Sweet Spot has recently been named a Romance Writers of America®   RITA® Finalist in both the Contemporary and Best First Book categories.
 Her 'biker-chick' novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin's Superromance line (August, 2013) and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town. The Reasons to Stay will release August, 2014.

This year Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She's a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours