Category Archives: Writer’s Life

On Self-Doubt and Goldfish

Goldfish in fishbowlI’m finishing up a draft this week, a particularly rough book for me. (I know I say that all the time). I was about 1/3 of the way through my manuscript and completely on schedule when tragedy struck our family. I ended up spending 3 weeks out of town with no opportunity or desire to write. When I finally returned home, there was another week of getting back into the household routine. My kids had missed a full week of school. Their load of makeup work wasn’t pretty.

By the time I was able to get back to my book, nearly a month had passed since I’d last worked on it. Who were these characters and what on earth were they doing? I struggled for the next couple of weeks, my deadline looming on the calendar.  Frankly, I didn’t care much about the story, the characters, or the plot. The whole family was still grieving and  struggling to catch up. Teachers were the usual mix of helpful and horrible. Stress was spelled with a capital S.

So, what did I do?

Friends suggested I ask for an extension, but the very thought of missing a deadline gave me a case of hives. I still had some time. I was just going to have to hustle. But every day, my lack of progress dug me deeper and deeper into a hole. I was beginning to think I would have to call my editor after all, despite the fact that contemplating it made me hyperventilate.  My editor is a sweet, sweet person. She was aware of the situation and would have understood. But time  wasn’t the entire point or the heart of the problem.

I was Austin Powers. I’d lost my Mojo.

My answer? I wrote.  Every day. A net gain of 2,000 words at minimum. No excuses. No matter how much I wanted to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head, I dragged my sorry ass into my office each morning. The first week I was up until midnight nearly every night. But I refused to leave my desk unless I had made my progress. 2,000 words a day shouldn’t be that hard. But when you aren’t in tune with your story or characters, it sure seems like a lot. I was doing a lot of deleting, some days logging over like 4,000 words or more just to keep my minimum net daily gain. The first thing I’d do when I opened my document was delete half the crap I wrote the day before. I couldn’t keep the plot lines and character arcs in my head from day to day. I was a goldfish in a bowl, swimming all day and not going anywhere. I sucked.

But another 2 weeks went by and I was deleting less and adding more. I started keeping a list of notes. I added two additional subplots that hadn’t been in my plan. Then one day I woke up excited to write. YEAH!!!!

Hello, Mojo! Where have you been?

I’m not quite finished yet. I have maybe 10,000 words to go to finish my first draft. Does it still need work? Yes. Do parts of the book still suck. Yes again. Am  I super-enthusiastic to work on it every morning? Not really. But as long as I finish this freaking draft, I can fix it. It’s not like I chiseled the words into a slab of granite. All I have to do is type over them. It’s not that hard. Why couldn’t I look at it this way a month ago?

So, when self-doubt strikes, I recommend planting your butt in the chair and write if you have to duct tape your ass to the seat.  Yes, the goldfish feeling sucks, but I haven’t found a shortcut to getting back into the groove. Has anyone else?

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Finding Your Writing Voice

I began my writing journey over ten years ago and from the get go I submersed myself in learning and refining my craft. Even then, I heard talk about ‘finding your writing voice,’ but didn’t pay it much attention. I mean, I was too busy trying to learn how to write a book : )  I read every romance and women’s fiction that I could get my hands on, and joined a critique group.

Then I started to attend conferences and saying I was overwhelmed, well that’s putting it mildly. A few years passed, and I found workshops no longer exhausted and overwhelmed me. Instead, I actually began taking away information that I could apply to my own writing projects. I thought, hey, my book is good, but it can be so much better, so I used what I learned. I entered contests and received some great feedback. I pitched to editors and although they rejected my projects, I often received nice, detailed letters encouraging me to revise and resubmit.

On some of the revision letters I was told to take my writing to the next level—the story flows, now add some personality and give the book flavor. Now, some writer’s sell their very first book, or even their second. Some go on to win awards and become NYTimes bestsellers right off the bat. I’m not one of those writers. Everything I’ve ever wanted I’ve had to work hard for. Ahhh, but that’s another blog for another day : )

Anyway,  I wondered about what the editors had said, what it meant to take my writing to the next level, so I talked to as many published writers as I could and they all told me the same thing. Relax and trust in your skills, it will happen. But I was still frustrated. It doesn’t help that I’m the kind of person who hates to wait. What did they mean, relax? I kept thinking, when will it happen? Where is this voice I’m supposed to have and why is it so hard to find?  Not until I pushed the thought from my mind–when I said enough of this frustration and trying to find something I don’t know how to find, did I truly relax. And what do you know…

I had my ‘aha’ moment a few weeks later when I was reading a chapter I’d written out loud to myself. I liked what I was hearing and somehow it seemed different than my other books. My dialogue was more conversational–my characters witty and real. I caught myself laughing at these people I’d written–what they were doing, and why.

I added my personality, made my characters endearing, quirky and appealing, and it was then, not until I was well into my fourth book, that my writing voice took form. I found that by giving my characters the opportunity to become real people reader’s want to relate to, my writing voice flowed freely.

It’s funny, I’ve heard that when you read your book, the emotions you feel are the emotions the reader will feel, but somehow I didn’t get it until it happened to me. Right there in the quiet of my own little office on a day I will never forget, I found the voice that had probably been there all alone. I just didn’t know how to coax it to come on out and play : )

Best,

Cathy Tully

Make It Work!

581865_4881958959508_1434331787_nWhen teaching his students, Sensei Advincula can be heard saying, “Make it work.” This means that sometimes an individual needs to adjust a basic, effective principle or concept in order to make it work for them. This could be as simple as blocking and countering with groin strike rather than a strike to the throat if you are much shorter than your attacker. Why would I reach up when my target of opportunity (the groin) is closer?

Adjusting, adapting, and overcoming doesn’t only apply to martial arts, it applies to life. And writing…

Each year Scott and I send for Sensei Advincula to come stay with us for a weekend of martial arts training. During one of our sessions this year, Sensei taught us knife-fighting techniques with the Flesheater, the combat knife he designed.

Something during our training session (Perhaps the mention of reaming?) sparked a question about a technique I used in my book, CAPTIVE. When I asked Sensei about it, I learned I goofed up my sword fight choreography. That night, over a cup of tea at the kitchen table, I read the scene to him and learned something important about Claymores.

A Claymore is a long sword with a heavy, straight blade that was used in Scotland, especially in the Highlands, during the 15th – 17th centuries. The word Claymore was derived from a Celtic word meaning great sword. Its average length was 55 inches. Because of its weight (5 – 8 pounds), it had a long hilt for a two-handed grip. I’d learned all this from my research. However, I had imagined the hands were positioned one on top of the other like you’d hold a baseball bat. Sensei explained this wasn’t the case. The hands are positioned further apart to give leverage to hold and maneuver the weapon.

Hand position makes a difference when writing about how the weapon is used.

Sensei explained Claymores were wielded mainly against multiple opponents with sweeping and slashing movements. The weight could penetrate through armor. It was not typically used for thrusting or piercing or fighting one-on-one.

Fortunately, my futuristic gladiators used sweeping and slashing techniques to try and kill each other. Unfortunately, they were fighting one-on-one and also used thrusts.

Okay. No big deal. I’ll just adapt and change their weapons to broadswords instead. The art on my book cover already displays a sword with a smaller hilt. (Side note: I think the art department cut the length of the Claymore’s handle in order to downplay the Historical feel to the cover. See version 1 and 2 below.)

1st draft

1st draft

Final cover

Final cover

After Sensei left, I researched some more and got myself confused with all the conflicting information I read. It appears to me that broadswords don’t have quatrefoils (the four circles on a Claymore’s cross guard) like you see on CAPTIVE’s cover. And that broadswords have basket hilts. Yikes! I don’t want to ask my editor if the art department can redo my cover because I goofed up. Who wants to be known as that author? I also don’t want to keep a mistake in the book. Now what?

MAKE IT WORK!

I decided to make up my own name for the sword so it can look like what’s already on the cover and do damn well what I want. After all, I’m writing fiction. If I want my gladiator’s weapon to be a long, one-handed sword with a Claymore inspired design, than so be it. 🙂

Now I just need to come up with a name. I thought about Gladmor or Gladimor. It’s a shortened form of the Latin words gladius mortis, which (according to Google translate) means Sword of Death. I like that it kind of still sounds like Claymore. But my husband thought it sounded too happy.

Then I thought about one of the moves in our kata and suggested Dragon Tongue.

What do you think? Do you like Gladmor, Gladimor, or Dragon tongue? Or do you have a better name for this sword? I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

~K.M. Fawcett

A Life Without Bookstores?

The mere title of today’s blog sends me into cold sweats because I am a lover of books. I shudder to think what a life without bookstores would be like. A few words that instantly come to mind are: cold, sad and depressing.

We didn’t have a lot of money when I was young, so I didn’t venture into a bookstore until I got my first job in Manhattan. Entering that store was an out of body experience for me. I spent more lunch hours than I care to admit, surrounded by books, rather than living breathing co-workers.

As a writer, it’s important to keep up with your genre, and the quantity of new releases can add up quickly, so, I broke down and bought a kindle last year. I find it extremely helpful especially when traveling, instead of packing five or six books, I can pack more clothes.

Here we are a few year’s later after the battle of the big bookstores, and I can’t help but find it ironic that after putting all the small bookstore’s out of business, these large conglomerates have also put each other out of business, leaving us with one bookstore chain.

One.  And I can’t help wonder how did this happen?

I talk to a lot of people who don’t buy ebooks. They want a print version. Not everyone owns a computer, and not everyone orders books on-line. So I think its always going to be important to supply readers with what they want. To do this, I have a hard time thinking that Amazon will be enough.

And one bookstore chain? Nope. I don’t think so.

Last week, a very good source told me that B&N closes twenty bookstores a year in the U.S. alone. Well, call me an optimist, but I think it’s time for the re-birth of the small bookstore. It’s time to get back in the game, boys. Whether they offer a little bit of everything, or specialize in certain genres: Children’s books, Romance, Mystery, Thrillers, Suspense, etc., I think people would welcome them back with open arms.

What do you think? Do you miss your local hometown bookstore? I know I do.

Best,

Cathy Tully

Collaboration. Is It For You?

If someone asked me five years ago whether I’d ever consider co-writing a book/short story with another author I’d probably have said no, because being the insecure writer I was, I didn’t think I had the skill set necessary for a collaboration. At the time, I viewed writing as a solitary endeavor. A mind bending, hair pulling, harder than heck task writer’s prefer to experience alone.

But over the past few years, I’ve attended conferences and listened to writers talk about collaborating together like Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. And I thought, well, yeah, she’s Jen Crusie, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to write with her? Thank goodness with time, most of us change, grow, and open our minds to opportunities that we would once have dismissed.

The end result: my critique partner, and I are co-writing a novella we hope to sell sometime this year. It’s an urban fantasy, a genre, I’ve never read or given much thought to before this project. After all, I  write romance, sweet and contemporary, and urban fantasy is on the other side of the football field in writing, but after discussing it, we decided to give this co-writing thing a whirl.

Of course, we started with an outline, which we changed, revised, and changed some more, until we were both happy with the end result.  Mixing my partner’s strong editing abilities and use of emotion with my inane ability to throw down a humorous scene with sensitive characters has been a blast, and I think I can speak for both of us when I say we are having the time of our lives.

The characters in this novella are a bit eccentric, but that’s what makes this project so much fun. I’m finding that exploring a new genre is also affecting my other writing projects in that I return to them excited. This excitement increases my productivity and imagination. Although I’ve always been one of those writer’s who can work on two projects at one time, I didn’t find bouncing in and out of those books a complete brain reset like I do when switching genres.

And here’s the best part. I don’t need mental health days as often as I used to when my muse decides to go MIA.  Light bulb moment. . .maybe I’ve confused my muse. Maybe I’ve taken away her ability to rationalize, become frustrated and abandon me because jumping in and out of genre’s keeps her on her toes?

Or maybe, and more importantly, I’ve supplied her with the diversity that fuels her inner writer. Hey, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, either way, this genre jumping is working for me and I’m grateful for that.

Have you ever thought about co-writing with someone?  Are you currently working on a project with another author and how is that going for both of you?

Best,

Cathy Tully

Pitch Writing: An Important Career Skill

???????I’m doing a pitch workshop at the Liberty States Fiction Writers Create Something Magical conference next month.  Nothing makes a conference goer sweat like the prospect of pitching her book. But the process isn’t something to fear. A 10 minute speed date with an agent or editor is hardly a bear sniffing your camping tent.  You’ll be fine, and the whole pitch process is a good exercise for your future career.

I haven’t pitched to an editor or agent in a few years, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t written pitches. If you think you’re done with pitching once you’ve snagged an agent or editor, think again.  Authors have to write pitches, too, except now they’re called proposals or short blurbs. Every time a new contract comes up, my editor doesn’t say, “If you send us books, we will pay you money.” No, she needs a proposal to take to her acquisitions meeting. Guess what the first sentence of  my proposal is?  A pitch.

Pitch writing doesn’t stop after a book is acquired either.  After the book is finished, cover and promotional copy has to be written.  Promo copy is pitches of different lengths, this time aimed at potential readers/buyers.

There might be slight differences in the wording or focus of the pitch depending upon the intended audience. But just like an action scene, a pitch has to grab the attention of the editor, agent, or in the case of promo copy, potential buyer.

The reader of the pitch must be hooked. In one or two sentences, you have to make them want to acquire/read your book.

I have one more use for a good pitch.  I like to pin my proposal to the bottom of my storyboard while I’m writing the book. During the actual plotting and writing process, rereading that initial pitch helps me stay focused on the core of the story.

Now that I’ve expounded on the importance of being able to pull the hook for your book from the rubble of a manuscript, I’m looking for some successful pitches from well-known movies or books to use in my workshop.  I have a few, but in my opinion, nothing explains a good pitch better than fabulous examples, and what makes that light bulb shine for one person might not work for another.

Does anyone have a killer pitch for a well-known book or movie?

The Misplaced Muse. . .

Funny thing about being a writer; some days I can sit down and write non-stop for hours. Other days, however, like yesterday, not so much. I sat down to write this blog and stared at the computer screen for far too long. I almost yelled out, “Muse where the heck are you? but since this was far from the first time this has happened to me I knew it would be a complete waste of energy.

I take comfort in the fact that there are dozens, probably hundreds of writers also experiencing a misplaced muse and I move on.  The first thing I do is get as far away from my computer as humanly possible. No email, no facebook, no blog…

I resolve that today will be a day I use to clear my head. Since I live in the Northeast and it is bone chillingly cold, venturing out won’t happen. I mean, it could, but it won’t.  I’m not a big fan of the frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing.

There are tons of options to choose from for this day I’ve given myself: I could curl up with a book on the couch in front of the fire, I could set a pot of soup to cook on the stove and fill the house with that wonderful aroma of home cooked love, or I could work on a cross-stitch project I’ve been meaning to finish. All of these tasks sound wonderful, and I could  do any one of them. . .only I don’t.

You see, I have this problem. I am a perpetual neat freak, and admit my issue openly and honestly. At this point in my house, if any family members are home, they make sure to get out of my way, because I come through the place like a banshee. I rip apart a closet I’ve been wanting to get to, I run the laundry and the sheets and all the towels, I clean out the fridge, the stove, and anything else that isn’t bolted down, and I keep on cleaning until my hands actually hurt.

My husband once asked, “why are you punishing yourself?” and I laughed at him because he didn’t get it.  I’m not the kind of mom/wife that can write when I know there’s stuff that needs to get done; i.e., household chores, etc. And since he’s never scrubbed a floor, or cleaned a toilet, he won’t understand the rush I feel when I’m done, cleaning, scrubbing, washing, and it sets me free. Yup. You read that right. I get into cleaning.

My mind is clearer than it’s been in weeks. I step back and look at the finished projects with a deep contented feeling and then after a hot soak in the tub, I pass out and go into the deepest sleep I’ve experienced in months.

The most wonderful part of this process is that the next day I wake refreshed, renewed, and invigorated. I no longer dread my computer and usually wind up putting in a full day at the keyboard.

What do you do when your muse is on vacation? Do you physically throw yourself into a task? Do you relax and play it by ear? Do you turn on some music and exercise? Do you clean like a banshee? What do you do to clear your head and reboot your muse? I’d like to know because sooner or later, I’m going to run out of “stuff” to clean : )

Best,

Cathy Tully

Judging A Book By Its Cover

I’ve always thought a good cover helps sell a book, but recent events, have turned me into a believer. One day last week, I ran into a local beauty supply store I’d heard good things about, but had never visited. The owner stood behind the counter animatedly chatting with two women about the antics of her new kitten. As I took my merchandise to the check-out, the owner mentioned how her cat is so much happier now that she has a companion.  I nodded in agreement, because I’ve lived this, only with dogs, and know the truth in this statement.

The women’s smile widened in appreciation of my acknowledgement. As she rang up my sale, we spoke in more detail about her cats. The subject soon focused on my pets. I told her I didn’t have any pets right now, and that we’d lost our dog to illness a little over a year ago. All the women grew quiet. One blotted her eyes; another patted my arm and my heart instantly warmed. I love animal lovers. They are honest, sensitive people, and I adore being around them.

After paying for my merchandise, I mentioned my book that featured my dog. I pulled out a copy from the bag I bring along when I run errands. They asked me questions about the cover, and pointed to the coffee cup, the steam in the shape of a heart, the young couple gazing into each others eyes, and the little dog sitting proudly in the corner. These women commented on how much they loved the cover and how inviting they thought it was as we talked about how all of the elements on the cover related directly to the story.

Wow. That was an enlightening experience for me. I’d always thought a cover was important, but this interaction with complete strangers proved to me just how important a good cover design can be.

I sold five books that afternoon, and am so grateful for publishing companies like Astraea Press and The Wild Rose Press, who encourage their authors to communicate in great detail with their cover designers, allowing us to work hand in hand to create a beautiful finished product.

Before this experience, I’d never even thought to ask potential publishers how much input an author would have in their cover design. Instead I got lucky. I sold to two publishers that do believe an author’s input is invaluable and since there’s no guarantee to my luck holding out, I can assure you, how much author input goes into a cover design will be the first question I ask any potential publisher in the future.

Best,

Cathy Tully

Indie Publishing–Is It For You?

Following the blogs of quite a few indie published authors has become a recent hobby of mine. A few of my favorites are: D.D. Scott, Theresa Ragan and Jen Talty. Their stories are enthralling, their enthusiasm is contagious, and their willingness to share their knowledge openly with other writer’s is inspiring.

They’ve also helped me sit back and review my own writing life, something I kept telling myself I’d find time for, and finally did. This hurry up to wait lifestyle called publishing has me more than perplexed. It’s frustrating trying write a book that will fit a certain house; it feels like I’m trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

It’s a true waste of energy, and I can’t help think spending the time writing my next book, the book I want to write, is more productive than worrying about whether my story will fit the specifications of a particular house.

Every hour, every day, every week, every month that I wait to hear whether a book sold,  is time I could have spent having another book edited professionally, the cover designed to my specifications, and uploaded to Amazon when I choose.  So this year, I’m going to dip my toes into the indie publishing pool and feel the water : )

Here’s what I’d like to know: Do you indie publish?  How long have you been doing so, and what are some experiences, positive and negative, that you’d like to share?

Best,

Cathy Tully

Never Assume.

When I published my first book, a children’s non-fiction, titled, NEBRASKA, eight  years ago, I was tossed into the ‘deadline’ world clueless of the work involved and the time entailed. Needless to say, my family was less than happy, and I was tired, stressed, and instead of being excited when I handed the book in, I felt more like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders.

Instantly I questioned, what the heck was I doing? After all, I worked hard to write and sell that book. and I deserved to see it through to completion. I should have been fulfilled, excited and elated when I finished. So, I knew to maintain my sanity, I ‘d have to make some changes in my life if I wanted to be a successful, published author, and I had to make them fast.

I think it’s important to note that my husband and daughter’s are my biggest cheerleaders, my website designers, my promo gurus, if you will.  They are proud of what I do and often brag until they’re blue. . . but they’re also human. And being human, they were used to my being at their beck and call without my writing getting in the way, so in a sense, their negative reactions to my deadline schedule were my own fault, simply because I hadn’t prepared them.

So, I sat them down and explained how important meeting a deadline was and how I much I needed their help. Once I put it that way, they smiled and said they wanted me to succeed and they hadn’t understood how important my deadline or my daily writing schedule was to me. After all, I usually wrote while they were in school and stopped when they got home. This change in my schedule, and theirs,  had pulled the rug out from under them. They promised to pitch in around the house so I’d have more time to write.

Hence, my daughter’s began doing the laundry, keeping their rooms neat, and cleaning the bathroom they shared. My husband began dropping off his own dry cleaning and running the vacuum through the entire house once a week. As my girl’s have grown,  they’ve taken on more chores, and I am beyond grateful for all their help. To a layman this may not sound like much, but to those stay at home mom’s out there doing their best to keep all the balls happily in the air, you know any help is good help.

And, no, these changes didn’t happen overnight, but the point is they did happen. And please don’t tell me talking to your kids  won’t work for you because you have sons, because, let me tell you, I have a friend with three boys and they do a better job of cleaning than some women I know : )

As my daughters mature, so does their understanding of what it is I do. They share in my happiness when a sale occurs, and feel the sting when I receive another rejection.  In my heart I believe their increased support and pitching in all took place because I sat them down and gently, yet firmly, told them years ago that ‘this is the way it has to be’.

Children never cease to surprise me. They adapt fast; they can bend to new situations when they’re asked to, and they come out shining and proud of what they’ve done in the end.

The important thing to remember is, a child won’t change merely because he/she can: you, my friend, must first ask them to.

Best,

Cathy Tully