Sunday, July 27, 2014

That Post-Conference Pay-Off

You came. You saw. You conquered . . . almost.

For writers, conferences like International Thriller Writers' Thrillerfest, Romance Writers of America's National Conference, and Killer Nashville are golden opportunities to learn, connect, and have fun. But just like gold, conferences can be costly. Between travel, hotel, plenty of meals, the cost of conference registration, maybe a new outfit or two, and--let's face it--all the awesome books you'll buy in addition to the ones you'll be given, a writer can spend a pretty penny. So how can a writer be sure to get her money's worth? She needs to focus on the post-conference pay-off.

Without focusing on the post-conference pay-off, a writer is only making a partial return on her hefty investment. But that doesn't have to happen to you. Here are my top tips for making the most of your conference experience after you come home.

Step one: Put those business cards you collected to work for you. After the event and while some names and faces are still fresh in your mind, jot a few notes to yourself about the people who gave you those cards. What did you talk about? Did you like the same books? Did you write in the same genre? Send a few of those folks an email letting them know how much you enjoyed discussing common interests or wishing them good luck with their queries. Sure, it can be daunting to email someone you just met, but you're investing in others and there's never anything wrong with that. Down the road, you might find you've developed a real friendship or a helpful professional contact. That person might faithfully buy all your books one day--or become famous and blurb them.

Step two: Put a technique to work for you. If you sat-in on a great seminar about plotting or a panel about breaking through to a larger readership, study your notes once you're home and set aside time to give this new technique a try. Change can be hard, but by tackling one technique, perhaps over a weekend, you're ensuring the money you spent to hear about that idea was well spent. This is an investment in your skill set. And any investment in you will pay-off after the long haul.
Step three: Put it all in perspective and let a fresh mindset work for you. By the time you leave the conference and walk through your own front door, chances are you'll be beyond exhausted. But then, it's back to the day job, the laundry, and life. From that perspective, it may look like you slid backwards instead of gaining ground at the conference. So print off a few photos and put them in your work space to remind you of the fun you had at that publisher's party or out to eat with your pals. And in the coming week, eliminate one chore so you can catch a little time on the couch or chase some more shut-eye. If you say it's all right to skip mowing the yard, odds are it really is all right. So let yourself relax and recover. Remember, we don't have to do it all. And we don't have to do it all right now. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. And going to a conference can be as high a priority as doing the dishes. So invest in your mindset. It's worth everything.

Now, there you have my top tips for the post-conference pay-off. What do you do after you get home to make the most of a conference?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stitching and Starching My Way Through Story

In the last few weeks, mom has been sorting through her linens, opening up blanket chests, linen closets, under-the-bed storage thingies. Out come the linen table clothes and napkins, the hand embroidered or tatted or pulled-thread finger tip towels, the crocheted throws in some of the most hideous shades of vomit, dad's layette set - all in pink because for whatever reason, my grandmother Gwen loved dad in pink (which in honesty with his dark hair, pail skin and blue eyes, he did look good in pink - or muted red as he preferred to call it), Victorian children's clothing, a cotton and lace underskirt from the turn of the last century which mom promised would look wonderful under a long skirt (...). And it goes on, with representation from both sides of the family. I felt like a Betty Neels heroine counting the linens. Mom has kept a few pieces, but mostly my siblings and I took what we wanted. Because you can never have too many linen table clothes or napkins. And my powder room just screams finger-tip towels.

When I was in high school, I was introduced to the idea that all of history, all the past, everyone's past, gave rise... to me. I could draw on anything and everything for my writing and my creativity. I simply had to own it. The other idea was finding my place to be - which I think was from a poem/short story about the bull in the ring, pitted against the matador, finding his place to finally die. I know, that is one of the random bits I learned in English and creative writing under the mustachioed gaze of Dr. Martin Galvin. (Another was putting in a detail about a character - like he always sat with both feet flat on the floor - to add authenticity. But that is getting off track.)

Some people feel that sense of past when they walk into an old church or cathedral. Others, it comes from walking down a street in Europe or Jerusalem, feeling the footsteps of those who walked before. For me, it comes from handling these old objects, sometimes accompanied with notes. I imagine how proud Grandmother would have been, how carefully she ironed each towel or clothe.  I imagine the frugality of a wise housewife, sewing a small flower applique over a cigarette hole in a tablecloth.

In Kathleen Gilles Seidel's book, Please Remember This, heroine Tess Lanier opened a shop selling vintage linens. That character always rang true with me, because I understood the quiet love for women's handiwork. She wasn't a "big" heroine, who at a relatively young age ran a national chain of stores, or even the type of heroine that everyone wanted to shag. She opened a small store in a small town where she was a stranger and her mother had achieved notoriety. The book was about the relationships of mothers and daughters, and isn't that what linens are all about?

Sure, sure, my brother took one of our great-grandmother's bed spreads because he totally respects the hours of work that went into it. But by and large, these items, particular the very old pieces, were no doubt part of a dower chest, like the one my grandfather made for his bride, with the sheets and pillow cases the young girl started making for her home.  This sense of future, of running her own home and raising her own children, is woven tightly into the pillow cases and dresser scarves. They are haunted, in a sense, by the hands that made them, the hands that used them and the hands that carefully folded them away in tissue paper. 

When I create a character, and write that his foot is always tapping, jiggling, twitching, somewhere in him is a matriarchy that at some point carefully folded away tea-towels. Maybe they were poor, maybe they were unbelievably wealthy, maybe they hated every moment holding the needle. But they were there. I may never, ever mention his feminine antecedents in the whole of the book, but his history is still comprised of them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why "101 Dalmations" is the Perfect Story

One of my favorite books as a young child was the Little Golden Book of “101 Dalmatians.”  It has everything that I love as a story.  The plot is genius.  And there is nothing in it that shouldn’t be there—no extra fat to the story to distract from driving the plot forward.

First, it has a romance.  Pongo and Perdita (the Dalmatian couple), Roger and Anita (the human couple), fall in love.  They “meet cute” in the park, each walking their dog.  Pongo and Perdita decide to help everyone out by getting their leashes hopelessly tangled around their “human pets” and facilitate a meeting that ends in everyone living happily ever after.  Or, so they thought.   But, the author has other ideas.
From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."
From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."
Second, the stakes are high.  Pongo and Perdita have pups.  They are kidnapped by an evil friend of Anita’s and hidden in the country to be skinned for a coat.  This is life or death drama.  If Pongo and Perdita don’t rescue their children, they will die.  The stakes don’t get much higher than that.  The odds seem stacked against the two city dogs as they follow the barking chain (information passed from dog to dog within hearing distance) that leads them to unfamiliar territory to their pups who they must save from one of the creepiest villains ever created.

From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."
This leads me to my third point.  The story has a great villain.  Cruella DeVille.  Even her name is terrifying.  With shocking half and half hair, jagged cheekbones, arrowhead jaw, sunken eyes and skeletal frame draped with fancy clothes, her looks scream “evil” before you understand her intent.  She is a “friend” of Anita’s who spots the pups while visiting and wants to buy all of them for their coats.  Both couples are horrified and send our villain packing.  Cruella, who is unaccustomed to hearing the word “no,” hires two criminals to kidnap the pups. 

From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."
Fourth, the goal of the story is clear and overarching to the story.  Find and save the pups from certain death.  One clear goal drives the story to the finish line, through many twists and turns, obstacles, near misses and the heart stopping ending when the pups are saved and Roger and Anita are reunited with all of them.
From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."

Last, it has a satisfying ending.  Cruella knew that it would take many pups to make a coat worthy of her.  She stole other Dalmatian pups from all over England, keeping them in one place to be slaughtered together when she had enough to make her coat.  Pongo and Perdita rescue all of them rather than leaving the orphans to a certain death.  Roger and Anita realize that their small flat can’t accommodate all of them so they decided to move into the country.  At the end, the reader gets the payoff of a happy ending and learns the meaning of the title.  Ninety-nine pups plus two adult dogs equals 101 Dalmatians. 
From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."

Great children’s stories illustrate that a plot doesn’t have to be labyrinthine to be good.  By possessing these elements, a classic story was created.  Each of these points, when fleshed out in the story, are all that are necessary to keep the reader’s interest and drive the story forward.  As an older child, I read the original story by Dodie Smith, “The One Hundred and One Dalmatians” that the Disney movie was created from.  I recommend it to anyone.

I’ll paraphrase the last line from my first version: “Pongo and Perdita, Roger and Anita, all live happily ever after on a Dalmatian Plantation.”

Girly sigh…

What are some of your all time favorite stories from childhood?  What makes them that way?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sitting in Cars With Girls

My granddaughter is spending six weeks in the area. A miraculous turn of events that has proven to be even more of a gift than I'd expected.

There was a movie a long while back called "Riding in Cars With Boys." I don't remember anything about the movie, but when I realized it was my turn to blog for the R8, the first thing that came to mind was an evening I spent with my granddaughter a week ago.

I know, it looks like the car was moving, but fear not. The car was off and we were in the parking lot waiting for someone to run a quick errand, and the wind was blowing. What does this have to do with writing? Only thisI realized, sitting in that car with that girljust how different she is from me.

That's right, she was hanging out the window shouting at the top of her lungs: "Hell-O PEOPLE! Hey! Hi! Hi BOY!"

Never. Ever. Not in this life or the next would you catch her grandmother doing anything like this, or anything even remotely similar.

I have no idea where this little extrovert came from, but it looks like she's having fun, doesn't it?

That's because, um, she IS. LOL. She didn't care if THE PEOPLE hollered back. But some of them did. And almost all of them waved.

Meanwhile, her grandmother has trouble just updating her author page on Facebook...

I never know what to saybecause every time I do it, it feels like I'm shouting: Hell-O PEOPLE! Hey! Hi! Look at ME!

Of course, it doesn't feel like I'm being shouted at when an author pops up in my Facebook feed.* And when one does, I react the way the people in that parking lot did. Sometimes I ignore it. Sometimes I wave back (hit the like button). And sometimes I leave a comment.

So why does it feel like I'm shouting when I update my page? I don't have the answer for that yet. But my mentor (see darling child above) is working on convincing me that if I try doing it more often, it will feel less shouty.

I'll let you know how that works out.

Meanwhile, here's a little shoutout for the brand new hardcopy version of the anthology that includes my novella, The Psychic Detective.

One day soonI PROMISE, Emelle GambleI'll link to it on my Facebook page.

In the meantime, I'll be Sitting in Cars (and elsewhere, sometimes called a splash park) With A Girl...

I hope you all are having a wonderful shouty summer! And if you take the time to shout back, by leaving a comment on this post, you'll have a chance at winning a paperback copy of the Once and Forever anthology.


*Well, all right, sometimes it DOES feel like authors are shouting at me. But I ignore them and if they don't go away, I hide them. Usually they go away on their own. Your mileage may vary.