May 31st, 2017

Enhancing Your Story Through Macro & Micro Setting Descriptions

Tasha Seegmiller

At a recent conference, I attended a class taught by Ally Condie where she went over the nuances of setting in story. As someone who strives to make my settings rich, and even feel like another character, it was something I was very interested in. While there were many concepts that she discussed that were valuable and should be integrated, the two that I have been thinking about for the longest are micro and macro settings.

When we are in the process of developing characters, we often weave in information about the big (jobs, family life, hobbies, appearances) and the small (likes, dislikes, moments of vulnerability, doubt, joy, satisfaction). By doing so, we are able to hone a deeper understanding of the characters and convey that depth to readers.

Dedicating the same amount of attention to setting can add another layer to the story and it doesn’t have to be done with pages of purple prose.

Macro:

This is the way that you get the reader settled in the world of the story. The attention needs to be focused on both the familiar and the unique. This needs to be done soon in the story in order to allow people who have never been there to become acquainted enough that transitions through the story DO NOT pull them from the plot to get settled again. If you are dealing with a real-world place, it also needs to have a few elements that allow those who have been there to identify with the setting correctly: humidity, sounds, travel methods, famous markers, etc. are all essential to success.

These are three books (by WITS contributors) who nail the macro setting. I have never been to any of the settings selected for these books, but within pages, I was immersed in the setting in a way that made it feel familiar. Even though I was reading in my home in southern Utah, I could get a sense of the horses in The Distance Home, longed for the southern atmosphere present in The River Witch, could feel the familiarity and isolation of a small town in The Far End of Happy.

Orly Konig Kimberly Brock Kathryn Craft

Micro:

This is where you make the setting personal to the character(s). This is your opportunity as a writer to really pull the reader into the world you have created. By utilizing quality micro descriptions in the storytelling, you can begin to evoke an emotional connection between the character, setting and reader. Whether it be the smell of horses that welcomes someone to an unexpected home, the songs of the river, the people, and memories that solidify the need to heal, or an old house with so much potential that mirrors the relationship and lives now in peril, dropping in little bits of detail will enhance the readers ability to relate to the character.

How to Create Macro and Micro Settings:

There is a great temptation when it comes to any kind of description so simply tell what it looks like, but that would be seriously handicapping the potential of the setting to feel real. In order to accomplish this appropriately, we, as writers, need to really pay attention to the way that we, and people around us, engage with their setting. Orly Konig has written about how to write with all your senses, and that’s a great place for us to start.

Consider the place in your hometown where you can go to see people who you know – is it a bar? a restaurant? a local activity? While there, what would you see and feel? Is the weather warm? Humid? Just breezy enough to need a jacket?

Now consider someone, like me, who may have never been there. If you like this place, how would you convey the sense of pride that comes with it? How would you let me know about the things that can sometimes make this place less than desirable? What tips and tricks would you share about negotiating the setting, the people, who to watch for, who to avoid? Are there cultural nuances that you love? Hate? Is it different for you because you are a “homegrown product” of the area? How about a newbie?

Through honing our awareness of the grandeur and subtlety of our own setting, we can become better prepared to convey the same in our story, adding a depth to our craft that will enhance the experience for readers even more.

What stories have you read that enveloped you in the setting? What tips do you have for others trying to create that just right atmosphere?

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About Tasha

Tasha Headshot ColorTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as a board member for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

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May 29th, 2017

The Drive to Survive as a Writer

Christina Delay

I recently watched a talk about the drive to survive; how every organism (including us) on the planet has this most basic force driving all decision-making. It is always on the lookout for danger AND always assessing how to meet its most basic needs—food, shelter, procreation, etc.

Applied to our writing, that explains quite a bit.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to observe writers in various situations as the hostess of Cruising Writers. It’s an odd role I play. I’m a writer myself, but on my retreats, I’m less a writer and more an event wrangler. Slipping out of my writer-self and into a different role when I’m in a room full of writers can be a bit disjointing at times. But also, it has been very revealing how we as writers react to different ideas, new people, and unexpected situations.

Survival at a Conference, Critique Meeting, or Writing Retreat

When we walk into a room at a conference, meeting, or a writing retreat, we are instinctually looking for the threat and looking for what or who can fulfill our writing’s basic needs: craft instruction/critique (food), people we know or feel comfortable around (shelter), and who or what will advance our career (procreation).

We want something from each of these people or events. And each of these people or events want something from us.

But we also have a built-in danger alert system. That same instinct, the one that drives us to survive, is also designed to protect us from others taking something from us.

Think about it in context of a critique meeting: You bravely put your work on the table to receive feedback (food for growth), but there is this innate fear of harm. Your drive to survive has activated and though you need the food, there is a danger associated with getting it. So your defenses come up, and even if you are not outwardly defensive with your words, once at home it may take you a while to let those defenses come down so you can truly assess the feedback you’ve received.

And that’s assuming you allow yourself to receive the feedback. Sadly, I’ve encountered authors over the years at conferences and writing groups that have walked away from some truly wonderful, repetitive feedback from editors, agents and other writers, all because the fear of the threat to their writing was greater than their need to be fed. A true tragedy.

How to Overcome the Threat to Receive the Food

It is vital to the survival of our writing that we find a way to overcome the threat of danger to our words in order to receive food, shelter, and eventually the procreation of our books.

It’s going to be hard—that instinct to survive is built into every one of the cells in our bodies. The drive to survive will constantly weigh risk versus reward, and the unknown (new critique partners, new writing associates, new writing experiences) intrinsically comes with a greater risk because we cannot know the reward until after the experience.

However, neither can we sit in our writing cave and watch the world go by. We’ll starve. So venture out we must, and to do so, we must find a way to battle the need to self-protect and become or remain open-minded.

Three Tips to Remain Open-Minded in the Face of Survival

#1 – When you feel that survival instinct pop into place, do your own intellectual evaluation. Will this truly harm me if I venture forward?

Thankfully in the writing world, our physical bodies are very rarely, if ever, in danger. New information received can be discarded at a later date, if needed. But you’ll never know if the new information was worth the risk to receive it if you never show up to the workshop or critique meeting or writing retreat.

#2 – I hesitate to even give you this one, because writers have amazing imaginations, but ask yourself: What’s the worst that could realistically happen?

  • I pitched my book to an agent and she hates it. That sucks. But will it ruin your career or make it so you can never write another word again? Nope.
  • I went to a writing retreat and I hate everyone there and didn’t get any benefit from the material. If you’re actually showing up and making an effort to learn and forge relationships…not likely.
  • I went to a conference and no one will talk to me and I can’t find the bathroom. I get it, I do. But the solution is that you should talk to someone instead of waiting for them to talk to you. And if you can’t find the bathroom, let me know. I have the locations of bathrooms memorized in most places, along with a rating system of the best ones with the shortest lines.

#3 – Practice the skill of open-mindedness. Yes, this is an actual skill that can be learned and must be practiced to have success.

  • Constantly introduce new experiences and change to your life. This will teach your basic need to survive to chill out for a second; not everything is a threat.
  • Admit that you don’t know it all. When you realize that you have room to grow (we all have room to grow), you’ll be more receptive to accepting new ideas.
  • Make mistakes. Maybe you shouldn’t have listened to that critique partner who suggested you turn your main character into a banana. Or you should have ignored that agent who suggested, after you pitched to her for one minute, that you should change your entire manuscript from third-person past tense to first-person present. But the only way we can learn from our mistakes is to first make And to understand that we will make mistakes for the rest of our lives. It’s part of the whole living thing that we do.
  • Listen first, then evaluate, then speak. This is a hard one. It’s much easier to go out with our spears of knowledge in place, defending our unacknowledged lack of knowledge with those spears. But you’ll get so much more out of this life by listening first. Then evaluating what you’ve learned. Then speaking about it from a combination of what you know and what you’ve learned. And so will everyone else around you.

Our drive to survive is something that has been necessary to the growth of our species. However, it can be more of a hindrance than a benefit when it comes to our writing. I challenge each of you to find something new to confront yourselves with this week, and evaluate your initial response. Is your fear of danger greater than your need to grow? If so, practice open-mindedness.

If not, enjoy the thrill that staring down danger brings. This is a great life. Go experience, learn, grow.

Do more than survive.

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About Christina

Christina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. When she’s not cruising the Caribbean, she’s dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or writing the stories of the imaginary people that live in her heart.

Cruising Writers brings aspiring authors together with bestselling authors, an agent, an editor, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor together on writing retreats. Cruise with us to Grand Cayman this September with Lisa Cron (Wired for Story and Story Genius), Angela Ackerman (The Emotion Thesaurus), Michelle Grajkowski (Three Seas Literary), and Deb Werksman (Sourcebooks).

 

 

May 26th, 2017

Sh*t Non-writers Say

 

We’ve all had it happen. You’re at a cocktail party, or a Superbowl party, or a kid’s birthday party – and word gets out that you’re a writer. Then it begins…the inquisition. It’s funny – pro or con, serious or humorous, everyone has questions or opinions about our career. I was an accountant. Trust me. Accountants don’t get the questions we do.

On the Not-so-good Side:

I write romance. This seems to elicit lots of body language: waggling eyebrows, raised noses, and shaky smiles. I’ve been asked/told:

  • Do I write ‘nasty’ stuff? 50 Shades is often cited.
  • How much of my sex scenes is autobiographical? (then they look over at my husband)
  • If I feel the need for a plot.
  • ‘Oh, I don’t read that drivel.’
  • That I jot a few ideas a day, but mostly stare out of the window.
  • Maybe I have a drinking problem.
  • It’s almost a cliche, but I’ve had several people seriously tell me they had a great book idea. I’ll write it, and we’d share 50/50 in the millions in profit. These people know where I live, and that I obviously don’t have millions, even keeping ALL the profits. But, then again, I don’t have their great idea, so…
  • Why do they still think we make a ton of money at this? Seriously. I don’t get it.
  • No, my books haven’t been made into a movie.
  • Not a Lifetime show, either.
  • No, Oprah hasn’t featured one of mine.
  • I haven’t met Stephen King, but when I do, I’ll tell him you’re a fan.
  • How would I know if you’ve heard of my books?
  • Oh, I don’t read. *said with an elitist sniff* Exactly how am I to answer without being insulting? I haven’t figured out a graceful reply – especially while biting my tongue.

On the Good Side:

There are many people who seem fascinated by what we do, and want to understand more. Some even are in awe. Almost all want to know:

  • How/when I started
  • Where I get my ideas
  • The process of how a book is made, how long it takes, etc. They seem startled by the answer.
  • If I have an agent, and how to go about getting one. They seem startled by the answer.
  • How long it takes to write a book.
  • Where DO I get my ideas?
  • When I meet romance readers, and they hear what I write, their faces light up and they get all chatty – I love that.
  • If they’re readers, all I have to do is ask what genre they read, and we’re off and running on a great conversation.

Almost all have an idea for a book, or want to write one (except those who want me to write it). I’m encouraging, always, because you never know who will actually sit down and do it. I doubt that when I began, anyone would give odds on my finishing – least of all, me.

I love it when I run into readers. I’ve had some great conversations with book lovers. There’s an instant connection; we get each other.  I’m one of those people who, when I see someone reading on a plane, in a waiting room, wherever, I’ll ask what they’re reading. These conversations have developed into friendships. Sigh. I <3 readers.

Bottom Line:

Good or bad, if you’re a writer, you’d better get used to the fact that others have strong opinions about your job. I’m fine with all of it – except people who treat me like a rock star when they hear I’m an author. I think that probably says more about me than them, but that, as they say, is another meeting….

What crazy things have people said to you when they discover you’re a writer?

Share the good – and bad!

p.s. Laura just broke her leg in two spots while vacationing in Oregon, so we definitely want to fill the comments with “sh*t that non-writers say” to make her laugh. We’re saying prayers for a quick and pain-free recovery. Get well, Laura!     

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Like Western Romance? Laura gathered some of the big authors of the genre to write an anthology. 5 novellas that all take place during a Texas Heat Wave! Introducing, When Things Got Hot in Texas.

 

Pre-order price, $.99 After the June 5 release, $2.99

So order yours now!

 

May 24th, 2017

You’re Writers, Not Waiters.

Kimberly Brock

A couple of months ago, I completed a draft of a new novel that did not stink so badly that I had to shut my computer down in order to get some fresh air. And when it was complete – after five years of work and revision and personal trauma and starting over – I did what all writers do, if they are as gloriously lucky as I am. I sent it to my long-suffering agent for feedback.

Now, this would seem to be the beginning of the story, right? It calls to mind the opening scene from Romancing the Stone. I should be tearful, joyful, free at last! I might take a shower and put on pants and go have lunch some place in an actual public forum, maybe even make conversation with another human being! I might clean my desk of all the rubble that has gathered over the years and clear my inspiration boards. I could spend days, at my leisure, going through old boxes or files, discovering my next story idea or five or six. I might take a little drive, bake a little, straighten my linen closet, or spruce up my planters out front. It stands to reason that I would even consider a haircut.

I did all of that. All of it. More than once, actually. And yet, as I write this post I have not heard back from my agent. Many moons have passed. Seasons, y’all. And it is normal. I repeat, it is absolutely normal. Anybody who’s not new to this industry knows it takes time to write the book, just as it takes time to publish one. So, if I know this so well, why do I still get night sweats the minute I turn in a project? I mean, besides my enormous ego freaking out that no one will love me anymore? I think it’s because I’m not a waiter.

Are you a waiter? Is anyone really a good waiter? One who waits? I really want to know because it is a skill that I simply have never been willing to fully embrace. I can act like a waiter for about fifteen minutes before I start to twitch. And I don’t mean the Can-I-take-your-order kind of waiter, I mean the kind of person who gracefully accepts the passage of time while he or she anticipates the outcome of his or her whole existential purpose. Because THAT is what it feels like to me when I turn in a writing project. My whole life depends upon the outcome.

Ridiculous. And yet…

This weekend I taught a workshop for the Atlanta Writers Conference and I will tell you a secret: I came up with this workshop because it is packed with all the skills and wisdom that I need to remember to keep in play in my own life in order to survive my own delusional fits of well, delusion. And I found myself saying to this room full of freaked-out writers who had been pitching to agents and editors all weekend, exactly what I needed to hear from someone else.

You are not waiters, you’re writers.

 It’s so simple, but true. Just as we aren’t publishers (well, generally speaking), we shouldn’t be waiters. Our part in things is just this one thing: to write. Not to wait. Not ever to wait. Waiting is a matter of perspective, I realized, and maybe not an actual thing at all. Maybe what waiting really is, is the wasting of time. And our time should be spent doing that one thing: writing. Because really what all the fuss and the night sweats is about is time and the passing of it and the running out of it, before I can write what I want to write. Huh.

So, whatever you do today, don’t wait. Don’t wait. In the end, the time will pass, regardless of what you or anyone else decides to do with it. Paint your toenails if it makes you feel better. Eat two pounds of tangerine jelly beans (I’m not saying this happened). Send egregious emails to almost perfect strangers asking for advice if it helps you sleep. Time doesn’t care. Publishing doesn’t care. They are what they are, and so are you. Remember and you’ll feel better. You’re not a waiter, you’re a writer.

You know what to do.

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About Kimberly

Kimberly Brock is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, THE RIVER WITCH (Bell Bridge Books, 2012). A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly is the recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year 2013 Award. A literary work reminiscent of celebrated southern author Carson McCullers, THE RIVER WITCH has been chosen by two national book clubs.

Kimberly’s writing has appeared in anthologies, blogs and magazines, including Writer Unboxed and Psychology Today. Kimberly served as the Blog Network Coordinator for She Reads, a national online book club from 2012 to 2014, actively spearheading several women’s literacy efforts. She lectures and leads workshops on the inherent power in telling our stories and is founder of  Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop. She is also owner of Kimberly Brock Pilates.

She lives in the foothills of north Atlanta with her husband and three children, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at kimberlybrockbooks.com for more information and to find her blog.

May 22nd, 2017

Publishing: A Decade in Review

Kathryn Craft
Turning Whine Into Gold

The economic crash in 2008 changed how business was conducted in the United States. In book publishing, as the era of the blockbuster gave way to niche marketing, some of the lines previously delineating warring factions grew blurry. This is a good thing for writers who previously spit on one another across such boundaries.

Do you remember how divisive these notions used to be?

1. Commercial vs literary

In 2012, when literary agent Donald Mass published his book Writing 21st Century Fiction, he suggested an upmarket fiction sweet spot in which a well-written, nuanced novel can still achieve the kind of commercial appeal that will keep it sitting on bestseller lists for months. But in a recent essay (The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, 3rd ed., Writer’s Digest Books), one of those bestselling authors—Jodi Picoult—said that despite her desire to remain both literary and commercial, the terms were mutually exclusive. “What makes a writer literary or commercial has far less to do with her writing than it does with marketing.”

The new word: Marketing. There is no qualitative industry standard for commercial/literary distinctions. If you are holding onto old wounds as to whether people think you are a “literary-quality writer” or a “commercial hack,” it’s time to let it go.

2. Big Five vs Small Press

The publishing continuum now holds so many niche distinctions that it’s hard to believe that we ever thought of being published by a huge corporation was any kind of bonus. We now live in an era in which everyone has access to the same kind of cover and interior design education, software tools, qualified editors, and marketing savvy. At the two ends of the spectrum, there’s no doubt there can be a difference in advance paid to the author, but that disparity may not be as big as you might think.

The new word: Distribution. The main thing you need from a publisher is to get it into bookstores. The proof used to be in publisher promotion, but the era of niche marketing has leveled the playing field. All authors must reach out to their own niche to promote.

3. Traditional vs. Indie

This divide almost caused a Civil War among writers who had once peacefully co-existed within the same organizations. Yet even this either/or has become a hybrid continuum. Traditionally published authors opt to keep their agents while self-publishing interim novellas, short stories, and unsold novels; agencies actually pay staff to identify and offer contracts to successfully self-published authors. And with their titles indistinguishable on digital and brick-and-mortar bookshelves, it has turned out that readers in search of a great story just don’t care who published it.

The new word: Storytelling. Whether your title is self-made or the product of a team, a great story represents a lot of hard work and oodles of decisions. Casting side-eye aspersions won’t improve your career. Go forth and be proud.

4. Amazon vs Bookstores

Right at the intersection of Controversial and Divisive you can find Amazon’s happy place. Its latest controversy seems pointed at driving down the value of books. Yet writers are no longer quite as sure that Amazon is all that bad. With its main website and its acquisition of Goodreads, Amazon holds the two biggest public repositories for author reviews—and agents and publishers want those numbers. The same writers urging readers to purchase their books at a local indie are begging them to go on Amazon to review. Many authors who sweated out their decisions to accept a deal from Lake Union or one of Amazon’s other traditional publishing imprints are now giggling all the way to the bank. Amazon, it turns out, knows how to market books.

The new word: Murky. Authors need to widely support the industry they hope will support them, and like it or not that includes Amazon, which has earned its designation both as a legitimate traditional publisher and a path for self-publishers.

5. Competition vs Cooperation

Here’s the main thing about niche marketing: you are no longer in competition with your fellow authors, each of whom has his or her own brand. Yes, there will be others in the same vein, but you can’t put out a book out a week. Those voracious readers need other works to consume until you’re ready with a new title—and guess what? You can suggest it, making them even more beholden to you. The Tall Poppy Writers—the marketing cooperative I belong to—loves to quote John F. Kennedy: “A rising tide floats all boats.”

The new word: Generosity. Cooperative marketing will not slit your throat. It will help other authors get started, ensure the health of the industry by continuing to lift up those at the front of the pack, thereby ensuring the popularity of reading in our country—all on a public stage where our agents, publishers, and readers can see us doing so.

Let’s quit wasting energy on outmoded divides in the publishing industry and point our efforts toward initiatives that will heal it. If a huge group of creative and intelligent and hard-working authors can’t make a difference, who can?

What do you say? What trends do you most appreciate from the last decade? Which ones do you think should go away? If you could change anything for the next ten years, what would you change?

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About Kathryn

Kathryn CraftKathryn Craft  is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writingboth from Writer’s Digest Books.