February: Spread Love – Picture a Day (6)

My February Project is Picture a Day. Something inspiring, something cool, something to make you smile or think.

Day 6

Today’s picture of the day is of Anne Spencer (born February 6, 1882), American poet, in her wedding dress. Anne was the first African American poet to be featured in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry. She was valedictorian of the class of 1899 at Virginia Seminary, despite not starting formal schooling until age 11. Besides writing poetry, she was a gardener and activist and hosted many dignitaries at her home in Virginia including Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, and W.E.B. DuBois.

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Translation

– Anne Spencer (1882 – 1975)

He trekked into a far country,
My friend and I.
Our deeper content was never spoken,
But each knew all the other said.
He told me how calm his soul was laid
By the lack of anvil and strife.
“The wooing kestrel," I said, “mutes his mating-note
To please the harmony of this sweet silence.”
And when at the day’s end
We laid tired bodies ‘gainst
The loose warm sands,
And the air fleeced its particles for a coverlet;
When star after star came out
To guard their lovers in oblivion —
My soul so leapt that my evening prayer
Stole my morning song!

 

February: Spread Love – Picture a Day (5)

My February Project is Picture a Day. Something inspiring, something cool, something to make you smile or think.

Day 5 (yes I skipped Day 4)

The lava lamp was invented in the 1960s by a British accountant and works due to the Rayleigh-Taylor Instability (which sounds like a Big Bang Theory episode). RT instability happens when two liquids of differing densities mingle, in this case, wax (the “lava”) and the surrounding water-based liquid, but do not dissolve. In the simplest terms, waxy blobs and water are heated by a light bulb in the base of the lamp. The wax heats up, rises to the top, then cool and drops down. Lava lamps went on to become one of the defining images of the 60s, and are still sold today.

Fun Fact: The Doctor Who episode The Wheel in Space (1968) was the first television show to feature lava lamps.

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Other sites for more information:

How Stuff Works

The Original Lava Lamp

 

February: Spread Love – Picture a Day (3)

My February Project is Picture a Day. Something inspiring, something cool, something to make you smile or think.

Day 3

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Ben Franklin with son William Franklin (inset).

A little sad one today and something to reflect on. Despite all his accomplishments, Ben did not have the best family life. Some say the loss of his four-year-old son, Francis to smallpox (vaccinations save lives!) may have caused Ben to disengage from his family.

However, in later years, Ben and his illegitimate son William were friends and business partners until the American Revolution when father (patriot/revolutionary) and son (loyalist) parted ways. William was the last colonial governor of New Jersey.and vehemently disagreed with the revolution. Ben and William only partially reconciled before Ben’s death and Ben left little in his will to William, preferring his grandson, Temple, William’s illegitimate son (oh my!).

 

 

 

 

 

February: Spread Love – Picture a Day (2)

My February Project is Picture a Day. Something inspiring, something cool, something to make you smile or think.

Day 2

What says sanctuary more than a cozy cafe? One of my favorite things to do at lunch is take a short walk to the locally owned cafe, Nook Bakery and Coffee Bar and get some writing done. Mike and Edna, the owners, specialize in small-batch baking and ethically sourced coffee. The muffins and scones are warm in the mornings and did I mention the lavender madelines?

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February: Spread Love – Picture a Day (1)

My February Project is Picture a Day. Something inspiring, something cool, something to make you smile or think.

Day 1

Love yourself. Nourish your body, eat good foods and don’t be afraid of new foods.  I’m trying 5 Grain hot cereal from Bob’s Red Mill as an alternative to oatmeal (which I adore!). I’ll be adding chopped dates and a touch of brown sugar.

Eat Well

Eat Well

Poconos Writers’ Conference 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Annual Poconos Writers Conference over the weekend. I love conferences because no matter what your level of writing, you can never (and should never) stop learning. Sponsored by writer and attorney Michael Ventrella and the Poconos Liars Club, this one-day writing event featured three writers and one agent who gave excellent talks on craft and publication.

Michael Ventrella kicked off the conference with his talk “The Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors.” Some great advice included treating your writing like a job in terms of dedicating your time and learning the business, finishing your work, and his secret to success (exclusive to attendees only, I’m afraid). I jest, but he did emphasize the importance of talent, hard work, and networking.

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Michael Ventrella

Next up was agent Alia Hanna Habib from McCormick Literary who presented on query letters and knowing your genre (with examples of what works and what doesn’t). Every time I go to a talk on query letters I learn something new and this was no exception. Alia’s experience was invaluable (and funny). Highlights included ensuring your query reads something like jacket copy, know to whom you are submitting and, of course, read the submissions guidelines.

After lunch, romance writer Megan Hart spoke on Point of View. She provided clear instruction on each type of point of view. I think my greatest takeaway here was the emphasis on how point of view not only controls what we the readers know, it gives the reader information as the character sees it. Each character is the hero of her or his own story, which affects how they tell the story.

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Romance Author Megan Hart

Dark fantasy author Rob E. Boley wrapped up the speaker line up with his presentation on Worldbuilding, which, as he points out, is integral for all genres, not just speculative fiction. Rob asked members of the audience what they thought worldbuilding included and the responses were phenomenal. Many volunteered answers but then made connections with how that aspect (say, currency) would affect the world and the way characters interact. Rob emphasized that your world must serve the story. Coincidences that screw the characters are acceptable. Those that help are not. There are no silos – different aspects of the world affect other aspects (just like the real world!). Do not cast brushstrokes and don’t see everything in black and white.

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Dark Fantasy Author Rob E. Boley

The audience participation really energized the crowd for the final session – a Q&A panel with the authors where we discussed marketing, networking, and being yourself on social media (please, no non-stop promo tweets!) and at writing events. In the end, sell yourself as much as your work, but be real.

Highly recommended conference, especially if you’ve never attended one and might be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a large, multi-day event.

PS Huge shout out to the Eastern Monroe Public Library for hosting the event. Support your local library!

PPS I might have bought some books…

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Be Brave in 2017

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

2016 wasn’t a bad year. It was a challenging year, for sure.

We lost many beloved celebrities, some very unexpectedly, as well as several scientist pioneers. The war in Syria broke our hearts and underscored the powerlessness we feel when governments decide that war is the only solution and the civilians suffer. We all felt the shocks from a contentious presidential election, whose aftershocks will still be felt for many years I expect. Many of us are living with problems wrought because corporations have been allowed to overrule common decency (how many people lost their pensions this year? How many people work over 40 hours and still do not make a livable wage?) and environmental safeguards (Flint, MI; Standing Rock). And yet, there were many positive things.

Quartz posted an article listing the best 99 things that happened in 2016, a list which contains cute pandas and eradication of ebola. Progress on environmental issues has been made in several countries around the world, despite the climate change deniers (for the record, climate change is more than global warning and is not a linear progression of events!).

Life is about the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. Not to sound sophomoric, but it’s good to remember:

  • Nothing good or bad lasts forever.
  • It’s okay to mourn a celebrity. That means that something in their body of work touched you. Don’t let anyone shame you because you shed a tear or two.
  • But…death comes for all of us (unless you’re Keith Richards. There can only be one, after all). Remember to celebrate the life and the joy as well
  • …and, cherish the time you have with the people you love
  • Go out into the world and be brave. Be brave in big ways (speak out against injustice even when people call you the special snowflake), be brave in little ways (treat the homeless person with respect and dignity even when someone says your change will only go to drugs or alcohol)
  • judge less, love more
  • love your body and nourish it with good food and exercise

Above all, keep hope in your heart. Hope that bigotry, hatred, and ignorance will not win the day, not in our politics, not for the earth, and not for the people struggling each day in whatever country. And with hope the courage to take a stand and work for a better future.

Peace my friends.

 

 

 

 

Nanowrimo 2016: Are You Ready for an Adventure?

We are exactly one month out from November 1, which marks the start of the annual writing frenzy known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Like Bilbo, I will probably be running out the door without my literary handkerchief (i.e. no novel plan whatsoever) at 12:01.

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Started in 1999, Nanowrimo challenges participants to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Local chapters from around the world bring writers together regionally, both in real life and online, to assist them, motivate them, and inspire them.

This year I am Municipal Liaison along with Ema Timar for the South Jersey region. It’s always a lot of fun to plan events and help fellow writers. 50,000 words can seem daunting and overwhelming, but the goal of Nano isn’t to write a perfect novel. It’s to get the words down, establish a steady writing habit (1,667 words a day will get you there!), let you write with abandon and turn off the internal, nagging editor that will tell you that you suck, your writing is worthless, and how dare you end a sentence with a preposition?

I have been doing Nano since 2002 or 2003. I have only “won” once, in 2014. But I am okay with that. I always have more words on November 30 than I did on November 1 and isn’t that really the goal?

Nano is free (remember to sign up at the website when signups start shortly!) but there are cool items for sale to show your support. As a non-profit, Nano does depend on donations to help fund its writing programs. Not only can you chalk up some good karma, you can get cool swag if you do give!

So, join us! Get that novel out of your brain and onto paper (or screen).

Let go of your fears.

Create.

Let it flow through you into the world (and beyond)!

 

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K. M. Walton’s Surviving Query Quicksand

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This is a long overdue post from June. Training for a triathlon and then some unrelated medical issues forced this blog to go on the backburner for a few weeks. However, I’m excited about this write-up because it’s from the 2016 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference and K. M. Walton’s Surviving Query Quicksand presentation.

To backtrack slightly, I met K. M. several years ago at a social gathering for writers. Not too long afterwards I attended the release party for her debut YA novel, Cracked. Now, there’s this idea roaming around that writers are tortured, lonely souls, always in competition with each other and surrounded by constant backstabbing and jealousy. But let me tell you the truth. In my experience, most writers I’ve met have been amazing people who are kind, generous with their time and knowledge, and rooting for their fellow writers. K.M. is no exception. She’s vivacious, always willing to help, and is a major advocate and force behind the anti-bullying campaign.

Her query presentation at the conference was amazing and I’m afraid my post will not do it justice, but perhaps I can provide you with some helpful tips. K. M. had queried her novel over 128 times before finding an agent. But persistence pays off (assuming you’ve done your homework) and K.M. has been published by a major house and has released two more novels, and other writings, with her next contemporary YA novel, Ultimatum, to be released March 2017 (hint: her website has a timeline about her publishing journey).

Now, I have written a query letter for my YA novel. It wasn’t a bad query overall. I didn’t make any major mistakes and it got the job done. I got nibbles, but nothing more. After leaving this workshop, I realized I had some work to do (actually I had a lot of work to do on the novel in general, but jumping the gun on querying and send out your novel is another post).

Remember, the purpose of a query letter is to have an agent or publisher read your sample chapters and ask for me. So to keep it simple, here we go:

General Don’ts:

  • Do not include your life story
  • Remove all unnecessary tidbits (if you’re a medical professional writing a medical thriller, that’s relevant. Your love of golf when you’re querying a YA paranormal romance isn’t.)
  • Do not mention how much your mother/sister/brother loved it
  • Do not bribe (I guess this is a thing!) or offer disingenuous compliments
  • Do not overstate your accomplishments

General Do’s:

  • Tell about your project
  • Tell about you – what’s relevant
  • Write so that you capture your audience and they want more
  • Be professional. This is a business letter which represents you and your work. Don’t be cute.

Query format:

(NOTE: K.M. shared this format from Elana Johnson’s ebook FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL with permission)

  • Have a hook (sum up your novel in ONE sentence. Yes, you can do it. Propel the reader to want more.)
  • Provide setup (stick with the main character. Only introduce a second in full if necessary. This should be 3 – 5 sentences, about 75 – 100 words. Only include the most important details that build story or character)
  • Tell about the conflict (another 3 – 5 sentences; 50 – 100 words)
  • Then the consequence (what happens to the main character if he/she is not successful? What is the consequence?)
  • Everything else – your bio, publishing history – only include what is relevant. Word count, genre/subgenre, other similar books – but be careful here! Don’t say “This is the next Harry Potter!” Instead, try something like “I think fans of XX would like my book.”

Other tips:

  • Visit the agency website before you submit
  • Make sure you address an agent personally! (Dear Agent or Dear Sir or Madam is not going to fly)
  • Read and follow the submission guidelines (yes! yes! yes!)

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I know people read these blogs and articles and think, oh, what do they know? How could I possibly reduce my grand fantasy epic to one sentence, maybe two? I need pages to explain the plot and go into detail about all the characters! My book is special and I need space!

No, you don’t. Really.

Agents and publishers do not want to spend an hour reading your query (and they won’t). They want to know simply: what is your book about, what is the main conflict, what happens if the MC fails. Honestly and truly. If you cannot tell someone what your book is about (mind you, NOT the plot, but what it is about) in one to two sentences, you have some work to do. Think elevator pitch. Or conference pitch. Go on too long and your listener’s eyes will glaze over if they haven’t already stepped off. Or tried to get off at any floor. Or jumped out a window just to get away.

Capture them with a hook, an intriguing question. Grab their attention.

K. M. provides several links on her website (hint again) about where you can get more information on writing your query and getting feedback on it.

There are a ton of resources out there. Don’t think the rules don’t apply to you.

So please, even if you are self-publishing, do your homework. If you’re at a book-selling event, or trying to get a local bookstore to carry your book, you need to grab the attention of your audience. Have your “pitch” – your intriguing question ready.

Whether you’re selling to agents, publishers, readers, or bookstore owners, remember – reel them in. Make your query so memorable, so captivating, that they must know what happens!

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We’ve all been there…