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Posts tagged with: Anne Marie Becker

Listen Up, Grasshopper

BalancedrocksSM

 

Psst. I’ve got a secret to share. It’s a big one. The key to happiness? The secret of life? Yeah, it’s balance.

 

I’m convinced of it. The times I haven’t been happy, there was some unevenness in my life…something that pulled me so strongly in one direction I neglected the others.

 

I like to think about life in four realms: physical, social, mental/emotional, and spiritual. I’m happiest when I have an equal footing in all four. (Imagine the game Twister here, with a foot and hand in each color.)

 

How does this translate into my writing? Conflicts are all about imbalance. The conflicts characters face arise when their lives become so unbalanced that they try to restore balance through action, or, in the case of the villain, often through unconventional or illegal means. The inciting incident that launches the entire story is all about upsetting the apple cart and sending your characters on a quest to reclaim their apples…or decide they’d rather have oranges.

 

As a reader, and as someone who strives for balance, I love to read about the hero and heroine being thrown off their life plan…better them than me, I say.

 

For instance, in Only Fear, a stalker enters the heroine’s life. In Deadly Bonds, everything’s going smoothly for my heroine, a director of a school, when a parent promises to make trouble for her because she won’t get with his program. In fact, my whole Mindhunters series was the result of an imbalance in one man’s life. Damian Manchester launched the SSAM foundation when his daughter was the victim of a serial killer. He needed to regain his sense of control and direct his grief toward something positive (and hopefully find closure by finding his daughter’s killer).

 

So, Grasshopper, now you know the key to a happy life, and a happy ending to a book: finding and maintaining balance.

 

What are some of the imbalances your characters face, or in the books you’re currently reading? What areas of your life are you working to balance, and how?

 

AnneMarieBeckerAnne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
She writes to reclaim her sanity.
Anne Marie publishes the Mindhunters series with Carina Press and is currently hard at work on some new projects. Find ways to connect with her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

(*This post originally ran on the Not Your Usual Suspects blog on June 12, 2012.)

You Are Not Alone

The following post is actually a blast from the past. On occasion, I look back and see how far I’ve come on this writing journey. Recently, I dug up this post—my first on the Ruby blog, and probably my first blog post ever—which I originally posted waaaaay back on October 6, 2009. That was before I was published, when I was still shopping my Golden Heart manuscript (which was published by Carina Press in September 2011.) I was shiny and new in so many ways, and have learned much on this journey, but I think the message of succeeding through perseverance and finding a supportive community is still relevant.

(And, as an update, I served 4 years as President of my local chapter and don’t regret a moment. During that time I sold three books. My two terms ended eight months ago, but during those years, I grew so much, and made lasting connections I treasure.)

*****

“Lions and tigers and bears!  Oh my!”  No doubt about it, the craft of writing and the world of publishing can be a scary business.  But…

You are not alone.

I can’t tell you how many times I have to remind myself of this.  Daily?  Actually, some days it’s hourly.  Yes, my friends, we’ve chosen a career fraught with rejection, self-doubt, downswings, and loneliness.  But as I travel farther down this yellow brick path – sometimes skipping happily along, and sometimes dragging my feet with every step – I’m meeting all kinds of people.  Their paths may be different, but they intersect or even – at times – run identical to my own.

I am not alone.

I discovered this when I became more involved in my local chapter, setting up a plotting group in my home so that I could get to know people on a more personal level and making friends that I know will always be there for me when I stumble.  I rediscovered this when I finaled in the Golden Heart and found a whole group of sisters I never knew I had.

So what do you do to counteract those down periods when you’ve received a rejection, are immersed – or drowning – in self-doubt, or just feeling isolated?  Just as Dorothy had her traveling companions on her journey, we have friends, critique partners, and organizations to help us out on ours.  So…. What would Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion say about the challenges along our path?

Scarecrow, my brainy friend, scratches his head and looks at the odds.  “There are a lot of writers out there.  But you won’t succeed if you don’t continue to submit.  Persistence is the key.”

“Yes, but how long must I persist?” I ask.  (Okay, it was more of a whine, but still…)

“As long as it takes,” he says simply, that drawn-on smile never faltering.  “You never know when your manuscript will land on the RIGHT desk at the RIGHT time.  In the meantime, keep developing your craft, editing your work, and sending it out.  And listen to your writing friends when they say, ‘Don’t give up!’”

Tin Man, my sensitive friend, smiles at me softly with a sympathetic tilt of his head.  “You have a lot to give as a writer.  It’s a calling, otherwise you’d be able to set it down and walk away.  Besides, you’re writing the book of your heart, right?”

“Psshaw,” I say, jaded.  “That was four manuscripts ago.  Now I’m searching for the book of my dream editor’s heart.”

“But there’s no way of knowing what that will be,” Tin Man points out, taking my hand as we continue down the yellow brick path.  “Don’t lose the love for your craft.  If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, why do it?  And,” he adds, “I suggest you join a writers group, where you can give back to others.  There’s joy in that, and the passion of others is addictive.”

Tin Man was right.  It was in joining my local chapter, and stepping forward to be their president when they needed one, that I found deeper and lasting friendships and found a common passion.  I rediscovered the “heart” of romance writing.  And I started to enjoy my craft again.

“Cowardly Lion, I know you feel my pain,” I say to the next friend along my path.  “Every time I lick that envelope to send away a submission, my heart quakes.  Can I stand the rejection this time?”

He straightens to his full, furry height, hands on his hips and stares me down.  “You know the answer to that.  If you are rejected, you will survive.  You always do.  Be brave.”  He leans down and grins.  “Chocolate helps.  And friends do, too.”

And finally, there’s Toto.  Can’t forget him.  I carry him with me everywhere in my little basket, my constant reminder of the quiet love and comfort that’s waiting for me at home.  Not everyone has a Toto to turn to when times are scary and confusing.  When the people who should love and support you the most step on your dreams, who do you turn to?  It’s my hope that you’ll find a group of like-minded people – writers, critique partners, Ruby Sisters – or that you start one of your own.  Trust me, there are others out there like you, sometimes lost in Kansas, twisting in the wind and just looking for home.

You are not alone.

If you find yourself feeling alone, join your local RWA group (or if you already belong, volunteer for a position to become more active and get to know your fellow chapter mates).  Or, offer to help judge a writing contest.  Cruise the internet for writer resources or loops you can join.  Or, just take your writing with you and get out of your lonely surroundings and into a bustling coffee shop or library, where you can see that other people exist.

One of the best things I ever did was say “yes” when my local chapter asked me to be their next president.  Was I worried about the additional workload and the fact that I’d never (ever!) served on a board before, let alone as president?  Heck, yeah.  At the same time, I’d volunteered to help my online chapter with their annual contest.  I didn’t know what I was in for there, either.  But saying “yes” opened so many doors for me.  I’ve met so many amazing writers, discovered several new resources, and discovered I am not alone.  (And, if you happen to believe in karma, I must say that my career has grown by leaps and bounds this year – my first request for a full from an agent led to signing with that agent, and was followed soon after by a Golden Heart nomination and win.  I’ve been very blessed, and can’t help but wonder if what I put out into the universe is coming back to me in some way.)

You are not alone.  We are on this twisty, winding path together, and the emotions at the peaks and dips are universal.  Am I scared?  Yes. Thrilled?  Yes! Confused?  Oh, yeah, sometimes. But I’m still going forward, one step at a time, and I hope you are, too.

Are you feeling alone on your path?  Who (or what) have you encountered along the way that helps push you to take that next step when you need a gentle shove?  Tell me about your journey, and your traveling companions.

AnneMarieBeckerAnne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
She writes to reclaim her sanity.
Anne Marie publishes the Mindhunters series with Carina Press and is currently hard at work on some new projects. Find ways to connect with her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

Light in the Darkness

DEADLY BONDS, the third book in my romantic suspense Mindhunters series released today (hooray!). But rather than blog about the dark, chilling world of serial killers (as much as I enjoy writing villains), I’d like to focus on happier things. After all, despite the ominous vibes, my books are ultimately about hope and resilience. Light over darkness. Rainbows and puppies.

Okay, maybe you won’t find that last one in my books. But even in my characters’ dark world, light prevails and love conquers all.

RT Booklovers Convention Recap

Romance readers, industry representatives, and authors of all ages and subgenres recently gathered in Kansas City for the 30th annual Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. As a first time attendee, I went in with a mind (and eyes) wide open. The Ruby Sisters who attended agree that meeting readers (and visiting with each other) was the best part of the convention, but if you’re looking for more details and opinions, you’ll find them below. (Beware: This is a long post, but we wanted to give you a good feel for the adventure that is RT.)

 

PROMOTIONAL OPPORTUNITIES & SWAG

 

Authors and readers alike are there for a common purpose – to celebrate books. In particular, romance books. So it’s the perfect environment for promoting yourself as an author, or, as a reader, meeting your favorite author and picking up some goodies. As Addison Fox points out, “RT is wonderful because it’s a group of people who love books. Everyone there celebrates the written word and it’s just such a fun environment to be in for days on end.”

Some of Kim Law's swag.

Some of Kim Law’s swag.

Got swag? Boy, I hope so. If you’re an author at RT, bring a LOT and ALWAYS have some on you. This felt different from RWA, where I was hesitant to “push” things on fellow writers and usually opted for leaving items in the goody room. But at RT, even the postcards went quickly as I met readers and authors who wanted something that would help them remember my name.

 

Kinds of swag? There were a lot of pens, bookmarks, lip balms and candies. Kim Law’s beach balls were a unique and popular addition. Jeannie Lin noticed that dressing up her bookmarks (for a minimal cost) created a big hit. Says Lin: “I didn’t have very expensive stuff (other than the Ruby playing cards) but my bookmarks stood out because I wanted to make them pretty and different. Who would have thought those 1-cent red tassels would make them such a hit? I had booksellers and just random people come up to comment on how beautiful my bookmarks were.” She also recommends choosing swag that makes readers feel special and is strongly branded so they’ll remember you.

Elizabeth Essex describes having tiers of swag ready for any occasion. “Carry your swag with you at all times. You never know when the top reviewer from RT is going to come up to you while you are dressed as a saloon girl and ask to see your latest. Have that ARC, or PDF, or whatever hidden in your purse and ready to give out. And carry your minor swag—every time a reader asked me what I wrote, I passed out my character cards. Every time a reader said she had liked something I’ve already written, I gave her an autographed bookplate to stick in her book. And even if she had read it on an e-reader, she was happy to get that little bit of something personal.”

 

Bring a pimp. Several authors brought grown sons, spouses, or a friend to help hand out items, both at book signings and in the general assemblies. Perhaps when my daughter’s of age, I’ll put her in a cute T-shirt so people will ask about her mom’s books. *wink*

Heather McCollum and Addison Fox mingle.

Heather McCollum and Addison Fox mingle.

Pimp yourself. Talk to people! There is no better promotional opportunity at RT than talking to the people around you—in line, on the elevator, sitting in a workshop, or wherever. Tamara Hogan says: “The most valuable part of the conference for me was networking: connecting with other writers, of course, but also chatting with book bloggers, reviewers, and librarians. A lot of these opportunities are kinda random – you never know who you’re standing in line with!” Rita Henuber also suggests reaching out to people you don’t know, asking them questions and they’ll start asking about you.

 

 

AUTHOR VISIBILITY 

 

Tamara Hogan and Jeannie Lin at the Jazz Breakfast

Tamara Hogan and Jeannie Lin at the Jazz Breakfast

Attend workshops and events. In addition to swag, the workshops and reader events were ways to connect with readers. Kim Law advises authors in attendance “to expect any workshop you attend to possibly turn into a reader workshop. And that that isn’t a bad thing! Always bring freebies to the workshops, and assume you’re going to be answering reader questions.” The after-hours parties with food and drink were also big draws. One thing I did was tweet during the “Readers Know Best” workshop, which resulted in several new followers and retweets.

 

Kim Law poses with cover model Harvey Gaudun-Stables

Kim Law poses with cover model Harvey Gaudun-Stables

Make friends with hot guys. The cover models were everywhere, appearing like co-hosts of events in addition to generating excitement among the attendees, who enjoyed a bit of eye candy. Don’t be afraid to talk to them and get your picture taken. I met some fabulous new people this way, and many authors generated a buzz by posting their pictures with cover models on Facebook.

Liz Bemis with Scott (one of the handsome cover models).

Liz Bemis with Scott (one of the handsome cover models).

 

Make friends, period. As Elizabeth Essex recommends: “My philosophy/best advice for large conferences like RT is to tell yourself it’s just an opportunity to ‘make new friends,’ both with readers and with authors. I had a fabulous, if exhausting time, by telling myself that RT was just one big sleep-over party, and that everywhere I went, elevators, parties, workshops and bars were just opportunities to say ‘Hi’ to other people and ask them if they were having fun. I met so many readers that way, and I also met fellow authors and established common ground and mutual fan-girldom. At least one of those authors I met and hit it off with, gave me a shout-out on a big, national blog as a result.”

 

Advertising options. Personally, I didn’t find the smaller posters that lined one specific portion of the event space as eyecatching as the window clings that were something like 7 feet tall x 4 feet wide and lined the walking areas we passed through every day. The clings on the elevator doors were captivating as well.  There was also “Promo Alley.” For the low price of $25, authors could reserve a square of space in which to place promo items for attendees to pick up. Jeannie Lin highly recommends this option. “Put up a poster with your book cover on it as well as other giveaways  like bookmarks. It’s SO worth it and the cheapest promo you’ll find at RT.”

Laura Navarre in costume at the book signing.

Laura Navarre in costume at the book signing.

 

Elizabeth Essex dresses the part for the Rosie's Gulch party.

Elizabeth Essex dresses the part for the Rosie’s Gulch party.

Identify yourself (and your subgenre). Rita Henuber suggests wearing something that indicates what you write. “If your books are about weddings wear a veil. If you write historicals wear at least the top part of a costume. Wear a pirate hat and eye patch. Have a parrot on your shoulder. I was immediately drawn to authors who did this.”

 

Go big or go home. Either prepare to promote yourself as a big name readers should want to know, or spend your time at home writing the next book that will make you bigger. RT is about making a splash. Elizabeth Essex found dressing up to be fun and rewarding. “Be professional, but surrender your dignity: RT is all about dressing up and going to the parties. So I became a saloon girl, even if I was mutton dressed as lamb. I had fun, and made new friends, and those friends tracked me down at the signing and bought books. All because I had a fabulous velvet corset.” Jeannie Lin found this to be true as well. “It’s like any other ‘Con.’ It’s about stepping out in costume and interacting with other fans and readers. I think I was easily recognized because 1) I actually really like dressing up 2) and I’m Asian and I write Asian books  3) My covers and SWAG were really easily identifiable.”

 

WHAT WOULD I CHANGE?

 

I had a blast at RT, but there were some things I would have done differently…and definitely some lessons learned.

 

Club RT. This was a scheduled time to sit and let your readers come find you. For me (a relatively new author who doesn’t have a huge following), it wasn’t that helpful, though I had fun spending that time chatting with cover models and the other authors who were there.

 

FANtastic Day party. Mass hysteria. Dogs and cats, living together. Okay, this event might not have been that crazy, but it was the one time I truly felt overwhelmed. Thank goodness I had Kim and Addison to glom onto. I don’t know how readers/attendees were expected to locate authors, or how authors were supposed to match up with readers who might like their books. Unless you had very visible freebies (especially free print books) to give away, readers were likely to pass you by in the crowd.

 

Heather McCollum at Saturday's Book Fair

Heather McCollum at Saturday’s Book Fair

E-Book EXPO and Giant Book Fair. First, I was thrilled to be part of the E-book EXPO on Thursday afternoon. But, well, it was scheduled from 4-6 p.m. on a work day in the middle of a week…and it snowed. Sideways. I certainly don’t blame RT for the snow, and participating in the event was a lot of fun, but when compared to the BIG print book fair on Saturday? There were, maybe, a fourth of the attendees (and that’s probably being generous). Saturday was the granddaddy of events for readers. People could buy a day pass just for that. Readers turned out in droves.

But Jeannie Lin, who participated in both signings, had a different experience. “Surprisingly, I think I had more people approach me at the ebook expo than at the Giant Bookfair. Maybe it was because the expectation at the ebook Expo was you were browsing and would buy later? Or maybe just because it was first on Thursday and the Giant Bookfair was Saturday.”

 

Kim Law at Saturday's Book Fair.

Kim Law at Saturday’s Book Fair.

The signings. The biggest thing I learned from my E-book EXPO signing is how to better promote myself in the crowd. People don’t know my name, but when I wrote my subgenre under my name on my sign, more people stopped to talk about that with me, as we bonded discussing the books we loved. Conversation usually led to them taking a postcard and swag items, so maybe they’ll look me up again. Using a stand-up poster with an eye-catching cover also had a lot of people stopping to say hello. Basically, having a conversation starter was key to luring people to the table. Also, as I learned from the author next to me, bringing a pashmina or some other cloth to add color or background (other than the bright white that lined the tables) made my station more appealing. Next time, I’ll remember to bring a Sharpie for those hard-to-sign items. I also wrote “Take One” on my sign to encourage people to pick up swag, and it worked. Readers are shy and can be elusive unless you use bait.

 

I thought Jeannie Lin had a great take on what measures “success” at a signing, and how the RT bookfair is useful, even if you don’t sell a pile of books. “RT is not a bookselling event – There are so many book giveaways that readers aren’t usually there to buy from authors they don’t know. Expect to give away a lot of books. But that’s a good thing. Imagine when you blog how hard it is to get readers to come by and even comment to get a book? And then you have to pay postage to ship it to them. Here, readers and bloggers are clamoring for books.”

 

Sponsor something. At my next RT, I’d try to sponsor the bags, a party, a panel, or invest in advertising via the window clings. Or host a reader event. As Jeannie Lin, a second-time RT attendee this year, learned, “I did panels that were totally brainy and heavy. Forget that. For next year, I’m only going to do fun reader panels with prizes and games and feather boas.” RT 2014 is already accepting proposals.

 

Laura Navarre and Heather McCollum at the Disco Party.

Laura Navarre and Heather McCollum at the Disco Party.

Participate more. As a newbie, I confess I was a bit intimidated by some of the evening events, especially where costumes were encouraged. I wish I’d gone to more of them, especially the publisher-sponsored ones. But as a Carina author, I did participate in their cocktail party on the last night, which allowed readers to enter a drawing for an iPad2 (which turned out to be two iPad2’s!). To enter, they mingled with authors, searching for the one who wrote the book that matched a blurb in their hands. It was a great way to mix authors and readers as well as get them intrigued about books from the blurbs. I’d definitely do something like that again. And I admired Entangled’s author-hunt scavenger hunt, and how it took place over days and days, probably putting those authors’ names and covers in front of readers at least a dozen times over the course of the convention.

 

WRITER VS. READER CONS

 

I’m coming from only having attended national RWA and regional RWA conferences – i.e., writer-focused conferences. Having said that, the workshops at RT were okay, but some lacked a professional polish that RWA presenters and award ceremonies are known for.

Tamara Hogan suggests if you’re a writer looking for workshops with a writing/craft focus, that RWA might better suit your needs. Workshops at RT, even the craft ones, still had a “fan” slant. However, though she was able to connect with her readers, she wondered what the ratio of writers to readers was this year. “It seemed to me there were a LOT more writers there than there were the last time I attended, with every single one of us there to promote our work. Whether this is a positive thing or a negative thing for reader attendees, I have no idea.”

Still, there was an entire workshop track dedicated to self-publishing, including a couple of workshops presented by Mark Coker from Smashwords. And in a thriller panel I attended, Bob Mayer and other authors explained what an “espresso machine” was. I’d never heard of this tool for printing books from digital files. Sounds like the future of publishing to me!

Jeannie Lin, a second-time RT attendee this year, has observed an “RT culture,” saying that there are readers who’ve approached her saying they remember her from the past RT, or have read her books because they picked one up at the event. “There are also super-readers who scan the authors attending list and bring all the books on their bookshelves that match up. I got a couple of those wanting autographs of my backlist books that they had bought from Walmart or B&N. I’m not a big name famous author, I really believe these readers do it for ALL the authors they read. Don’t you love that there are readers like that?”

 

Ruby Dinner! From front right to front left: Heather McCollum, Laura Navarre, Rita Henuber, Anne Marie Becker, Addison Fox, Liz Bemis, Jeannie Lin, Tamara Hogan, Sara Ramsey (taking the picture is Kim Law).

Ruby Dinner! From front right to front left: Heather McCollum, Laura Navarre, Rita Henuber, Anne Marie Becker, Addison Fox, Liz Bemis, Jeannie Lin, Tamara Hogan, Sara Ramsey (taking the picture is Kim Law).

Like with any conference, stamina is the name of the game. Rita Henuber recommends eating a good breakfast every morning. Jeannie Lin reminds authors to bring a cup of coffee or bottle of water to the book signings. Addison Fox recommends finding time for a quick nap. Elizabeth Essex balances it all: “Lather (go to the bar), rinse (short time alone in room), repeat!”

Hope to see you in May 2014 in New Orleans at the next Romantic Times Booklovers Convention!

Have you been to RT, as a reader or a writer, or both? Have you attended other reader cons? What were your experiences, and do you have any tips or tidbits to share?

Mind Games

Chess PicAs a suspense author, I enjoy a mind game now and then, and have free rein to use them with my villains and even heroes and heroines. But today, I’m talking about how I use mind games on myself—as a tool to get motivated in my writing.

 

The “I Don’t Wanna” Complex

 

Hey, look! It’s already Wednesday. Hump day. The day of the week when I assess how the week is going. Have I encountered challenges that kept me from writing? Are these challenges in my head or external? If they’re in my head, how do I hope to overcome them to turn my week around and make it productive? Or, if I have been productive, how do I keep that momentum going instead of giving in to the temptation to relax and take a break (which frequently leads to difficulty getting back into the writing routine later)?

 

With spring around the corner, I find myself staring out the window more often, wanting to play instead of work. And I find it easier to say, “I can make up this gap in my word count goal later tonight, after the kids are in bed”… When I’m frequently too tired to write and then tell myself, I’ll do it tomorrow. It’s too easy to make excuses to play when I don’t feel like working.

 

Getting Over Myself

 

So how do I get myself (my procrastination and other road blocks) out of the way and get things DONE?

Mind games.

I hear Gollum’s voice saying, “she’s tricksy,” but I wear the badge with pride because I get things done. Whatever it takes, right?

If I’m stalled out, energy-wise, I give myself permission to use 30 minutes on something non-writing (with the caveat that I will then sit down and produce words). I trick myself into believing I’m giving in to my temptation to play, but it actually leads to work. Here are some methods I employ:

  1. Exercise. Taking a walk outdoors gets the blood pumping to all areas of the body – including the brain. I’ll admit to occasionally dancing around my house with upbeat music playing on Pandora, frequently tuned to the “Pink!” station.
  2. Brain teasers. Yes, more mind games…of a sort. Engaging in a puzzle (crosswords, Scrabble, and the like), as long as I limit the time I spend, can help open my mind to the potential of doing work that day. It also gets me thinking about words. (DANGER: Beware the time suck! Set a timer for 20 minutes!)
  3. Attend writer’s meetings, or read or write a blog post on craft. If a writer’s meeting isn’t in the immediate future, I’ll set up a writing sprint online or a one-on-one writing session with a friend who lives in town. Then I’ve got a commitment to keep. (Spending $5 on a coffee drink often encourages me I have to get some major work done to justify the cost!)
  4. Read the latest RWR or other craft magazine. Seeing what other writers are doing often encourages me to get my head back in the game.
  5. Read a book! Sometimes this gets me in the mood to write my own. And sometimes reading about other characters makes my own jealous, and they start nitpicking at me until I get back to their story.
  6. Cattle prod? No, I’m not serious…but, then again, having a timer works in a similar way. If I’m having trouble focusing, I’ll give myself permission to do something else for a few minutes, and set the timer on my iPhone to “prod” me to get back to work.

 

But what about writing? Once my brain is willing (or sometimes when it is still pouting in the corner but I need it to be willing), there are specific things I do to help me get back into the actual writing part of my day.

  1. Warm-up exercises. Free-writing for five minutes, catching up on emails, or jotting down notes for future scenes often helps me get my fingers warmed up. I also have a deck of idea cards for writers with prompts designed to get your brain thinking…things like “pick a scene and make your character do the opposite of what you’ve already written” or “tell the scene from another character’s POV.”
  2. Re-reading the last scene or two. This is almost a “must” for me to get my head back in the game. Besides, rereading helps me regain the energy of the moment I was in when I last wrote. I’ll also go back and reread the last scene in that character’s POV, so that I know what emotional and physical state I left her/him in and can continue from there. (DANGER: I often find myself wanting to edit what I wrote – which is okay if that’s my goal for the day. But if my goal is forward progress, generating more words, I have to stuff my inner critic into its box.)
  3. Playing what-if with the scene. I do this with troublesome scenes, when I can’t see where the story is going. I once read/heard somewhere that when brainstorming you should list as many possibilities as you can. Throw out the first five or so because they’re often the predictable ones. Go further down your list for an exciting option.
  4. The old switcheroo. Changing my location (where I write) or medium (what I’m working on – for instance, using pen and notepad versus a computer) sometimes gets the ideas flowing. I’ve always wanted to try a hand-held voice recorder – I think that would come in handy in these circumstances.
  5. Follow the energy. This is probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. Some days, I’m just not feeling it. I try to go where the energy is flowing that day – to work follow my brain’s natural path instead of going against the flow. This might mean writing a different scene than you’d planned to work on that day, or working on the synopsis or query letter instead of the manuscript. Whatever feels like forward progress is good. And stepping back to look at the global picture often helps me get back into the scene I need to write, and I’ll end up getting even more done than I’d intended. (Tricksy!)
  6. Set a timer or a low word count goal. Taking off a bite-sized chunk of the daily goal usually gets the ball rolling and tricks me into believing I am productive. Especially when, once my brain gets jump-started, my fingers can’t fly across the keyboard fast enough.
  7. Reward yourself! Peanut M&Ms work for me. I get five for every twenty minutes I spend at the keyboard. Or a bonus five if I finish a scene. If I’m trying to limit calories, I’ll let myself play online for a few minutes, or watch a segment (until the next commercial break) of The Followers or another favorite show. Choose whatever works for you (and fits your diet or budget)…small rewards can be just as helpful as large ones (which I reserve for finishing a round of edits or finishing a manuscript).

These are just a few of the mind games I play to make myself believe I’m playing when I’m really getting down to work…we won’t even go into the tricks I play on my characters once I’m in the scene and the words start flowing. (*insert maniacal laughter here*)

How about you? Do you have ways you trick yourself into being productive? What mind games do you employ when your brain wants to play instead of work?

 

Only Fear-coverAnne Marie is an award-winning author of romantic suspense and publishes her Mindhunters series through Carina Press and Harlequin. Always fascinated by people—inside and out—she earned degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling before becoming a fiction writer. As a stay-at-home mom of three young children, her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and writer.  
 
She writes to reclaim her sanity.
 
You can find out more about Anne Marie at  www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

Winter Writing Festival: Check-In #5

The Third Annual Ruby Slippered Sisterhood Winter Writing Festival is coming to the end of its fifth week. It’s hard to believe we’re on Day 36 of the festival – people have been doing an outstanding job meeting their goals and it’s time to celebrate!

Today we complete our 5th full week, and it’s time to officially check in!

If you’re reading this on the Festival website (the blue site), jump on over to the regular Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog (the ruby-colored site, at rubyslipperedsisterhood.com) and leave a quick comment about your experience with the Festival and your progress so far.

A few odds -n- ends before we get to the goodies.

1.  THE WWF CHAT ROOM – COME JOIN US!

Our Chat Room http://www.rsswwf.com/ichat/  is open over at the rsswwf.com site. You can check the times that are posted on the RSSWWF site (blue site) for your sprint hostesses and come join us.

If you haven’t had a chance to drop in yet or if you’re not sure how it all works, Kim Law put together a great post on how the sprints work right here.

2. If you’ve made your goals so far, you should be at 36 POINTS! (The day one sign up got you a bonus point for the first day!) Don’t forget, you can always make up points so if you’ve fallen behind, just work on catching up over the next few weeks. All writing is good writing!

If you made your goals, please add a line in your comment in all caps saying I MADE MY GOAL!!! You will hear us cheering loudly!!!

If you’ve fallen a bit behind, don’t worry, just jump right back on and keep going!

3. There’s still time to download your Festival Participant Badge right here:

If you’d like to post the badge to your personal site, you can grab it here.  Just right-click on the badge below, choose “SAVE IMAGE AS” and save it to your computer. You can then upload it to your own website as you please!

writing-fest-2012-template copy

 

AND NOW FOR THIS WEEK’S SWAG:

Anyone who checks in at the Ruby blog today will be entered in a random drawing to win one of the following prizes – don’t miss out!:

  • Synopsis critique (Amanda Brice)
  • A Breath of Scandal (print) by Elizabeth Essex
  • Edge of Light and 2-book set of Remnants series (eBook) by Cynthia Justlin: Her own Best Enemy and Intrusion
  • Ruby-slipper ring holder (Gwynlyn MacKenzie)
  • $20 Amazon Card (Diana Layne)

So come join us and let us know how you’re doing! How did Week #5 go? Did you make your goals?

Talking Romantic Suspense: Writing a Series

 

Several years ago, when I realized I wanted to make writing a career, “trilogy” was the buzz word. Series were sought-after by publishers because they could rapidly build an author’s name, as well as their backlist. It seemed a logical business move to structure the stories in my head into a series—especially since I’d always enjoyed reading series by other authors, falling in love with their characters and looking forward to “seeing” them again like old friends. But how do you create a series readers will become hooked on?

 

A TIE-IN

A series, by definition, contains items that are related. Therefore, a series of books has someone or something that ties it together.

A Person

For instance, J.D. Robb’s “In Death” books and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series center around a character (in these cases, the heroine) who is the main character in each book. The romantic elements come from that character’s romantic life, and show the growth of the character over a broader time spectrum.

A Place or Thing

On the other hand, one can center a series around an idea, a family, an agency, or some other entity separate from the characters. In romance, this typically involves the wrapping up of a different couple’s love story in each book. Suzanne Brockmann has several romantic duos in each book of her Troubleshooters series, but one is always wrapped up at the end of each book, and they all center around her Troubleshooters agency.

Because I enjoy books that can stand alone and have a romantic conflict all wrapped up nice and neat by the end of the book, I chose the second route and created an agency named SSAM (The Society of the Study of the Aberrant Mind) that bound my books together. This way, I have the freedom to pick and choose heroes and heroines with different skillsets, different reasons to be tied to SSAM, and different personalities for each book. I didn’t want to be tied to the same characters for an extended time period, though many of my heroes and heroines are secondary characters in past and future books. I like that sense that each book is a family reunion of sorts, where readers can catch up with their favorite characters.

 

SERIES GROWTH

Just like with individual books, there should be change and maturation over the course of the series. If your series is focused on a primary character, each book should display some growth in that character, with a more extensive growth arc over the series of books. For the second type of tie-in… well, if characters can grow, then agencies, towns, and families can, too. In this case, the central tie-in element is, in fact, a character in many ways.

The growth arc I created for the Mindhunters series is closely tied to the founder of SSAM – Damian Manchester, who has a point-of-view as a secondary character in each book. His past pain, current struggles, and ultimate resolution are revealed gradually, with a piece of the puzzle in each book, until the end book, in which I hope to give him peace at last.

 

MARKETING

Each book should be able to stand on its own. Readers tend to get irritated when they realize they’ve purchased a book, but will have to go purchase other past or future books to get the rest of the story. The nice thing about a series, though, is that promoting one book often impacts the others.  More bang for your advertising buck.

 

CHALLENGES

  • Keeping it straight. As the series continues, it can be difficult for an author to keep all the facts, character traits, family relationships, and events in line with previous books. See Tamara Hogan’s earlier post about creating a series bible.
  • Keeping it fresh. The author should create new challenges in each book, but also tie them into previous and future books without being too repetitive.
  • Making each book stand alone. Start each book as if the reader hasn’t read the others, and doesn’t need to. This includes “sprinkling” in the series backstory as if it was character backstory. You don’t want the reader to think they’ve missed some key piece of the series, but you don’t want to spend page after tedious page giving the history of the series either.
  • Selling early books. I’ve been told that some readers wait until the entire series is available before buying any of them. This can, of course, affect your sales, but if it’s true, it should result in a nice jump in royalties when the final book is released.
  • Keeping the tension high. Maintaining that sense of the “ticking clock” and imminent danger is necessary for romantic suspense, but readers expect resolution, too. Keeping both over a series of books can be a unique challenge.
  • If you write the same-main-character type of series (a la Stephanie Plum, Eve Dallas, or Harry Potter), one challenge is showing character growth over the course of each book, and then over the course of the series.

ADVANTAGES

  • Publishers like series. In fact, with my digital-first publisher (Carina Press), series are sometimes more likely to be put into print form (in this case, by the parent company, Harlequin). I’ve seen this happen with my Mindhunters books.
  • Readers like series. At least, this reader does. I like to get invested in the characters I read about, and see multiple aspects of their lives. It’s almost as if they’re part of a family. And if they’re in several books, even if they’re not always the main characters, I get a multifaceted, 3-D picture of them.
  • Authors like series. Writing a series gives you a chance to really delve deep into plot and character development, and you don’t have to do character development from scratch if the character has already appeared in a previous book, but you have more space to flesh them out, too.
  • As mentioned above, promotion of one book is promotion of all of the books.

 

What is your favorite series (from any genre – romantic suspense or otherwise)? What common denominator linked the stories within that series? When you read, do you prefer books that are part of a series?

 

Anne Marie Becker has always been fascinated with people and how they “work”—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Psychology, and Counseling.  Now, her roles as wife, mother, writer, and domestic goddess satisfy her curiosity.  She explores the dark side of criminal behavior and the saving powers of love and hope through her Mindhunters series. For more about Anne Marie and where to connect with her, please visit her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

Project Ruby Push: Follow Up

It’s been six weeks since we saw each other last. (Where did the time go?) If you’ll recall, I gave you a little push in the form of a writing challenge waaaay back on September 19th, hoping it would generate a massive wave of productivity. Today is the conclusion of that challenge, and it’s time to check in. Drumroll, please…

My “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goal: Complete 60,000 words of a new project by October 31st.

My reality: 61,707 words as of 10/31.

Analysis: Success!

There were struggles, and some very difficult days in which focus was elusive. At least five days, kids were home from school, sick and needing Mommy. Some days, I hit a roadblock in my plot that I struggled to get past. And some days I just felt like procrastinating. There were a couple days when I was traveling or family was visiting, and it made it that much harder to jump back into writing.

Whenever I felt like I wanted to slack off or let things slide, I remembered you were holding me accountable. (Um,…thanks? <grin>)

I also found that having a plan helped. I stuck to my decision to spend the first several days plotting. Using Hope Ramsay’s recent post “Using Scrivener for Plotting,” I was able to organize my thoughts and hit the ground running on 9/24. I found that, when I could, using the evenings to plot and organize the next day’s scenes helped.

What did I learn? That I can do it! But I also learned that my maximum of 5,000 words is not a pace I would care to keep up day in and day out, and 3,000 is a more comfortable goal. Some days I wrote 300-500 words and that was quite the achievement. Being flexible was oh-so-important on days when I felt like one more apple on my cart would topple the whole thing. Most of all, I learned to go easy on myself when I don’t make it. Some days are highly productive, some aren’t. But enjoying life is important to keeping my creative juices flowing, too.

What’s Next? I’ve decided to set this project aside for a few weeks before I go back and finish the last third of it. I simply need a mental break from it. Besides, while I wanted to start a new series, my Mindhunters series is calling to me, too. With National Novel Writing Month starting up yesterday, I wanted to begin with a brand new project that will (hopefully) rejuvenate me. Perfect timing. (I’m “Anne Marie B” on NaNo’s site by the way, if anybody wants to buddy-up.)

The best part of the Ruby Push: I am a writer who seems to make the biggest strides in the editing stage. Having something other than a blank page to work with will help me out so much.

If you missed the 9/19 post, let me know your goals for NaNo, or simply for the rest of 2012. If you posted goals on September 19th in the Comments section, let me know how they turned out (for better or worse or a totally different direction). If you met your goals and let me know in the Comments below by Sunday, November 4th at midnight Eastern time, you’ll be entered in a random drawing for two $10 Amazon gift cards.

Keep focused and GOOD LUCK to you all as you immerse yourself in the holidays, or NaNo, or whatever new challenge awaits you. Don’t forget the Rubies’ Winter Writing Festival starts in January!

An Attitude of Gratitude

One of my Facebook friends posts almost daily about how grateful he is for his life.  He calls it “LIG’g it.”  Translation: Living in Gratitude.  I find his attitude infectious.  What’s more, I want to spread the infection and make the whole world one big love fest, populated by people with a genuine joie de vivre.  Especially at this time of year.

 

With Thanksgiving so close, I’ve been thinking how to spread this “Living in Gratitude” attitude into other areas of my life.  Each day, I try to consider what I’m grateful for in my everyday life.  I’m fortunate that it’s a long list, but the basics are:

 

  • My health.
  • Family and friends.
  • Even the people I bump into on my daily routine who either brighten my day or teach me about the virtues of patience and humility.
  • A roof over my head.
  • Food in the pantry.
  • A steady source of income.
  • Kids who (now) sleep through the night.  (I will never, ever again underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep!)

 

Then, I thought about what it means to be a grateful writer.  Sure, we deal with rejection and criticism (sometimes the sharpest knife is the self-criticism – wield it with care).  Yes, we must steel ourselves against the negatives, but how often do we think about the positives of being a writer?

 

 


What is it I’m grateful for as a writer?

 

The Creative Stuff:

  • The ability to write.
  • The creative muse that pushes me to write.  (a.k.a., motivation and inspiration)
  • The mental flexibility to come up with other worlds, plots, and characters.

 

The Practical Stuff:

  • The Internet!
  • My laptop.
  • Pens, pencils, paper, and all that good stuff.
  • Caffeine!
  • My local coffee shop, where they provide a wonderful atmosphere in which to create.
  • Dictionaries and thesauruses (or is it thesauri?) where someone else already did the legwork, AND they put it on the Internet!  How cool is that?!
  • Time to think, and to write.
  • RWA, for sure.
  • My local chapter (NARWA).
  • And last, but never, ever least – my Ruby Sisters.

 

I am grateful for all of the above.  And I believe that giving thanks and finding appreciation on a regular basis is what keeps inspiration alive within us.  After all, what is the journey worth if we’re not stopping to enjoy the ride?

 

In honor of the season of Thanksgiving, let’s start a love fest… what are you grateful for as a writer and/or reader?

The Latest Comments

  • Autumn Jordon: I’m so sorry to be late. 4 1/2 hours of plowing this morning. I’m just now getting my...
  • Laurie Kelogg: I was never a closet writer, AJ, but I did have some of the symptoms. For instance, I wouldn’t...
  • Melanie Macek: Great post Autumn. I was a closet writer for a long time because I lacked the confidence. It took a...
  • Vivi Andrews: >>Supportive families are worth their weight in gold. THIS. A thousand times this.
  • Vivi Andrews: Interesting post, Autumn. I didn’t tell people I was a writer for years, but I think to me it...

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