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Creative Process, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

2015 and the People Who Showed Up

I was married once before–for about five minutes. I joke about that time in my life in terms of how I “married my drinking buddy.” He was a fun, good-looking guy who you wouldn’t mind sharing a pint with, but probably not ideal parenting material or the person with whom you would want to split a mortgage. But these aren’t the sorts of things I thought about too much at 24, and when all the people in my life started pairing up, moving on, adulting, I thought it was the same thing I wanted, too. I found a willing participant, I guess you could say.

I knew within months of our marriage, maybe even within the first week, that I had made a horrible mistake. For so many very private reasons, I knew I had married the wrong person, but I tried to be happy and make it work. Nothing in this world is perfect, so why should I assume marriage would be? It was fine. Everything was fine.

But it wasn’t fine.

And one day, I decided that I deserved to be happy and with someone who made me happy. On a cold morning in late November, we had our last, final confrontation while I was getting ready for work. I sat on the edge of the bathtub and looked up at my ex-husband and asked the question that changed both our lives: did we make a mistake? The look on his face told me everything.

Divorce is such a huge, epic, public failure. The worst part of divorce was not the divorce itself. That was a relief! It was calling my mom and saying, “I was wrong. I thought I knew myself, but I had no idea who I was or what I wanted.” Being wrong about something so big as marriage made me feel such incredible shame. I felt this deep impulse to apologize to her, to everyone. And yet, my mom showed up with so much unconditional love in that moment, affirming to me how much she just wanted me to be happy.

And that was so amazing about this moment in my life, and is a true testament, I think, about what happens when we choose happiness. People start showing up. Lots of people. People you didn’t expect. One of my friends lent me her couch while I got back on my feet. Other friends cooked for me. And the phone calls! Everyone calling if I needed something. More than anything, I couldn’t believe how many friends showed up to help me move out of my house and my terrible living situation. And they didn’t do it out of guilt or feelings of obligation. They did it because they wanted me to be happy. That was it. The only reason.

A couple of years ago, I went through another profound life change–the decision to start writing novels. Oh, it started innocently enough, but it soon snowballed into something bigger than myself. Within four days of writing what would become Through the Veil, I looked up from my laptop and thought, “I am so happy. This makes me so, so happy.”

But I was scared to tell the world, to show other people, so I made jokes about writing to hide the fact how much I so desperately loved doing it. I was terrified of what people would say or how they would see me, and I felt, yes, a little ashamed. I had just invested an incredible amount of money into a PhD, I was a wife and a mother of two, a serious scholar of the nineteenth-century Irish novel. What the hell was I doing writing ROMANCE?

And yet, when I started sharing my love for my book, people started showing up. My wonderful parents would not leave me alone until I let them read a draft. My friends from an online mother’s support group, including Jenna who would later create this lovely website, took so much time to give me pages and pages of feedback. Friends “liked” my word count status updates on facebook. They wanted to hear more about my book at parties, and they let me talk while I prattled on endlessly about my editing process. My doctoral advisor even gave me a great idea for Book 3. My colleague and now friend swapped drafts. Of course, all of these people had always been there, but having them occasionally pop into my life and say, “Hey, this thing you’re doing? It’s cool. Keep doing it” gave me a tremendous amount of strength.

And so I kept going and more people showed up in my life: incredible critique partners, my twitter homies, my genius of an editor, my kick-ass marketing person. And all this because I said, “Fuck it. I’m going to do what makes me happy.” I’m so glad I did.

So thank you for showing up for me in 2015. Thank you for every like, retweet, share, kind word, beta read, blog comment, high five, and (((HUG))). I hope I can find a way to show up for you in the new year.

#PitMad, Creative Process, Editing, Marketing, Pitching, PitMad, Publishing, Romance, Social Media, Twitter Pitch, Uncategorized, Writing

It’s a #PitMad Party! How to Bring out Your Inner Woo-Girl and Write a Twitter Pitch that Gets Noticed

Oh, man, I love a good twitter pitch party. Since I’m out of the game, I wanted to share a few of my tips and tricks for getting noticed in the cluttered pitch party feed. Because the #pitmad event has grown so much and become so successful, Brenda Drake has implemented an update for #pitmad, which now limits participants to only three pitches. That’s it! Three! More than ever, writers need to up their game and work a pitch that will get noticed. But how?

My advice here will not work for every author, but I have learned a few things as a veteran of several twitter pitch parties. The ultimate secret (for me) of having a successful pitching day is to treat it like an actual party. It’s a party! Woooo!!! That means, have fun, enjoy yourself, be funny, keep it light.

“But Colleen,” you say, “I’m not funny and pitching is stressful!”

To which I say, change your mindset. Believe me, that twitter pitch is not going to make or break your career. Your goal on Friday is not to snag an agent. If that happens, GREAT! But your goal is to network, meet other writers, and be your awesome self. Seriously, relax, dude. Remember, it’s a party. IT’S A PARTY!

I’ll tell  you a little story from my whoring twenties. I used to have a friend. Let’s call her Jennifer. Jennifer was not the prettiest girl at the bar, and I say that not to be mean, just as a fact. She was cute, but no supermodel, and yet…whenever we went out the whole scene would flock to her like flies on honey. And why? Because Jennifer was hilarious. She had this high, brash voice that rang out over the music, and she had a wit that would not quit. She loved men, loved to tease them, dance with them, but she was never desperate. Sometimes she went home with a dude, sometimes not. Jennifer wasn’t in it to hit it. She was there to have a good time, and that sort of confidence was intoxicating to everyone around her.

What I found after doing dozens of twitter pitch parties is that when I really let go and started having fun with presenting my book, my favorites (are they likes now? I don’t know) went through the roof. Definitely make sure you have one pitch that presents your story clearly: protagonist, goal, conflict, stakes. Ava Jae at Writability has a great post on how to do that. Here was my basic pitch for Through the Veil:

FEVER series + LABYRINTH Elizabeth is forced to marry a Dark Fae lord, allies with 18th c Irish rebel to save herself & the world #pitmad #f

Meh.

This got some hits, but as I was pitching, I noticed my writer buddy Wren Michaels getting tons of favorites. What was her secret? If you know Wren, you’ll know she’s funny, she’s snappy, and her writing is all about the voicey voice. She’s brilliant at bringing that sharp edge to 140 characters, and it is no easy feat! I wanted to see if I could replicate what Wren was doing, so I DM’d her and asked if I could use her pitches as a sort of “formula” for developing my own. She LOL’d and said, yes (because she’s so awesome like that), and for my next pitch party, I set to work sending out pitches with my info plugged into Wren’s pitches. It worked! I snagged way more agent interest.

Here are the pitches based on Wren’s 140 character magic:

Elizabeth knew grad school would be hard. She never imagined the Irish myths of her MA thesis would come to life and try to kill her #SFFpit

Super powers? Check. Hot Irish BF? Check. If only Elizabeth’s mother hadn’t forced her into this arranged marriage with a Dark Fae #SFFpit

Falling in love with a Celtic warrior was easy. Keeping a Dark Fae lord from destroying the world will be the hard part #SFFpit #A

Her mom is MIA. Her BF is sworn to kill her. She’s forced to marry a Dark Fae Lord. Grad school doesn’t seem so bad anymore #SFFpit #A

Maybe you’ll disagree, but to me these pitches have the zip that stands out. If you see someone snagging all the likes on Friday, try to figure out what’s going right for that person. It’s not all about premise as Lara Willard so brilliantly discusses in her (*ahem* much more detailed) analysis of her own twitter pitch experience. For her, References (like comps FEVER series + LABYRINTH) and voice trumped all. She has, like, graphs and stuff. Check it out before you tweet.

So I took Lara’s advice and started playing around with comps and voice. Here’s one of those:

Wait…what is this? I have to fight this Dark Fae Lord? What am I, some sort of wizard? Well, actually… FEVER series meets IRON DRUID CHRONICLES #pitchmas #a

And then I just started getting really silly and decided since Wren’s twitter formulas worked so much, why not use really catchy pop tunes? I’m particularly proud of these:

Elizabeth’s got a blank space and she’ll write Finn’s name as long at this Dark Fae lord doesn’t get in the way FEVER series meets IRON DRUID CHRONICLES #secretshop #a

Walk into the club like what up I’m THE LAST AISLING and I can make your head explode with my mind FEVER series x LABYRINTH #secretshop #a

Elizabeth’s got 99 problems but this Dark Fae lord ain’t one. Irish myth retelling & romance. FEVER series meets IRON DRUID CHRONICLES #secretshop #a

These received tons of agent love. I know what you’re thinking. What does Taylor Swift have to do with my novel? The answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. But Taylor Swift writes catchy tunes. Most of the pop songs on the radio are engineered to get noticed and stick in your head…forever. Use that to your advantage. Oh, man, the things I would do with that new Adele song in a twitter pitch…

So after I got my twitter pitch sea legs, I really just started having a ball with trying out new things. You don’t have the advantage of that on Friday, but take some time to come up with some fun things that encompass maybe not the premise of your book, but the spirit of your book. One pitch I threw out there that really surprised me by how much attention it received is a pitch I just sort of wrote as a joke:

Sexy Celtic romp with GoT darkness and twists. Irish myth retelling and romance. FEVER series meets IRON DRUID CHRONICLES #SFFpit #A #NA #R

Basically it was me saying, “Hey agents! I know shit you like! I have shit you like!” It says nothing substantial about the story, but it doesn’t have to. It just has to appeal to people. I mean, who doesn’t want to read a sexy Celtic romp with GoT darkness and twists, right? Right? (*wrings hands*).

Think, too, about what appeals to your audience. My novel has a lot of fantasy elements, so I drew from a very popular Lord of the Rings meme (again, go with things that are popular, catchy. Memes are great inspiration for this). Here’s one that everyone seemed to love:

One does not *simply* walk out of the Faerie realm after becoming the Dark Fae’s most valuable weapon FEVER series x IRON DRUID CHRONICLES #secretshop #f #a

Hehe…(yeah, I laugh at my own jokes. So what?).

But then I thought I would give my romance audience a little love, so I thought about things that appeal to me, namely super hot guys with their shirts off. Here are a few of those heavy romance pitches that received tons of love:

If you think Elizabeth is going to fall for the warrior with the hot Irish accent, you’re probably right. Brains + Body = Ally #secretshop #f

I mean, yes, we *could* stop this Dark Fae Lord from using my MA thesis for evil, but we should probably make out first, right? #secretshop

Hey, you know what’s better than a hot 18th c. Irish rebel with his shirt off? Actually, never mind. Nothing’s better than that #secretshop #f #a

These tweets tell you nothing but everything about my novel, and for readers of romance, it zeroes into exactly the sort of things we like. Again, it’s not always about outlining the character, goals, stakes, etc. It’s very important to have a tweet like that in your arsenal, but what about the other two? Sometimes it’s delivering the attitude of your book and your voice, and sometimes it’s just about cracking a joke and appealing to your core audience.

But most of all, it’s about having a good time. I didn’t land an agent with twitter pitching, but ended up getting my big break on #mswl. But I’m so glad I participated in all those parties. It helped me hone my pitch and taught me a lot about marketing and what appeals to people about my book.

No matter what happens, though, just remember, if you’re not having fun with #PitMad, you’re doing it wrong.

So tell me your troubles, darlings. Let me help you with your pitches. Post yours in the comments, and I’ll see if I can give you some feedback. Also, give some love to your fellow writers and see if you can help them out. Get a comment, leave a comment, etc.

Happy Pitching!

 

 

Through the Veil

Elizabeth Tanner is no Tinkerbell, and her life is no fairy tale. Broke and drowning in student loans, the one thing she wants more than anything is a scholarship from the Trinity Foundation. But after the ancient Irish text she’s studying turns out to be more than just a book, she becomes their prisoner instead. And when Trinity reveals Elizabeth is half-Fae, she finds herself at the center of a plot to save the magical races of Ireland from a brutal civil war.

As Commander of Trinity’s elite warriors, Finn O’Connell isn’t used to having his authority challenged. He doesn’t know whether to punish or protect the infuriating young woman in his custody. When he discovers the Dark Fae want to use Elizabeth’s abilities to control the source of all power in the universe, he’ll risk everything to help her.

At the mercy of Trinity and enslaved to the Dark Fae, Elizabeth finds herself alone on the wrong side of an Irish myth thousands of years in the making. Refusing to be a pawn in their game, Elizabeth has to fight her way back to the man she loves, but to do so, she must wage her own war against the magic that binds her.

Available now at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada.

 

 

 

 

Creative Process, Editing, Nanowrimo, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

“This Might Suck”: My Interview with Dr. Adam Booker

One question I see posted in a lot in writer forums, but especially during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is: how do I keep going when I know this is terrible? I know I struggle with this question constantly in the drafting phase, and it made me think of my brother, Dr. Adam Booker, and his work as a professional jazz musician. Adam and I grew up surrounded by jazz musicians, and we learned at a very early age that no matter what, no matter how godawful something might be, you can’t stop in a middle of a song if things aren’t going well. The show must go on, as they say, and it’s a principle I’ve applied to my writing. Keep going, keep moving forward no matter what. This is nice in theory, but how does this actually work in practice?

I sat down with my brother this week for an interview because I wanted to ask him about the creative processes he uses in delivering a jazz solo. I’ve provided the full interview at the end of this post, but in case you don’t have an hour to burn (because you should be writing!), I’ll run through the best parts.

As my brother explains, a jazz song allows for a section, generally within the middle, for a solo. This is where a musician steps forward and plays…well? Whatever they want, but with some stipulations. In the first sentence of his syllabus, Adam explains that improvisation is not “just making stuff up as you go along,” but it entails taking “harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic material and reworking it.” This is a lot like writing where we take the basic building blocks of language (nouns, verbs, subjects, predicates, etc.) and try to say something new and fresh. Adam contends, though, that he’s not necessarily as concerned with saying something new, but saying something cogent. To me, this was a good point about writing because I know when I started my first draft, I wrote all sorts of bizarre, chunky, clunky word vomit in an effort to say something “different” when I really should have been focusing on clear storytelling. In fact, the fundamental feedback for my novel I had to take forward for my R&R was that I needed to cut down on the purple prose. Too many notes, as it were. And when I slashed and burned the adjectives, a much clearer story and voice came through the pages.

But for Adam, a part of finding that clarity in his solo work involved literally transcribing dozens of solos by famous bass artists such as Charles Mingus. By doing this, he understood not just the technical choices these artists made, but the artistic choices as well. He talks about, too, the importance of mentorship in his early years in San Antonio with the band Small World who allowed him to take the stage…and fall flat on his face. Today, so many young people are afraid to experiment and take risks, but this is the only way to figure out what works.

A highlight of the interview for me comes at 18:20 where Adam discusses what goes through his mind during a solo. There’s a pretty funny moment here where he discusses thinking about Star Wars during a solo, but what he gets at is very important. In a solo, he’s not trying to tell the whole Star Wars saga, but to describe a moment between Han and Leia or how an Ewok smells. He says as artists, we need to draw from those elemental things: the color of his wife’s eyes, his dog running around the house. He states, “If you spend too much time trying to tell the whole story, you’re going to lose your audience.” I think this is a wonderful point for authors in the drafting process. Writing a novel can feel so overwhelming, so in those moments of complete overload, it’s good to, as Adam states, “focus in on that one thing and dive in.”

But what do we do when you start out saying, “I’m going to perform a solo about my wife’s eyes,” and it is just not working? He says we then rely on hard work and technique. “We can’t rely on emotions all the time,” he says, and while sometimes we might experience that flash of brilliance where the muse takes over our bodies and everything is perfect, “most of the time it’s technique.” To me, this is a key point in the interview. I think when writers sit down to write, we want that heady, feverish feeling where everything falls into place and we find that elusive and poetic voice we’ve been searching for, but this expectation isn’t sustainable for a novelist. For me, most nights are just putting the words down on the page, throwing down cliche dialogue and derivative plots–not because I’m a terrible writer, but because I need things to fall back on in my drafts in order to move forward. When I get stuck, I ask myself, “What would JK Rowling do?” Which is basically asking, “What story fundamentals have worked in the past? What’s going to float me while I draft this novel and figure out what I actually want to say?” I spent a great deal of last year editing out a plot point that felt vaguely familiar to a bestselling novel, and I’m not ashamed of that.  It was a tried and true story line that I could rely on until I developed something different, and I did! I see a lot of writers quit in the middle of NaNo because they think, “This sounds too much like Twilight” or “this sounds too much like The Hunger Games.” For one, good on you for recognizing the funny ways our subconscious works. And two, who cares? Keep going. I can almost guarantee that in your later drafts, you’re going to edit that out and come up with something really genuine and original.

Which I think brings us to another good point Adam made: “If you are practicing and it sounds good, you have ceased practicing…you are no longer working on anything.” I know for myself, when I first started NaNo, I was shocked at how horribly bad my writing was. As someone who studied literature, I assumed that I would have no problem composing gorgeous prose. Wrong. WRONG. But the point is, it’s supposed to be terrible. If your writing isn’t terrible, you’re probably not pushing yourself creatively (or you’re delusional). As Adam discusses in the interview, the idea of the “artistic genius” is an expectation that non-artists place on us. And so when we struggle, we think there’s something wrong with us, that maybe we’re not cut out for this. But any real musician or writer who has worked professionally in their field knows that to put out an album or write a novel is  a shit ton of work and it doesn’t come easy. It is a struggle from beginning to end. A worthwhile, exhilarating, inspiring struggle. But a struggle, nonetheless.

For me the high point of the interview comes at 39:00 where we discuss our doubts and insecurities in the creative process. For Adam, he’s had to cultivate a “general acceptance that it isn’t always going to be perfect.” He feels it’s important for artists to recognize “things are what they are.” When he walks onto the bandstand, he has to accept that “this might suck” and be absolutely okay with that. I feel like too often we turn away from creative endeavors at the first sign of sucknitude, and that for many of us, we can’t arrive at a place where we can accept that something might be unsuccessful. When I started my NaNo novel in 2013, I was at a low point in my career and felt I had nothing else to lose. All my hopes of a tenure-track job had been dashed because of budget cuts, and I thought…”Why not write a novel? It might suck. It probably will suck. But it could be fun.” Fast forward two years later…in any case, I think the acceptance that “this might suck” was key for me and it seems to be for my brother as well.

At the end of the interview, I ask Adam what advice he would give to the first-time NaNo writer stuck in the middle of a story and not sure of where to go next. He said point blank, “Keep going or quit.” While it may not be the raucous cheer leading ra-ra we like to hear, I think it’s truly what is fundamental for being a successful artist in any field. I’m not the most talented writer I know, but I’m the writer who keeps going no matter what, no matter how bad things get. Adam stresses fundamentals and says, “Think about what you can write in one minute, maybe jump to another scene, and don’t kick yourself for being stuck.” He discusses too how important it is to figure out what works well for you, what routine is going to help you get the most out of your creativity. But the point is, keep going.

Keep going NaNos!

You can find the whole interview below, but before you do…

Check out Adam Bookers’ debut CD Unravaled Rival at www.shiftingparadigmrecords.com

It’s also available on itunes!

adam cover

And check out his website for news and upcoming events.

Full Interview: