Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"Up and Autumn," Everyone!

What happened to August? I seem to have missed a month, somewhere. Family issues and losses abounded, none of them easy to handle. So, that's my excuse.
Luckily, September follows August and is one of my favorite months.
If I lived somewhere besides San Diego, I'd say the leaves were starting to turn, or the nights were getting cold, but as it is, I can at least sense the coming of autumn in the air. Time for us to get "up and autumn"! Of course, I'm so very thankful I'm not dealing with a flooded/destroyed home and I don't have a hurricane poised to strike me.
So... now it's time for one of my favorite weekends of the year—the Southern California Writers Conference. If you don't know about SCWC yet, click here. The schedule is up and the workshops and speakers are listed. So much to look forward to! Not just Pitch Witches at a new "rogue" time (9pm), but a Pitch Witch query class, my expository class, and an early morning read and critique on Sunday. I'm even teaching a new workshop on marketing literary fiction and memoir.


My "Pitch Witch" Partner, Marla Miller with Yours Truly

Aspiring writers ask me all the time why they should go to a writers conference and I always say you shouldn't go to just any conference, but there are some very good reasons to go to SCWC.
1. You'll learn a lot about writing & publishing, from professional writers, editors, and agents.
2. You'll get feedback on your work-in-progress or that manuscript you think is finished (is it?)
3. You'll make contacts in the world of publishing that will help you to succeed in this biz.
4. You'll make friends who will like, understand, and support you (I certainly have!)
5. You'll get out of your lonely writing room.
6. You'll have a blast!
I hope you can make it to Irvine this year—there's still time to register in advance, or you can simply show up on Friday...
hasta pronto!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vacation Brain Strikes Back, and Some Tips on Transitions.

Yes, I've been on vacation—actually two mini vacations, separated by a stressful week dealing with a family member in crisis. Now I'm back home and my "hard earned" calm from a couple of day's relaxation—poof! It's gone!
I'm getting back to work, and I'm stuck with Vacation Brain. V.B. is the fuzzy, vague, can't-quite-concentrate feeling that you strive for on vacation, but that you have to shuck like an oyster shell once you return to the real world.

So, here's what I have been thinking about: transitions. Both in life and in writing. Transitions don't get enough love, and they certainly don't get much respect. In life we tend to gloss over other people's life transitions with phrases like "It's just a phase," "this too shall pass," "you'll get over it," and even "get over it!"
In judging an author's writing, editors and agents often say "the transitions were weak" but what exactly does that mean? In my experience, it means that either you took too long to get from plot point A to plot point B, thereby boring the reader, or that it happened too fast and left us wondering, so make sure you know which problem your text suffered from.
Sometimes transitions surprise us unintentionally, and then it isn't really the transition itself that is to blame, but all that came before it. (A surprise can be a good thing in some genres, but not a surprising surprise, if you know what I mean. We've all read those, where we say, "WTF? That character would never have done that!")
In order to improve your transitions, you must first find them. You can spot them by highlighting what they are not. Most transitions are not whole scenes, they are the connective tissue between scenes. There is action/reaction in a scene (a "beat," if you will) and then the scene ends and, at some point, another scene begins. That connecting section is your transition.
Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and sometimes a whole chapter—usually, a very short one—works as a transition in a book. A great example, in a book by Ray Bradbury, was a one-sentence chapter which I'll try to recall here: "Nothing else happened the rest of the night."
Great transition, but it won't work in too many books. Sometimes a transition has to do some heavy lifting, like jumping through space and time, and, unless you're Zane Grey you don't want to use the cliched "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..."
So, how do you make those leaps, from breakfast to break-up, or from colonial Bangaladesh to modern-day Bermuda?
The best answer I can give is to read. Read the greats, and see how they do what they do. When you find a great transition, jot it down or highlight it (easy on a Kindle or most other e-reader apps). Go back and re-read them and see which one moves you. Keep a list of them for inspiration. Next time you are stuck, refer to that list. You won't use the transitions word for word, of course, but they can certainly act as a jumping off place.
That's the best I can do with Vacation Brain. Hope it was a little bit helpful...Now for a nap...
hasta pronto!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Recap of the SDBAA Awards (with winners and links)

Last week, the San Diego Book Awards Association presented their awards at the Sheraton in La Jolla. There were no SDBAA awards given out last year, due to the passing of Chet Cunningham, so this year books were accepted from 2016 and 2017, and needless to say, the competition for top honors was very fierce...
I was there, breath held and fingers crossed for Eric Peterson's The Dining Car to win the top award in the Contemporary Fiction category, which it did! Congratulations, Eric, on your second gold medal for this delectable, rollicking book.



Two of my other clients had books nominated in the category of Published Young Adult Fiction— Dragon Camp by Cate Shepherd, and Paco Jones by Dominic Carrillo. I applauded loudly for both of them, but Paco Jones won!
But even before that, it was a very fun night, with plenty to applaud as we celebrated literary excellence in San Diego.
The General Fiction category was way too close to tell with Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood, Casualties by Elizabeth Marro, and Gifts Unexpected by T.C. Grant. The winner was Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood.
Judy Reeves was nominated for her newest book, Wild Women, Wild Voices and I saw that inspiring "Wild Woman" herself at the awards.
Her books' competition was a beautiful, photo-rich book by my friend Nicholas Clapp published by my long-time pals at Sunbelt Publications. Nick's beautiful book won, which was nice, but comparing the two books is like comparing apples to oranges.
Friends John Van Roekel and Indy Quillen were both nominated for their most recent works and it was nice to see them there.
The winner of the "Best of the Best" for the night, aka, the Theodor S. Geisel Award was Take a Hike by Priscilla Lister. Lots of photos of the big night are here.
There are many categories in the SDBAA awards, from local interest to military/politicalthere's always something for everyone from our local authors.
Click here to see the full list of winners.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Blazing a Trail and Blazing Laptops

I think all artists owe two things to society. One is doing their art, and the other is sharing their knowledge and expertise with the world. (Of course, it is nice if they get to share their art with the world, but some never get that chance, for myriad reasons.) I love writing, and trying to help writers get their art out there, and I adore being able to appreciate the art of writing.
As Langston Hughes said: "My motto, As I live and learn, Is dig and be dug in return."
My path as a writer has been erratic, to say the least. I started writing in school and have never stopped, but my career has largely been about other people's writing. I was surprised to find out, back in 1997, that I really liked working on other people's writing. My parents are both voracious readers, my mom is a poet and writer, and my dad is an editor, so maybe it is in my blood!
I started writing professionally by writing plays and acting in them. Enter Russel, my life partner and co-conspirator in all things, and soon I was editing a literary journal of writing about Baja California, where we were living on our sailboat.
That labor of love led me to Sunbelt Publications, where I spent over a decade happily editing, packaging, and marketing books about Mexico and the SW U.S. That was fun and challenging, but as Editor-in-Chief I was soon spending more time with P&L statements and budgets than books and authors.
On my own as a freelancer since 2011, I got back to editing books which was, and continues to be, a joy to me. I love helping writers figure out how to "tune out the static" to bring in the clear message behind the obscurity of too many words.
I have recently discovered again just how fulfilling it is to help "birth" a book by being involved from the beginning of a book's journey. My most recent "book baby," The Dining Car by Eric Peterson, just won the Gold Medal for Popular Fiction at the national IBPA Ben Franklin awards and I am so darn proud. (It's like your kid getting Student of the Year!)
Along the way, I started teaching. I started by sharing what I was, by then, an expert in—writing great query letters to editors and publishers. Soon I was teaching a popular pitch class at the Southern California Writers Conference, and I quickly joined the SCWC staff.  I teach different classes there in conference and each one is better than the last!


Another home I found as an instructor was at San Diego Writers, Ink (SDWI). Over the years, I have taught classes in everything from writing YA to crafting exciting expository. For a San Diegan like myself, SDWI represents a unique resource for our writing community, with classes happening nearly every day somewhere in the city. Mostly they happen at the wonderful Ink Spot in Point Loma's expansive Liberty Station.
I love SDWI and have supported the non-profit for years. This May I'll once again be participating in their annual Blazing Laptops fundraising event at the Ink Spot. Here is the link to my Blazing Laptops page, should you want to donate. I promise to write all day and to keep sharing whatever knowledge about writing I have with new and emerging writers.
I am so lucky to be part of a wonderful community, not just SCWC and SDWI but the world-wide community of artists who have something to say, and want to share it with the world.
hasta pronto!