Simon Says: Writing Tips for Indie Authors

Decide what kind of artist you want to be before entering the industry.

Writers can’t excuse that all artists are screened through consumers’ expectations. Experts in the entertainment industry understand this concept. And yes, more than ever, books are heavy contenders in this, generating amazing movie deals, inspiring songs etc.

Recently, I’ve been catching up on talent completions, specifically X Factor. It’s funny to watch the contestants wait in anticipation for Simon Cowells response. Deep down, his feedback is the only one they really care about (so it seems). Because what Simon says is right. He knows talent, but more importantly he knows the business and the market.

Over the years there is one thing he says repeatedly on American Idol, Some Country Has Talent and X Factor that has stuck with me. Several times, mid-song, he’d ask the person auditioning to sing something different.

Why?

Because their voice wasn’t right for the song, possibly the style didn’t suit them. Basically, it wasn’t working. Then they’d perform something different and it would wow the judges. Choosing the right song is everything. Just because a singer can sing anything, doesn’t mean they should. Think about some of your favorite artist for a minute. Why do you like them? How would you define (categorize) their music? Is their style consistent?

There’s a reason why Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Muse, Dave Matthews Band, and countless others (really the list could go on), stick with one genre of music. It’s not because their talent has limitations–not at all. But their audience has expectations and, as artists, they understand the value in meeting those expectations.

Leonardo DiCaprio established himself as an actor in similar (type-cast) kind of roles, then blew our minds as we discovered later on the depth of his acting. This is easier to see with comedians. So, Jim Carey stuck with comedy for a while before shocking us with The Truman Show. Proving yourself in one area really pays off. Consumers need some sort of brand recognition–a way to place the artist in their minds.

For indie authors, the same applies. Just because you can write any genre doesn’t mean you should–well, not in the beginning. Build an audience in one genre first, then you can cross into another. And pick the right genre for your writing style. Like Simon says, this makes all the difference. And let me say:

tumblr_mfbbg6LPym1qejmu9o2_250

What are your thoughts on choosing the right genre, building an audience, and brand recognition as an author?

Unusual Jobs

Interview picture

A note a staff member gave me before my interview

For this weeks snippet I’m sharing an RA interview. Another writer interviewed one of their characters last week and I really liked it! The process for the RA position is pretty intense. There’s a long, detailed application, 2-3 personal interviews, then group interviews where candidates do a series of tasks with other candidates. Organizing RA interviews and hiring can take an entire semester. It’s a big deal.

I’ve invited Carly (my character from The Hall Speaks #fallsemester) to sit with us and answer a few questions. These are real questions asked on interviews and I got them here. Hopefully it gives you a little insight into the RA job and my character. Carly wasn’t a girl I liked right away. She’s not mean but she isn’t concerned with trying to be nice. Eventually she grew on me.

The math: It’s May 7 so she will answer that many questions.  🙂

********

Carly Arnold (sophomore at VBU, RA candidate)

Carly Arnold (sophomore at VBU, RA candidate)

So, Carly, thanks for meeting with me. I know you just finished interviewing with Landon for the actual RA position.  I’m going to ask you some of the same question he did but feel free to be candid. Nothing you share will get in the way of you getting the job.

1) Well, how are you?

“I’m fine…can’t wait to get out of these clothes, though. A little tight in all the wrong places if you know what I mean.” She’s wearing a lavender button down shirt and a navy skirt.

2) Ok, I won’t keep you long then. So, why do you want to be a RA?

Hm..I didn’t come to school thinking about the RA job—not at all.  My parents believe in working hard and all that, and want me to work through college. I can’t do retail or fast food stuff. No way. Being an RA seems pretty harmless. I get my own room, tell freshmen what to do, and get campus-credit. It’s really cool, when you think about it.”

She looks down at her lap for a moment, then back at me.

“Beside, it’ll be the first thing I do without my boyfriend. We’ve been together for, like– ever. So I want everyone to see that I’m more than Patrick’s girlfriend.  And the money I save my parents on room and board, they promised to give it to me after graduation. Not a bad deal.”

Pride gleams in her smile as she crosses her legs, leaning back in the chair.

3) Not a bad deal at all. And what are some of your strengths?

“I don’t really have a problem confronting people, especially if I’m right. I can keep residents in line. I’m a planner, good with numbers too. I’m an accountant major so I could maximize our RA programming funds.”

4) And what about weaknesses? What would you say those are?

“Weaknesses, Ha! I have plenty of those…like chocolate, margaritas, bakeries. In general when it comes to food I don’t discriminate. But I’ve been dating slim fast for the last 6 years so no one has to worry about me eating all the food at RA programs. But I guess my social weakness is forgetting that people have feelings. I can tend to just focus on my own,” she explains smiling with her eyes.

5) Why should we hire you?

“Because I have moves you’ve never seen.” She laughs and so do I. “I saw the original red-head, Julia Roberts,  say that in a movie once. Sorry—just wanted to see how that sounded. Why should you hire me? Well…I’m pretty awesome. But other than that, I’m reliable and really organized…I don’t stress out. School is fairly easy for me so I can handle those RA responsibilities just fine.  And I’m pretty normal. Alana’s cute if you’re into that Disney princess kind of look, but I caught her cleaning in the bathroom. I mean, who cleans public bathrooms unless it’s their job?  I’m nineteen with no major meltdowns on my record, so that should put me in the top ten on the candidate list.”

6) Carly, tell me what you would do in this situation: You notice that one of your residents doesn’t seem to want to return home for Christmas. When you approach her, she tells you she’s nervous about going home because her step-father molested her in the past. What would you do?

She sighs.“These questions… this makes me sad. I hate that people go through stuff like this—period. What I’d want to tell her is that while her step-dad is riding his broomstick to hell, that she can stay with me for break. My family is crazy-generous to everyone except me. Of course, I gave Landon the more censored, good-RA  answer, but honestly I couldn’t let her go home.”

7) Do you think Landon will hire you?

“Gosh, I sure hope so. He said I needed this job. Which I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that because my parents have money.  But he sounded pretty darn sure that I needed to be an RA on his staff. Yep–totally got that vibe from him.”

Well, maybe he thinks being an RA can help you as a person.

Her brows shift, moving closer together. She looks kind of offended.

I learned so much in the role and grew as a person because of it. Possibly he wants the same thing for you. Best of luck to you, Carly! I’m sure you’ll get the job. Thanks for letting me interview you. It’s nice getting the uncensored, unscripted version.

“Yeah, no problem. See ya around!”  She walks off towards a guy in a suit.

********

Always, thanks for reading! If you’d like to take part in WIPpet just go here.  Be sure to check out other WIPpets, I’ll be doing my rounds later today.  And thank you K. L. Schwengel for hosting! Happy reading all! Stay beautiful. 🙂

NeVer ForgeT

Seven years ago today….

1397222523629

I sat in my office on a Monday, sorting through an inbox full of emails. I had gotten to work early to get a jump on administrative stuff (my least favorite activity).

The morning was going along nicely. Nothing significant happening inside, but outside the unseasonably cold day was gorgeous. You know that kind of day when the air feels clean and the sun is blazing by 7 am. The bluest sky was visiting, and campus life hadn’t quite awakened from the weekend.

Simply the perfect way for an introvert to start her week.

I was in the lobby chatting it up with a student, when my supervisor approached. He face said nothing in particular. But he stopped by to let me know that two students had been shot at my school.

I remember frowning because I thought that was strange. Probably some accident, I assumed. Working and living on a college campus, few situations shocked me. I continued on with my day as normal. An hour or so passed and students crowded the lobby. They whispered to each other, looking concerned. And that’s when I felt the energy around me change.

After that, honestly, I can’t recall the exact order of events. I knew it was a shooting, but when reports started coming in about fatalities, I couldn’t process that information.

How could that be? Virginia Tech was the safest university ever. My Alma Mater was the safest school, tucked away in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

I had just graduated the previous year and the Hokie  community was family. Literally my family was there, my brother-in-law, cousins, RAs, colleagues, and dear friends. Watching CNN that day, I knew all of them were affected, but I wasn’t sure if they were all still alive.

And here I was at work, on a college campus nearby. I wanted to leave and be with my Tech family. But I needed to stay. The crisis was starting to unfold among the students around me.

VT is the largest university in Virginia and most of my students had friends there. Students in front of me, behind me cried, but I couldn’t. Not yet.

The world changed that day. The sun seemed different. Food didn’t taste the same. My job felt different. Truth is I was different. That day my worldview changed.

A week later I was able to talk with a colleague at VT, and something she said never left me.

I couldn’t fathom what that day was like for her and other Residence life staff there. The first shooting occurred in a dorm I lived in the previous year. Wrapping my mind around such a tragedy was hard enough, being there when as it happened, I couldn’t imagine.

But I wondered how did they handle it? What did the RAs do knowing they had lost a fellow RA and residents?

She paused and said, “We were working. We worked.”

Now, that to me was shocking. But once I let the words sink in, I was inspired. That, in the middle of the biggest tragedy to ever happen on any college campus, RAs and professional staff worked. It was powerful. And I couldn’t have been more proud of the way they pulled together.

Hokie Community at the Memorial VT

Hokie Community at the Memorial VT

Residence Life staff members across the country face several types of issues living the halls. The work they do is irreplaceable and invaluable. Universities need them more than I can explain. I just wanted to write a story to capture the RA experience—the Residence Life experience. And I did.  Because they work when no one is watching, they are always working.

I’ll never forget that day, the heart always remembers. To my dear friends I lost that day, we live for you!

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry,

and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

~Nikki Giovanni

www.thriftywebsites.us photo credit

Get In The Club–No, This Kind Of Club

I lived in Dallas—shout-out to all my Texas writers! I miss Texas.

My writing life flourished there because my support team kept me focused and motivated. I even attended a weekly critique group. I’m still building that writerly support where I live now. It takes time. I’ve only been in DC for a little over a year.

But I’ve found a group, one that helps my writing more than they know.

How I joined was a bit of a coincidence, a friend of a friend sort of invitation. Honestly I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I read books like most people watch TV, keeping up with several novels at a time, but sitting around talking about them in a casual sense…um, well… I was the blank slate when it came to this sort of thing.

I’m talking about joining a book club. A writer in a book club—how perfect?!

Each time we meet and dissect discuss a book, I get an education. Mostly on how the novel failed miserably or why it’s loved. I mean unable-to-put-novel-down kind of love.

For a writer it’s all pretty enlightening. Especially since their perspective is fresh, unbiased, simple-honest. None of them are writers—just readers. Hungry readers.

download.gifcatreading

And I love hungry readers.

Their advice is so helpful as I apply it to my writing. So here it is: Book Club Happiness and Helpful Tips for Writers.

  1. Question. Readers like books that keep them turning the pages. Sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the true art. How does one write to keep them reading? I noted all the books that we finished quickly. Each book had a big, intriguing question. The author would write around this topic, not really answering the question until way later. And the question has to be compelling enough that you cannot leave the story alone until it’s answered.
  1. Friends. Books are enjoyed best with friends. Obviously books have become just, if not, more social than the authors that wrote them. I can’t count the number of books I’ve read because they had a following. I only read the Hunger Games because all of my campus students were going completely nuts about it. I just wanted to see what had them so excited.Often times it’s the reader’s curiosity and wanting to belong, that makes them pick up a book. In this book club, word-of-mouth is the number one way we select books. Usually it’s a visit to Goodreads, selecting what’s popular (I’m the exception, I always select books by indie authors that none of them have heard of). So, new authors have to find the right group to build their audience. There’s an audience for every book, but finding them–that’s the real work.
  1. Escapism. I’m not sure if it’s the constant drama in the (bad) news, but we are constantly looking for an escape. Something to keep our mind off the world. Our world at times. So it’s not a surprise that we get excited about summer blockbusters, television shows, and book releases. All present opportunities to escape. Even if it’s just for a few hours, from our to-do-list, homework, or life’s problems, these breaks are so necessary. Readers want to get lost in your novel, to completely forget that they were cooking dinner or waiting for the bus. This goes along with knowing your audience and what’s an ‘escape’ for them. Personally, I’ve known too many friends crushed by cancer that reading, The Fault In Our Stars, is a no-go. I have no doubt it’s amazing but it wouldn’t be much of an escape for me. Thank you—but no thanks, John Green. 😉

If you’re working on a novel or enjoying writing, I highly recommend joining a book club. Remember, everything we do as writers is useful research–yep, even a Book Club. Happy Friday!! 🙂

 

Gif Credit: http://cheezburger.com/5206018048

Hot Pink Stain–WIPpet

Have you ever met someone who has a bad attitude for no reason? Like, you ask a simple question and they snap back with a rude comment. It’s hard not to take it personally. And showing compassion for the person displaying this behavior–forget about it–not happening!  Because I know for me in those situations, I don’t exactly get this feeling:

1301088653-andy_parks_and_rec.gifhappy

Well, I’ve learned that there is always a reason–not that it’s justifiable–why people are mean. I’m convinced that 90% of road-rage has nothing to do with driving. Sometimes people go through horrible things and live with residual anger.  If any of you have ever seen Anger Management you know exactly what I’m talking about. Or one of my favorites, that moment in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark just goes mad-cow disease on his boss.

The way many people feel when life just gets crazy

The way many people feel when life just gets crazy

Unfortunately for my character, Kessa Daniels, her situation has no laughter involved. She’s carrying a dark burden. A burden that was forced, one that she never imagined carrying.  But she holds it with an attitude because it’s the only way to deal with the pain. Some folks smile the pain away, while others push everyone away.

In my first novel, The Hall Speaks #fallsemester, Kessa is introduced during RA training. She is playing the role of a cutter during the scenario and is so believable the other RAs get emotional watching. This happens during that scene:

But for Kessa, conjuring up tears was as easy as brushing her teeth.

She had more to cry about then any of them could ever know. 

My WIP scene is connected to this one, and it’s from RA Marcus Johnson’s POV. They are ‘just friends’ and he’s finally getting Kessa to trust him. Marcus asked Kessa to attend a divine nine fraternity banquet with him.

The math: April 2, 2014 so I’m giving you 22 lines (14+2+2+4) from blog post 8 (4th month multiplied by 2).

#Marcus

“Never mind, Marcus, I’ll get it myself,” she demanded, snatching the cup from his hand.

“Look–I’m sorry.”

Her expression softened. No one could be mad at Marcus for long. His dimples appeared when he talked. He accepted people and they accepted him right back.

Kessa gave him a quick smile. “It’s ok, I’m sorry too.”

“Hey, let me introduce you to one of the pillars in KSG…” Marcus shifted to the side, revealing the dark-skinned guy behind him. “This is Drake,” he introduced, patting his high set shoulders.

The most peculiar smile shaped Drake’s slender face as he studied Kessa’s form. Marcus frowned slightly because Drake stared at Kessa like he knew her in that way. He glanced at Kessa and felt even more lost.

She stood there, still as a tree in the eye of a storm. Her dark brown eyes focused on Drake, watering from a new emotion. Her fingers twitched. Before Marcus could mutter another word, she flung her drink in Drakes’ face. The red liquid dripped down his neck, staining his white collared shirt hot pink.

********

Always, thanks for reading! If you’d like to take part in WIPpet just go here.  Be sure to check out other WIPpets, I’ll be doing my rounds tomorrow. And thank you K. L. Schwengel for hosting! Happy reading and let’s all keep writing!

Photo/Gif Credit: www.tucsonweekly.comgiphy.com245 × 235

 

The Most Important Work of A Writer

I volunteer at my son’s elementary school.  Eighty-five percent of his classmates are learning English, along with this rigorous Kindergarten curriculum. And yes, it is actually a hard workload for a five-year-old: book reports, addition and substation, spelling tests.

I’m not sure about you, but my first schooling experience pretty much consisted of naps, magical story-times, and snacks.

Helping these kids with English, led me to think deeper about my writing. I wondered if my writing would translate—the way I intended it—in other languages.  Although hundreds of books are translated, thinking about my novel in a different language never crossed my mind. I imagine an author would need a ton of guidance to make sure the translation is as close to the original as possible.

writing

As writers, we can tend to spend an exhausting amount of time looking for the perfect word to capture a scene or emotion. But how important is this to the story? Especially if it has potential to reach worldwide status.  I’m sure the writing style changes a bit during the translation process. But there is one thing that never changes.

Many writers ask, “What’s more important, the writing or the story?” I ran across a statement on Tumblr that gets us closer to the answer. A student sat in a presentation given by  Brian Doyle and here’s what they posted:

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing author, and an even better man named Brian Doyle. There are a few authors named Brian Doyle, but this one is the author from New York who wrote “Mink River” and “The Plover.” He talked about his own life and how he writes and what his process is, and it was all very standard for an author visiting a group of college students, but then he said something that really caught my attention. He said this:

“I don’t call myself a writer or an author. I call myself a story catcher. I don’t come up with stories, I live them and I take them and I keep them in my pocket until I need to tell them. I do this because stories are important. They are what we all live for. Stories are all anyone can know about anyone else. And so I challenge you to find the story that matters. Because behind everything there is a deeper story. When 9/11 happened everyone wrote about the brave firemen who rushed back into the buildings even though there was no chance that they could save everyone. Everyone wanted to write the story about the terror and the fear and the loss of an icon. But behind all the fire and tire and white ash is a more important story. Everyone tells the big story. No one tells the story about the family that sets four places at the dinner table, and has to put one plate back. I challenge you to find the important story. Find the story that really matters.”

The Story wins! 

Sky, fog, and clouds on a textured vintage paper background with grunge stains.

It’s been proven for centuries that stories are all we have, they confess the human experience. From The Great Gatsby, The Kite Runner,  Alice in Wonderland, all translated in several languages. But why? Because these stories captured a generation and continue to do so today.

I don’t know any teenagers reading original Shakespearian language for fun, but most enjoy stories from that era. We love them—like Disney, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, MacBeth, are here to stay.

So, the most important work of a writer is this: write in a way to help readers listen to the real story. It’s the story–even over time—that doesn’t change, but can change the world. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

 

Sources:

blog.writeathome.com 

http://modern-major-cannibal.tumblr.com/tagged/Brian-Doyle

letswritetogether.wikispaces.com

Guilty–WIPpet

This month I’ve started editing the sequel to my debut novel, The Hall Speaks #fallsemester. It hasn’t been horrible, but I wish I could say that I’ve been working on it everyday and making great progress. Last week was full of student chaos–all fun, but nonetheless exhausting.  So, spending time with my characters got put hold a few days. I have one more major event that I’m planning and after that, I’m hoping the semester will slow down to a manageable pace.  🙂

Onto my WIPpet for today, March 19, 2014. My brain is loaded so I’m doing easy math, just adding it all together.

3+19+2=24 sentences or so, and 2+1+4= blog post 7

I thought it would be helpful to share exactly I write about since my premise is fairly unusual.  In short, my books are about Residence Life culture, specifically resident assistants (RAs).  They have this unique experience of living at their job with co-workers (other RAs), customers (residents), and the boss (Hall Director). As you can image, this set-up makes everything interesting. Especially on the relationship front. Boundaries are crossed, lines are blurred to a nonexistent level.  But who can blame them? It’s hard living with anyone without things getting personal at some point.

And this topic brings us to RAs Carly and Ethan that share a past, but still  must work together. And I’d like to add my choice of actors to play these rolls this week.  I usually don’t imagine the face of actors when I write, but what the heck! I wanted to add something fun to this weeks WIP excerpt. 🙂

karen-gillan-10
320_33569890389_571855389_1622798_4884_n_large.jpgEthan

In this scene they are in winter RA training. Carly is looking to finally get some answers from Ethan.

********

#Carly

Carly watched as Janine walked towards them, wearing a colorful mess of clothes, smiling.

Janine held her arms out to the group as if waiting for a hug. “And to most of your residents that’s exactly what your transfer students will be like–strangers. Not starting the year with ya’ll is a real set-back socially, so it’s your job to Do It Like Grandma Does!”

The corner of Carly’s lip lifted, irritated. Ok I can totally zone out now… She peeked at Ethan next to her. Better idea.

She reached in her bag and grabbed a notebook; she figured it would look less suspicious, like they were taking notes on the presentation. She scribbled on the paper. Her handwriting hadn‘t been great since the accident but it was legible. She pushed the note under his elbow.

Ethan looked down, reading it.

Why didn’t you visit me? I know we didn’t end on the best terms – we had our ups and downs but I thought we were still friends. We’re cool, right? 

He sat there for a minute shifting uncomfortably in his seat, then picked up the pen and wrote:

I was working, sorry. And yeah, we’re cool.

Carly looked at Ethan as his eyes stayed on Janine. He was hiding something. She could smell guilt better than police dogs sniffing for street drugs. Having cheated on her boyfriend with Ethan last semester, she suffered from the guilt-disease for weeks. Whatever was going on with Ethan overflowed from his eyes, apparently affecting his vision. Since they’d gotten back from break, he hadn’t look at her–not really. None of it made sense.

Then her chest tightened as she gripped the sides of her new transportation. She groaned inwardly, hoping Ethan wasn’t getting all weird because she was in a wheelchair now. But that couldn’t be it, Carly decided. Ethan was lame sometimes, but not petty.

********

Always, thanks for reading! If you’d like to take part in WIPpet just go here.  Be sure to check out other WIPpets, I’ll be doing my rounds tomorrow. And thank you K. L. Schwengel for hosting! Happy reading and let’s all keep writing!

Photo credit: http://data.whicdn.com/images, http://doctorwho.fm/wp-content/blogs