Hitting the Wall–Danger!

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Okay – it happens. We all know it happens. There you are logging hundreds of words a day, going full-steam ahead, typing with one hand and patting yourself on the back with the other. Then, wham! The wall. Danger. All of the above!

I had probably written 35,000 words when it happened – that horrible feeling that there is nowhere for any of my characters to go. I’d somehow managed to tell all their collective stories and to solve all their problems without ever getting the book off the ground. Talk about a wall. Talk about undertows! Talk about fear of all manner of wild beasts.

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When I hit the wall, I go out walking. And lucky for me, my trails in Feb. don’t need the above warning signs. Pretty quiet these days. On one of those walks, I got the idea to put each storyline to the question.

Ah … you say … the question? What can that be?

Where is the tension? Where is this going?

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Yesterday, the ideas began to explode in my head like cannon fire. And I could see why I hit the wall. I’d revealed far too much about the characters far too soon. That’s easy to fix. One can always switch blocks of writing from here to there. And I hadn’t allowed myself to come up with enough action events to propel the storylines.

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I was in possession of a plethora of action events. So, I took a scene plotter approach. I plugged my characters into those events and thought about how putting them in certain places at certain times was going to move their individual and collection storylines along. I know where they’re all going to end up – so that helps. As you can see, I’m out on that dangerous bridge without a care in the world. Of course, I’m not planning to dive.

 

Inevitable though, one day’s wild excitement is followed by a day of panic. As I contemplate the work involved in weaving all the threads together to create the tapestry that is unfolding in my mind, as I think about cobbling the pieces of story fabric together to create my quilt … it is daunting. Back to the walking.

(The photo below is the church on Zuckerberg Island near Castlegar. That is where the bridge above went to.)

Zuckenberg Island chapel house 2, Castlegar BC Oct 22-2018 - francis guenette photo

This whole writing process is like these socks I just finished knitting for myself. I call them my socks of many colours composed of all the bits of yarn leftover from my various holiday sock knitting projects. What I love about them is that I only need to look down at my feet and I can see the yarn that went into socks I’ve made for so many people I love. The book is like the socks of many colours – bits and pieces of my whole life knit into something wholly new that came from me but isn’t me at all.

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Action is Plot and Plot is Action

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A great story is life with the dull parts taken out – Alfred Hitchcock.

Morning grey on the Fraser River – day two of our fall trip. Nothing dull about that pic. In novel writing, we want no dull characters, no dull situations, no dull settings. But, let’s be clear on what constitutes dull. The definition, in terms of writing, is unique. Any action that doesn’t move the story forward is dull. If teeth brushing is integral to the movement of your story, then teeth brushing is not dull. Maybe your character is brushing her teeth and as she spits blood into the sink, she decides once and for all to leave the brute who smashed her in the face that morning. Definitely not dull.

On the other hand, the photo below, is vibrant with fall colours. It is no dull grey expose but what does it have to do with the story? The colours may pop but if they aren’t moving the story forward, dull, dull, dull.

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Action is plot and plot is action. I’ve read that genre novels are action driven. Lots of things happen to the character. Literary novels are more about the interior life of the characters. It could be said that the character happens to the plot. In each case, the story must find a way to move. It seems to me that most good novels are a combination of the two.

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A plot without good character development is all action and no bonding. The reader can’t get invested. On the other hand, character development without a plot is like being all dressed up and having no where to go. And by the way – have you ever heard of a Turban squash. I hadn’t until we stopped at the Marisposa Organic Fruit Stand outside Keremeos.

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At its most basic, plot is how a character deals with challenge. And it’s all about movement. Want something, go somewhere, learn something, come out the other end changed. There you have it. Bare bones, but if you can’t see down to the skeleton, you can’t write a decent novel.

The photo below is Sunset in Osoyoos, the end of day two of our fall trip. The bulrush chimes near the art gallery. I hadn’t been back to Osoyoos since selling my dad’s house in 2010. He’d died late the previous year. I wasn’t expecting the return to bring back such powerful, overwhelming memories. Death changes everything.

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Tipping Over …

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Today marks an important transition: the day I tipped over from note taking to writing book five in the Crater Lake series. Word count – 1500. A modest start, you say. True … but I am thrilled. My dormer desk is working like an early spring tonic. The chance to focus and let my thoughts roam free is invigorating and productive. Even just a couple of hours at the keyboard in this new setting, when combined with my daily walk on the lake trails, has the creative pump gushing ideas all day long.

Not all is easy breezy, though. There is the early stage of idea overwhelm to deal with. I have been here before but that doesn’t seem to help. It goes something like this – I get one scene roughed out. I’m comfy in the heads of a couple of characters. Then, before I can stop myself, I’m thinking of all the other characters who are literally clamouring for attention and I start to panic. Can one brain hold so many storylines?

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When it starts, I tell myself – that’s what paper is for. Get it down, one section at a time and move on.

Prior to getting my cherished 1500 words today, I had combined all my notes into one Word doc. I set up the handy-dandy navigation tool in order to quickly move between sections.

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I recall blogging about this feature when working on my last book. First, choose a heading under styles for your chapter and section titles. Generate a table of contents and then with a simple click, turn on the navigation pane (under view) and quickly move to any section. At this stage of writing, I make my chapter and section titles super descriptive.

The Word doc I’m describing is now my prelim, prelim, prelim first draft. And that is one exciting statement! Next, I begin roughing in each section of the first four chapters. These I’ve already outlined in some detail. Once that is done, all my characters will be on the playing board ready to rock and roll. If experience is any guide, I won’t need to do much outlining after that – the characters will take over the story. I will simply be the scribe.

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I wonder what the cover number five will look like? Too soon to even guess.

Going Silent and Coming Back

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Well, WordPress followers … if you’re still out there … I’ve gone silent since September 18th, 2018 with my Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles post. What a post to go out on. By the way, those pickles are so delicious! Okay, all kidding aside, months can fly by when one is filling non-writing time with food preservation, road trips, holidays and sock knitting.

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There are about a hundred good posts in the above activities, but this blog is supposed to be all about writing. If I come to a dry spell again, I might start an all about non-writing blog. Then again, not writing really meant not writing. I have been hard pressed to put something as short and simple as an email together.

Let’s talk writing blocks. Every author has them. Getting my last book (No Compass to Right) out in 2017 was a huge effort – faster than usual writing timeline for all stages, a rush to publication to meet certain promotion opportunities then blissful nothingness. Stepping back from the whirlwind was much needed.

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My well-earned rest flowed right into summer at the lake, visitors and a bountiful garden to enjoy. Along comes fall and there is the imperative of fresh produce begging for preservation. Then immersion as a sideline cheerleader on our jar and freezer room project (check it out in the first pic on this post). More than satisfying to see that space completed! And suddenly it is time for a road trip. We get home, catch our breath and we are in the Christmas rush. Busy, busy, busy.

Brit, Fran and Emma at Crowsnest Pass in Alberta Nov3-2018 - bruce witzel photo

I’m not fooling any of the writers out there with my busyness excuses. When we need to write, nothing gets in the way and everything else still gets done – for the most part. Writers are efficient with their time.

Coming back is hard. I can’t deny it. The longer I stayed away from daily writing, the more of a brick wall went up. Deconstructing the wall takes time. My endurance for sustained writing is low. In the first fifteen minutes I fight down a constant stream of demanding thoughts. I need to get up for a snack, perhaps another cup of coffee, maybe I should check my email and on it goes. Then, without any fanfare, I fall into the zone and the next forty-five minutes whiz by.

In a rush of energy at the end of writing No Compass to Right, I created extensive notes for the next book. Last week, I started back to those notes and simply hanging out with the characters. Asking questions. What is on their minds, where do they want to go, what do they want to be doing in book five? And do those characters ever clamour for attention. They speak, oh man do they speak – some go so far as to yell and scream. The ideas come in front of the keyboard as I write and while I do my daily walk. I snapped this photo through the glass of our greenhouse the other day. Datura in full bloom with evergreen reflection.

January Greenhouse Datura

Once I am back to writing, the desire to send my thoughts out into the blogosphere returns. This has been my longest WordPress silence since I started blogging in 2012. Here’s to going silent and here’s to coming back. If anyone is still listening … here’s a couple of pics of me and Bruce at Emerald Lake in YoHo National Park.

Me and Bruce at Emerald Lake         Emerald Lake - Yo Ho National Park

Ode to the Reader

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No two persons ever read the same book.  Edmund Wilson – critic – May 8th, 1895-1972.

Edmund Wilson - critic - wikipedia

Any author who has received reviews of their work will tell you the truth of Wilson’s quote. Writers write and readers interpret.

As Anna sings in the hit Disney classic, FrozenLet it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.

As a writer, I fling my words out into the world and I let the readers do their job. Each person who opens one of my novels will bring to the book a unique set of life experiences, attitudes, values and expectations. Each will read a different book out of the very words available to all. And so it should be!

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Brushing Up and Reinventing–It’s All Good

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Home from my travels in the frigid lands of Southern Alberta. All I can say is that not everyone can live in the paradise that is the West Coast with wind, rain and stunning bursts of sun – all within the space of one rambling walk! Such is the diversity of Canadian weather. My first week of being home usually entails a process of orientation. I am not the best at moving seamlessly from one environment to another. It takes time for me to settle. I’m like an old dog that must circle and circle her bed before she can lay down.

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Back to solitary walks watching for bears. It is that time of year. Back to stationary bike rides while the rain pounds down beyond the covered deck. Back to thinking about where to go with my next book. I made a choice in January not to plunge into the writing of book five in the Crater Lake series. I have scads of starting notes and a gripping story board. I was perched on the edge when planning becomes doing. But I stepped back.

Naturally, I now question that decision. Such is life. There is an alchemy to the process of writing that is slippery to explain. I’ve always known when the moment is right, and it wasn’t. As lame as that sounds even to my own ears, I know it to be true.

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But I’m missing the Crater Lake setting, the characters and their conversations. I need a way back into that world. I read a great post the other day on Writers Helping Writers that suggested authors of books in sequence would be wise to have a series bible to help them avoid making errors. No one wants a reader noticing glaring inconsistencies. Like character A having a peanut butter allergy in book two and then gladly chowing down on a PB and J sandwich in book three. Things that simple and things more complex. Character sketches, important dates, timelines and storylines, setting details – they all need to be consistent across books.

So – here is my plan. I’ll create such a bible for the Crater Lake series. Most of this stuff is already written. I will pull all the stands together into a single document that I can reference and add to as I move forward.

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My second way back to Crater Lake is my intention to move all the softcover books from CreateSpace to the Kindle Direct platform. When I first contemplated this shift, it seemed like a wise move. The process of transfer looked easy and the benefit of having all sale information in one place appealed to me. Real life is seldom as smooth as one hopes.

I ran into a snag with Disappearing in Plain Sight. Kindle Direct rejected the book saying my author name disappears into the black on the front cover. Ironic – right? My name disappearing on the cover of Disappearing in Plain Sight. Oh well. In 2015 when I took the book back from Friesen Press, they provided me with the cover jpeg. When I reissued the book under my own imprint of Huckleberry Haven Publishing, I made use of the original cover with a major tweak – removing the Friesen Press logo and inserting my own. But it seems Kindle Direct has different standards than CreateSpace.

While my husband Bruce works out the glitches with the cover, I have decided – with the cooperation of my wonderful editor – to do a fresh grammatical edit on Disappearing in Plain Sight. The manuscript has gone through a number of revisions since our original editing work and now seems like a good time to shake it out like a crumbled quilt. Soon I must replenish my bulk supply of the softcover and it will be great to have pristine, updated copies to put on display. I’m also hoping for a BookBub feature sometime in the coming months and I want my flagship ebook to shine.

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So, there you have it – at Crater Lake but not quite onto new material. A few quick questions: Series authors – do you keep a series bible? How did you go about creating this resource? Waste of time (get writing!) or good idea? Is anyone else moving softcover books from CreateSpace to Kindle Direct? Have you run into any glitches with the process?

Marketing Your Self-Published Book

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The year 2018 is my sixth year of marketing my novels through my self-publishing imprint – Huckleberry Haven Publishing. I’ve wandered down many a marketing road over that time. Without fail, each new road was promoted as the one and only route to success. Most turned out to be nothing more than the flavour of the month. These roads led to wash outs or curves I did not anticipate. And don’t get me started on the tollbooth roundabouts with no way out of the circle.

On the up side, some meandering trails came out on my version of the superhighway of success.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Write a Good Book

It does make sense that you would want something worth marketing. But remember, the quality of any book is decided on a highly subjective basis. I read a lot and many books that I would classify as pure crap are doing well on Amazon. There is no accounting for personal taste when it comes to reading. If your book is something you would want to read, no doubt there are others out there who will also want to read it. No one is an island when it comes to reading preferences.

Assisted Self-Publishing – not all it’s cracked up to be.

Do you have unlimited cash? Are you content to let someone else control your book sales? Are you okay with giving up access to most promotional opportunities?

I tried an assisted self-publishing company for my first book and I was not satisfied.

Most will promise the moon and deliver a mere sprinkle of star dust. You can format and publish your own books for a fraction of the cost while retaining control of important sales data. If you aren’t up to creating a book cover you can find someone who is. Contract with them and pay them once only for the service. The same can be said for editing and formatting. Or you can DIY the whole process. It all depends on your existing skills and how much time you are willing to invest in learning new ones.

Our Trouble-making Marten

Ignore the Pseudo-Gatekeepers.

For me, the whole point of self-publishing was to let readers decide if they liked my work. I wasn’t willing to jump through time-consuming hoops and be rejected at the end of the process because the agents or the traditional publishers didn’t think anyone would want to read my books. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that gatekeepers are not restricted only to traditional publishing.

There are many pseudo-gatekeepers in the self-publishing world who make their money by preying on an author’s insecurities. They deal in the sale of approval – admittance to a special group, a pre-screening of your work, the opportunity to win a contest that will provide a shiny sticker for your book cover.

If you choose self-publishing, I would advise you to overcome the need for approval from anyone other than your readers.

Social Media – much ado about nothing?

I know you’ve heard the cast-in-stone rules about social media. The more places you are the better. You must be active on your Facebook author page, tweet everyday, write blog posts, get photos out on Instagram and Pinterest. 

I know a highly successful self-published author who does nothing on social media but her Facebook author page. She keeps her posts and updates on that page interesting and current. Her followers engage with her and are committed to her success. Her sales tell me that more and more social media is not necessarily better.

Here is what I suggest: find one or two platforms you really enjoy and stick to those. Stake out a little bit of real estate in cyberspace where you can post about your work and your life with creativity and ingenuity. People who show up to visit won’t mind if you promote the occasional special offer for one of your books. They will appreciate your effort.

At all costs, avoid papering the social media world with advertisements for your work. This is crass – period. And it won’t sell a single book. Enough said.

Create a Huge Email List

The self-published author’s email list is an imperative that is currently sacrosanct. We are urged to go down any and every road imaginable to gather email addresses then keep all of these people updated with news about our work and promotions. Well, guess what? Our well-crafted emails end up in the same spot as junk mail in the post office – the trash bin.

I’m not saying don’t gather email addresses. At the end of your e-book, provide your email and ask readers to contact you with their thoughts. Offer them a gift. I send an e-book copy of my short stories to anyone who emails me. Gather the email addresses of the readers who respond. These are the people who really like your work and want to hear when your next book is coming out. Using such a method, the email list you come up with is pure gold. It won’t be huge but then again, your emails won’t immediately hit the trash bin either.

Watch for Part 2 of this post. I’ll share my thoughts on the dilemma faced by self-published authors when it comes to getting book reviews.

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