From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

5 Writing Lessons from Steven Tyler


Considering the recent American Idol finale I thought it might be fun to see what lessons we writers can take from the one and only, best-thing-about-Idol-this-season, Mr. Demon of Screamin' himself, Steven Tyler. Besides just "be amazing" and "be charming", I mean.

1. Be yourself. I think this is a lesson you can take from any successful artist, or anyone worth learning from. If that means crazy, wacky like Steven Tyler, that's what it means. People love the crazy wacky, and it comes with charm, hilarity and memorability. Write the best from you, and you'll find lots of people who love it.

2. Make yourself iconic. Scarfs on the mic, long shaggy hair, crazy high notes and a crazy big mouth. You know thats Steven Tyler. Ok, so its a bit easier to do that kind of thing as a rock star than it is as a writer, but we can still find ways to make ourselves and our writing stick out in peoples minds, find ways to remind them of us and make ourselves easier to remember. We don't have mics to put scarfs on, but we have pages to put words on. And they're our words. We can make our characters iconic, too. I mean, who doesn't know who I'm talking about when I say lightning scar?

3. Be prolific. Aerosmith is one of the most prolific bands ever. They've kept going and going, putting new stuff out there and reaching out to a continually growing audience. In literaria, this is like Stephen King. The more (good work) you put out there, the more people you can reach.

4. Don't lose "it". The video below proves Steven Tyler hasn't. Keep writing, don't let yourself slack. Teach yourself new things, read as many of the good books on writing as you can get. Try new genres, stretch yourself. Try to be as "on" as Steven Tyler is when you're his age.

5. Take chances and opportunities. Aerosmith took chances with their music, and it worked. Take chances in your writing, and see where it takes you. Steven Tyler didn't have to join American Idol, and maybe got some flack for doing it, but taking that opportunity has brought him and his music to a whole new generation of music listeners. (Considering who the two finalists were, I'd say the majority of Idol watchers are in the Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber group of people, but bringing in Steven Tyler at least brought in some real music. Sorry, obviously I disagree with the results of this season. *cough* shoulda been Casey and James *cough*)

Anyway, here's the video. Man has he still got it.



Happy groupie-ing! Er,...writing.

Sarah Allen

Monday, May 30, 2011

Interview with romance author Roni Loren

So excited to have with us today fantastic romance author Roni Loren. She wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen, has a masters degree in social work from LSU and lives in Dallas with her husband and son. Her debut novel, CRASH INTO YOU, will be published by Berkley Heat January 3, 2012!

What is your writing schedule like?
My son goes to preschool four hours in the morning now, so I try to get most of my writing (and blogging) done during that time. This is a relatively new development. My first book was written whenever I could snatch a bit of time, which often meant I was writing steamy love scenes with Barney on TV in the background. Very sexy. :)

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always had an elaborate imagination. When I was eight, I spent like six months sleeping on the couch instead of my room because I was convinced my room was haunted and my stuffed animals were possessed. But I really took a true interest in writing when I hit high school. I was super shy and my dating life left a lot to be desired, so I started channeling that angst into stories. At fifteen I wrote a full length novel. It was horrible. All the male characters were named after members of New Kids on the Block and the heroine was named Love—because subtlety was my strong suit. But it was fun and kept my brain occupied when I was bored in class. I even remember buying a copy of Writer’s Market to find out how to query it, lol. I never did, but it was a good learning experience nonetheless.

How do you typically come up with ideas and develop them into a story?
This is always a tough question to answer. I’m not sure where the ideas come from. The littlest thing can spark that muse. I know for the book I wrote before CRASH INTO YOU I got my inspiration after going to a Buckcherry concert and deciding I needed to have a (fictional) affair with a rockstar, lol. (That book, for the record, is still under consideration with a publisher so not out anywhere yet.) For CRASH, I think I pulled a lot of my inspiration from my social work background and experience working with a few clients who’d suffered traumatic experiences. (My heroine in CRASH is both a social worker and a rape victim.)

What is the story behind getting Crash Into You accepted for publication?
While I was waiting for a publisher to get back to me on the rockstar story, I decided to try my hand at an erotic romance idea that had been nagging my brain. I really was doing it on a let’s-see-if-I-can-pull-this-off whim. I didn’t really think it would be THE book. So I wrote it with less restriction than I had given myself for previous books. I mean, what did it matter? No one would probably ever see this. I broke all kinds of rules. For instance, every other chapter in my book happens ten years earlier. It’s literally two stories being told—one about these this couple’s past and the other about their present. So *gasp* half the book is (shh..don’t tell) backstory. But anyway, I had fun, I finished the book in about six months and then I started thinking I could actually query this baby. I was proud of it. The story was good. I loved my characters. So I decided to go for it. Now I had to decide who to query.

A few months before I had finished it, I had been contacted by a friend (Natalie Bahm) who I’d met through blogging. She had sent me an email letting me know that her agent was looking to take on more romance authors and Natalie had seen some of my excerpts on my blog so she “knew I could write” and had thought of me. She told me that she’d be happy to give me a direct referral to her agent, Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary. Another of Sara’s clients, Miranda Kenneally, who I’d met through Twitter also offered to refer me. Well, at the time, my book wasn’t ready and though I could’ve rushed it, I didn’t want to blow my chance sending something that wasn’t there yet. So I told her that I didn’t have anything ready right now, but would in a month or two. Natalie said she’d give me the referral whenever. So when the time came, she did. I sent Sara my query and first 3 chapters and less than a week later, she asked for the full. A few days after that, she emailed me with all her notes she had for what she’d want changed and then asked how I felt about those. I loved her notes and we set up a phone call to discuss representation. I immediately could tell that we had a shared vision for the book, so I accepted her offer. Two major revisions later, we went out on submission to ten editors. Two weeks after that, Kate Seaver at Berkley Heat/Penguin made us an offer! They were my top choice and I was over the moon. Negotiating happened (and I learned why it is VITAL to have an agent) and the rest is book deal history. J

Who are the authors that inspire you, and what have they taught you about writing?
Oh, too many to list. But I can say that my 5th grade teacher read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time to us and that was the book that made me want to be a writer. I loved the idea that you could be swept into a whole new world.

What most attracts you to the life of a writer?
So many things. Besides the obvious things like working from home in my pajamas, I love being my own boss and setting my own schedule. Most of all though, I feel blessed that I’m actually getting paid to do something I adore. I get to follow my dream every day and that is the most amazing thing I can think of.

What do you consider the hardest thing about being a writer, and how do you deal with
it?
The hardest thing is that it’s a solitary venture much of the time. Blogging and tweeting and going to writers’ meetings help with that, but being a writer can give you cabin fever sometimes. I also think it’s a job where you have to know how to manage your money. It takes a while to build up a career that fully supports you. The process is slow, the money is slow, so you have to be in it for the long haul and accept that (except in rare circumstances) it’s not an overnight or even over months/years kind of thing.

What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?
I don’t know who said it to me first, but I think the best advice I’ve gotten is to be fearless and to trust my instincts. I tend to lean on the nitpicky, obsessive side (we’ll call it conscientious), so I can overanalyze things to death. And when I do that, I risk pulling back in my story, trying to play it safe. But every time I’ve done that, the feedback I get is “why didn’t you do this here” or “you need to amp this up here” and it’s always what my first instinct was—the choice I talked myself out of. In fact, I almost didn’t write CRASH INTO YOU because I had never written something erotic and I was like—ooh, I don’t know, what will people think and can I pull this off and yadda yadda yadda. Well, I went with my gut and that ended up being the story that landed me the agent and the book deal. So be fearless. Follow the muse and your gut.

Why do you blog? What advice would you give to other author bloggers?
I started blogging because I’d heard that’s what you were “supposed’ to do. I honestly never thought I’d stick with it. I’m the girl with stacks of journals with two entries in them. I had never really committed to something the required such a regular writing schedule. But then I started blogging and, miraculously, people started reading and I met these amazing writers who were going through the same things I was going through. Meeting other writers was like finding natives from my home planet. So I think those connections are what excited me to continue doing it. Now I’ve blogged for two years. I blog five days a week: three at Fiction Groupie where I focus on writing topics and two days on my website (www.roniloren.com) where I have a little fun posting pictures of hot men (i.e. character inspiration) and talking about things more related to romance. I’ve gained a nice following and have gotten a lot of exposure and as you saw in the earlier question—blogging helped land me my agent, so I’m a big fan of blogging, lol.

What are the themes you tend to write about, or genres you tend to write in?
I’ve written YA, contemporary romance, and now erotic romance (with suspense elements), so I’ve been a bit all over the place. But every story I’ve written has been a romance. I really don’t think I’ll stray from that. It’s the heart of what I want to write and what I like to read. I also tend to deal with themes of forgiveness, redemption, and finding one’s true self. My background and degree are in psychology/social work so I can’t seem to resist writing emotionally complicated characters with psychologically difficult backgrounds. I like to explore the darkest corners of people.

What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
Wow, that’s a loaded one. I want my readers to feel like they’ve been on a satisfying emotional journey—one that tugged at their hearts, made them laugh a little, and got them to go hunt down their significant other and say “How you doin’?” I want them to walk away from my books and have my characters stay with them because that’s what my favorite books do for me. I rarely remember specific plots, but when I can remember a great character (Jamie in Outlander, Eric in the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood books, Rose and Dmitri in The Vampire Academy series) then I know that book is a winner.

Thanks to Roni for a fantastic interview, she's given us some great ideas and advice. Make sure to check out her blog and we wish her the best with the upcoming book!

Sarah Allen

p.s. I'm guest blogging today at Pimp My Novel, in case you wanted to check it out. It's an article I posted here a couple months ago called '5 Tools to Carry in a Conspiring Universe.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Javert, Ben Linus and Severus Snape


Yesterday a group of us went to the Broadway touring production of Les Miserables. I won't go in to huge details, but suffice it to say, I really liked it. The majority of the cast was great, and production wise they did a great job for a revamped, smaller, tour-only version of such a huge play.

Here's the thing: on the way home, my sister and I were talking about types of characters, and I said that Javert in a way reminded me of and then at the same time we both said Severus Snape. They both seem to be characters that have this negative, rigid, basically unlikeable exterior, but then in their moments of exposure you realize their true intentions, how bad they've had it themselves, or at least how misunderstood they are. Benjamin Linus also falls in to this category. I have probably written about all three of these characters before, but when they stick in your head as much as they do in mine its worth finding out why, and how to write characters like that in your own work. Javert hasn't exactly made the horrible choices that Ben and Snape have made, but all three of them are what you could call "villains-but-not-really."

There are not very many other types of characters that I like as well as these. In fact, I have a hard time writing them because I sympathize with them too much for them to have a true "villain" feel. But I'm working on it, because they're my favorites. I love how complex they are, how you have to peel away the sharp, rude, mean, antagonistic exterior to find the lost, scared little boy underneath, and how special and intelligent and needed it makes you feel as a reader or audience member that you're the one whose found what they truly are on the inside. Don't we want to do that in real life, and have it done for us?

Do you like these near-villain, anti-hero type characters as much as I do? What do you think makes them so intriguing? What other character types do you find fun to find and write about?

Sarah Allen

Saturday, May 28, 2011

6 Word Saturday


I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who came up with the 6 word story idea, or at least accepted the challenge to try and created one of the best 6 worders ever:

For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Here's my try:

Funerals were funny, but not his.

Not as complete as Hemingway's, but its a fun challenge. Quite a challenge.

What have you got?

Sarah Allen

Friday, May 27, 2011

Are Literary Agents Necessary?


It seems like there are as many opinions on literary agents as there are agents. I've heard so many different things: self-publish and take care of it yourself. Self-publish and get an agent once you need help with contracts. Even in traditional publishing, its best to just submit directly to editors yourself even if they say no unagented submissions. Then of course the classic, use an agent to get in the traditional publishing door.

I know this could be opening a pandoras box, but what is your opinion/advice? Those with more experience, what has worked best for you? Obviously each writer has to make their own decisions that works best for their individual careers, but I think we could all use some help.

My opinion and plan is this. Yes, people have had bad experiences with agents, and there are risks signing contracts with anyone. So of course I'll be careful, but as of now, I want to try for the traditional route. Yes, writers are keeping less and less and getting more and more jipped, but its still the best way to get your work out there and reach the most people, which is my goal for right now. I'll go with that at first, see how that works, and then maybe self-publish once I'm out there a bit.

What are your ideas?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Author Interview: Nicole Zoltack


Very excited to have with us today fantasy author Nicole Zoltack. Her book Champion of Valor, the last in her Kingdom of Arnhem trilogy, was released on May 1st.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Nicole Zoltack. I used to hate my first name but now I love it. Family is very important to me - I have a wonderful and supportive husband and two adorable and precious sons. They're growing up so fast already! The oldest is just starting to learn how to use the potty and the other just took his first step! I could not be more proud.

When I'm not chasing after them or watching movies with hubby, I'm writing, reading, or editing. I write just about everything - from fantasy/paranormal to romances to historical to horror to YA and combinations thereof. I'll read anything that looks good. I'm an editor for MuseItUp Publishing and I really enjoy it.

What is your writing schedule like?

I get the bulk of my writing done when the rest of the household is sleeping - most of the time that means I'm staying up late and sacrificing my own sleep. I tend to write in spurts and can write 50k in a month if inspired. Other times, I'll go a couple of weeks or more with nothing.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I knew I wanted to be a storyteller since before I could write. I had a vivid imagination and used to make up stories all the time. My mom used to sit my sister and I down with paper and pencils, and we both grew up wanting to be writers. My stories have come a long way since those first tales!

How do you typically come up with ideas and develop them into a story?

I can get ideas from watching TV shows, movies, reading books, and people watching. (The last is a really fun activity, if you never people-gawked, you're missing out! Go to your mall and sit on a bench. Trust me, you'll be amazed at the ideas you come up with.) I've also had ideas come to me from my dreams.

Some of my stories start because I can't get a character out of my head. That's what happened with Woman of Honor. I wanted to write about a female knight and the story grew from there.

Other times, I'll have the bare basics of a plot and create characters to fit the roles (although the plot usually changes some along the way) and the story takes shape that way. It depends on the story.

Tell us about getting your Kingdom of Arnhem series accepted for publication.

I first learned of Desert Breeze Publishing through a yahoo publisher chat and talked with Gail, the editor in chief. She mentioned that she was looking for fantasy romance series. I immediately thought of Woman of Honor which was only halfway done at this point. She said to send it when I finished it and I did. A short while later, she emailed me her acceptance. I was thrilled! We worked together to figure out how the overall story for the series would go in order to make each book a fantasy romance and the Kingdom of Arnhem series was born.

Who are the authors that inspire you, and what have they taught you about writing?

I'm inspired by so many authors - J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis.... With the beauty of their words and the worlds they created, I've learned so much about how to improve my own craft.

What most attracts you to the life of a writer?

The ability to create a world. I love combining knights and everything medieval with magic and fantasy. High fantasy is one of my favorite genres to write. The magic of writing, the creativity, the imagination of it all - that's what drives me to be a writer.

What do you consider the hardest thing about being a writer, and how do you deal with it?

The hardest part is putting your work out there for someone else to read it - whether that someone else is a critique partner, a beta reader, an agent, an editor, a reader. It takes so much guts to click send on your email.

I know my story will never be good enough for publication if I'm the only one who reads it. This knowledge helps making me be able to click send to critique partners and beta readers that much easier. And once I have their okay, it's a lot easier to send to agents and down the line.

What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?

To be true to myself and write the story of my heart. There is little to no point in writing to trends. Unfortunately, sometimes my ideas tend to fall into areas that are beginning to be at the tail end of their popularity.

Why do you blog? What advice would you give to other author bloggers?

I love blogging for the community aspect. I have met so many wonderful writer friends through blogging. You all are amazing!

My advice - if you don't like blogging or think it's work, then don't do it. Blogging should be fun, not a chore.

What are the themes you tend to write about, or genres you tend to write in?

I write a lot of romances so my themes tend to be about love. My romances are all on the sweet side, so they are all YA-friendly. The theme for Woman of Honor is that if you try hard enough and never give up, your dreams will come true. Knight of Glory's theme is that love has no rhyme or reason. For Champion of Valor, the theme is that love will always find a way.

Most of my stories have paranormal/fantasy aspects in them. Originally, Woman of Honor was supposed to be a historical (medieval) romance, but Aislinn's brother wanted a speaking role. Despite being dead. And a character forced himself into the story - a ninja-like character when a pirate would have been more befitting the time period. So I changed the world to be an alternative world. Europe and the rest of the world apart from the Americas was as it had been here. But in place of the Americas was a different, magical continent called Alethereia. That's where Arnhem lies.

What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

I hope readers will enjoy a magical medieval world where chivalry and love reign despite the evils in the world. I hope they'll enjoy their respite from their lives and think it was time well spent. I hope I move them and inspire them and touch their lives.

Be sure to leave a comment to be entered to win some signed post cards and magnets. Each comment during the Champion of Valor Blog Tour gives you an entry for the grand prize: a copy of the entire Kingdom of Arnhem trilogy - Woman of Honor, Knight of Glory, and Champion of Valor. You can find the entire list of blog tour stops on my blog - http://NicoleZoltack.blogspot.com

Thanks to Nicole for visiting with us today, and best of luck with the book. Happy writing!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

6 things every writer should have in their car


For various reasons, many of us spend a large amount of time in the car. Road trips, commutes, soccer practice drop-offs, all sorts of things. So here are some things it might behoove us writers to keep in our cars:

-Notebook. You should have this with you wherever you are.

-Audiobook. Keep a couple in the car for those times when you'll be in there for a while.

-Cigarette lighter adapter for your laptop. For those times when your stuck in the car for a while and someone else is driving. Then you don't have to worry about your laptop battery running out.

-Business cards/bookmarks. Make a goal to give out five a day. I've even heard of people sticking them inside books at the bookstore.

-Copy of your portfolio/book. Letting someone hold in their hands a book with your name on it has a much bigger impact then just saying your a writer. Keep copies of your book with you to sell, market, or occasionally give away. And keep copies of your short work too, poetry and short stories. You never know when you'll meet a magazine editor or publisher who wants to take a look at it.

-Bumper sticker of your book. Ok, so this technically goes on your car, but you may as well use your vehicle as a marketing device.

Hope this helps. What other things do you writers keep in your car as a useful tool?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Top Ten Songs for Writers

Ok, so these songs aren't only for writers, I mostly just think they're awesome. However, I do think music can be one of the greatest sources of inspiration, and these ones in particular have incredible lyrics, or emotional honesty, or tell a great story, something I think writers can learn from.

So in no particular order:
1-No Children, The Mountain Goats
2-I Think It's Going to Rain Today/God Give Me Strength, Audra McDonald (One video for 2 songs. Cool, eh?)
3-The I Love You Song, from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
4-Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)/And So It Goes/Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Billy Joel
5-The Lonely, Christina Perri
6-I And Love And You, The Avett brothers
7-Space Oddity, David Bowie
8-Pretty Women, Brian Stokes Mitchell
9-Lonely Anywhere, The Everybodyfields
10-This Night, Black Lab
11-Wheels of a Dream, Ragtime the Musical (ignore the video, its the only one good audio I could find of the song)

Ok, ok, so that's more then ten, but it was hard enough narrowing it down this far. I linked to videos of each song (I really tried for number 8 but couldn't find anything--its still worth looking up) in case you're interested. I tried to list songs you might be unfamiliar with (ok, so Billy Joel and Christina Perri aren't exactly unknowns) and I hope you aren't too against a little Broadway. Here is the video for number 10, a particularly good video and a recent find I'm kind of obsessed with right now.



Now its your turn. What are the songs you think everyone should know about but don't? You don't have to give a list of ten if you don't want to, but I really want some good recommendations here.

Left a nice long list of songs in the comments? Good, now stop procrastinating and get back to work. Your novel isn't going to write itself, you know.

Sarah Allen

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why I'm hesitant to reveal info about my WIP


I've heard varying opinions on when to talk with other people about the projects you're working on. Some people like having feedback and outside perspective throughout the entire process. Others, (me), are so self-conscious that any outside eyes, friendly or otherwise, make them fidget with doubt. I start second-guessing myself and my piece as soon as someone else has seen it. Therefore I prefer to have it as done as I can make it before I let anyone look at it or even hear about it, or it could make finishing it even harder.

Does that make sense? Part of me really wants to tell you my title, my main character, maybe post a clip now and then. But then I worry that doing so will make me feel cheesy and dumb, even if all the comments are nice and supportive, which I'm sure they would be. So basically, I'm still internally debating about what to do. The book is only 1/3 done, so maybe I just need to give it a bit more time before I put anything out there.

What are your thoughts? Are you someone who likes constant feedback, or prefers keeping things close for as long as possible?

Sarah Allen

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Meeting with Gail Carson Levine


Gail Carson Levine is fantastic, to begin with. She is such a little pixie herself, and looks as much the children's fantasy author as Stephen King looks like a horror writer and Orson Scott Card looks like sci-fi. She is so sweet to everyone, very kind and supportive. She is hilarious and gives awesome recommendations and writing advice. She makes even the stupidest questions sound important and the awkwardest fans feel welcome.

There are some writers who are known for being kind and pleasant with their fans, and I think Gail Carson Levine is one of them. Another is Connie Willis. Others are known for being stuck-up and rude. I'd want to be the first kind, wouldn't you? Have any of you had the experience of doing a reading or signing? It seems like it would take a lot of energy and effort, but that it would still be worth it to at least attempt to be one of those authors people leave thinking, wow, they are so awesome, rather then, gee, that was sort of a let down. Being genuine and thoughtful can make you one of those writers I think, and Gail Carson Levine is certainly one to learn from.

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Monday, May 9, 2011

Little Miracles and Other Things that Make Me Happy, May 9


Lots going on, it seems like. Lots of strange, difficult, beautiful, wonderful, joyful things.

First, about those little miracles. I wrote a while ago about moving to Oregon. Well, I was able to move up my moving date to the 19th of this month. I found a place to live that seems wonderful, with a very kind person managing the place, and the price is shockingly fantabulous. I updated all my job applications that I've been sending out with my new address and move date, and got an email back asking to do a phone interview. Stoked, of course. So I did the interview, and I got the job. First remote hire they have had, and considering the economy of the times, I kind of still don't know how it happened. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed. And if that wasn't enough, I just found out via Facebook that the person renting the other room at my soon-to-be-new house may be someone I know from BYU. It is one dang small, crazy, generous, bizarre, chancy, beautiful, miraculous world.

Other things that make me happy: today is the release date for Hugh Laurie's blues album called 'Let Them Talk.' It's only releasing in the UK (bitter envy) but you can download a free song from the site. Sexy rugged Brit + blues music=me + happy.

I got to take my lil sis to Lagoon yesterday. (Lagoon is a pretty cool amusement park in the middle of nowhere Utah, for you non Utahrds.) I'm so glad I got to spend some time with her before I leave, and we had a super good time even though our main topic of conversation was how much we missed Disneyland.

Speaking of sexy men, I mentioned yesterday that I watched Sound of Music. Captain Von Trapp is still making me happy. So is 'Grumpy Old Men.'

'Domesday Book' by Connie Willis. Anything by Connie Willis, really.

The person at Lagoon yesterday wearing the Doctor Who/David Tennant t-shirt.

Whats making you happy today? There better be something. If not, you can always write about it. Thats happy.

Sarah Allen

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers Day for Writers


Happy mother's day to everyone out there with a mother! One of the things writers must do is learn continually. We can learn and be inspired from everyone and everything, and harnessing and using that is part of why I love being a writer. And what better day to highlight incredible sources of learning then Mothers Day?

Someone once called me and my writing effervescent, and asked if that was my natural voice or if I had developed it. The answer was easy: I got it from my mother. My mom is one of the most passionate, alive and enthusiastic people I've ever known. Here is a quote from my roommates British Literature professor that I may or may not have posted before: "Most critics assume that, like Dickinson, Hopkins was a total shut-in. I mean, you have to have a certain level of isolation in order to obtain that low a wonder-threshold. Emily Dickinson could basically walk downstairs and go, 'Whoa! BREAKFAST!' and have enough material for a month." Its obvious from my mother that you don't have to be a shut-in to be excited about life. Finding beauty, interest and wonder in everything around us can make our writing (not to mention our lives) more vivid, exciting, memorable and even relatable.

We can learn from our mothers time too. My mom has done a fantastic job of exposing us to a bunch of cool stuff from her childhood. For example, right now I'm watching The Sound of Music, and not just because Christopher Plummer is yummmy (ok, so mostly because Christopher Plummer is yummy), but its one of those awesome cultural things that my mom has made part of our house for as long as I can remember. Ask your mom what movies and books and music she was raised with and educate yourself. You'll find gems (see photo above), be informed about things you should be informed about, and the more you have in your creative stock the more you have to draw from.

So learn and write, learn and write, bless my homeland for...I mean, happy writing :)
Sarah Allen

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why I've Finally Decided eReaders are Not Evil


I was very skeptical at first. I mean, nothing can replace the textile feel of a book in your hands, the way it smells, how snuggly it is especially when accompanied by an armchair, fireplace and big mug of cocoa. Obviously I'm a book freak, and it took me a while to see that eReaders are NOT the enemy of books. Here's why.

Functionality. Put simply, eReaders make buying books and lugging them around in large quantities much easier, and who doesn't want that? Ok, so maybe our pocket books are feeling the strain of one-click book ownership, but other then that...for the casual read, or textbooks, things like that, eReaders just plain make sense.

Exploring. With an eReader, you can 'preview' a book before you buy it. This lets you get a taste of a bunch of different things which is harder to do without an eReader. There are also a lot more options, with mid-list authors backlist's and self-published authors readily accessible. This is huge for readers as well as writers trying to expand their literary horizons.

People with eReaders read more, not less. This is probably the biggest reason for me. Because of the reasons listed above, people are reading more with eReaders, not less. They have more options easier to get to then ever before. They can find a whole bunch of new things and carry them all around with them wherever they go. Why wouldn't you read more? Again, this is great news for readers and writers trying to reach those readers.

Having said all that, still nothing will replace a good old fashioned book, and I don't think they ever will. Each has their purpose, and I don't think the regular book is going to go away any time soon. I should also say that I have yet to buy an eReader personally, and all this is based on cursory research and heresay. But I am now planning on buying one once funds make that possible, as opposed to being angry at their very existence. With the way readers are using them these days, I don't think serious writers can afford to ignore the e-revolution, even if it is a bit heart-wrenching.

Those of you who use Kindles or Nooks, what is your opinion? How have they changed your writing or reading habits?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Coping with the mid-novel slog


That's where I'm at right now. I'm past the first 15,000 words that come oh so deceptively easy, and now the 20,000's and 30,000's feel like such a struggle. It makes me frustrated with myself, because it was coming so well before. It's still coming, but its just coming harder and slower. Does this happen to you when you hit the middle?

Reading is the best antidote I've come up with. It helps me get my mental wheels out of a rut so I'm hopefully doing more then just kicking up dirt. I feel like it helps get a fresh voice in my head. Something else that really helps me emotionally is a good movie. Its amazing how directly a really good movie makes me happy and gives me a better attitude about everything. Other peoples creative genius can be super invigorating and inspiring.

Being with other people helps me too. I'm definitely a people person, which is odd for wanting to be a writer, but there you have it. Going out to dinner or a movie (did I mention I like movies?) shakes out the aches and cobwebs in my brain and makes me feel better. Getting your heart rate up, taking a walk, shooting hoops, thats probably a good idea too. Take a walk with your camera, see what you can find.

One last quick recommendation is this: sometimes all I really need is a bit of humor. It may not change things, but it can be helpful to not take yourself too seriously. My recent favorite sources for humor are MyLifeIsAverage.com and Dear blank, please blank. You may already be familiar with these sites, but they have done wonders for me when I really just need a laugh.

The slog is still hard, though. What do you do to cope?
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Interview with YA author Elana Johnson


Absolutely stoked to have YA author Elana Johnson visit us here today. I've been wanting to do interviews at this blog for a long time, and I hope this will be the first in a long line. Elana was gracious and wonderful to work with. She's got a terrific blog, and we should all be excited for her debut novel Possession, which comes out June 7th. Without further ado...

***
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Elana Johnson. You killed my father. Prepare… Just kidding. But I do love The Princess Bride. I also love reality TV, The Office, and Seinfeld. I like reading and writing and watching movies. I teach elementary school in my spare time, and wish every meal could be eaten in a restaurant.

What is your writing schedule like?
I write mostly at night, between the hours of 9 and 11. The weekends are fair game. Sometimes I just email myself a line that’s in my head.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve never wanted to be a writer. I don’t know if I should admit that out loud. What happened is I just started writing one day, and I realized how therapeutic it was.

And I’m a pitbull. It’s one of my strengths, but also a weakness. When I sink my teeth into something, I don’t let go. So I’d written a book, the next step was to figure out how to publish it. So that’s what I did.

How do you typically come up with ideas and develop them into a story?
By living life. I get ideas just by doing normal things like going to museums and taking my kids to the park and boring stuff like that.

Your debut novel Possession is coming out in June. What is the story behind getting it accepted for publication?
Oh, you don’t have enough space for that. Ha!

I wrote Possession in 17 days in April 2008. I queried my first book for 8 months. It failed to get me an agent. I revised/reworked Possession and began querying it in April 2009. Eight months of freaking query hell and three revisions later, I got an offer from a great agent. (Sometimes I still pinch myself.)

After some more revisions, the book went out on submission. And it sold! (Completely mind-blowing.) That was February 2010. Since then? Editing, marketing, blogging, and more writing. No sleeping, sadly.

What most attracts you to the life of a writer?
Dude, there is very little that is appealing about the life of a writer. Seriously. I don’t know why people do it! Very little sleep, constant second-guessing, opening a vein and letting critique partners bleed you dry… Yeah. Don’t start writing.

What do you consider the hardest thing about being a writer, and how do you deal with it?
The extreme emotional roller coaster is by far the hardest thing. One second, you’re the most brilliant writer ever. The next? You’re the worse person to ever open a word document and try to pen a story. And that’s on the creative side.

On the business side, one minute you’re a brilliant storyteller with great worldbuilding, and the next a reviewer has blasted you and you can’t even construct a sentence.

Strap in for the most tumultuous emotional ride ever.

What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?
Do what works for you. I spent a lot of months beating myself for not outlining. I don’t do that anymore. I allow myself to write the way I write best.

Why do you blog? What advice would you give to other author bloggers?
I blog because I love it. I love the comments; I love emailing the people back and engaging in a conversation with them. I love getting to know them through their blogs.

Advice to other author bloggers: Do what works for you. There is only one you; be that person.

What are the themes you tend to write about, or genres you tend to write in?
I call my books “Angry girl novels.” That’s not entirely accurate, but I like angst. A lot of angst. I like to bleed out my emotions of loss, heartache, anger, whatever into my main characters. I really like to *feel* when I read/write.

What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
I hope readers take from the book what they need at that time in their lives. Some won’t need anything, and that’s okay. Some will find what they need, and that’s great.
***

Hope you found this helpful and enjoyable. I know I did. Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Monday, May 2, 2011

Best Marketing/Networking Sites for Writers


There are a lot of good websites out there. Tons that can help writers spread the word about their work. I've come up with a list of what I think are the most useful marketing and networking websites writers have at their disposal. But before I give you the list I want to say this: there are so many sites out there, and yes, it can be very intimidating, but the time, effort and strategy you put into it is completely up to you. My advice is to take it one site at a time, experiment, see what works, and don't let it get you too stressed. Really, all you need is five minutes here and there on a lot of these sites, but those five minutes can be very worth it. Its all up to you, so don't let this list intimidate you. My personal strategy is to focus my efforts on a few of the best ones, do a little on some others, and add a site at a time as I feel like I've got a handle on things. Do it your way and on your time, but I do think doing some is important, and can be very helpful.

A couple other disclaimers: First, I've said this before but I recommend all of these sites to be used along with a website or a blog that all these other sites point towards. That way you have a sort of home base. Second, I'm not by any means experienced or even familiar with many of these sites, so find which ones work best for you, and if you are someone who does have successful experience with any of these sites, I'd LOVE to hear about it and what has worked for you.

The Big Five:
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
YouTube
Flickr

Reference Sites (non-writer specific, but still could be useful):
Squidoo
StumbleUpon
Delicious
Digg
Reddit

Writer/reader communities:
GoodReads
LibraryThing
Authonomy
WriterFace
Shelfari
WritersBeat
BookTalk.org
RedRoom

Online portfolio sites, where you actually are supposed to contribute writing. (These are a great resource, but obviously take more work, and I'm trying to find a way to use them while saving the majority of my writing for other places. Ideas would be great).
DeviantART
Writing.com
AuthorsDen.com
WritersCafe.org
Fanstory.com
FanFiction.net
WritingForums.com
WritingForums.org
AbsoluteWrite
Scribd
EveryAuthor

Misc. Other community sites that may come in handy
SecondLife
Etsy or Ebay
Outbrain
Zynga

Well there you have it. Like I said, I'm not familiar with a lot of these, so be wise and safe, check them out and see what you think. If I'm missing any that have worked for you, or you have experience or advice with any of these sites, I seriously would love to hear it. I don't intend this list as something to stress you out. Your marketing campaign is in your hands, and this list is just to help you with that. Be strategic in your time and efforts and it will pay off.

Sarah Allen
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