Updating the Author Photo

Recently I updated my ‘author photo’ and, dear readers, it must be said that it took quite a bit of my time and thought. After reading a lot of articles about author photos and reviewing photos of many of my favorite authors, I decided to hire a pro which was a big step and a decision that I felt most comfortable with.

After that though, there were still many decisions to make – mostly focused on what I wanted the image to convey. The biggest issue that I spent the most time on was determining whether or not to smile in the photo or not.

Was I less of an artist if I smiled? Did it mean that I wasn’t serious about writing? Would my fashion choices last a few years or age the photo too quickly? I’ll spare you the many other running questions and concerns that I considered, but you get the idea.

In the end, after quite a lot of research and various polls of my very patient friends, I opted for the smiling photo. What tipped me over to that decision? In the end, I decided that writing is something that I enjoy, which made me happy, and the old quote of ‘smile and the world smiles with you’ probably was worth going along with. 🙂

That I’ve also spent a lot of time in the orthodontist’s chair also helped tip the balance…

I hope this is helpful for other fellow authors and artists, perhaps even starting a new trend where we see more smiles in bios than serious looks. Either way, I hope you all celebrate your own true beauty, and, many thanks to both my photographer and my orthodontist. All the best to you and yours, and please, don’t forget to smile!

Two Things to Resolve Before Writing Magic

I’ve been writing in Magical Realism for a while now and I’ve picked up on a few tips that are key to sort out before adding a little magic to your novel. I hope these help if you are considering adding in a little magic in your work in progress. 🙂

  1. Determine the rules of magic – Like any other plot feature, magic needs rules to operate in so that it makes sense in the world being created. For example, things to figure out before you start typing are the details like who can use magic and for what? What are the limits to the magic? What is the source of the magic? How does the character learn about their capabilities and what mistakes do they make getting used to it? What are the consequences of using magic? Are there different kinds of magic in the world being created? If so, how is it different and by what rules?
  2. Introduce magic slowly – Building a new world that includes magic is a bit more realistic when it’s introduced somewhat slowly. In my novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, the protagonist has an ability to influence the weather, however one that she’s unwitting of for several chapters. In these chapters, the weather events around her become more extreme but there is no reference to her thinking that it’s anything but bad luck or a freak storm. Magic introduced slowly also helps with rolling out the rules of the world that the characters live in. Further, this type of approach also helps the writer move the story along without having to explain all the rules of magic in this new world all in the first chapter, letting the reader sort of slowly step into this other world and learn the rules themselves in pace with the characters.

Adding in a little magic to a story takes a lot of prep time, actually, for the magical world created to feel ‘real.’ The author must know all the rules of magic of this new world before starting out the story development, otherwise magical situations added to the novel can feel more like a convenient story prop and not an integral thread of the story.

Best of luck to you! Magical realism is such a fun genre and worth the effort.

 

Keeping the Plot on Track

There are quite a few books and articles out there about the small number of plots, usually a number well below ten, that all stories can be mapped to. Editors and reviewers will often quickly spot the type of plot and then grade the story by how well it adheres to the typical and related plot map.

Perhaps the quest doesn’t start early enough or the monster isn’t menacing enough, whatever the case, plots can be made a little too paint-by-numbers if we aren’t careful. Generally, the plots are the planned stops on the trip and everything else that happens are the small detours and other (occasionally unplanned) stops along the way.

I like to keep the plot on track, but still give the characters a little freedom to take some unscheduled stops along the way. Whatever the method, the goal remains to keep the plot going while still making a story feel fresh and new.

I took this photo in Scotland on The Jacobite steam train, as I jockeyed for space at the window in a sea of other tourists to snap a photo as the train edged along the Glenfinnan viaduct. In trying to allow everyone to have a few seconds at the window, I didn’t even have time to really see the photo until I had sat back down at my seat (and I barely had time to appreciate the view).

That entire train trip was made completely unique when the track curved along the viaduct, resulting in a trip like no other. Yes, there are other beautiful train trips in the world and other trains that cross viaducts. And yes, there are millions of miles of train tracks that are all the same, with maybe a handful of differences. But, like a great novel, there is only one that takes this exact journey and that makes all the difference. Keeping the plot on track is every writer’s responsibility, as is providing a unique journey for the characters that is still unlike any other. What a wonderful challenge!

Five Beach Read Recommendations

person reading book on the beach

It’s beach read season – perhaps my favorite time of year! A time when everyone starts asking about book recommendations for their long flight, camping trip, or actual beach vacation. As an avid reader, I thought I’d share some of my beach read recommendations with you. 

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The Wonders of a Vacation

We all know that when we try to remember something, whatever it is eludes us for a while until we stop thinking about it entirely and then – bing! We remember, just when we gave up on it entirely. Perhaps the universe likes to mess with us that way.

I know that some writers say to write every day without exception, with the idea that you are always writing and keeping the channel to the ‘muse’ wide open. I’d be lying if I said that I followed that advice.

Sometimes I choose to take a writing vacation – when I have no expectations on writing anything at all. It’s a purposeful method of focusing the mind by not focusing. It works for me anyway, and any time another writer says that they deliberately write every day regardless of what they write, I always congratulate them, just as I would to someone who says they train everyday for a marathon.

What works for some of us, doesn’t always work for the rest of us, so please let’s avoid the Writer’s Guilt. I’ve written myself a permission slip that I don’t need to worry about writing every day. Just when I worry that I haven’t written anything in a while, I sit at the computer and – bing – several chapters fly out from my fingers and usually the plot problem that I had been stuck on also gets worked out magically. Instead of running daily for a ‘novel’ marathon, I’ll run 5k, then take a break, run a 10k, then take a break, and finish strong.

We all need breaks now and then – so go ahead and take one. And fellow writers, please, let’s not try to make anyone feel guilty about not blogging every week or working on their novel every single day. We can give ourselves (and each other) a pass to take a writing vacation and to reset our focus, so we can finish strong and improve the overall result.

 

A Fresh Start for Writing

snow drop blooming through the snow

Spring epitomizes a fresh start. It’s a great time to dust off the writing projects in progress and take a new look at them. Like spring cleaning, it’s an opportunity to step back and look at your stories with a view of what could be trimmed out to make the story work better.

It can be really hard to edit out pages that you’ve spent a long time crafting to work within a story, but it’s so important to look at your project with a more objective and less invested view. I always recommend that writers get editing help from ‘someone who doesn’t already love them.’

Your friends and family want you to succeed and they also don’t want to disappoint you, so having them as editors often means writers don’t get the tough love that a less personally invested editor would provide.

Writing groups can be great for that kind of feedback, as well as professional editors. Don’t get me wrong, family and friends can provide great feedback on works-in-progress, however, often their focus is to spare your feelings.

What a writer’s friends and family often don’t realize, however, is that writers are like the first flowers of spring (snowdrops) that break through the snow. Writers actually bloom through adversity and constructive criticism.

Sometimes there’s this romantic idea about writing where new writers think that they’ll just whip out a story that everyone will fall in love with and it won’t require any edits. As if the great writers just sat down and drafted out a best seller without any challenges. Of course, the reality is that writing anything that authentically speaks to readers requires a lot of hard work, frequent re-writes, constructive criticism, and dedication.

As Harlan Ellison is known to have said, “People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”

Keep working at it, writers. Use this spring as a fresh start for your writing projects and go for it. Find someone who will give you constructive feedback and help you grow as a writer. If the only feedback you are hearing is that everything is perfect, then take that as an invitation to find another reader / editor who will challenge you to help you get a fresh start.

 

Indie Reading List Challenge

Recently I was part of a local library event with several other Indie Authors, to help others interested in publishing their novels. The sense of community at the event was lovely and the other indie authors shared their tips and experiences. It felt to me like meeting up with a kindred book group of authors, who have stories they just want to share with the world.

The event also got me thinking about what else I could do to support fellow Indie Authors, outside of providing tips, advice, and participating in similar events. I decided to create my own Indie Author reading list challenge, where I plan to read at least one indie author per month this year.

I was also inspired to create a separate Indie Author book shelf in my Goodreads reviews, to highlight indie authors and help them with adding a review for their book(s).

Ironically, I think that sometimes we indie authors forget to toot the horn for our fellow authors – mostly probably because we are so busy with our own work, blogs, and day jobs. Fortunately, adding indie books to our reading lists is easier than ever and is probably already supported by your local library.

For those of you interested in participating in your own version of the Indie Author challenge by adding more Indie Authors to your reading list, here are some tips on how to find their work:

  • Discover Indie Authors from contest winners featured in contests that are exclusive for independent publishers like the Forward INDIES, the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, Indie Excellence, or the IPPY Awards to name a few.
  • Participate in an Indie Author Day event to find local indie authors in your community
  • Ask your library about Indie Authors they have books for and if they participate in Self-e which connects libraries with Indie Author Ebooks
  • A lot of Indie Authors publish via CreateSpace, so you can also query “createspace” as the publisher in your library to find some indie authors that way.

Once you do start adding in some Indie Authors into your reading list stack, please consider writing a review for them in Amazon, Goodreads, or another review site. Your reviews help others discover these writers – which is exactly what I’m hoping for with my Indie Authors Goodreads shelf.

 

The Road Less Traveled

Some of my most favorite vacation spots that I choose to return to, are places that very few have heard of. Stumbling upon a hidden gem known only to locals is a triumph for most travelers, including myself. I took this photo in Scotland on the Isle of Skye where there is a beach frequented by cows. Yes, you read that correctly, cows on the beach.

In the photo you can see a few cows up on the right of the road just in the distance. While many might not travel all the way to Scotland to visit a remote beach known mostly only to the cows, it was a real thrill to me. The peaceful quiet of the water lapping against the rocky beach, along with the occasional ‘moos,’ and no crowds of tourists felt like entering a magical realm.

I often seek out the roads less traveled wherever I go, and they each provide their own rewards. One time such a road brought me to the middle of Kansas, where I went out of my way to stop at the geographic center of the United States and found a stone marker in the middle of the prairie and stopped for a minute to listen to the wind blow across the fields.

Another trip brought me to Cape Disappointment, where the first flicker of the idea for my novel started falling into place. There’s a reason that in the novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, the protagonist stands at the edge of the cliff near the lighthouse which lies at the end of a trail – a location which is central to the story for several reasons. The character is there because I ended up there myself on one of my journeys along roads less traveled.

In the novel, I had very much hoped to take readers with me to that remote destination, where they could stand next to the protagonist and look out across the vast Pacific ocean while sea birds swooped and squawked around them. Cape Disappointment is a special place indeed and I do return there as often as I can.

Perhaps my next novel will include cows on the beach or feature the quiet prairies in the middle of America. Either way, my travels will continue to include places less often visited by others, and I’m sure new favorite destinations will emerge. Inspiration is a quirky and often flighty thing. In my case, inspiration doesn’t lurk in my laptop. Instead, she waits for me on the roads less traveled.

I hope this year finds you discovering some new places as well, and if you make it out to Cape D, please be sure to take the time to walk over to the lighthouse and enjoy the view.

Transformations

Winter is an excellent time to curl up with a good book, and to observe a character’s journey from their ‘before’ to their ‘after.’ As a writer, it’s also a great time to curl up with the laptop and move the work-in-progress along. When it’s cold and blustery outside, staying warm and cozy inside with several projects one might have been putting off during sunnier days seems an easy way to pass the time.

This picture is from a trip I took to Finland in April on year. Yes, April. While many of us might associate April with the green of spring, there are many places in the world where the thaw has yet to arrive. There is beauty in a frozen winter with bright blue skies and a landscape that changes before our eyes.

Of course, snow brings along many inconveniences, yet it can also effortlessly transforms our world overnight. A good novel can provide the same effect, when we immerse ourselves in a world that is much like our own, yet still strikingly different.

In my novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, winter is both the starting season and ending season for the novel. The character’s transformation is complete within the bookended seasons of that year.

Of course, winter also brings us with the new year where we plan our own transformational goals for the coming year. Whatever the year has planned for us, I do hope that it includes many easy, sunny days, as well as, reflective winter days where we cozy up to a good book by the fire and make plans for the new year ahead.

Transformation can occur overnight, as with waking up to a snowy scene, or it can be more gradual like plotting out and writing a new novel over the course of several months. Either way, we grow and change through the seasons of our own lives. I hope this year brings everyone great joy and comfort…and, if we’re really lucky, a little magic.