Tag: amwriting


Smarter Writing? Read smart.*

There are only 24 hours in a day. Subtract the things that must be done, and there’s not much time left. It matters how you spend those precious moments not otherwise earmarked. As a human being, I want to enjoy them. As a writer, I want to learn from them. Good books hit both marks.

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Writing As Therapy

“We’re professional worriers. You’re constantly imagining things that could go wrong and then writing about them.”Novelist John Green to The Late, Late Show host Craig Ferguson.

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The Book Baby Blues

Debut author Laura Kemp joins us today on Missdemeanors to discuss her reaction to the publication of her first novel, Evening in the Yellow Wood, and her approach to getting back to writing.  December 12th was a big day for me. It signified the birth of my Book Baby. I’d spent months, even years on perfecting my manuscript so that a publishing house would pick it up, and when they did I spent another chunk of time editing and re-editing so that the finished work would meet their standards.  Needless to say, everything was leading up to a point in time, a proverbial Mount Everest and when the day came the flurry of activity was intoxicating. My adrenaline took a serious hit as friends sent well-wishes, tweets were re-tweeted and posts shared. I watched my Amazon sales climb and shared my excitement with those closest to me (middle schoolers).  And then the next day came and a heaviness settled over me, a feeling of… what’s next? The adrenaline had crashed and real work began.  But what was this phenomenon? It’s was almost like post-partum depression without the baby.  And then I started researching.  Other writers have experienced this- in my own publishing house and beyond, the feeling that the real work was just beginning and the excitement was going to wane and then… gasp I might have to start writing ANOTHER novel.  What would my first novel think?  Going behind their back and toying with another manuscript? I’d invested so much in my first novel that writing its sequel almost felt like infidelity. However, what I learned from my research says different.  The overwhelming solution to the Book Baby Blues was to start writing again.  And soon. I can get so caught up in promotion and sales and trying to hit my ‘target audience’ that I forget what makes me tick… putting words on paper.  That’s why I appreciate blogs like this one, it’s a place for me to get my thoughts down in a quick and easy format.  Novel writing is tedious, and I often spend just as much time editing as I do writing.  Stream of consciousness projects help,  as does poetry, and sometimes short fiction, or going rogue and writing a scene for my novel that hasn’t been written into its proper sequence yet.  I just need to sit down and do it.   And after that, I need to remember that publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.  Which is hard for this OCD, solution-focused girl to do.  I want results! And NOW! But the results come slowly- in my blog posts and poems and (gasp) other novels.  All that together makes up the tapestry of what a writer’s life looks like. And it’s all okay.  We’re allowed to experience all these things, even if we don’t want to talk about it for fear of feeling ungrateful (you’ve published a book, what do you have to complain about?) And the full landscape of these emotions is what makes us good writers.  So feel the Book Baby Blues for a bit, then shake it off and get back to writing! How do you bounce back after finishing a major project? Leave a comment or join the discussion on our Facebook page.   Author Bio- Laura is a teacher who loves to write about her home state of Michigan. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University where she studied under Stuart Dybek, and has had her short fiction and poetry published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Word Riot, Tonopalah Review, SaLit and SLAB: Sound and Literary Art Book. “The Pursuit of Happiness,” – a short story she wrote while at WMU, was chosen as a finalist in the Trial Balloon Fiction Contest. When not writing, Laura enjoys musical theatre, hiking, swimming, reading and performing with her Celtic folk band- Si Bhaeg Si Mohr.  She also enjoys spending time with her husband and children as well as her dog,  four hamsters, ten chickens, two horses and eight  (and counting) cats. Laura loves to connect with readers on her blog: laurakemp.author@wordpress.com (Sea Legs on Land), as well as on Facebook, Twitter (@LKempWrites) and Instagram. (lkempwrites)(woodys_book_tour)

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CritiqueMatch: An interview with CEO Mike Cavaioni (and how to find your perfect writing critique partner)

Drum roll, please. Today, I’ve managed to corner Mike Cavaioni, the CEO  of Critique Match, a new platform that allows writers to find critique partners. It’s a beautiful website, but, more importantly, it’s easy to use and fills a gap in the writing universe: how to find yourself the right critique partner. Alison: Providing a community for writers to swap work is simply genius. How did you come up with the idea for CritiqueMatch? Mike: I’ve been a blogger for a couple of years now, writing on
technical subjects, such as artificial intelligence. I can’t tell you
how many times I’ve edited a blog, passed it through
Grammarly, and yet, my lovely wife still caught errors! I
realized one always needs a second pair of eyes, someone who
can give honest, constructive feedback. Yes, one could rely on
a professional editor, but a critique partner goes beyond a professional service transaction. Writing is such a solitary journey. The encouragement and companionship a partner can provide are crucial to keeping one’s momentum going. So I knew critique partnerships were crucial to writers. The next question was: where do you find the right critique partners? And how do you know if they are any good? Hence, the idea of creating a community of writers who can easily find each other and rate the critiques they receive. Alison: For someone who hasn’t seen the website, can you give a quick description of what CritiqueMatch offers writers?  Mike: Sure! Our platform is currently in beta mode and free to all users. It helps writers connect and exchange critiques securely and privately (we are not trying to be the next Wattpad, where an author’s work is shared with all users and anyone can comment on it). On our platform, you can find writers based on multiple search criteria that match your preferences. Additionally, down the road, we want to allow those writers who have demonstrated strong critiquing skills to complement their income via giving paid critiques.   Alison: The website is beautifully designed and so easy-to-use (even on my phone!). What went into creating it?  Mike: You are too kind, thank you! The creative portion was a lot of fun! I’m an engineer and, unsurprisingly, I love to build things from scratch—from software to homemade bread! So I knew
from the beginning that I wanted to create a fully customized platform, instead of merely using a pre-made template like WordPress. Overall, it’s been an iterative process that started with the basic need for a directory of writers with different searchable characteristics, such as their genre, sub-genre, location, etc.
But was that enough? Would a telephone directory be enough to help you pick a restaurant? I didn’t think so. Instead, what if the writers rated each other, and just like a restaurant, you could see first-hand accounts of how good someone’s critiques were? I interviewed many writers as I was developing the first few features and got constructive feedback that I incorporated them into the site. I had to put my ego aside and quickly adapt to make this work. I still encourage users to give me suggestions! There were many technical aspects, including creating wireframes, hiring software developers, until here we are, live and growing every day, with plenty of critique partner matches already! I hope years from now we’ll be receiving those types of messages from writers celebrating their critique partnerships that started on our site in a retreat somewhere beautiful, like Iceland. Alison: When I browsed through the members, it looked to me like there were writers from all over the country and the world. What are you seeing in terms of who’s using CritiqueMatch?  Mike: According to Facebook, there are 40 million users who have listed ‘writing’ as an occupation or a hobby. That’s just in the US and Canada! I think that writing, as with many other forms of art, has no geographic boundaries and people should find those sharing the same passion, no matter where they live. Someone in a remote cabin in Iceland, like the one shown on our home page, might be the perfect partner for a New Yorker. We are thrilled that our user base is already a melting pot of people from all over the world! So far, we’ve seen users connecting based on the specific sub-genre of their interest. For example, for those writing a police procedural mystery, like your book Alison, Blessed Be The Wicked, they could find a critique partner or beta reader in that exact sub-genre, instead of broadly in mysteries. The granularity of the search is what makes CritiqueMatch unique. Alison: I can’t let you go without asking you what you’re reading right now, and what’s next on your TBR list?   Mike: Does the “All summer long” script I’m reading for my acting class, count? I’m joking… I typically mix and match various art mediums. I have To Kill A Mockingbird on my nightstand at the moment. This classic had escaped me up until recently when I saw the incredible Broadway performance based on the
book. Maycomb, Alabama of 1936 is more relevant today than ever. But that’s a whole other discussion…
In non-fiction, I love listening to the How I Built This podcast for inspiration on how to grow a business. Because you’ve been terrific, I will spare you the details from the artificial intelligence papers lying on my desk! On behalf of writers everywhere: Thank you, Mike and CritiqueMatch! 

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Reading on a Jet Plane

Alexia Gordon I just had time to unpack from Crime Bake before I hit the road again, this time traveling for my day job. Between waiting to board the plane, waiting for the plane to take off (I think I spent more time taxiing on the runway than I spent airborne), and the actual flight (which I spent crammed into an “upgraded” seat so cramped if I’d puffed out my cheeks I’d have hit my seatmates) I had plenty of time to get some reading and writing done.
Pen and paper are my go-to travel writing tools—much easier than a laptop to whip out at a moment’s notice, no danger of equipment failure (I suppose my pen could run out of ink but I can fit a dozen pens into less space than a power cord), no need to search out a power outlet, and no need to stow for take-off and landing. My travel reading varies. It’s almost always paperback, lighter weight than hardback, and no need to power it on or plug it in or put it away when the flight attendant passes down the aisle checking seatbelts and seatback uprightness. Size matters—it has to fit in my personal item. This trip, I chose a mass-market (about 4” x 7”) paperback book because it fit into one of my tote bag’s slip pockets.
I prefer to bring a book with me from home but sometimes I take the chance of finding a good read in the airport bookstore. I found one of my favorite novels, Han Solo at Stars End, this way. These days, the airport booksellers offer as many hardcover bestsellers as the neighborhood bookstore. Once upon a time (within my lifetime—my age is showing), back in the day before airports did double duty as shopping malls, the choice was more limited. “Airport novels” were a thing. Wikipedia, the source of all wisdom, defines an airport novel as, “a literary genre not so much defined by its plot…as by the social function it serves.” Hidden among questionable assertions about what makes a novel an airport novel (the Wikipedia article on the topic contains several assertions that sound more like pejorative opinion than objective statements and has been flagged as containing original research and needing more citations) is a workable definition: a mass market paperback of a length that will last for an entire journey, is fast-paced and entertaining, and that won’t require the reader to consult any reference material. Also referred to as beach reads, TV Tropes describes these books as “the junk food of the literature world”. I think the description is unfair—just because a novel doesn’t aim to win a Pulitzer doesn’t make it “junk food”. I will grant that airport novels tend to be “light” reading. After all, when you’re dealing with crowds, delays, surly staff, cramped conditions that would have animal rights activists protesting if animals were subjected to them, overpriced food and everything else that has turned modern travel into an ordeal to be endured instead of an adventure to be enjoyed, do you really want your reading material to remind you the world is rotten or require the same level of concentration it takes to navigate airport security?
Novels designed to meet the needs of travelers pre-dates air travel. The French coined the term romans de gare and the Dutch called them stationsroman when train travel was the primary mode of mass transit. What’s your favorite travel read? Do you think airport novels are the literary equivalent of junk food? Do you ever buy novels from airport booksellers? Or is your travel reading all electronic? Or are magazines and crossword puzzles more your idea of travel entertainment? Leave a comment on the blog or head over to  Missdemeanors ‘ Facebook page to join the discussion. 

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Note to self

When I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors what advice they’d give their younger writing selves, the answers came quickly. I don’t know that I have anything to add, but I’ll share my thoughts any way. If you want to write, write. Don’t let fear of rejection or failure get in the way. The more you write, the better a writer you’ll be. Whatever happens, pay attention. You can always write about it. Cate: Quit your day job sooner. Better to starve (when you’re single) and do what you’re passionate about. Tracee: I agree with Cate. Get a good education, then try to live your dream…. maybe get some life experience. No better time to volunteer with a NGO and see the world. I used to see the UNHCR cases with their handlers on the train outside Geneva and wonder where they are going….. looking back I should have gone along. Susan: That’s a great question, Alison, and I think about stuff like that all the time, except that I’ve come to realize that most of the really stupid things I’ve done have led me to a better understanding of why I, and others, do stupid things, which is a useful thing to think about, especially when writing mysteries. So I guess my advice to my young self would be to try and be forgiving and take lots of notes. Michele: Don’t let fear hold you back. Dare to break the rules. Learn to know when. Live life fully so you have lots of material to write about. Don’t make time to write. Write, and if there’s time leftover, well then do the other stuff. Alexia: Don’t fall victim to imposter syndrome. You’re a good writer. Your stories are as valid as anyone’s. Don’t let anyone else tell you how you should tell your story, don’t let anyone else tell your story for you. And if they don’t like your story, told your way, tant pis for them. Their loss. Paula: Breathe. (Not that I would have listened.)

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Oh, the Places You'll Go

Warning: These photos of the places that inspire my fellow Miss Demeanors will cause longing and dreaming (and, we hope, a little fear about the darkness lurking beneath all that beauty). The only remedy is to open up a book. Tracee: First off, I start with Switzerland! Everything about it is special. Kidding aside, when I develop my story I think about places in Switzerland that are special – meaning there is an element of unique to that place. A castle on the shore of Lac Leman? An elite boarding school set in a chalet? The world’s leading watch show? The task is to share these with readers without too much description. What is the essence of the place? Perhaps the people who are there (their behavior, clothing, actions); the smell (fresh air, smell of cows, chocolate); the architecture (new concrete, historic stone). I find myself diving in and then trimming the description, and trimming. People need enough to understand the atmosphere but not build the building. Paula: I fell in love with Vermont many years ago, and so I set A Borrowing of Bones there simply because Iwanted to visit this wonderful place in my mind as often as I could. The research trips where I get to go there in body as well as mind and spirit are a bonus. I put so much pro-Vermont content in the book–food and drink and wildlife and more–that my editor finally said to me, “Does everything in Vermont have to be the best?” Photo Credit: William Alexander  Michele: When I try to describe the lush natural beauty of St. John in the US Virgin Islands to people, I tell them if you picked up the state of Vermont in the summer and plopped it into the Caribbean, you’d have St. John. Culturally rich with history, music, art, and literature, the island is blessed with people who know how to live in contradiction. Inundated with tourists, yet juxtaposed in the kind of isolation unique to an island, the people of St. John are its essence. People who choose to live surrounded by water are by definition different. And after Irma and Maria blew through St. John with 286 mph winds, it is the people who are nurturing the island back after near devastation. The photo I am sharing is “my writing spot” under a tree at Hawksnest Beach. The tree no longer stands, but the water is still sparkling turquoise and warm. And I am #stillwriting. Cate: I tend to like contrasts in my settings: a claustrophobic cruise ship cabin surrounded by endless ocean, a crowded beach house beside a vast sea. I use water as a metaphor for escape in a lot of my work and the characters’ inability to enter it as a way of highlighting their trapped situations. There are a lot of moats in my stories. I also like the duality of water, we need it to live and too much of it can kill us. Susan: My Maggie Dove mysteries are set in a small village in the Hudson Valley, partly because I live in a small village in the Hudson Valley, but mainly because I think village life lends itself so perfectly to mystery writing. It’s difficult to be anonymous in a village. People know what you’re up to. Why is your Subaru parked in front of Mr. Andrew’s house? Are you paying a visit? Having an affair? Or killing him? People trust each other, but they’re also a little suspicious, especially of newcomers who’ve only lived here 30 years. I’m attaching a picture of our train station, which looks mysterious to me!   Alexia: The Gethsemane Brown mysteries are set in a small village that only exists in my head and on the page. I don’t have an answer for “Why Ireland?” other than, “Because Ireland.” (Because it’s green and beautiful and historic and modern and mythical and mysterious and friendly and familiar and exotic all at the same time.) “Why a village?” is easier. Because crime is expected in inner cities and, to a lesser extent, economically depressed rural areas. But villages and small towns and suburbs are viewed as safe, Norman Rockwellian, havens. Nothing bad is ever supposed to happen there. People flee to these bubbles to escape crime. But beneath their sedate, non-threatening veneers, ugliness and dysfunction and intolerance and evil lurk, waiting to strike and rock everyone’s seemingly happy, safe little world. I (perversely) love the idea of giving people who think they have nothing to worry about something to worry about. I also like the idea of showing the suspicion and mistrust and intolerance that hide beneath the polite veneer of small towns/villages. A result of growing up reading Miss Marple mysteries I guess. I try to communicate the danger underlying the calm surface by painting my village as a beautiful, charming, picture-postcard kind of place, then dropping a murder or five in the midst of it. Robin: What isn’t special about San Francisco? 
I love boats. They’re featured in the book out on submission right now and in a short story I’ve just submitted for my local SinC chapter’s anthology. Boats can be tranquil (the gentle roll of golden waves at sunset) or ominous (the setting sun cast shadows like spilled ink across the murky waters). They can be claustrophobic, like Cate said, or they can express freedom. Personally, I just think they’re a fun way to see the City from a unique perspective. It never gets old to me. I have a friend with a historic yacht and every time I go out I see or experience something new. This photo is from one of our trips just before the “dancing lights” came on at the Bay Bridge.

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Not Killing My Darlings

 Every now and again, as a writer, I pen a paragraph or phrase that I REALLY, REALLY like. The words flow in a way that I find personally poetic. The idea conveyed seems deeply honest. The descriptions work…  And, invariably, I wonder if I should delete it.  Surely, it comes across as too writerly, I’ll think. The prose is probably borderline purple. It betrays my own feelings too explicitly. It’s self-indulgent to leave it. I can say whatever it is in a simpler, direct fashion. My journalism training returns: just the facts man, leave your editorializing and flowery language out of it.  Many times I listen to myself and delete it. Sometimes, I try to sneak it in, and my editor suggests that I take an ax to it. Once in awhile, though, I’ll get to keep it. This paragraph (pictured) in Lies She Told is an example of it. I’m happy that I kept it. It’s my favorite in the book. It’s my darling. And I’m glad I didn’t delete her.  Do you kill your darlings or do you try to keep them?  

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