Thursday, December 08, 2016

I hope to return to my series on expanding underwritten manuscripts in the coming weeks. But since I'm sick, and my family is as well (on and off for about seven weeks now. Not kidding.), I thought I'd address the problem at hand: writing when ill.
Photo by barterville on Morguefile

The idea of "touch it every day" when it comes to large writing projects seems sensible and exciting when you're in the bloom of health. When you have a pounding sinus headache, a fever and chills, it sounds like yet another source of unneeded guilt.

But when you get hit with one of these long, lingering illnesses that can wax and wane repeatedly over months, you can end up kissing goodbye a wonderful project that just totally stalls waiting you to be well enough to return to it.

So how do you keep up with writing when you really, in all honesty, CAN'T write?

1. Refill


I'd heard author Veronica Roth on her author blog compare a writer's mind to an ice cream maker. If you want to produce interesting flavors, you have to pour interesting ingredients into your vat. In other words, times of illness are times to sack out on the couch filling up with creative works--be they TV shows, films, YouTube videos, magazines, novels, reference works, or audio books.

Soak up settings that excite you or intrigue you with travel shows, foreign films, or back issues of National Geographic. If you're able, jot some notes on what strikes you about the setting and make a list of some aspects you could research further.

Hang out in the genre world you are writing, by watching TV shows and films or reading books in the genre. This will help you become more familiar with the tropes (expected elements) as well as cliches (overdone elements) in your genre, so that you can make your works stronger players in your genre.

Get some emotional comfort by returning to old familiar favorites. This can be a tremendous morale boost when you feel most down and discouraged about your poor health. Let these stories restore your faith in yourself and the world.

2. Analyze


While on the couch soaking in all these stories in films, TV shows and books, you can also learn quite a lot if you put on your analytical thinking cap.

Watch for instances of great pacing, plot, or characterization and consider what makes them work well. Ponder how you might make use of these observations to improve your own work.

Watch for instances of terrible pacing, rotten plots and unappealing characters. Consider why they don't work and consider how you can use this insight to avoid--or edit out--similar problems in your own work.

If you're able, jot down these observations, or leave yourself a short audio message to transcribe when you're feeling better.

3. Brainstorm


Many forms of brainstorming don't require quite as much mental or physical energy as drafting and revising do.

Jot quick notes on any of the following things: character traits, plot ideas, possible settings, cool details you could add, relationships and potential causes of tension. These could be electronic jots in a document that you can copy and paste into order later, note cards or post-its or pages in a journal.

Use the "reel it" method to visualize multiple ways a scene might play out.

Make messy mind maps--diagrams in which you jot words and draw connections using bubbles and arrows.

Make lists: of character's fears and pet peeves, of locales where scenes could take place, of possible false clues to plant in your mystery, of tech to research for your space-age setting, of songs to add to your prom-scene playlist. You get the idea.

Are you able to be creative when ill? Which of these ideas might you try?
Thursday, December 08, 2016 Laurel Garver
I hope to return to my series on expanding underwritten manuscripts in the coming weeks. But since I'm sick, and my family is as well (on and off for about seven weeks now. Not kidding.), I thought I'd address the problem at hand: writing when ill.
Photo by barterville on Morguefile

The idea of "touch it every day" when it comes to large writing projects seems sensible and exciting when you're in the bloom of health. When you have a pounding sinus headache, a fever and chills, it sounds like yet another source of unneeded guilt.

But when you get hit with one of these long, lingering illnesses that can wax and wane repeatedly over months, you can end up kissing goodbye a wonderful project that just totally stalls waiting you to be well enough to return to it.

So how do you keep up with writing when you really, in all honesty, CAN'T write?

1. Refill


I'd heard author Veronica Roth on her author blog compare a writer's mind to an ice cream maker. If you want to produce interesting flavors, you have to pour interesting ingredients into your vat. In other words, times of illness are times to sack out on the couch filling up with creative works--be they TV shows, films, YouTube videos, magazines, novels, reference works, or audio books.

Soak up settings that excite you or intrigue you with travel shows, foreign films, or back issues of National Geographic. If you're able, jot some notes on what strikes you about the setting and make a list of some aspects you could research further.

Hang out in the genre world you are writing, by watching TV shows and films or reading books in the genre. This will help you become more familiar with the tropes (expected elements) as well as cliches (overdone elements) in your genre, so that you can make your works stronger players in your genre.

Get some emotional comfort by returning to old familiar favorites. This can be a tremendous morale boost when you feel most down and discouraged about your poor health. Let these stories restore your faith in yourself and the world.

2. Analyze


While on the couch soaking in all these stories in films, TV shows and books, you can also learn quite a lot if you put on your analytical thinking cap.

Watch for instances of great pacing, plot, or characterization and consider what makes them work well. Ponder how you might make use of these observations to improve your own work.

Watch for instances of terrible pacing, rotten plots and unappealing characters. Consider why they don't work and consider how you can use this insight to avoid--or edit out--similar problems in your own work.

If you're able, jot down these observations, or leave yourself a short audio message to transcribe when you're feeling better.

3. Brainstorm


Many forms of brainstorming don't require quite as much mental or physical energy as drafting and revising do.

Jot quick notes on any of the following things: character traits, plot ideas, possible settings, cool details you could add, relationships and potential causes of tension. These could be electronic jots in a document that you can copy and paste into order later, note cards or post-its or pages in a journal.

Use the "reel it" method to visualize multiple ways a scene might play out.

Make messy mind maps--diagrams in which you jot words and draw connections using bubbles and arrows.

Make lists: of character's fears and pet peeves, of locales where scenes could take place, of possible false clues to plant in your mystery, of tech to research for your space-age setting, of songs to add to your prom-scene playlist. You get the idea.

Are you able to be creative when ill? Which of these ideas might you try?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Photo by  jackileigh at morguefile.com
NaNoWriMonth has wrapped up for 2016, a time when many writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days. On question that often pops up on Twitter near the end of November is whether "winning" NaNo (hitting the 50K goal) means you have a complete book.

Unless you write middle grade fiction (ages 8-12) or novellas, then likely, no you do not. You have either a very bloated beginning of a story, or you have a skeleton of a story that hits all the plot points you outlined, but lacks the musculature to stand on its own.

I've addressed a number of issues related to "overwriting" in a series of posts, so I will simply link them here:  (Part 1) Reining in tangents, (Part 2) Reducing grammatical bloat, (Part 3) Streamlining dialogue, (Part 4) Finding and eliminating "purple prose."

Today I'm going to begin a new series to address the second issue--the under-developed story, and how to begin better developing it.

Character underdevelopment


This is probably the chief problem with quickly written pieces--the characters don't yet feel real. The author hasn't yet spent enough time with them to have developed strong instincts about when they would impulsively act (and how) and then they'd pause and reflect (and upon what), The good news is, you can always fix this in revision. In fact, it very well may be best to wait until draft 2 to go deeper with your characters. Having the bones of the plot in place is like having a musical score calling for improvisation--you know the tempo and key, so you have some framework for riffing.

Even in published books,  I've seen some particular character under-development sins that need to be addressed in revision. If you want your NaNo project to succeed, here are some key characterization areas to tackle in your next draft.

Inner world

In underwritten stories, the character often has only one backstory wound that gets hammered on ad nauseum as the root of every problem. In revision, seek to develop other weaknesses, overreaching strengths, driving needs. You must connect with this inner world of your character in order to know what motivates their actions, and thus make their actions align with who they are and who they will become. I recommend Nancy Kress's Dynamic Characters as a helpful resource to do this. I also have a lengthy character questionnaire that can help you better develop your characters' inner worlds. (My forthcoming book 1001 Evocative Prompts will have nearly double this number of character development questions. Stay tuned!)

Many underwritten stories focus only on a surface problem--some dilemma that gets the plot going-- and never address what Les Edgerton in Hooked calls a "story-worthy problem." By that he means the deeper psychological need that is challenged by the surface problem. For example, the need to feel competent. Worthy of love. Generous rather than grasping, or confident instead of fearful.

The story-worthy problem adds emotional stakes to your work, so that what happens to your characters and the decisions they make actually changes them deeply. If you only work on the level of surface problem, you'll have a surface story. For more on emotional arcs, see "Don't forget the other journey, the other arc."

Keep in mind that inner drives, when matched well with the surface problem, will make your story far more compelling. It's somewhat an issue of putting the right character in a situation, and letting their inner world crash up against or be goaded by the surface problem. For more on this match-up, see "Compelling compulsions."

Voice

It takes time to get to know someone's speech patterns well enough to, say, predict their responses on quizzes or surveys. But to write convincing dialogue and inner monologues, you must know this about your character.

Character voice has three main elements:

Diction: How do the characters say what they say? This will reflect their levels of education, local dialect and to a degree their temperament.

Associations: These “tip of the mind” thoughts tell a tremendous amount about a person in just a few words. They can be a shorthand way of showing what kind of past experiences the character has gone through, what he values, and what forms of culture shape him. (See also "An Iceberg Approach to Demonstrating Character.")

Attitudes: These are value judgments made about elements of the world around us--what is good or bad, valuable or worthless. Attitudes most often come out when a character is confronted with something new, unusual or unexpected.

For more on character voice, see my guest post for C.M. Keller, "Elements of Voice."

Choices and changes


Related to those inner drives I'd mentioned above is how a character makes choices, how he or she behaves and reacts to certain events. In other words, the way character drives plot.

Choices must make sense to who a character is, both his temperament and aspirations, as well as his weaknesses and wounds. Too often, underwritten stories neglect to weave the character's emotional and moral inner world into the plot. Whenever your plot calls for your character to make a decision, consider how you can make implicit (through subtle hints) or explicit (in thought or speech) how s/he arrived at the decision based on upholding values, avoiding feared things, or succumbing to weaknesses.

Choices are also informed by the character's capacity. You will have a Mary Sue/Gary Stu if characters choose only to do what comes easily, and a "too stupid to live" character if his/her choices are illogical and go against the law of self-preservation for no reason (versus choosing to do something risky to help others  live and thrive). For more on capacity, see "A key question to keep character and plot in synch."

Change can often happen too quickly in an underwritten manuscript. It's helpful to become acquainted with some basic aspects of psychology to write convincing change.

Change involves replacing one behavior or habit with another one.

One commits to change when staying the same becomes uncomfortable and when those with whom we have important relationships require it.

Willpower alone is usually inadequate for lasting change to happen. Rituals and community support are essential, as has been shown with 12-step programs.

Coming to a moment of realization, or "epiphany" is not enough to be convincing to readers; that never creates change in real life. Characters must go on to test and perfect what they've learned through some representative action at the story's end. See "Beyond closure: the key to creating satisfying story endings."

For more on creating convincing character change, see "Thoughts on motivation and change arcs."

Reactions and Pacing


This is one of the subtler aspects of characterization and storytelling--knowing when and how to have characters react to story events. When would they speak? What thoughts and feelings would be provoked by the event, and how would this person express them--in a bodily sensation, a thought, or a combination?

Underwritten stories almost always skip these moments altogether in order to keep a grip on the main plot thread. So in revision, you must step back and consider when your characters would naturally react, and at what length. The development work you did in the inner world and voice sections above should be a guide. And when anything new comes at your character, ask this essential question as an emotional pulse-check.

Underwritten stories also tend to have too-small emotional arcs. You begin with the character too far along in an arc or skip over steps, causing jumping conflict. I call this "the teaspoon problem" after Hermione Granger's comment that Ron Weasley has "the emotional range of a teaspoon." For more on expanding the range of your emotional arcs, see "Emotional arcs: the teaspoon problem."

If your characters are on the run, you must include scenes in which they rest, recuperate, and consider their ongoing strategy. No one believably goes and goes like the Energizer Bunny. Humans have human weaknesses. Capitalize on them in these moments to make your heroic characters relatable. They still get stiff muscles and hunger pangs, still need bloody wounds to be re-dressed, still need a few hours of sleep to avoid sleep-deprivation psychosis.

Which of these areas do you struggle with most?
Thursday, December 01, 2016 Laurel Garver
Photo by  jackileigh at morguefile.com
NaNoWriMonth has wrapped up for 2016, a time when many writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days. On question that often pops up on Twitter near the end of November is whether "winning" NaNo (hitting the 50K goal) means you have a complete book.

Unless you write middle grade fiction (ages 8-12) or novellas, then likely, no you do not. You have either a very bloated beginning of a story, or you have a skeleton of a story that hits all the plot points you outlined, but lacks the musculature to stand on its own.

I've addressed a number of issues related to "overwriting" in a series of posts, so I will simply link them here:  (Part 1) Reining in tangents, (Part 2) Reducing grammatical bloat, (Part 3) Streamlining dialogue, (Part 4) Finding and eliminating "purple prose."

Today I'm going to begin a new series to address the second issue--the under-developed story, and how to begin better developing it.

Character underdevelopment


This is probably the chief problem with quickly written pieces--the characters don't yet feel real. The author hasn't yet spent enough time with them to have developed strong instincts about when they would impulsively act (and how) and then they'd pause and reflect (and upon what), The good news is, you can always fix this in revision. In fact, it very well may be best to wait until draft 2 to go deeper with your characters. Having the bones of the plot in place is like having a musical score calling for improvisation--you know the tempo and key, so you have some framework for riffing.

Even in published books,  I've seen some particular character under-development sins that need to be addressed in revision. If you want your NaNo project to succeed, here are some key characterization areas to tackle in your next draft.

Inner world

In underwritten stories, the character often has only one backstory wound that gets hammered on ad nauseum as the root of every problem. In revision, seek to develop other weaknesses, overreaching strengths, driving needs. You must connect with this inner world of your character in order to know what motivates their actions, and thus make their actions align with who they are and who they will become. I recommend Nancy Kress's Dynamic Characters as a helpful resource to do this. I also have a lengthy character questionnaire that can help you better develop your characters' inner worlds. (My forthcoming book 1001 Evocative Prompts will have nearly double this number of character development questions. Stay tuned!)

Many underwritten stories focus only on a surface problem--some dilemma that gets the plot going-- and never address what Les Edgerton in Hooked calls a "story-worthy problem." By that he means the deeper psychological need that is challenged by the surface problem. For example, the need to feel competent. Worthy of love. Generous rather than grasping, or confident instead of fearful.

The story-worthy problem adds emotional stakes to your work, so that what happens to your characters and the decisions they make actually changes them deeply. If you only work on the level of surface problem, you'll have a surface story. For more on emotional arcs, see "Don't forget the other journey, the other arc."

Keep in mind that inner drives, when matched well with the surface problem, will make your story far more compelling. It's somewhat an issue of putting the right character in a situation, and letting their inner world crash up against or be goaded by the surface problem. For more on this match-up, see "Compelling compulsions."

Voice

It takes time to get to know someone's speech patterns well enough to, say, predict their responses on quizzes or surveys. But to write convincing dialogue and inner monologues, you must know this about your character.

Character voice has three main elements:

Diction: How do the characters say what they say? This will reflect their levels of education, local dialect and to a degree their temperament.

Associations: These “tip of the mind” thoughts tell a tremendous amount about a person in just a few words. They can be a shorthand way of showing what kind of past experiences the character has gone through, what he values, and what forms of culture shape him. (See also "An Iceberg Approach to Demonstrating Character.")

Attitudes: These are value judgments made about elements of the world around us--what is good or bad, valuable or worthless. Attitudes most often come out when a character is confronted with something new, unusual or unexpected.

For more on character voice, see my guest post for C.M. Keller, "Elements of Voice."

Choices and changes


Related to those inner drives I'd mentioned above is how a character makes choices, how he or she behaves and reacts to certain events. In other words, the way character drives plot.

Choices must make sense to who a character is, both his temperament and aspirations, as well as his weaknesses and wounds. Too often, underwritten stories neglect to weave the character's emotional and moral inner world into the plot. Whenever your plot calls for your character to make a decision, consider how you can make implicit (through subtle hints) or explicit (in thought or speech) how s/he arrived at the decision based on upholding values, avoiding feared things, or succumbing to weaknesses.

Choices are also informed by the character's capacity. You will have a Mary Sue/Gary Stu if characters choose only to do what comes easily, and a "too stupid to live" character if his/her choices are illogical and go against the law of self-preservation for no reason (versus choosing to do something risky to help others  live and thrive). For more on capacity, see "A key question to keep character and plot in synch."

Change can often happen too quickly in an underwritten manuscript. It's helpful to become acquainted with some basic aspects of psychology to write convincing change.

Change involves replacing one behavior or habit with another one.

One commits to change when staying the same becomes uncomfortable and when those with whom we have important relationships require it.

Willpower alone is usually inadequate for lasting change to happen. Rituals and community support are essential, as has been shown with 12-step programs.

Coming to a moment of realization, or "epiphany" is not enough to be convincing to readers; that never creates change in real life. Characters must go on to test and perfect what they've learned through some representative action at the story's end. See "Beyond closure: the key to creating satisfying story endings."

For more on creating convincing character change, see "Thoughts on motivation and change arcs."

Reactions and Pacing


This is one of the subtler aspects of characterization and storytelling--knowing when and how to have characters react to story events. When would they speak? What thoughts and feelings would be provoked by the event, and how would this person express them--in a bodily sensation, a thought, or a combination?

Underwritten stories almost always skip these moments altogether in order to keep a grip on the main plot thread. So in revision, you must step back and consider when your characters would naturally react, and at what length. The development work you did in the inner world and voice sections above should be a guide. And when anything new comes at your character, ask this essential question as an emotional pulse-check.

Underwritten stories also tend to have too-small emotional arcs. You begin with the character too far along in an arc or skip over steps, causing jumping conflict. I call this "the teaspoon problem" after Hermione Granger's comment that Ron Weasley has "the emotional range of a teaspoon." For more on expanding the range of your emotional arcs, see "Emotional arcs: the teaspoon problem."

If your characters are on the run, you must include scenes in which they rest, recuperate, and consider their ongoing strategy. No one believably goes and goes like the Energizer Bunny. Humans have human weaknesses. Capitalize on them in these moments to make your heroic characters relatable. They still get stiff muscles and hunger pangs, still need bloody wounds to be re-dressed, still need a few hours of sleep to avoid sleep-deprivation psychosis.

Which of these areas do you struggle with most?

Thursday, November 03, 2016

By guest author Marianne Sciucco

Image credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/rikahi
My daughter had been swimming for five years when I came up with the idea to write a novel about girls’ varsity swimming that would become my latest book Swim Season. Sitting on those cold, hard bleachers season after season gave me more than a sore you-know-what. It sparked my imagination, creating a story line and cast of characters that would show in written form what high school swimming is like for these girls. As I wrote the story, they were always at the heart of it. I wrote it for them. And I wanted it to be as accurate and realistic as possible.

Observation

In many ways, writing Swim Season was natural and easy. Through many autumns, I’d watched my daughter and her team swim their hearts out, beside parents rooting for their own swimmers. In the beginning, I knew next to nothing about the sport, about swim meets. But as the years went on, I learned.

I learned simple things, like the order of events. Try finding your kid on a pool deck swarming with dozens of young swimmers in caps and goggles when you’re not sure which event it is, or whether your child is swimming in it or not. Impossible.

Immersion

My involvement with swim culture soon expanded beyond sitting in the bleachers. I also chaperoned the waiting rooms where dozens of youngsters waited for their next event. Try to keep all that adrenaline in check.

I volunteered to time the races, and stood at the blocks, race after race, helping to make things run smoothly, making sure the right kid was in the right lane.

I helped out at the concession stand, serving up bagels and cream cheese. I was involved with the fundraising activities, Picture Day, and put together the program for Senior Night for a number of years. I went to 99 percent of the meets with my husband (we missed one when it was an hour away from our home on a week night.)

Conversations and interviews 

Most of my daughters’ friends were swimmers, so I got to know several of them up close and personal. They were an intelligent, ambitious, fantastic set of young women. When my book was criticized by a critique partner because the characters seemed “too smart,” I responded with, “Well, those are the girls I know.” The team had the highest GPA of all athletic teams at the high school year after year. Yes, swimmers are smart.

I took advantage of coaches I knew personally (and some I didn’t) to pick their brains, try out the story’s premise for believability, and tweak the details. Many thanks go to the following New York State coaches: Frank Woodward, Middletown High School; Justin Wright, Monroe-Woodbury High School; Jeremy Cuebas, Minisink Valley High School; and Danielle Lindner, former coach for Mount Saint Mary College, in Newburgh.

Social media

Early in the process, I sent out a tweet on Twitter, asking swimmers to complete a questionnaire for a new book about varsity swimming. Almost a dozen young swimmers – girls and boys – responded, and we started dialogues that provided great background for my story. Some of them went on to become beta readers. All of them were thrilled at the idea of a book about them, about their sport.

Books

As a reader, when the answers weren’t so simple I resorted to books. Michael Phelps’s biography No Limits: The Will to Succeed, with Alan Abrahamson, was more than worth its cost. Likewise, Amanda Beard’s memoir In the Water They Can't See You Cry gave me insight into how to build an Olympic silver medalist. Instruction books, such as Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion, with John Delves, and Tracey McFarlane’s Mirande’s Championship Swimming with Kathlene Bissell, taught me the fine-tuning of technique. The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive, by Jim Afremow, PhD, was instrumental in creating Aerin’s mental game. For inspiration I turned to Swimmers: Courage and Triumph by Larry Thomson.

Parallel experience

Then there was the time when I decided to swim the race at the heart of my story. For a while I was taking Aquasize classes at my local YMCA. One day I got the idea to try to swim 500 yards. I wanted to see if I could do it, how long it would take, and how I would feel during and afterwards. I have never swum competitively, although I have always loved to swim and am capable of doing the freestyle. My first 500 clocked in at 30 minutes. I stopped after every length to catch my breath and chat with the other ladies in the Aquasize class. I kept at it, though, and after a few weeks managed to complete the 500 in 16 minutes, which was phenomenal for me. Of course, the time to beat in Swim Season is 4:52.50, which, for me, was in never never land. But, as a middle-aged woman with below-average fitness, I was proud of my achievement. In the end, unfortunately, it exacerbated my repetitive strain injuries and I had to give it up.

Writing Swim Season was an endeavor born of many resources, personal and professional. It’s recommended that we write what we know. I knew a lot about competitive swimming as a Swim Mom, but that was not enough to compose this story. I needed to reach out to many others – swimmers, coaches, parents, Olympians, and a psychologist – to nail the details. All of this, I believe, leads to a more credible, believable story with depth.

About the Author

During swim season, you can find Marianne Sciucco, a dedicated Swim Mom for ten years, at one of many Skyline Conference swim meets, cheering for her daughter Allison and the Mount Saint Mary College Knights.

Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues.

Her debut novel Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller; IndieReader Approved; a BookWorks featured book; and a Library Journal Self-e Selection. She also has two short stories available on Kindle, Ino's Love and Collection.

A native Bostonian, Marianne lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, and when not writing works as a campus nurse at a community college.

Connect with Marianne: Website / Facebook / Twitter

About the book

Swim Season
Genre: young adult

Sometimes winning is everything.

Champion swimmer Aerin Keane is ready to give up her dreams of college swimming and a shot at the Olympics. As she starts senior year in her third high school, Aerin's determined to leave her family troubles behind and be like all the other girls at Two Rivers. She's got a new image and a new attitude. She doesn’t want to win anymore. She's swimming for fun, no longer the freak who wins every race, every title, only to find herself alone.

But when her desire to be just one of the girls collides with her desire to be the best Two Rivers has ever seen, will Aerin sacrifice her new friendships to break a longstanding school record that comes with a $50,000 scholarship?

Swim Season is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.

What are your favorite research methods? Which of Marianne's research methods would you like to try?
Thursday, November 03, 2016 Laurel Garver
By guest author Marianne Sciucco

Image credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/rikahi
My daughter had been swimming for five years when I came up with the idea to write a novel about girls’ varsity swimming that would become my latest book Swim Season. Sitting on those cold, hard bleachers season after season gave me more than a sore you-know-what. It sparked my imagination, creating a story line and cast of characters that would show in written form what high school swimming is like for these girls. As I wrote the story, they were always at the heart of it. I wrote it for them. And I wanted it to be as accurate and realistic as possible.

Observation

In many ways, writing Swim Season was natural and easy. Through many autumns, I’d watched my daughter and her team swim their hearts out, beside parents rooting for their own swimmers. In the beginning, I knew next to nothing about the sport, about swim meets. But as the years went on, I learned.

I learned simple things, like the order of events. Try finding your kid on a pool deck swarming with dozens of young swimmers in caps and goggles when you’re not sure which event it is, or whether your child is swimming in it or not. Impossible.

Immersion

My involvement with swim culture soon expanded beyond sitting in the bleachers. I also chaperoned the waiting rooms where dozens of youngsters waited for their next event. Try to keep all that adrenaline in check.

I volunteered to time the races, and stood at the blocks, race after race, helping to make things run smoothly, making sure the right kid was in the right lane.

I helped out at the concession stand, serving up bagels and cream cheese. I was involved with the fundraising activities, Picture Day, and put together the program for Senior Night for a number of years. I went to 99 percent of the meets with my husband (we missed one when it was an hour away from our home on a week night.)

Conversations and interviews 

Most of my daughters’ friends were swimmers, so I got to know several of them up close and personal. They were an intelligent, ambitious, fantastic set of young women. When my book was criticized by a critique partner because the characters seemed “too smart,” I responded with, “Well, those are the girls I know.” The team had the highest GPA of all athletic teams at the high school year after year. Yes, swimmers are smart.

I took advantage of coaches I knew personally (and some I didn’t) to pick their brains, try out the story’s premise for believability, and tweak the details. Many thanks go to the following New York State coaches: Frank Woodward, Middletown High School; Justin Wright, Monroe-Woodbury High School; Jeremy Cuebas, Minisink Valley High School; and Danielle Lindner, former coach for Mount Saint Mary College, in Newburgh.

Social media

Early in the process, I sent out a tweet on Twitter, asking swimmers to complete a questionnaire for a new book about varsity swimming. Almost a dozen young swimmers – girls and boys – responded, and we started dialogues that provided great background for my story. Some of them went on to become beta readers. All of them were thrilled at the idea of a book about them, about their sport.

Books

As a reader, when the answers weren’t so simple I resorted to books. Michael Phelps’s biography No Limits: The Will to Succeed, with Alan Abrahamson, was more than worth its cost. Likewise, Amanda Beard’s memoir In the Water They Can't See You Cry gave me insight into how to build an Olympic silver medalist. Instruction books, such as Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion, with John Delves, and Tracey McFarlane’s Mirande’s Championship Swimming with Kathlene Bissell, taught me the fine-tuning of technique. The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive, by Jim Afremow, PhD, was instrumental in creating Aerin’s mental game. For inspiration I turned to Swimmers: Courage and Triumph by Larry Thomson.

Parallel experience

Then there was the time when I decided to swim the race at the heart of my story. For a while I was taking Aquasize classes at my local YMCA. One day I got the idea to try to swim 500 yards. I wanted to see if I could do it, how long it would take, and how I would feel during and afterwards. I have never swum competitively, although I have always loved to swim and am capable of doing the freestyle. My first 500 clocked in at 30 minutes. I stopped after every length to catch my breath and chat with the other ladies in the Aquasize class. I kept at it, though, and after a few weeks managed to complete the 500 in 16 minutes, which was phenomenal for me. Of course, the time to beat in Swim Season is 4:52.50, which, for me, was in never never land. But, as a middle-aged woman with below-average fitness, I was proud of my achievement. In the end, unfortunately, it exacerbated my repetitive strain injuries and I had to give it up.

Writing Swim Season was an endeavor born of many resources, personal and professional. It’s recommended that we write what we know. I knew a lot about competitive swimming as a Swim Mom, but that was not enough to compose this story. I needed to reach out to many others – swimmers, coaches, parents, Olympians, and a psychologist – to nail the details. All of this, I believe, leads to a more credible, believable story with depth.

About the Author

During swim season, you can find Marianne Sciucco, a dedicated Swim Mom for ten years, at one of many Skyline Conference swim meets, cheering for her daughter Allison and the Mount Saint Mary College Knights.

Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues.

Her debut novel Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller; IndieReader Approved; a BookWorks featured book; and a Library Journal Self-e Selection. She also has two short stories available on Kindle, Ino's Love and Collection.

A native Bostonian, Marianne lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, and when not writing works as a campus nurse at a community college.

Connect with Marianne: Website / Facebook / Twitter

About the book

Swim Season
Genre: young adult

Sometimes winning is everything.

Champion swimmer Aerin Keane is ready to give up her dreams of college swimming and a shot at the Olympics. As she starts senior year in her third high school, Aerin's determined to leave her family troubles behind and be like all the other girls at Two Rivers. She's got a new image and a new attitude. She doesn’t want to win anymore. She's swimming for fun, no longer the freak who wins every race, every title, only to find herself alone.

But when her desire to be just one of the girls collides with her desire to be the best Two Rivers has ever seen, will Aerin sacrifice her new friendships to break a longstanding school record that comes with a $50,000 scholarship?

Swim Season is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.

What are your favorite research methods? Which of Marianne's research methods would you like to try?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Some writers are just the nicest people. So nice, in fact, that they write fiction that bores you to tears. Why is it that all nice all the time makes such terrible fiction?

Readers don't worry about the characters, aren't curious about what will happen to them.

Think about the cars  you see pulled over on the highway. If you slow and see they've stopped for something innocuous-- to walk the dog or switch drivers--you'll speed up and go along your merry way. Nothing to see here.

If the pulled-over car has smoke billowing out of the engine and little kids howling in fear in the back seat, you'll slow down. Maybe even stop. Trouble! Will they be okay? Do they need help? Should the kids be taken a safe distance away?

Adversity, loss, mistakes, arguments, fights, dilemmas--these are the pieces of life that actually make it interesting. A healthy dose of each of these things added to every story will make for a gripping reading experience. Diffuse or remove every one, and you'll have a yawn-fest.

So how do you overcome a bad case of Nice Writer Syndrome?

Understand that running from conflict has serious drawbacks


Painful rejections and traumas from the past that bleed through into the present can become emotionally immobilizing. You might believe you're safer to clam up when others hurt you, or to flee when the going gets tough, but in the long run, these habits increase one's isolation and can simply reinforce a shaky sense of self worth.

In the Psychology Today article, "The Perils and Advantages of Being Conflict-Avoidant," Dr. John Amodeo notes:

There are notable pitfalls to avoiding potential conflict. We may conceal our genuine feelings, desires, and viewpoints because we’re afraid of how we’ll be seen or received by others. We shut down rather than take the risk to show our real self. Rather than be courageously authentic, we might cling to lies, deceptions, and omissions that make it difficult for people to trust us. We may withdraw emotionally or change the subject, fearing that if we reveal our honest feelings or wants, we’ll be rejected or shamed.
Consider also this perspective for getting resolution (instead of the endless push/pull cycle): Stop Avoiding It: Why conflict is good for you.

Determine the source of the nice-at-all-costs message you have internalized


Was there an influential person in your life who demanded complete compliance with rules and suppression of negative emotions? Rewarded only angelic behavior? Or conversely, was your childhood filled with such toxic people, you've walled off anything that reminds you of that time?

Perhaps it was an influential event in your life that cemented the idea that you must be sweetness and light all the time or something truly terrible will happen. Are you compensating for some past mistake or loss that threatens to overwhelm you with guilt or shame?

Perhaps you simply had poor role models of engaging in normal conflict and resolving it. Your family  members might have stuffed their feelings until someone exploded--then everyone pretended nothing was happening. Or perhaps one family member with poor personal boundaries--or even a narcissistic, borderline or histrionic personality disorder--manipulated and emotionally blackmailed everyone in order to feel okay themselves, making authentic relationships impossible.

Get appropriate help


Not every conflict-avoidant person has a borderline personality parent who manipulated and emotionally blackmailed them to such a degree they'd rather throw themselves in front of a train than argue with someone. Extreme cases like this--and ones involving ongoing abuse--do call for professional help.

Others simply grew up with an authoritarian parent, and must re-parent themselves to a degree--gradually introducing themselves to freedoms that had been curtailed in childhood, and working to grow in self confidence.

Perhaps simply reading and doing exercises from a self-help book or joining an online forum will be enough to address some of the underlying issues.

Become a student of conflict


Obviously, you'll be most easily able to study conflict at a remove, in fictional settings. Taking forays into viewing films you wouldn't normally watch because of the interpersonal conflict squirm factor can be a way to do "exposure therapy" like phobia patients often do--having small, controlled experiences getting close to the feared thing.

Start with comic conflicts, as found in films for the younger set, such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Freaky Friday and Mean Girls.

Move up to dramas with low-simmer conflict like The Spectacular Now, Metropolitan, and Persuasion

As you get more comfortable, take on films with explosive interpersonal conflict, like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Closer, and The Celebration/Festen (Danish with subtitles).

As you watch each film, consider what each character wants and why. Note also what each character values, and how those values clash with others and within itself.

Begin building conflicts


All conflict has one of two positive roots: a desire or a value.

Before you consider any of the nasty stuff that scares you, answer these happier questions:

  • What does your protagonist want, crave, or long for?
  • What does your protagonist value?

Chances are, too-nice writer, you do know these things about your character. After all, you like everyone to be happy.

Now comes the tough part--consider how these positives might be harmed, thwarted, or cause problems. Here are some helpful questions to do that:

  • What are some reasons your protagonist does not yet have what he/she desires?
  • What are some ways your protagonist might try to gain the desired thing that will fail?
  • How does pursuing this desired thing thwart the desires of other story characters?
  • How could satiating this desire have unintended negative consequences?
  • In what way might his/her desire conflict with important values s/he holds?
  • Do any of your protagonist's values potentially clash? How can you reveal it?
  • How can you delve into the complications or clashes within one of his/her values?
  • How might these values clash with the values of other characters?


Don't settle for easy answers here. See if you can come up with three to eight answers for each question. The longer you consider each question, the better the chance that you'll move past the cliches and tropes and come up with fresher, more interesting ideas.

Congratulations! You're on your way toward bravely tackling character conflicts.

Further reading:
James Scott Bell's Conflict and Suspense
Cheryl St. John's Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict

Do you struggle with Nice Writer Syndrome? What steps will you take to tackle your conflict aversion?
Thursday, October 27, 2016 Laurel Garver
Some writers are just the nicest people. So nice, in fact, that they write fiction that bores you to tears. Why is it that all nice all the time makes such terrible fiction?

Readers don't worry about the characters, aren't curious about what will happen to them.

Think about the cars  you see pulled over on the highway. If you slow and see they've stopped for something innocuous-- to walk the dog or switch drivers--you'll speed up and go along your merry way. Nothing to see here.

If the pulled-over car has smoke billowing out of the engine and little kids howling in fear in the back seat, you'll slow down. Maybe even stop. Trouble! Will they be okay? Do they need help? Should the kids be taken a safe distance away?

Adversity, loss, mistakes, arguments, fights, dilemmas--these are the pieces of life that actually make it interesting. A healthy dose of each of these things added to every story will make for a gripping reading experience. Diffuse or remove every one, and you'll have a yawn-fest.

So how do you overcome a bad case of Nice Writer Syndrome?

Understand that running from conflict has serious drawbacks


Painful rejections and traumas from the past that bleed through into the present can become emotionally immobilizing. You might believe you're safer to clam up when others hurt you, or to flee when the going gets tough, but in the long run, these habits increase one's isolation and can simply reinforce a shaky sense of self worth.

In the Psychology Today article, "The Perils and Advantages of Being Conflict-Avoidant," Dr. John Amodeo notes:

There are notable pitfalls to avoiding potential conflict. We may conceal our genuine feelings, desires, and viewpoints because we’re afraid of how we’ll be seen or received by others. We shut down rather than take the risk to show our real self. Rather than be courageously authentic, we might cling to lies, deceptions, and omissions that make it difficult for people to trust us. We may withdraw emotionally or change the subject, fearing that if we reveal our honest feelings or wants, we’ll be rejected or shamed.
Consider also this perspective for getting resolution (instead of the endless push/pull cycle): Stop Avoiding It: Why conflict is good for you.

Determine the source of the nice-at-all-costs message you have internalized


Was there an influential person in your life who demanded complete compliance with rules and suppression of negative emotions? Rewarded only angelic behavior? Or conversely, was your childhood filled with such toxic people, you've walled off anything that reminds you of that time?

Perhaps it was an influential event in your life that cemented the idea that you must be sweetness and light all the time or something truly terrible will happen. Are you compensating for some past mistake or loss that threatens to overwhelm you with guilt or shame?

Perhaps you simply had poor role models of engaging in normal conflict and resolving it. Your family  members might have stuffed their feelings until someone exploded--then everyone pretended nothing was happening. Or perhaps one family member with poor personal boundaries--or even a narcissistic, borderline or histrionic personality disorder--manipulated and emotionally blackmailed everyone in order to feel okay themselves, making authentic relationships impossible.

Get appropriate help


Not every conflict-avoidant person has a borderline personality parent who manipulated and emotionally blackmailed them to such a degree they'd rather throw themselves in front of a train than argue with someone. Extreme cases like this--and ones involving ongoing abuse--do call for professional help.

Others simply grew up with an authoritarian parent, and must re-parent themselves to a degree--gradually introducing themselves to freedoms that had been curtailed in childhood, and working to grow in self confidence.

Perhaps simply reading and doing exercises from a self-help book or joining an online forum will be enough to address some of the underlying issues.

Become a student of conflict


Obviously, you'll be most easily able to study conflict at a remove, in fictional settings. Taking forays into viewing films you wouldn't normally watch because of the interpersonal conflict squirm factor can be a way to do "exposure therapy" like phobia patients often do--having small, controlled experiences getting close to the feared thing.

Start with comic conflicts, as found in films for the younger set, such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Freaky Friday and Mean Girls.

Move up to dramas with low-simmer conflict like The Spectacular Now, Metropolitan, and Persuasion

As you get more comfortable, take on films with explosive interpersonal conflict, like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Closer, and The Celebration/Festen (Danish with subtitles).

As you watch each film, consider what each character wants and why. Note also what each character values, and how those values clash with others and within itself.

Begin building conflicts


All conflict has one of two positive roots: a desire or a value.

Before you consider any of the nasty stuff that scares you, answer these happier questions:

  • What does your protagonist want, crave, or long for?
  • What does your protagonist value?

Chances are, too-nice writer, you do know these things about your character. After all, you like everyone to be happy.

Now comes the tough part--consider how these positives might be harmed, thwarted, or cause problems. Here are some helpful questions to do that:

  • What are some reasons your protagonist does not yet have what he/she desires?
  • What are some ways your protagonist might try to gain the desired thing that will fail?
  • How does pursuing this desired thing thwart the desires of other story characters?
  • How could satiating this desire have unintended negative consequences?
  • In what way might his/her desire conflict with important values s/he holds?
  • Do any of your protagonist's values potentially clash? How can you reveal it?
  • How can you delve into the complications or clashes within one of his/her values?
  • How might these values clash with the values of other characters?


Don't settle for easy answers here. See if you can come up with three to eight answers for each question. The longer you consider each question, the better the chance that you'll move past the cliches and tropes and come up with fresher, more interesting ideas.

Congratulations! You're on your way toward bravely tackling character conflicts.

Further reading:
James Scott Bell's Conflict and Suspense
Cheryl St. John's Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict

Do you struggle with Nice Writer Syndrome? What steps will you take to tackle your conflict aversion?

Friday, October 21, 2016

I've been hard at work on several collections of writing prompts that I hope to release in the coming months. Just for fun, I thought I'd give you a small taste of what's in store. The prompts below are a very small sampling of the character and emotions prompts collection, over 1,000 in all. on 40 different emotions and numerous aspects of character development.

----

Emotions are the raw material for all creative writing (and quite a lot of nonfiction as well). Use one of the following prompts to delve into a strong emotion, writing as yourself, a fictional character, or a poetic persona. Let your exploration lead you toward the beginnings of a work of memoir, fiction or poetry. Some hint at a particular genre, others could be spun to fit multiple genres.

Amusement / Mirth


  • The best prank I’ve ever pulled / heard about.
  • How the court jester turned back an invading army.
  • Ten terrible metaphors and/or similes
  • Epic fail involving a skateboard, trampoline, or rope swing.
  • Mischievous magical folk create havoc in a village one spring evening.
  • Ten of the most ridiculous ways to kill off a character.
  • I can’t keep a straight face when I see ____.
  • A group of stand-up comics is taken hostage and must joke their way out of captivity.

Boredom


  • The most boring family event I can remember (or imagine)
  • You are a spinster noblewoman in 1815 England.
  • An athlete recovering from a concussion may not do, watch, or read anything to rest his/her injured brain.
  • A child’s eye view of a wedding.
  • You work as a lifeguard at a lap pool in a retirement home.
  • The diary of a prisoner in solitary confinement.
  • To marry your true love, you must attend weekly three-hour prayer meetings with your future in-laws for the next six months.
  • The dullest person you have ever dated.
  • An astronaut must live alone on a space station for a year.

Defeat / Discouragement


  • A setback or failure from which you thought you would never recover.
  • You missed the last bus/train/flight for the day.
  • Your science fair invention works perfectly until the judges come to observe it.
  • A false rumor causes everyone to shun you.
  • In a team competition, your teammates suffer a series of injuries, one after another.
  • Your corporate sponsor threatens to withdraw funding for a minor mistake.
  • You can’t hold a job because of a crazy relative who makes trouble everywhere.
  • A chronic illness makes it impossible to complete an important task.

Embarrassment


  • I have never been so embarrassed as when ____.
  • A beauty queen gets a nosebleed/gas attack during a pageant.
  • A dignitary comes for dinner and you/your child/your pet vomits on him/her.
  • Your swimsuit gets gobbled up by the pool drainage system.
  • Your parent with Tourette’s Syndrome chaperones the class trip/school dance.
  • The bakery accidently sends a lewd bachelorette party cake for Nana’s 90th birthday party.
  • The fart that changed my destiny.
  • Your doting mother shows off your baby pictures/awkward adolescent pictures/dweeby polka-band pictures to a potential mate.

Hope


  • You romantically connect with someone on a chance encounter, and the person asks for your number or gives you theirs.
  • A woman who has suffered several miscarriages enters the 36th week of a healthy pregnancy.
  • Describe the bodily sensations you have when you are hopeful.
  • Interstellar explorers find what looks like a viable planet for colonization, capable of sustaining human life.
  • A cancer patient begins an experimental treatment.
  • Police get an anonymous tip about a cold case.
  • The addict you love reaches their first anniversary of sobriety.
  • A group of castaways finds a crate on the beach full of farming and fishing equipment.

Shame


  • I could never tell ____.
  • How someone with an eating disorder might think about his/her body.
  • What deeply shameful experience could I more easily write myself free of if I gave it to a fictional character?
  • What skeletons do my parents have in their closets?
  • The day I realized there was something deeply wrong with me.
  • What shameful secret might my antagonist hide at all costs?
  • Deeply religious parents learn their child is leaving the faith because…
  • You learn that your parent or grandparent was once a Nazi, a torturer, or slave dealer.
  • A doctor makes a simple error that causes a patient to ____.


Interested in doing more with emotion in your writing? Pick up my guided journal Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal. This tool, based on exercises used in method acting, leads you through observation activities so that you can better describe character emotional responses in your writing. 

Pocket sized, with plenty of space to record your observations, this is a tool useful for writers of any genre. 

Available here: 
Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Createspace / Book Depository

Which of these prompts appeal most to you? Why?
Friday, October 21, 2016 Laurel Garver
I've been hard at work on several collections of writing prompts that I hope to release in the coming months. Just for fun, I thought I'd give you a small taste of what's in store. The prompts below are a very small sampling of the character and emotions prompts collection, over 1,000 in all. on 40 different emotions and numerous aspects of character development.

----

Emotions are the raw material for all creative writing (and quite a lot of nonfiction as well). Use one of the following prompts to delve into a strong emotion, writing as yourself, a fictional character, or a poetic persona. Let your exploration lead you toward the beginnings of a work of memoir, fiction or poetry. Some hint at a particular genre, others could be spun to fit multiple genres.

Amusement / Mirth


  • The best prank I’ve ever pulled / heard about.
  • How the court jester turned back an invading army.
  • Ten terrible metaphors and/or similes
  • Epic fail involving a skateboard, trampoline, or rope swing.
  • Mischievous magical folk create havoc in a village one spring evening.
  • Ten of the most ridiculous ways to kill off a character.
  • I can’t keep a straight face when I see ____.
  • A group of stand-up comics is taken hostage and must joke their way out of captivity.

Boredom


  • The most boring family event I can remember (or imagine)
  • You are a spinster noblewoman in 1815 England.
  • An athlete recovering from a concussion may not do, watch, or read anything to rest his/her injured brain.
  • A child’s eye view of a wedding.
  • You work as a lifeguard at a lap pool in a retirement home.
  • The diary of a prisoner in solitary confinement.
  • To marry your true love, you must attend weekly three-hour prayer meetings with your future in-laws for the next six months.
  • The dullest person you have ever dated.
  • An astronaut must live alone on a space station for a year.

Defeat / Discouragement


  • A setback or failure from which you thought you would never recover.
  • You missed the last bus/train/flight for the day.
  • Your science fair invention works perfectly until the judges come to observe it.
  • A false rumor causes everyone to shun you.
  • In a team competition, your teammates suffer a series of injuries, one after another.
  • Your corporate sponsor threatens to withdraw funding for a minor mistake.
  • You can’t hold a job because of a crazy relative who makes trouble everywhere.
  • A chronic illness makes it impossible to complete an important task.

Embarrassment


  • I have never been so embarrassed as when ____.
  • A beauty queen gets a nosebleed/gas attack during a pageant.
  • A dignitary comes for dinner and you/your child/your pet vomits on him/her.
  • Your swimsuit gets gobbled up by the pool drainage system.
  • Your parent with Tourette’s Syndrome chaperones the class trip/school dance.
  • The bakery accidently sends a lewd bachelorette party cake for Nana’s 90th birthday party.
  • The fart that changed my destiny.
  • Your doting mother shows off your baby pictures/awkward adolescent pictures/dweeby polka-band pictures to a potential mate.

Hope


  • You romantically connect with someone on a chance encounter, and the person asks for your number or gives you theirs.
  • A woman who has suffered several miscarriages enters the 36th week of a healthy pregnancy.
  • Describe the bodily sensations you have when you are hopeful.
  • Interstellar explorers find what looks like a viable planet for colonization, capable of sustaining human life.
  • A cancer patient begins an experimental treatment.
  • Police get an anonymous tip about a cold case.
  • The addict you love reaches their first anniversary of sobriety.
  • A group of castaways finds a crate on the beach full of farming and fishing equipment.

Shame


  • I could never tell ____.
  • How someone with an eating disorder might think about his/her body.
  • What deeply shameful experience could I more easily write myself free of if I gave it to a fictional character?
  • What skeletons do my parents have in their closets?
  • The day I realized there was something deeply wrong with me.
  • What shameful secret might my antagonist hide at all costs?
  • Deeply religious parents learn their child is leaving the faith because…
  • You learn that your parent or grandparent was once a Nazi, a torturer, or slave dealer.
  • A doctor makes a simple error that causes a patient to ____.


Interested in doing more with emotion in your writing? Pick up my guided journal Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal. This tool, based on exercises used in method acting, leads you through observation activities so that you can better describe character emotional responses in your writing. 

Pocket sized, with plenty of space to record your observations, this is a tool useful for writers of any genre. 

Available here: 
Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Createspace / Book Depository

Which of these prompts appeal most to you? Why?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

by guest Chrysa Smith

Some schools do it every year. Others have never had an author come into their school to speak to their students.  Yet for me, it's the only way to sell children's books--to sell books in quantity. But it's surely not for the faint of heart. Here are some of the lessons learned from "going back to school."

I learned long ago that if I wanted to get noticed as an author, I'd need to offer more than my book. After all, what makes my book different than the tens of thousands of children's books out there? So, after a little research and a lot of chutzpah, I decided to create a school program that went along with my first book.

Naturally, it spoke to my book, but it also included quite a bit about the writing process, which can also set an author apart. The presentation then became a lesson. More than a show 'n tell from an author, kids learned a few things without realizing it, all from a different perspective. And from my experience, teachers love it.

 Eight years ago, my program began as an overhead presentation (so much for technology). But it evolved, as the purchase of a projector gave birth to a PowerPoint, complete with cool graphics and fancy effects. A screen presentation is a 'must' if you visit schools, as assemblies are often held in gyms, auditoriums or cafeterias. Many schools do have Smart Boards with internet access and presentations can be shown from laptops. So it helps to have presentations on a memory stick as well--a little easier to tote and compatible with those schools that have the latest technology.

Presentations must fall in line with school schedules and teachers have to clear the space, the date and rearrange classes for the day, so while you might expect innumerable schools as your target market, my experience has shown the return on contacts to be quite low, thus my point about it not being for the faint of heart. Scoring school visits involves lots of time--lots and lots of time, perseverance and a budget--all necessary to create things like bookmarks, postcards, brochures--all must-haves in order to spread the word about you.

But perhaps the biggest question of all is how to market to schools? I wish I had a magic formula to share. To put it simply, it involves lots of contact. Emails, direct mailings, getting on school visitation websites. And while I have listed myself on 'authors who visit schools' sites, very little has come of it. For the most part, I do email blasts, and it does yield some results, but with the ever-growing number of protective filters out there, so many emails go unopened, which is why complimentary postcard mailings help. And don't underestimate the value of going to book fairs. I have sat at many, twiddling my thumbs and contemplating the universe, but some of the seemingly unending events have yielded school visits. All it takes is one contact to sell a few dozen books and perhaps lead to another school visit.

My advice? Start out locally. Hitting schools where you live is the best place to begin. They are often more open to authors who share their community. Discipline yourself with regular contact with them, and slowly, like a spider or world-wide web, cast your net larger and larger--as large as you care to or as long as you can stand being back in the classroom once again Good luck!

About the Author


Author of the easy-reader series: The Adventures of the Poodle Posse and a new picture book, Once upon a Poodle, Chrysa Smith always likes to see the fun side of things, as she observes her miniature poodles during devious endeavors in her home. A long-time feature magazine writer and shorter term children's author, Chrysa has always been a fan of the written word. It's just that now, it comes in simple, concise sentences.

Connect with Chrysa:

website / e-mail / Facebook

About the book

Once Upon a Poodle

Mom's Choice Award Silver Medalist for excellence in Juvenile Fiction


When miniature poodle Woody goes on a hunt for a new brother, all sorts of adventures are in store. Several attempts bring chaos into the house while trying to find a suitable creature to become the latest member of the family. Feathers fly, gardens are harvested and nuts are cracked in this full-color illustrated tale that embraces fun, problem-solving and learning what family and friendship are all about.

Available here: The Well Bred Book / Amazon

What questions do you have for Chrysa about booking and planning school visits?
Thursday, October 13, 2016 Laurel Garver
by guest Chrysa Smith

Some schools do it every year. Others have never had an author come into their school to speak to their students.  Yet for me, it's the only way to sell children's books--to sell books in quantity. But it's surely not for the faint of heart. Here are some of the lessons learned from "going back to school."

I learned long ago that if I wanted to get noticed as an author, I'd need to offer more than my book. After all, what makes my book different than the tens of thousands of children's books out there? So, after a little research and a lot of chutzpah, I decided to create a school program that went along with my first book.

Naturally, it spoke to my book, but it also included quite a bit about the writing process, which can also set an author apart. The presentation then became a lesson. More than a show 'n tell from an author, kids learned a few things without realizing it, all from a different perspective. And from my experience, teachers love it.

 Eight years ago, my program began as an overhead presentation (so much for technology). But it evolved, as the purchase of a projector gave birth to a PowerPoint, complete with cool graphics and fancy effects. A screen presentation is a 'must' if you visit schools, as assemblies are often held in gyms, auditoriums or cafeterias. Many schools do have Smart Boards with internet access and presentations can be shown from laptops. So it helps to have presentations on a memory stick as well--a little easier to tote and compatible with those schools that have the latest technology.

Presentations must fall in line with school schedules and teachers have to clear the space, the date and rearrange classes for the day, so while you might expect innumerable schools as your target market, my experience has shown the return on contacts to be quite low, thus my point about it not being for the faint of heart. Scoring school visits involves lots of time--lots and lots of time, perseverance and a budget--all necessary to create things like bookmarks, postcards, brochures--all must-haves in order to spread the word about you.

But perhaps the biggest question of all is how to market to schools? I wish I had a magic formula to share. To put it simply, it involves lots of contact. Emails, direct mailings, getting on school visitation websites. And while I have listed myself on 'authors who visit schools' sites, very little has come of it. For the most part, I do email blasts, and it does yield some results, but with the ever-growing number of protective filters out there, so many emails go unopened, which is why complimentary postcard mailings help. And don't underestimate the value of going to book fairs. I have sat at many, twiddling my thumbs and contemplating the universe, but some of the seemingly unending events have yielded school visits. All it takes is one contact to sell a few dozen books and perhaps lead to another school visit.

My advice? Start out locally. Hitting schools where you live is the best place to begin. They are often more open to authors who share their community. Discipline yourself with regular contact with them, and slowly, like a spider or world-wide web, cast your net larger and larger--as large as you care to or as long as you can stand being back in the classroom once again Good luck!

About the Author


Author of the easy-reader series: The Adventures of the Poodle Posse and a new picture book, Once upon a Poodle, Chrysa Smith always likes to see the fun side of things, as she observes her miniature poodles during devious endeavors in her home. A long-time feature magazine writer and shorter term children's author, Chrysa has always been a fan of the written word. It's just that now, it comes in simple, concise sentences.

Connect with Chrysa:

website / e-mail / Facebook

About the book

Once Upon a Poodle

Mom's Choice Award Silver Medalist for excellence in Juvenile Fiction


When miniature poodle Woody goes on a hunt for a new brother, all sorts of adventures are in store. Several attempts bring chaos into the house while trying to find a suitable creature to become the latest member of the family. Feathers fly, gardens are harvested and nuts are cracked in this full-color illustrated tale that embraces fun, problem-solving and learning what family and friendship are all about.

Available here: The Well Bred Book / Amazon

What questions do you have for Chrysa about booking and planning school visits?

Monday, October 03, 2016

by Franky A. Brown
The Courtship by Charles Green. Wikimedia commons.

My Austen Inspirations series is loosely based on Jane Austen’s works, some more than others. Emma’s Match features my character, Emma Wallace, a modern version of Austen’s Emma. She first came into being in the second book in the series, None But You, as the heroine’s best friend.

My goal was to craft her personality as closely as I could to Austen’s Emma, while setting her in modern-day South Carolina. She’s well-bred and classy, and while some may see her a snobbish, she has a generous heart and the best intentions when matchmaking her friends. But Emma’s Match is not a simple retelling of the story of Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley. What I set out to do was to take her character, add similarities to the original Emma, but make it my own story. And while None But You has many similarities to Persuasion, it’s also a new story.

Following the original books exactly didn’t work for me; it felt too much like being boxed in. Obviously women of today have more opportunities than women in the early nineteenth century, but human emotion hasn’t changed. The internal struggles women faced then with things like self-image, financial security, and understanding the opposite sex remain today.

Photo: DMedina on morguefile
Using Jane Austen’s characters as a springboard, I allowed myself the freedom to go in new directions. Pride and Butterflies shares simply a theme with Pride and Prejudice: first impressions can go seriously wrong and opinions can change. These heroines are women striving to succeed in building their own businesses, and struggling with personal weaknesses. The leading man either unexpectedly crashes into the back of her car, suddenly reappears seven years after a broken engagement, or lives down the hall and has no idea of her feelings.

All three of the books in this series can be read on their own. They’re filled with clean romance and plenty of humor. Austen, of course, was the first to combine humor and romance.


About the author


Franky A. Brown has always called the South home and loves to write about it. She holds an English degree from the University of South Carolina and can’t seem to stop reading. She is the author of women’s fiction and chick lit about life, love, and Southern women.

Brown started writing her Jane Austen retellings in 2015 with Pride and Butterflies, then None But You. Now she's published Emma's Match, a retelling of Emma by Jane Austen.


About the book


Emma Wallace has a plan up her sleeve to save her struggling design business, but not a clue what do to about the man who has her heart.

Stealing a kiss from Will Knight years ago ended in an embarrassment she didn’t want to repeat. But when a popular new designer in town starts taking her clients and has eyes on Will, too, Emma decides it’s time to fight for what she wants. The perfectly irritating designer she wants to shove into a hole isn’t the only one who can be down-to-earth and likeable. After all, Emma’s never failed at anything...except walking the line between friendship and love. Crossing it again could mean losing Will’s friendship for good.



Giveaway


Franky has generously offered a paperback of Emma’s Match! Use the Rafflecopter to enter. The giveaway will be closed at midnight on October 5th and the winner will be announced around 6AM on the Bookish Orchestration blog on October 6th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Tour Schedule

Saturday, October 1
Bookish Orchestrations-Tour Introduction
Rachel Rossano's Words- Excerpt and Character Interview

Sunday, October 2

Monday, October 3
Crystal Walton- Excerpt and Book Review
Laurel's Leaves-Guest Post

Tuesday, October 4
Ramblings- Guest Post
Once Upon an Ordinary-Author Interview

Wednesday, October 5
Rachel John Reviews- Book Review

Thursday, October 6
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner


If you ever did a modernization of a classic, would you choose to riff on the characters, as Franky does, or to update the plot?
 
Monday, October 03, 2016 Laurel Garver
by Franky A. Brown
The Courtship by Charles Green. Wikimedia commons.

My Austen Inspirations series is loosely based on Jane Austen’s works, some more than others. Emma’s Match features my character, Emma Wallace, a modern version of Austen’s Emma. She first came into being in the second book in the series, None But You, as the heroine’s best friend.

My goal was to craft her personality as closely as I could to Austen’s Emma, while setting her in modern-day South Carolina. She’s well-bred and classy, and while some may see her a snobbish, she has a generous heart and the best intentions when matchmaking her friends. But Emma’s Match is not a simple retelling of the story of Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley. What I set out to do was to take her character, add similarities to the original Emma, but make it my own story. And while None But You has many similarities to Persuasion, it’s also a new story.

Following the original books exactly didn’t work for me; it felt too much like being boxed in. Obviously women of today have more opportunities than women in the early nineteenth century, but human emotion hasn’t changed. The internal struggles women faced then with things like self-image, financial security, and understanding the opposite sex remain today.

Photo: DMedina on morguefile
Using Jane Austen’s characters as a springboard, I allowed myself the freedom to go in new directions. Pride and Butterflies shares simply a theme with Pride and Prejudice: first impressions can go seriously wrong and opinions can change. These heroines are women striving to succeed in building their own businesses, and struggling with personal weaknesses. The leading man either unexpectedly crashes into the back of her car, suddenly reappears seven years after a broken engagement, or lives down the hall and has no idea of her feelings.

All three of the books in this series can be read on their own. They’re filled with clean romance and plenty of humor. Austen, of course, was the first to combine humor and romance.


About the author


Franky A. Brown has always called the South home and loves to write about it. She holds an English degree from the University of South Carolina and can’t seem to stop reading. She is the author of women’s fiction and chick lit about life, love, and Southern women.

Brown started writing her Jane Austen retellings in 2015 with Pride and Butterflies, then None But You. Now she's published Emma's Match, a retelling of Emma by Jane Austen.


About the book


Emma Wallace has a plan up her sleeve to save her struggling design business, but not a clue what do to about the man who has her heart.

Stealing a kiss from Will Knight years ago ended in an embarrassment she didn’t want to repeat. But when a popular new designer in town starts taking her clients and has eyes on Will, too, Emma decides it’s time to fight for what she wants. The perfectly irritating designer she wants to shove into a hole isn’t the only one who can be down-to-earth and likeable. After all, Emma’s never failed at anything...except walking the line between friendship and love. Crossing it again could mean losing Will’s friendship for good.



Giveaway


Franky has generously offered a paperback of Emma’s Match! Use the Rafflecopter to enter. The giveaway will be closed at midnight on October 5th and the winner will be announced around 6AM on the Bookish Orchestration blog on October 6th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Tour Schedule

Saturday, October 1
Bookish Orchestrations-Tour Introduction
Rachel Rossano's Words- Excerpt and Character Interview

Sunday, October 2

Monday, October 3
Crystal Walton- Excerpt and Book Review
Laurel's Leaves-Guest Post

Tuesday, October 4
Ramblings- Guest Post
Once Upon an Ordinary-Author Interview

Wednesday, October 5
Rachel John Reviews- Book Review

Thursday, October 6
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner


If you ever did a modernization of a classic, would you choose to riff on the characters, as Franky does, or to update the plot?