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Sunday, March 26, 2017

It's a Writer Thing -- Is THIS Why You Are Struggling to Finish That Book?

This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss.

Hello, Wonderful Writers! Not too long ago, someone in the Electric 18’s group shared a video by Brene´ Brown, Ph.D. I majorly LOVE this woman’s work. In case you’re not familiar with her, she’s a researcher who focuses on studying shame and vulnerability. If you haven’t read her books, I really recommend them all. She talks about how being vulnerable is one of the most courageous things we can do, that vulnerability comes with great rewards, “because vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, trust, empathy, creativity, and innovation. 

That’s right. 

What she’s discovered through her research is that without vulnerability, we cannot create. If we’re going to make art, or put ourselves in the “arena,” as Teddy Roosevelt called it, then there is “one guarantee. You will get your ass kicked. If courage is a value you hold, this is a consequence. You can’t avoid it.” And who does this ass-kicking she speaks of? The critics. There are many kinds of critics (and I highly recommend you hear her talk or read her books for the full discussion), but today I want to focus on one—the worst critic.

The worst critic, she tells us, is ourselves.

I’ve always loved doing art. Drawing, painting, crafts. You name it. Back in my teen years, I did a lot of sketching. There’s nothing like a perfectly-sharpened pencil and a blank sheet of paper. There’s nothing, alright—nothing scarier. I’d sit there, thinking about what I wanted to draw, the tip of my pencil hovering over the page, and I’d be stuck. What if my drawing was a ginormous failure? What if the image I had in my head didn’t match up with what I achieved on the page. What if my subject was sucky or corny or boring? And of course, even though there was no risk of this happening—like ever, because I was never taking my sketch pad out of the safety of my house—but what if some one saw this sucky, corny, boring hot mess of a drawing? In my head, even if I locked up my pad in a steel safe, I could catastrophize until I ended up at school with the sheet of paper somehow magically glued to my butt, unbeknownst to me, out in the world for all to see. Yeah. It gets scary in there sometimes.

So, what did I do in response to these “gremlins?” I armored-up. I still put pencil to page, but I didn’t draw my own creations. I copied photos or book covers. Someone else already decided those pictures were worth making, so I played it safe and copied them. Sure, I was practicing my skill, and I got better at drawing, but I wasn’t creating. I wasn’t making art. Thinking back now, it would have been better if I had made a terrible version of the awesomeness in my head, even if the outcome was cringe-worthy. Better because it would have been mine. I would have made art.

Now, I’m creating a new kind of art with my stories, and I can’t help but wonder if this is the same process that causes us to get stuck. That causes us to stall partway through a work in progress. Are we so afraid of making a sucky, corny, boring hot mess of a book that we can’t create? Is our fear of vulnerability causing us to armor-up so securely that all we do is cut off the natural flow of our wondrous imagination? And all this even before a single soul has laid eyes upon what we’ve written—all except for ourselves. The worst gremlin of them all. 

So what’s a writer to do?

Brene´ Brown tells us that we must expect the critics to be there, including the one inside our heads, and that we must be prepared for what they’ll say about us. What’s the worst thing your internal critic tells you when you’re sitting there, fingers hovering over the keyboard? Find out, then tell that voice that you aren’t interested in his or her feedback. Lock those gremlins up in a closet where they belong. If you need to, find a mantra, like a magic spell, to keep them in there. Then, all that that is left to do is WRITE. Because you can do it. You can write!

Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand. 

Check out Jessica's other posts:

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Q & A With Author Leslie DJ

Hi, Leslie. Thanks for joining me! Let’s get started! What is your book, Luz, NOT about?

It’s not an autobiography. Although Luz and I may have a lot in common it is not my life story.

What is your book, Luz, about?

My book is about a young woman’s struggle; Luz Vargas is a semi successful writer who at the beginning of the book is very lost. She’s living the life she thinks she’s supposed to live rather than the one she actually wants. In its own way it is a coming-of-age story. 

What is your favorite line from your book?

“She lived her life in fiction, too afraid to let the world in…
She surrounded herself with the only friends she knew,
Susan Sontag and Maria Irene Fornes…”

What celebrities would play your main characters if it were a movie?

Rosario Dawson would play Luz and I’d love to see Chris Evans play Luke. We can always go with a sexy unknown to play Henry. 

Take me through a day in your life. 

Since writing is not my main source of income, I have a day job. I wake up at 5:30am; shower then feed my birds and dog. I prepare a protein shake while Joey (my Chihuahua) looks on, take my vitamins and pour it in my to go cup to consume on the bus. 

I take the bus into work where I work as an administrative assistant at a college. 

Show me a picture of your writing spot. 

If you could spend the day with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you do?

I would love to spend a day with Carrie Fisher. I would spend the day gathering stories about her life and thanking her for all her advocacy work with mental health. Then we’d walk over to her mom’s house and sing some cabaret. 

What is the weirdest thing you have had to research for writing purposes?

I had to prove to my editor that in the Dominican Republic a family of four would ride at the back of a motorcycle taxi with groceries in tow. 

What was your favorite book as a child, and what is your favorite book now?

Charlotte’s Web” was my favorite book as a child. It was the first book I read from cover to cover. A book that I love re-read as an adult is Julia Alvarez’s “How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents”. 

What book are you currently reading? 

The Princess Diarist” by Carrie Fisher. I love and miss her daily. She meant a lot to me; her outspokenness, her courage when it came to talking about addiction and mental health, it breaks my heart knowing she is no longer around.

What is the strangest fact about you? 

I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 years. People think it’s strange that I don’t eat meat because I’m Latina and in Dominican culture especially a lot of meat is consumed. 

What writers inspire you?

Junot Diaz, Carrie Fisher, Julia Alvarez and Marian Keyes. 

Why do you write?

I just love it. It comes easy to me and I constantly have dialogues floating around in my head that I just need to jot down. I also feel like our stories as Latinos aren’t often told and I would like to do my part and contribute to the community. 

What are you working on right now?

I am in the very early stages of writing the sequel to my first book, “That Girl” I have a few scenes written out, a killer opening and tons of notes and points I want to hit. I’m hoping to release that by end of 2018.

How can readers learn more about you and your work?

You can visit my website.
Or follow me on social media:

Thanks again for joining me, and best of luck writing your debut novel!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Flora and Ulysses | Kate DiCamillo

“All words at all times, true or false, whispered or shouted, are clues to the workings of the human heart.”

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction.
Number of Pages: 233.
Perspective: Third.

After a run in with a vacuum cleaner, an ordinary squirrel becomes much more. He may be exactly what a lonely girl with divorced parents needs. For a complete summary, you can go here.

I love children’s literature. Why? Because it takes complex subjects and simplifies them for children. This book deals with divorce, neglect from a workaholic mother, and remarriage. But none of it felt heavy. The whole book was written as an over-the-top pseudo comic book story. It was ridiculous and totally unbelievable, but it was wonderful.

The illustrations were beautiful and mixed in with the story perfectly. Kate DiCamillo excels in kooky characters and animals that save broken spirits (such as in Because of Winn Dixie). If you read this story, you have to open to strange and fantastical things—such as a poetry writing squirrel. But it will definitely be a fun ride.

If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

“Cynics are people who are afraid to believe.” 

4/5 Stars

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Q & A With Author Larissa Reinhart

Hi, Larissa. Let's get started. What is your book, 15 Minutes, NOT about?

It’s not about penguins. That being said, I’ve got nothing against penguins. They’re very cute. I got to hold one once.

Penguins are pretty awesome. What is your book15 Minutes, about?

Maizie Albright’s an ex-teen and reality star who returns to her hometown in Georgia to escape life in Hollywood (also by judge’s orders) to become a detective. She’s trying to emulate her favorite childhood role, Julia Pinkerton, Teen Detective, but also learning how to become her own person after spending a life under the thumb of managers, directors, and producers, particularly her stage-monster mother-manager.

What is your favorite line from your book?

If I pick a favorite, it’ll make the other lines jealous. So I’ll give you the first line, “Of course, Nash Security Solutions would be housed in a donut shop.”

What better place than a donut shop? What celebrities would play your main characters if it were a movie?

I always imagine Maizie Albright looking like a young Christina Hendricks. Maybe if Emma Stone was taller and curvier? And Nash looks like a young, bigger and bulkier Paul Newman. Or at least his eyes are like Paul Newman. Maybe if Paul Newman and Dwayne Johnson had a baby. Lamar sounds like Morgan Freeman but he looks like Ossie Davis. Vicki…maybe Heather Locklear? I’m really dating myself here. I should ask my readers…

Take me through a day in your life. 

It’s very exciting.
6:20 I curse and hit the snooze.
6:30 I listen to see if my children forgot to turn on their alarm. In which case, I have to hop out of bed and yell at them to get up. 
There’s forty-five minutes of shuffling, coffee making, lunch packing, and the like, then they’re gone. I tell myself I’m going to do yoga after I check my email.
9:00 I’m starving and I realize that it’s nine o’clock and I haven’t done anything but look at my email, steal funny pins off Pinterest, and scroll through Facebook. Also, my coffee is now cold. I haven’t showered. And forget about the yoga. 
I complain about my lack of focus to Biscuit (my dog), who points out that I have a great amount of focus for goofing off. Actually, he doesn’t speak, but his looks say it all. 
11:00 I’m starving. Also, I’m writing, but to be honest, most of the writing is “research.” I berate myself for not having any good snacks when we all know that if I buy snacks, I’ll just eat them. 
1:00 I’m starving. I check my word count and do a face palm. But first, “just let me check Facebook (for thirty minutes).”
2:00 I ate and now I’m sleepy. I take a thirty-minute nap because “I get my best ideas right before I nap.” (This is what I tell myself).
4:00 The children are getting off the bus. I check my word count and do another face palm. I tell myself to do better tomorrow.
4:00 to 9:00 is the children hour(s). 
9:00 I tell myself I should do more work, but I’m tired (even though I had a nap). So I tell myself I won’t be productive anyway and I should just watch Netflix. 
11:30 I face palm because I just Netflixed way too long. But now I need to read.
12:30 Dangit, it’s 12:30 and I’m still reading. But one more chapter…

Show me a picture of your writing spot. 

I like to use my laptop in my actual lap. In a chair with my feet up. Because I am that lazy.

I work in the same position. If you could spend the day with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you do?

To be really honest, my dad. If I’m trying to be funny, Teddy Roosevelt. I had a thing for him when I was thirteen. 

What is the weirdest thing you have had to research for writing purposes?

I had a lot of fun researching drag queen how-to’s for HEARTACHE MOTEL. Terri L. Austin, LynDee Walker and I each wrote a novella and set our characters at a fictional seedy, crime-ridden Memphis motel with Elvis impersonators and Elvis’s women impersonators. The women were all men. Fun and educational!

What was your favorite book as a child, and what is your favorite book now?

Although I had many favorites, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was my favorite. Choosing a favorite now is even harder because I’ve had so many more years of reading. Probably Jane Eyre but The Eyre Affair makes it even better.

What books are you currently reading? 

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan and Before the Storm by Leslie Tentler.

I loved Dad is Fat. I reviewed it here. What is the strangest fact about you? 

Wow. There are so many. In Thailand, a monkey jumped on me and almost bit me. That was pretty weird. Wait, my family was on HGTV’s House Hunters International. That’s strange and it’s more recent. The monkey happened in 1997 and it’s just my go to odd fact.

Oh, I love House Hunters! What writers inspire you?

Every writer I read inspires me. Writing is such hard work, I’m constantly amazed by those who do great things with words. Particularly original things with words. Elmore Leonard comes to mind. Ira Levin blows me away. Mary Stewart’s stories are still really compelling to me. And I love the romantic comedies of Jennifer Crusie. I’ll read anything by those authors. 

Why do you write?

I question that all the time. I feel compelled to get stories down on paper. I’ve been writing stories since I learned how to spell. I still can’t spell…

What are you working on right now?

16 MILLIMETERS, the second Maizie Albright Star Detective story.  And I’ve got two romantic comedies on the back burner. Plus notes on a couple YAs I’ve promised myself to write before my children become adult. And a Cherry Tucker spin-off. And the full novel from my Finley Goodhart short story and NC-17, Maizie Albright #3. All those ideas are running through my head, but I only allow myself real words on 16 MILLIMETERS.

How can readers learn more about you and your work?

I love to chat with readers on Facebook, but I’d love for them to sign up for my newsletter. I do a giveaway every quarter and my subscribers are automatically entered to win a signed copy for each of my releases. Plus my newsletter subscribers get the Finley Goodhart stories. You can also check my website or find me snapping shots of our life in Japan on Instagram (@LarissaReinhart). 

Awesome, thanks for joining me, Larissa! 

Monday, February 13, 2017

It's A Writer Thing - Do Not Fear Rejection

This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss. 

Hello, wonderful writers! Welcome back to my blog series, It’s a Writer Thing. Today I want to spend some time talking about the dreaded r-word, rejection.

Some of you may know that back in May I signed with my agent (which you can read about here), and just about a month ago, we received our first offer for the publication of my debut novel (which you can read about here). 

In the midst of all this, I wrote my 9th short (a silly, horror story), for an anthology. Long story short (no pun intended), it wasn’t selected. (Boo!) BUT, my dear friend, G Marie Merante’s story was, and you can check out the book, UNLEASHED: MONSTERS VERSUS ZOMBIES, right here. Of course, like any dedicated writer, I sent my piece out to a different market, another anthology. Well, two days ago, that second press rejected my poor little story. So, I sent it right out the next morning to a horror lit mag. A few hours later, I had my third rejection for this piece. That was 2 rejections in about 15 hours. (BTW, I recently counted up my total number of rejections, and I won’t share that tally here, but trust me, it’s a healthy sum.) 

In response to this news, my hubby asked, “What’s rejection like now that you sold your first book.” I pondered that for a moment. My answer was: “It sucks just as much today as it did the first time.” And that’s the truth, 100%. BUT, I also want to suggest a cognitive reframe, because I also believe 100% that rejections really don’t matter. Not at all.

How can that be? 

In THE ART OF WORK, Jeff Goines defines “The 7 characteristics of a calling,” which include Apprenticeship and Practice. How do these concepts translate into rejection not mattering? First, one quote from Viktor Frankl: “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him…the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

No, I’m not trying to say that it’s the suffering and struggle that we should embrace, but in some regard, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Back to Goines: in THE ART OF WORK, Goines talks about how we need to remember that Apprenticeship and Practice are essential steps in any road to any goal. Thinking about Gladwell’s “10,000 Hours to Mastery” principle, it really takes us a LONG time to get good at anything.

When I first started writing, I had a lot to learn, and not just about the craft. Practice is also necessary for all the other skills we need to master. Skills like perseverance. I’ve sung in various choirs on and off since grade school. I had one conductor who’d give us hell when we’d finish a run-through of a piece then immediately break into chatter. He insisted we practice freezing and smiling. “We have to practice that part too,” he’d say. Totally true. On concert day, we’d need that habit to be well ingrained so as not to look unprofessional to our audience. 

I think of perseverance in writing the very same way. We need to get used to the dreaded r-word because rejection never ends. Even if we become huge successes (and I hope we all do!), we’re still going to face rejection in the form of poor reviews and readers who dislike our work. So we need to practice that part too—sticking with it even when rejection happens. 

Rejection is just one of the normal, natural, expected, and even necessary steps to reaching our goal. We can’t avoid it, and we shouldn’t fear it. 

How do we make the jump from accepting rejection to not fearing it? Here’s how. Rejection means we’re putting ourselves out there. It means we’re “in it (to quote my favorite exercise celebrity, Shaun T). The fact of the matter is, the person who publishes the most books is the person who submits the most books for publication. The number of shots we take matters. Simple as that. 

We can’t wrack up a bunch of yes’s unless we collect a bunch of no’s. In their “How I got my agent” stories, some helpful authors post their query stats. When I did comparisons, I learned that 1 full/partial request for every 10 queries sent is actually a really good ratio. In other words, just to get an agent, we can expect approximately 90 passes for every 10 send-me-more’s.

And I know what you’re thinking: What about those authors who hit big with their first book? Yes, those folks exist, but they are total outliers. Good for them! But for every story like that out on the internet, there are probably 100 stories about the long, slow slog toward success. The good news is, during that slow slog, we’re doing our Apprenticeship where we’re accumulating those 10,000 hours of Practice. 

Back to Goines: He actually calls Practice “painful practice,” and says if you’re not feeling at least a little bit of pain, you’re probably not doing it right. Does this remind you of that Frankl quote? Now, I really don’t wish suffering on any of us, but I think this is immensely powerful because it normalizes the painful part of this journey. It’s normal to feel the sting of rejection. Discouragement will happen. Even tears. (Okay, a lot of tears.) And they’re okay. They don’t mean anything about our chances of success. Or, to turn that around, they mean everything about our chances of success because we’re practicing stamina and perseverance, and we’re “in it.” In the game. 

This all boils down to my motto: The only way we won’t succeed is if we stop trying. As long as we don’t quit, we can’t possibly fail.

As always, a HUGE thank you to Amber Gregg for hosting my series on her excellent blog, “Judging More than Just the Cover.” And, never forget: You can do it! You can write!

Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand. 

Check out Jessica's other posts: