March 16, 2017

The Freedom to Write

As I sit at my computer and watch many of our nation’s freedoms being threatened–freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to congregate–I begin to wonder, when will our freedom to write come under attack?

People said it couldn’t happen in the United States. They said we had too many checks and balances for our basic freedoms to crumble under tyranny. In 2017, I beg to differ. Today the White House blocked three of our major news outlets from attending a Press Conference. What’s with that? How about elected officials all over the country refusing to meet with constituents? In other societies ruled by dictators, the writers kept writing. Many were imprisoned for their writing, but that didn’t stop them. Some were exiled, but they kept writing.

It’s our way to fight back when all other avenues are barred. The Nazi’s burned books, but people kept writing. There are more oral histories from that era than from any other time. It’s time for all writers to put their pen to paper and to write, to document, to record the memories of this time. There’s never been a time in our history when so many values have been challenged. Even the value of truth versus fiction is under scrutiny. As a writer, I’m going to take the time to record these events. Who knows, someday it might help others understand how we got where we are.  Maybe it will record how the pillars fell and hopefully how the pillars got re-erected.

Are Book Stores Failing Us?

For the sake of confidentiality, I won’t mention the name. I will say, however, that the customer service at that store left my friend frustrated and angry. He told me he would never go back there. He had been a loyal customer.

Meantime, Amazon is offering all kinds of deals to their customers. Furthermore, if you make a mistake and order the wrong item, the return policy is golden. In fact, that same friend found he could not return an item he brought as a gift. Amazon told him, “Keep the item. Give it to another friend. We will credit your account for the purchase.” Wow! I recall when Macy’s had the same policy. Now, Macy’s is going out of business. Instead of catering to their customers, they are pulling back.

Recently I tried to order a book online from another major outlet (not Amazon). The book was only offered in that company’s e-book format or hardback. No paperback version. Frustrated I turned to Amazon which offers the book in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats, not just Kindle.

My answer is yes. We have a small independent book store in my community. It is thriving because it caters to the customer. Perhaps the future will open doors for the little guys who were put out of business. Perhaps this will happen because if you want to succeed with sales, you must remember the most basic axiom: The Customer Is Always Right. Treat your customers with respect. Surprise them with your courteous generosity. And, guess what! You will succeed.

 

Who or What Pulls Your Strings?

I’m sitting at my computer today, thinking about the world, fearful of the future and wondering who or what pulls your strings. Who and what makes you do what you do? Who motivates you? Having just listened to Meryl Streep’s moving speech at the 2017 Golden Globes, I wondered what went through this great actress’s mind when she took to the podium. I respect her courage.

What made Martin Luther King, Jr. risk his family’s life, his career, his own well-being? What anguish did he suffer before embarking on his journey toward freeing his people? What ignited him?

When I worked as a corporate trainer, I taught motivation. My goal was to help managers and leaders understand how to motivate their employees. Often I would point out that the only real motivator in life is oneself. We cannot motivate others. That fact in and of itself took a great weight off my participants. Clearly, people must motivate themselves. They create their own passions. But, something happens within us that makes that happen.

Writing is a great motivator. So is reading. I get inspired by reading great books. That makes me want to go to my computer and write.

Recently I saw a movie, The Woman in Gold. The story is about an elderly woman who fled Austria during the Nazi invasion. Her family lost all their possessions, including masterpieces painted by the famous Viennese artist, Gustav Klimt. Maria Altman had her own motivations for wanting her family’s possessions returned. What I found interesting is the way the young attorney, whom she asked to help her, became possessed by this case. He came into it indifferently with little hope of success. His original motivator was the amazing value of the painting. After his trip to Vienna and after learning of the plight of his own ancestors, he dedicated himself to the mission of returning the Woman in Gold to its family. His passion overtook that of Maria Altmann. What happened? What tugged at his strings?

Sometimes we cannot pinpoint our motivations or our passions. We simply know we cannot go on without pursuing them. Many a writer has given up everything, promotions, travel, money, to pursue a career that had little hope of success. We know the people who made it. There are multitudes more who don’t. Why? Not for lack of motivation. Not for lack of talent. Often for lack of timing or luck. Nothing more.

What must you do even when the universe seems to work against you?

What Are Your Writing Goals for 2017?

As each day passes us by, we often wonder what we’ve accomplished from day to day. Many of us are simply trying to stay above water. Keep all the pieces in place–whether it’s that demanding job with ridiculous deadlines or food on the table and kids delivered to soccer games. Those of us who are also writers, worry about the words we’ve put on paper. Have we accomplished any more than an outline? How can we squeeze in our writing goals among the many demands facing us from day to day?

Let’s not let that happen when 2018 dawns (right around the corner, I might add). When my niece told me she wanted to go to nursing school, she said, “But, it will take me so long. I’ll be thirty by the time I’m finished.” My response to her, “You’ll be thirty anyway. You may as well be thirty and a nurse than thirty without realizing your dream.”

Sometimes, we become discouraged because we have such a long road ahead. As a novel writer, I know all about long roads. If I wrote short stories, that would be different.

To accomplish the goal of writing that novel, we must say, “Do I want to face the next year still saying I want to write a novel? or Do I want to face that year saying I did it?” The new year will come anyway.

Here are my goals for 2017:

  1. Finish the current manuscript I’m working on which is the third installment in the Jenna Scali series. The working title is A Painting to Die for. My goal is to get a clean, completed copy to my publisher by the end of January and to see it published by the fall of 2017.
  2. Finish my current work-in-progress. It’s a stand-alone mystery, working title Five Cans of Crazy. Complete the first draft by the end of February and prepare it to send to my beta readers by the first week in March. See it published by January 2018.
  3. By fall of 2017, draft another installment (perhaps the last) in the Jenna Scali series.
  4. Go to one major writers conference during the year.

There you have it. Now, that I’ve written them down, I have no excuses.

Let’s hear them.

My Best Book Ideas Come from My Friends

Indeed, my book club has unearthed a few, but the very best books are those my friends recommend.

I’ve thought about this phenomenon. I read book reviews. I study what people are reading on Goodreads. And, I do read what my book club assigns me. But, it’s my closest friends who are my best resource.

Why?

Maybe because they know me and know what I like. I think I know myself, but in truth, maybe my friends know me better. Here are some of the wonderful books I found through recommendations from my friends:

  1. All the Light we Cannot See. As most of you know, this one became a Pulizer Prize winner. I read it before it got that distinction because a friend thought I’d like it.
  2. Still Life with Bread Crumbs. A very good book that left me wanting to read more by Anna Quindlen.
  3. The Hare with Amber Eyes. This was a fascinating book about pieces of decorative art I’d never heard of. It took me from France to Austria to Japan.
  4. The Lost Painting. Jonathan Harr did a great job with this nonfiction piece. I learned a lot about the life and painting of Caravaggio.
  5. The Orphan Train. A piece of our history I knew nothing about, but told in a fictional account.
  6. A Man Called Ove. My recently review calls this a book that floored me.

These are just a few of the great reads my friends have led me to. I’m sure there are many more, but one thing is for sure. When one of my friends says, “You really need to read…” I will perk up. They are more often than not right!

So, here we are at the end of 2016. And I just want to say thank you to my friends for so many great reads.

#MyBookReview 5 Stars!!! A Man Called Ove

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Click to order on Amazon

It evokes every emotion, laughter, anger, frustration and tears. The story may not grab you like a thriller, but the book is one you’ll tell all your friends about. It’s one you’ll think about and never want to forget. That’s what happened to me when I read A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Blackman.The story is about a crotchety curmudgeon named Ove. He lives somewhere in Sweden. At first you wonder why you want to read a book about such a grumpy old man. But, as you get into it, you learn more about Ove and how he became who he is.

The theme of the story is summed up in one line found later in the book but hinted at throughout: “For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.”

Nothing about this story is complicated or even unpredictable. It touches us in a real human way. I was reminded of Forrest Gump. He did amazing things in a very special way.

Ove lives in a subdivision in Sweden and he’s in constant battle with his neighbors. He cusses at the stray cat who wanders into his life. He fumes when people disobey the rules. The only thing that keeps Ove from going off the deep end is his wife Sonja. She’s also a very special person. In the book someone described the couple as black and white with Ove being the black and Sonja being the white.

There’s much you can learn from people and relationships in this story. It promises to delight. And, the author writes beautifully. Here are some examples I simply had to highlight:

“You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away.”

“And when she giggled she sounded the way Ove imagined champagne bubbles would have sounded if they were capable of laughter.”

“…the sulky boy’s face opened up in a smile. It was like a plaster cast cracking around a piece of jewelry, and when this happens it was as if something started singing inside Sonja.”

Don’t miss this wonderful Must Read.

 

 

Writers Using Scrivener or Not?–Pros and Benefits

This is a writing tool designed to help organize the unfocused, creative minds of writers. I wonder how F. Scott Fitzgerald or Faulkner might have responded to something like Scrivener? My initial reaction was it would take me too long to learn the tool. Precious time away from writing, right?scrivenerfinal1_400x400

I resisted for several years. Finally, while attending a writers conference, I said to another writer, “What do you think of Scrivener?” The person answered quickly. “I love it.” Okay, so what was I missing here?

First of all, Scrivener is designed for all kinds of writing, fiction, nonfiction, screen plays and more.

That makes it hard to figure out what may or may not work for you. When I first went onto Scrivener, I had a book written in Word. I tried to convert it to Scrivener. That didn’t work very well.

The best way to use Scrivener is in the creation phase–before you have a document created on your computer. I learned a few other tips as well.

In fact, be sure to look at the one on getting started. If you resist doing this, then don’t use Scrivener.

It will be tempting to use the template for your kind of writing, whether you’re writing a novel or an academic book. But, those templates are too limiting.

Do not venture into more difficult territory.

What are some benefits of using Scrivener versus your word processing software?

You will never lose your work. Yippee! That’s huge. If your computer crashes, everything you’ve done that day on Scrivener is saved.

I caught myself naming a character and several paragraphs down I used a different name. There’s a sidebar on Scrivener (the Inspector), where you can note a new character’s name, occupation, hair color, whatever you need.

Instead of cutting and pasting, you simply move one section up or back or sideways as you wish. You can always put things back just as easily.

Scrivener has a great feature that lets you take a photo of a section you might be planning on revising entirely. It saves the old as you create the new. You can combine or revert back as you wish.

I’ve clearly not done everything with Scrivener. But, I’m learning as I go. Give it a try. It might open and entire new world for you and actually make your writing easier.

What are your thoughts on Scrivener or other writing tools?

What Surprises You About Writing?

Recently I was asked by an interview,

He included the creative process, publishing or editing. Admittedly nothing in the publishing or editing process particularly surprised me. I realized going into this field that getting published would be a challenge and would require all my powers of persistence. I also recognized that without support from well-known writers or publishing houses, I wouldn’t attract the attention of the big houses or an agent. No surprises there. That was simply realism.bigstock-euphoric-and-surprised-winner-113833298

As for the editing process, there were no surprises there as well. I understand that editing is the hallmark of good writing. Once I writer said her first draft was always perfect and she rarely made any changes, I recognized that statement as unrealistic.

Editing does that. Perhaps I didn’t realize in the early days that editing and creating were so different. That may have surprised me a bit. Editing requires a different kind of thinking–ruthlessness. Creating is softer, more forgiving.

So, what did really surprise me about writing? The answer lies in the creative process. I’ve always been a very organized person, with to-do lists and clear paths. I set those paths and I maintain a high level of discipline to meet the goals on those paths. Creative writing lapses in a different world. When I set out to write my first novel (a practice novel–one that will never be published), I began with an idea. The outline in my head had a fuzzy path, nothing concrete. Before long, my mind took me to places I’d never been or seen. Characters emerged with ideas of their own.

The surprise is that if I fought to bring the story back on the path I had original planned, it fell apart. If, however, I allowed the story to unfold as it wanted to, it grew and developed. This was not just a surprise but scary. When you don’t know where the story is going from day to day, it’s frighting. Negative thoughts take over. Things like: “This story is a bunch of crap or Who’d every want to read this?”

Persistence kept me going in those early days and I had to trust that everything would work in the end. The surprise was that it did!

Not organized or neat. But, if I will allow the messiness to happen, something special, something I never dreamed would happen emerges. Twists and turns I never predicted come into focus. My story unfolds and even I have no idea how.

Or maybe your other creative endeavors? Share with us. We’d love to hear from you.

Wanna preview the winner of the GOLD in mystery? Check out e-Murderer.

Guest Post: Murder Within An Extended Family

What a treat we have in store for you today!

Her delightful personality shines through in her many award-winning books. I consider her an inspiration. She agreed to visit us today and talk a bit about the extended family featured in her murder mystery series. Enjoy!

The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries–Heather HavenHeather300dpi copy

As the author, you have to make sure the humor comes across but doesn’t get in the way of the all-important mystery. When Murder is a Family Business won the Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award 2011, I hoped I was onto something. When A Wedding to Die For, the second of the Alvarez Family series, became a finalist in both the EPIC and Global Awards 2012, I cheered. When Death Runs in the Family, the third offering, won the Global Gold for Best eBook Mystery Fiction 2013, I was thrilled and went on writing. DEAD….If Only, Book four, won the Silver Global in 2015, and now there’s The CEO Came DOA. I’m beginning to think there is an appeal for a quirky family filling different roles in the family-owned detective agency, Discretionary Inquiries, a detective agency which investigates software, hardware, and Intellectual Property theft. Murder is just not part of their job description.

Lee Alvarez, the protagonist, is a reluctant PI who wanted to be a ballerina, but is a mediocre dancer, at best. As a ferret, however, she’s aces. Lee is aided in the job by her brother, Richard, a computer genius sans social skills, who runs the IT department. These two are kept under the beautifully manicured thumb of their never-had-a-bad-hair-day CEO and mother, Lila Hamilton Alvarez, she who has been known to chill chardonnay at a single glance. Keeping the home fires burning is Tío, uncle and retired head chef, offering unconditional love and tortilla soup. Love interest, Gurn Hanson, listed in the yellow pages as a CPA, is also an ex-Navy SEAL. He comes in handy now and then. Add to this group a white and orange cat named Rum Tum Tugger and you have the cast of characters.

The series starts two years after the unexpected death from an aneurysm of the patriarch, Roberto Alvarez. His death causes the realignment of familial positions, not an unusual occurrence after so big a loss. Did I mention this series is humorous? But you have to start off in a serious place in order for humor to work. Really, really. Just ask Milton Berle.

Anyway, these unmatched souls do their darnedest to be positive, supportive, and loving of one another, no matter how annoying the other’s behavior. Lee Alvarez sometimes becomes overwhelmed, but always tries to be a B&BP (bigger and better person), even while chasing the bad guy over rooftops, ruining her Bruno Magli’s.

All in all, I wanted the series to be warm and funny yet real, with on-going characters you wouldn’t mind hanging out with, although blueblood and matriarch Lila Hamilton Alvarez does not ‘hang’ unless she’s moving her Monet closer to the baby grand. I’ve been lucky that so many readers and reviewers get what I’ve been attempting to do with this odd little family i.e., let’s have fun while solving a crackerjack mystery!

Another important issue for me is to show blended families. The Italian half of my ancestors came to the States in the early twentieth century, when it was difficult to be Italian. But they worked hard to integrate and became useful members of society. I decided to write about new immigrants working hard and succeeding now, today. The series revolves around a half-Latino, half-Palo Alto blueblood family that has managed to capture the American dream through perseverance, hard work, familial love, and oh yes, with a trust fund. Money never hurts, folks.

Check out Heather’s newest release: 

Click to order on Amazon

Click to order on Amazon

The CEO Came DOA,

Book Five

The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries

Someone is trying to sabotage the Initial Public Offering of ‘Read-Out’, a small Silicon Valley start-up, and Lee Alvarez has been hired to find the culprit. Meanwhile, the first Alvarez grandchild is about to be born while Lee is planning her very own Christmas wedding; or rather letting her mother plan it. When Lee finds the CEO hanging by the neck in his boardroom wearing nothing but baby blue boxer shorts, she has to ask herself, was it suicide? Or was it murder? If so, was the saboteur responsible, one of his business partners, or even his famous rock star ex-wife? There are too many suspects and the bodies start piling up just in time for Christmas. Ho, ho, ho

You can find all of Heather’s books on her Amazon page or her website: http://www.heatherhavenstories.com/

 

What in the World are People Thinking?

As you walk down the hall at work or through the aisles in the grocery store, do you imagine thoughts in other people’s heads? Are they thinking about how much their feet hurt or wondering what their spouse will get them for Christmas or thinking about a friend who might be in the hospital? All of us have very busy minds. We are thinking all the time. But, I’d venture to say that you’re too busy thinking about you to wonder what others are thinking. UNLESS you’re a writer.

73af806b7ef840091923ee678ea4c0efIn fact, if you see a writer in the grocery store or at work, they are probably wondering what you are thinking. One of our jobs is to get in the minds of our characters. We think our character’s thoughts. Sometimes they are clear thoughts and other times they are snippets of thought or fragments.

Here are some tips for getting into your character’s head:

  1. Don’t write every thought. Otherwise you’ll drive your readers nuts.
  2. Imagine that character and what might be going on with them. Imagine their unique personality. For example if your character us obsessive compulsive, they might get off on something small–some little noticed tidbit they can’t let go. This might be just the thing that solves a case.
  3. Make sure the thoughts are relevant to the story. Random thoughts are what people have all the time, but as writers we must ferret out the ones that matter to the story we’re telling.
  4. Don’t spend too much time in the character’s mind. Too much internal dialogue can drive readers to put your book down and never pick it up again.

So, what are you thinking about? Can you give us a few of your usual thoughts? We might use them the next time we enter the mind of our characters. Why not? Share your thoughts with us.