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My Recipe For Not-So-Instant Novel

June 30th, 2015 No comments
Keyboard

Go on, start typing. You know you want to.

You have a bucket list. Don’t deny it. Even if you haven’t written it down or saved it on your phone’s note app, you’ve got a secret list beating away inside of your heart of accomplishments you want to hit before the coffin closes. And, since we’ve already gone this far, you might as well admit that writing a novel is on that list.

A perennial bucket list favorite, writing a novel is a secret dream for a huge portion of our population. Why? Simple. We all have a story to tell. We’ve watched a less than impressive movie or read a mediocre book and thought, I could do so much better! Some of us dream of amazing fantasy tales or a detective novel with a plot so twisty that even the greatest minds won’t see the ending coming. Others of us have experienced incredible events in our own lives or reached a new understanding of life after many knockdowns, and we want to share our unique story with the world.

So, if writing a novel is on your bucket list, then why is that box still unchecked? Why is it clanging around in your head, all sad and haunty, like Marley’s ghost?

You can write your novel.

It’s easy, I swear!

Here is my famous recipe for not-so-instant novel:

Step One: Go to bed one hour earlier each night.

Step Two: Wake up one hour earlier in the morning.

Step Three: Spend that extra hour in the morning planning/writing/editing.

Step Four: Repeat until book is complete.

There, novel in a box. You’re welcome.

The truth is that writing a novel is no different than any other major undertaking. Generally if you set aside a certain amount of time, even just one hour a day, to focus solely on the project, you’ll eventually get it done. Writing a novel isn’t sexy. It’s about creating a habit and putting your butt in the chair over and over again.

In other words, just write. You will never, ever, ever write your novel if you only talk about it.

Here are a few more tips that will help you along your novel-writing way:

  • Outline your novel first so you know where you are going.
  • Take time to develop your characters so you have a good feel for them. That may mean interviewing them, writing a day in their life, or finding a celebrity who they look like. None of this will make it into your novel, but understanding your character will help them come alive.
  • Write your first draft with reckless abandon. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Don’t overthink it. Just write, write, write.
  • Edit the hell out of your book. Unless you’re working on your 30th novel, your first draft will probably be utter crap. That’s fine. If you even created a first draft, you’re amazing. Now, go back and clean it up. Fill in plot holes. Tighten every chapter, paragraph, and sentence. Make sure your characters are consistent. Cut out all the extra stuff your novel doesn’t need.
  • Find other writers to critique your book. You may be able to find a writer’s group in your area. You can certainly find them online. Writer’s Café, Goodreads, Facebook, and LinkedIn are all great places to start looking for critique partners.

When you complete your first book, congratulate yourself. You did the thing that 99% of the population secretly wants to do but never will. Now, throw it in a drawer, forget about it, and start on your next book.

What? Don’t publish? After all that blood, sweat, and tears? Yep, my fingers didn’t stutter on the keyboard. For all but a few writers, their first book is utter swill. Yours probably will be too. That’s because writing is a craft, and getting good at a craft takes a lot of practice. The Mona Lisa wasn’t Leonardo Di Vinci’s first painting.

Trust me, this advice is for your own good. My first book was so terrible, I think it would have melted any Kindle unfortunate enough to download it. It will never see the light of day.

So, please don’t stare wistfully out the window at work and think, if I had more time, I’d write a novel. (Or insert other secret wish). You do have enough time. Anyone can find at least one hour a day. No excuses. Your bucket list is waiting.

Categories: Essay, Writing Tags:

The Critique I Never Wanted

June 5th, 2015 No comments
sad pug dog

The fastest way to bum an indie author out is to write a negative review.

Authors are a funny bunch. A lot of us put on a brave game face, but on the inside, we’re about as confident as a third grader at the science fair standing beside her volcano waiting for the award committee to walk by. We desperately want praise (it’s our own personal form of crack), but we don’t want you to know this. On the other hand, a bad review can send us into a spiral of shame.

We know we should get over bad reviews. We know we should revel in the good ones. But logic is a poor shield against emotion, and somehow the words of a good review fade while bad reviews stick to our soul like gum.

I recently participated in a program to generate more reviews for FALLING as I prepared to release LEAPING, book four in the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS SERIES. (So excited about this one!) I was gratified to receive many compliments from readers who reviewed my book and grateful that those readers who were more meh decided not to announce it gleefully to me in an email…that is, until one day when I received three very nice and supportive emails from readers and one email that was anything but. The reader in question did not like FALLING…at all. Enough to the point where she decided to assist me in my writing skill by detailing everything wrong with the book. She finished the email oddly by providing advice on how I should plan my writing career moving forward.

I’m not going to hide behind a game face. This email hurt. No writer anywhere likes to hear that someone didn’t like their book. We do face tough criticism from our critique partners, but this constructive feedback comes from people we know and trust when our manuscript is at an early stage and we are prepared to revise it. It feels much different when direct criticism is offered unasked. Consider it the difference between asking your best friend to judge your outfit before you walk out of the house and having a stranger stop you on the street to tick off every fashion rule you’ve betrayed.

Here’s where I confess to just how cowardly I am. I don’t read my reviews. I already know myself too well. I would ignore all the praise and focus ceaselessly on the criticism, internalizing it and confirming to myself that I’m an utter hack who should never type another word. I do value feedback, so I deploy a secret weapon – my friend Leslie who reads all my reviews for me and gives me a much more gentle download of the bad stuff.

I know what you’re thinking. I need to buck up. Grow a pair. Anyone who puts themselves out into the public space is going to be a target for feedback and they need to accept that. It’s not logical to assume everyone will like my books. In fact, in this particular case, the reader was genuinely trying to be helpful in crafting her essay of my failings. I believe she generally wanted to help me improve my writing.

I promise I’m working on this side of myself. I’m building up a thin layer of armor. I’m trying to hold on longer to the praise and to see criticism as useful feedback to make me a better writer. I want to be someone who won’t wilt when her volcano doesn’t get a ribbon.

So let’s try now. Readers, thank you for your feedback, all of your feedback. Good and bad and in-between. Your opinion is worthy and valuable. It helps other readers decide whether a certain book is for them and helps us authors determine what works and what doesn’t in our writing.

Judge the volcano, but know that each author is standing right beside his or her masterpiece watching, hoping, and feeling every word. Be respectful. Use your power of judgment wisely.

The Challenge of Finding New Voices

May 7th, 2015 No comments
Name Tag

Meeting new characters can be awkward…
Credit: Enokson, Flickr

I started writing Falling, the first book in my Girl With Broken Wings series in 2010. For five years, Maya, Gabe, and Tarren have been a constant presence in my life. They drop by on a regular basis to tell me about their lives, to give me suggestions for the latest novel, and to let me know quite sternly when I’m not listening to them as I write. In other words, we’re kind of besties.

I recently embarked on a new writing project with new characters, and we are definitely not besties yet. In fact, I feel like all of us are at an awkward networking event with our names scrawled out on dopey nametags. I hate these kind of events, so naturally my hand is shaking as I tightly grasp a glass of wine and attempt a winning smile at the stranger in front of me.

When I write in the voices of these new characters, it doesn’t feel right yet. Their words are clunky and unenthusiastic. I wonder if this is normal. I think back to 2010, to that first terrible draft of Falling and try to remember if Maya’s voice came naturally to me. Was Gabe was already 100% Gabe in my mind?

I also wonder about the authors who pump out six books a year. How do they find and become besties with their characters so easily? Are they the rare extrovert who can work a room full of strangers, turning everyone into a treasured friend overnight?

I started writing my new project too soon. My bond with my characters was weak, and I hoped that we would become comfortable as we started this journey together. Instead, I found myself staring blankly at my computer, trying to peck out a story that didn’t want to move. The characters weren’t showing up. They weren’t speaking.

I realized that it was unfair of me to just throw them into the story without really getting to know them first. So now I’m pulling back, tying the story to the dock so it won’t float away while I spend more time with my characters. I am sitting down with each of them now, asking questions, exploring their lives, finding their voice.

It is adding more time to this project, but it is time well spent. Now my new characters and I are starting to chat and laugh. New friendships are blooming. It will be a while until I can share these characters and their story with you, but I hope you’ll have some new literary besties in the future!

Categories: Writing Tags:

New Covers, New Impressions

March 29th, 2015 No comments
Old and new covers for the girl with broken wings series

The Girl With Broken Wings covers got a makeover.

Readers, you may not realize exactly how much we authors think about you. We think about you a lot. Creepy, right? But it’s only because we want you to notice us, read us, love us, and – of course – post a review about our books when you’re done. Feel flattered that we often spend hours, days, or even weeks sweating and struggling to write a book summary that will stop you in your tracks and hook you. That we fight to get into the genre categories you frequent. That we always wonder what you think about our covers.

Covers. Sigh. Perhaps nothing about publishing a book is so tricky as getting the cover right. A bad cover can break even the best book. A cover has a lot of responsibilities. It must capture a reader’s attention in a split second and whisper promises of the story within. It must be strong, powerful, clean, well-balanced, and intriguing.

But here’s the thing…authors aren’t cover designers. A few are, but most of us, including yours truly, haven’t progressed in our artistic integrity beyond stick figures. That means that we often have to hire cover designers for our books and guide them on what we want while restraining ourselves from breathing down their neck so they can do their magic.

Weird how a cover – so influential in the buying process – is so divorced from the actual creation of the book and story itself. Few cover designers read the books they create covers for. Has it ever driven you crazy that a character on the cover looks nothing like the protagonist in the book? Now you know why.

Readers, here’s a little insight into life as an author – most of us are neurotic freaks when it comes to our covers. In our writer’s groups, we constantly ask each other, “What do you think of my cover?” We send each other endless drafts from our designers, trying to tweak shadowing, fonts, the tagline, everything, all for you.

Recently, I decided to update the covers in my Girl With Broken Wings series. I really liked my previous covers. I thought they were artsy, unique, and invocative, but it was time for a change. After studying the other covers in the paranormal genre, I decided that I wanted something darker, edgier. I worked with a new cover designer for three months to re-do all of the covers in my series, and I am thrilled with the results. Every new cover that my designer sent me was like a Christmas present come early.

The result is the banner at the top of this blog, which showcases my old covers and my new covers.

It will be interesting moving forward to see if these covers influence readers or impact my sales. All I can say is that I love their artistry and grittiness, and I think they promise an exciting story within. I hope readers will agree!

Ten Reasons Why Writing and Self-Publishing a Novel is the Coolest Thing I’ve Ever Done

February 22nd, 2015 No comments
young child drawing

My first novel

Like many authors, I knew that I wanted to be a writer from a young age. I wrote “novels” with crayons on big pads of paper and then in dark ink on “secret” notebooks. I even pecked a few shaky stories out on a typewriter as I was growing up. I always had this vision of myself as a writer, even if I wasn’t exactly sure how that was going to happen or how shy little me would ever gather up the courage to put my words out in the world.

Fast forward a decade. I’d spent two years tapping away on my laptop and ended up with a stack of paper filled with my words. This was Falling, the first novel that I felt was actually good.  I spent another year getting close, but not close enough to snagging an agent. At the end of that year with nothing to show for a hundred query letters sent, I was done waiting for validation from someone else. Despite the fact that my heart wanted to jump out of my chest and go running for the hills, I self-published my book and it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Here’s why:

1. I am an author!

Writing makes you a writer. Publishing your work and allowing the world to see it makes you an author. When I finally gathered the courage to self-publish, I wondered if I was a “real” author since an agent or a publisher didn’t give my book approval. Over time I’ve realized that validation comes from my readers not agents who only take on a handful of new clients a year in genres they think have the greatest market potential. I write, publish, and sell books. I am an author. Awesome-sauce!

 2. My choice, my way

The beauty of self-publishing is that I get to make every major decision related to my book. I guide my cover artist, I decide which platforms I want to publish on, and I decide how to price my book. Last year after publishing the third book in my new adult paranormal series, Girl With Broken Wings, I decided to make the first book in the series, Falling, free. This is the same book I spent two years writing and another year pitching to half-interested agents. A publisher would never let me give this book away for free, but I love its zero price tag. I am giving a readers a risk-free chance to try my writing style and fall in love with my characters. Thousands of readers have downloaded Falling, so I think it’s working.

 3. I had to face my fears

For a long time I didn’t think my book was good enough unless an agent or publisher ultimately decided to represent it. Several agents showed a lot of interest in Falling, but in the end they passed on it. It felt like they were passing on me as an author. After a year of wasted time when I could have and should have been working on the next book in the series, I realized this was my moment of truth. Was I going to keep waiting for someone else to tell me my writing was good enough, or would I listen to my heart? Self-publishing was scary for me. I was putting my words – a little piece of my soul – out for the universe to judge. What if readers hated my book? What if they laughed at me, skewered my writing, or worse…ignored it completely?

Publishing felt like a big leap, but it was also very freeing. After I published that first novel, I was hooked, and I never looked back.

 4. I made some new besties

Writing is not a solitary endeavor as many people believe it is. Over the last few years, I have built a great team of wonderful people around me. At first they were critique partners, beta readers, fellow authors asking questions on forums, and members of my author group. Over time, they became friends. I entrust them with my newborn novels and listen carefully to their feedback. I care about their progress and celebrate their writing success as if it were my own.

5. I got in shape

Sometimes the things you learn as you write change your life. When I first started working on my novel Falling, I needed my vigilante characters to be in fantastic shape. I did a lot of research on the most effective fighting methods and fitness routines and decided my characters trained in Krav Maga for fighting prowess and did CrossFit for overall fitness. At the time, I was plateauing in my own gym routine. After a lifetime of being an athlete, I was losing my edge. I did a search and found a local CrossFit “box” near me. It was love at first nauseatingly difficult workout. I’ve been doing CrossFit for over four years now, and I’ve never been in better shape.

 6. I’m actually making money!

The first month Amazon deposited a royalty payment in my business checking account was one of the most amazing and coolest moments of my life. It didn’t matter that the amount was about $50. I was making money…from writing books. It was a dream come true! What was even more amazing is that the small payments kept coming month after month, which meant that people who were not my family members and friends were paying money to read my book. I still don’t make enough to be a full time writer yet, but my royalties are growing, and I feel so proud that I am earning money for my writing and that readers are voting for my skill as an author with their dollars. Readers have millions of books to choose from, as well as endless movies, television shows and video games. Every download I get and every dollar I make is a personal victory.

7. My friends think it’s pretty awesome that I’m an author

Your real friends, the ones who truly want you to be happy and succeed in life, will think it’s really, really cool that you have written books. They will beg to read them and generously write reviews. They will call you up and want to talk about the characters and chide you for making them cry. In essence, they will understand how much writing means to you and they will celebrate you for completing each novel and publishing. It’s the same way you will support your friends as they train for a marathon, start a new relationship, or decide to throw caution to the wind and start their own business. You recognize how much this new goal means to them and you feel excited for them as they get closer and closer to realizing their dreams. It is an amazing feeling knowing your friends support your endeavors and that they think you are awesome for writing and publishing books even if you never become the next Stephen King.

8I’ve received fan mail

Nothing can describe the feeling of receiving a note from a complete stranger that says, “I loved your book! When is the next one coming out?” No matter how much I told myself that I thought my book was well-written and worth publishing…. No matter how much my critique partners and beta readers told me it was ready….I don’t think I truly believed I had written something good until I heard from my first fan. Every single interaction with a happy reader is a treasure to me. Like I’ve mentioned, the royalties of my books don’t pay my mortgage yet, but every time I get a fan letter, I feel renewed. My purpose and my motivation to keep writing spikes to the moon. I keep every fan letter. They are my inspiration and my remedy for my worst moments of doubt.

9. I found the best office mate in the world

Black bunny with white nose

Avalon

In my novel, Falling, one of my characters, Gabe, adopts a pet bunny he names Sir Hopsalot. When I first wrote this scene, I had to spend a few hours researching rabbits as pets. I found out that they could be litter box trained and that many owners allowed their bunnies to roam free around the house.

Personally, I come from a long line of crazy cat people. One night a few years ago, I felt that genetic stirring in my soul to get a pet. Unfortunately, at the time my roommate was allergic to cats and our small apartment wasn’t a good environment for a dog.

That’s when it hit me – a bunny! I quickly logged onto the local Humane Society’s website, and there I found a picture of an adorable black bunny with a white star on his nose named Avalon. It was love at first sight.

Sure, Avalon occasionally eats my shoes…while they’re on my feet, and he hasn’t figured out that digging in the carpet won’t accomplish anything, but he is an amazing and wonderful office mate. I love that he is a fun and frolicking part of my life…all thanks to my character Gabe and his fictional pet, Sir Hopsalot.

10. I get to do it all over again

I have to admit that after I self-published for the first time, I got a little addicted. I realized that publishing a novel wouldn’t kill me. In fact, it made me stronger and more confident. I was on my right path, and I felt that deep in my bones. My mind is always buzzing with stories, and I feel an incredible rush when I write tight and exciting scenes that challenge my characters physically and emotionally. Since I published Falling, I’ve written two more books and two novellas in the Girl with Broken Wings series. I’ve also just completed the first draft of the fourth novel in the series. I’ve also published a compilation of short, humorous vampire stories in a series called, The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles. I love writing. It nourishes my soul. Thanks to self-publishing, I don’t have to wait for someone else’s approval. I can just keep writing, keep publishing, and keep loving every day I get to be an author.

Losing It – A Writer’s Computer Crash Nightmare

January 13th, 2015 No comments
Laptop

A reenactment of Lancelot’s final day. (Credit: David King, Flickr)

On Saturday 12/20/14, I achieved one of my big goals for the year – I finished the first draft of the fourth novel in my Girl With Broken Wings Series, Leaping. It was messy, pitted with problems, and filled with enough plot holes to give Swiss cheese a run for its money.

In other words, it was a beautiful, healthy, perfect first draft. Full of promise and potential. I had plans for that draft. I would carefully guide and sculpt it until it finally matured into a strong, confident novel and that could go out into the world and make an impression.

You’d think that the very first thing I would do after this ecstatic moment would be to back up my computer or immediately throw my baby onto the cloud so she’d never be lost.

I didn’t.

Sometimes I’m a moron.

Instead, I hopped in my car, picked my sister up from the airport, and bragged about my new little baby all the way back home. Little did I know that the gods of hubris were waiting and watching. I imagine a good cop, bad cop scenario here. The mean God of Hubris was probably throwing handfuls of popcorn in his mouth, and chuckling, “I bet her eyes bug out and she starts crying.”

The good God of Hubris would sigh and say, “She still has time to back up. Why doesn’t she just back up?”

***

The meltdown happened on the morning of Christmas Eve. The day before, my curmudgeonly laptop Lancelot was grumbling along as usual, almost daring anyone to mock his missing question mark key. The next morning he was gone. Just like that. I pressed his start button, and all I got was a Toshiba screen that never transitioned into my desktop.

“Come on Lancelot, speak to me!” I cried, gripping his edges. “Come back to me Lance. Please, just open your writing file!”

But it was not to be. Lancelot’s hard drive had given out during the night. I suppose it was a peaceful death, but still a shock to me. Lancelot and I had shared so much together…including my completed first draft of Leaping.

It now hung in the balance. Did Lancelot take it to his grave, or could it be saved?

The timing was really bad. I spent Christmas Eve trying uselessly to fix Lancelot while fulfilling my family obligations to show up for dinner and take pictures, and chauffeur my sister around town. By the time it really dawned on me that Lancelot wasn’t coming back, all the tech stores were closed…and would stay close the next day, Christmas.

***

That night, I lay in bed and let the panic wash over me. Children all over the world were waiting to hear footsteps on their roof or the jingle of a sleigh bell, and all I could think was – Can I really rewrite this book from scratch?

A book is more than the sum of its words and pages. A writer puts a piece of their heart into every book. Hours of writing aren’t just time. They’re creative energy. Each word is just perfect in that moment even if it will be changed or scrubbed later.

I could never get those exact words back. That unique, magical combination of spirit. Even the thought of starting over again exhausted me to my core.

I could do it, I thought. I must do it. My readers deserved a completed series, and I deserved it to. I’ve spent five years writing The Girl With Broken Wings Series, and the thought of never finishing was simply not an option.

But I knew that I would need to take a break before I could rebuild. Maybe start a new series from one of the many ideas constantly clanging in my head for attention. I needed to forget my previous words so that when I started on Leaping again I could write it fresh, instead of trying to capture an echo.

That Christmas, I spent the whole day with my family. It was joyful and uplifting, and I took the time to recognize how lucky I was to be supported and loved…but I didn’t unwrap the thing I really wanted.

***

I did get Leaping back, along with almost all of my other files. It wasn’t Santa Clause or even the Geek Squad guy who made this post-Christmas miracle happen. (In fact, Geek Squad guy basically rammed a router through my gut by telling me the prognosis for rescuing anything off the hard drive was poor…and super expensive.) It was my kind-hearted, techie friend Ben who rescued Leaping and a lot of other really important files from computer file purgatory.

Ben isn’t a guy who will paint his face in camo and go jumping out of a helicopter to rescue hostages, but he’s definitely a hero to me. He saved something that I would have never been able to remake the same way.

This incident has not only taught me the value of backing up and why it’s important to surround yourself with smart, loyal people. The real possibility of losing my manuscript showed me how intangible writing is. I never really appreciated how valuable and magical words can be until I almost lost them.

And did I mention backing up? I am back-up queen now.

All the Nathaniel and Deidre You Want in a Single Collection

October 6th, 2014 No comments

Announcing: The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles, Volume One

Get It Now

Cover, The Vampire's Housekeeper Chronicles

Stay strong Deidre!

Deidre finds herself out of a job, out of luck, and out of time. The rent is past due, and the list of her employable skills is smaller than her checking account balance. Hope comes in the form of Betsy Riddle of the Bullseye Employment Agency who gives Deidre one shot at staying out of a fast food restaurant uniform. A mysterious gentleman with certain “peculiarities” is seeking a housekeeper. Deidre squeezes into her only nice pair of slacks, tames her wild orange hair, and starts off for the job interview that will either change her life….or end it. Thus begins Deidre’s hilarious adventures as the housekeeper of a cranky vampire. Nathaniel is unliving proof that  tempers don’t always sweeten with age. He stubbornly clings to his gramophone, insists on wearing a cape to meet guests, considers the television to be “witch magic,” and gets murderous when his prune juice runs low. The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles, Vol. 1 includes five  fast-paced and humorous short stories and a novella that follow Deidre as she struggles to keep on the right side of her boss’s fangs, clean a haunted mansion where the walls bleed on a daily basis, and catch the eye of a certain hunky wereferret. Filled with a kaleidoscope characters from inept poltergeists, smelly zombies, chatty ninjas, obese werefrogs, and senior citizen vampire hunters…this series has it all! Each story builds upon the last, adding more laughs, more action, and more adventure to Deidre’s world. Deidre is an unlikely, enjoyable, and very human heroine who proves that being a vampire’s housekeeper doesn’t have to suck.  Don’t miss out on a single story in The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles  series with this great  collection.

Get It Now

The Shy Writer’s Guide To Dealing With Constructive Criticism

September 26th, 2014 No comments

Plenty of people have decried the softening of our society. How every kid gets a star and a trophy and a medal and a pony just for finishing the one mile fun run. But the truth is, there is still plenty of criticism in the world, and despite our backpacks full of trophies and ribbons and our massive armies of ponies, most of us run into criticism on a fairly regular basis.

Let me just throw this revolutionary observation out there – criticism sucks. Especially constructive criticism. Plain old criticism can usually be dismissed, but constructive criticism is your friends and family actually trying to help you by pointing out that you really shouldn’t be wearing those jeans, or keeping all your ponies indoors has made your home an inhospitable sty that everyone loathes to visit.

Constructive criticism, at least the kind that comes from those who really care, is especially cutting because it’s usually true and it comes from someone that actually matters to you.

I’m pretty sure that everyone has trouble with criticism, but for shy people it’s even worse. We tend to ever so slightly blow things out of proportion.

A boyfriend will say, “I’d appreciate it if you could clean your dirty dishes” and what you hear is, “Your failure to clean your own dishes bespeaks a fundamental flaw in your personality. You disgust me, and I disavow you as a human being. Please leave and find a family of gorillas to live with. You’ll be among your own people then.”

Unfortunately for those of us who are thin-skinned, we actually need constructive criticism in order to grow and improve. Think of it this way, if you get something caught in your teeth, wouldn’t you want a good friend to take you aside and mention it? Sure, it makes you a little embarrassed, but it’s so much better than coming home after a dinner party and seeing your entire salad in the mirror when you smile.

As a writer, I need feedback to improve my stories and novels. Flattery and compliments are awesome. Really, really awesome. But constructive feedback is even better. I need to know if a reader gets confused anywhere in the book. I want to know if they have a strong negative reaction where I wasn’t intending. It’s important for my critique partners and beta readers to let me know if they are interpreting a character’s actions, personality, or motivation in a way that I did not foresee.

It’s not fun to hear that one of my critique partners hated my character or thought a chapter was really bland, but I know my critique partner has my best interests at heart. If she finds issues in my writing, chances are future readers are going to stumble at the same places, and they won’t be so forgiving or supportive.

At some point, you need to accept constructive criticism, even invite it.

Now the caveats.

You’ll notice that I’ve been using the term “constructive criticism.” Constructive as in “meant to help” not “beat the living crap out of your self-esteem.” Bear in mind that not all constructive criticism is equal. People who outright criticize are usually bullies. Most bullies aren’t that smart, successful, or generally happy with their lives. Pay them no heed.

There are, however, some smart bullies. These are the ones you need to watch out for. They get their kicks by cloaking their attack in the form of constructive criticism. By claiming they have your best interests at heart, they then give themselves free reign to unleash criticism which may be cruel, unfair, and definitely unhelpful.

There are even those who are truly trying to help, but who are flat out wrong. Remember that everyone has a bias, and we all tend to skew toward the status quo of their upbringing, religious beliefs, and what feels “safe” to us. They may not like the way you dress because it’s not the way they would dress, or they may not like your romance book because they hate all things romance.

When seeking constructive criticism, choose your sources wisely. Let these people guide you and help you along your life’s journey. Try and ignore all the rest. If you ever have doubts about anyone, try to figure out their motivation. If they feed off of human tears, then they are probably not the best people to be taking advice from.

I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to let criticism get to us, especially us shy people.  Which is why we need to learn to deal with criticism. So, I’ve come up with a few better tactics, though crying is always on the table as a last result:

Vet Your Sources

I’ve made it a policy to only care about criticism and opinions that come from carefully vetted sources. These are people who have shown that they are not insane, not mean hearted and who usually take up to 3+ seconds to think before opening their mouths.

I have a carefully guarded inner circle. Membership is somewhat tough to get, but once you’re in, you’re in. This distinction makes it easier for me to turn off all the noise outside. It’s not always easy, but put up velvet ropes around your self-esteem. Create a guest list. Put some beefy, mean-looking body guards at the door and don’t let in any party crashers.

Play nice

I try to be respectful and nice to others. I find that if you aren’t a total jack ass all the time, most people will give you a fair shake. There are always exceptions, but, for the most part, you get out what you put in. Stand up to the bullies, but play nice with everyone else. You don’t have to point out people’s flaws unless they ask or unless you really think they’re hurting themselves.

You know that golden rule thing? It’s gold for a reason.

Know Your Flaws

A little introspection can go a looooong way towards protecting yourself from the outside world. Take a look at yourself and recognize those things you still need to work on or those things that you just plain suck at.

I am terrible at directions. Terrible. It’s practically a handicap. I know this about myself. I grudgingly accept it (not hard when I get lost almost every day). Once you accept a flaw, you disempower those who would wield it against you.

If you accept that you’re overweight or have acne or happen to get lost going to a place you’ve been at least ten times (I was coming from a different direction!), then when people point this out to you, you’re already prepared.

Get A Little Love

Nothing salves criticism like a little positive reinforcement. Make sure you have a supportive circle of family and friends around you and a supportive spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend. These need to be people who will accept you even if your feet smell on occasion, you get fired from your job, or lock your keys in your car. Just knowing that you are loved and accepted unconditionally will give you untold strength.

I’m not sure that it is possible to stress this enough. Besides your soul/you-ness and those innate passions and talents that give you bliss, your relationships are the most valuable asset you have in your life. They are more important than money, than success, than winning the “greatest person in the known universe” award.

Keep good people around you. Period. They protect you. They bandage your little internal hurts. Hugs heal self-esteem.

Cry

Yeah, go ahead and cry when you get an especially hard jab, but I highly recommend crying privately in the comfort of your own home. Crying in public makes everything worse, hurts your reputation as a person who is not a total sissy, and makes lots of people really uncomfortable. Excuse yourself politely and then weep soulfully into your pillow. It will help in the short term, but start building up your walls, coating your skin with some layers of sealant, and then consider where the criticism is coming from.

Also, never let the fear of criticism stop you from taking a risk. This is so much easier said than done, but it’s still good advice. If you let fear of criticism stop you from doing that amazing thing you’ve been dreaming of, you’ll regret it forever and ever.

Publishing my first novel was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. So was telling my friends and family about it. But I did it. Now I have three books and a handful of short stories out on the public market — poor, vulnerable little eggs that anyone with an Amazon account can smash to pieces. It’s scary as hell, but I’ve got my velvet ropes up, my body guards in place, and a big fluffy pillow to cry into if need be.

Bring it on.

Categories: Essay, Shyness, Taking Risks Tags:

Why I Wrote A Series About A Cranky, Old, Unattractive Vampire — Behind The Scenes With The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles

September 17th, 2014 No comments
Nathaniel, The Vampire's Housekeeper Chronicles

Not so sparkly, but I love Nathaniel anyway.

I am getting ready to compile all the short stories in my The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles series into a single collection, and I thought readers might be interested to learn where the idea for this series came from. I’ll ruin the surprise – it was Twilight. But here’s the full story…

Vampires had it good for a couple of centuries. They inspired fear, pants wetting, and lots of running around and screaming like a boob. They were cruel, deliciously vicious, and powerful…and then Twilight came along.

With this single book, vampires left the realm of nightmares and became squarely lodged into the stuff of tween girl daydreams. CW’s Vampire Diaries has only thrown gasoline onto the tragic fire of hunky, sensitive, and people-eating free vampire mythology.

My sister and I email each other back and forth every day, because apparently email is our crack. About two years ago, my sister headlined an email with this complaint: “I hate that vampires are all total wusses now!”

My response was, “If you were over 100 years old, why in the world would you want to spend your immortal afterlife in high school?”

How could a 100+ year-old vampire not get bored out of his mind and fed up with all the stupid dramatics of high school? There are obvious physical reasons why a vampire might be attracted to a high school girl, but what could they possibly talk about? [Insert joke about how talking isn’t necessary for certain activities].

“And how would a vampire even be able to keep up with the times? I just learned how to use Siri, and I was born in the last century,” I wrote to my sister. “How could someone who grew up with steam engines and telegraphs understand iTunes, texting, and the resurgence of Weird Al Yankovic?”

Thus an idea was born…an idea to write about a vampire who was not handsome, not sparkly, not fascinated by the vacant minds of high school girls, and who definitely could not flawlessly keep up with the rapid pace of technological innovation.

For the next couple of days, I started each email to my sister with an ongoing story of a luckless college grad who finds herself out of a job and lacking in useful job skills. When she goes to an employment agency for help, she is sent on an interview for a housekeeping position at a haunted mansion where her perspective boss…isn’t exactly a vegetarian.

Deidre and Nathaniel were born. That first story was completely random, a little bit of cheek that stemmed from my desire to write a different type of vampire. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the story fulfilled another need I have always wanted to explore as a writer – writing a different type of protagonist.

Deidre is so far from the wispy, damsel-in-distress Bella, that she might as well live on a totally different planet. Deidre is overweight, self-conscious, funny, loyal, and pragmatic. She sees the world with a wry sense of humor and a certain stoic acceptance of her messy and chaotic existence.

That first story was such fun to write that I kept the narrative going into a second chapter, which would eventually become The Vampire Hunter Comes to Call. About the time I finished up the third installment (eventually Duel with the Werefrog), I realized that I really liked Nathaniel, Deidre, Dex, and Sloppy Joe (who was originally named High Man until my sister pointed out the similarity between his name and a certain part of the female anatomy).

The stories needed a lot of polish from their original email serial form, but with a little elbow grease, Deidre’s world started to come to life (or afterlife). I loved writing the first six stories in this series. With each story, Deidre’s world got a little bigger and more complex. Over the course of the series, Drew has turned into a reoccurring character, as have Nathaniel’s bingo buddies.  I’m excited to introduce a very intriguing character – Hunter Gulliver Graves – in the novella that completes the first volume of this series. (Apprenticeship With A Vampire is now available!) I love all the silly and improbable situations Deidre finds herself in and all the jokes the ghosts play on her. However, I believe each story also contains a little bit of Deidre wisdom tucked beneath the top layer of humor. I hope readers get this and enjoy a story that can be both silly and a tiny bit serious at the same time.

The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles, Volume One will launch on October 1st, so if you haven’t tried the series yet, get ready for this very non-Twilight vampire series.

Buying My First Home Has Taught Me That I’m Not Always Excellent At Life

September 7th, 2014 No comments
Female hand reaching for a house isolated on a white background.

Being an agile life leopard requires more than getting your oil changed on time.

As an adult I’ve been living for years under the embarrassingly wrong-headed (but kind of adorable) assumption that I’m decent at life. Not great, mind you, but I’ve got the swing of things. Routine and practice has insidiously bred false confidence. I totally have checking email, getting my oil changed, and setting up online banking accounts down. I am queen of the universe!

As a child and uber sulky teenager, I was constantly faced with new experiences that reminded me quite clearly that I was not an agile life leopard. I remember, all too clearly, misaligning my car the first time I tried to enter an automatic car wash, desperately feeding empty envelopes into the ATM because it was making a whirrrring noise (note: Banks are really unhappy if you feed blank envelopes into the ATM), and nearly hyperventilating when trying to navigate the Atlanta airport alone on my first business trip.

At this point in my life, I feel like I “get it.” I don’t mean to humble brag, but I’ve got a few good crock pot recipes up my sleeve, have managed to automate about 90% of my online bill pay, and I even paid my taxes two weeks before the deadline this year. So you can see where all the false confidence starts seeping in, right?

But recently I embarked on a strange and perilous journey filled with frustration, maddening costs labeled “Document Signing Fee to Escrow,” and forced inner reflection. I am buying my first home.

And guess what? Turns out that I’m not as awesome at life as I thought.

My whole house buying issue is really about the fact that I don’t actually know how to make such a big decision. When my real estate agent opens up a door, I wander in trying to look confident as I glance at empty rooms and wonder, what am I supposed to feel? My agent will point to towards the ceiling and chirp about crown molding, and I’ll nod like, of course I totally know what that is and care deeply about it.

This is going to be the biggest purchase I make to date in my life. It’s going to turn into the place where I write, where I sleep, where I wonder important things like – how can sea water really be bad for you when our bodies need both water and salt? (Seriously, think about it.) A considerable chunk of the hours I work will go towards keeping this house in my possession. I will voluntarily agree to pay property tax, HOA fees, homeowner’s insurance, and an insane amount of interest along the way.

All of these thoughts keep playing in my mind as I wander from house to house thinking, How will I know it’s the one? Will a little bell go off somewhere in my brain? Please let there be some kind of internal perfect house-within-my-budget bell in my brain.  

One upside to this whole house hunting experience is that it has lodged me out of my usual comfort zone. The queen of the universe has retired her crown…at least for now! I think that’s a good thing.

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