Sunday, July 27, 2014

Writer's Platform Part II: Public Presence

Last week I started a series on writer’s platform based on a breakout session I presented at a conference. (See this link for last week's article.) One of my resources was The Shy Writer Reborn by C. Hope Clark. I had the pleasure of meeting this amazing lady at two conferences and spoke with her for several minutes at one of them. She is a master at public platform despite the fact she is an extreme introvert (as many of us writers are!) and has successfully built herself a quiet little empire with public appearances, Funds for Writers--a newsletter that helps writers find contests, grants, conferences, etc.--her Facebook network and so much more. For those of you who have the introvert gene in spades, this is a book to help you work past that fear to bolster your public presence.

Because, you see, public presence is a key element of platform that a lot of writers don’t want to deal with. Or they don’t think it’s as important as a web presence. I beg to differ. If you’ve ever been in sales or known anyone in sales they’ll tell you: person to person contact is the BEST way to close a deal, NOT calling, emailing, sending reminder fliers, etc.

My job as an educator has forced me to adopt an extrovert persona. I admit that it is a persona. When I’m in public and I’m “on,” I’m bubbly, friendly, I joke around, I make sure to introduce myself to everyone and make myself stand out in the crowd. “Life of the party” comes to mind. However, after a few hours of that, my “social energy” is depleted and I need some alone time to recharge. It isn’t that I’m not bubbly, friendly, and a punster in private, but I have to work harder to do so when in large groups of people I don’t know or don’t know well. This public persona is necessary for my writer's platform when I teach, when I present workshops, when I attend club meetings, and when I socialize so others see me and get to know me. Remember, writer's platform is a stage you build to stand above the crowd so others easily find you among the myriad of other choices, so when I'm out in public, I'm on stage whether I like it or not!

And as Hope Clark’s book will tell you, this public presence is essential to building your platform strong and steady. You have numerous options including:

  • Teaching classes 
  • Presenting workshops at conferences 
  • Recording radio or TV spots/commercials 
  • Writing for local magazines/newspapers 
  • Writing your own newsletter 
  • Joining local clubs and/or holding leadership positions 
  • Joining writing clubs and/or holding leadership positions 
  • Getting to know more people 
This list isn’t a limit and you shouldn’t try to go out and do all of them THIS WEEK. Goodness! We have lives to live right? Pick one that’s just out of your comfort zone, get that one generally mastered, then start on the next.

Does this work? Yes. And here’s an example.

I’m a member of a runner's club in my area. I meet different groups and run with them. I shop at the locally-owned runner's store. (They are, by the way, much better than the chain stores in every way, shape and fashion, but I am a little biased. When you walk in and EVERY employee knows your name, THAT'S customer service. Or it means I buy too much. But I digress.) During my runs and while I'm socially hanging out with runners, we talk about anything and EVERYTHING including the fact I'm a writer. No topic is taboo. Nothing. It's kinda like Vegas, though. What's discussed (and what happens) on a run stays on the run. And if you're a runner, this will make you smile because you know exactly why.

I hang out at races and cheer on everyone, not just my friends. That's the kind of community we have in this area. As a mid-packer (someone who is faster than the average bear but not someone particularly speedy) and someone who's injury prone, sometimes I'll show up at a race and merely take pictures to post for everyone else.

I'm also a member of the local Facebook page for runners in my area. I post several times a week about running. Sometimes I post silly things, sometimes I post articles, sometimes I mention the fact that I’m a writer. I NEVER try to sell anything because that’s not the point of the page. They would kick me off. But the things I post are intended to fit the brand--the persona--I wish to show the community.

What do I get out of this besides a whole bunch of new friends, a great support group for my running (and my mental stability! LOVE THOSE GUYS AND GALS!), and new shoes every six months? (I swear I pay more for shoes that women with closets full of designer stilettos.)

A few weeks ago I walk into that locally-owned running store to sign up for a race and a TOTAL STRANGER comes up to me and asks, “Are you Janet Cannon the writer?”

I nearly passed out.

Because I am part of the community of runners, I was recognized for my platform. Yes, part of it was from Facebook, but if I hadn’t had that public aspect of hanging out with runners, I don’t think she would have recognized or talked to me.

Public presence is ESSENTIAL to your writer’s platform.

Now your job is to find ways to expand your public presence. You already have something. What can you do to build on it? Are there clubs that fit your interest? Are you an expert at something and can write articles or record a radio or TV interviews? Are you willing and able to share your expertise at a local career center? Are there other ways you can think of to expand your circle of influence?

There are literally thousands of ways you can start putting your name in people’s minds so that when your book is finally published, they’ll see it, think, “I know that person!” and buy it BECAUSE THEY KNOW YOU.

People judge a book by its cover and a person by their public persona. Do you need to revise yours?

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Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Writer's Platform Part III: Publishing Presence



Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 
Currently: Adverbaholics Anonymous


Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s


Sunday, July 20, 2014

High Heeled Shoes, Oil Rigs, and Writers, Part I

I'll admit, I'm a little exhausted this week. After a few days of physical illness, an all-day writers' conference that I helped coordinate, a 14 mile run, and a migraine headache, I'm ready for a few days of rest. This is my last week before I have to start seriously planning for the fall semester of teaching, so I'm going to enjoy it.

That means I'm going to take Chuck Sambuchino's advice and steal from myself for the next three weeks. For those of you who don't know, Chuck is a successful author, speaker, and edits for Writer's Digest. I met him at a writers' conference this year. Really nice guy and someone you should listen to if you're a writer. Why? Because he's a VERY successful writer. He didn't get that way overnight: he worked for it. He built his platform from the ground up and he knows his business. He even wrote a book about it which I reviewed in the newsletter for our state writers' guild. It's called Create Your Writer Platform. My only quibble is the numbering is off from the table of contents to the actual pages, but it's close enough you can find what you're looking for. It's probably an update and no one thought to update the TOC. Go figure.

In any case, I used this book and a couple of others to do a presentation on creating a writer's platform for the conference I helped coordinate. In that presentation I came to the following conclusions:

1. A writer's platform is a stage you build to stand above the crowd so others easily find you among the myriad of other choices.

2. A writer's platform is constructed of three basic parts: your public presence, your publishing presence, and your web presence.

3. If you don't start building your platform early--as in months to years before your book is published--you won't have a leg to stand on for publicity and marketing when you book does launch.

So in the next couple of weeks I'll be sharing parts of my presentation with you and hopefully you'll find the information helpful. The books I used as references, at least, should be full of gold. I don't get any royalties off of selling them, but I do like to pass along helpful information.

Buy Chuck's book. Read it. Follow his advice. It helped me triple my blog hits in three months. I had to work for it, but that's when you know you're doing something right.

If something's not working, revise what you're doing. Who says jumping horses mid-stream is a bad idea?

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Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Building Writer Platforms Part II




Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 
Currently: Adverbaholics Anonymous

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gender Issues: SF vs. Fantasy

Okay, so, nerd that I am, I’m perusing through my copy of the 1998 version of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy by John Clute and John Grant (Don’t judge. You know some of you do it, too.) and found the following entry:


“GENDER: Fantasy as a genre is generally perceived as more hospitable to women than SCIENCE FICTION and HORROR, and more flexible in the choices it offers than historical fiction or romance, yet the standard patriarchal bias imposes limitations which are seldom subverted or even questioned. Whereas sf as the potential to question gender roles and try to envision new ways of living, fantasy looks to the past, seeking out patterns and archetypes.” (Clute and Grant p. 393)


Hmmm. Interesting. I’d never thought of looking at the genres that way. In fact, my first thought was to disagree and say modern speculative fiction on all spectrums has opened up to all sorts of new views. Some I agree with, some I don’t, some more mainstream than others. Especially with the boom in self- and indie publishing, my instinct is strong female characters are making a charge to the forefront of literature.


Twenty to thirty years ago it was difficult to find strong female characters in either sf or fantasy. You could find them if you looked, though.


All of Anne McCaffrey’s female characters, although some might argue a little stereotypical, were strong. Her books (mostly in one universe, by the way) are sometimes more “science fantasy” than science fiction. Dragons? Yeah, genetically modified lizards bred to telepathically bond with and fly around with a human. Cool. Did she look to the past for patterns and archetypes or did she question gender roles and try to envision new ways of living? Dragon-riding women leading raids on brimstone from a rogue red planet? A woman whose brain lives in and runs a ship? A singer who fails to graduate from school but instead becomes someone who runs ships? Definitely envisioning to me.


But she was a female writer. What about a male writer from that same time frame?


Piers Anthony, on the other hand, may have a few strong female characters in his Xanth, Apprentice Adept Series, and Incarnations of Immortality series, but they’re hidden beneath his male characters’ misogynistic, sexually explicit (and sometimes disturbing) attitudes toward them. Don’t get me wrong. As a kid I loved reading the first 10 or so of the Xanth series and the first set of the Adept and Incarnations series. However, when I go back and look at the text I’m shocked at the attitude displayed toward women: objects. In the Adept series the “love interests” were robots and animals. Literally. Worse, his later volumes add another level of “ick” (I’ll let you research that on your own if you wish), receiving more negative reviews in Amazon than positive (which is disheartening for me because I grew up loving his work!)


So, in his fantasy and SF worlds, Piers Anthony definitely used old patterns and archetypes.


But what about today’s speculative fiction?


Well, I hate to fall back on the popular, but let’s look at J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Hermione Granger. Definitely fantasy, here.


First, she wasn’t the “chosen” one, but she was always saving the day. Why? Because she was clever, smart (two different things!) and persistent. She hung in there when everyone else, boys and girls included, ran screaming like banshees, and was truly one of the great heroes of the story because of who she decided to be, not because of who she was BORN to be. And in the end did she cave to the stereotype and marry Harry Potter? No!


Definitely envisioning a new world in fantasy land.


And as for modern SF, let’s slip on over to cyberpunk and Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash. The two main female leads, Y.T. and Juanita, both have amazing hacking abilities to help Hiro Protagonist (If you haven’t read the novel you should and yes, that is the main character’s name.) He relies on both of them to do their job to save the world from a Sumerian herpes-like disease that affects both the physical and ‘net physical beings. It’s a trip and so are his women.


Snowcrash is definitely a new world, his female characters strong, yet he relies a lot on patterns and archetypes, but it's for a reason and not with a negative attitude toward them in any sense.


So...do I agree with the definition? No. As with most generalizations, the definition can be true about some works and not about others. Since it was written 16 years ago, it may be invalid altogether. However I still think it’s worth considering the message we’re sending as we pass books into the hands of our children. What’s the message we want to send? Read it first, then decide if it’s appropriate.

Revision. You gotta read it first before you can revise.


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Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
We'll See What This Week Brings


Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Jim Butcher vs. Robert Frost DEATHMATCH

Jim Butcher’s latest installment of the Dresden series, Skin Game doesn’t disappoint. (I tried NOT to read it all in one day…EPIC FAIL! So much for getting anything done that day.) It’s classic Dresden like we’ve been craving since before Changes which threw all of us for a loop. Or loup garou, depending on who you’re talking about.
That’s all I’m going to say in the way of review for the book, because if you’re a fan and HAVE read the book, you don’t want a recap. If you’re a fan and HAVEN’T read the book, you don’t want any spoilers. If you’ve NEVER READ Jim Butcher’s Dresden series and enjoy urban fantasy, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? Go ye, therefore, and buy Dead Beat and get started on one of the best darkly funny fantasy/noir series ever!
My focus for this post, instead, is to dig a little deeper into the metaphors of Harry Dresden’s powers (which now include, among other things, being able to wield both fire and ice), as they reflect his psychological state and throw in a little philosophical Robert Frost for good measure.
Shall we dance?
Frost has a magnificent little poem that goes like this:
FIRE AND ICE
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
(p. 220, The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged, © 1969)
I’m not a poet. And I know it. However, I can recognize a metaphor when it thwaps me on the nose.
Basically, Frost is comparing fire with human desires and ice with human hate. When taken to extremes, both are equally destructive. Therefore, according to Frost, it doesn’t matter whether the world is destroyed by literal fire/ice or the passions/rancor of human behavior. Either way we’re dead. You can read this as a physical, metaphysical, spiritual, and/or psychological destruction. Whatever sinks your boat.

(Isn’t that so cool? Hot? Metaphors are awesome. Just wait. It gets better!)

To go one step further, if you are warm, you tend to move faster to get away from whatever is bothering you. (Think walking on hot pavement. Or hot coals.) If you’re cold, however, you’re slowed into moving carefully. Too much and you’re immobilized. Almost…apathetic. Sound familiar to some of today’s attitudes? We need a little fire to drive us, a little ice to cool us down. A balance. It’s the extreme of either that kills.
Hold on to those thoughts.
Throughout the Jim Butcher’s series, Harry Dresden must choose the lesser of two evils. He hates what his choices do to the people around him (gets them physically maimed, psychologically raped, killed, etc.,) but in his world, he has to make on the spot decisions. Or die. There is no contemplating the repercussions, only Fuego! and Infriga! and now Parkour! (But that’s merely flavor text. I digress. And giggle.) Each book he’s burdened with more guilt as the body count racks higher.

In the past, Harry’s power came from the focus of his emotional will into either force or fire or whatever effect he needed. Here’s a cool Wiki that documents all the facts from the books: http://dresdenfiles.wikia.com/wiki/Dresden_Files 

Now that he has access to ice, this new power has, in some ways, immobilized his already stunted emotional growth. He’s withdrawing from his friends and family for fear his spiral into the depths of this new power will create an evil Harry that only hates, that only strikes out in self-preservation, that only serves the Id, instead of choosing to help as many as he can.

Now, even though Harry has a balance of power (fire and ice) he is unbalanced emotionally, fighting to keep his humanity vs succumbing to the overwhelming desires and hatreds his power tempts him with.
So will Harry's world end with fire or with ice? Desire or hatred? Only Jim Butcher knows for certain.
I do know one thing, though. Harry faces the same issue every one of us face daily: the fear of choosing wrong. Which type of publishing route do I use? Which job do I take? Which man/woman do I date or marry? Do I marry at all? And thousands of others.
But just as Harry is learning, we can’t live in fear of either the fire or the ice. The fire moves us when we need to be moved. The ice stops us when we need to be stopped. The key is to use each when we need them and not to be consumed by either desire or hate in the process. Balance is the key.
And THAT, my friends, is why speculative fiction is just as literary as Shakespeare, Goethe, Chaucer, and Ge Hong.

Revision. It’s not just for literary snobs. (Take THAT Ruth Graham!)
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Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
We'll See What This Week Brings

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Author Interview: Margo Dill on Curses




Revision: First of all, I have to congratulate you on an amazing book. I started reading Caught Between Two Curses one morning and didn’t realize how deeply sucked into the story I was until the phone rang at noon. I was actually a little peeved at the caller!

Margo: Thanks so much! I have had several people say that they finished reading it in a day or two, including my own mother.
Revision: Since this blog focuses on revision and metaphors, those are some of questions I’m going to pitch at you. I hope I don’t hit you with a curve ball. Do you have your bat ready?

Margo: Always ready, okay, wait, maybe I need to take a few practice swings.

Revision: Your previous book, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg required a lot of research into the American Civil War. What kind of research did you do for Caught Between Two Curses? What part did your research play in making the book believable? Did your research force you to revise what you wanted to write?

Margo: I have to be honest that I didn’t have to do much research for Caught Between Two Curses, except for some information about the Curse of the Billy Goat--the whole reason why the Cubs are not winning the World Series, of course. Other than that, I did a little research on other curses, how people think they have broken curses in the past, and Chicago. Although I have been to Chicago several times, so I was familiar with my setting.

Revision: Curses in literature are usually a metaphor. For example in the movie Brave, the curse put on Merida’s mother is a metaphor for how daughters view their mothers as monsters until they realize their mothers are merely looking out for the best interests of their daughters. In Caught Between Two Curses, beyond simple revenge, how would you interpret your curse metaphors?

Margo: Mostly they are about love--what happens when love goes wrong? The curse that I made up for Julie’s family was put on by a scorned lover--hence the revenge you’re talking about. But more than that, it’s how love can be viewed by some people as something they are entitled to or that they own. And when love is treated this way, it can cause serious damage. In the book, love gone wrong causes death--it sounds like this book is so serious, when really it is quite quirky and fun, except for the death curse, that is.

Revision: In Caught Between Two Curses, some of your central themes focused on the pressures of teen sex, the importance and difficulty of family ties, and what it means to be in love. When you are in the idea phase of choosing what to write, do you pick your themes or do they emerge organically from your text? How does this change in the various stages of revision?

Margo: I think more about plot and characters at first, with a vague idea of my themes. My themes come out more after my first draft, at which point I try to figure out what they actually are. Then when I revise, I really have those themes in mind, so I think it helps focus the revision.

Revision: You have a marvelous way of drawing the reader into the story, making sure nothing pulls them out of the story. What is your process for revising from first draft to last to smooth out those rough edges so the reader can’t put down your book?

Margo: First of all, thank you--that’s nice of you to say. I wish I had a smooth and easy process, but I just really don’t. I basically write the first draft and most of the time, I have my critique group critiquing as I go. So, I’m always going back and fixing things, even before I finish the ending. I revise and revise and my critique group critiques and critiques. They are invaluable. Then I usually try to get it published--but often too soon, and I have to revise again. I can’t even tell you how many times I revised this novel. I took out an entire plot point that was too confusing and getting in the way. I started the book about 5 different times before I decided to start with the Julie and Gus scene. At one point, I had pink post-it notes all over the floor with scenes written on them and important character points, and then I put them all in order on a poster board to see if I had any holes.

Revision: A few weeks ago, Slate columnist Ruth Graham in her article “Against YA” slammed adult readers for indulging in YA fiction, basically saying, “Grow up, the world ain’t pretty, so read literature that reflects the real world.” In one of my previous blogs posts, “Why Do Adults Like Young Adult Speculative Fiction?”  I discussed several reason why I think adults like and SHOULD read YA literature. Why do you think people like her are so against adults enjoying a good read no matter what genre or age group its marketed for?

Margo: I responded to her on WOW!’s blog here, but really, I think two things about that column--one, it enraged readers, but her article got a TON of views, probably one of the most well-read Slate articles ever. So, if you want people to find out who you are, write something controversial. Second, I think she’s a snob--at least when it comes to reading. I think it’s ridiculous to judge people for what they read. WE really want people to read more--whatever they want to read--just read.

Revision: You have a lot to balance in your life: a husband, kids, an editing business, writing, keeping up with your platform, marketing your books, etc. Your life is in a constant state of revision to stay sane and get things done on time. What would be a few pieces of advice for other people trying to do the same?


Margo: Sometimes, I don’t feel like I do a very good job with the balance, but what I try to do is organize my day into segments and get rid of the mommy guilt. So, I try to plan one to two special things with my kids each day--this could be big like the zoo or small like playing outside in the backyard. They don’t care what as long as I am spending time with them (and the dog, too!). I also ask for help. My husband works nights, so some mornings he watches the kids so I can work. My parents do a lot of entertaining too. I also have to be organized. I have to know what I am going to work on when I have the time to work on it.

Revision: Thank you so much for your time, Margo! Good luck with Caught Between Two Curses! It’s a wonderful book and I hope a lot of people read and enjoy it.

Margo: Thank you so much! I appreciate your time and having me on your blog!

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Margo L. Dill is the author of Caught Between Two Curses, a YA light paranormal romance novel about the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs, and Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg, a historical fiction, middle-grade novel. She currently has two more books under contract--both are picture books--with High Hill Press and Guardian Angel Publishing. Besides being a children's author, she is also a freelance editor with the business, Editor 911: Your Projects Are My Emergency! and she is part of the WOW! Women On Writing e-zine's staff as an editor, blogger, instructor, and social media manager. When she is not writing, editing or teaching online, Margo loves to spend time with her husband, stepson, daughter, and crazy Boxer dog, Chester in St. Louis, Missouri. Find out more at http://margodill.com/blog/

LINKS:
WOW! Women On Writing: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com
Book trailer: Caught Between Two Curses

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Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Surprise! Surprise!

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!