Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Jenkins: Bringing Story Ideas Home


Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty.

This guest post comes from Bob Jenkins, one of America’s distinguished storytellers.  Twice featured as a headliner for the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee, he performed in circus tents for thousands of story lovers.

He lives in the Sierra Foothills of California where the events of Azriel Dancer unfold.
 

There I had it.  There I lost it.

Mama sent her ever-so-forgetful son to the store to buy some soap.

“Don’t you ferget what yer sposed to fetch.”

“No, mama.”

“What is it?”

“I forgot.”

“Soap!”

“Yessum.”

“Soap, soap, soap.  Say it.”

“Soap, soap, soap.”

“Keep sayin’ it, and git straight to the store.”

“Soap, soap soap,” and off he went.

By and by, he came to a loblolly (that’s Tarheel talk for a mud puddle).  Not paying attention, he stepped in the mud, his feet slid out from under him, and he landed on his rear end.  I tell you, he was covered in that sticky, red Carolina mud.

“Oh durn,” he said, and picked himself up.  He walked on down the road.

“Now what was I supposed to be doing?  Fetchin’ something from the store,  What was it?  I forgot!  I must have lost it in the mud.”

He walked back.

Pointing to one end of the loblolly, he said, “Now, there I had it.”

Pointing to the other end, he said, “And there I lost it.”

Pointing, “There I had it.”

Pointing, “There I lost it.”

“Oh no, I’m gonna have to tell mama I forgot, and she’s gonna sluice me in the rain barrel and scrub me down with that lye soap.

Soap?

Soap!

Off he went, “Soap, soap, soap.”

*****

I am that lad.  I go out into the woods, to run and think up ideas for my stories.  That’s when I get my best ideas, in fact, most of my ideas.  But,  just because I think me up a good one, way out in the hills, or down in the canyons, it doesn’t mean I’m going to get that delicacy all the way back to the truck.   Truth be told, I’ve left  more tasty rabbits out on the trail, than I ever brung home for mama to cook.

Now that I have slid into the loblolly of my elder years, memory troubles and all that,  coming back with ideas gets harder all the time.  I have taken to wearing a running belt with the kinds of items senior runners ought to take along:  water, GU energy chews, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and identification.  No cell phone.  Where I run, there’s no coverage.  And one more thing.  What was it?  I forgot.  There I had it.  There I lost it.  Oh, yes, pen and a little notebook wherein I record my ideas whilst I pause for a moment, chew my Gu,  and conscientiously hydrate on orders from my wife.

All very good . . . when I remember to strap on my running belt.  When I don’t,  there is little likelihood of returning with a game bag full of ideas, but how about three?  My three best ideas.  Is that too much to ask?   So, I get an idea and I repeat it aloud, over and over.  Then I get the second idea, then the third.  And I repeat them aloud as I run along.

Soap, soap, soap.

Today’s soap?  A prayer for Janabai, the heroine of Book Two of Daughters of the Kali Yuga.  A new final line for the same book (no, I’m not going to tell you).  And three . . . the idea for this article. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Writers Tips: Barry Boyce

Barry Boyce Website
Monday Writing Tip from Sierra Writers' Conference:


 
Barry Boyce: Author/editor of The Mindfulness Revolution and In the Face of Fear
  1. You’re better off than you think, because you’ve done this before, just not in as large a format. Almost every technique and skill you’ve used to structure and tell a story at feature length scales to book length. So, let go of the excess anxiety about never having done this before.
  2. Planning. Planning. Planning. It’s a campaign. I used some project management tools in the end to put some order into the vastness. That’s the thing about the bigger scale. It requires more management to support the creativity. Cultivate a good relationship with your editor from the beginning. He/she is going to be your task master at some point. That’s going to go so much better if he/she is also your friend, colleague, supporter, and fan. The campaign of writing a book can get so lonely sometimes, you need a good attaboy just to remind yourself of why you’re doing it and that you’re not the crazy loser who needs to get out more.
  3. As Trungpa Rinpoche said (I paraphrase): enjoy refreshing activities from time to time. If you’re planning and scheduling well, you can find opportunities regularly to breathe more fresh air into your life and replenish yourself, because “the work fills the available space” is nowhere more true than on a book project. Watch out for self-indulgent and cheap substitutes for actually taking an honest to god break, of whatever duration.



Steve Silberman's collection of writing tips:

Steve Silberman Website
When Steve Silberman started working on his book NeuroTribes, The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, he decided to “tap into the wisdom of the hive mind.” Fortunately he had a great hive to tap and he shared a long article with brief tips on writing a book from 22 authors.
It’s really too much to read all at once so we will be posting each author’s advice separately so that you can savor each tidbit. (You can always click on the link at the end of the previous paragraph to get the whole feast.)

Now, go forth and write!





Monday, November 21, 2016

Writers Tips: Ben Casnocha

Ben Casnocha Website
Monday Writing Tip from Sierra Writers' Conference:


 
Ben Casnocha: Entrepreneur and author of My Start-Up Life
  1. Shitty first drafts. Anne Lamott nailed it! But with books, it seems to be more like “shitty 20th drafts.” So shitty, for so long.
  2. Develop a very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions. I use an app called Self-Control on my Mac.
  3. Develop a very, very, very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions.

Steve Silberman's collection of writing tips:

Steve Silberman Website
When Steve Silberman started working on his book NeuroTribes, The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, he decided to “tap into the wisdom of the hive mind.” Fortunately he had a great hive to tap and he shared a long article with brief tips on writing a book from 22 authors.
It’s really too much to read all at once so we will be posting each author’s advice separately so that you can savor each tidbit. (You can always click on the link at the end of the previous paragraph to get the whole feast.)

Now, go forth and write!





Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wycoff: Where Do Writing Ideas Come From? Part 2


Joyce Wycoff Website
Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Joyce Wycoff, conference program guide, author of a young adult fantasy novella, Sarana’s Gift and a specialty journal, Gratitude Miracles, the 5-minute journal that could change everything!

“Where did you get your idea?” It’s a common question, and the easy answer is: everywhere!

It has always been a hobby of mine to try to track ideas back to their source, and I somewhat agree with Aaron Gilbreath, who says in a Green Mountains Review article, "Asking where ideas come from is a bit like asking where the stars draw their dust. It came from somewhere, but mostly, it was just there."
Where do ideas come from?

He also said:  "The more you write, the more you learn how to generate ideas. Even if you still depend
on happenstance, you develop habits. Whether the places you search are on the streets or in books or the caverns of your mind, you learn to recognize the fertile locations where subjects turn up, in the same way an urban hawk learns where the pigeons roost, and you visit those locations frequently." 

 And, that's probably the primary reason for asking where other people get their ideas ... to more easily recognize where you get yours.  Writer Steve Almond quotes a bit of wisdom received early in his own life from an elderly mentor: The only thing that matters is the thing you can’t stop thinking about, he told me. Dress it up how ever you like, son, but tell me the goddamn truth.

 Gilbreath tells us “I keep my antennae up all the time. Whether I read a local newspaper, or talk to the guy selling me a doughnut at a small-town coffee shop, I’m reflexively on alert for a compelling story.”

 Good advice, but in the meantime, it is fascinating to hear exactly how some of the authors who will be with us at the Sierra Writers' Conference found the ideas that led to their books. Here are three more examples:

Jordan Fisher Smith: My writing ideas have come to me in the way that the shapes of constellations must have, to the ancients.  I get interested in certain facts or notions—the individual stars, as it were—and they hang around for months or years.  I can’t stop thinking about them.  So I begin meandering research on these individual points of light on a dark background—reading, visiting places where important events happened, interviewing people, going to conferences. 

In the process, without intending to and certainly without forcing it on them, I begin to draw shapes and relationships between the points, forming some larger context or picture—a goat, an archer, an eagle, a bear.  There is, in my writing—maybe in all writing—an ordering of reality, a forming of context.  There is in mine, anyway.  My nonfiction work ties together natural history, human history, ideas, character, and the mysterious workings of the human heart and passions.  That’s how I work. (Lesson: pay attention to the things you can't stop thinking about.)

Dimitri  Keriotis: Years ago I heard an interview with the late, great memoirist, Frank McCourt. Given McCourt's eventful life, the interviewer understandably asked him how he selected the events he wrote about, especially in Angela's Ashes. McCourt said that he scanned his life with a kind of metal detector, and where there was activity, he dug down because that's where the good stuff was, the stuff with emotional charge. (Lesson: look for those emotional charges.)

This approach resonated with me, especially because I am wonderfully haunted by memories of pivotal moments, some of which I'd unsuccessfully tried to explore in pieces of creative nonfiction. Early in my MFA program, I overlooked a deadline and had to write a story for a workshop in two days. I looked out at a huge blank page and panicked. Then I asked myself what I wanted to write about. A particular memory instantly bubbled up, and I knew I could work with it. The piece poured from my pen, chiefly because of the emotions attached to this experience of battling my own hubris. I fully understood and continued to follow McCourt's approach, which is that of many who say, "Write what you know." (Lesson: impossible deadlines sometimes free us to make connections with deeper material.)

Some of my stories very closely reflect experiences I've had, while others contain not more than a mere seed. Regardless, all stem from something I know and have emotional connection to. In building the stories, I pull from random memories or others' memories--anything to give the story what it needs--as long as the major elements come from my gut and not my mind. For me this process leads to lovely discovery and understanding.

Bob Jenkins: Azriel, the heroine of Azriel Dancer, is named for a young girl who wanted to be a professional dancer. I met many her many years ago up on the San Juan Ridge where the events of my novel begin.  I liked her name, Azriel, the kind of hippy-esque moniker you find in north Nevada County. Other than this whimsical connection, there is no resemblance between my fictional character and the real girl.  (Lesson: always record names that strike you. They’re gold.)


On the other hand, the Kali Yuga in the title of the four-part series (Daughters of the Kali Yuga of which Azriel Dancer is Book One), has profound significance.  Hindu scriptures describe the arc of human existence as having four distinct epochs (yugas).  The fourth of these, also called “The Iron Age,” is the yuga belonging to the Lord of Demons, Kali.  It is He who rules the Apocalypse, the End of Days, the Kali Yuga, the final showdown between good and evil.

Lastly, allow me a deep bow of respect to Alan Weisman, from whose book, The World Without Us, the inspiration for Daughters of the Kali Yuga rose.  Weisman’s remarkable thought experiment, turned topsy-turvy my own view of the earth, our impact on it, our future upon it.  (Lesson: pay attention to anything that turns your own thinking upside down. What questions does it spark in you?)

Proposing that humankind suddenly and inexplicably vanishes, Weisman describes the planet in the days, years, and eons that follow our departure.  Perhaps it takes a million years, or a hundred million, but the planet heals itself.  Life continues.  Continents drift into unfamiliar shapes.  Strange avian creatures fill the skies.  Seas replenish with astonishing marine life.  Adaptable new species roam lands once encrusted with cities, factories, refineries, and nuclear power plants.

How would mother earth recover?  What if a mysterious cataclysm wiped out most, but not all of humankind?  Imagine a village of farmers, shepherds, smiths, and healers, who by accident of topography, beneficent winds, and, perhaps, a bit of divine intervention, survive the apocalypse.  Who would they be?  What would they do?  Where would they go?  How would they make themselves worthy of their second chance? (Lesson: "What if ..." is a very powerful idea magnet.)

Wrap Up: Go places. Be curious. Listen. Read. Follow your heart. Pay attention to the blips ... those spikes in interest that make you say "Really?" "Why?" "How?" "OMG!" Those blips are seeds that can grow into books ... if they're tended carefully.

For more about where ideas come from, click here to see Part 1 of this thread.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Speaker: Mark Wiederanders

Mark Wiederanders - Website

Mark Wiederanders: Critically acclaimed historical novelist and screenwriter. Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards and Finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures screenplay competition.

Author Statement: "I write about the private lives and loves of famous authors of the past.  My favorites are those who did not claim to have figured out the world, but could laugh at it — and at themselves."

Conference Workshop: Finding Subjects to Write about that Up the Odds of Publication, Session 3, 2:30 - 3:30: 

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Closing Panel Discussion, 3:55 - 4:45

Workshop Description: Getting rejection slips is not fun.  With care, writers can choose the subject for a book, story or screenplay that they are passionate about AND that has a high chance of publication.

A proven technique is to search for powerful images – photographs, artwork, objects, even cartoons and doodles – that resonate on an emotional level with you, and then develop stories from them that will resonate with agents/editors/the reading public.  Several stages of “story-finding” will be described: noodling; focused searching; evaluating your find for resonance; drafting a brief story about the image or story you found; and testing your story with sample readers – prior to launching the full project.  Examples from successful writing projects will be given, and attendees will be encouraged to offer their own story ideas for discussion.

Mark Wiederanders’ novel, Stevenson’s Treasure (Fireship, 2014), was a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards.  His screenplay, “Taming Judith” reached the finals of the Academy of Motion Pictures’ competition and was optioned by a film company.  Mark has earned residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, the Martha’s Vineyard Writers’ Residency, and New York Mills Cultural Center.  Besides writing fiction, Mark is a psychologist (PhD, University of Colorado) who studied violence and mental illness for the State of California.  He is currently finishing a novel about Jack London.


amazon.com description:

In 1879 Robert Louis Stevenson embarked on one of the most romantic, ill-advised but wildly successful quests a literary figure has ever made. Young, unknown, and in failing health, he journeys six-thousand arduous miles to make Fanny Osbourne his wife, despite the fact that she is already married (unhappily), has children, and is ten years older than he. And yet, from their first meeting, he knew instantly she was the only woman for him.

Highlighted review:
on May 6, 2014
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

Review of Stevenson’s Treasure, by Mark Weiderhanders

Such a good read! Probably not be the most professional way to start the review of a new
book on the literary scene, but in this charming novel, we follow with growing pleasure
the unusual relation between a younger man and an older woman from different countries, backgrounds, educations and experience. Will the married lady win her freedom? Will the penniless, unsuccessful writer ever reach success and marry her?

There is a long journey on foot, alone across a hilly part of southern France with an uncooperative donkey. This gives Robert Louis Stevenson an opportunity to tell Modestine, the donkey, about his overprotected childhood, since he suffered from such ‘weak lungs’ –– good description of severe pleurisy–– so that he wasn’t expected to reach adulthood. Stevenson is kind, sensitive, intelligent (to write Dr Jekill and Mr. Hyde he had to be unusually bright!) and a fine observer who keeps writing essays and stories, in spite of the absence of his lack of publishers.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bramkamp: Why Is Inspiration So Difficult?

Catharine Bramkamp

Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Joyce Wycoff, conference program guide, author of a young adult fantasy novella, Sarana’s Gift and a specialty journal, Gratitude Miracles, the 5-minute journal that could change everything!



Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Catharine Bramkamp, author of 15 books, co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns, dynamic writing coach and Chief Storytelling Officer for Winesecrets.

How do you get inspired? 

And why is it so difficult to wrestle that inspiration into words let alone into something as coherent as a poem or a novel or a self-help book?  And how do you court inspiration?

Part of the problem we have with inspiration  is that inspiration is often depicted in cartoons or novels or film  as fun, fast and fantastic.  The lightbulb pops up over a character’s head at exactly the right time (thus moving the plot along).  It is delivered in a song, it floats down to characters during a dreamy afternoon paddling on a lake, it is easy.

So what the heck, right?  What if we don’t sing, and there is no lake nearby, and the only light bulb I have access to is on my emoji keyboard.
Inspiration does not necessarily work like magic. But it does work. Inspiration, delivered by a perverse Muse often arrives at seriously  inconvenient times, like when you are driving. Or when you are scrubbing the toilet.

Here’s the good news:  Most of us drive, and we all have toilets.

Inspiration is often not up to you. It is, I believe, a product of successful courting of the capricious  Muse.  Inspiration is often a result of input: books, films, theater, conversation.  Inspiration comes when you’ve learned so much, the material finally reaches critical mass and you get inspired.
While you are negotiating heavy traffic.

Often you think - nowNow you visit me, oh Muse, who is not paying attention to my daily schedule.
And the Muse puts her hands on her hips and says, “Well do you want it or not?  Because there’s a guy in the lane behind you who will take this great idea and run with it if you are too lazy to pull out a napkin from Starbucks and that pencil stub from yesterday’s golf game and scribble this down."

And, so you do.

And because you stuffed your brain with images and ideas and both good literature, great literature and bad literature, you are prepared to know what it is, what the difference is, and you see that yes, yes, it’s original and wonderful and inspired.

That’s often how it works.  So read something, watch something.  Go scrub the toilet.  If you don’t get inspired for your writing - at least the bathroom is clean.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes  - Newbie Writers Podcast
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually.  All you need to do is wait . . . like us.
Subscribe to the blog on www.YourBookStartsHere.com
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
Or Instagram -  #CatharineBramkampWriter
Or Pinterest -  Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp, thank god there is only one of me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Speaker: Chris Olander

Chris Olander Link
Chris Olander: Poet/Teacher with California Poets in the Schools
(CPITS) since 1984.

Review Snippet:

Conference Workshop: The Love Poem, Session 2, 1:10 - 2:10

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Workshop Description: The Love Poem  ---  Open to experienced and beginning poets who want to explore love for another through shared experiences.

Actions always speak louder than words; experiences reveal our true feelings. Using image and metaphor will reveal the love we experience with another while we create sonnets or extended love poems to discover who we are.
Revision techniques will polish the gem into art.

Besides being a poet, Chris has taught in elementary and high schools, colleges, institutions, festival and privately.  He has published 4 chapbooks; 4 CD's of his spoken poetry; 4 CD's with musical accompaniment with various musicians.

Olander blends performance techniques with spoken word to create an action art poetry: musical image phrasing to dramatize relative experiences--a poetry arising from oral and bard traditions: a sound poet exploring feelings, ideas and meanings in rhythm patterns.

Click here to watch a video of Chris performing poetry at the Center for the Arts.

Volmer: License to Write: Part I

Click here to see more about Mary Volmer.


Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Mary Volmer, basketball player turned historical novelist and teacher at Saint Mary’s College (CA). Author of Crown of Dust and Reliance, Illinois.

                  If you write, you are a writer. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve published, or just have begun to put stories together. Maybe you desperately want to write, but don’t yet have a story. Maybe you have a story to tell, but don’t yet know how. Maybe you have a story, but can’t imagine anyone else would care about it. In the next three blog posts, I hope to give you license to overcome these doubts and tools to cultivate the faith you’ll need to persevere and survive the process of writing a book.

Answer the question: Why Write?
This is a question only you can answer for yourself, a question you must answer.

I can tell you why I started: I write because I love to read. Because I love adventure, but detest risk. I write because stories allow me to inhabit lives beyond my own and connect me to people past and present. Stories make me vulnerable and grateful for my own humanity. I write because I love language, because characters announce themselves to me, because I’m good at it. I write when I’m angry, when I’m sad, when I’m baffled.

Why do you write? Why are you writing this book?

I was compelled to write my first novel, Crown of Dust, because as an athlete, who grew up playing with and against boys, I knew—that is I could imagine—what it must have been like to be a woman alone in gold fields full of men.

I was compelled to write Reliance, Illinois because of my gratitude, not just for 19th-century reformers in the novel, but for 20th and 21st-century women who fought (who are still fighting) for rights I grew up taking for granted. The right to vote, for example. The right study, to play, to define myself by my abilities and merits, and not by gender alone.

What is compelling you? Take a few hours or days to answer this question. If you’re well into a first or second draft, it’s not too late. Why are you writing this book? Compose a declaration of purpose, tape it above your desk, look at it when the work is hard, when you’re stuck, when you are dejected. A teacher of mine suggested writing this declaration in the form of a letter. ... Dear Mary, I am writing this story because…

This writing thing can feel illicit, am I right? Your story like an illegitimate child conceived out of public eye.

Claim that child. If you haven’t yet done so in public, here is your chance to admit “I am a writer.” Own the title. The positive effect on your work might surprise you. It will certainly embolden you. The indifferent world—I do mean your husband, wife, mother, son, daughter, friends—might assume you are engaged in a questionable pursuit. But you will have answered the question, why do I write, and you will know better.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jenkins: How does a Professional eBook Campaign Affect Sales for a New Release on Amazon?

Bob Jenkins website


Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty.

This guest post comes from Bob Jenkins, one of America’s distinguished storytellers.  Twice featured as a headliner for the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee, he performed in circus tents for thousands of story lovers.

He lives in the Sierra Foothills of California where the events of Azriel Dancer unfold.

Climbing the learning curve of self-published book launching, I spent many days in the trail-side camp of Derek Murphy, a mad (as in crazy) genius in the art of marketing books on the internet.  Check him out at creativindie.com.  In one rant about “gaming” Amazon.com (ranting is his usual method of teaching), Murphy recommended an email campaigner named Mike Balmaceda.  I got in touch with Balmaceda and purchased his $400 mid-range product.

My first novel, Azriel Dancer, launched on Saturday, October 1, 2016 with thirty-five reviews (all Five Star but two—one of the Four Stars being my sister’s, thanks a lot, Linda).  From Saturday through Tuesday, we had about thirty sales of eBooks.

On Tuesday evening,  Balmaceda deployed his email campaign, and within twenty-four hours, we garnered an additional seventy-three sales.  That’s the big spike you see in the graph shown below.

By Thursday, sales had tapered off.  One week later, we flat-lined.

Balmaceda guaranteed that, with his service, the book would reach the 2,000 to 3,000 Amazon ranking for eBooks.  Actual ranking achieved:  1,313.  We also ranked #4 in one category, #12 in another, and #18 in the third.  Great.  Mission accomplished.  For one day.  And that’s the moral of the story.  For one day, Wednesday, October 5, 2016.  What did I do for Amazon.com THURSDAY?  It makes perfect sense, the beast must be fed every day.  I have no complaints, with Amazon.com or with Balmaceda’s campaign.

Mike Balmaceda is straightforward with his promise . . . and with his warning:  the secret is in maintaining the momentum.  How do you do that?  Pay Mike $400 and find out for yourself.  I’m not trying to be funny.

Let me close with two points.
  • Teaching people how to maintain sales momentum is Balmaceda’s business; it’s how he makes his living. I’m not going to give away the secrets he sells (and that I bought).
  • From long experience in another sales industry, I can tell you that it is easy to learn the lesson. Only a few actually do the work to put the lesson into action.










Monday, November 14, 2016

Writers Tips: August Kleinzahler


Monday Writing Tip from Sierra Writers' Conference:

August Kleinzahler  Author of Sleeping It Off in Rapid City and Cutty, One Rock
  1. I find it helpful sometimes — and still to my surprise — trying to explain to someone what it is I’m trying to write about, usually someone bright but in a different intellectual zone, and not a writer. Or, likewise, in a letter or email to such a person.
  2. When my self-disgust reaches critical mass I seem to be ready to go.
  3. I tend to discover the structure, a structure, after diving into the deep end and swallowing water awhile, until I stop swallowing water, make my way to the surface and figure out how far it is toward shore or the side of the pool, and what mixture of treading water and the Australian crawl, given my limitations/aptitudes, might get me safely home.

Steve Silberman's collection of writing tips:

Steve Silberman Website
When Steve Silberman started working on his book NeuroTribes, The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, he decided to “tap into the wisdom of the hive mind.” Fortunately he had a great hive to tap and he shared a long article with brief tips on writing a book from 22 authors.
It’s really too much to read all at once so we will be posting each author’s advice separately so that you can savor each tidbit. (You can always click on the link at the end of the previous paragraph to get the whole feast.)

Now, go forth and write!








Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wycoff: Don't Write an Elevator Speech; Craft an Elevator Connection

Fall in Grass Valley

Imagine you’re at a writers’ conference and you have lunch with four of your fellow attendees.

You’ve done your homework … you have your business cards ready, your writing sample has been polished to a fine sheen, and you’ve prepared specific questions you want answered during the conference.

You ask the woman across from you, Sarah, what kind of writing she does.
Sarah says, “I’m writing a memoir.”
You wait but she doesn’t say anything more and you don’t know where to go with the conversation, so you turn to Tim and ask him the same question.
Tim says, “I’m writing a nonfiction book about the watershed of Nevada County.”
Water is important, so you exchange a few remarks, but the conversation runs out of steam, so you go on to Alice with the same question.
Alice says, “I’m writing a young adult fantasy novel set in the jungles of the Yucatan where a young heroine has to fight the forces of evil with no weapons or super powers.”
 You thought all young adult fiction was about vampires or zombies, so you say hers sounds refreshing. She says thanks but then silence prevails.

Finally, Sarah asks you the same question.
You say, “Do you guys remember that girl from high school who married her high school sweetheart and had two perfect children and lived happily ever after in the same town?”
 Everyone nods their heads.
Tim says, “Yeah, that’s Jane, she’s in charge of our annual reunion.”
 Alice says,”That was me … until I got divorced. Is that what you’re writing about?”
 You nod and ask, “So, what happens when she wakes up one morning and it's all gone?”
Suddenly everyone is talking about how life changes and telling stories, theirs and ones they know about. By the time lunch ends, you know a lot about each other and they’ve asked for your card and volunteered to be beta-readers for your book.

What happened?

Sarah was winging it. She hadn’t thought much about how she would answer a question that is the foundation of writers’ conferences.

Tim had a basic elevator speech ready. But, it was boring. Sam Horn, a guru of intrigue whom we'll talk more about below, calls this Bore-Snore-Chore. Even if you’re a little bit interested, it leaves the work up to you to ask a question. It’s a chore.

Alice had worked a little harder on her elevator speech. She has some specifics and a challenge built into it. It’s not as boring, but it’s still a chore. She’s telling us but not connecting it to our lives.

And you? You’re the star.
You’re asking a question that almost everyone can respond to.
You’re engaging them, connecting with them, sparking a conversation.

I met Sam Horn when she keynoted the Central Coast Writers’ Conference and she basically exploded the whole idea of elevator speeches.

Here’s what I took away … the normal elevator speech is like a mini-lecture … and few of us like to be lectured to. It’s still lecturing even when you craft an interesting description of your writing. The main problem with the standard elevator speech is that it starts with *me* rather than *you.*

Sam suggests that you craft an elevator connection rather than an elevator speech. You want to kickstart a conversation. One way to do that is to ask a question that gives you some information about what the person wants or needs.

Let’s go back to our lunch table and assume that everyone has watched the Sam Horn video below and crafted an "elevator connection" for their writing. You ask again, "What kind of writing do you do?"
Sarah says, “How much do you know about the challenges your great-grandmother faced?” 
     You answer, “Well, almost nothing, actually. Interesting question."
Sarah says, “That’s what I thought, so I decided that I wanted to write stories for my grandchildren about how my great-grandmother struggled to come to this country. It took her months to travel with her husband and three children by boat to San Francisco. She lost her husband and her infant during the trip, and landed penniless, speaking no English with two children to take care of in a strange land.” You want to know more and a conversation begins.
Tim says, “When you turn on your tap, do you know where that water has been and what it took to get it into your glass?”
     You say, “Well, no, other than it comes from snow pack in the mountains, I don’t guess I do. Tell me more.” A conversation is kickstarted.
Alice says, “Have you ever had to make a tough decision where everyone around you was giving you their advice and all saying different things?” 
      You say, “Omg, yes! I was trying to buy a house once and people kept telling me all these different things about mortgage rates and which loan broker to use. It made me crazy. Is that what you’re writing about?” 
 Alice says, “Exactly! The heroine of my story is a young girl who has to make a tough decision. She’s so overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice, that she runs away into a dreamworld. She faces great challenges and gradually learns to use her own creativity and voice to fight great battles and know what she wants.” 
     You say, “Wow, that sounds interesting. I should read that book.”
 As writers, we repeatedly say, "Show, don't tell." Sam Horn is advising us to "Connect, don't tell." Try it.









For more information about creating an “elevator connection,” watch this video interview with Sam Horn:
Click here to watch.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Writers Tip: Mark Fauenfelder

Monday Writing Tip from Sierra Writers' Conference: CLICK HERE to Register Now!
Early registration ends 12/31/2016.

Mark Frauenfelder website


The Mad Professor by Mark Frauenfelder
Mark Frauenfelder Author of Maker Dad, The Mad Professor and Rule the Web
  1. Use Scrivener to write your book. Awesome organizing tool as well as word processor.
  2. If you have the feeling an interview isn’t yielding much, get off the phone as soon as you can. On the other hand, when you strike interview gold, keep it going as long as you can.
  3. Don’t forget to write the book that you want to read.

 

 

 Steve Silberman's collection of writing tips:

Steve Silberman Website
When Steve Silberman started working on his book NeuroTribes, The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, he decided to “tap into the wisdom of the hive mind.” Fortunately he had a great hive to tap and he shared a long article with brief tips on writing a book from 22 authors.
It’s really too much to read all at once so we will be posting each author’s advice separately so that you can savor each tidbit. (You can always click on the link at the end of the previous paragraph to get the whole feast.)

Now, go forth and write!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Speaker: Catharine Bramkamp

Catharine Bramkamp Website

Catharine's Workshop Handout.



Catharine Bramkamp:  Author of 15 books, co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns, dynamic writing coach and Chief Storytelling Officer for Winesecrets.

Review Snippet:  Katniss Everdeen, step aside. There's a warrior of a different sort on the scene and she gets to use her smarts and her heart as her best weapons.

Conference Workshop: A million other voices -  Social Media. How to start, how to stay, how to conquer. Session 1, 10:50 - 11:50: 

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Workshop Description: One of the more overwhelming aspects of marketing your book is managing social media. Think of Social Media as an exponential tool: focus on creating 100 fans, and those fans will share with their 100 fans, and those fans will share . . . well, you get the idea.  Since there is no such thing as the best social media channel, learn which one will work best for you and your project.  We will also discuss what to say, how to say it, and most importantly - why do this at all?

Catharine's books include the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, The Future Girls series (Caliburn Press) and the poetry chapbook Ammonia Sunrise (Finishing Line Press).  Look for her new book on writing, based on her podcasts; Don’t Write Like We Talk – what we learned from four years interviewing agents and authors, publishers and poets.
 
She holds two degrees in English, and is an adjunct university professor.


amazon.com description:

On October 10, 2145, eighteen-year-old Charity Northquest's whole future is ahead of her--and the future sucks.

On October 11, 2145, she unexpectedly has a chance to fix it. When Charity's best friend is reported killed, but then re-appears the next day as an old woman, everything Charity has been taught is called into question. Even if she does not believe in time travel, she has little choice. So the ill-prepared Charity travels back to the mysterious and captivating 21st century where her single purpose of changing the future fades with the increasingly more urgent question of whether she can survive the past.

Highlighted Review:

on February 15, 2015
This book gets 5 stars from me because it's everything it intends to be. It's an interesting twist on the time-travel motif. The story lauds the influence and power of women and girls, but is also a cautionary tale against passivity and blind obedience to authority and the potentially dire effects of getting complacent and accepting what governments and the media say without question. This is a suspenseful story with a main character we can root for and villains that take a variety of forms. Lots of fun social and political themes (global environment, feminine power, corruption, sexualization of women, religion, media manipulation, , e.g.) addressed in creative ways without being overly dogmatic or preachy.

My very favorite thing about this book was that it didn't disintegrate into a corny romance where they guy fixes everything for the helpless girl and she has to give up everything important for romance. The heroine is necessarily naive because of the sheltered experience of her life in the future, but she's not a fool…and she learns and grows along the way. Guys are there as allies, partners, helpers, and sometimes villains, but they don't upstage the heroine's role.

The book is a stand-alone, but I can see the seeds for the series and will surely read those when they arrive on the scene. If Hollywood is looking for movie material, here it is. Katniss Everdeen, step aside. There's a warrior of a different sort on the scene and she gets to use her smarts and her heart as her best weapons.



Wycoff: Where Do Writing Ideas Come From? Part 1

Joyce Wycoff & Missy

Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Joyce Wycoff, conference program guide, author of a young adult fantasy novella, Sarana’s Gift and a specialty journal, Gratitude Miracles, the 5-minute journal that could change everything!

“Where did you get your idea?” It’s a common question, and the easy answer is: everywhere!

The longer, and more interesting answer, can be explained using specific examples. When I started writing what turned out to be Sarana’s Gift, the idea literally came out of nowhere. I had decided I was going to write a novel, regardless of the fact that I couldn’t write fiction. (I had one, long-ago, half-finished novel as proof.) But, fact or not, I decided to go for it.

However, as I was researching and thinking about the novel which was going to be set in San Francisco, something else showed up. Suddenly, in my mind, a young girl was on a silver-white horse, galloping through a forest, running from something. Weird. But, I decided to get it down on paper so it would leave me alone.

I was curious though, what was she running from? Following that curiosity led me into the jungles of the Yucatan and through a series of challenges that had to be faced with no weapons or superpowers. (LESSON: follow strange stuff when it shows up.)

After that, deciding that perhaps I could write fiction, I started looking for an idea. I wanted to write about a mature woman, an ordinary woman whose life turns toward the less than ordinary. She would live in an ordinary town in Oregon and have an ordinary job as a portrait photographer.
Where do ideas come from?

Then, I needed a setting … someplace I would like to visit. After a couple of “nice tries,” I remembered an amazing video I had seen about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone (highly recommended: How Wolves Change Rivers.) It had haunted me when I saw it the first time and, watching it again, I knew it was right. Thus, Yellowstone Howling was born (and is about half done). (LESSON: follow what sparks your own interest.)

I asked some of the authors speaking at Sierra Writers’ Conference 2017 to share their stories of what sparks their books. I am in awe of their answers and their commitment to making a difference in the world with their writing. Please share your own stories of where you get your ideas in the comments section below.

Catharine Bramkamp: Author of 15 books, Catharine’s Future Girls series involves time travel where only girls can travel and there are no time machines.

A big influence for Catharine is travel. She explains, “On a visit to Saudi Arabia, we visited a shopping mall - there wasn’t much else to see in the small town we were able to visit.  And in that mall were two stores side by side catering to women. The first store featured long burqas, in every color ranging from black to navy.  Full headdresses, long coats or robes.

The second store looked like Fredrick's of Hollywood on steroids.  Brightly colored bras and negligees vied for attention in the store window.  The next store featured dresses fit for prom or  Quinceanera. Brilliant orange, purple and pink sequins, frills and tulle spilled out of the shop floor and danced along the shop doors.  The male guide explained that their women liked to look beautiful for their men in the privacy of their home.

Which was bullshit.

Women don’t dress for men. Women dress for other women. And that was my trigger. If Saudi women were dressing up and showing off to their women friends in the privacy of their homes, and indeed, far away from the men in the family, what  else are they doing? If the men have marginalized you so completely, so that you are only able to communicate with other women, ever, what would you communicate?  What would you plot?  Once the women tired of dressing up, what was next?  In my mind, it was science: time travel as the avenue to change their current situation. Kind of like: if you can’t join ‘em, change  the rules for membership.

If I want to reach the future myself, I need to focus on the younger reader. I was influenced by the books I devoured as a child and I wanted to do the same with my work.  The question Future Girls asks, is “What would you change?”   Empowerment is important.  We don’t write dystopic novels if we aren’t worried about the future and if we aren’t interested in influencing change.  Heavy stuff, yes?  On the other side, I wanted to make up a great adventure, and I hope I did. (LESSON: observe unusual combinations and what they might mean.)

Kim Culbertson: The Possibility of Now came very much from my teacher heart.

Throughout my years as a high school teacher, I've watched so many of my students struggle with the pressure to succeed in a culture that often seems to suggest they aren't good enough. But in the last decade or so, I've noticed that not only do they have the pressure of their immediate life -- their school, their family values, etc. -- but they also have this massive culture of the internet pressing in on them.

Often, this online culture showcases extreme versions of achievement -- the teenager winning a reality TV show, the eleven year old cello prodigy, the endless parade of YouTubers racking up thousands and thousands of "followers." Then, on top of all that, they are hit with all these phrases like "follow your dreams" or "you can do anything." It's so overwhelming. And while these statements have good intentions, the truth is that you can try your hardest and not meet all your goals.

So, my inspiration for TPoN came from watching all of this personal and cultural pressure unfold for my students. I wanted to write about what happened to a young person who tried her best, but then everything fell apart for her.

I'm especially interested in fish-out-of-water stories and stories where a character rebuilds his or her life. And I wanted, to write about Tahoe and skiing for my setting. (LESSON: think about the places that  call to you.)

Turns out, I wrote a book the way one might build a snowman during a snowfall. All these individual ideas kept sifting down onto me and even as they were still sifting, I began to build a book out of them -- rolling and packing and reshaping and hunting around for the right stick-arms and carrot nose -- until I finally had a book. This was a very different process for me than with my other four novels, but each novel is a very different animal. (LESSON: observe the challenges of the people you see every day. What’s a new way they could deal with those challenges?)

Mark Wideranders: The inspiration to write Stevenson’s Treasure, a novel about Robert Louis Stevenson’s year in California, came to me accidentally.  (LESSON: always pay attention to those happy accidents.)

During a weekend trip to my son’s house in the rugged hills above the Carmel Valley, I read in a guidebook that “Louis” Stevenson collapsed just above the house, and would have died were it not for two goat ranchers who took the comatose traveler to their cabin and nursed him to health.

What was the young, as-yet unknown writer with lung problems doing in these rugged hills so far away from Scotland?  I soon learned that Louis’s collapse was one of several near-fatal setbacks during his year-long quest to make an American, Fanny Osbourne, his wife despite the facts that she was already married, had children and was ten years his senior.  Fanny, a fiercely protective mother who had fallen deeply in love with Louis, faced the realities of keeping her children fed while somehow ending a marriage to a domineering and philandering husband.  As Louis wrote while riding a primitive rail car across the American plains, “No man is any use until he has dared everything; I feel just now as if I had, and so might become a man.”

Both Louis and Fanny inspired me because they risked everything – and succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations. (LESSON: anything that inspires you, may inspire others.)

Mary Volmer: While researching my first novel, Crown of Dust, I kept coming across references to female reformers I’d never heard of, like Victoria Woodhull, Myra Bradwell, Eliza Farnham, Olympia Brown, Mary Livermore. These were outspoken, idealistic, sometime scandalous women, well known in their own time for living outside the private sphere assigned them, yet largely missing from textbook history. Why? What became of well-known female reformers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony after the Civil War and through the end of the nineteenth century? Did they retire? What happened to the suffrage movement? Why a gap of more than fifty years after the passage of the fifteenth amendment before women won the vote?

Well, they didn’t retire.  Some of those reformers fought their whole lives for rights they never enjoyed. They fought for their daughters’ rights, and for mine. The epigraph by Susan B. Anthony at the beginning of my novel says, “Our job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going.” The funny thing is, after the first pulse of curiosity got me reading, it was a sense of gratitude to Stanton and company that motivated me to write. That and the parallels which emerged between their lives and times, and my own.

I first imagined Madelyn as a grown woman, a suffragette in Oakland, whose birthmark and appearance, which most people considered disfiguring, but actually enhanced her fame. Then I wondered what kind of childhood she would have had to endure to prepare her for such a role? How did this woman come to be and would she trade her fame for an anonymous beauty? The questions became part of the main story line of the book. How will Madelyn come to terms with her appearance? Does she? What hardships does it impose? What assumptions will people have about her? What effect will romance stories and women’s magazines have on a girl so hopelessly beyond the ideal? What hardships do women, like Madelyn’s mother, endure because of their beauty? (LESSON: Pay attention to your own questions that send you in search of answers.)

So, where do your writing ideas come from? Please share in the comments section below.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Volmer: License to Write: Part II Learn the Rules


Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Mary Volmer, basketball player turned historical novelist and teacher at Saint Mary’s College (CA). Author of Crown of Dust and Reliance, Illinois.

Click here to check out my last post about the importance of claiming the title of writer.
Today: learning the rules of your craft and finding space to work.

Learn the Rules

Ever seen tennis played? Imagine a tennis court. Now, take away the net, the boundary lines, and the rackets. What’s left? 

Tennis and fiction are governed by rules and conventions.  How can a tennis player compete with no racket, net, or boundary lines? How can a writer share her vision without at least a rudimentary understanding of point of view, story, sentence structure, or the conventions of genre? Maybe you fancy yourself a rebel, determined to break rules and challenge the form. Great, but you first must know the rules to break them. 

In high school, I coached a youth basketball team of 9 and 10-year-old girls. I remember, first practice, walking into the high school multipurpose room—imagine two temporary baskets propped on either end, little girls in gym short ping-ponging here and there, and the smell—you know the smell—rotting bananas, corn dogs, lemon-scented cleaning fluid. 

“Ok!” I shouted, blowing my whistle. “Everyone on the baseline!" 

One little girl scrambled into place, the rest looked sideways up at me. What on earth was a baseline? My detailed schedule of drills, useless. They needed rules, the most basic rules, before they could play. So we made a game out of learning and raced from baseline to half court, to sideline in a squealing frenzy. 

Granted, this isn’t a perfect analogy for writers. Even if you have never written anything but a grocery list and never studied the conventions of the craft, you already know more than you think because you have grown up with stories, and because you read widely and ceaselessly. Right? You’re already aware of how stories affect you. How exciting to learn to create that effect!

How to play.

Video: How to play tennis without a racket ... or a ball.
 Community and Solitude

Be active within a community, literary or otherwise, but don’t mistake living in literary circles with literary work. Literary work, "needs solitude. It needs concentration without interruption,” says poet Mary Oliver in her essay “Of Power and Time.” “It needs the whole sky to fly in and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy…a place apart.”

This place apart is not just a physical space, but also a space inside of you, a sacred space of “otherworldly awareness” from which creativity rises. 

Finding this double solitude in which to work—the space within and the space without—has always been difficult, especially for working women and women with children. Today, social media imposes another gamut of seductive distractions. How often do I find myself spirited away on the internet when I meant to look up one small detail? Strangely enough, the modern web’s allure reminds me of ancient Greek temptresses, the Sirens or Homer’s Odyssey. This is the story:

After leaving the island of Circe, Odysseus (who like most writers was easily distracted) sailed through seas inhabited by beautiful nymph-like women called Sirens, famous for seducing sailors with their sweet meaningless songs and sending them plunging to their death in the sea. Odysseus, curious about the sound, ordered his sailors to stop their own ears with bees wax, but to bind him to the ship mast so that he might hear the song not leap into the sea.



Tether yourselves to the mast, my friends, or better yet, stop your ears with bees wax.

And if you don’t have hours in a day (who does?) set aside fifteen or twenty minutes to be alone, and unplugged. Writer Susan Straight wrote a good portion of her last two books in parking lots, ferrying daughters between events. Drag yourself from bed twenty minutes early in the morning and write before the day imposes its concerns. Keep a notebook with you because insights and ideas grow wild in the cracks of time between responsibilities—and during faculty meetings, conference calls…
The important thing to know is that your work, even if like me you write research heavy novels, rises from within you. The story and most of the answers you need, will rise from within, if you give yourself the space you need to create.