Hearing Voices

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. “–E.L. Doctorow

At the August meeting of the Kansas Writers Association, several members jokingly referred to their writing experience as “hearing voices.” Although schizophrenia is a serious mental illness, most writers have regular occurring bouts of voices in their heads.

Fellow KWA member B.D. Tharp talks about “the muse” calling her to write.  Other authors have the experience of their characters speaking in their ears as they sit at the computer. It can be overwhelming at times, so many thoughts. Imagine Noah, after several months in the ark, with a cacophony of animal intonation around him. Sounds kind of like a really bad Caribbean cruise.

The voices, if you listen carefully, will guide you to write their stories. They will tell you what they would or would not do and carry on conversations with other characters in your head. Sometimes it feels pretty crowded. The best thing to relieve these murmurings is to sit down and write about it. In the end, it is therapeutic to leave everything on the page, rather than jostling around inside your gray matter.

Don’t worry; they’ll be replaced with other thoughts and ideas. When the voices are too quiet or, God forbid, completely silent, then you have problems. That’s when you have to jumpstart your creativity.

Why not put them to work for you? You have the choice to use what they’re giving you or discard it. Try adding the ideas to your work-in-progress; see if they mesh. If not, it’s no problem to get rid of them and try something else. Whether you lead the voices, or they lead you…write it out!

Keynote Speaker Announced for 2012 Scene Conference

William Bernhardt
William Bernhardt, Scene Conference 2012 Keynote Speaker
Our 2012 Scene Conference is taking shape fast! We’re thrilled to have landed author William Bernhardt as our keynote speaker for the event, which is set for March 16-17. William’s bestselling novels explore politics, power, ambition, crime, and the law. He’s written more than 20 books and teaches several writing workshops and seminars of his own. Find out more about him at www.williambernhardt.com.

We’re also excited to welcome the founder of Smashwords.com, Mark Coker, to our conference. According to a Q&A with Mark at the website, Smashwords publishes and distributes ebooks, and authors and publishers retain full control over how their works are published, sampled, priced and sold. Since the site was launched in May 2008, it’s become the leading ebook publishing platform for indie authors and publishers, with over 45,000 ebooks published. (We always get a little hungry thinking about it, though, because the name makes us think of Smashburger…)

There’s more at our Scene Conference page. Visit often for updates to our roster of exciting speakers and other conference details. Make plans now to join us in March!

2011 Writing Contest is OPEN!

We’re putting out the call: our annual Prose and Poetry Competition is accepting submissions! Win a little cash, earn some cred, and get feedback on your writing. We have several categories in adult and youth divisions.

Winners will be published in an anthology, and awards will be presented at our annual Scene Conference in March.

Visit our Contest page for all the details.

Deadline is Dec. 31 — but it’s closer than it sounds, so don’t procrastinate. This could be your year.

Doubt is a Snuggie

Doubt is one size fits all. It comes in many sizes, shapes and colors. Kind of like a Snuggie. It covers and envelops our bodies and spirits and hearts, squeezing out all imagination. Doubt is just another word for fear, and that can be paralyzing.

Think back to when you submitted your writing for the first time, to a contest, a magazine, or a publishing house. My first time was two years ago, when I emailed a personal story to Chicken Soup. I was so nervous that it took two weeks to convince myself. It took all the guts I could muster just to hit “send.”

Most of the time, I let my self-doubt get the best of me. I am hardest on myself; much harder than I am on others. I hold up an impossible yardstick to compare my writing to others, veteran published authors. Hard questions crowd my mind. Do I have the talent to be a successful writer? Do I have the courage to face the criticism?

My father was a brilliant engineer, and a pragmatist at heart. “Eat that elephant one bite at a time, Spunky,” he would counsel me. And so, I shut out all the “what ifs” rolling around in my head, and I put one foot in front of the other. I’ve been playing the sponge, soaking up all the knowledge I can about the mechanics of good writing. And I write. Every week. BIC…butt in chair.

Don’t let fear get the best of you. If you have faith in your talent, way deep down inside of you, faith in your unique voice, in your literary dream, then move forward and don’t look back. Run your race, and finish strong. Do it afraid.

“Never, never, never give up.”—Winston Churchill

New Agents=New Opportunities

I have a new favorite website for writers: Guide to Literary Agents. Chuck Sambuchino’s advice on agents is insightful, and he frequently shares up-to-the-minute news on what’s happening at the agencies. Like this:

New Agent Alert: Halli Melnitsky of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth

Chuck starts off with a reminder:

Newer agents are golden opportunities for new writers because they’re likely building their client list; however, always make sure your work is as perfect as it can be before submitting, and only query agencies that are a great fit for your work.

2012 Guide to Literary Agents
Chuck Sambuchino's '2012 Guide to Literary Agents' is available for pre-order. Click on the image for info.

This is essential. It can’t be emphasized enough: You’ve got to play shape shorter with your work and potential agents. Just like my 2-year-old works hard at fitting the yellow wooden triangle into the right space on her adorable little rolling snail, you must also find the agent who is the right fit for your genre and voice. Anything less guarantees you a short trip from the slush pile to the round file.

The post I linked to does a great, succinct job of illustrating how specific an agent might be about what she or he wants you to submit. (P.S. There are links to other new agents toward the end.) There is a gold mine of info in Ms. Melnitsky’s bio. Check out the authors she has already worked with (including Kathryn Stockett, author of the runaway hit The Help.) There is a healthy paragraph about the kind of work she’s seeking, and it goes well beyond genre. It’s not enough just to look for agents who are seeking thrillers, or romance, or sci-fi.

What else defines your work and your style? Take some time to figure this out, put it into words (not too many), and your pitch will be more efficient and effective.

Erin O’Donnell
KWA Webmaster

Don’t Revile the Rewrite

I’m gearing up to talk about Editing and Revising this Saturday at our monthly meeting (you ARE planning to attend, aren’t you? There’ll be snacks, and air-conditioning). Funny thing about writers: Mention rewriting or revising, and you’re guaranteed an eye roll, a groan, or a slump in even the squarest of shoulders.

Why do we feel so defeated by this step in the writing process? I have a few theories.

  • Writing is more than arduous. It’s bloodletting. Once we’re finished, we want to be done. All done. Do painters splash thinner over large patches of their canvas two or three times before they declare their work complete? No. Why do we have to?
  • It’s a division-of-labor thing. Why do we have to go find our own mistakes? Isn’t that why God made editors?

But that’s just not the nature of writing. Pencils have erasers. Keyboards have delete keys. And there’s a reason: We can make it better.

I am primarily a journalist. I get assignments (i.e., other people’ story ideas), I interview and research, and I write a story. I’m usually up against a deadline and don’t have much time for refinement. So I actually envy those of you who specialize in fiction and have generally open-ended timelines. You can go back, reshape, rethink, reimagine. This is a luxury.

More than once, I’ve had an article appear in print only to notice a minor typo or error (yes! I admit it!), or a missed opportunity for a great turn of phrase. And the forehead-smacking begins. It’s like thinking of a great comeback long after your nemesis has left the room.

Editing and revision is a discipline, one of those things we have to develop as a skill and a habit. Your story is a treasure. Rewriting is the tool that helps you find it. Sometimes it’s a pickaxe, and sometimes it’s a featherweight brush, but either way, it will help you unearth the gems hidden inside your first draft and polish them until they gleam.

Hope to see you this Saturday at 1:30 p.m., Rockwell branch library (address and map link are at right). Bring a work in progress, or something to write with, and we’ll conduct an exercise or two to illustrate the benefits of the rewrite.

Erin Perry O’Donnell

Freelance Writer and KWA Webmaster

Jubilee of Kansas Authors

A Barnes & Noble rep sent this announcement our way. Chatting with local authors, discovering new reads, and throwing some support to an area library: sounds like a good way to pass a hot summer afternoon!

The Barnes & Noble at Bradley Fair, located at 1920 N. Rock Road, will host eight Kansas authors at their July Jubilee Book Signing on Saturday, July 30, from 2 to 5 p.m. The authors will be available to chat with customers and sign copies of their books. The featured authors include Jim Baumgardner, Jefferson Knapp, Ramona Lampe, Roberta Seiwart Lampe, Kara Louise, Nancy Mehl, Judith Miller, and Kim Vogel Sawyer. Their newest books will be available at Barnes & Noble at Bradley Fair, as well as limited quantities of their previously released titles.

This book signing event is part of a Bookfair Fundraiser for the Rose Hill Public Library. If you mention the Rose Hill Public Library when making any purchase at the Barnes & Noble at Bradley Fair on July 30, a portion of your sale will be donated to the library. Also check out the Rose Hill Public Library’s Wish List table all day, where you will find books that you can buy to donate to the library.

Here is a brief description of each author:

Jim Baumgardner is the author of The Making of a Spy: Sarah’s Quest the latest book in the historical, young adult ‘Sarah’ series that includes Sarah’s Wish, Sarah’s Promise, and Sarah’s Escape. He was born and raised in Wichita. He helps keep history alive by volunteering at the Old Cowtown Museum and by giving various programs on writing, the Underground Railroad, cowboys and trail drives, and early Wichita history to schools and homeschool groups. His website is http://sarahbooks.net .

Jefferson Knapp is the author of the children’s adventure novel The Brave Journey (The Kingdom at the End of the Driveway, Part 1). He lives in the country outside Wichita. A graduate of Butler County Community College, Knapp’s career path has changed from stand-up comedian to children’s book author. Knapp is 33 years old and still has a love for animals – except snakes. His website is www.krakenbooks.com.

Ramona Lampe is the author of the children’s books Ruby the Diva Clydesdale, Calves in the Kitchen, and Santa and the Clydesdales. Ramona was raised on a farm near Cheney, Kansas. She attended high school in Garden Plain, and college at Emporia State University. After college, Ramona toured the country, performing in various professional theatre shows. She now lives back in Kansas where her favorite hobby is taking care of the horses at the C3 Clydesdale Farm.

Roberta Seiwart Lampe is the author of the children’s books Air Dog First Class, A Pig Wish, and Two Farm Cats as well as the historical fiction book The Homestead Trail: Kansas Calls. She was raised in Garden Plain. She served as a newspaper reporter for the U.S. Army before returning home in 1959, when she met her husband and became a farm wife. Working as a library aide, she became inspired to write. Roberta and Ramona Lampe’s website is http://lampebooks.tateauthor.com.

Kara Louise is the author of Only Mr. Darcy Will Do and Darcy’s Voyage, which are both based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She grew up just north of Los Angeles. She moved to Wichita in 1991 with her husband and son. She now lives just outside Wichita on 10 acres where she and her husband have a big garden, 3 horses, 2 goats, 6 cats, and a dog. Since 2001 she has written 6 books based on Pride and Prejudice. Kara Louise’s website Jane Austen’s Land of Ahhhs is at http://ahhhs.net .

Nancy Mehl is the author many books including the Curl Up and Dye mystery series that includes Blown Away and Missing Mabel, as well as the religious fiction novels of the Harmony Series that include Simple Choices, Simple Secrets, and Simple Deceit. She lives in Wichita with her husband, Norman, and her son, Danny. She spends extra time with her volunteer group, Wichita Homebound Outreach. Nancy’s website is www.nancymehl.com, and her blog is www.nancymehl.blogspot.com.

Judith Miller is the author of a number of religious fiction titles including the Daughters of Amana series that includes Somewhere to Belong, More Than Words, and A Bond Never Broken. She is the co-author of several books with Tracie Peterson including the upcoming To Have and To Hold (Bridal Veil Island, Book 1). She was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Kansas after high school. She is the mother of four and lives in Topeka, where she writes full time. Her website is www.judithmcoymiller.com .

Kim Vogel Sawyer is the bestselling and award-winning author of numerous religious fiction titles, the newest being Courting Miss Amsel and In Every Heartbeat. She is also the author of the Katy Lambright teen Mennonite series, the latest of which is Katy’s Decision (Katy Lambright #4). She is active at her church, and enjoys quilting, drama, and calligraphy. Kim and her husband, Don, reside in Kansas and have 3 daughters and 6 grandchildren. Visit her on the web at www.kimvogelsawyer.com.

Fodder

The mother bird constantly scans her surroundings, on the hunt for sustenance for her hatchlings. Alert and ready, she keeps her eyes focused so as not to miss the tiniest movement.

A writer is constantly scanning her surroundings, on the hunt for fodder for her work-in-progress. Alert and ready, she keeps her eyes (and ears) focused so as not to miss the tiniest insight.

Okay, now that you have that mental picture fixed in your brain, think about it. As writers, we should consider our entire lives “grist for the mill.” Every summer vacation, every fast food run, we could return with a great idea for a book, poem, or blog entry. One of the characters in my work-in-progress is based on a highway worker I saw removing road kill along the side of the road. Weird, huh? Exactly!

When your brain doesn’t understand something, it tries to make up a reasonable explanation, thus, creativity. If we settle into a daily routine and don’t look around once in a while, we will miss the creative clues that life provides us. Even the most prolific authors occasionally hit a dry patch. That’s when we need to rattle the noggin a bit.

Try doing some “creative calisthenics.” This process was penned by Terri Main, a California college professor, for her students. Next time you’re waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, examine the items in the cart of the person in front of you. Now speculate what type of evening they’re going to have: boss coming to dinner, first date, horrible bout of the flu or nursing a broken heart? Write a paragraph or two about what might be going on in their lives.

Do you remember the last time you saw a really bad movie? My husband and I spent the drive home trying to “fix” the plot. Allowing your imagination to run wild is great exercise for a writer, even though your mom always thought it was a bad thing.

Every day, every interaction and situation we experience affords us an opportunity to create art. Inspiration for writing comes from every direction and we need to be vigilant as a mother bird to focus in on literary fodder. Keep this in mind and great ideas will be flocking to your door.–Carol J. Martin

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy to be called an idea at all.”–Elbert Hubbard

Promotion Tip: Hosting Guest Authors

Writing a book may seem like a daunting task, and it is, I’m not slighting that at all. After the book (novel, novella, even an article) is finished, next comes yet another complicated task: getting it published.  Of course, during this part of your being-an-author process, you start or continue working on the next project.

After you have found a publisher or decided to go the Indie published author route, then you need to dive into the world of promotion. Trust me, your publisher really wants sales, but they are only willing to do so much to get the product sold. Their biggest part is finding outlets to make your book available (their website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Fictionwise, Bookstrand, etc.). All of that is great! But now YOU need to promote your product anywhere and everywhere you can.

One of the ways I promote my books and myself as an author is to take part in a blog tour or finding blogs to appear on. In the last 3 months I’ve done blog posts at 14 blogs. I have another 11 lined up from now through the end of September. It can be time-consuming to come up with slightly different information about yourself as an author, coming up with a short blog post on a topic somehow related to your book, or finding yet another way to share information about your latest release. Yet I love the challenge and it pays off in getting new readers interested in checking out my various books.

Now I’m taking this blogging thing a step farther. I’ve added Tuesdays and Wednesdays with Starla Kaye for guest authors to my website’s blog. I started promoting this a week ago to my fellow romance authors, my four publishers, and two promotion services I work with. My calendar is full from June 21-August 31 and I will start taking reservations for September 6-the rest of the year.

My point about this is not to brag on what I’m doing, but to share what I’m doing. Having a blog is important as it draws people to your website or your blogsite and gives them an opportunity to look at what books you write. Hosting other authors who have an established fan base that follows them around where they blog can also be valuable to you. Yes, you get that pleasure from helping someone else. You also get a chance to have others who might not ever have seen your books or come to your site to learn more about you. I strongly recommend you consider hosting guest authors on your blog, authors that write in your genre. You are welcome to check out my newly redesigned website and see how I have set up the calendars and more.  Starla Kaye

Share a Story at our May Workshop

We’re peeling back the layers of fiction genres and sub-genres at our monthly meeting this Saturday, May 21. But we’re also making time to let our members strut their stuff. You’re invited to bring something you’ve written and read it aloud. It can be a short story, poem, essay, or a scene from your novel. Just keep it brief enough so we have time for everyone who wants to participate.

We love talking about writing but we love hearing what our members can do too — maybe more. It’s one thing to know your fellow writers struggle with the same issues you do. But we can’t just talk about the process all the time. Sometimes, we want results! How did you resolve that point-of-view conflict? What moved your dialogue from static to snappy? Let us be inspired and moved by what you actually have written. And if you’re just a little too shy about public speaking to step up the podium, consider letting someone else read for you. This isn’t a critique session per se but you never know, you may get some feedback that you needed.