7 Things Your Support Network Needs to Hear

It’s me, Colonel Shifty again! (You lucky ducks.) Last week I counseled Support Network Personnel in the things their writers need to hear. This week, the message is for writers. What does your Support Network need from you? Now, I know writers are inherently selfish (at least, one in particular that I know well). However, think of it like this: If your Support Network is drained and resentful, how well can they support you? Nourishing that Support Network is in your best interest, believe me.

So what do they need? I polled* some Support Networks and got the answers for you, right here:

1. Thank you. Put it in the dedication, or put it in the acknowledgments page. Write it in the sky. Write it in a card, an email, or spell it with cookies on a daisy-patterned plate. Or just, you know, say it. Your Support Network needs to know you appreciate them. Please remember, certain methods of showing gratitude will be more effective than others, depending on circumstances of ability on the part of the writer, and tolerance on the part of the Support Network (e.g. Beth, please do not sing “Wind Beneath My Wings” to Homes. You can totally sing it to your mom, though; she’d dig it).

2. Go out! Have fun! I’ve only had twenty-nine different writer-related outings this month. Tonight’s your night! You can leave me with these two short strangers who may or may not be my children. Is it all right if I call them by the names of my main characters? In all seriousness, you writerly types can be downright selfish when it comes to sucking up all the free time for writing. Give your Support Network time to pursue their own passions, even if it might not be your idea of a good time.

3. Let’s talk about you. Some writers I know (cough*Beth*cough) can go on for days talking to their Support Network about their writing. Whether it’s plot issues, or characters, or querying, or agent drama, it can really fill up the conversation, until the Support Network is sitting on the other side of the table (or worse, trapped in a moving vehicle) looking like a blinking piece of haggis. Remember to share the conversation time, writers.

4. What kind of story do you want to read? This is a fun one, and can get you thinking of different genres, or of blending genres. Look out, though, because you might have a snarky Support Network, and you may not appreciate the answer (e.g. “How about a story where your whiny main character drowns on page ten?”). But if all goes well, cool things can happen. If your support network is heavily into magical realism and you write westerns, imagine the possibilities! Naturally, being a gopher, I don’t have a lot of time to read, but if I did, I’d be reading that.

5. Bad day? Help yourself to my emergency chocolate stash. Writers, it may seem like a big deal to give someone the key to your sanity-preserving dark chocolate peanut butter cups, but remember what I said above: Nourishing your Support Network is in your best interest. Who else will run to the store for more chocolate the next time you’re in need?

6. No, the bad guy isn’t based on you. Your mutual love of haggis is purely coincidental. Sometimes your Support Network might wonder, since you’ve stolen every good piece of dialogue they’ve uttered, what else you’re stealing. Their appearance? Their quirk of wiping their face with a napkin every time they take a bite of food? What about their childhood dreams? Are you some kind of psychic vampire, or what? Take the time to reassure your Support Network that this is FICTION and any similarity it bears to any real event or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental (or whatever that legal jargon is that writers use to save their butts).

7. This book is going to Make It Big and then you can quit your soul-sucking job and retire into the life of luxury to which you should be accustomed. As long as your Support Network realizes the minuscule chance of any book “making it big,” no matter how beautifully wrought, this message can give your Support Network hope, and an opportunity to dream with you. As long as these dreams aren’t replacing Real, Actual Writing (TM), use this for the boost in morale it can give you both.

Really, all those other things are great, but no matter what, your Support Network needs a Thank you. (Although rumor among polled* participants has it that massages, favorite foods, and other tokens of appreciation wouldn’t hurt.)

*No participants were actually polled. Sorry, there wasn’t time.

7 Things Your Writer Needs to Hear

Hi! Colonel Shifty here, reporting with another list of tips for the people who care for writers.

Maybe your writer is shy, or passive aggressive, or just so darn busy drafting Book 3 in her series that she can’t manage to tell you what she needs to hear. Granted, some of these things she needs to hear from people in the publishing business (agents, editors, whatevs), but even if they come from you, a person who cares for her, they’ll still make her feel better/keep her from throwing her manuscript into the fireplace. (Throwing her book into the fireplace just might be the best thing for her…but she has to figure that out on her own.)

1. “Your turn will come.” Your writer may have friends who have published a book. Or books. Or maybe your writer has friends with literary agents, and he’s been desperately trying to find an agent to represent his work, and he’s having a really tough time hearing about how each of those friends had multiple agents fighting over him, and he’s happy for them, he really is. But he’s also feeling a little frustrated about his own place in the process. What your writer needs now is some cheerleading in the form of, “You will have your turn, and it will be glorious.” Because he will have his turn! And it will be glorious! (Please do not mention the possibility that his turn could be, oh, fifteen years away. Or more. He doesn’t need to hear that.)

2. “Take your time.” There’s no rush. I mean, obviously, your writer shouldn’t be dominating the Twitter feeds of her six followers, but she can spend some time taking a head-clearing walk or diving into book-related research. Maybe there’s a ticking clock of needing to get a “real” job once her baby starts school. That’s okay. She can still write. And rushing through a book doesn’t help anyone. She should enjoy it – otherwise what’s the point?

3. “Write the book you need to write.” Does your writer want to tell weird stories? Or super sad stories? Or historical fiction or paranormal romance about vampires? Is he drawn to something that might not exactly be marketable? Tell your writer it’s okay. If that’s the book he needs to write, he should write it. If he’s passionate about it, that passion will shine through. And maybe it won’t be publishable, but he’ll never know unless he writes the darn thing.

4. “Define your own success.” Publication isn’t the only way. Tell your writer that. If she’s writing, and she’s happy, that is a GOOD thing. Maybe her success shouldn’t be measured by things she can’t control, like the publishing industry. Maybe it should instead be measured by the progress she CAN control, like finishing a book, or learning more about a certain format (cough*verse*cough), or getting out there and attending a workshop. Some days this one writer I know defines success by whether or not she makes the time to sit her bootie down to write.

5. “Chocolate doesn’t have calories. Nope, none. Not a single calorie. Eat as much as you want.” No explanation necessary.

6. “It’s okay to cry.” Even if your writer is defining his own success and writing the book he needs to write and taking his time…rejection can still sting. A lot. Give him a day or two to get over it. Crying’s okay, as long as he isn’t short-circuiting his laptop keyboard with the tears.

7. “You want to leave me with our two young children for how many days while you attend a conference? Okay!” I’m sure you’re already supportive in this regard, in which case you may pat yourself on the back and help yourself to one of your writer’s chocolates from her not-so-secret stash. Your writer is taking big risks putting words on the page. An even bigger risk might be attending a writing conference and putting herself out there, learning new things, and totally leaving her comfort zone. Huzzah and hooray to the support network personnel (aka YOU) who are willing to step out of your comfort zone and let her have at it!

And finally, you may kindly point your writer to next week’s Guest Post by Me, Colonel Shifty, in which I list a few of the things your writer can be saying to you, her support network.

New to being the Support Network for your writer? If you need a tutorial on lingo from the publishing world, you can visit my Handy Dandy Dictionary.

NiFtY Author Heidi Ayarbe AND GIVEAWAY!

Heidi Ayarbe is the author of three young adult novels: Freeze Frame, Compromised, and Compulsion. I can say with authority that Compromised and Compulsion are both awesome, and Freeze Frame is on my To Read list. Compulsion just came out on Tuesday, and it’s freaking great, and at the end of this interview you can comment for a chance to win an advance reader’s copy of Compulsion.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Compulsion?

HA: Compulsion happens over a period of five days in the life of Jake Martin. Jake’s the star of the soccer team, ready to lead his high school team to their third state championship in a row this Saturday. This Saturday means everything because this Saturday, if he plays perfect, he will be released him from the spiders – the numbers – and the other obsessions that rule his life. Saturday, the primes converge and Jake believes that if he does everything right, Saturday will be the day Jake gets to be normal. He’s tired of hiding, tired of living with OCD.

BH: What compelled you (haha) to write Compulsion?

HA: I had a few panic attacks a few years ago. I don’t know why – out of the blue – I became literally panicked over small spaces and being closed in. I figured out how to keep from panicking in elevators and on airplanes, buses and closed-in spaces – some tricks to keep me okay. Each attack lasted just a few minutes but felt like an eternity. I got to thinking about people who live with anxiety – the real deal – every day and how that feeling never goes away. I wanted to write that story because I’m aware that over 40 million people are diagnosed with some kind of anxiety disorder … But I can bet that so many of those 40 million feel pretty alone. I hope Compulsion, somehow, can reach out to those who suffer – give them a voice.

BH: I read Compromised, loved it, and reviewed it awhile back. (HA: Thank you!) How was your experience different when writing the two different books? How was it the same?

HA: Every book is so different. But, I think, there’s nothing as daunting and terrifying as a second novel. (Compromised was my second novel). Once I wrote Freeze Frame, my first novel, revised it, and gone through the grueling process from getting an agent through to copy edits, it felt so … done. And then I was given the chance to write a second novel, Compromised, and everything changed. There were expectations and deadlines – different ones – and reviews to compare to FF reviews. And THE DREADED FIRST DRAFT. I’d totally forgotten how abysmal my first drafts ARE (and continue to be). So seeing Compromised through the published-eye lens was ghastly! All I saw was drivel, having forgotten that I’d get a chance to make it work. I didn’t really enjoy the process as much because I was horrified. So Compulsion was pure joy. I knew I could do it. I made it through novel #2 (which I happen to love, but it was really tough) and Compulsion’s first draft, as expected, was a mess, but I got the structure down and a chance to make it into a novel I love. So, BIG difference in perspective. Same process.

BH: Is it hard to write from a male perspective? Do you have any tips for authors who wish to write from the perspective of the opposite sex?

HA: I think it’s the same tip for writing anything: OBSERVATION. Take the time to watch how people act in public, at restaurants. Watch out for clichés! Writing is about creating believable characters. So watch how males talk compared to females. Listen to them. Think of a male reacting to something and how would a female react to it (typically), then switch it up and give the male the “cliché” female reaction but make it a real guy thing. It’s mostly about creating wonderful, believable people and making them people we can relate to.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

HA: Cramped, overflowing with papers, books, receipts from milk I purchased years ago and other useless things … MESSY!

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

HA: I LOVE Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It makes me feel reassured that I’m not alone in my neurosis and insecurities and fear of failure and more. What I LOVE most is how she says, SPILL IT OUT ON THE PAGE, EVERY PAGE, EVERY NOVEL. I love that advice.  See below!

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

HA: See above … though technically she didn’t give it to me personally. But GREAT advice.

BH: Thank you for the interview, Heidi, and thanks for the great reads!

And didn’t I say something about a contest? A big thank you to Heidi for making it possible. So, the rules are simple. The giveaway is limited to the continental United States (sorry, overseas people…unless you have an address here you’d like the book shipped to!). To enter, leave a comment at the end of this post. (Email address required to comment, but your email address isn’t published or shared with anyone, ever!)

If you tweet about the contest & share this link, you can get an extra entry (limit one extra). Just comment with the link to your tweet so I can verify that everything’s on the up & up.

The winner will be picked out of a hat at random. Well, his or her name will be picked out of a hat…not the winner in person, which would be too strange.

Deadline: Next Thursday, 5/12/2011, 11:59 p.m. PST. Winner announced sometime on Friday.

For more on Heidi and her books, check out the sites below:

Heidi’s Website:  www.heidiayarbe.com

HarperCollins Website: www.harperteen.com

Heidi’s blog: http://heidiayarbe.blogspot.com/

IndieBound Link to COMPULSION: http://www.indiebound.org/hybrid?filter0=compulsion+by+heidi+ayarbe&x=0&y=0

NiFtY Author Caragh O’Brien

A few weeks ago, I read this excellent book. The first couple of chapters, though, were pure torture, and not for the reasons you might think. The eerie coincidences between the first chapter of this book, Birthmarked, and the first chapter of my own manuscript were so similar it was sickening. (To read my review, click here.)

After I got over my nausea, I really got into the story. Caragh O’Brien has crafted an excellent tale, and in the interview below, she’ll tell us a little about it, and a little about her writing in general.

Interview with Caragh M. O’Brien March 3, 2011

BH: We have a really exciting sequel to look forward to in November, but in the meantime, can you tell us a little bit about Birthmarked here (for those in our audience who haven’t already read my review)?

COB:  Sure.  Let me first say thanks, Beth, for inviting me by.  Your review made me laugh so much when I first read it.  I was completely drawn to your honesty and the awful coincidences between our books.  Birthmarked is the story of Gaia, a teen midwife who is compelled to “advance” babies into a privileged society within a walled city.  In a dystopian future after climate change, Gaia’s society is divided by the wall into haves and have-nots.  Justice is uncompromising, and Gaia spends much of the book trying to save her parents from the Enclave.  It’s a pretty dark, twisted, fun book.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

COB:  Starting when?  Ha.  The short version is that I wrote a lot, quit to become a teacher, started writing again because I couldn’t help it, and then wrote Birthmarked while I was on a leave of absence from teaching.  I sent out forty-five email queries to agents, received four offers of representation, and ended up with Kirby Kim of William Morris Endeavor.  He sent out the book, and a month later we had three offers.  The best was a three-book deal with Nancy Mercado at Roaring Brook, and I was delighted.

BH: When you wrote Birthmarked, did you plan to create a series?

COB:  No.  I thought Birthmarked was a stand-alone.  When Nan offered me a three-book deal, I discovered it was a trilogy.

BH: Your blog post about Birthmarked being translated and published in Spain is truly inspiring (click here to read it)—even more amazing is that you got to meet Eva Rubio, the woman whose blog and Facebook page started the fire. What can other writers learn from your experience here?

COB: It was such an unusual situation, and I was so fortunate to meet Eva and her friends in Salamanca.  It isn’t the sort of thing I could have ever prepared for.  I suppose it helped that I sometimes do a Google search for my book, and when reviews turn up in other languages, I’m willing to push that translate button to see what’s there.  As you know, I’ll sometimes write to express my thanks to a blogger who posts an outstanding review, and that follows for overseas bloggers, too.  I am genuinely grateful for the kind reviews Birthmarked has received.

BH: What other project ideas do you hope to pursue after the Birthmarked series is finished? (Um, not too many details please…although, what are the chances we’d have another duplicate Agnes birth scene?)

COB:  We are doomed to write identical books no matter what we do, Beth.  I’m pondering three different ideas, all YA, but they’re inchoate at this stage.  I need to finish up a solid draft of Book 3 before I can let my mind go play in a new place.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

Gerbils!

COB:  I have a MacBook on my lap.  Sometimes I sit on the plaid couch in the library where I can see the gerbils, and sometimes I sit on the brown couch in the living room where I can see the slope of the yard.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

COB:  I learned from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Other than that, I read a lot of fiction so really everything is a lesson in craft.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

COB:  I’ve been thinking about this lately, actually.  The most important writing advice I received was from Ed Epping, an Art teacher at Williams college, when he told me “Paint only what is interesting to you.”  It freed me.  It redefined what art was supposed to be.  I never again had to waste time on what I thought was unimportant, or if I did, I understood it was an assignment for someone else, not for me.  I can still do boring work for others if I must, but there’s no room for it in my own writing, ever.  On a practical writing level, this means I skip any sentence, paragraph, scene or book that doesn’t interest me.

Thanks again, Beth, for having me by, and good luck with your own writing.

BH: Caragh, thanks for visiting, and for laughing at the sad coincidences between our books. Now that I’m not throwing up about it anymore, I can laugh with you!

To visit Caragh’s website, click here. To check out Birthmarked on Amazon, click here.

First NiFtY Author Interview: Seven N. Blue

For my very first NiFtY (Not Famous…Yet!) Author Interview, I give you Seven N. Blue. I met Seven through the Sacramento Writer’s Group and we clicked immediately. Not only are we both highly intelligent, creative writer mamas, but we have written our young adult fantasy manuscripts in tandem. Seven has incredibly fascinating ideas as well as the ability to construct convincing and endearing characters. Without further introduction, here…she…is!

BH: Where do you get most of your ideas and inspiration?

SB: From music, music videos, and artwork. Sometimes video games.  I don’t really play them, but there are some gorgeous video games out there (Still Life, Silent Hill) those are two of my favorite aesthetically speaking – I played Silent Hill just to watch the scenery. And music.  I love music of almost any era. I consider music a time machine and a doorway to the imaginary world I spend a lot of time at.

BH: Do you have a set writing schedule, or are you more of a “when the mood hits” kind of girl?

SB: Must have a writing schedule. I have a toddler!

BH: Can you compare Myla, the main character in The Innocents, to anyone you know in real life?

SB: There is a little of me in Myla, but then again, there is a little of me in almost every character I write. I had an interesting teen life. I did things that, well, most teens would not.  Like getting married at 16, for example.

BH: Wow, 16! I never knew that about you. Are you willing to share anything about that?

SB: Yeah, it lasted 11 months! I was divorced  living on my own by the time I was seventeen.

BH: Can you share any details about your current WIP (work in progress)?

SB: Oohhh! That is top secret! At least right now!

BH: (Well, without spilling anything to the audience, I will whisper: I know a little bit about it, and trust me, it’s gonna be great.)

What does your writing workspace look like?

SB: This is funny.  Right now I am sort of “in the hallway” of life.  In “between places”.  My Red Dell Laptop on a very cluttered desk (the desk is not mine, but the laptop is!).

BH: You’ve just finished a young adult (YA) novel, and your WIP is a YA novel. Any plans to write for other age groups?

SB: I don’t know.  It’s hard to say. I feel like I will always be seventeen inside. Maybe I can do early twenties, like in five years…when I emotionally grow up!

BH: What is your favorite YA novel of all time?

SB: I am going to have to say two authors here, because they both blew me away.  Definitely The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. That book was amazing.  Not just the story line but how incredible Collins was at juxtaposing the feelings in her characters.  For example, the main character really liked her partner…a lot…he saved her life…but she had to kill him. I also love love love Holly Black and her bad girl protagonists.  Valiant is one of my favorite books ever because of her unforgettable characters like Sketchy Dave and Lollipop and a plot where injecting fairy dust can make mortals perform magic – think of the possibilities for story with that plot!

BH: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

SB: When I was six and my father raved about a short story I wrote.  I won every writing contest in elementary and junior high (I still have the trophies! Well, they’re in storage now while I am in the “hallway” of life).

BH: Are you currently seeking an agent’s representation? What are you looking for in an agent?

SB: I am looking for agent representation.  I just want a good agent who will do what they say, and I hope we both can have a lot of fun, be productive, and achieve our dreams together.

BH: What is the best advice anyone has given you with regards to your writing?

SB: Grow a thick skin, believe in your dreams and keep on writing.  Don’t wait for inspiration, sit your butt in the chair and believe in the process of writing. It will develop, the ideas will come and they will amaze you.

BH: You’ve always struck me as a very positive, upbeat person when it comes to your writing. I think all aspiring novelists can use a bit of the positive in their lives–any tips on how to keep the hope alive, even when the query rejections try to smother it?

SB: This is funny, I am there right now.  I think I have received about thirty rejections so far, along with some great feedback from the ABNA reviewers (The Innocents made it to the top 5% Quarterfinals for 2010) to alleviate the pain.  I also have a partial out right now and I am waiting for feedback.  My advice would be to realize that it is a power greater than yourself who is writing through you, and you must keep going.  You will be tested to see how badly you want it, and you must persevere.  It is all part of the process – growing a thick skin through rejection letters is what prepares us for when we are published and half the folks love us while the other half hates us.  I think rejections are all part of the process of becoming a professional published writer.  We all have to go through it and we should welcome them with open arms because all they is that we are that much closer to our dream agent, and our book deal.

BH: What is your experience like, balancing writing and motherhood?

SB: Wow.  Yeah, not easy.  I have a writing schedule I abide by.  I write no matter what during the allotted time.  When I am supposed to be spending time with my son, then I spend time with him wholeheartedly and not worry about my writing because I know I have a schedule.  A schedule is the only way I can function!

There you have them: wise words from my pal and critique “pardner” Seven. She might not be famous…YET, but with her talent and dedication, it won’t be long. Special thanks to Seven for being my very first interviewee!

On Seven’s website you can read everything from book reviews, to advice on writing, to musings about family and motherhood. And today, as an added bonus, she has interviewed me as well!