Wednesday, April 29, 2009

You Are What You Write

Meet today's guest, Danielle Thorne. She's author of the newly-released historical novel The Privateer, devoted wife, busy mom... and pirate?

I'll let you decide.

You Are What You Write
by Danielle Thorne

People look at me funny when they find out I write about pirates. When I start gushing about the British Navy or the Master and Commander series, they stare. Yes, out from behind the computer I’m a suburban housewife in a tee-shirt and Birkenstocks. I spend my free time zipping from Cub Scouts to Marching Band contests to swimming lessons. There are no exotic tattoos on my arms and I don’t keep a loud parrot under a sheet, but I am still a writer. I don’t just write what I know, more importantly, I write where I go. You know that place, the wormhole in your head that whisks you off to fantasyland the moment your fingers touch a keyboard?

It is a beautiful thing to be able to take someone on a trip with you--through time, across the horizon, or maybe into another universe. To be able to do this through the pages of a book is a release that no other person could understand unless he’s ever used the words “The End.” Whether it’s a painting, a scrapbook, a landscaped garden, or ten page short story, we are wired with what I believe is a sacred desire to create.

Isn’t it interesting to see interviews with the authors who have written your favorite books? You view them as a relative of this world that only you know in your heart. You wonder how much they are like their characters, what drives them to delve into this trait, or that experience. You wonder if their art is a reflection of who they are inside?

I’ve always believed that no matter how contrived a story is, throughout the stages of planning and plotting, we all release a piece of ourselves into our manuscripts. A confession, if you will, that in these pages are something we have always wanted to do, or have needed to reveal. So what if I did not really live two hundred years ago and never furled the sheets from a crosstree (sailor talk for taking in the sails from wayyyyy up high), in my secret place where I travel to for my own adventures, I certainly have done so and that qualifies me to write about it. The only essential ingredient to any story in my opinion is imagination.

In 1729, diamonds were discovered in Brazil.. The reign of piracy is over in the Caribbean, or so it’s believed. Despite the cover-up, Captain Julius Bertrand begins to hear whispers. The Spanish guardacostas are dumping log books, and a new French pirate is on the prowl. Distracted by an avaricious woman he could never love, and the beautiful Kate O’Connell who doesn’t need him, he tries to untangle the web of mysterious cargo someone in the New World wants kept secret. When Bertrand’s pirating past returns with the explosive force of a sweeping broadside, he finds he must sacrifice everything his respectable life has brought him, in order to save what matters most.

Such is the background for my novel, THE PRIVATEER. Where on earth did a Jane the Soccer Mom ever get such an idea? I’ve been there. I went, I saw, I conquered, and then I wrote about it. Was there any research? Months. Work? Uh, years. Did I leave a part of myself in the story? You bet I did.

Pirates were rebels who stood up against the establishment. They did all that and survived a brutal life at sea. I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. I never rebelled. It took me nineteen years to find the ocean. I could not take it with me, but I could not let it go. Every day when I climb out of bed, my feet hit the floor and I yearn for sand. There is a part of me that should have been a pirate. There is a hunger in me to live with the Caribbean surf banging at my door.

So look twice next time you meet an author. Think twice next time your creative juices start to flow. We are so much more than words, paper, and postage stamps. We are what we write, and that means something.

Thank you so much, Danielle! It was great to have you here today. Your thoughts are inspiring! It's finding that truth inside ourselves--pirate or not!--that makes our fiction so believable.
If you'd like to learn more about Danielle, The Privateer or her other new release, Turtle Soup, visit her website or blog.
We wish you much success, Danielle! And come back to see us anytime.

Monday, April 27, 2009

8 Is Enough

Who remembers that show from the 80s? I loved it! Watched it with my mom and sister every week, if I remember correctly.

Anyway, today's post is intended to ease into the week. Capri K did this meme a few days ago, and I thought it'd be fun to play along. Join in, if you like!

And come back Wednesday, when I'll have a guest post from new author Danielle Thorne. Until then...

8 Things I Look Forward To

1) spending time with some girlfriends
2) seeing my sister
3) getting the (currently gutted) main bathroom's remodel completed
4) the end of school, so my girls and I can sleep in and spend our days playing
5) (not to rush it, but...) fall, when both my girls will be in school, and I'll have some allotted time to myself
6) garage sale season!
7) the chance to query Bliss Lake again
8) meeting more writing buddies

8 Things I Did Yesterday

1) napped
2) rested
3) took it easy
4) missed church
5) drank chai
6) caught up on e-mails
7) worked on Bliss Lake
8) ate shrimp

8 Things I Wish I Could Do

1) find a cure for pain (any and all)
2) shop
3) hire a maid
4) go to a writers' conference this summer
5) see 17 Again
6) spend a few hours at Barnes & Noble
7) dig my toes in a sandy beach
8) be at ease around people, all the time

8 Shows I Watch

1. Castle, my new favoritest show ever! I make time to watch this.

These I love, but can rarely catch...

2) American Idol
3) The Office
4) Law & Order SVU
5) Law & Order CI
6) CSI: Vegas
7) Family Guy (best references to pop culture EVER)
8) SNL

Wow! That was harder than I thought it would be. See if you can do it!

And thanks for your thoughts and well-wishes yesterday. I appreciate your concerns, and I do feel much better.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

When The Pain Comes

It's like I'm scattered to the wind. Blowing this way and that, nary a grounding thought or still moment to hold as mine.

Or maybe that's just what I want; to rise up away from the misery, climb on the wind and separate, so the pain can't pin me down.

Friday, April 24, 2009

[F]oto Friday

Have you ever seen a photo of yourself and been reminded of someone, a family member, you don't see upon looking in the mirror? It's not so blatant a resemblance, just something subtle captured by the still shot?

That's what's happened with my new profile picture, here on this blog. When I see it? The curve of my chin, the set of my jaw, reminds me of my uncle Rob's face. And that's a bittersweet thing.

We lost him to the waters of the Missouri River in Nebraska, almost nine years ago. It was a fishing accident; one begun with strong currents, ended with fatal undertows.

He was twenty-seven when he died. Three years younger than I am now. There's a lot he didn't get to see, experience, do.

But that picture, where I sit summoning his memory, reminds me of all he did do, of all he was. Makes me think of what he could have been. And my heart sags just a little bit.

Amazing what a mere [F]oto can do.

RIP Robert Elledge

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pole Dancing

Actually, it's poll. And I'm not doing any dancing, thank you very much. But how else was I supposed to get your attention, to tell you our poll has officially closed? (Put your dollar bills away, for goodness' sake.)

Last week I asked your opinions on when a writer should launch their professional author website. In case you missed the rollicking good fun (which I've removed to set my format back to rights), the choices were as follows:

*At the very beginning, regardless of published credits (or lack thereof). What better way to spread their name and their words?

*Once they’ve written a book or two, and know what direction they’re headed.

*When they’ve acquired agent representation.

*If they’ve sold or published one or more books.

*They already have a blog. That's good enough for me.

*Whenever they durn-well please.

I have to say, I'm surprised by the results. I really expected to see numbers in favor of agented and/or published writers, but found the two most popular answers to be at the very beginning and whenever they durn-well please (with the latter taking the cake). And I think that's wonderful! It says to me that writers, no matter their stages or goals, will garner your respect and support. How encouraging!

How do you feel about the results?

ETA: Some of you have asked about my own plans for a website. While I like the idea of getting one going and having an exciting new outlet, I'm not ready quite yet. I'll keep you posted!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gut Reaction

When my kids, individually or together, encounter a snafu, small or large, my first instinct is to swoop in and diffuse any upset or conflict. I like to kiss boo-boos, make them comfortable and ease their troubles.

The same is true with my fictional characters. At the first hint of distress, I rush in to smooth things out and fit them into a hunky-dory box. My mind likes things tied up neat and pretty, I guess.

And where does this get me? In a boring boat without the slightest movement. (Think about that, for just a half-second.)

How are my kids going to learn their way through life if I make every little thing easier for them? How will they learn conflict resolution or problem-solving skills, if I don't give them the chance to test themselves?

How will my characters create the right friction? How will their stories evolve into enough intrigue and emotion, if I don't let things play out at their worst on the page?

I'm learning.

With my kids, I'll sit back a little more often and let them try to figure things out. It's hard for this mom, but it's necessary.

With my characters, I'm working to create more depth and issue, raising the stakes, as Donald Maass tells us to do in Writing the Breakout Novel. Sure, it's more work for this writer. But it's necessary.

It'll be better for all of us, real or imagined.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finding Bliss Once Again

I haven't posted about Bliss Lake in a long while. It needed a break. I needed a break from it.

It's the novel (women's fiction) I finished writing last spring. I spent a few months editing, and began my agent search midway through summer. Didn't get a single bite, though I had 17 rejections (and so many more in the no response at all category). A buddy who knew BL's premise suggested I submit outright to Avalon Books, a NYC publishing house who works directly with writers (meaning no agent is needed).

I nearly floated away when they requested the full manuscript, after a few mere days. My thoughts and prayers and days revolved around the fact that those editors held my future in their hands.

And I cried when they turned it down in December.

I considered my options - to continue or give it a rest? - and pushed it aside, welcoming the distance. I started something new (the current WIP), planning to revisit BL in the future.

Last week when I met writing buddies in Florida (Terri, Jessica and Kristin), I mentioned Bliss Lake, even if briefly. Some advice they gave, some exchanges we had, turned my thoughts to the manuscript once again, and as my family's journey home allowed ample time to brainstorm, the ideas started flowing.

New dimensions popped out left and right; I saw potential ways to widen the plot, expand the premise and broaden the word count (which, if I'm to be honest with myself, is important if I want representation - it's only 50k words as is).

I handwrote all that flowed from me (and I never do that!), and have been working on it night and day (literally) since we've been home. I've found the right voice, the right depth, and what I hope is the perfect combination needed to make Bliss Lake sellable.

While I won't update my word count side bar until I'm totally done with this revamping, you'll not see When I Turned 30 increase, either. For now, it takes the back burner. And when Bliss Lake is ready to query again, I'll pick up with 30. Maybe it'll take off the same way.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

[F]oto Friday

I promised vacation photos. And since we spent the larger amount of time in Florida with extended family, I thought I could introduce you. With photos. So, it's a twofer today.

First, the family's patriarch. He's powerful and strong, and oh, how we love and revere him.

Here's Grandma. As always, busy as a hungry bird, making sure everyone is happy... and that they clean up after themselves.

Unfortunately, Uncle Ed couldn't make it to the reunion. Though he did send a picture to show us what it's like behind bars. He won't make a get-together for another 3 to 5.

A couple of the aunts [zebras... shh... it's a family secret] shied away, pretty much sticking to themselves during festivities. I think they get tired of the whispers.

You should have seen how many cousins flocked to the picnic!

And, last but not least... We're so bad about getting photos of the four of us. Even in this shot, I'm behind the camera. Misterwrites and the girls decided to go swimming, and I snagged a picture. Aren't they just stinkin' cute? (The extra little one you see is a cousin who tagged along on many of our adventures.)

And so that's it! Hope you enjoyed the look at our vacation. ;) We had an absolute blast.

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt

I'm so pleased to welcome Wendy Burt to Something She Wrote! She's the author of over 1000 published pieces and three books, the most recent of which is The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters.

Today she shares some great tips about query writing, her new book and more. This is important stuff for writers, and she's so great to share her knowledge.

Be sure to leave any questions you may have for her in the comments section; she plans to stop by and interact!

1. Can you tell us about your book?

The book was a great fit for me because I’d been teaching “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” for about eight years. In the workshop, I covered a lot of what is in this book: writing query letters to get articles in magazines, to land an agent, or to get a book deal with a publisher. Since I’m a full-time freelance magazine writer and editor with two previous books, this was incredibly fun to write because it didn’t require tons of research. I was lucky enough to receive lots of great sample query letters from writers and authors that I use as “good” examples in the book. I wrote all the “bad” examples myself because I didn’t dare ask for contributions that I knew I’d be ripping apart!

In addition to the ins and outs of what makes a good query, the book covers things like why (or why not) to get an agent, where to find one and how to choose one; writing a synopsis or proposal; selling different rights to your work; other forms of correspondence; and what editors and agents look for in new writers.

It was really important to me that the book not be a dry, boring reference book, but rather an entertaining read (while still being chock full of information). I was thrilled that Writer’s Digest let me keep all the humor.

2. Why are query letters so important?

Breaking into the publishing world is hard enough right now. Unless you have a serious “in” of some kind, you really need a great query letter to impress an agent or acquisitions editor. Essentially, your query letter is your first impression. If they like your idea (and voice and writing style and background), they’ll either request a proposal, sample chapters, or the entire manuscript. If they don’t like your query letter, you’ve got to pitch it to another agency/publisher. Unlike a manuscript, which can be edited or reworked if an editor thinks it has promise, you only get one shot with your query. Make it count!

I see a lot of authors who spend months (or years) finishing their book, only to rush through the process of crafting a good, solid query letter. What a waste! If agents/editors turn you down based on a bad query letter, you’ve blown your chance of getting them to read your manuscript. It could be the next bestseller, but they’ll never see it. My advice is to put as much effort into your query as you did your book. If it’s not fabulous, don’t send it until it is.

3. You’re also a magazine editor. What is your biggest gripe regarding queries?

Queries that show that the writer obviously hasn’t read our publication. I’ll admit that I did this when I was a new writer too – submitted blindly to any publication whose name sounded even remotely related to my topic. One of the examples I use was when I submitted a parenting article to a magazine for senior citizens. Oops! A well-written query pitching an article that’s not a match for the magazine isn’t going to get you any further than a poorly written query.

4. There’s an entire chapter in the book about agents. Do you think all new writers should get agents?

Probably 99% of new writers should get an agent. There are lots of reasons, but my top three are: 1) Many of the larger publishing houses won’t even look at unagented submissions now; 2) Agents can negotiate better rights and more money on your behalf; 3) Agents know the industry trends, changes and staff better than you ever could.

5. You’ve been a mentor, coach or editor for many writers. What do you think is the most common reason that good writers don’t get published?

Poor marketing skills. I see so many writers that are either too afraid, too uniformed, or frankly, too lazy, to market their work. They think their job is done when the write “the end” but writing is only half of the process. I’ve always told people who took my class that there are tons of great writers in the world who will never get published. I’d rather be a good writer who eats lobster than a great writer who eats hot dogs. I make a living as a writer because I spend as much time marketing as I do writing.

6. What are some of the biggest misconceptions that writers have about getting a book deal?

That they’ll be rich overnight, that they don’t need to promote their book once it’s published, that publishing houses will send them on world book tours, that people will recognize them at the airport. Still, you can make great money as an author if you’re prepared to put in the effort. If it wasn’t possible, there wouldn’t be so many full-time writers.

7. What must-read books do you recommend to new writers?

Christina Katz (author of “Writer Mama”) has a new book out called “Get Known Before the Book Deal” - which is fabulous. Also, Stephen King’s “On Writing” and David Morrell’s “Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing.” Anything by Anne Lamott or my dad, Steve Burt.

8. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a full-time writer?

Seize every opportunity - especially when you first start writing. I remember telling someone about a really high-paying writing gig I got and he said, “Wow. You have the best luck!” I thought, “Luck has nothing to do with it! I’ve worked hard to get where I am.” Later that week I read this great quote: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” It’s absolutely true. And writing queries is only about luck in this sense. If you’re prepared with a good query and/or manuscript, when the opportunity comes along you’ll be successful.

9. What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Writing the “bad” query letters. I’ve read – and written! – so many horrible ones over the years that it was a little too easy to craft them. But misery loves company and we ALL love to read really bad query letters, right?

10. What do you want readers to learn from your book?

I want them to understand that while writing a good query letter is important, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can break it down into parts, learn from any first-round rejections, and read other good queries to help understand what works. I also want them to remember that writing is fun. Sometimes new writers get so caught up in the procedures that they lose their original voice in a query. Don’t bury your style under formalities and to-the-letter formatting.

Wendy, thanks so much for contacting me. It was an honor to have you here today, and you're quite an inspiration. Best to you with all your endeavors!

You can visit Wendy at her blog, Ask Wendy, or find out more about The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters and other works here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

It's so good to be back!

While there is much on my to-do list, I plan to take some time visiting your blogs later. If there's something specific I missed that you think relevant (or just plain cool), point me that direction, wouldja?

For today, while I settle in and catch up at home, I ask that you answer the poll question I posted yonder. I'm curious about your thoughts on what, if any, is the "right time" for a writer to launch their author site. And why? Tell me even if you're not a writer yourself. What do you expect from the writers you read, or from those whose careers you follow? Leave any extra thoughts in the comments section.

Hope everyone's having a great week!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

All Good Things...

We've all heard it.

All good things must come to an end.

And as I sit here exhausted, sunburned and content, it's a most apt description regarding our vacation. Tomorrow we load up and head out: We'll wind our way back to the Midwest, toward home and our semblance of normalcy.

As ready as I am to return, I'm sad the trip, and all the excitement, is over. No more anticipation. But it's been an amazing week. We've visited family members from both my side and misterwrites'. We've seen sights and found adventure and, most importantly, been with people we love and filed away grand memories.

So I think I'll rephrase that old saying. Today I say All good things will live on, in memory, in mind.

How would you finish the sentence?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What Day Is It? (Just Checking In)

Where to start?

I've ridden on a river boat, seen some of my extended family as I partook of tasty niblets at a fish fry, heard a cousin's Sunday sermon, and outrun a cold front to Tennessee. Descended deep into a cave, where I saw a beautiful waterfall, and got my jacket all muddy. Saw a 3-year-old girl (not mine) get her first ever (!) ice cream cone. Petted a clawed creature at a Red Lobster in Georgia, and frozen my tukus in Florida (where the aforementioned cold front found us). Gotten too little sleep, eaten too much junk, walked too many miles. I've seen Shamu's bottom, and handfuls of other creatures, including people wearing bikinis when they shouldn't, and asked an Irishman where my husband can buy that accent. I've worn a big floppy sun hat three days in a row, and thrown up in a Denny's bathroom. I met two writing buddies and made a new one, and have dreamed of ways I'll tie any or all of this into my writing.

And we still have three days left.

How's your week been?

I really miss everyone. I hope you're well, and look forward to getting back to the everyday routine. I'll have pictures to share, as well as some new insights, and will also post an interview with author Wendy Burt, who contacted me about her new book, The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters (January 2009, Writer's Digest Books).

Stay tuned, bloggy buddies!

Friday, April 3, 2009

[F]oto Friday

This is our family last year in Florida, riding the train at Disney World. Though we're foregoing DW in favor of Sea World and Busch Gardens this year, I know we'll collect just as many special memories as we did then. And I can't wait!

My blogging may be touch-and-go over the next week and a half, as I'm sure you would expect, and I'll miss you! You guys are such an integral part of my days.

Hope all is well for each of you, and may you have a blessed week and Easter.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Janna's Journal

Dear Journal,

Lots of things are going through my head right now, foremost that my toes are cold. Perhaps I should get socks? The day turned chillier than I expected.

It's been a busy week, with just half gone. I've been laundering and straightening, making lists and running errands, all in preparation of our up-and-coming family vacation (we leave Saturday). We're going to Florida! We try to go once a year, for fun and escape (and theme parks!), and to see misterwrites' family. This year's timing couldn't be more perfect, as winter weather seems to have hooked its claw into our part of the country, as yet unwilling to be swept away by spring. (See cold toes comment above.)

I'm secretly hoping my bloggy buddies will somehow learn of this trip, because quite a few live in Florida. (And we're driving from the Midwest, so others are dotted along the way, I'm sure.) Wouldn't it be grand if time and location worked in such a way that coffee and a meeting could be had? Maybe I should post about it. Maybe someone will e-mail me, and plans can be made...

In other blogging news, dear journal, I seem to lose a wayward follower now and again, and am very saddened, until a few days later when they magically reappear. What gives?

I do suppose that's all for now, for there's more to be done!