Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Inspiration from the world around you

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent a beautiful weekend in lovely Coshocton, OH attending the Write-on Writers Conference. Beginning today, I'll share a few things I learned at the conference along with tips and excerpts from my own workshop.

I attended a workshop about finding inspiration in the world around you. People always ask me what inspires me or how I find inspiration. For me, that is the easiest, and most enjoyable, part of writing. Most writers are inspired by things the rest of the world doesn't even notice. I believe that's one of the things that make writers such unique individuals.

The workshop touched on several exercises writers can do to find inspiration around them. These exercises aren't just for writers who dream of publication, but can be used by bloggers or in your daily journaling. (I have noticed that all too often my journals turn into a place to gripe and complain about whoever wronged me that week. Since this is not the outcome I desire in personal journaling, it helps to have an exercise to prompt positive meditation--for lack of a better word--and not focus on the rotten things that happened to me.)

The first exercise was to find inspiration in who you are. I always say, write what you know because you know more than you think. This exercise proves that you are an individual and your writing will be too. What are your personality traits? Name as many as you can without sanitizing them for the world.

Exercise=Write a recipe for your personality.

What are your strengths? Write what you can accomplish by utilizing your greatest strength.

What are your weaknesses? Write what you could accomplish if you were not hindered by this weakness.

I received a newsletter from Debbie Macomber this week about her new book, Twenty Wishes. In the book, four women decide to make a list of twenty things they always wanted to do but never have. What a fun premise for a book, and what a fun exercise to try yourself.

What does your list reveal about you? How can you use what you learn in your writing? Try it and see if you discover something you didn't realize before.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Write-on Writers Conference

Spent this weekend driving through beautiful Ohio to attend the Write-on Writers Conference in Coshocton. We couldn't have asked for a more glorious weekend to take a road trip. The crabapple trees, dogwoods, and Japanese cherry trees were in full bloom. The sun illuminated the distant fields, banishing any predictions of rain we had been warned of all week.

Friday afternoon my husband and I only had time for a short visit to Roscoe Village in Coshocton. If you haven't visited, I highly recommend it. With soaring gas prices putting a damper on vacation plans, a short road trip is the way to go. We also cruised past the Longaberger factory on Highway 16 in Dresden on our way home. It was early evening on a Saturday so, again, no time for a visit or tour, but definitely something to look forward to on the next trip.

Besides the drive and the beautiful weather and the panoramic view spread out before us of Creation in all its splendor, we had a wonderful time at the conference. My workshop, YOU CAN WRITE A NOVEL, was well received. It managed to inspire even me. I am amazed that just by talking to people excited about writing gets me stirred up all over again by the process.

The coordinator Sharon Mooney, and her staff were wonderful and had thought of everything to make my stay and presentation a success and fun for everyone. Our keynote speaker for the day was Dandi Daley Mackell, a prolific writer from northern Ohio. If you've never heard Dandi speak, definitely make it a priority should the opportunity ever arise. She is funny and inspiring, not to mention a fount of information. With over 400 books under her belt, we can all learn something from her.

Interesting questions and feedback, lovely people, good food, and a beautiful drive. What better way could a writer spend the weekend? I'm beginning to think small conferences are the way to go. They sure are fun, not to mention all the information there for the taking at an affordable price.

Stay tuned for some of the tips and information I picked up at the conference.
Happy Writing!

Friday, April 25, 2008

American Idol

Yesterday I followed a news link from my Yahoo homepage, thinking I was going to read a news article. Instead I ended up on an American Idol blog. I skimmed through the blog, which was a recap of the last AI episode. Can you believe the blog had received 332 comments?

If 332 readers had commented, how many had actually read the blog? How in the world does a blogger end up with that kind of traffic? I suppose the first thing you can do is post material people want to read. Apparently more people are interested in AI than in garnering any amount of wisdom I may have to share on this blog.

I recently read an article on blogging in the Wall Street Journal. It is a wonderfully inexpensive way for small businesses with even smaller marketing budgets to attract attention. The article said to do what you probably already know to do: Link to as many other sites and blogs as you can. Keep your material fresh and timely. Target your audience. Contribute to conversation on relevant blogs. Not only with other bloggers notice your participation, so will their readers. Be creative. Most importantly, be willing to invest time and energy in the process.

Blogging has turned into a huge market that is glutted with not-so-interesting stuff. If you want to stand out, you must build an online presence.

I'm on my way to a writers' conference this afternoon in Coshocton, Ohio, and hope to find more ways to network with readers and other writers. I'll be sure to share all the wisdom I bring home.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book deals come easy for Hannah Montana

Book deals come easy when you're famous. 15-year-old Miley Cyrus, possibly better known as Disney Channel's Hannah Montana, has just signed a book deal for a her first book to be released next Spring.


How long, dear writer, did you languish in virtual anonymity before you received a contract--if it's even happened yet--and upon it's release how long were you at the top of the bestseller lists, interviewed on national TV, and endured book signings that lasted into the wee hours of the night with clamoring readers camped out in front of stores.

Me neither.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against young Miley. I think she's darling. When she won an award on the Kids' Choice award, also on Disney, she attributed her success to her faith in Christ. That wasn't the first time I've heard her mention her faith. My granddaughter is absolutely mad about her, and I think she's one of the few positive role models for young girls who put entirely too much stock in these things. (Every night I pray she stays true to her faith.)

But I digress. If you are reading this you probably haven't acheived the success of Miley Cyrus. So what can an unknown writer who managed to stand out in a slush pile long enough to get the elusive book deal, do to get noticed?

1. You better have written an outstanding book. You don't have looks or fame or notoriety, or tons of money to put behind a book tour, so your book better be awesome.

2. It helps if you have a top publisher behind you, shelling out money to give your displays top spots in the stores. Without those, you'll languish on the shelf while crowds buy the crap out of Joyce Meyers and Mary Higgins Clark's latest.

3. Have you starred on Broadway? Served time for a heinous crime? If not, you need to do something to attract attention. Find a hook from your book that relates to a current event. This works better with nonfiction. I'm still trying to come up with something for my plain old fiction.

4. Get over yourself. Dreadfully shy, I had to learn to get up in front of people and speak. I started out talking on the local level to my neighbors about how little old me got a book published with a royalty publisher. I have since progressed to speaking at writers' conferences and events. Gotta say it's more fun than I ever imagined.

Find what works for you and run with it. And try not to take it personally if your next book is released the same week as Hannah Montana's and no one pays attention.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What not to do when you should be writing

I spent more time in the last week or two preparing for the upcoming Write-on Writers Conference in Coshocton, OH than I did writing. Balancing writing and all the other things that come with being a published author is probably the hardest part of this business. I knew going in most of the marketing and networking would be up to me. Writing a book is only the tip of the iceberg if you don't have a famous name to put on the cover or if you want to reach more readers than just your mother.

Speaking still makes me nervous, but I've found it's one of the perks of this job. I love sharing with people about the writing life, and more importantly, what I've learned on my journey. And isn't it fun to talk about your passion?

Encouraging and motivating new writers is a great way to spend a weekend. Many readers of this blog are aspiring writers who I hope I have encouraged in some way on your personal journey. Before the next week begins and we all try to squeeze writing time between all the other tasks that need doing, I want to leave you with a list of what not to do when sitting down to write.

1. Don't check your email.
2. Don't log in to your writers' groups to see what everyone else is doing.
3. Don't update your computer files.
4. Don't update your contacts list.
5. Don't turn on the television and call it research.
6. Don't answer the phone. (It's a telemarketer anyway.)
7. Don't walk the dog.
8. Don't change the litterbox.
9. Don't imagine what you'd look like as a redhead.
10. Don't run to the store to pick up the latest shade of Spicy Chestnut.
11. Don't start a grocery list.
12. Don't wash the dishes.
13. Don't straighten your desk.
14. Don't take out the trash.
15. Don't sort through your TBR list for inspiration.
16. Don't wonder what you'll wear to your next book signing.
17. Don't wonder if anyone will come to your next book signing.
18. Don't Google yourself or your book title.
19. Don't stress over all the time you've already wasted.
And the last thing not to do when you should be writing-----Don't think of 20 more things to add to this list.

Have a blessed and productive week.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Write-on Writers Conference

Next week I am teaching a workshop at the Write-On Writers Conference in Coshocton, OH called YOU CAN WRITE A NOVEL. If you happen to be in the central Ohio area, it isn't too late to sign up. Cost is only $45 for this one day conference. Classes besides mine include poetry--free and form--self-publishing, children's writing and nonfiction. Come to be inspired.

Preparing for the conference has given my own creativity a shot in the arm. Sitting behind the computer all day can sometimes make a reader wonder if anyone is out there and if anyone cares about what we write.

I have a dry erase board in my office for jotting down ideas and brainstorming among other things. When my grandkids visit, the board is used for hangman and a slew of other projects. The other night while I was fixing dinner, my two-year-old grandson was in my office working on his own writing project. He kept yelling at me, "Nana, I writin' sum'pin. Nana, I writin' sum'pin."

Each exclamation got louder and more insistent. Finally I had to break away from dinner to find out what all the hubbub was about. I found him standing on a stool in front of my dry erase board doodling all over the place, and wanting someone to pay attention. He would make a little scribble, point to it, and tell me what he had written. He was having a blast creating his masterpiece and I had a pretty good time watching.

Sometimes I can relate to Kasey's frustration. I sit in front of my computer, working on a masterpiece that may or may not be a masterpiece to anyone but me, and wonder if anyone is out there. Does anyone care? No one is paying attention to all the labor I've put into my work.

I'm not two-years-old so I can't get away with stomping my feet and demanding attention. But sometimes that's exactly what I want to do.

"Someone look at me. Pay attention to me. Read what I've put so much work into."

Since that isn't going to happen, I need to attract attention some other way. My work is going to have to do my shouting for me. I will keep learning and growing in my craft. I'll work on killer openings, strong storylines, cliffhangers, and satisfying endings. Hopefully it will be enough to draw the masses who didn't hear me crying into my pillow, "Look at me! I'm writin' sum'pin."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sanctuary--Award of Excellence

SANCTUARY, the latest book by Molly Noble Bull, bestselling author of The Rogue's Daughter and The Winter Pearl, was awarded the 2008 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence in the Inspirational category at an awards dinner on April 12th in Florida. The contest was sponsored by the Southern Magic chapter of Romance Writers of America in Burmingham, Alabama.

Along with the winners in the other categories, the cover of SANCTUARY will appear in a full page ad in the August issue of the RWR, the national magazine of Romance Writers of America.

SANCTUARY was published in September 2007 in trade paperback by Tsaba House. Sanctuary is a fast-paced Christian novel and the first in the Faith of Our Fathers series about the Huguenots. With danger and persecution lurking at every turn, the characters in Sanctuary leave France and finally settle in Scotland. In Book Two, the family leaves Scotland and travels to the state of South Carolina amidst more troubles and hardships every step of the way. Readers who liked The Winter Pearl, Molly's Steeple Hill trade paperback, will also enjoy Sanctuary--and learn a little history besides.

Click here to read an excerpt from SANCTUARY

Congratulations, Molly. You deserve this award.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Applying Wisdom to writing

You may remember I joined a group called Spark People earlier this year. If your body has become sedentary once becoming a fulltime writer the way mine did, you may want to hop over there and check it out. I am having a lot of fun and have even managed to lose 11 pounds so far. Wow. That's a lot for me since I've never lost more than 5-6 before I got bored with a program and gave up.

Spark People is a wealth of encouragement, motivation, and wisdom gleaned from years of people just like you and me who want to live longer, healthier lives. What I've realized after reading countless articles is that most of them can be conveyed to writing.

Today I read a motivational article that said your likelihood of success in losing weight is to share your vision with others. Find a support team and keep in close contact with them.

Hmm. Much like writing.

Other articles stress the importance of not expecting amazing results in a short amount of time. At Spark People, you are in it for the long haul. This is a lifestyle change, not a lose weight quick scheme.

Again, just like writing. Success in writing seldom if ever, comes quickly. And it sure doesn't come easily. If you want to write the next great American novel or make a living selling articles to national magazines, you dig in your heels and plan to work hard for results.

Nearly every motivational or fitness article I read at Spark People also motivates and inspires me in the pursuit of writing success. Inspiration and motivation can be found almost anywhere if you are willing to look and think of how to apply it to your writing. Nearly every Sunday, my pastor encourages me in much the same way, though he seldom realizes it.

This morning's sermon was on the fig tree in Matthew chapter 21. As I'm sure you know, the fig tree was cursed because it didn't produce fruit. Bam. Right back to my writing. We all have a calling and a purpose for being on this planet right this very minute. I happen to believe my calling is writing. Am I fulfilling that purpose? Am I doing what God wants me to do with the gifts he's given me, or have I hidden my talents in the ground?

What about you? Be encouraged today. Find motivation and inspiration everywhere you look. Whatever you goals and aspirations, God wants you to succeed to his glory.

Have a blessed and productive week.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sarah's Wish

The following is an interview with author Jim Baumgardner. Jim lives near the old Chisholm Trail that ran from the Red River to Wichita, KS. The city is one of the original cow towns of the old west. Jim helps keep that history alive by volunteering at the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita. Enjoy the interview and getting to know Jim.

Jim, what can you tell us about your debut novel Sarah’s Wish?

Twelve year old Sarah Smith is the star. She’s a likeable protagonist, a girl with grit, a young lady with steel in her backbone. She loves people, hates injustice, and fights for the underdogs—who are the runaway slaves in the Sarah books.
In chapter one her mother dies and suddenly the responsibility of moving the runaways along the Underground Railroad rests upon her shoulders; at least she thinks so. Sarah’s Wish tells of her quest for a family while ever mindful of her duties as a conductor and agent on the railway.

I noticed you dedicated Sarah's Wish to your grandchildren.

I wrote it for them. I want them to know about history and where we as a people have been. I hope they learn that although the United States allowed the curse of slavery to imprison a race of people in body and mind, yet that same nation finally rose up to defeat those who were intent on keeping the status quo. Sarah’s Wish introduces them to the institution of slavery and sheds some light on those who opposed it. The defeat will come later in the Sarah books.

Why write fiction? If you have something to teach why not write non fiction?

When I was a kid I didn’t like to be lectured, but I loved stories. If the stories taught me history and more; like how to live a better life, so much the better. The heroes gave me confidence and I sorely needed it. I was the poster child for the inferiority complex. Through fiction I could be the hero. I could put myself in the place of the Hardy Boys or even a girl like Nancy Drew. I grew up in what I like to term the “golden age of cowboy movies”. The good guy wore the white hat and rode the white horse. The bad guy wore the black hat and rode the dark horse. There were distinct differences between good and evil. The good guy sometimes came out on the short end of the stick, was beaten up, tied up, and left for dead; but in the end he won—good won. Kids liked it, and they still like it. The hero will have pain along the way, they know it. But, in the end it is always satisfying to know Sarah will be left standing and her enemies will be beaten. So, I said all that to say this: stories bring the facts of any history book to life. Non fiction has its place, and I love to read American history, but telling the facts within the framework of historical fiction brings in to life.

What are your all-time favorite books?

I am all over the place when it comes to books. Non-fiction: A History of US by Joy Hakim. I believe it’s written for middle school kids. The books have basic facts about United States history which makes them easy to read. The Search For The Ancient Order by Earl West deals with the church restoration movement of the 19th Century. The Power of Positive Thinking and The Power of Positive Living by Norman Vincent Peale; How To Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie; and The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz; all self-improvement books that have helped me work on my inferiority complex.
Fiction: A religious novel, The Fool of God by Louis Cochran, and all of the Louis Lamour and Zane Grey westerns. I haven’t read them all yet, which gives me something to look forward to.

What quote or personal saying do you live by? Who said it?

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Believe in yourself.” Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes.”

What is your all-time favorite movie?

It has to be High Noon, staring Gary Cooper. It’s the good guy against overwhelming odds, and time is running out. Tex Ritter sings “Do not forsake me oh my darling...” as the heartbreaking loss of a woman seems inevitable. Friends won’t lend a hand, a boy too young wants to help, and tension mounts while Gary writes out his Last Will and Testament, then confirms he has ice water in his veins by stepping out alone to meet four killers. Unexpectedly in the final scenes he receives help from...oops, can’t give that away. High Noon is one of those Westerns from the Golden Age.

Dr. Baum is based on your great, great grandfather. Do any other characters come from real life?

Granny Evans is a composite of my granny, her sister Emma, and a couple of others I keep to myself. She is fun to write.

Did you or do you have a mentor? How have they influenced your work?

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Wallis, liked to tell stories. She also required the students to check out books from our little school library. This is when I learned to love a series. My favorites were the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Bobbsey Twins. Mrs. Wallis was old, at least I thought so. Her father was 99 when he died during our school year. He was born before the Civil War and she had told us stories of his life. We were all sad when told that she would not be at school for a few days because of his death.

My dad and grandpa told stories, also. I learned the value of exaggeration and humor from them.

As far as writing, I have never had a mentor. If you want to write, my advice is to read good writing. Notice how the author constructs sentences, describes characters, grabs your attention, keeps you turning pages, and various other writing techniques. Read what authors have to say about writing. Then write and rewrite. It’s like a lot of things, the more you practice the easier it gets.

Describe the feeling of holding your first book and realizing you had finally been published. What was it like?

I do remember pulling the book from the box and looking at it, but after many months of editing, reading, and re-reading the book, it wasn’t really that exciting. The best of feelings was seeing people standing in line to get my autograph on their book. They were actually paying money to buy and read my story. It was an exhilarating and humbling experience, all at the same time. Imagine, writing on paper the stories rolling around in my head, and then—shaa-zam! People actually pay money to read it. What a deal!

More personal info about Jim:
Although Jim’s roots sink deep into Kansas, his family’s early beginnings were in Western Ohio where his great, great grandparents, John and Elizabeth were married in 1856. In 1879 their son, John Jr., left Ohio for the life of a Kansas ranch hand and cowboy. John Jr.’s son, James, after whom the author is named, followed the same course by working the land and raising cattle. Commenting on the Baumgardners Jim stated: “I’m proud of my German heritage and the work ethic passed on to me by my father and grandfathers. I come from a long line of storytellers, and it has always been fun trying to figure where the truth left off and the fiction began.”

Around age ten Jim began writing poems and songs. After reading some of Jim’s work, his father encouraged him to continue his writing. At nineteen he had his first article printed in a magazine. Forty years later at age fifty-nine his first novel, Sarah’s Wish, was published.

Mr. Baumgardner continues to reside in Wichita where he loves to stroll the dusty streets of Old Cowtown. It is there he can walk back into the Nineteenth Century and for a short time catch a glimpse of life as experienced by his grandfathers. It becomes a time to remember his roots, glean new story ideas, and never forget the hard working pioneers who contributed so much to the making of America.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Pulling weeds

I've downsized many of my gardens, filling them with perennials and things easier to maintain. Most of my annuals go into planters. A good idea when your soil is hard clay, and summers long and dry like here in Ohio. I enjoy gardening as long as I'm not a slave to it. Choosing plants and laying out gardens is part of the job I enjoy. The part I don't like is weeding.

That's what I found myself doing this morning. After three rain-free days I figured I'd better get outside and into the mud to pull up the grass that is choking out my iris beds while I had the chance. It wouldn't break my heart if I never had to pull another weed as long as I live, especially grass whose roots run deep and sturdy and are resistant to the hardest pulling. But if I want to enjoy my beautiful irises in a few weeks, this part of the job is absolutely necessary.

Bent over the flower beds with my back complaining and my fingers slipping off the grass shoots, I was reminded of all the weed pulling I do in writing. If I want to submit beautiful prose to my editor that brings joy to the reader, I first need to pull the weeds.

A weed is anything that takes away from the beauty of the written word. Most weeds are easy to spot. Like grass, they are thick and domineering and choke out the message you are trying so hard to bring out. Many of my weeds remind me of clover, a relatively easy weed to pull. My clover weeds are often just and that. It isn't until editing I even realize how many times those two words make an appearance. Ugh! They drive me crazy. They are basically harmless, but can slow down a reading and show off the writer's immaturity. Other weeds take much more sweat and hard work to eradicate, but their removal will reveal the beauty beneath the madness.

Other times you don't recognize a weed for what it is until it's grown a little, established a root system and is resistant to removal. The most frequent weeds I find in the garden of my writing are scenes I once thought necessary, but have proven counterproductive to the story.

I am currently editing Book 4 of my Jenna's Creek series. I have worked scenes over and over until they shine. Then during final editing, I find the scenes don't work at all. Pulling those weeds break my heart. Some are funny. Some are powerful. Others showcase my brilliance more than any other line in the book. They look beautiful from a distance. Only upon closer inspection do I see they are hurting the story. All that work, all that tweaking and labor was for nothing. The scene is scrapped.

It is my hope that with practice and work, I can recognize a weed for what it is before I put so much work into it. Over time I hope to become more efficient at my gardening so less work in involved to produce a masterpiece that will bring joy to all who behold it.

It the meantime, I think I'll bask in the sunshine of a job well done. These moments don't last, whether in a figurative or literal garden. Rain is in the forecast and more hard work on the horizon.

Wishing all a productive week.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Handling downtime

I had every intention of posting at least three times this week. That's my new goal. "Get serious about your blog," I told myself. "You can't attract readers if they don't find something new to read." Then I went and poisoned myself while giving my dogs their flea treatments.

It's that time of year again--flea and tick season. Here in Ohio we don't treat our dogs all year round. At least I don't, that stuff's expensive. I know, I know, bad Mommy, putting your wallet before the dogs. Anyway, I guess I was out of practice and must have got some of the nasty stuff on me. I got sick during the night, violently so, and spent the next day in a total dehydrated stupor. I wasn't totally up to par the following day either. That put me behind with my writing chores.

Believe me, I have plenty of those. The cover designer of my next release needed a synopsis of the book so she could start working on the cover. Author Relations at Tsaba House needed three different sized blurbs for the same book. Not to mention editing is still going full force on the next book I really need to submit this month. Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! Is it April already?!

Did I mention it's also little league season and my grandson was here every afternoon on his way to practice tying up my computer and basically getting under my feet and messing up my well tuned routine?

Balancing family, marketing chores, and the occasional sick day with writing is the hardest part about this job. According to every writers' group in which I lurk, we all must deal with it. It's tough. I'm not good at saying no to the grandchildren when they want me to guess their hangman solution while I'm trying to concentrate on something else. I'm even worse when the phone rings or the baby cries or my two-year-old grandson climbs in my lap and wants to help me type.

I need to make better use of my time when I don't have interruptions so that when they come--believe me, they will--I won't get behind for giving in.

But it's Spring. Raining again. A dentist appointment will keep me away from my desk today. Then a trip to Lowe's for a new screen door and kitchen cabinets if I can talk my husband into them. (In my dreams, I have a lot of cabinets to replace.) So distractions will happen. You'll get sick, dear writer, just as your deadline is looming. The baby will need you. So will your husband.

Hope you're better at handling life's interruptions than I am.