Super-charge Your Imagination: Turn Off Your iPod

It’s well-established that the human brain works best when it’s not distracted. In spite of that “sure, everyone knows that” statement, most of us constantly bombard our brains with twitter feeds, Facebook, and email. And when we’re on the move, we’ve got earbuds in our ears, as we travel to be the beat of our favorite drums.

Right now I am brainstorming my next novel and it occurred to me that one of my methods may be worthy of description.  I walk a lot, or at least as often as I can. When I walk I usually listen to an audiobook which helps me with my to-be-read pile. But when I need to figure out some twists and turns in my writing, or when I’m developing characters, I will often walk, and walk. This works for be and the ‘trick’ is to leave the iPod at home. It makes me smarter… every time.

Well, maybe not smarter but if I my brain has nothing to do but think, it thinks and it I pose questions to my thinking brain during a long walk, my brain responds. Instead of the iPod I take a notebook and pen with me to capture the thoughts.

I’ll think and walk, think and walk. And when something comes to mind, I’ll stop and write it down. Then I’ll think and walk some more. Today I went with a goal of figuring out what my antagonists were doing and what their relationships would be to one another. It’s a plot involving collusion and bribery and I needed to figure out the interconnectivity of the pieces. Not exactly, of course, but enough that I know where to put the pieces on the chessboard.  Heck I needed to know what pieces there would be.

After a two hour walk I had a diagram that showed those relationships and some brief notes about what sorts of characters I needed and how they are associated with each corporate entity.  The walk also spawned notes for three scenes that just came to mind.  One will show something about the theme of the book. Another illustrates the relationship between two of the principle characters. And the third is a humorous scene and, to be honest I have no idea how it will fit, if at all. Not a bad result for a couple hours of clear thought, all because I turned my iPod off.Oh, and as I did this “writing session” I burned some calories, worked on my tan, and I got to see a mother mallard duck with her newly-hatched brood of ducklings.

Cheers — Larry

 

Why Do We Set Goals And What Should They Be?

If you spend time in online writer forums you hear writers talk about their goals.  They also talk about all the reasons they didn’t achieve them.  And they will tell you what their new goal is and how it’s better.  Other writers do what we do; we offer up lots of ‘good luck’ and ‘you go girl’ responses.

Why do we set goals anyway?  Every year people set New Year’s resolutions, often with the full knowledge that the goal will never be achieved and often jokes about this fact are told while proclaiming the goal.  Why?  Clearly, one function of goal setting is to make us feel good – make us feel like we’re making plans, moving forward and trying to accomplish something.

Feeling good is… well… good, but I don’t think this is the best use of goal-setting.  A better reason to set goals is to actually motivate us and cause us to achieve something.  To do that a true goal must meet four criteria.  It must:

1) Be something you can control.

Setting a goal to sell 30 books a month is not a goal.  It may be a dream if you’re only selling 10/mo, but it’s not a goal that you can control.  Yes, you may be able to improve your marketing and thus sales but you need goals like “Do three guest blogs this month,” something over which you do have some control.

2) Be quantifiable.

To say, I’m going to improve my use of dialog sounds admirable but it will not lead anywhere without an additional clause that starts with “by….”  Add “by reading Chiarella’s Writing Dialogue and doing all of the exercises,” you produce a goal such that your action or inaction can be measured.

3) Be short-term enough to be actionable

Some say “goals must have time elements” and while I don’t disagree, I think this aspect of goal-setting needs more precision than “set a deadline.”  Here’s why.  To often I see people making goals like “I want to finish my book by the end of the year.”  That’s a fine goal if it’s said over Christmas dinner.  It’s a lousy goal if it’s spring.

The difference is that humans procrastinate, and/or set other, more short-term goals ahead of any long-term goals.  Thus, if you say “I want to finish my book by the end of the year” at the spring picnic, it’s likely that you’ll be saying “I’m so far behind on my book that I’ll never get it done by the end of the year” when Christmas dinner rolls around.  Short-term deadlines motivate; long-term deadlines do not.

4) Be attainable without super-powers.

This, by far, is the biggest problem I see with most goals that writers set for themselves.  The most common is “I’m going to write 1000 words a day, every day.”  If you have lots of free time this may well be a reasonable goal but there’s a real Catch-22 here.  If you have lots of free time for your writing you’re probably no more likely to set this sort of goal for yourself than a skinny person is to say “I’m going to eat 500 fewer calories every day.”

Instead, writers with full-time jobs, 2 kids and a husband they have to baby-sit set an unreasonable word count goal for themselves and then beat themselves up for not being up to the challenge.  “Stephen King writes 1500 words per day, why can’t I?”  It’s because Stephen King has all day to do it, that’s why.

In the end, goals are not only valuable motivation tools, they are probably necessary for those of us doing things without someone looking over our shoulders.  But just as they can motivate, poorly chosen or defined goals can sabotage your writing, even to the point of convincing you that you’re unworthy of the label “writer.”   Chose your goals wisely.  Make them work for you, not against you.

The Only Writing Advice You’ll Ever Need.

We read all forms of advice on how to be a writer, how to become an author, and all the ins and outs of getting published. But sometimes you come across someone able to boil the process down such than anyone can understand the message. James Scott Bell is one such person. Once you hear his advice ask yourself if you can follow his advice.

 

Well, can you? Will you?

Cheers — Larry

Spring Has Sprung In Quebec

Our winters are long here in Quebec but normally, by the end of April spring will let us exit from our burrows and enjoy the sunshine.  This year was different.  It rained, and rained, and rained.  The trees were even grumbling.

But finally, at least a month late, spring has sprung.  I was out walking and snapped a few photos of my favorite place, Riviere St.-Charles.  I thought I’d share a few of those photos with you.

Along the river are apple trees in full flower as well as some ash trees.  The yellow dandelions help round out the blaze of color.

If you’ve read Her Book of Shadows, my new mystery novel, this is the location in Parc Brebeuf where a rather intense scene takes place.

And I couldn’t resist quickly snapping this photo.  The dog was happy to have his picture taken but the little girl was less thrilled so I apologize that it’s not a sharper image.

 

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

I guess you’d call this a ‘guest post’ as the text is  written by  my sixteen year old daughter, not me.  In her English class she was tasked with writing what she called “a rant.” I think it more to be an advocacy paper but either way, she was supposed to come up with a topic she felt important enough and that she was passionate about for a rant.

She is discussing the most fundamental problem of our modern society as it affects our dialog, our politics, our economics, and our beliefs.  Before turning you over to her, I should add one – English is my daughter’s second language.  Oh how I wish I could write like this in French.  Without further fanfare, I give you Jodie Côté-Marshall.

 

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

by Jodie Côté-Marshall

Less than a few decades ago, what qualified someone as “smart” or “intellectual” wasn’t solely based on how he or she performed in school or in other academic situations. Watching the news, reading the paper, being well informed: those were common things that people did in order to be aware of what was going on around them. Nowadays, that concept isn’t as popular as it once was. The younger generations have chosen to minimize the amount of information they get in spite of the fact that they have access to all the information they need. In other words, people have chosen to shut out all knowledge at a time when being knowledgeable is crucial to our society.

I think one of the reasons that can explain this phenomenon is the fact that interests have completely shifted from big world news to plain-old gossip. As long as your favorite singer or actor has his or her name spread out across a glossy magazine cover, major political and economic issues will be out of the picture. In my opinion, something is terribly wrong. As a citizen of planet Earth, it is your duty to be aware of the major conflicts and discoveries going on in your world.

Another explanation for ignorance is that most people are very self-conscious about their image. According to the modern teenager, knowing things is not very “cool.” In fact, a lot of kids get bullied in school because they’ve dared to show others that they know things. Those who have kept their mouth shut have been spared from the bullying. When a person denies being smart, their ignorance is not bliss, but insulting to those who are actually proud of their intellectual capacities. It is completely illogical that those who know more should be frowned upon and considered abnormal.

This rant isn’t about bullying, nor is it about trying to equalize all stereotypes. It is about convincing people that knowledge and understanding the world is one of the most valuable things a person may possess. It is not a crime to know things and it is not a crime to want to know things. It is up to you now to choose whether or not you want to forget everything that I’ve just told you. Whatever choice you make I ask you to remember this one last thing: while you may not need the world to continue being you, the world will always need you to continue being the world.

 

 

Her Book of Shadows: Now Available

I’m happy as a clam this morning. My mystery novel, Her Book of Shadows is now available as a KindleBook.  It’s a soft-boiled, feel good traditional mystery and if you like mysteries that avoid a lot of blood and gore, I think you’ll enjoy Her Book of Shadows.

The book takes place in Quebec City, where retired Arizona cop, Scott Riker, lives with his wife and daughter and heads a group of interventionists. Directed by Quebec business mogul and philanthropist, Luc Duchesne, the group uses their talents and resources to stand between people in trouble and the criminal elements who would do them harm.

In Her Book of Shadows, Riker agrees to find Jodie Burke, a teenage girl whose parents say ran away to Quebec City from Connecticut. But when Jodie’s friend turns up murdered on the Plains of Abraham, it becomes clear that Riker faces something more than just a runaway girl. Time is running out and he must find Jodie and prevent whoever is trying to kill her from succeeding.

Riker struggles with his emotional involvement in the case, caused by the similarities between his daughter and Jodie Burke. This, and his attempts to reconcile his risky business with his role as father and husband add to his internal conflicts but maybe the two roles can be compatible.

The first four chapters are available as a sample download so please give it a try.

 

Louise Penny Wins Another Agatha Award

She’s done it again!  Four years, four books, FOUR Agatha awards in a row.  Nobody has ever done this…ever…nobody.

Though Louise would probably not even know my name, I feel especially good about her success as an author.  Sure, she’s a very good writer, as her award winning Gamache mysteries attest.  And yes, she lives in Quebec, like I do.  But what endears me to her comes other things.

The most important is how great she has been towards my daughter, Jodie.  You see, I’ve been a writer and editor most of Jodie’s life, but I wrote columns and articles for magazines – non-fiction.  Jodie was more interested in the magic of fiction and those who created it.   She was interested in become a writer herself.   She was 11 years old when Louise Penny released her second book, Dead Cold and she came to Quebec City for a signing session so I suggested to Jodie that we go so she could meet a “real author.”

Jodie was so excited and I’m sure she thought she was going to get to sit around with this ‘famous’ author telling tales and getting advice.  I remember hoping that she wouldn’t be disappointed by the brief time she would likely have with Louise as she had her sign a book.

But Louise was, well, Louise.  She was so gracious, somehow making every single person feel as though they were important to her.  And she started asking Jodie questions about her writing.  Louise gave Jodie a big hug.  By the time Jodie left she felt she had a new friend and, frankly, I think she did.  Louise insisted on a photo with Jodie.  It’s one of Jodie’s prized possessions and I present it here.

Jodie’s now sixteen and she has become a superb writer, in both French and English.  She’s less sure about being a writer as a profession but, as I said, she’s only sixteen.  We’ll see.

As we’ve attended all of Louise’s annual signings here in Quebec I’ve learned from her.  She doesn’t know that, of course.  Her books have taught me much about writing, telling a story that doesn’t draw on violence and chase scenes for its appeal.  Rather, Penny novels draw on underlying themes and characters that involve you in their lives.  Though she writes murder mysteries, she’s also writing ‘feel good’ books.  But Louise has taught me much more than that – much more important things.  She’s taught me kindness, humility, and how to value readers.

Thank you, Louise, and congratulations on your Agatha.  Here’s hoping that Trick of the Light garners a fifth.

Cheers — Larry

 

Do You Allow Yourself Writer Embarrassment?

My favorite TV show is Castle.  I mean, what’s not to like?  A bestselling mystery writer following around a good-looking female homicide cop?  It doesn’t get any better, particularly if you’re a mystery novel geek like I am.

The interesting ‘twist’ from this show is that there are actual mystery novels being written under the name of the lead character, Rick Castle.  Recently a new Rick Castle website has been launched to promote the book series, including the upcoming release of the third book in the series, Heat Rises.

While the whole notion of fictional characters writing real books is appealing to me, what really caught my eye was a small section where Rick Castle answers questions and he’s asked:

What do you do when you have writer’s block?

Castle’s answer: “I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in writer’s embarrassment. That’s when you’re so embarrassed by the horrendous drivel you’re writing that you can’t bear to see it on the page. After all, you can always write something. I’ve discovered that giving yourself permission to write poorly is the gateway to writing well.”

Personally I’ve never believed in writer’s block, muses, and the rest of the mythology associated with writing.  And I think Rick Castle (whoever the actual author is) is right on the money.  If you realize that your delete key is a powerful tool, you can bypass all the writer’s block nonsense and get on with the writing.  Do you allow yourself writer’s embarrassment?

Cheers — Larry

Writing Project Milestones

When I was in the magazine business life was a continuous series of milestones.  Every four weeks the sequence repeated.

1) All text from outside authors were in house and content edits completed.

2) Copyediting & proofing done.

3) Any articles I was responsible for were written.

4) My editorial was completed.

5) All art & magazine layout done and approved.

6) Bluelines from printer proofed.

7) Print run & distribution.

All of these activities overlapped one another and ‘lots of balls in the air’ is a good descriptor of the magazine business.  And while it was a hectic life, it was also very gratifying because of those milestones.  There’s something satisfying about completing something and doing it on a schedule makes it that much better.

All of my schedules are self-imposed these days but nevertheless, completion of milestones still feels good.  And so it was today that I completed all major revisions on my novel Her Book of Shadows.

This novel was a gleam in my eye back in October of last year.  I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to write the draft and I completed it in 18 days.  I took a break through the Xmas holiday season and probably dragged my feet with the revisions but six months from inception, it’s done.  I should be available ‘real soon.’

Cheers — Larry

Distorting Free Markets In The Book Industry

Seth Godin has published at least a dozen best-selling books on the post-industrial marketplace, ideas, social media and consulted with many Fortune 500 companies.  His insights make following his blog a must for anyone trying to make their way in any marketplace.

Part of his genius is being able to put into a few words, great thoughts.  Most of his blog posts are simply great.  Occasionally, they are mindbending, not because they are novel but, in fact, because they state clearly something we already know.  His latest post, titled The Free Market, is one such post.  I encourage you to read it before continuing to read here.  It won’t take you long.

The gist of Seth’s point is that:

1) Free markets are great and will generate good results if they are not usurped by those trying to benefit from it.

2) Those trying to benefit will attempt to make the market un-Free in any way that gives them leverage in that market.

3) Without checks and balances against those using their leverage, the free market will suffer and be less free.

We all know that what Seth says is true.  But do we talk and act like we do?  Look at the debates about the need (or not) of government regulation of business as just one example that suggests we’ve lost sight of this basic logic.

But I’m not here to talk politics.  Seth’s post caused me to to think about the book industry.  I think that often our discussions about what’s going on in the book industry right now center on the more trivial issues rather than the big ones.  For instance,

DRM: is it good or bad?

DRM (digital locks on our eBooks) is touted as a “copyright protection” mechanism.  It’s argued that it’s needed to prevent piracy.  To counter that there are those who worry about being able to lend their eBooks or to be able to sell them.

Truth is, DRM has little to do with copyright and it certainly isn’t actual copyright protection as this comes from the legal ramifications of copyright law.  DRM is, first and foremost, a way for particular hardware manufacturers to control their consumer base – to disrupt of the level playing field if you will.  The best evidence for that is the fact that there isn’t a single eBook format or DRM scheme.  Each hardware manufacturer has and uses their own.  If both industry and consumers would understand this, the debates would change and we’d more often find publishers and consumers on the same side of the debate.

Agency Pricing Model

This is debated, on the one hand, as a way for publishers to retain the perceived value of their product (low price de-value books).  Others say that it is counter to traditional manufacturer/retailer models where manufacturers set their selling price and let retailers determine what they’re going to sell the product for.  In point of fact, this is how hardcover street prices are determined, with retailers regularly discounting them from their publisher retail price.  Why not for eBooks?

The ‘why not’ is best understood from history.  The Agency model came about because Apple knew they couldn’t compete with established booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon so they told the publishers, “We’re going to help you out, publishers.  Put your higher-priced books in our iBookstore.  We’ll let you do this if you’ll to agree to enforce those prices across the industry.”   And by doing this, Apple disrupted the free-market pricing model, to its advantage.  Random House held out until recently but even they succumbed as they wanted Apple as an outlet for their products.

Conclusion

There are other examples of how various entities in the book industry are attempting to disrupt the free market conditions of the market but there is one unavoidable conclusion.  The tail is wagging the dog. Consumers, authors AND publishers are being manipulated by hardware manufacturers.   They are trying to create circumstances tha lock consumers into a ‘system’ that favors their sales and limits the abilities of consumers to buy from other vendors.  Until publishers and authors insist on open and easily convertable eBooks, they will continue to do so.