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Monday, January 30, 2012

Professor, Poet, and Mystery Writer Donald Levin

An award-winning fiction writer and poet, Donald Levin is the author of Crimes of Love, the first Martin Preuss mystery; The House of Grins, a novel; and two books of poetry, In Praise of Old Photographs and New Year's Tangerine. He is professor of English and chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Marygrove College in Detroit and lives in Ferndale, Michigan.

Welcome, Donald!

Could you start out telling us a bit about your mystery novel and your main character?
Crimes of Love is about the search for a lost child. The book follows police detective Martin Preuss in his increasingly frantic efforts to find a seven-year-old girl with epilepsy who has disappeared from the streets of Ferndale, a quiet inner-ring suburb of Detroit. His search takes him deep into the interconnected lives of a mix of characters from across the metropolitan Detroit area, including a child molester, members of an ultra-religious church congregation, vengeful colleagues on the police force, an attractive young reporter, and the girl's parents who each harbor their own secrets about their daughter’s parentage and what has happened to her. All the characters, including Preuss, struggle to cope with the after-effects of missing children in their own lives.
I took great pains to make my main character realistic and recognizable and not a “superdetective”; determined and resourceful, he is nevertheless a flawed man trying his best to improve his world by helping people who find themselves in incredibly difficult circumstances. Preuss is a widower with two sons; the elder son, Jason, has disappeared after blaming Preuss for the automobile accident that killed Preuss’s wife several years before the book opens, and the younger son, Toby, is a 16-year-old with profound multiple handicaps who lives in a group home near where Preuss himself lives. Preuss spends as much time with Toby as he can, and loves the boy deeply and fiercely.  
This is the first in a projected series featuring Martin Preuss, his colleagues in the Ferndale Police Department, and Toby. 
So one of the main characters in Crimes of Love is a child with multiple handicaps. How do you see him functioning in the series? 
Toby is very much the beating heart of the book. Toby keeps his lonely, isolated father connected and grounded, and constantly reminds him (and us) what’s really important. As the series unfolds, my plan is for Toby to take an increasingly important role in helping his father in not only solving the crimes he encounters, but also negotiating his way through his life as Preuss gradually becomes less reclusive. 
Toby exists as a fully-formed character in the book, but he is a loving and I hope precisely drawn portrait of my own grandson Jamie, from how he looks and acts to how he sounds. Jamie died this past September after having been in a coma all last year. I wrote Crimes of Love well before Jamie died but I had always planned to build into the book some of the amazing lessons I learned from him in his twenty-five years. And now the book serves as one of the many ways for me and my family to remember that extraordinary young man. All this isn’t necessary to understand Toby in the book, but it helps to enlarge your understanding of where the character comes from.
Your novel, Crimes of Love, starts off with the disappearance of a young girl. Did you worry that using such a worrisome inciting incident might scare off readers?
Yes, I did worry about that. I was worried it might scare off readers who would be afraid the book was going to turn out to be too violent, or be about child abuse or involve any of the other forms of unpleasantness that a lot of books about lost children seem to rely on, and even revel in. Ultimately I thought it was necessary to start the way I did. I began to see that I could use the inciting incident as a way to create the sense of urgency that drives the story forward and to always keep the primary question in front of the reader: What happened to her? And in fact the main comment I’ve gotten from readers is that the events are so compelling it’s hard to put the book down. I take that as a great compliment. 
I’m actually very concerned about how I portray violence, which is a tremendous social problem everywhere. I think those of us who work in a genre that is so associated with violence have a special duty to treat it responsibly.      
You are a professor of English. Do you think this influences how you write? Do you edit as you go, or get out what Anne Lamott calls the "shitty first draft"? 

Well, I came to my “professorhood” relatively late in life . . . I was in my late 40s by the time I decided I wanted to teach in college and returned to graduate school for the doctorate I knew I needed. Before that, for most of my life I’d been a hard-working professional writer with more than twenty-five years’ experience writing almost every kind of thing there is to write. My jobs ranged from speechwriter for the commissioner of the Department of Health in New York City to freelance industrial video scriptwriter on projects for clients like IBM and General Electric. All that influenced how I write a lot more than being a professor does. As a writer I developed very disciplined work habits that I draw upon every time I sit down to write something. When people say they’re stuck for inspiration I sort of snicker up my sleeve because I learned early on not to rely on the fluctuations of inspiration when I needed to write something; I learned how to staple my butt to the chair and get it done.
Being a professor does give me a different vocabulary for talking about writing, and it certainly allows me to pursue my own writing more than I was able to when I was working for other people or for businesses. Last semester, for example, my school, Marygrove College, gave me a sabbatical that I used to write the second Martin Preuss mystery. One of the reasons I wanted to switch to teaching, in fact, was because I wanted a job where I could write for myself instead of being the ghost writer for someone else. The other reason, of course, is that teaching is an enormously valuable and worthwhile occupation . . . a calling, really. Kind of like being a writer. 
When I write I do edit as I go along to a certain extent, but I don’t tarry overlong at polishing. I try to produce as good a draft as I can knowing I will be completely rewriting it as many times as necessary. I rewrote Crimes of Love six separate times to get to the current version. I can write as shitty a first draft as anyone, but more and more I’m realizing life is too short to do anything other than produce my best right out of the box so that's what I try for knowing that I'll be revising continually.    

Besides fiction, you write poetry. Does each form serve a different outlet, and do you find it difficult to switch between the two?

For me fiction and poetry come from a similar place, but they serve different purposes and require different conditions to produce. In general, I’d say poetry influences my fiction more than the fiction influences the poetry. Poetry makes me more sensitive to language, to the rhythm of sentences, to the general architecture of form and the overall tonality of a work in a way that I think of as a piece’s key signature, all of which I can apply to fiction; fiction makes me pay more attention to the concision of a poem and the narrative line in my poetry. 
I started out my creative writing career as a fiction writer, and was not, to put it mildly, terribly successful. At some point I found my voice as a poet and thought, “Man, I’m never going back to fiction!” But then my college asked me to write our accreditation report, a relatively stressful three-year-long project that brought my poetry writing to a halt but did remind me how much I had enjoyed the long form of a book-length work. So I went back to writing fiction and the result was Crimes of Love. I still write poetry when I can; at this point in my life it’s more a matter of which I have time for. When I was writing the second Preuss novel I started out each day thinking I would warm up with a poem and then turn to writing the novel, but quickly saw that I needed to focus on the fiction because writing poetry took too much time away from that. So I haven’t given up poetry, exactly, but it’s getting harder to find the quietude of mind I seem to need to produce a decent poem. 

Some might wonder why a professor of English chose genre fiction, since it is sometimes (wrongly so) connected with "light" writing or "fluff". And there's a stereotype of the English Professor writing the literary Great American Novel. Why mysteries? And has your choice opened your students eyes to new types of writing?

I totally agree with you that considering genre fiction as somehow unserious or substandard is a terrible notion. (Some of it is substandard, it’s true, but not just because it’s genre fiction.) While there does exist in places a bias against genre fiction, more and more there’s a recognition that the boundaries between literary fiction and popular fiction are no longer stable. Nor are writers of crime fiction thought to be craven hacks cranking out their potboilers . . . Robert Parker had a Ph.D. in literature and taught at Northwestern, Kenneth Millar earned a Ph.D. in literature before he became Ross Macdonald, Ken Bruen has a Ph.D. in metaphysics, to take just three examples of masters in their crafts who have academic connections. 
Not, of course, that I’m in their league . . . Since, as I’ve noted, I’ve spent more of my life outside academia than inside, I was mostly shaped as a writer before I became a professor. I may be completely mistaken but I don’t feel a great deal of the stereotype of the English professor applies to me (with the possible exception of a beard and a tendency toward a certain long-windedness of response that is becoming increasingly apparent in this interview). 
I’ve always been drawn to the mystery form, ever since I was a little boy when I would write my own version of episodes from Dragnet. There’s an energy and vitality in forms of the mystery that I find more compelling than in more “literary” work, which tends more toward an interiority that is for me less interesting. (Sorry, I can’t keep myself from using those quotes around “literary.”) Mysteries are what I mostly read, and are the literary world I feel most comfortable in. Most good mysteries are novels of personality; most great mysteries are, as Henning Mankell, the Swedish author of the Kurt Wallander series, said, novels of society seen through the lens of crime. Both more than repay our attention. 
For some reason most students I’ve talked with who want to be writers seem drawn more to fantasy and science fiction than to the mystery, though this may change now. That’ll be interesting to see. 
What's next for you?
I’m looking ahead to the second and succeeding books in the Martin Preuss series. On my sabbatical I wrote the first draft of the second book, and now I’ve started work on revisions; I’m looking forward a summer 2013 release. I already have the ideas for the next books after that, so I’m hoping to be working with these characters for a good long while.
Thanks for a thoughtful, provocative interview!

Crimes of Love is available in both Kindle and paperback format. Don't forget to visit Donald at his website. And, as always, authors appreciate comments. Feel free to let him know what you think about his interview! 

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Caper of the New Mystery Author

This Monday's guest author took great childhood memories and turned them into a setting for murder. You'll never look at your teen memorabilia the same way!

Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier who earned a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school two of her plays, “Star Collector” and “Common Ground,” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. The characters in “Star Collector” provided the inspiration for the mystery series.

Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s worked a variety of jobs including actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio as well as for a community newspaper.

Welcome, Sally!

Could you give us a quick summary of your book?

            Most young girls have a crush on a favorite teen idol, but what happens when the idol and the fans both grow up? My book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” takes up the life of former ‘70s teen idol Sandy Fairfax—star of the hit TV show “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth”—long after he’s left the public eye. Now he’s a 38-year-old recovering alcoholic, divorced and desperate for a comeback.
            He takes his only job offer, a guest appearance at a small Beatles fan convention in Evansville, Ind. The easy gig turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is shot and the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect. When Sandy’s forced to take the dead man’s place in a concert, the boy sleuth is back in action to solve the “Beatle-ly” clues.
            His biggest fan, Bunny, is on hand to help him.

Beatlemania. I’m old enough to remember. How did you come up with this character?

            I grew up in the ‘60s when the Beatles were together, but I didn’t get into them until I went to college and met some real-life Beatlemaniacs. They taught me the “lore” of the group. A friend of mine gave me a Sgt. Pepper’s picture disc album and that started my now-extensive record collection.
I’m also a teen idol fan. A number of years ago, VH-1 ran “The Monkees” TV show five days a week and I was hooked. I saw the show when I was a kid and I was on a nostalgia kick. I went to concerts, collected records and merchandise, and talked to other fans.
I was intrigued by teen idols—what do they do at home? What’s it like to have every person in the world know your face? I researched teen idols and found many similarities in career paths, personalities, and even hobbies among the guys I studied.
I though a “grown up” teen idol would make an interesting character with limitless possibilities. In each book of the series, Sandy performs at a different type of gig, meets new people and possibly travels. This way the character stays fresh.
Caper. I actually asked you if this was a juvenile book because of the word “Caper”. I love that word! What made you it in your title?

            I suppose that’s how I’m “branding” the series. On Sandy’s TV show, every episode title ends in “caper” and the rest of the title is made up of alliteration, such as “The Billowing Big Top Caper,” “The Different Drummer Caper” and “The Sunburned Surfer Caper” (these episodes are mentioned in the book). So the book titles in the series all follow the same pattern.
            I like “caper” because it’s a fun-sounding word. I think of my books as “Hardy Boys for adults,” with lots of action, comedy, clues and cliffhangers (there’s that alliteration again!). I don’t care for mysteries that are ultra-dark or have excessive gore or sex. I want my reader to have fun. And the word makes me think of those “caper” movies where the good guys have to break into a vault/secured room and steal something from the bad guys. I love those movies (“Sneakers” is the best).

You’re a newly published author. Where your experiences different from what you’d heard from other published authors? How?

            Nearly all of the authors I know personally are with the big publishers. Many of them have agents. They’re under contracts to produce a new book by a deadline. These contracts are for two to five books. Some authors I know ended the series when the contract was up—not always by their choice, but the publisher didn’t renew the contract due to so-called “poor sales.” Some authors have their backlist out of print.
            I’m with a small publisher (Oak Tree Press) that does things differently. I don’t have an agent and my publisher prefers not to work with agents, because they won’t make much money with the company and some agents are too demanding. My manuscript was turned down at first, but the editor let me revise it and resubmit—large publishers won’t give you a second chance.
            My book came out six months after acceptance. The usual print time is 12 to 18 months. The large publishers do an initial “print run” of several thousand books and hope they all sell. My publisher uses print on demand, which means books aren’t printed until an order’s place, so there’s not extra stock left over and sitting in a warehouse. Because of POD, Oak Tree keeps books in print for a long, long time. The downside is a large order will take a long time to produce so I need to plan ahead when I have a book signing.
            One advantage of a small press is that I have the freedom to choose my own book titles and give input on the cover art. The publisher asked me the title, I told her, and no argument. Even some midsize presses will have the author send in a list of suggested title and the marketing department picks what they want. Big publishers will often arbitrarily pick a title even if the author hates it and not change the cover art if the writer isn’t happy. The cover art on my book is based on my idea. 
            A disadvantage is that many bookstores won’t stock my book because they don’t want to deal with small presses.
            My publisher doesn’t do multi-book contacts. Whenever my next book is finished, I contact her and she works it into the release schedule. I’m not under a tight deadline to crank out another book. The downside of this is that I procrastinate and need a “nudge” to get working. As long as the books keep selling, I suppose I can keep the series going indefinitely, which is what I’d like. I have many more adventures planned for Sandy.
 Many authors have success with book clubs and even include questions on their web pages or in the books for these clubs to consider. What’s one question you’d like to ask readers to consider when reading your books?

            At the end of my book I have a “teen idol quiz,” personal questions that a true fan would know about Sandy, such as the color of his eyes and the names of his kids. I got this idea from some real-life fan websites.
            On a serious note, my book deals with important issues such as alcoholism and broken relationships. Sandy’s estranged from his family and as the series progresses he makes contact with various relatives. He ruined his career and social life through booze and he’s trying to rebuild his life. The great comedy movies have an undercurrent of pathos, which makes the characters real people, not just caricatures. I hope readers will see the humanity as much as the humor.
            For a book club, I’d ask if they were ever in a similar situation where they were “starting over” in life and what they did to reach their goals.

Social Media is such a big deal now. How much time do you spend on it, and what platform works for you?

            Social media is my principal tool of marketing. In-person book signings are not effective for new authors. I live near LA, where there’s an author on every street corner, and tons of book signings every week. The general public won’t show up except for celebrities or the big name authors.
Some authors do extensive travel to bookstores and events but right now that’s not financial viable for me until I have an audience built up.
            When the book came out, I spent a great deal of time as a guest blogger (like right now!). I got on some Beatles fan websites, which was cool.
            I recently set up a Facebook page and am still figuring out how it works. Please send me a friend request! Be careful, though, that you reach the correct “Sally Carpenter” as I discovered many people have the same name.
            The downside is that social media can take a great deal of time. While I enjoy guest blogging, it takes time away from book writing.
Also, I don’t know exactly how many new readers I pick up at each site. It’s hard to tell right now which marketing tools are the best.
I hope to get a website up, which probably won’t happen until my next book comes out. With only one book to my name, I don’t have much to say on a website right now!

What’s the hardest part of being an author?

            Money issues. I work a day job to pay the bills, which sharply cuts into my writing time. I’d like to write other things besides mysteries, but with limited time I can’t be pulled in different directions. Most writers don’t earn enough from their writing alone to do it full time, unless they have a spouse supporting them or have secondary teaching or consulting work.
            Writing is expensive—computers, Internet access, conferences, travel, marketing, agents, publicists all cost money. Some authors sell many books but make little profit once the bills are paid.
            Wanabees who go into writing expecting to become wealthy will be sorely disappointed. One has to write for the love of the craft and the characters, not for financial gain.    

 What's next for you?

            I’m working on the second book in the Sandy Fairfax series, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper.” Sandy’s a guest star on the lowest-rated TV show of the fall season. Early in rehearsal, one of the actors drops dead at his feet. He investigates with the aid of a dwarf and an animal actor, while also dealing offstage with his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend. But wait; could there be a new romance in the air?
            The book was inspired by my experiences working at a major motion picture studio in Hollywood. I had the tremendous opportunity of actually seeing sitcoms filmed and learning how shows are produced. TV buffs will find the book educational as well as entertaining.

Sally would love to "friend" you on her Facebook page! "The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper" is available in both trade paperback and on Kindle!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Author Debra Goldstein's Unusual Advice on Writer Productivity

I can't multi-task, so when I hear about someone who accomplishes more in one day than I can think of doing in a week, it's like getting a peek into an alternate universe. My guest today has a surprising solution for writer's who want to increase productivity, but I'll let her tell you.

Debra H. Goldstein wears so many hats that it's best to let her describe herself:

"I hate to be pigeon-holed. Debra H. Goldstein, judge, author, litigator, wife, step-mom, mother of twins, civic volunteer, Yankee, and Southern Woman writer are all words that have been used to describe me.  My writings are equally diverse. Maze in Blue, my debut novel, is published by Chalet Publishers, LLC.  Even though Maze in Blue is a murder mystery, it is a safe bet that when it comes to my writing, "It's Not Always a Mystery." 
She modestly skipped mention of her awards for humor, nonfiction, and short stories, which offer proof that her methods pay off. Read what she's got to say and then give it a try. The worst that can happen is you'll do something nice, earn the respect of your family and peers, and become a valuable member of society.

Debra G. Goldstein's Advice to Writers
           Promising to focus time and energy on writing probably was the most recurrent 2012 New Year’s writer’s resolution posted on writers’ blogs and discussion boards.  Most of the pledgers plan to increase their writing output by limiting outside activities and distractions.  Not me.  I resolve to take the opposite approach – balance my writing with volunteering as much as I can.

            I’ve tried it both ways and for the sake of my sanity and my writing, I opt for interacting with family and community organizations.  Isolation may work for some writers, but, in reality, most of us can’t spend the entire day chained to our computers churning out quality work.   For me, walking the dog, sharpening the pencil I won’t use, cleaning my computer screen, patting the dog on the head, emptying the waste basket, deciding what to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner and then making and eating it, and taking the dog out for his last walk doesn’t result in many well-written pages.  I piddle the day away and when I re-read what I finally do get on paper, I realize that my ideas and writing, without outside stimulation, are flat.

            Imagination is the organic building block for poems, stories, and novels, but imagination alone isn’t enough.  Writers are thieves.  We steal setting, character traits and quirky behavioral descriptions from the people and places we come in contact with.  For me, doing things like helping with tornado relief, being a Girl Scout leader, or working with groups that fight breast cancer or domestic violence is an important means of giving back, but just as often it is the genesis for a character or setting.  Pro-bono legal work has found its way into two of my short stories; leadership articles reflect my Girl Scout experiences; and even selling doughnuts to raise money became a pivotal scene in my novel, Maze in Blue.  I’m not alone in translating conscious and subconscious elements from volunteer experiences into my writings.

            Scott Turow and John Grisham are examples of writers who used pro bono death penalty work to germinate their respective ideas for Ultimate Penalty and The Confession.   The bestseller, Three Cups of Tea, grew out of an effort to build schools for girls in Pakistan.  Mark Twain demonstrated how a person volunteers and what happens when each person does a little bit of work in the scene in Tom Sawyer where Tom finagles all the boys to paint Aunt Polly’s fence.  Perhaps one of the best depictions of an author’s use of the impact acts of giving can have on an entire community is found in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  In all of these examples, the writers stole gems of ideas from personal volunteering or observation to create their stories.

Passion and conviction for the cause one volunteers for often is the catalyst for eloquent writing.   It is only fitting to note on the day this blog is appearing, Martin Luther King’s birthday, that two of his most well remembered works are tied to actions on behalf of the civil rights movement.  His “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” might have been written in some form, but not with the intensity and depth of spirit his volunteer experiences generated.  Similarly, John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” spurred a generation to act on behalf of others and to produce written works and movies dealing with the concepts of ‘paying it forward’ and doing ‘random acts of kindness.’

            Writers also gain from the networking that is an indirect benefit of participating in community activities.  When I serve on a committee or board, I invariably meet people whose personalities spark character or story ideas, but I also build close friendships with people who have interests similar to mine.  Some of these friends have later been the ones to read and critique my manuscripts or to offer me the encouragement I need to reach the next level in my writing.

Sometimes giving up a few hours of writing time can produce a work that will last far longer than the story one is working on.  When my daughter was in seventh grade, Anne George, the Alabama poet laureate and an accomplished mystery writer, came to her school and taught an hour writing workshop.  She showed the children how each could take a word like ‘blue’ and create an entirely different poem or story using it.  During that hour, she made writing real to those students.  Maybe if Anne George hadn’t repeatedly taken time from her work to visit schools, talk to youth groups and scouts, speak to women’s professional groups, or been willing to talk to aspiring writers about her craft, she could have written another book or two before her untimely death; but, the impact of her outreach and networking would have been lost.
            Although the 2012 New Year’s Eve resolution to write in a vacuum says what writers most crave – the need for time and energy for writing, it fails to reflect the give and take of the simple act of volunteering.  That from the giving comes energized thoughts that can be balanced, no matter how little time is available, into works of quality.

Thank you, Debra!  Make sure to visit Debra's website to read her blog and discover independent bookstores that sell her book. Maze of Blue is available in paperback and for Kindle and Nook

Monday, January 9, 2012

Award Winning Author Pamela Samuels Young Never Gives Up

It seems appropriate to start the New Year with an infusion of hope, a plan, and a confidence boost from someone who has been there, done that.

Legal thrillers were never on my reading list. I had no interest. And then I discovered Pamela Samuels Young. I fell in love with her series characters, and her fast-paced writing style carried me to the end of the book to the detriment of my daily chores. I've read every book since, including her standalones.

This author, inspirational speaker, and corporate attorney (in her spare time) is a leading example of how writers can take concrete steps toward success. It helps if you have as much energy as Ms. Samuels-Young, but if you find the road intimidating, just take smaller steps. Moving forward is the point!

I'm pleased to present an article by Ms. Samuels Young that will put you on a solid writing track for 2012.

Don’t Give Up!

By Pamela Samuels Young

It’s a new year and that novel you’ve been working on for months or maybe even years still isn’t finished. Perhaps you don’t know where to go next with your plot. Or maybe you’re just physically and emotionally drained from all the time and effort you’ve poured into this dream. You’re feeling more discouraged than ever and questioning whether you’ll ever get it done. I’ve been there!

Each time I fall into the writing dumps, I wonder if I’ll ever dig myself out. Fortunately, I always do and you will too. You’ve put too much time into this venture. Now is not the time to give up.  

Here are my top six tips for re-energizing yourself when you feel like giving up.

■ Read Inspirational Stories About Writing and Writers

Take a writing break and read about other successful writers who weathered the storm.  Here are three excellent books to get you started:

Knit Together: Discovery God’s Pattern for Your Life by Debbie Macomber.

This book was such an inspiration to me. Macomber, a best selling writer with more than 100 million books in print, openly shares her story of writing rejection.  Once you read about her writing journey, you’ll close the book anxious to get back to your own novel.

Rotten Reviews & Rejections, edited by Bill Henderson and Andre Bernard.

This book shares the rejection letters and stinging reviews received by many successful and prolific writers, from Stephen King to Upton Sinclair to James Joyce and more. You’ll scratch your head at the discouraging rejection letters these wonderful writers received. They didn’t give up, and you shouldn’t either.

How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own Words.

When you read the stories of how these successful writers persevered, you will know that you can do it too.

■ Don’t Strive for Perfect Prose

Many new writers think that everything that flows from their computer must be golden.  Hence, if they write a few pages which don’t sound worthy of a Pulitzer, they’re disappointed. Forget about writing a perfect first draft.  The most important part of writing is rewriting. Just concentrate on finishing a first draft. Then revise, revise and revise again until you’re pleased with the final product.

■ Set a Writing Goal  

Make a commitment to write a set number of hours or pages per week. Can you commit to writing 10 pages per week or find five hours each week to write? Don’t worry about not having as much time as you like. If you only have time to jot down your thoughts during your lunch break, use it.  Whatever goal you set, just make sure it’s realistic.  Start out small and once you get into the flow of things, increase the goal. And if you fall short one week, don’t beat yourself up. There’s always next week.

■ Start a Writer’s Group

Put the word out that you’re looking to start a writer’s group. Tell friends, family members and colleagues that you’re looking for three or four serious writers who would like to build a supportive writing environment for themselves and other writers. You’ll probably have a lot of interest in the beginning, but only the serious writers will be around for the long haul. Establish a regular meeting time (at least once a month) and require at least two members to produce work for the group to critique each month. 

■ Think About Your Story

Most people assume that if they’re not putting words on paper, then they’re not “writing.”  I don’t feel that way. The next time you’re taking a long walk, standing in a grocery store line, or stuck in traffic, use the time to mull over your story. Think about your characters or your plot. Imagine your protagonist having a conversation. Think about how you might describe a room. Challenge yourself to invent a predicament that creates conflict for your character.  If you come up with some great ideas, don’t forget to write them down.

■ Study The Writing Craft

There will be times when you just don’t feel like writing (operative word don’t, not can’t). When this happens, use your free time to study the writing craft. Select a book in your genre that you think is particularly good and study the writer’s technique. How does she hook you at the end of the chapter? What makes his descriptions compelling? An hour or so of this type of study may just cause your own juices to start flowing.

Above all, just keep writing and never, never, never give up!

Thank you, Pam!

Pamela Samuels Young is a practicing attorney and author of several legal thrillers, including her most recent, Buying Time. Her fifth novel, Attorney-Client Privilege, goes on sale in July 2012. (Jackie's note: Yipee!) To read an excerpt of Pamela’s novels, visit her web siteWriter's, note that there are great articles here, just for you!

Buying Time . . On Sale Now! (Also check out your independent bookstores and other venues.)

Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pamsamuelsyoung

Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pamelasamuelsyoung

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Holiday Reading All Year Round?

I wouldn't dream of making Corned Beef and Cabbage during July. My palate is fixed on March 17th, and that's the extent of my foray into Irish cooking. (That does not include corned beef sandwiches or hash. Brent's Deli is a favorite haunt.)

The same discernment does not extend to my reading habits. I've happily delved into another read of Hurcule Poirot's Christmas or Murder for Christmas when the sun is shining and the beach is crowded.

I realize there are readers who like the book's theme to coincide with real life. That's why I put Family Matters on sale through January. The murder takes place at the Historic Christmas Walk. It's .99 at Amazon and the same at Smashwords if you use the code DA46P.

Do you only read seasonal mysteries during the coinciding time of year?