Writer’s Conferences – are they for YOU?

What, leave the house?
What, leave the house?

You see conferences posted all the time, and a lot of them just seem like a way to separate you from your money. And pry you out of your writer hole to interact with other human beings.

The horror.

Occasionally, though, there are some good conferences that are worth attending.

We’ve discussed other author events, like book fairs and whether they are right for you, HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/should-you-participate-in-a-book-fair-three-points-to-consider/

I went to the Florida Writer’s Association “mini conference” Saturday in Orlando. I’d never gone to anything like that before, and I had no idea what to expect.

Well, that’s exactly not true. I’d been to conferences for work lots of times; I just never went to a conference about writing. That, I tended to learn on line. Why would I need to go sit all day in a classroom? With, you know, people?

About twenty minutes before the conference started there were 35 people sitting in the room not saying a freaking word to each other.

Yep, that’s a group of writers. I’m in the right place.

Throughout the day there were maybe 200 attendees. Sessions were on landing an agent, marketing, writing your memoir, writing tools, etc. Each session was its own all-day thing, so I floated around to spend an hour or two in each one.

One particularly interesting session was titled How To Make Money Writing. Well, who doesn’t want to do that?

Sharon Keeble
Sharon Keeble

horse girlIt was hosted by author and writer Sharon Ward Keeble, an international journalist for more than two decades who specializes in articles about real-life people for a wide variety of national daily newspapers and weekly women’s magazines in the UK, U.S. and Australia. She also is an author and ghost writer, having penned a personal memoir about her adventures backpacking in China and her latest book, The Horse Girl.

So she’s walked the walk – for a long time – making money off her writing. We will be featuring here on these pages soon.

Plus she has a British accent, so I’ll try to get her to say “brilliant” a few times. Cos we love that.

I’ll be honest, the breakout marketing session only had about 12 participants, and only 1 other person besides me had put a book out, so the topics stayed kind of entry level. But the people leading the class were professionals who’d done author promotions with NY Times authors for years, so they were worth meeting. (If you can’t benefit from networking with the students, network with the instructors.)

Why, I could easily take over a group like that...
Why, I could easily take over a group like that…

And think about it: if there are only 12 people in a class, you can easily dominate the session and get all the information you need. I mean… you can get a lot more one on one time.

That’s what I meant.

Don’t take over the group.

A few tips from ME about sneaky as Hell marketing stuff HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/06/28/sneaky-as-hell-marketing-thats-also-brilliant/

Well, maybe that last one...
But this is my happy place!

If you’ve never gone to a writer’s conference before – I hadn’t – you probably should. You need to get out of the house for something besides your kid’s soccer practice, and it’s a great way to learn a few things, to reinforce some things, and to network. As much as I learn on websites or watching online tutorials, there’s something to be said for real in-person interaction and meeting fellow wordsmiths who actually live near you. You could, say, go have coffee and discuss writer stuff.

You’ll have to introduce yourself, though, because most don’t talk…

I had a good time doing writer stuff with writer types, in person. What a nice change. It’s easy on the internet to expose yourself to lots and lots of writers who are more successful than you – and make yourself feel inadequate as a result. At a conference, you’ll see who can help you move to the next level, and who you can help move up a step – and trust me, helping people feels good. Odds are you’ll learn something from them, too.

WOO HOO!!!
WOO HOO!!!

The Florida Writer’s Association has a full 4 day conference in October. Since it’s a writing related expense like training, it’s probably a tax deduction for your book writing business. I’ll be there, and you should think about coming.

There are worse places to be in October than Orlando, and just you might learn something!

Right now you want to subscribe to this blog and not miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.

If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!

He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?
He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?

Enjoy my writing brilliance in all its glory on my Author Page HERE http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

and find out about the release of my new book “25 Great eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew” by clicking the FOLLOW button, above.

When What You’ve Written… is CRAP!

Which was should I go here? Relax. Dan has the answer.
Which was should I go here?
Relax. Dan has the answer.

Recently we talked about writing better stories (HERE)

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/writing-better-stories-part-1/?preview_id=784

But sometimes you just write crap! You read it, and it’s terrible. You’re one of those people now. “Yesterday, I wrote the same paragraph over and over until it was perfect. Today I looked at it and it was shit.”

What then?

I actually had that happen yesterday!

Friends of mine know I usually think everything I write is just awesome, even if it has typos. Which is often.

All week, I’ve been knocking out chapters of my story. Three, I think; maybe four if you go back to last Sunday. Maybe 10,000 words. And another 3200 last night. I was KILLING IT. I’m not bragging, I’m saying I was on a roll. The story was flowing, I had nothing but fun scenes ahead to write. It was funny (it’s a comedy), it was sexy (it’s a romantic comedy) and…

and…

and it SUCKED.

I read stuff from those chapters and I was like whaaaaat? This looks like an amateur wrote it.

A good amateur, but an amateur.

Oh, the pain.

A visual representation of my soul at that time.
A visual representation of my soul at that time.

Then I realized something. Some of my writer friends have made comments like “Your writing has really improved” on chapters I wrote not that long ago. They were referring to this story as compared to prior stories of mine they’d read. That I also thought were awesome. (See above, where I said I think everything I write is awesome.)

Know what that means?

It means that I had improved as a writer but also I had improved in my ability as a reader of my writing, too – so I could the problems I couldn’t see before. (Listen for applause from critique partners)

See me learn to write better dialog HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/how-to-write-good-dialog/

WOO HOO!!!
WOO HOO!!!

While I was unhappy about having the errors, I was happy I could SEE them – and potentially fix them. Or enlist help to fix them.

We discussed the benefits of a critique group HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/why-you-should-join-a-critique-group-you-arrogant-sob/

That’s huge! That put the spurs to the horse, and I banged out a few thousand more words.

Because I can edit words on a page; I can’t edit a blank page. I can go back and add jokes (which I love doing), tighten phrasings (that just feels good, like scratching an itch), work in beats and take out repetitious words. Cos I wrote them

That was such a happy realization, that my stuff was crap!

I’m improving as a writer. That’s never a bad thing.

Right now you want to subscribe to this blog and not miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.

If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!

He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?
He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.

Sneaky As Hell Marketing That’s Also Brilliant Because It Works

I did some MARKETING: Did It WORK?

Obligatory
Obligatory “I hate marketing” meme.
I feel your pain.

If you do some marketing and you have a noticeable jump in sales, you can conclude that what you did worked.

That rarely happens, though. If that was the one-to-one correlation, marketing would be easy. It’s not. At the amateur level, there’s a lot of guesswork in marketing.

Guessing wrong can be expensive if you are buying ads, but networking with friend can be free. It can also produce no results, because your friends don’t have any bigger of a fan base than you have – as in none when you are all starting out. But, misery loves company and so does marketing, and often marketing is misery, and so… well, I don’t know where I was going with that.

It happens!

Except to say, when you market with friends, you are never alone.

That sounds prescient…

Anyway…

California also makes beer
California also makes beer

In the movie “Bottle Shock” they had a saying: “When one of us wins, we all win.” It was a group of winemakers in California in the 1970’s who were trying to put themselves on the map. That sounds like a given today; everybody knows California wines are among the best in the world – but at the time they were all struggling because nobody thought California wines were any good. (They were good, but nobody knew. Because marketing.) One California wine goes on to win a blind tasting against European wines, and that opened the doors for the whole area. They never looked back.

This is your mindset, your approach, with your friends. Help each other. Get each other noticed. When one of you wins, you all win.

Okay, so what do you do and how do you do it?

I’ll show you.

(Let me run through this, you take notes, and I’ll summarize at the bottom.)

I recently ran an interview I did with an author friend. It was fun, engaging, showed off her personality, discussed her book. It had some pictures of her and her book cover, and honestly it looked like magazine article.

I tweeted about it, promoting and marketing it as we have discussed HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/the-golden-rule-of-promotions/

Blowing your own horn = nothing much happens

Blowing you horn for somebody else = nice to do and may produce a trackable result

As in, a one-to-one correlation.

What do I mean? I blogged and tweeted about the author and her book and SHE saw a noticeable increase in her blog traffic. A spike on that day.

See that orange bar that's larger than everything else? That's a spike.
See that orange bar that’s larger than everything else? That’s a spike. This is her actual WordPress blog stats for that period.

Now, that was no accident. I listed her blog link in the article RIGHT WHEN WE WERE TALKING ABOUT HOW FUNNY HER BLOG IS. That was smart, I guess. I also included a picture from one of the funny posts, and a screen shot of the blog’s landing page. So in that interview about her book, her blog got a lot of mentions.

(See my VERY brief rule about Social Media HERE)

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/06/03/2-important-things-all-writers-should-know/

The interview was also smart-ass and relaxed because we’re pals. We goofed off a lot in it. And it was looooooooooooong. (A cardinal rule is to have shorter blogs, but in an interview, that’s not always going to happen. Especially if I’m talking.)

By coincidence, she had another author with a blog featuring her blog on the same day. He reposted her thoughts on writing about feelings. (They’d set it up a while ago and the two features, his and mine, weren’t coordinated.)

Like I said, she had a big one day jump in blog traffic.

Nice, but we need SALES! Right, well, your blog is a platform, and it will create loyal fans for your various works, but it doesn’t immediately create sales. A blog is a longer term format. But if you are going to blog, do it right.

Looking at her blog stats again, we screwed up – and here’s what we do next time. Whatshisname and I drove traffic to her blog. There’s proof. Well, good. I guess I should have been smart enough to anticipate that.

What we should have done was HAVE SOMETHING THERE for OUR readers ON HER BLOG once they got there.

Like what? It’s a blog. There’s stuff there already…

A sample chapter, posted that day, so when they clicked over, THERE IT WAS. No digging or searching.

Hey, you can do that.

Hey, I can do that.
Hey, I can do that.

Yes. Yes, you can.

Now, don’t just post the chapter as a bunch of plain old words. SELL IT – but do it nicely. Dress it up. Put a friendly greeting on top and let new visitors know here’s a sample chapter of my book for you – and have the sample immediately follow, no additional clicks.

One of my
One of my “ads” as a sample but yes you can go buy it.

Also, include some sort of enticement to get them to buy the book. Place a smattering of ads for your book throughout the sample chapter. Arrange the sample chapter with interruptions every so often, like a magazine article does: don’t go too long without a link or a picture. And instead of pictures, insert copies of the “ads” you made. Use ones that feature your good reviews.

Have a look at what we did in the interview, HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/new-author-profile-allison-maruska-the-fourth-descendant/

Don’t have ads? Make them, ask a friend to make you some.

Don’t forget a big ol’ picture of you and the book cover at the top of the sample chapter. Remember, Amazon shoppers can see a sample of your book anyway, so you aren’t giving anything away by having a sample chapter here.

Maybe even post a little “Hi, thanks for checking me out/checking out my blog – here’s a sample chapter just for you.” Maybe add this: “Special price on my book this weekend for readers of XYZ’s blog” and drop the price a little for a few days?

We have basically irrefutable data showing it worked (I don’t know how much Whatshisname tweeted etc., or what else he did.) BTW, follow up with your friends who do this for you – you should thank them for the increase in traffic AND ASK what all they did (tweets, FB, etc.) so you know. If they were lame, you need to know that too. One tweet doesn’t cut it.

Imagine if you did this, but you had FOUR or FIVE friends’ blogs all featuring you, all on the same day, all creatively tweeting throughout the day about it and you had YOUR blog with a sample chapter or two posted and a buy link at the bottom.

You’d get sales.

WOO HOO!!!
WOO HOO!!!

Then you’d repay the favor down the road. It would work. And you’d have what you’ve always needed: a marketing network. A small one, but you’d have it. Gotta start somewhere.

To recap:

  1. Write a good book and have a blog, a social media presence, etc.
  2. Convince a few friends to interview you or repost one of your more helpful/interesting blog posts. Interviews are fun; try that.
  3. Coordinate those blogs up to run on the same day
  4. They Tweet like mad and post on FB about the interview, how great you are rising star, etc. It’s the Hollywood treatment. I call it (The Schwarzenegger Treatment.) It works.
  5. Have a sample chapter with ads and buy links set up on your blog for that day
  6. Track EVERYTHING – this is harder than it sounds, but do it.
  7. A few weeks later, YOU have to do it for THEM
I was already busy, but this is great stuff! Who needs sleep, anyway?
I was already busy, but this is great stuff! Who needs sleep, anyway?

If something works, we want to be able to do it again. That means tracking the results. Measuring results. That’s a pain in the ass, and requires you to follow up with people and stuff. It’s not as much fun as writing. And it may not even pay off in the short run!

But you knew that.

Because marketing is misery. But increased traffic and sales are AWESOME!

Want me to critique the first chapter of your story? SEND IT. Hit the Contact Me button and, you know, contact me. I’ll see what I can do.

Right now you want to subscribe to this blog and not miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.

If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!

He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?
He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?

Enjoy my writing brilliance in all its glory on my Author Page HERE http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

and find out about the release of my new book “25 Great eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew” by emailing me at savvystories@outlook.com and I’ll let you know when you can get a free advance copy! Shh! Don’t tell.

Songs of Life and Stories of… well, life, too.

This is great stuff! Who needs sleep?
This is great stuff! Who needs sleep?

The other night as I was trying to fall asleep at 3 AM after a huge writing binge (of which I’m particularly proud), there was a commercial on TV for some old ‘60s records. Maybe they were ‘70s I don’t know. Oldies though.

They played a snippet of a song that I never really knew and certainly didn’t ever hear on the radio, I don’t guess. It’s just got a great little melody and it’s sung in a very sweet manner.

I just always thought it was a great little love song.

It stuck in my head, so the next day, I looked up the lyrics on the internet, to learn about the song.

I thought it was the girl singing to the guy, saying you and I are in this together, we are a team, the world doesn’t get us but we don’t need the world. And there’s one particular line that every time he makes eyes at her, she runs to him.

I thought, how sweet! What a lucky guy.

I could not have been more wrong.

She’s breaking up with him. She says we’re not right for each other.

Him, afterwards
Him, afterwards, I guess

When she said she runs when he makes eyes at her, she is saying she’s running away.

“You and I travel to the beat of a different drum,” does not mean you and I, together against the world. It means you are marching to one drummer and I am marching to a different drummer. We ain’t even on the same page.

And she breaks up with him.

Yet another song that I thought was a great love song turns out to be completely the opposite.

Fucking internet.

Either I have a totally dyslexic ears from my youth, or I am one of the worst interpreters of songs in the world.

It happens!
It happens!

But you know what? I like my version better!

I like happy songs.

I’m sticking with that.

i am not making the connection to writing tips here
I am not making the connection to writing tips here

Now, WHAT does any of that have to do with writing? Well, if a reader gets off track – as has happened with my stuff from time to time – it can cause them to completely misinterpret a scene. One crit said I should start every chapter with a reintroduction of the characters, anticipating the reader putting the book down and not coming back for a few days.

What? That’s insane.

How about writing a book a reader can’t put down? And if they do put it down, hope that they are smart enough to go back a few pages and refresh themselves with the freaking story.

There’s so much bad advice out there, it boggles my mind. Rereading introductions every chapter? If I read the book straight through, that would cause me to put it down – and never pick it up again.

Books of bad advice for writers - and these are just the ones from this year!
Books of bad advice for writers – and these are just the ones from this year!

Lunacy.

Here’s the deal. Assume your reader is smart. Assume your critics mean well. But write a story that you’d want to read, and write it the way you’d want to read it.

For a songwriter, if you don’t write a great tune, the rest doesn’t much matter. Crappy lyrics? Linda Ronstadt isn’t singing it for you.

For a story writer, write a good story. One with a quick pace and interesting characters, told in a compelling manner. Otherwise, all the good grammar and stuff doesn’t matter.

And if some pinhead misinterprets it for twenty years or whatever, that’s on them. Because I’m a smart guy but I liked that song anyway, didn’t I? Even though I misunderstood it? Still do. It’s a classic.

I just like my version better.

Odds are that kind of screw up won’t happen with a book.

Right now you want to subscribe to this blog and not miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.

If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!

He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?
He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?

Enjoy my writing brilliance in all its glory on my Author Page HERE http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

and find out about the release of my new book “25 Great eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew” by emailing me at savvystories@outlook.com and I’ll let you know when you can get a free advance copy! Shh! Don’t tell.

Writer’s Block

I have no idea what this is.

I mean, I know it’s when a writer can’t write, can’t think of what to write, or whatever, but I have never had it.

I hear everyone gets it…

So I don’t hold myself out as special, I just wonder

WHAT IS IT?

Maybe everyone doesn’t get it, or there are different things that qualify.

What is writer’s block for you?

Author Profile: Allison Maruska The Fourth Descendant

Allison Maruska
Allison Maruska

Hi gang! Today we are graced with the effervescent talent of Allison Maruska, author of the runaway hit “The Fourth Descendant” http://geni.us/1Odz

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Allison and I struck up a friendship a while back in a critique group, so now I can say I knew her when – as in, when she used to beat me up over dialog tags.

.

cover

Welcome aboard, Allison!

Allison Maruska: Thanks, Dan! *waves*

DA: They’re all waving back, too. Tell us about yourself. Who IS Allison Maruska? And not typical the boring bio stuff. The dirt. Like, when was the last time you did laundry?

AM: Laundry? That’s what Febreze is for.

DA: I ask because we indie authors sometimes have to multitask, and I am tasked with doing laundry today. So, can you put blue clothes and black clothes together? I know you can’t do white and red.

AM:  Blue and black together, yes. Cold water. This is a strange interview. LOL.

DA: COLD??? Hold on, be right back…

AM:  Well you don’t have to use cold but your colors will fade faster if you don’t.

DA: We try to be educational here. Allison, your first published book is The Fourth Descendant. It’s doing great; where did the inspiration come from for it?

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AM: I created four diverse characters and wanted to see if I could mash them into one story.

DA: Were they four different stories at first? Or were they always supposed to be part of the same bigger story?

AM: No. They were all to be in the same story.

DA: I read the story as two parts, maybe three… Getting to know the characters, the mystery in Richmond, and then the canoe trip.

AM: It’s a two-part story. The keys, the river.

DA: Can I change my answer? I was going to say that. I panicked. What was the hardest part to write?

AM: Hmmm…probably the shooting scenes, getting the technical and medical aspects of them right. Critters (critique partners) were a big help with those.

DA: Shooting? Like gunshots?

AM: Yes.

DA: Wow, I wouldn’t have thought that. Why was that hard?

AM:  Because I don’t have experience with guns.

DA: You’ve seen TV though.

AM dog 1c

AM:  Yeah, but that’s not always a reliable source. That’s probably what I started with and had to revise from there.

DA: Readers love the flow of the story, the fact that it has lots of twists and turns. Is that pure Allison Maruska? Is that what fans can expect from your other stories? Or do the other ones suck?

AM: Do the other stories suck? I hope not.

DA: They don’t – at least not the ones I’ve read.

AM: There are twists in everything I write. Even short stories.

DA: It shows. I saw that in a recent short story of yours.

AM: The trick is not falling into a predictable pattern with them.

DA: What an interesting observation. Like in comedy, they say things are funny when the pattern is established and then broken. I never thought about drama as having that same element.

tree pic B
“The trick is not falling into a predictable pattern”

AM:  Yeah, if the twists are always in the same places in books or of the same nature they can become tired.

DA: What would you like fans to know about your other books? What’s in the works?

Check out Allison’s Amazon Author page for additional titles when they are released HERE: 

http://www.amazon.com/Allison-Maruska/e/B00RAS3NFE/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1434732327&sr=8-1

AM: I love to write stories that include historical and scientific elements. Descendant was more historical in nature, and many of the facts in it are true – like the courthouse and the eugenics movement.

DA: I wasn’t aware of an actual movement per se until you told me about it.

AM: Yep. Pretty much how I describe in the book is how it happened.

My YA (young adult) mystery to be released by my publisher – if the stars align correctly – is about a brother and sister who learn they were genetically engineered to survive a global disaster.

DA: You have several YA books. Why is that? What appealed to you about that genre?

1439_43990250988_7710_n b

AM: I enjoy reading YA, but I can’t really say what inspired me to write it. I guess since my stories start with the characters, and the characters in Renovatio happened to be 16 and 20, YA was the natural place for it.

DA: Makes sense. The ending was especially good in Descendant, and also the YA stories of yours that I’ve read. Do you plan the whole story out in advance?

MA: Kind of. I outline the major points I know have to happen. The rest develops as I write. Michelle was Korean until I researched that and realized there were no Koreans in New York in 1912.

DA: What did you do when you found your character was historically misplaced? Readers and would-be writers might want to know what to do when that happens.

AM: I looked for a similar place of origin for her family that was historically accurate – China, in this case.

DA: And made her of Chinese descent?

AM: Yes.

DA: For me, she was the character I liked best.

AM: It’s funny to see which readers connect to which characters.

DA: Who is the most popular character in that story?

AM: Hmmm. That’s hard to say. Jonah gets a lot of favor, but so does Damien. But it depends on the reader. You connect with Michelle probably because of her name and that she’s a parent. A scientifically-oriented critter really liked Damien. The musician liked Jonah. Not a lot of love for Sharon. LOL.

DA: No, nobody’s gonna admit to liking the bad guy. Is that a spoiler?

AM: A soft one. Maybe.

DA: That could be a Rorscach test. Who do you identify with in this book? Sharon? Please stand over there. GUARDS!!!

AM: Right? LOL. One of my coworkers said she liked her, but she hadn’t gotten very far into it yet

DA: Stay away from that one. You’re too modest to say this, so I will: the book has done well for an indie first book. Sales are good and reviews are excellent. Why do people connect with the story? What’s your sense of it?

ad twitter 1

AM: I think people connect with the characters – like why they all have their favorite.

DA: Did you personally have a favorite in Descendant?

AM: It changed over time. Jonah was my favorite initially, because of his relationship with his brother. But Damien grew on me a lot as the book progressed.

DA: And depending on your viewpoint, Damien was the bad guy. When reading it in the critique group, I was actively rooting against him. And in real life, probably Michelle had the most similarities to you? Or someone else?

AM: Actually, I didn’t relate to Michelle very much. She’s similar to me in the fact that she’s a mother, but that’s about it. Each character has a little of “me” involved, I suppose. Michelle would be the cooped-up housewife (a flashback to when my kids were little), Jonah’s the carefree artistic type (more me now than Michelle), Damien’s the uptight type-A perfectionist (something I’ve been working to reduce in myself) and Sharon’s connected to her family.

DA: Now, would you consider having any of these characters extend into another book? Can fans expect any kind of a sequel or prequel?

AM: One makes an appearance in a later book, yes. Actually one of the main characters and one of the secondary characters.

DA: But no more details than that, huh?

AM: Well, I can’t give it all away. Where’s the fun in that?

DA: Descendant was your first book. You have another one, as you mentioned, that is with the publisher and is being worked on, but The Fourth Descendant was your first book that actually got published. What was the process like? Was it more than you expected? Less than you expected.

AM: I guess it wasn’t as scary as I expected. As long as someone who’s done it before is willing to lead you, the process is smooth.

DA: Now, you also do a blog. Readers might be readers of your books might be surprised to see that your blog often contains more humorous elements, whereas your books so far have not. Is that on purpose?

Check out Allison’s blog HERE: http://allisonmaruska.com/

Allison's Blog
Allison’s Blog

AM: Well, I try to put bits of humor in my books.

DA: That reads as less inviting than I intended. I meant to play up that your blogs are really funny. Obviously a dramatic story doesn’t really lend itself to gut wrenching laughter.

AM: The blog started as a humor blog – 100% humor posts. That was a year before I figured out I would write novels. The blog has a more relaxed, humorous feel to it. And I like to maintain a conversational tone in my posts.

Evidence of  disturbed mind. Allison got up early and put googley eyes on everything in the kitchen to amuse her kids. (Probably.)
Evidence of disturbed mind. Allison got up early and put googley eyes on everything in the kitchen to amuse her kids.

DA: You definitely do that. I love reading your blog. Then the blog evolved to being more writer oriented, more instructional and helpful for writers? How would you describe what it is now?

AM: That’s a good question.

DA: Finally! One good one.

AM: There are the writing posts, of course, but I also post about teaching and parenting, to a smaller degree. There are also posts specific to the books. Short stories go there. It’s my all-purpose place to post content I deem worthy to share. I don’t know what to call that. Ha.

DA: Like everyone’s blog, if they’re honest.

AM: Yeah, pretty much.

DA: Your engagement rate with its readers is pretty high. How do you find your blog topics? And what do you think makes an engaging blog post?

AM: The writing ones usually come to me in the critique group – like I’ll notice certain patterns in dialogue, for example, so I’ll write a post about that. I try to end the posts with a question to encourage comments.

DA: I do that. Except the question part. I need to do that.

AM: I try to keep them on the shorter side – around 500 words. Never more than 1,000 (unless it’s a short story).

DA: Right, you said that was kind of an axiom.

AM: Not everyone believes it. I think longer posts result in a higher bounce back rate.

DA: For readers that don’t know, and me, what is bounce back?

AM: They click on it, decide they aren’t interested, and leave. If the post looks like it’ll take work to read, they won’t stick around.

The idea mine: Allison's notebook
The idea mine: Allison’s notebook

DA: I’m like that. But only because most blog posts suck.

AM: So shorter posts, more white space is a good rule.

DA: What is white space?

AM: Shorter paragraphs.

DA: What about pictures? Good? Bad? Thoughts? Rules on using them? (Readers should know I am baiting our interviewee here, and she knows it. I’m guilty of overusing pictures in a post.)

AM: Yeah, totally know it. Don’t get carried away with pictures, unless it’s a photo-oriented post (like the one I did on funny inspirational posters).

DA: Well, a blog post about funny posters isn’t funny unless you can see the posters.

AM: Right. I use one or two images in my posts. I look for a relevant quote usually.

DA: You read a lot. Who is your favorite author or authors and who are you reading right now? Books, then favorite blogs? Inquiring minds want to know. Oh, and if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

AM: actually the one I’m reading right now and one of my favorite bloggers is the same – Emily Russell. I’m reading her book “Aurian and Jin”. Fantastic characters. I’ve been reading a lot of indie books lately by authors I met and interact with on Twitter. As far as mainstream authors, I really like Hugh Howey. “Wool” blew my mind.

DA: What was enticing about Wool, to you? Sheep? Nice sweaters?

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AM: The concept. It’s a dystopian story about humans living in huge underground silos because the outside world is toxic. You have to read it to understand the title. (Wink emoticon.)

DA: WTF? Is that a winking smiley face?

AM: Yes.

DA: I haven’t been paying attention to those. When I try to use emoticons, well, first of all I think guys look stupid using them in general, and I am absolutely the worst at it. I always select the wrong one and post it right after something else gets said, like “Oh, no, my uncle just died!” and I give a thumbs up or a smiley face. Horrid, those things.

AM: LOL. That’s would be a funny post. “Why I don’t use emoticons.”

DA: Damn straight. Screw ‘em. I don’t read, but what blew your mind about “Wool”? Give it away, nobody’s looking.

AM: Well, Howey is basically the king of indie authors. He broke literary rules that would never fly in traditional publishing (standards in Point Of View, for example) but he’s made it big. Huge. I think taking those risks made the story what it is. I’m trying not to post spoilers.

DA: Okay, and this is a question that might seem like a swerve, but who in God’s name would name a book “Wool”? Probably everyone we know would say that’s a crappy title because it doesn’t tell you anything about the story. As you implied, after you read it, it makes sense, but since shoppers aren’t yet readers/buyers, how do you decide on a good title for your book?

AM: How do I personally pick one?

DA: Well, Hugh Howey isn’t returning my calls at the moment, so yeah, you. I’ll make it easier: how’d you do it for Descendant? What made that name the right one?

AM: It depends on the story. Descendant was called “Four Keys” until Jonah was introducing Sharon to someone and referred to her as “the fourth descendant”. I knew that was the title the second I typed it.

DA: That’s cool! Pantser.

AM: Totally.

DA: Do you find that titles are particularly difficult?

AM: Yes.

DA: And BTW, you made the right call. “The Four Keys” is kind dull sounding. “The Fourth Descendant”- right away I’m asking questions.

AM: I like to make them part of the story (Descendant absolutely was) that the reader probably won’t “get” right away. It raises questions.

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DA: And the cover helped. It looks mysterious, and the colors grab your eyes. So is Hugh Howey an inspiration? Anybody else? What about when you were little?

AM: I read all the Nancy Drew books as a kid. Outgrew those and moved onto Roots and Gone with the Wind by middle school. History and mystery have always been my happy places, I guess.

DA: What about blogs? Any favorites to recommend to our readers as we wrap this up?

AM: I’ll give you two – Emily Russell’s and Nat Russo’s but I read several. A Writer’s Path is good.

Folks, I definitely recommend you check out Allison’s book. It’s gotten terrific reviews, it’s doing great, and it’s a great story. I loved it, my wife loved it. It’s available as an eBook, paperback, and audio book.

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Her book The Fourth Descendant is an AMAZING READ “The Fourth Descendant” http://geni.us/1Odz

follow Allison on Twitter @allisonmaruska

and check out her Facebook author page HERE

https://www.facebook.com/allisonmaruskaauthor?fref=ts

Here’s Nat’s blog www.erindorpress.com/ A Writer’s Journey – Notes on the Craft of Writing

Right now you want to subscribe to this blog and not miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.

He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?
He looks like he knows something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?

If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.

The Real F word: Writing FEELINGs Into Your Characters

man-reading-book

On occasion I’ll share a critique or a letter from a critique partner. The names of the writer and the story have been changed so I don’t have to give them credit for writing my blog for me.

Learn about why you should join a critique group HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/why-you-should-join-a-critique-group-you-arrogant-sob/

Dear Dan,

 

Some of my crits and beta readers suggest my writing is too male. I’ve been reading chik lit trying to get a better sense for how to go deeper with character development and the “F” word-feelings. I’ve noticed the opposite with some female writers; their male characters are too effeminate to be credible.

 

Here is an example:

 

“The character of Fred (in a post-apocalyptic zombie story) could use more emotional depth. For example, he finds a little girl. How does he feel about that? Is this a common thing, for him to see children and then treat them like adults? He really doesn’t internally process her presence at all.”

I don’t even know what some of that stuff means. And he’s writing to me for help!

The comments went on:

“I guess I want to know how he feels about the (post-apocalyptic world). Is he bitter? Did he give something/someone up? Does he resent his new life or does he like the freedom? Does she remind him of someone he left behind? I know a lot about his physical appearance and how he feels about that. Less of that would be okay. I would prefer to know more about his internal life.”

 

 

Wow, that’s a tricky area to navigate.

But I will. Cos that’s what we do here.

My critique partner asked:

When I read about Mike (the MC in Poggibonsi), I wonder the same thing. Are the ladies working you over for Mike’s leering? Do they want to know how he FEELS about being dissed by Mattie (Mike’s wife)? If Mike exposed these things would he just be pussywhipped or someone they have a crush on?

 

I’ve read a couple of Jilliane Hoffman’s books. That lady writes men like men. I mean you can feel the testosterone ooze off the pages. Then when she’s on the female characters, you see them entirely female.

 

I always appreciate your ideas, your candor and encouragement.

 

All this feeling stuff though, I need to go out and kill something.

That last comment is why I love the guy.

Don’t you, too, though? He’s trying so hard!

Okay, first decide who you are writing the story for. It’s not for everyone. Think of that target audience, narrow it down to one “person,” and write to him or her.

Learn more about that HERE:

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/whos-your-muse/

Then, don’t be afraid to show places where your character would have an emotion. It’s not all the time. If the zombie apocalypse story is lighthearted, it doesn’t need too much in the way of feelings. But characters evolve. Well, not the zombie characters. But the people in the zombie story may start out being not too feely, and grow to care about each other.

Shameless plug for upcoming novel
Shameless plug for upcoming novel

My MC in my comedy “Poggibonsi” doesn’t get beat up at all – because he is vulnerable. He has feelings and he shows them.

What are some things he does to show emotions?

The first thing he does, page one: he stops what he’s doing and talks to his young daughter. He picks her up and holds her. He takes the time to explain things to her in a way she’ll understand. That implies love.

Then, he wants to get frisky with his wife even though she’s grousing about being fat (she’s not fat). He ignores the comment and expresses his interest in her.

When they go shopping in Italy and she doesn’t buy anything and gets upset (again, because she says she’s fat – and while nobody else thinks that, does it really matter?) she decides to go drown her sorrow in ice cream, he doesn’t understand but he runs to open the door for her.

Plus, he has women flirting with him and he ignores it – because he loves his wife.

At school he’s involved with his daughter’s activities and friends. Now, that doesn’t mean his wife Mattie skips those things, but he’s involved.

Then he makes his daughter breakfast when his wife is hung over.

He worries about the possibility of divorce when he hears that her long-time friends are divorcing.

That’s all emotional stuff.

Later, they are traveling and they have a fight right before she has to return home (he has to stay a while longer for business) so she leaves on bad terms. He takes a shower in the hotel, then finds himself staring at the phone while he gets dressed. He wants her to call – we’ve all had that emotion – but by then she’s been so cruel to him just about every woman reading the story has given him permission to go cheat on her.

Go figure.

But that’s because it’s a story. You can do that in a story. It’s pretend, and people want to escape.

(Do not do that in real life. We will find your headless body in a ditch somewhere. You’ve been warned.)

When Mike leers at the beautiful young woman on the train, he feels bad about it. He worries about even sitting in the compartment with her, and doesn’t do it until somebody else does. He keeps checking her out, but he doesn’t think the other guy on the train should. He knows he shouldn’t be doing it either. He doesn’t say “Wow look at those tits!” He notices her eyes, her hair, her bracelet. And, well, yeah, her tits – because he’s a guy. But he doesn’t call them that. He even says derriere instead of ass or butt. That’s so women readers don’t get offended and also to show the character considers how women would feel about such words. That’s emotional stuff, his inner turmoil.

We talked a little about that stuff HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/748/

But in the end my story is mostly funny, so characters are allowed to be a bit crazy.

“If it’s funny enough, you can pretty much do anything.” – me.

I’m not saying I do it right 100% when it comes to emotions in my characters, or even that I get it right the first time. I bounced that “I’m fat” comment off a valued female critique partner. I asked another one how many lbs. a woman can gain after having a kid and being married 15 years, and not be fat but think she is – but no other women would think so. (Because his wife is not fat.) I don’t know the rules on this.

My critique partners do, though.

So I ask for input on things, and as a result my critique partners feel more open to guide me when I get off course.

Remember, I had to talk about “shooting” himself in the eye while masturbating. These ladies helped me write it so it would be funny and not offend women. Prior to that, they were advising me that Mattie on her period wouldn’t go to bed without underwear. When I changed that, and had her not be on her period, I got a few thank you’s – not because we couldn’t go there, but because it didn’t work. We want truth in our stories. And I wanted Mattie bottomless for the joke that came later.

Your character can’t be Clint Eastwood and Alan Alda, but he can start out more like Clint and end up more like Alan over the course of the story.

When the Zombie Guy meets the kid, he doesn’t act like he cares about her, but I was thinking he would after a while. That they’d become buddies. To do that, the author can have her trying to learn to be tough from him, and have him learning how to be soft from her. Or something. Have her ask him the questions the women critique partners are asking, and have him not have answers, then reflect on it.

You can add these things later, after you have the whole story written, but you can add them now. I’d do it now because you want to learn. Future chapters – and future stories – will benefit from that education.

Ask friends and critique partners for examples of ways to do it. It will be a sentence here and there, trust me. Like adding a few drops of cream turns coffee from black to beige. It doesn’t take much.

Without doing some of that, your characters may be too 2-dimensional.

How do you know who to ask?

When I get critiques, I turn around and read what that person writes. Do I understand and appreciate their writing? Do they see things how I do? Can I learn from them?

They can say whatever they want, but if I think their writing sucks, they don’t get much attention from then on. I like lots of my critique partners’ writing, but I explore each one. When you do that, see if you can spot the emotional reveal areas, and emulate a paragraph here and there. Adapt it. See how it fits with your characters. You’ll get there.

Ask for that help.

Ask for areas where it would occur and ask them to please give example of what might be said or done.

They’ll do it.

Right now you want to subscribe to this blog and not miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.

If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!

Carrrying that computer around makes him look like he knows something, doesn't it?
Carrrying that computer around makes him look like he knows something, doesn’t it?

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.