The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta grew up in Austin, Texas and now lives in Boise, Idaho. Her fiction, essays, and poetry have been published widely, and she has been a featured storyteller at many events. Her 2012 poetry collection, The Fairy Tales Mammals Tell, was described by Ben Fountain as “wise, unflinching poems.”

elisabeth_024-300x300

Elisabeth has literature degrees from Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Texas at Austin. She wrote a PhD dissertation on the intersections between memoir and myth, a concept that now informs her teaching. She teaches writing at Harvard Extension School.

Elisabeth lives with her husband, two children, and the best behaved Labrador you’ve ever met. She enjoys hiking, reading, cooking, making new friends and drinking tea with old friends.

Today, she gives us the gift of six minutes in the following guest post. She also has some terrific writing prompts on her website. Thank you, Elisabeth. Here is her post.

     _____________

As I stood at the sink in the 5’s this a.m. and pulled the lever for instant-hot water (we installed it after I burned the bottoms of three teapots because I got distracted while waiting the six minutes for the hot water to boil) I felt a lesson coming on.

Those missing six minutes glowed at me, a symbol for how in requiring things like hot water to be ready now, we lose small pockets of creative unmapped time.

Obviously I didn’t spend those six minutes well or particularly mindfully.

The reason for all the burnt teapots is that I usually spent them feeding the dog, opening some mail, trying to unload the dishwasher without waking the whole family, wandering off to clean some mess. Tasks, to-dos. The practicalities that spread a foundation for being able to indulge in my chosen luxury, the luxury of writing poems.

But those minutes were my minutes, minutes all to myself, minutes that hadn’t yet been spoken for. And as a new mother for the second time, I am aware of much life can fit into six minutes. Real life, good life, not just tasks. In six minutes I can write some compost into a journal. I can whisper “walk” to the dog and spend six minutes in the early morning moonlight. I can read, really read, an e.e. cummings poem.

I’ve spent years courting the opposite extreme, that for any creative thing to occur all of the practical tasks have to be finished first. I don’t believe this anymore. What I know now is that in the thick of a full life with all its major components – work, people, travel, habits, housework, spontaneity, eating, using the body – that the most reliable moments of recording beauty happen in tiny dashes, six minutes here or there. And a writer’s main job, in my book, is to force us to really look at all the beauty.

I don’t always accept this, but I try to remember it. I feel regret for the lost time I have spent disengaging with beauty and creativity because I was so intent on getting things done. I would like to tell my younger self, “You girl, you writer, you use those six minutes to be there for it all. Get distracted by the moonlight and by the words, by the poems you love. Be there and write about it and use a timer to go back to the tasks in time so another teapot won’t burn.”

Here, this morning, I take my hot tea (made instantly) into my perpetually cold hands; I whisper, “walk” to the dog and go outside in the early morning moonlight.

    _____________

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta’s new book The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers was born out of her experience as a writing teacher and her desire to create a series of short, fun workshops that busy people can do in as few as six minutes.

61y4g-aPJkL._UX250_

Lillian Holmes and the Leaping Man – Guest post by Ciar Cullen

Today I’m proud to introduce Ciar Cullen, author of Lillian Holmes and the Leaping Man. 

At the cusp of the twentieth century, an heiress turned detective enters a world of deception and danger and must learn to trust her nemesis with both her life and her love.

Tormented by a tragic past, Miss Lillian Holmes nonetheless found the strength to go on, to become the greatest female detective of her time. To make her uncle proud. Except…he was not truly her uncle. Sherlock was a fictional character, and Lil was less a true detective than a sheltered twenty-six year old heiress with taste for mystery…and  morphine. But then she saw him. Leaping from her neighbor’s second-story window, a beautiful stranger. With the recent murders plaguing Baltimore, here was a chance to  reveal the truth.

Except, the Leaping Man was far more than he seemed. A wanton creature of darkness, an entry point to a realm of deception and evil, and to a Truth she had waited countless years to uncover, he would threaten far more than Lillian’s life. He would take both her heart and soul. And she would rejoice in it.

Read an excerpt here.

She has written a guest post for the blog today in honor of her book tour with Virtual Writers. Let’s see what Ciar has to say about her heroine. 

My Heroine, a Most Unusual Woman

 Baltimore, 1899

Single heiress, 5’8”, on the too-slim side, brunette. I love to read books that women shouldn’t read, especially the novels of A.C. Doyle and other mysteries. I ride a velocipede at night to avoid public scrutiny, avoid balls and gay evenings with my peers, and prefer the company of a few close friends. I am prone to the Melancholies, but find that reading helps soften my anxiety. I seek a companion who doesn’t want my money, who doesn’t bore me to tears, who would favor an adventurous wife over a normal lady. Are you out there, anywhere? No, I think not. 

My heroine, Lillian Holmes, is not so different from many of us (especially introverts)… she craves love, but doesn’t feel as if any of the gentlemen who come knocking on her door are sincere or interesting. She loves her books better than shopping for dresses or new bonnets. She treasures her one close friend, Bess, but feels she often fails her. She has chronic depression, but no one recognizes the disease, and she turns to the medicinal of the day, laced with morphine. Lillian craves adventure, fantasizes about being something more than a woman locked in the gilt cage of her mansion. She’s just like so many of us, except that it’s 1899.

Unlike the women in Pride and Prejudice, for example, a woman of means in this era didn’t need a man’s hand in marriage to survive. But she has the same longing for love, for partnership. Lillian does find love, a happy-ever-after (well, as long as she disposes of all of her enemies), but it is in the last person she would have expected…her nemesis.

Writing this book got me thinking about unusual women in literature, and about the reason so many of us love them. Of all things, I thought about Nancy Drew. First written in the early 1930s, Nancy Drew was a most unusual girl. She had a few close friends, and a boyfriend, but nothing gets in her way, not even handsome Ned Nickerson. She will solve the case, and you know it from the first page. I remember clearly going to the big Hutlzer’s store in downtown Baltimore with my grandmother, and as a special treat, she would buy me the newest Nancy Drew book. Looking back, I see what many feminist literary critics have mentioned—a somewhat anachronistic sketch, filled with tension between the era and the wish-fulfillment of the reader. And looking back, I realize that all those Nancy Drew books got deep inside of me, probably had a little to do with me pursuing a doctorate in archaeology, and certainly colored my rendering of Lillian Holmes. Thanks, Carolyn Keene (all several dozen of you, including the man who started the series). Oh, and by the way, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my hero is named George (although that’s another girl in Nancy Drew) and her best friend is a plump Bess. It’s a nod of thanks.

Thanks so much, Ciar, for sharing your thoughts with us. You can enter the raffle below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I encourage each of you to visit Ciar at the tour other stops along the way. Click the banner below to see more details.

 Lillian holmes small banner 

I hope you find time to snuggle up with a good book this week!

 

More lessons in self-publishing

Today, I learned yet another lesson in self-publishing and I’m going to share it with you. As you may know, KDP Select allows a five-day free promotion period for ebooks. You can schedule it whenever you like using the Manage Promotions link from your Bookshelf. I’ve been extraordinarily busy and my three month term has almost flown by so when I realized this today, I decided to pull the trigger on the 5-day promo. Easy and simple to do.

Then I realized that as with everything else in self -publishing, the key was promoting it. Why would I want to give away free ebooks, you ask? Mostly because I hope to generate interest in the book and garner more honest reviews on my Amazon and Goodreads pages. I approach the book promotion process exactly the same way as I manage my social media platform – I seek to slowly and intentionally build a strong network of followers. I try to effectively utilize every tool available to me. I give more than I expect to get.

So…how to maximize my 5-free days? I found some places to promote free books and I quickly realized that last minute isn’t the best way to do this. Next time, I’ll plan better. It might sound like a lot of work, but I suggest that about a month before you plan to offer your ebook for free on Amazon, you do some research and sketch out a general marketing plan.

There are lots of places which will accept your submission and add your book to their sites and feeds, but the rules vary from site to site. Some require that you submit 14-days ahead of time while others will not even accept your submission until the free offer is live on KDP. Some have very strict guidelines about genre, content,  number of reviews, and the score of your reviews. For instance, I ran across several places which would only accept a submission if your book has a review score of greater than 4 based on a set number of reviewers.

I’ll leave you with some ebook promotion links and the suggestion that you plan ahead for your free book promo with KDP. Also, don’t forget to utilize every other social media channel available to you – Twitter, Tumblr, FB, etc.

The good news is that as soon as I began submitting, I started to see my number of downloads climb. It works.

The above list is just a starting point. A simple Google search will yield hundreds of sites willing to promote your free ebook. Pay close attention to their rule and guidelines. Don’t waste your time (or theirs) submitting to those which aren’t suitable for your ebook.

The art in this post was created by Tessa Pearson, one of Ink & Alchemy’s Featured Artists. Click any of the pieces to go to her website. If you have art or writing that you want to share with the world, consider submitting to me. Click here to access the form.

Love & lit,

Robin

My Eyes Are Closed, a guest post by Lisa Malabanan

Lisa Malabana is the author of Consonance, and she was kind enough to agree to write a guest post for us as part of her Book Blast Tour. Lisa and I have a lot in common; we are both influenced by the ideas of art and creativity. It’s been a pleasure to connect online with her. 

Thanks so much, Lisa, and best of luck in your literary endeavors! And now…Lisa!

“My Eyes are Closed,” Choosing the Perfect Book Cover

“I don’t like this picture, my eyes are closed.” I’ve heard that excuse many times, and often use that reason not to choose a picture for a photo album. Picking a perfect book cover is not as simple as deleting a bad picture. I’d rather shut my eyes.

My daughter happens to be a good artist in the making. Like me, she loves music, even played the piano for a while and the guitar briefly. She gave up those instruments for the clarinet (for now). Art is the only thing she remains devoted to. Unlike her I am no artist, but I can clearly form an image in my mind when it comes to my story and characters.

Consonance is heavily influenced by music. The inspiration for the story came from my abandoned instruments (piano, guitar, and bass guitar). I wanted to bring them to life and tell a story in the process. I could go on and on about how music can inspire a story, and how a story can inspire a song, but I want to focus on visual art instead.

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Whichever art form or style is used, the image or sculpture can elicit an emotion, interpretation, or wonderment. If it is intriguing, then a person will want to learn more about the art piece and the artist.

A book cover should bring about the same principle. Readers peruse the many assortments of books in a bookstore or ebooks in the online store. If a picture captures the attention of the customer, he or she will proceed to read the book blurb, and decide on whether or not to purchase the book. That first impression is essential to make a sale.

 An eye-catching book cover is important, but the image should also fit the description of the book. I may pass on a book if the cover has a raging sea with a man drowning because his boat capsized, although the book flap and excerpt indicates a romance novel set in the Civil War period. Yes, I am exaggerating to illustrate a point.

I am embarrassed to admit that my first book cover for Consonance was terrible. My idea to have a picture of my piano keyboard and the strings of my acoustic guitar to make it feel more personal backfired. This idea actually did the opposite of what I was aiming for. The cover was boring, even the colors were muted and it did not help my book to pop out saying, “Stop and read the blurb!”

The image didn’t seem personal. It was just piano keys and guitar strings. There is nothing special about the picture, so it’s not worth the reader’s time and he/she will move on to the next book.

My initial concept failed, although this did not mean I can’t try again by infusing something personal. For the second attempt, I closed my eyes and imagined the book cover from the perspective of my protagonist, Elle Martins. She is a classically trained pianist, a singer, and guitarist recruited into a newly-formed rock band.

The entertainment image of a stage, spotlights, musicians, and a wild crowd of fans cheering with hands in the air appeared exciting. Yet my mind didn’t envision or embrace that thought. The piano was vital to my cover. After all, the story introduces Elle’s talent on the piano before readers discover her other skills.

Next, I hired a book cover designer. It is important to work with a designer who understands the concept of the story and therefore, comprehends an author’s vision of the book. We agreed on a set budget and how many revisions would be covered in that price range. She gave me resources of royalty free image websites, and gave me the freedom to choose pictures that I like while she did the same based on the book description I provided to her. She also gave me the time I needed to make changes to the cover before agreeing on the final product.

The designer offered three possible book covers based on the images I liked the most. She followed my concept of hands playing the piano and hiding the woman’s facial features so the readers can have their own mental picture of Elle’s appearance. I finally chose the image that means something personal to me.

My second book cover is simple, but it captures the essence of a musician playing a song of her story in a classic style. I am very happy with my choice. To me, the book cover is “picture perfect.”

            The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. ~Aristotle

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog. I had a wonderful time sharing my experiences with you and your readers.

Sincerely,

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”

Stupid questions to ask self-published authors

“Did you use a real publisher?”

“Is it a real book?”

I’ve heard these questions and other similar queries many times, and not just from those dissociated with the writing and publishing industries. What kinds of people ask these questions? Traditionally published authors. Struggling writers. Non-writers. Friends and family. The guy at the bus stop. Basically anyone.

This is rude and thoughtless. It’s akin to walking up to a set of new parents, gurgling baby in arms and asking, “Can you trade it for a real one?” “Will it get any cuter?” Inherent in those questions and especially in the particular phrasing which uses the word real is the assertion that a self-published book isn’t valid. Dead wrong.

Self-publishing is a perfectly acceptable way to get your book into print. It’s quick and inexpensive. What it isn’t, however, is easy. It still requires the same hard work. You still need to write on your lunch hour and burn the midnight oil. You still need to write, write, and thump on that manuscript until it doesn’t make you want to choke with embarrassment. Then, you need to find a trusted cadre of readers brave enough to give you true and harsh feedback. Rewrite again. Find an editor. Rewrite again. Proof that sucker multiple times.

The process of writing hasn’t changed a bit.  It’s still really hard to do it well and terribly difficult to find success. The good writing will hopefully get noticed and the bad writing will sink to the bottom. Note that this  is just a general rule and isn’t necessary true in all cases – see  The Cuckoo’s Calling and 50 Shades of Grey.

You finally drag your tired carcass across the finish line with this raggedy-ass manuscript in hand and guess what? More work and lots of it. You either need to hire someone to design your cover or get very familiar with GIMP or Photoshop. You need to navigate the idiosyncrasies of .mobi files versus .epub. You must slay the dreaded auto-indent that lives in KDP-land.

I’m not saying that every self-published book out there is a sparkling, beautiful gem, just waiting to be discovered. Sub-standard work exists and the fact that anyone can publish pretty much anything they want means that the publishing world has drastically changed. We need to change with it. We need to accept and understand the new paradigm and begin to strengthen it.

What I’m saying is a self-published book doesn’t suck simply by virtue of being self-published. It very well might be poorly written and ill-imagined, but you must read it before you make that determination.

Self-publishing isn’t new, it’s e-publishing that’s new. Proust paid his own bill in order to get Swann’s Way published . Many familiar authors such as Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Benjamin Franklin,  and Edgar Rice Burroughs (among countless others) utilized some form of self-publishing.

So your manuscript is finally ready. You go through the steps required to turn it into an ebook and then a physical book. Are you finished?

HELL, NO. You are not even close to being done.

Now you must market this thing. You must network and promote. And lest I be misunderstood, let me clarify something here – when I speak of marketing and promoting, I mean you will spend months, maybe years, building a platform and maintaining it.

This process is not for cowards. It isn’t going to work for those who lack initiative, follow-through, or tenacity.

So – have some respect, please. The next time you speak with someone who just self-published a book, think about the tremendous amount of perseverance, hard work, and sheer heart that it took. Congratulate them on their huge accomplishment. Give that author a big old bear hug from me!

If you wish to have an opinion on the book, you will need to do one of two things:


1.) Go buy the book and read it.

2.) If you don’t want to buy the book, ask the author if you may receive a free copy in exchange for an honest review. I guarantee every single author will agree immediately. Now go home and read that book.

Finally, go to AmazonGoodreads, and B&N and review the book. Be kind but give them your honest opinion. These reviews are invaluable for several reasons. Remember I said anyone can publish and they do? This means that the market is glutted and one of the important ways that authors differentiate themselves is using reviews.

Yikes! I can hear everyone out there clamoring and shouting questions about the current state of book reviews.


 Are they trustworthy? Can one pay to get a review?


Answers:  I don’t know. Yes, I suspect so.


This is a topic for another post and I will table it for now and come back to it at a later time.

Let’s just focus on HONEST REVIEWS. If you can deliver them with clarity, honesty, and specificity, they can serve to help the writer better understand her readers. That is worth it’s weight in gold. If you have something to say that might seem a little harsh to just toss out there into the cyberworld, limber up your fingers and send that author a kind but honest review of his book. This is a kind and generous, and something that most people don’t take the time to do for writers.

Criticizing or diminishing the efforts of self-published writers weakens the industry. Instead, let’s take a positive approach. Encourage and applaud self-published authors. Review. Refuse to give anything but an honest review.

By the way, most of these principles also apply to indie artists who are trying to make their way. Let’s lend support and love to all creative people brave enough to put their work out there.

P.S. If you choose not to read the book, you only have one option. Kindly shut up about it until you have something informed and useful to say.


These gorgeous collage pieces were brought to you by one of Ink & Alchemy’s Featured Artists, the talented Emilia Elfe. Clicking any artwork will take you to her website.

As always, thanks for spending time with me. If you wanna hang out some more, visit my platform.

Writer promotion in exchange for honest reviews

I am seeking honest reviews for a recently published collection of midwestern-noir short stories. In exchange for your review posted at Amazon and Goodreads, I will add you to my Featured Writers program and promote your work or site throughout my platform now and in the future. You’ll find details about the program on my website. If interested, submit the form and note that you are requesting a review copy of my manuscript and I’ll provide it by email.

Thank you!