Suicide is not an easy topic to talk about. But, that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it. In fact, the very fact that suicide is such a difficult topic to talk about openly means it's one we should be talking about.
Probably everyone has been touched by suicide, whether you've know someone who's taken their own life, read about recent celebrity deaths like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, or perhaps even have had suicidal thoughts or attempted yourself. Or all three.
Author Elizabeth Isaacs provides some staggering statistics in her blog post:
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. I am joining with many other authors and book lovers to unite, spread awareness, and reach out as a source of support in the conversation about suicide. But, truth be told, I am almost didn't write this post--and for the very same reasons that people don't want to talk about it.
I have reached a point in my life where I have had to say goodbye to many loved ones, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and so on. But, the number of people that I have lost to disease and age and even tragedies like drunk driving accidents and brain aneurisms in total barely sum to the number of people I've lost due to suicide. And, I lost someone else only a little over a week ago to suicide on such a tragic scale that I can't even put it into words. This week, someone I know had to be put on suicide watch. That's two people in two weeks. Even saying that out loud hurts.
I've contemplated suicide myself once or twice, too. Probably never too seriously, but I've been there, in the dark, unable to find a way out.
If you have thought about suicide you are not broken. You are not weird or selfish. You are not being dramatic. And you are not alone. Suicide doesn't just show up on your doorstep one morning with some grand offer that you can't wait to take advantage of. It's a vine. It buds and begins to grow inside of you, taking its time as it wraps around and suffocates you, blocking out the light until you barely have the strength to draw breath. It's distressing, intolerable, and gradual.
And it hurts. I know. I've been there.
But even in our darkest, most despairing moments, there are reasons to stay alive. To hope. To persevere. To cut the vine. To keep going.
If you are struggling with or considering suicide, know that there are resources and help lines. There are people who can help. There are ways you can overcome.
The first annual Book Lover's Unite for World Suicide Prevention Day Tour will kick off on Sunday, September 1st and will culminate in a twelve-hour Facebook Live Event on World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10th.
For more information, and to add your name to the giveaway, click here.
Join us on Facebook September 10th, 8am-pmCT.
Platform building is one of the most hotly discussed topics among writers, agents, and publishers. Publishers, and agents, consider an aspiring author’s platform when they make acquisition choices, and they look for authors who are active and authentic online, regardless of which genre you write. Social media isn’t the end all be all of author platforms, but used appropriately, it is an important tool in an author’s platform arsenal.
Social media is daunting. There are a whole bunch of platforms, and they all come with their own rules and tricks. Being 'on social media' does not mean you have to be on all social media. My suggestion is that you strategically pick the few platforms that work best for you and do them well, rather than trying to conquer them all and cannibalizing your own efforts. Another recommendation is to focus on on building your followers on only one or two platforms, and not thinning out your crowd amongst too many social channels.
Here's a few things to keep in mind about each social channel, geared toward fiction writers:
Facebook is a platform that's been around for a while. It was once the go-to platform for social media interaction, but constant change and fluctuation in Facebook privacy rules have made it a rather inhospitable place for authors. Rules have changed on what / how you can promote, and there is more noise than ever. Unless your willing to spend bucks on advertisements (and know how to wade through Facebook's algorithms to get your ROI, it might be best to be on the Book, but not put all your eggs in this basket.
Visual content is all the rage right now, and for this there's not better place to be than the Gram. Instagram has very active writing and reading communities and a lot of follower engagement groups to boost your interactions and ability to go viral. It's also a great place to build your visual brand, and show off your book covers, too. #bookstram is always a trending topic.
IG is not without its challenges. You need to know how to maximize your use of hashtags, for one. Filters are commonplace on Instagram, too, which has led to body image issues and can be a mark of extreme fakery. You also can't link within IG, so that's frustrating.
Speaking of visual, YouTube is the second largest search engine (behind Google) and it's a place to take visual one step further. Booktrailers are a great way to share content on YouTube, as are Q&As, live book launches, book trailers, interviews with other authors, etc.
IMHO, Twitter is the workhouse of the (adult) social media. It has a huge and very supportive literary network...and it also can turn very quickly into a vacuum of vitriol when the trolls get loose. Twitter is a great place to meet people, converse, and grow, but it's perhaps the most difficult place to be genuine (IG filters aside). It's also an easy place to step outside of the "novel writer" bubble and meet other types of authors, and other types of creatives--screenwriters, visual artists, etc. There are tons of writing events, like #pitmad that happen on Twitter, too, so it's quite the opportunistic platform.
Like IG, Twitter relies on hashtags. It's also a place you can/will/might spend a lot of time interacting on and there are more stringent character count limitations in individual posts.
Pinterest is also a (weirdly) popular place for writers. I haven't particularly figured out why, but I'm on it. Check back for details. Plus, while you're there, you can also find nifty recipes and cool DIY projects, so it is a great place to get lost online and I suppose that accounts for something.
Of course, there is some what not to do on social media, too. Primary amongst these is leaning on social media as a sales tool. Always remember that using social media as part of your platform is about interaction and engagment, not a sales pipeline. Sure, you can chat about your work and even drop a buylink or two, but your focus should be on interacting and building a community around your work, not forcing your book(s) upon them.
And, if you absolutely abhor social media, you don't have to use. There are endless other things you can do besides tweet, post, and share. For example:
If you have the funds, you can also hire an assistant or an outside firm to help manage your social media accounts. But, remember, authenticity is important in building a brand, and you'll need to keep careful watch over what's happening online. YOU are your own brand; be sure you manage it.
Be sure to maximize your social efforts, too. Link your blog to Twitter so it tweets when you have new posts. Get a scheduler (I use Zoho Social) so you can schedule your main pics and posts ahead of time. Slap that Pinterest HTML code into your website so you can easily pin. Make it easy for yourself to succeed and feel good about how you're using social media.
At the end of the day, remember that social media use is one part of your author platform...and it may not even be the most important part though it is an important component. It is critical for you to be active, to be easily found online, and to be authentic in your online interactions, wherever you're interacting. For further reading, here's an article on BookBub with 10 Tips for Authors on Using Social Media from a Literary Agent.
Of course, there's more to learning how to use social media than getting lost in the actual mechanics of doing so. You can also learn by reading the experiences of authors, agents, and publishers who do social media well, and by following them, too.
It's not enough to write a great story, with great settings and plot lines and character arcs. You could get all of these right and still come away with a whole bunch of lifeless words on paper if your readers are unable to connect with your characters.
Characters are how we--as readers--experience stories, and without that critical element no book, no matter how technically flawless it might be, will fizzle quickly to flatline status.
Emotions are what bring characters to life, and they are also what connect us to a story. This isn't just writing dogma; its a neurological fact. There are multiple research studies--like this one, which looks at the brain's reaction to the stimulation of fiction, and this one, which looks at how the brain digests stories--that delve into the parts of the brain activated by good storytelling. These, of course, include language processing areas like Broca's and Wenicke's, but also other parts of the brain that a reader (or listener) uses to experience a story. It's not a stretch to say that stories light up the brain, both in the figurative and the literal sense. This means that a well-told story bring the reader's experiences and emotions into play, which helps them feel more engaged, more empathetic, and more relatable--critical ingredients in building trust between an author and a reader. (Consequently, emotion leads to memorability, which leads to retention...and, somewhere along the way, has an impact on why readers become loyal to certain authors.)
Stories also have a link to oxytocin, that neat little pleasure chemical in our brains. Paul Zak, a professor at Claremont College knows a lot about how stories generate oxytocin. In his book The Moral Molecule: How Trust Works he writes:
And if oxytocin is released then it is more likely that people will trust the situation and the storyteller and more likely that they will take whatever action the storyteller asks them to take.
The science, I know, is some heady stuff, but of paramount importance to understand, even if it's just the basics. Knowing how stories--and emotion--influence the brain doesn't just shape novels, but everything you write - stories, blogs, heck, even marketing content.
Stay tuned for more blogs on a more pragmatic approach to crafting character emotion.
August is a notoriously "dead month" in publishing. Agents, editors, and directors are out of the office (probably with bags of unread manuscripts and galleys and other piles of paperwork); authors are tinkering around with writing schedules, catching up on reading and research, and maybe getting a few words added to their in-progress manuscripts; and normal people are doing whatever it is that normal people do...going on on vacation, living up those last days of summer before school starts back, everyone gets back in the office at work, and life-as-usual resumes.
In the writing world, this August slow period is the calm before the storm. The last four months of the year are insanity--and that's putting it mildly. Never mind the back-to-school rigamarole, the impending holidays, the changing weather that manages to surprise everyone every year, and all that other stuff that goes on in Pumpkin Spice Season. In the publishing world, fall means book awards, fall releases (often the biggest of the year), writing conferences, acquisitions pick back up, everyone starts thinking about the next year, and so on. Whatever side of the publishing world you're on, September means it's back to the grind, writing, reading, editing, promoting, submitting, etc etc etc, and trying to cram as much as possible into the end of the year.
Despite the fact that I dread being uber-busy with the kind of lackluster passion only the truly lazy can pull off, fall is my favorite time of the year. Fall is pumpkins and hot apple cider, changing colors and falling temperatures, darker days and softer clothes. In my house, fall decorations come out, the horror movie schedule is made, spooky new releases I've been dying to read shuffle their way to the top of the reading queue, and everything starts to smell like cinnamon and cloves. I start spending a lot of time in craft stores and clicking around on Pinterest, thinking about stuff I'll never bake and never sew. My daily usage of quotes from movies like Hocus Pocus and The Nightmare Before Christmas become even more than usual and I start stocking up on soup-making supplies. And, once the kid goes back to school and the days start to wane (which, here in Alaska, can't come quick enough after the wretched endless summer daylight hours, ugh), I settle in for the most productive writing time of the year. For me, there is nothing that sets the mood for a more productive writing day than cloudy skies and blissfully grey days. It truly is a harvest--all that idea-percolating and reading and inspiration sowing I've been tending to all summer is finally ready to be harvested, word by word.
So, with that in mind, here are a few of my tips and techniques to getting back to the writing grind after the summer lull.
Know when to write, and when not to write.
If you're an early morning writer, write in the morning. If you feel more inspired in the evening, write when the sun goes down. Adhering to a writing schedule and scheduling writing time are not the same thing. Make time to write every day, but set yourself up for success by choosing a time (and being flexible) when your writing will be the most productive for you. For example, I tend to write better at night, when distractions are low and the natural darkness lends itself to my stories' settings (usually between 11pm and 3am). But, I set aside time to write blogs and answer emails and other writing tasks first thing in the morning, when I'm sipping coffee and eager to get some checkmarks to start off my day (usually between 7am and noon). I'm useless during the middle of the day (that's when I do stuff like errands and chores and wander around the Internet thinking about anything other than writing), and I'm totally fine with that. Find your own schedule, and don't let anybody tell you that you're doing it wrong.
Gauge writing success by story progress, not word count.
We've all fallen victim to the standard of counting words instead of enjoying the process of writing them. Yeah, word count is important and there's a pretty strong correlation between approaching a word count goal and completing a draft (and, yes, we all know that Stephen King defines a good writing day as a Six Page Day), but--and we all know it's true--sometimes a mere 100 words of really great stuff is a heck of a lot better than 2000 words that basically suck. Instead of relying on word count to make you feel productive, try to gauge by story progress. If you only write a few hundred words, but spent hours researching something and are in love with what you wrote, then that trumps word vomiting out a whole bunch of yuck that you're going to have to feel bad about writing tomorrow. Or, maybe you didn't write any actual paragraphs, but you plotted out a stellar outline and got some really impressive one-liners stitched in. Cool. Quality is better than quantity, IMHO. Those big word count days will come; there will be days you get so sucked into the story your fingers just can't keep up and you blast out a number of pages that makes even Mr. King blush. But there will also be days when it's like squeezing blood from a stone. Both are okay. Just keep writing.
And, finally, find what inspires you.
Read. Watch movies. Play with your kid. Go to the library. Wander around outside. Chat with your friends. Lose yourself in Reddit. Whatever it is that you do that 1) relaxes you and 2) inspires you - DO IT. And do it often. Inspiration is like fuel for creativity. Without it, your creativity well runs dry, and that is true for the most novice to the most seasoned of writers. Being a "full-time writer" doesn't mean you're a veritable fount of nonstop ideas and imagination, and it doesn't mean than Name Brand Authors are some kind of creative geniuses, either. Really, it just means you've figured out how to keep your well full and set up good writing habits that help you write. This blog has 99 ways to get inspired to write...there is bound to be at least a few that work for you.
Even the most productive writers sometimes need to take some time away from the keyboard (or the notebook!) and refresh those creative juices. For me, the need to recharge always seems to hit at the most inopportune moments (typically when there is a deadline looming). Sometimes that low-battery warning signal flashes daily; other times you might go a whole month(!) before you feel your tank starting to rumble for fuel. BUT, no matter if you're writing your first novel or your fiftieth, or even if you're not writing a novel at all but tackling a short story or a stack of college essays, taking time to recharge your batteries can only help you, and that fantastic new world you're building, stay alive.
Whether you do it between drafts or between projects--or, maybe even between chapters because we've all been there--here are a few of the techniques I use to recharge my writing batteries when I'm feeling a little low on creative juice. (Some of them are even useful to keep up with all those other author-ly duties beyond crafting new stories--bonus!)
1. Go Read Something (and review it, too...maybe)
Whether it's a book you loved as a child or another perennial favorite, nothing keeps you ensconced in the written word but free of the writer's headspace like losing yourself in a good book. There's no shortage of research that touts the merits of reading: reading has been associated with a host of benefits from a greater sense of empathy to a decreased risk of dementia. There's even new research that focuses on the benefits of reading in bed, which can reduce stress by up to 68%.
Reading is an incredibly integral part of being a good writer. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find an author who says anything to the contrary. Being an avid reader is not only great for inspiration, but it allows you to do two very important things:
But, whatever you read, for the love of Coffee please don't read your own book's reviews. Here's what my friend and author Sam Hooker says about that.
2. Go on a Mini-Vision Quest
At heart, a vision quest is anything that provides an important connection between the participant, something beyond the self, and--usually--nature. Go for a walk (even a quick one). Research reports that hiking can boost your creativity by up to 75%! I'm particularly fond of beaches, whether of the tropical or more northern variety, so the first place I go when I'm stuck is the water, but maybe you're more of a tree person, or a mountain person, or maybe an animal sanctuary person. Just Go Outside.
Rainy, snowing, or otherwise just don't feel like putting on pants (word.)? Find other visual sources of inspiration. Flip through a magazine or old photo album. Check out stuff online. If you're stuck on a scene or description or image you just can't seem to nail, pictures can help. Pinterest is a great place for that (it's also a great place to find totally unattainable recipes, but that's another story). Binge-watch something on Netflix. Did you know when we "watch" stories an impressive eight different areas of our brain light up? Yeah. Not only is watching stories a great way to generate new ideas, see incredible imagery, and step into worlds other than our own, it also stimulates areas of our brain that deal with language comprehension and memory development, too. Oh, and it also generates oxytocin and, literally, makes us feel good, so, yeah. You're welcome.
3. Get Out of Your Own Head
Sometimes we all manage to write ourselves into some dark, weird spot deep within our heads that gets a little too stuffy, even for us. Recharging is as much about boosting up writing battery as it is giving our brains a change to breathe and reboot. And, I get that a lot of writers (maybe most, even) aren't the most social of creatures. Still, introvert or extravert or ambivert, there are a ton of ways to free yourself from your own writing shackles and get out of your own head...just for a little while, I promise.
For the introverts among us, consider indulging in a tangential hobby. Maybe writing is your primary creative gig, but there are tons of other options. I quilt, mess around in my herb garden, and occasionally bake when recharging (my neighbors refer to these random loaves as "Writer's Bread"). Try sketching, or adult coloring, or--hell--Legos if you want. Anything that doesn't involve writing. Just make sure you enjoy the process and don't worry over the results. It might be the clumsiest stitching you've ever done, or the most completely inedible cranberry walnut cake you've ever made (I'm looking at you, Pinterest), but hey, at least it's not a couple hundred wretched words you're just going to end up deleting later and feeling bad about.
For the extroverts, whoever you are, get out there and mingle! Catch up with non-writing friends, call your mom, or chat up the postman or whatever it is you chatty types do. Go out and rekindle relationships! Go to the gym! Fetch groceries at Trader Joe's during prime sampling hours! Do whatever it is that you do, but do it Away. From. The. Screen. Psychologist Susan Pinker says that face-to-face interactions drive both health and longevity, too, so there's that...which I assume is worth people-ing.
4. Do Something GOOD
As painfully and grammatical cringeworthy as it is to write: doing things that make you feel good, does you good (yes, even sleeping).
Doing volunteer work is a creative goldmine. Not only are you able to contribute to causes that you feel passionately about (we meet again, oxytocin), but you're doing good for others--whether it's animals, the environment, children, or whatever--and you're lowering stress levels, strengthening communication, and giving your brain something else to prioritize in the meantime, all of which helps you write better later. Now, I'm not saying you have to go out and organize a food drive or build a Habitat for Humanity or anything as lofty as that (unless you want to, and in that case you totally should). Doing something good can be as self-focused as treating yourself to a spa day or maybe helping out your local librarians by shelving books for a few hours. Read a story to a group of people at a nursing home (it's soooo amazing--I once met a 102-years-young arthritic mountain lady who was teaching herself calligraphy--she was easily one of the Top 5 most inspirational people I've ever met). Go pet ALL THE KITTIES at the local animal shelter. Whatever it is that brings you joy and gives joy to others, do it. You can't reap what you don't sow.
Love and creativity are intrinsically intertwined--even Einstein thought so--so you definitely deserve to give yourself the opportunity do something you love and enjoy the benefits doing that thing, so that you can come back refreshed and ready to write your next greatest story!
Ever since I first learned how to read, speculative fiction has been my happy place.
How could it not be? From fantastical worlds to near-dystopian realities, speculative fiction has the ability to transport the reader to an exciting new setting where we can fall in love with incredible characters, human or magical or otherwise. And, while it's taken some time for speculative fiction to earn its due literary respect, we're finally here. In fact, these days everyone from startups to academia is touting the benefits of reading speculative fiction. Why? Well, as the author of a recent Medium article succinctly pointed out: science fiction and fantasy can inspire, motivate and warn us.
Speculative fiction encompasses works in which the setting is anything other than the "real" world. It may involve supernatural, futuristic, or other imaged elements. It might be science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror or supernatural (or paranormal) fiction. Basically, any story that is outside of the grounded-in-reality every day world and explores something "unusual" is a work of speculative fiction.
Harry Potter? Speculative fiction.
The Lord of the Rings? Speculative fiction.
World War Z? Speculative fiction.
Diversity is at the heart of speculative fiction, and the reason is two-fold. First, we're writing diverse characters (human and non-human alike). Secondly, we're writing diverse worlds, some much like our own but only slightly different, and some wholly unique. Luckily, there's a few ways literary orgs are supporting diverse writers writing these wonderfully new diverse worlds!
Since 2014, the Speculative Literature Foundation has annually offered two diversity-centered grants: Diverse Writers and Diverse Worlds, both intended to foster the creation of speculative fiction work rich in diversity.
Writers may apply for either or both grants. Please note: your project does not need to center on identity issues. SLF also do not expect or want work that simply attempts to check off all the boxes in a tokenistic way, but rather are looking for writing that offers deep characterization, complex cultural landscapes, and strong literary quality overall.
For example, an excellent novel is Nicola Griffith’s award-winning Slow River, which features queer women protagonists; another is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series, whose white male protagonist deals with a host of personal disability issues, while ethnic, gender, and other issues play out in the cultural background.
The 2019 grant period is open for applications now and this year I am honored to be a judge.
More information about the grant, as well as instructions to apply, can be found here.
Ya'll, last night I got to party like the villain I am.
This summer, Walt Disney World is giving visitors the chance to have a wickedly good time with their favorite Disney villains -- Hades, Jafar, the Evil Queen, Maleficent (who has returned to her fire-breathing glory after a mishap in 2018), Dr. Facilier, and more -- and enjoy special dark treats (LIKE FREE MICKEY BARS, PEOPLE) this summer. The park, which had limited attendance to this ticketed-only event, stayed open until a glorious 2am, and was fully decked out for the villainous event, with "devilishly divine" special treats, ride enhancements (LIVE pirates in the newly-renovated Pirates of the Caribbean ride), special edition event merch, and a live DJ.
The Villain Castles
For more information on the event, click here.
THANK YOU to Disney for the invite, and the spectacular time!
Women fiction writers are coming!
SATURDAY, JUNE 8, will kick off the very first International Women’s Fiction Day, hosted by the Women's Fiction Writers Association, the premier organization for women's fiction. The day is intended as a celebration of the aspiring writers and published authors who create women’s fiction, those who work in the publishing and bookselling industries to bring these stories to market, and most importantly, those who love to READ this genre.
I've been part of the WFWA for many years, first as a member, then a contributor, a columnist, and now as the Director of Internal Communications. I cannot say enough about all the amazing things this organization does, and I am so excited to kick off Women's Fiction Day and show our support for all the incredible women who make this genre so inviting, supportive, and rewarding.
Join the Celebration
For me, summer is always a season of change. (Whether I like it or not.)
Sure, the days get longer and warmer. We take time off of school, and jobs, and responsibilities to relax, unwind, and enjoy life. But, for me, this time of relaxation also comes with deep reflection. Summer is the time that I not only rest, but I also think about where I am, where I want to be, and assess things in my life that may need changing so that I can keep to the path I've planned out for myself. It's a time of goal-setting, of reality-pacing, and--most importantly--of embracing the inevitable unforeseen and adapting to keep life on track.
Every summer brings change and transformation, and every year that change is magic. After all, while change can be good or bad, it is very rarely neutral, and we must learn to see the potential even in the changes we might not have preferred. That, sometimes, is much easier said than done. I am not a terribly optimistic person by nature, but if I have learned one thing in life it has been to roll with the punches, and to try to see the potential in anything. If you can keep moving, then you can keep surviving...and if you can keep surviving, then anything is possible.
The past year has seen much change in my life. After the release of The Isle of Gold in October, I signed with Gandolfo, Helin & Fountain Literary Management and was soon swept away on exciting new projects that I can't yet talk about (the agony of keeping secrets!). I joined the Havenwood Falls collective and have enjoyed meeting so many incredible and visionary writers--after all, writing a story is one thing, but working collaboratively to build a universe? That is no small feat! From my hair color to my writing schedule and nearly everything in between, change has been the story of my life over the past year.
More is changing. New projects. New collaborations. A new home, in a new part of the world. And as scary and sometimes overwhelming as change can be, I am embracing all of it. It is not always things that change around you, but sometimes the greatest change is that which you find in yourself.
So, what kind of changes can you expect, dear reader? Well, first is a more active blog--filled with regular book reviews and other literary shenanigans as I commit to working my way through my mountainous TBR pile and take a more active role reviewing both on my blog as well as providing reviews for other authors (I'm dipping my toes in the #bookstagram community, too). You'll notice some new branding on my website and social channels. More books, too, of course--I'll have news to share on that front in short order, including some anticipated sequels, a new prequel, surprise collaborations, and super-nifty-super-secret book-to-film projects that make my dark little heart happy. All in all, I am looking forward to another fantastic year and hope that you'll continue to follow along.
When most people think of Salem, Massachusetts, they likely (and rightly so) think first of the Salem Witch Trials that began in 1692 and tragically persisted into 1693, claiming the lines of nineteen women and men and two dogs.
Last year, The House of Seven Gables, the titular homestead of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1851 classic, preserved by a historic foundation in Salem, celebrated its 350th birthday. Also on the grounds is the house that was Hawthorne's true homestead, as well as other historic buildings, and an incredible garden (which was undergoing fresh planting when I visited!). I happened to have a chance to tour the estate shortly before the anniversary, during the few short weeks they allowed interior photography. You can check out the rarely seen pictures below, including a super secret staircase that fans of the novel will recognize!
The House of Seven Gables (in rarely seen photos!)