Saturday, March 27, 2010

Guest Post - Anita Clenney

Hi All - I'm lucky enough to come into contact with lots of talented, interesting writers and I'm nosy enough to like to pick their brains. That said, let me turn it over to a new friend of mine, Anita Clenney.

My name is Anita Clenney and I want to thank Sheila for letting me guest blog. I’m a writer, I live in Virginia with my husband and two kids, and up until a little over four years ago, I had never thought about writing. It wasn’t even on my radar. I loved reading. I always have. I grew up on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and then I discovered Romance and grown up Mysteries. When I finally realized I’d missed the fork in the road that led to my destiny, I backtracked and started sprinting to catch up. I crammed eight years of writing into nearly four, and thanks to my wonderful agent, Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency, my dream has become a reality. I have a three book deal with Sourcebooks, Inc. The first, Awaken the Warrior, will be out in Spring 2011. If you’d like more info on my Modern Day Highland Warrior Series, you can go to

Awaken the Warrior is a Paranormal Romance…wait a minute. Paranormal Romance? It does have romance, lots of it, but it’s about secret warriors battling demons disguised among us and the demons would like to kill us all. There’s a lot more than romance. What about all that suspense and mystery? Where’s that mentioned in the label? Will the reader just think I write ghost love stories or have a haunted Highlander?

Genres confuse me. Sub-genres make me crazy. Cozy Mysteries, Thrillers, Paranormal Romance, Romantic Suspense, Horror, Urban Fantasy…I could go on all day. How do you know what you’re writing, or reading for that matter?
Many people interchange these labels and obviously these genres and sub-genres overlap, especially Paranormal and Romance. When you’re dealing with a subject this vast, I don’t think it’s an exact science. Your Paranormal could be demons or time travelers or vampires or a harmless ghost. Or a time-traveling vampire ghost.
Horror and Paranormal can also be confusing. Horror can include paranormal elements, and Paranormal can include lots of fear, even elements of horror, but I think real Horror relies more upon raw, gut-wrenching terror, sometimes with a good dose of gore thrown in. I don’t like gore. That’s just my taste. In my first story, I have a demon rip off half of someone’s face, but he’s a bad buy and it isn’t terrifying. Creepy yes, but not crap-your-pants terrifying. Maybe that’s the difference. At least to me. Paranormal can have some pretty creepy characters, but there is a sense of hope. Evil will be conquered. The day will be saved. Horror makes me feel like I’m hanging on the last rung of the ladder into Hell by a broken fingernail. Some people eat that stuff up. What is it about humans that want to be scared?
The experts have various theories. For instance, that we aren’t really afraid so much as excited, and being excited is fun. BS. I had to dig my sister-in-law’s fingernails out of my arm when we saw the Grudge. She’s a good example. She loves scary movies, then she has to drive home with the interior lights on in her car. What’s fun about that? And my son begs to watch a spooky movie, but then calls me into his room several times a night because he heard something outside his window? I don’t think he’s having fun.

The other theory about our attraction to fear is that the sense of relief we feel at the end makes it worth the terror. Could be. If you’re dealing with horrific issues in real life, maybe watching someone being tortured takes your mind off your troubles.

When it comes right down to it, I think we all want to be enthralled, taken out of our lives for a few hours. Whether it’s through love, emotion, fear, or even terror. We want to FEEL. It means that we’re alive.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Life Props - the things that ring a bell

I've been off the blog for a while because I've come to that transition period faced in nearly every adult's life: moving my mother out of the family home. For some people this is a much harder and more emotionally fraught situation than I am facing, saints be praised. My mother is ready to move and has found a lovely apartment that is NOT a senior center so she still has her independence and her choices. She has lived in this house for forty five years; she and my father oversaw four kids, two grandkids, and countless animals. There have been happy days, hideous fights, bloodshed, kisses and drama of every human variety. Sadly, my father died three years ago and my mother's health is not all it could be, so it's time for the house to open itself up to a new family to create their own history within its walls.

Okay, enough of the feel good talk. Now it's time to dig out FORTY FIVE YEARS of stuff. My mother is not a terrible hoarder (again, praising those saints) but the task still boggles my mind. Books, awards, flags, maps, boxes, photos, paintings, dishes, glasses, vases, cushions, corkscrews, rakes, shelves...aggghh. Mom wants to take very little with her and she wants each of us to select those things that matter to us before the estate sale company comes in and liquidates the rest.

This is where it gets interesting.

We've all heard (or lived through) horror stories of relatives descending on a house after the family member has passed away and fighting over their "emotional attachment" to Grandma's plasma TV or diamond broach. This is not that sort of interesting. We are cleaning out the knick-knacks of our childhood. There's nothing of any significant financial value and it has been endlessly fascinating to see who picks what and why.

I had obvious choices: the plastic statue of a knight in shining armor I bought for my father when I couldn't have been four years old. He kept it all these years and I'd have fought the devil himself to keep it. I learned my oft-used party throwing skills from my mother, who has always been an accomplished hostess, so it's only natural I would take her white party dishes. There's nothing unique about them. They're white dishes, but they've been set on beautiful tables and covered in delicious food eaten by happy laughing crowds. The choice is obvious and I worried I might have to debate with my sibs over them.

But no. My sisters and brother and nephews have their own touchstones - a tool box, Grandpa's table, candy dishes, Notre Dame memorabilia. The decisions and the connections are intimate and difficult to explain and I would never presume to publicize them. Seeing who choses what and why, the funny stories that each of us connect to the unlikeliest of items has reanimated memories of my childhood, adding shade and texture I might otherwise have lost.

Now I'm thinking about my characters. Set aside broad physical characterizations, deep forays into back story. What are the totems and touchstones they carry with them from their travels, good or bad? Items of no consequence that evoke powerful sensory memories from one person and leave another shaking their head? How much more real will my main character become if I can peek into that dented shoe box she keeps stuffed in the back of her closet, wrapped in an old copy of Mad Magazine and tied with a piece of leather she braided herself at camp? The details will probably never make it onto the page but we humans are funny things. We may turn our backs on love, fame and fortune but then cling forever to a silver dollar our godmother gave us. We become accidentally interesting.

There's a coconut head we bought as a family forty years ago on a vacation in Myrtle Beach. It is unspeakably hideous and not in a quirky, kitschy way. This thing is fugly. It is also the emblem for the two week vacations we took every year without exception. My parents would have seen us without clothes on our backs before they saw us without two uninterrupted, sun-soaked weeks at the beach with no curfews, no shoes, no baths. Just sun, family and junk food. And really ugly coconut heads. Did I mention that this is REALLY ugly? Even as we speak, I'm clearing a spot on a shelf.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Multi Media, baby!

Sometimes life throws rocks at you; sometimes life throws you some lemons and sometimes life throws you a bone! In the busiest, most stressful month to date, Eric Fritzius of WV Writers saves my bacon by doing the heavy lifting and inviting me to talk about this and that on the WV Writers podcast. I hope you'll give it a listen as well as checking out the archives of the podcasts. Eric is a consummate professional and, if the same were true about me, he'd already be on this site!

Stop me if you've heard this before: if the link doesn't work (or doesn't appear because I have link-invisibilitis), let's just get old school and cut and paste.

Thanks, Eric!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Self-Promotion or "That Other Whore" Syndrome

For many writers, the thought of being caught self-promoting is almost as mortifying as being caught self-pleasuring, if not worse. Despite all the industry warnings to writers about shrinking promotional dollars in publishing houses, many writers still gasp and blush at the thought of tooting their own horn, peddling their own brand, advancing their own agenda. They consider themselves artists, not hucksters. Their work should speak for itself. Self-promotion is tacky; that's what publicists are for.

I've been promoting other people's events, brands and products for over a decade and, where I work, we have a translation for that mindset: "I'm too good to do that, but I'll pay some other whore to do it."

Sound harsh? Yep. Does this mean you shouldn't have a publicist? Absolutely not. But let me tell you a few things about publicity you may not have thought of:

Publicizing your book (event/product) is part of my job, but only part of it. I have a dozen other books/products/events to cover, as well as my own paper work, meetings and the pressing need to scrape gum off the station vehicle seat. It's not that I don't care or that your work doesn't matter. It does. I'm a professional, but I have to be professional in all of my tasks. This is why--

Nobody can express the enthusiasm for your book (event/product) that you can. There is just no substitute for the voice of the author when talking about a book. I work in radio where voice is everything and I've had authors who wanted other people to talk for them because they didn't like their voice. Dumb. You know your book better than anyone alive. It's your enthusiasm that will sell the audience. Therefore--

Express that enthusiasm. Practice talking about your book in public. Make up questions an interviewer would ask and practice answering them aloud. This is not the time to play it cool. You were passionate enough to write the book; express that passion when discussing it. Save the mumbling and self-deprecation for the paparazzi chases and glitterati parties.

Be a valuable asset. Remember that when you are on a show or in a magazine or at a bookstore, you are impacting the livelihood of the people that work there. They are gambling on you to add value to their product. Be polite. Be gracious. Be entertaining and patient. Everyone is working for a living. Your book is your baby. Their show/magazine/store is their baby. Make sure everyone plays nice together.

Publicists have the advantage of experience, contacts and connections that you may not have, but any publicist will tell you that a quality product and an enthusiastic client make their jobs so much easier. Rather than sitting back and handing over the PR duties to someone else, consider it an apprenticeship. Learn how the business works. Be a partner in the process.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

In Praise of Showing Up

The hard and fast rules of reality are not the only things I don't believe in. I have a great mistrust of many words: mandatory, webinar and heartstrings to name a few.

I'm four chapters in to my new mystery, my first swing at the genre, and for me the writing is going at a glacial pace. I'm keeping my word count pretty steady, if low, but I don't have that great sense of bounding that usually sets in at this point in a story, the feeling that I can't type quickly enough to keep up with the ideas bearing down on me. Please don't think I'm one of those writers (if such a creature exists) who never fears running out of ideas or who never hits a lull, it's just usually, I have an ultimate sense of the story and action that, due to the nature of this story, I don't have. Circular, but it makes sense to me.

So here's the thing: I am tempted, OFTEN, more often than ever before to take a night off here or there, to put the pages down and say "Why don't I let this just stew a bit?" I've reread what I've written and I'm satisfied enough that I don't want to throw myself under a bus. Surely I'm on the right track, right? I can take a little breather.

But I don't. Am I chicken? You bet. Maybe it's because I am so unsure of myself in this new endeavor. Or maybe it's because I do like what I've already written that the thought of NOT showing up to this damned keyboard for another round makes me nervous. What if I lose the teensy bit of momentum I've managed to gather? It's not much but it's more than I had a chapter ago. Even worse, what if what I've already written ossifies into the dreaded "nice try" or "good start" You know how those go, those little false starts and half pages that mock you and scurry around under your desk when you're deep into a self-loathing in which you assure yourself that everyone who has ever doubted you was absolutely correct. Leaving even one little bone fragment of a story ungrown is like putting one more bullet in that gun.

I just don't trust myself.

And so here I go, another day, another pot of coffee, another low-ball word count expectation. I'm just going to keep showing up and chipping away at this little bastard and I will unearth that narrative even if it's more a result of erosion than insight. Basically, I'm going to outwait it. Because what if it turns out this cold I've got isn't a cold at all but an exotic coffee born virus that will pluck me from this earth before I've revealed whodunnit?

Here's hoping I can create some equivalent drama on the page. After all, who's going to vindicate the iguana-habitat builder wrongly accused of hanging the land developer from a banner nail?

How about you? Ever have to grind it out? I'm not talking about legitimate life curve balls that need to be addressed. How do you overcome your ineritia? Self doubt? Any good ideas? I could sure use them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What is it like?

Nobody ever said being a writer would be easy. There are scads of articles and books and blogs about the difficulties, the loneliness, the anxiety. This is not one of those blogs. It can't be for a number of reasons, the primary one being this ain't what I do for living. Yet. Nope, I'm still hanging on to the dreaded "day job" for now so in my mind, writing is the spoon I'm using to carve out the tunnel in my cell. One tiny scoop at a time and I'm that much closer to breathing fresher air.

But what is it about writing that makes those of us who write constantly hold it out for inspection? Get two writers in a room and invariably they will talk about their process and projects with the same weird rolling eyes as the people in Close Encounters creating huge mashed potato towers. What is it about writing?

My own sister has recently joined the fray and we were trying to answer the question: what's it like to write? Not "Where do you get your ideas?" or "How did you come up with that?" but "What is it like when you are onto the scent of a project, when you're in the clutches of an idea?" Monica said it's like the first time you have sex - you start out thinking you know what it's going to be like and not entirely sure what exactly is involved and afterwards you think "Man, that was so much better than I expected." Clearly, my sister and I had very different first time experiences! (I'm hoping my mom still can't find this blog.)

What is it like for you? How do you describe it? Throw your pile of mashed potatoes on the table and lets build that tower.