Alison Armstrong and the Independent Creators Alliance FB group

alison-armstrong-with-michael-easton-roger-howarth-aug-2016

Roger Howarth, Alison Armstrong and Michael Easton last summer.

Alison Armstrong is a gifted author I met through online fan groups for Michael Easton, the General Hospital actor who inspired my vampire soap opera thriller Hope Dawns Eternal. Alison and I met in person at a GH fan event in New Jersey in 2014. This morning she’ll be meeting Michael and his GH buddy Roger Howarth at another event in New Jersey. Since I couldn’t afford the trip this time around, I sent Alison a copy of Hope Dawns Eternal in hopes that she can hand it to him directly, along with a letter and a couple of poems I hope he’ll enjoy.

Back on October 8, 2016, Alison and I both participated at an Indie Authors Day held at libraries nationwide. Soon after, at my request, she sent me the following post about the event:

Having attended an Indie Book Fair recently as an author, I learned some valuable information regarding marketing and distribution; however, the overall message of the advice left me feeling disheartened regarding the arbitrary standardization of the publishing industry and upset about the commoditization of the arts in general.  Instead of focusing on creativity and literary talent, the speakers at the book event emphasized orthodoxy in page design (justified text, avoidance of stylistic content-driven page and paragraph breaks, etc.) .

Although I support the importance of proper grammar and punctuation and feel that these aspects, along with originality in content, expression, and style, are essential in quality writing, I do not believe that standardization of font, margins, and other traditional publishing practices should be given such a high priority.  Nevertheless, despite the increasing numbers of indie authors, the publishing industry persists in perpetuating typographic conventions that are usually not used in Word or other common writing programs.  In so doing, the publishing industry imposes an arbitrary standard to differentiate between traditionally published and print-on-demand authors so that the “indie” writers may feel pressured into purchasing services to make their work appear more like traditional published materials, thereby making their work less independent, more restricted by financial concerns.   Along with the standardization of text format , book publishers seem to be promoting an increasingly conventional approach to cover design, resulting in a glut of covers featuring monotonously similar figurative clichés associated with the book’s genre,  such as the faceless torsos displayed like slabs of cosmetically enhanced meat on the covers of lurid romance novels.

The arts in general, especially in the United States, are generally viewed in a similar way as those hunky yet generic slabs of flesh, something to readily consume as entertainment or profit from.  Favoring the familiar, the already established, the tried and true moneymakers,  publishing companies, recording companies, and movie studios sign fewer new authors, musicians, and filmmakers.  The newbies and the “indies,” therefore, seek new ways of gaining exposure for their work.  However, as with the “indie” book fair example, even some resources and organizations presuming to work on behalf of the independent artists devalue certain aspects of individualistic expression.

Independent authors, musicians, artists and filmmakers represent a challenge to the financially-driven industries that struggle to maintain a monopoly on the arts by propagating lookalike, superficially pleasing but often substanceless clones. The literary renegades, such as William Burroughs and J. G. Ballard, the ravaged voices of Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith, these muses of rebellion and individuality epitomize the freedom, intensity, and expressive potential of the independent, creative spirit.  

Inspired by artists such as these, I have created the Independent Creators Alliance group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/269464480120915/ ). I invite creators in any of the arts to join in solidarity, supporting each other and the ideal of artistic freedom. I envision this group as a place to express our ideas regarding the arts and integrity to our vision while connecting with other creative people. It can be a place to network, brainstorm ideas, share sources of inspiration, and collaborate perhaps on projects. In these rather depressing times, we need the arts more than ever to heal the soul.

alison-armstrong-indie-book-fair-10-8-16

Alison Armstrong at Indie Book Fair last October.

Alison makes some provocative points that are deserving of further discussion. I’ve joined her Independent Creators Alliance group on Facebook, and I hope you will too. And by all means check out her books Revenance and Toxicosis, both available on Amazon. But don’t confuse her with the other Alison Armstrong, who writes books about how women can please and communicate better with men. That’s definitely the wrong Alison!

Emily Hanlon’s Ten New Year’s Resolutions for the Fiction Writer

emily-hanlon-emily-at-pendlehill

Emily Hanlon

Emily Hanlon posted these New Year’s resolutions for fiction writers, and she’s given me permission to reprint them here. I first encountered Emily through the International Women’s Writing Guild years ago, when they were holding their annual summer conferences at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I gained a lot from her five-day workshop, and I’m delighted to be back in touch with her. She gives workshops both live and online as well as mentoring individual fiction writers.

Reading Emily’s bio, I just learned that like me, she’s a graduate of Barnard.

Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Fiction Writers!

Forged in Fire: Creativity and the Writer’s Journey!

  1. When I begin a new piece, I write without thinking or planning.
  2. I welcome the unexpected in my writing.
  3. My best writing comes from my heart and the fire in my belly.
  4. I become my characters, they do not become me. I go where my characters take me.
  5. I love my first draft writing for its chaos, fertility, and uncovered gems.
  6. I do not think about being published until the piece is finished.
  7. I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up.
  8. I write the story that is gestating within me—even if it scares me or makes me think I am losing my mind.
  9. Writing is a craft. Craft supports writing, it does not define it.
  10. I am a fierce warrior for my writing and creativity!

Excellent advice for all writers, fiction or nonfiction. It’s especially applicable to “pantsers,” who write by the seat of their pants without outlines or preconceived ideas. Planners who like to know where they’re going before they embark on their creative journeys may find some of the ideas intimidating, even downright scary, but you can take what you need and leave the rest.

car-night-road

Personally, I’m a pantser. My novels are character-driven, and the plots evolve chapter by chapter. I like E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” But I’m not gutsy enough to carry that method to the extreme. I prefer having at least a rudimentary map, though not a GPS; I don’t like taking directions from anyone else.

Of the ten resolutions above, I have the most trouble with #6: I do not think about being published until the piece is finished. For me, it’s impossible not to think about publishing; it’s the omnipresent elephant in the room. But when the writing is going well and I’m in a state of flow, I forget about publishing. It’s only in the before and after times, or when my inner critic kicks in, that publishing becomes an issue.

My favorite may be #7: I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up. Schedules are a major nemesis for me, one I’ll discuss in a future post. Even in retirement, with few fixed obligations, I have trouble maintaining a regular writing schedule, and that danged inner critic makes me miserable when I let distractions lure me away from my desk.

edvard-munch-aften-pa-karl-johan

Edvard Munch

Much of Emily’s coaching focuses on getting in touch with our shadow sides. Lately she’s been giving hour-long online workshops where students from throughout the country and abroad can participate free of charge. You can learn more about Emily Hanlon, her coaching and workshops, by visiting her website: www.thefictionwritersjourney.com.

What do you think of these ten resolutions? Which ones inspire you, and which ones scare you? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave comments. And subscribe to my blog by leaving your email address in the column to the right. Creatively speaking, I feel 2017 will be a great year, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

The NaNoWriMo Challenge – Do you play well with others?

Baldacci Total Control coverWarming up the car this morning before taking off for my Nia class, tardy as usual, I caught the tail end of an interview with the best-selling novelist David Baldacci on WAMC Northeast Public Radio. Joe Donahue, the interviewer on The Roundtable, asked him if he’d ever consider collaborating with another writer. “No,” he said. “I don’t play well with others.” 

Donahue was referring to writers like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich, who have published novels with a co-author listed in smaller type below their names. “Why would I do that?” asked Baldacci. “It would spoil all the fun.” 

I’m with him – I don’t write well in groups. Case in point: National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. I signed up again this month, though it’s been an exercise in frustration when I participated in past Novembers. Writing 50,000 words in a month is a daunting task. It comes out to an average of 1,617 words a day. You post your daily word count on a jazzy bar graph on the NaNo website. The graph and its accompanying chart track your progress and the date you can be expected to finish if you proceed at your current pace. Last night the site told me I’d finish on Christmas eve if I churned out about 2,500 words a day. In other words, I’d lose. 

The Albany area has a large and dedicated group of NaNo participants. There are multiple write-ins at various locations in the Capital Region. For the most part they’re at cafes and coffee houses, and for good reason – the caffeine tends to inspire jacked-up bouts of creativity, and people can hang out for hours nursing a single cup of coffee. Personally, I feel it’s only fair to order some food as well. This usually takes the form of high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar concoctions. One of my favorites is warm apple pie a la mode drenched in caramel sauce. Denny's French toast ad

That particular diet destroyer is on the dessert menu at Denny’s, where write-ins take place every Sunday night. Writers with laptops descend on the place like locusts at the Latham location, where they’ve taken to saving a separate side room for us. The Municipal Liaison, aka chief cheerleader, is Shannon Kauderer, a young woman with blond hair shading to green, who’s a chemist by day and science fiction writer by night. 

These Sunday night write-ins have an unusual format: folks write silently for 20 minutes, then socialize for 20 minutes, then write, then socialize. And so it goes, usually till midnight, sometimes as late as 2:00 a.m. (The fact that Denny’s is open 24/7 is a major inducement to patronize the place.) 

My husband thrives on this format. He can flail away at his laptop, then get up and stroll around the room, chatting with the other participants, most of whom are several decades our juniors. Then when Shannon sounds the timer, he can sit back down and resume writing right where he left off. Others can apparently write this way, although I have no clue as to the quality of what they’re churning out. Still others ignore the chit chat and write straight through the social breaks. 

Woman Writing, Picasso 1934

Woman Writing, Picasso 1934

I can do neither – at least not well. I work best in absolute solitude, with only my dog or cat for occasional company. No background music, no interruptions except for full-blown emergencies. I’ve learned to write during those 20-minute sprints, but I hate turning my creative process on and off at will. And I never talk about what I’m writing in the midst of writing it. For me, it dissipates my energy and scares away my ever-elusive muse. Huddling silently over my laptop while my spouse enjoys the company of younger women, I may come across as curmudgeonly, but I truly don’t care. Like David Baldacci, I don’t play well with others. 

Still, despite my reservations, I’ll probably show up for another Denny’s write-in. The positive energy is infectious, and I’m getting better at jumping right into my writing without procrastinating. I may make my 50,000 word count after all. Besides, there are lots of scrumptious desserts I haven’t tried yet. 

What about you? Can you write with others around, or do you require solitude? I’d love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

Help! I’m on Katie Couric’s show next week and I don’t have a thing to wear!

 

Katie in a dress that would never pass her show's dress code!

Katie in a dress that would never pass her show’s dress code!

This coming Monday I’ll be in the audience at the Katie Couric show, soaking up the atmosphere for my novel-in-progress, which is set in the land of daytime television. But I don’t have a thing to wear! After the phone call inviting me to attend, they sent me a lengthy e-mail explaining what I should expect and what they’ll expect from me. “Katie loves bright colors!” they said. I should “dress to impress,” with absolutely no black, brown, beige or gray, nothing dark or muted, and no prints.

Though I love Duke Ellington’s classic “Black, Brown and Beige,” I don’t cotton to those colors when it comes to my wardrobe unless they’re combined with something brighter. Nor do I usually wear straightforward primary and secondary colors. As an artist, I prefer subtler shades – and lots and lots of prints. But it’s Katie’s show, and she has the right to determine her own esthetic, so I’ll be hitting the January sales this week.

I thought I was well past the age of slavishly following someone else’s dress code, so why am I caving for Katie? Because except for a visit to the Conan O’Brien show many years ago, I’ve never set foot in the TV studio of a major network. Even though my novel is pure fantasy, I’m a stickler for accuracy, so I need to do some heavy-duty research. That’s more or less what I wrote in the online application in the section asking why I wanted to attend the show, and maybe it piqued the interest of some lowly intern processing the applications. I didn’t elaborate further, nor will I do so here.

I’m so excited about this story, so convinced it’s a high-concept project, as they say in Hollywood, that I’m not about to give away any specifics until it’s up on Kindle. Suffice it to say that it’s my first excursion into the paranormal, and it’s a lot more light-hearted and humorous than Eldercide or Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders.

When inspiration struck last spring, I was slogging away at the sequel to Eldercide, but I was bogged down and blocked. My husband was planning to enter Script Frenzy, an offshoot of National Novel Writing Month, and he suggested I join him. The challenge: to write a 100-page film or TV script during the month of April.

JULIE

(Frowns as she sips coffee)

            But I’ve got no desire whatsoever to write a script. 

SPOUSE

            Why not give it a try? What have you got to lose? 

JULIE

            That whole show-business world is so competitive, I’d never have a chance. 

SPOUSE

            Just do it for fun, as a creative exercise (pause as he gazes skyward) I know. What if you write about that show you always watch, and that actor you’re so crazy about? 

JULIE

(brightens and grins)

            Hmm . . . Maybe that could work.

FADE OUT

sf_winner_180x180And so I took a flying leap into the unknown – a totally new format, a new genre – and before long I was having a ball. I made my quota of 100 pages in the 30 days of April, submitted my script for verification and printed out my winner’s certificate, but that only took me a third of the way into the story. Then began the challenge of turning it into a novel.

I’d hoped my new opus would be finished already, but now I’m aiming for the spring equinox on March 20th. I’m asking you, my readers, to help hold me to that deadline. I’ll post progress reports every week or two, and I hope you’ll leave comments to cheer me on. If I really buckle down, maybe I’ll be free to write another script in April. Well before then, I’ll blog about Script Frenzy in hopes of enticing you to join. In the meantime I plan to reconnect with the wonderful online community of writers, and beginning this Valentine’s Day, I’ll be hosting guest bloggers once again.

As I wrap up this post, I’m watching the Katie show. Though she doesn’t look it, she’s celebrating her 56th birthday today. And those women in the audience are all decked out in cheerfully brilliant colors. Time to head for the mall – since orange is my favorite color, I’m envisioning something in orange sherbet or tangerine.

What colors do you favor for your wardrobe?  And how much are you willing to tweak your image for special occasions?

New Year’s Resolutions? Bah humbug!

Leon Comerre (1850-1917)

Leon Comerre (1850-1917)

Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? I haven’t, but at least I managed to write a new poem about all the lazy things I did instead:

TARDY RESOLUTIONS 2013

January second, and I haven’t made my resolutions yet.

Maybe it’s too late to bother. Too late to make it to the Y

in time for Nia, but for exercise I walked my dog

beside the lake, where he adorned the roadside

with an humongous turd too mushy for doggy bags.

I buried it with frozen clumps of grungy snow

left by the plow. So much for “Love thy neighbor.”

 

Back home I weighed myself, discovered I’d been ambushed

by four new pounds in just four days, crawled back in bed

and ate the raspberry strudel left from New Year’s brunch.

The sugar knocked me out. I fell asleep,

cuddling with my cat Lunesta, named for my favorite sleeping pills.

Waking at last, I slugged down coffee, gorged on leftover lox and bagels,

read the morning paper with its daily dose of mayhem – a murdered nun,

a stampede killing dozens after New Year’s fireworks in Africa –

then stole an hour blotting out the news with Spider solitaire.

 

Now it’s high noon. I’ve blown the best of day,

but no one will know, since my husband’s away,

unless I confess to this surfeit of sloth                                                                            

by posting this poem as my latest blog,

owning up to the deadly sin of wallowing

in total torpor. Shaming myself in public, flaunting  

a scarlet L for laziness, for lassitude,  an F for everything

I failed to do last year.

 

I know – I’ll take it from the top,

watch the midnight ball drop one more time in rerun,

erase this lackadaisical beginning

and make those resolutions bright and early,

trusting in tomorrow, praying for time.

I’ve only wasted one more day of life.

Last night the famed Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs (where Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie and countless others played on their way up) had its first poetry open mic of the New Year, and having the chance to read this poem there was a major motivator. People seemed to love it – at least they laughed a lot. The Capital Region’s poetry community is a wonderfully welcoming bunch of folks who are always generous with their applause. It’s great to be able to write something, then try it out on stage the same night.

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you make them, and if so, do they help you work toward your goals? Or do they just make you feel guilty?

This cat looks a lot like my beloved Lunesta.

This cat looks a lot like my beloved Lunesta.

 

                                                                                     

 

 

 

Mad dash to the finish for NaNoWriMo

Van Gogh's Night Cafe

National Novel Writing Month will be over in exactly 24 hours, and I’ve only got 48,000 words. The finish line is in sight, and by midnight tomorrow I’ll have to crank out at least 2000 more. I’m determined to do it, even if I have to pull an all-nighter the way I did for college term papers.

I hope the NaNoWriMo  administrators never read this blog post, because I’ve got a confession to make – I cheated a little. At about 35,000 words, like a marathoner, I hit a wall, and I knew I’d never make it at the rate I was going, so I copied a few online articles relevant to my research and pasted them into my document. Methods of suicide, assisted dying and state laws about same – fun stuff like that. Only a few thousand words, but enough to help me over what would otherwise have been a hopeless hurdle.

Even so, I’m proud to say that about ninety percent of the words are mine, all mine. Of those, I hope more than half are the actual first draft of my new novel. Those I’ve been formatting in traditional black type, double spaced. But they’re interspersed with miscellaneous meanderings. Many are about the developing plot and the evolving characters. I type those in single-spaced red. Green is for personal ramblings that have little to do with the novel – except that often they lead to new ideas for my fictional tale. And purple is for blog posts like this one, which I’m also copying and pasting into one enormous, unwieldy document.

I’m writing scenes about whatever captures my fancy at any given time, without worrying about where they may eventually end up in the book. Which point of view I pick depends on my mood – sometimes it’s Paula Rhodes, the temperamental CEO of Compassionate Care, the home care agency inspired by ElderSource, Inc., which I ran in the 1990’s. Sometimes I’m drawn more to Claire Lindstrom, the idealistic nurse who was my main protagonist in Eldercide. And then there’s the evolving character of Carolyn, who assisted at the death of her husband, who was suffering from the end stages of pancreatic cancer.

Edvard Munch - The Scream

My printer may have died, but I don’t have time to diagnose what the problem is and whether it’s fixable or I need to buy a new one. So I don’t yet have a hard copy to work with, nor have I reread most of what I’ve written. Sometimes I scroll back to read the last scene in order to hazard a guess as to what comes next, but by and large I’ve managed to banish my inner critic.

When December arrives, I’ll do a “save as” and begin dividing this humungous document into manageable sections. Then I’ll see what I’ve come up with and where I go from here. At that point I’ll have the luxury of slowing down and maybe letting that inner critic to have her say.

Though I’ve written four novels and published two of them, I’ve never worked this way before, but I’m enjoying it. Most importantly, the NaNoWriMo challenge has inspired me to barrel through the creative block that plagued me for so long, to get back to my writing, and to discover that my muse hasn’t deserted me after all.

 

Hallelujah – Discovering e-books, finally!

I’m declaring it official – I’m finally free of depression. After fifteen full months of wallowing in the doldrums, at last I’m genuinely happy. The reason? I’ve decided to write a new novel.

During my long dark night of the soul, I wasn’t at all sure I’d ever write again. If anything, I thought I might try my hand at nonfiction, maybe memoir, but it seemed my muse had deserted me, maybe for good. Turning 70 didn’t help. On the contrary, it confirmed the fact that I was finally a bona fide elder, and therefore absolved of the responsibility to do very much of anything. I confronted the years ahead with dread, because I couldn’t envision anything but irreversible decline.

So what happened? Last Sunday afternoon I attended a panel discussion and workshop sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, and organized by my good friend Marilyn Rothstein, who writes historical mysteries under the name M.E. Kemp. I hadn’t attended a writers’ conference for well over a year, and Sunday reminded me how essential the inspiration from other writers can be.

In particular, the panel discussion on e-books was exciting. Technophobe that I am, I’d steered clear of confronting this strange new world of publishing, but Gloria Waldron Hukle summarized the basics and made the process seem far less intimidating. (She admitted that her husband helped enormously with the technical aspects, and I’m hoping mine will do so as well.) Susanne Alleyn described her own positive experiences with Kindle. After being dropped by a major publisher, she got back the rights for her out-of-print books, and her agent helped get them on Kindle. The monthly royalty checks were especially satisfying, she said.

The royalty rates are great on Kindle: 70 percent on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35 percent on books under or over those amounts. There’s no upfront expenditure. I love the idea of pricing my books so that people can actually afford them. At panel discussions and signings, people have often told me they’d love to buy my books, but they simply don’t have the money. At $4.99 a pop, maybe they can take a chance. (Personally, I think long and hard before shelling out $15.00 for a trade paperback, and I very rarely buy hardcover books – practically the only one I sprung for this year was Keith Richards’s autobiography, since he’s always been my favorite Stone.)

After the break, Hallie Ephron gave a mini-workshop on “Crafting a Page Turner.” I found that inspiring as well, but I’ll save the details for a later post.

Back home that evening, I logged onto Kindle and studied their guide to online publishing. There are lots of technical steps involved, and I found it somewhat intimidating, but I could actually picture myself doing it!

On a three-hour road trip to the New York State Convention of Universalists this weekend, I dug through my black leather Fossil bag, the one I use when I want to look professionally upscale, and realized to my dismay that when I switched handbags, I’d forgotten my reading glasses. I can read without them, but just barely, and before long my eyes begin to smart and sting. I was in a mild panic till my husband handed me the Nook reader he’d recently bought at Barnes & Noble. He showed me how to enlarge the type size, and to my amazement, I was able to read easily for hours without glasses and without eyestrain, more comfortably than I can read a traditional book. And I found I could easily and discretely read while appearing reasonably attentive during boring workshop presentations. So I’m definitely going to buy myself a Kindle as soon as the newest model comes out next month. Then we’ll be able to compare and contrast the relative merits of each e-reader.

Back home last night, I resumed the search for my glasses. I was sure I’d left them in the depths of the purse I’d left behind, but they weren’t there. After a frantic half-hour search of the house and car, I finally found them in an unexplored side pocket of the black bag. So I’d had them all along, but I’m glad I didn’t know it – the weekend gave me a crash course in the virtues of e-reading, and proof positive that I need to convert my novels to e-books ASAP.

It’s great to feel myself tapping into the wellspring of my creativity after a prolonged period of drought. I hope you’ll visit my blog again, and leave comments – this time I truly plan to post more frequently.

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