What Are My Options?

One of the big questions in every area of life is – what are my options? How do I want my hamburger cooked, what do I want on my pizza, how do I like my coffee – the smaller questions. What will I do for a living, how can I make ends meet until the work brings in the money, which of several directions should I take to get there – the bigger questions. (Why am I here, what is God’s plan for me, where will I go when I die – the most important questions, but not directly related to writing. ūüôā )

In writing, I’ve asked myself if I want to write fiction or nonfiction, business articles or romances, romantic comedies or superhero books with a romantic thread. While I like each of these ideas and many more, I have learned in life that you have to focus first to get started in any new endeavor. You can spread yourself thinner later. So I published a few nonfiction pieces, then focused on romance.

I went to Christian writers conferences in the early years because those were the writer friends I was hanging around. I got close enough that I was getting phone calls from an editorial assistant at Tyndale House, but I was writing just enough out of step that we could never quite get my work to run along on their track. Things never worked out.

A friend introduced me to her agent and soon I had representation. Surely my big break! It seemed the right thing to do was to continue with the romantic comedies (called chick lit at that moment, but shhh, don’t say that phrase any more). My agent and I talked about different things I could try when chick lit died. I chose not to pursue an opportunity with a Christian publisher who pays tiny advances. I was too insecure to try writing YA when my agent suggested it. I could see I had options, and – right or wrong – I made the best choices I could.

After four and a half years, I talked to my agent and decided to walk away. I was trying to do what I felt she wanted me to do, but my creativity was drying up by trying so hard. I needed a break. I’d been thinking about going to grad school for years, so when the opportunity came up, I took it. It was so beyond different from what I expected, not challenging at all, that I complained for a long time about what a waste of time it was.

But over the last couple of months, I remembered that I do have options. I can choose to live with disappointment over my grad school work, or focus on what I learned from it. For instance, I learned that I can write YA! I got some extraordinary feedback on a YA story I wrote. More excellent feedback on a spiritual dystopia/urban fantasy I wrote for my final project. And after flying to last year’s RWA National Conference the morning after my last class, and hearing a couple more editors tell me they weren’t sure they could sell my work, I knew I had another option.

I came home from that conference and decided, as an experiment, I was going to self-publish Little Miss Lovesick, the book my agent almost sold to two houses before chick lit died. When the process went a bit smoother than I expected, I considered my options again. I could keep trying to write and pitch my work to the current establishment, or I could start my own business again. The idea of running my own publishing company got my endorphins dancing.

One option that worked out for me was choosing to get involved in two self-published anthologies. The first one, Romancing the Pages, will come out in September as an ebook – see the lovely cover here. My superhero short story “Hero in Disguise” is one of nineteen short stories I hope you enjoy. In a few months, another anthology will be published with a dozen or so short stories written by my friends in my Sydney writer’s group. Another group of stories I think you’ll enjoy.¬†My “Rescue at Loon Lake” is a fun little precursor to my novel¬†Love at the Fluff and Fold.

It’s been a heck of a year. Several moves, several deaths, more months of unemployment than paid work between John and me, a lot of trials and testing. Career-wise, the worst part for me has been not being able to follow-through on my goals, my commitments to myself that I made end of last year. I’d planned to get Little Miss Lovesick into print by Christmas, finish and self-publish Love at the Fluff and Fold digitally and in print by March, and have the next book out in September.

Due to the weight of life this year, I’ve thought about sending my work to other publishers, let them do some of the work in return for some of the monetary rewards. I know I have options. Maybe giving myself a little break would help. It’s an awful lot of work to do all of the publishing work yourself. Several wise men in the Bible have said to count the costs before you start building so you don’t wind up broke, half-finished, and a laughingstock. I think I know the costs of continuing down my current path, and I’m willing to pay them.

I’ll continue to try to keep my options in mind at least once a year so I can adjust my course as necessary. It’s a good writing routine to have. In fact, because I love teaching and miss doing it more, I’m going to offer my Goal Setting and Time Management for Writers class again in January. We’ll start bright and early on the first Monday in January and get our ducks in a row for the coming year. I’ll remind you again when you can start signing up.

Whatever is going on in your life and your writing career, remember that you have options. Some will be better than others, but rarely is “I had no choice” true. What are some of your options?

My Creativity is Currently in the Warehouse (13)

I’m on a Warehouse 13 marathon right now. Even though we’re watching episodes we’ve seen, starting at Season 1, Episode 1, I still love it. That’s the great thing about stories you love. You can enjoy them over and over again.

The other thing about stories you love is that they inspire creativity. Watching episode after episode of Pete and Myka grousing at each other, competing with each other, and always having each other’s back presses all my creative buttons. When Pete asked Myka if she was afraid they were the Red Shirts, and she said yes, John and I laughed out loud when Pete replied, “First, we aren’t going to die. Second, I’m so pumped you know what that means.” [paraphrased]

Over the last 20 episodes, I’ve gone from just enjoying the show for its own sake to thinking about my work and how I can make it funnier, more interesting, tense without being over-serious, adding death and destruction if necessary without a Law & Order feel. ¬†All the artifacts and the things that they do make me think about what I can add to my stories, whether fantastical stories or “regular” ones.

One of the “ah-ha” moments in creating my current romantic comedy series, Strays of Loon Lake (Love at the Fluff and Fold, book one in the series, will be out later this year), was when I decided that a local dog was the frisky father of a lot of puppies in town. Suddenly I had this funny element that I could play up.

In addition to a lot of TV watching, I’ve upped my hours of reading lately. It feels soooo much better to be reading more, like I’m eating healthier or something. I’m reading a lot of nonfiction on writing, self-publishing, and neuroscience. But I’m also reading a lot more fiction than I have in the last year or so. I’ve been reading inspirational, historical and contemporary romance, young adult books, paranormal and urban fantasy books and short stories, some horror, and some suspense. (Trying to track it all on Goodreads, but forgetting to add the books every time.)

Now here’s a chicken-and-egg thought: in the midst of this burst of desire to pull creative stories IN, I’ve also been writing more, getting creative stories OUT. Did the extra reading inspire me to write more? Or did the deadlines for the two anthologies I’m in push me to gobble up more stories for inspiration? My answer is YES.

Add to all that, my jump from wanting to know more about how the brain works to finding books explaining it to me, and I’ve added yeast to the bread mix. I mean that in terms of rising and growing, not in terms of becoming gaseous and fermenting. Though the fermenting part is making me think of wine, which reminds me of living in Australia, which reminds me of some of the unexpectedly creative pieces I wrote in uni. (Now that I have Australia-brain, my brain is using Australian terms. “Uni” is short for university, i.e., my master’s in creative writing program.) And using Aussie vocabulary reminds me of my friends whom I miss terribly, which reminds me I was going to call Verizon this week and get that international calling plan, which makes me think about having some international characters in my superhero novels, which makes me think of the Cowboy character I created for a short story that went nowhere. Now I just need to figure out how to get an Australian superhero named Cowboy, and his super horse, across the ocean to Michigan where my superheroes are living.

And THAT is how creativity so often works. It’s a bunch of very quick, sometimes illogical jumps in the synapses of the brain that lead from one idea to another. The more you allow and train your brain to make these jumps, the more creative you can be. Sometimes you can even get more creative more quickly.

Many writers have named the part of their unconscious that does this work. Jennifer Crusie calls her unconscious “the girls in the basement” I believe. Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird that her friend Carpenter says there is a little boy in the cellar handing up characters through the cellar door.

I get this “down below consciousness” idea, but I’ve rarely, if ever, been in a basement that made me feel happier than any other room in the building (even the very cool basement of the State Library of New South Wales isn’t as awesome as the Shakespeare Room there; that’s a room I could be locked in forever!), and I’ve never been in a cellar that I wanted to stay in for hours. (Not even a wine cellar.)

I had problems being nice to that creative part of myself. I found myself whipping it to give me more, faster. It didn’t produce much, so I whipped it more.¬†Then I read and really got the idea that you needed to be nice¬†for the unconscious to flow. But basements and cellars didn’t seem that nice to me.

So I created a character named Katie, a little girl about 10 or 12 who plays in the sunroom or in the huge beautifully well-kept backyard. (I live in a small apartment.) Katie loves to read and watch TV and movies that make her laugh or make her a little scared but that always end well. She likes to pretend after the movie or book ends that she is the hero who vanquished the enemy and tamed (rather than killed) the dragon. Or she is the heroine who helps the hero save the day and they live together happily ever after.

I like Katie. I like her so much that I like to play with her even though she’s a little girl and I’m a grown <cough> woman. She’s fun. And when she’s making me laugh or making me wonder what will happen next in her one-girl backyard plays, I find myself writing more words with more joy than ever before.

As it turns out, both Katie and I love watching Warehouse 13, and mostly for the same reasons. Katie is giving me ideas about “artifact”-like things I can put in our stories. She wants me to put in more pop culture references like Red Shirts to make people who get the jokes laugh. I tell Katie this is too much work, I’d have to do more research, keep better notes, and I remind her that I too often lose my notes-on-napkins anyway so really–

Katie interrupts me with some cute begging and funny faces and tells me that surely these touches will make me really famous and make me heaps of money and (she knows this is the coup de grace) I’ll make people laugh.

I think about it and then consider the alternative. But what if I don’t make people laugh, Katie? What if they think it’s dumb?

And in her properly outraged 10-year-old voice, she shouts, “Then they’re dumb!”

I laugh and shake my head and agree to try harder to be cute and funny like her. And then I start writing and…well, Katie and I like the results.

What about you? Where does your creativity come from?

What I Did On My Summer Vacation – Kitty

What a quick two months it has been! Another month and summer will be over?! Holy smokes! So what have I been doing? Well…

As many of you know, my mother died in May. That was rough, and I don’t seem to remember much about June. In that respect, I’m glad that we decided to take a summer break here at Routines for Writers. I needed time. (And I thank all of you who have commented or sent me encouraging notes or hugged me when you saw me. You’re all such a great group of people!)

In July, I hit the restart button again. (We’ve talked about that before. I love that button.) I got back into my writing groove, finalizing a short story for one anthology and writing a new one for another anthology.

In August, “Hero in Disguise” will be published in Romancing the Pages, an ebook anthology of 17 short stories by writers of the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America. (See a picture of the cover here by Winterheart Design.) My story is the romantic meeting of the hero and heroine in my upcoming superhero romantic comedy series, The Adventures of Lewis and Clark. I love the way they meet, all dressed up on Halloween, lots of secrets between them.

Later this year, “Rescue at Loon Lake” will appear in Moonlit Encounters, an ebook anthology of 10 short stories and novellas written by my Sydney chapter-mates of the Romance Writers of Australia. Mine is the funny story of a newcomer, a lost dog, and the dog catcher. It’s part of the Strays of Loon Lake¬†romantic comedy series about lonely men and lost dogs finding love and a good home with women who are learning to find their strength. The first book in the series, Love at the Fluff and Fold, will also be out later this year.

In addition, John and I have been taking advantage of a break in his schedule to get cracking on the print version of Little Miss Lovesick. You may remember that I signed up to attend the Self-Publishers Online Conference in May. Due to my mom’s illness, I wasn’t able to participate at the time, but I am catching up. The suggested reading (Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, and Publishize) has been extremely helpful in putting together a nice looking print edition of the book. This also will be available later this year. You can see how busy I’ve been!

Last week, I attended the RWA National Conference in Anaheim, CA. I expected to learn a lot about craft and self-publishing and spend lots of time and energy networking – and all that happened to an even greater degree than I had hoped. But before noon on the first day, I had an unexpected surprise – I won a brand new Sony Reader!

I was so excited, I was jumping up and down. Here is a picture of me moments after Stephanie Beam Warner from the Sony Reader Store announced I’d won. I haven’t figured out yet how to get Little Miss Lovesick on it without having to purchase it, but I’ve got a nice “bookshelf” full of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and H.G. Wells already.

Because I love excellent desserts, I have to admit РI took a picture of the amazing chocolate something-or-other we had on Friday. I texted my author friend Kathleen Wright and told her I wanted to lick the plate. She texted me back to do it, but I restrained myself. Barely. Oh my gosh, it was delicious! Of course, I remembered to take a picture of the food, but I was so focused on what I was doing and learning during the conference that I forgot to take pictures of anything else. Not even a picture of me with my friend and roommate, Lauraine Snelling. Darn!

Lauraine and I had some great brainstorming sessions and great conversations with some of our other friends who were there – authors Charlotte Carter, Nancy Farrier, and DiAnn Mills especially. I also met the president of the Independent Book Publishers Association and had a great talk with her about that organization. I now have in my budget the amount of the membership dues so I can join as soon as possible. Plus, I think I know who I want to contact when my budget can support an attorney. One of the speakers was excellent and practices law in the publishing field (and in my state!).

Finally, to round out my busy July, the day after I got home from the conference, Lauraine and Kathleen and I spent another half a day brainstorming. Exhausting, but so worth it! During five hours of using Fring and Skype, we worked through some issues for the fourth book in their S.A.V.E. Squad series and the first book in my Strays of Loon Lake series. Both books are so much better for our time together.

So there you have it. That’s more or less what I did on my summer vacation. And it doesn’t even include all the non-writing things I did! Like most good vacations, I sort of wish it wasn’t over and I still had lots of extra time to work on my book instead of our blog. But like most good vacations, I’m also glad to be back.

Now tell us what you’ve been up to this summer!