Frequently Asked Question: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

insecure2bwriters2bsupport2bgroup2bbadgeThis month’s question comes from the Insecure Writer’s Support Group … and it’s one I get a lot when I do panels as well.

I have a few, to be honest, but I’ll narrow it down to two.

The first one is homophones and malapropisms.  These drive me crazy.   Anything from not knowing whether to use their, they’re, or there to the difference between broach (approaching something) and brooch (a piece of jewelry), or knock (tapping on something) and nock (fitting an arrow to a bowstring), will get up my nose in a heartbeat.  And yes, I have seen arrows being knocked and women wearing broaches — in published material, not just drafts.  This is why spell-check is not the only editor any of us need.

Maybe it’s because of my days as a newspaper editor, but these simple mistakes leap off the page at me and take me straight out of a story.  It tells me that the author didn’t know better … and that they didn’t even bother to get a proofreader to look at the story, let alone an editor.

The second is egregious errors in fact.  There is a difference between taking creative license and flat-out getting it wrong.  People who read a lot of historical fiction tend to read a lot of non-fiction about the eras in which they are interested, and if you get it wrong?  They’ll know.  Heaven knows I do.  Like homophone errors, this is a sure way to pull me right out of a story.

Our goal as authors is to keep our readers in the story, not make them stop in their tracks and wonder what the hell we were thinking.  So, let us be vigilant.

Frequently Asked Question: What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?

insecure2bwriters2bsupport2bgroup2bbadgeHi, everyone.  I hope that you had a safe and relaxing Independence Day celebration if you’re in the USA.  Unfortunately, several people in our neighborhood were letting off illegal fireworks.  That’s hard on the local wildlife, domestic pets, and veterans with PTSD.  I hope that all will re-think this practice in the future.

Anyway, it’s time for another Frequently Asked Question.  This one comes from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group site (welcome, visitors from the blog hop!).

It’s hard to pick just one valuable lesson from all of the years I’ve been writing.  As most of you know, I have been writing for as long as I can remember.  However, I also had a career as a journalist and a newspaper editor at one point in my life.  So, there are different lessons to be learned from journalism, writing non-fiction, and writing fiction.

faq-2027970_1280When I boil down the lessons I learned from all three types of writing, though, the thing that stands out is Do Your Homework.  It doesn’t matter what your subject matter happens to be; you need to know your stuff.

If you’re not sure where to begin, take advantage of a tip I got in journalism school.  Children’s books are a great place to get a grounding in the unfamiliar that will provide enough information for you to understand what questions to ask next and where to go for more in-depth research as a result.  I used this tip most recently when researching Bayou Fire.  I was in New Orleans, looking at types of architecture I’d never seen before.  These were private homes in many cases, so I couldn’t go inside to poke around.  Luckily, I found A Young Person’s Guide to New Orleans Houses in a local bookstore.  It not only told me what the types of houses were, including their fancy decorative components, but also gave me floor plans so I would know what those houses were like on the interior.

It doesn’t matter what type of writing you’re doing; the homework that you do before you set pen to paper makes a difference.  Your story will be all the richer for it, readers who are subject matter experts (that happens even with fictional topics) will appreciate your diligence, and you’ll feel more confident about your writing in the end.

 

Frequently Asked Question: Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

574144294_1280x720The subject for today’s article is the Question of the Month for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group … and it’s one I get myself from time to time.  So, here’s the unvarnished truth.

First, let’s get this out of the way:  this question is not about feeling discouraged.  I have confirmation from a best-selling author that this happens to every single one of us.  This is about throwing in the towel.  For me, the short answer is yes, I did.

What happened was this:  I was a newspaper editor, which was the job I had aimed for with my career since I was 18 years old.  I had just written my first book, a work for hire called Born of War … Dedicated to Peace.  I had been assured that my role on the military base was safe, but that had proven untrue; the organization for which I worked was being inactivated.  The Dept. of Defense had found me another job, but it was one in a role I hadn’t held for well over a decade … and for a boss who turned out to be abusive.  That’s a story for another time.

To make a long story very short, I stopped thinking of myself as a writer, because my day job no longer entailed developing stories, researching the news, and all of the other things that I thought made me a writer.  I didn’t pick up the proverbial pen again for almost a decade.

ITEOTB Wrap Cover frtWhat made me come back to it?  Honestly, a short story idea that didn’t shut up until it turned into my first novel, In The Eye of The Beholder.  I had characters showing up in my head who demanded to be released into the world.  It took me four years to finish the book, but within short order I had both a UK and a US publishing contract for the tale.  I’m not going to lie; I was lucky in that regard.  I had contacts who made introductions to some people, and things fell into place.  When the rights reverted back to me on both contracts, I re-released the book on my own.

During those moments of discouragement I mentioned earlier, I wondered aloud on Facebook why I dared to call myself a writer.  Several of my friends said the same thing:  “You are a writer; you write.”  And that’s the bottom line.  As long as we are still writing, we are writers.

I’m not an especially religious person, but there are numerous Biblical references that say “Therefore, be not discouraged.”  I think that, regardless of our faith (if any), we can all use the reminder not to give up on our dreams of writing.

Just for today, therefore, be not discouraged.  Give yourself the same advice tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.

If you are writing, you are a writer.

Frequently Asked Question: How Do You Prepare for an Author Appearance?

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This weekend, I’m doing final prep for my appearance at Clockwork Alchemy.  So, I thought I’d give you all a little insight into what that involves.

First, I’ve made sure I have inventory for all of my paperbacks.  I’ve done some new covers, but I still have a little back stock of the old ones … which means I’ve also come up with a different pricing strategy this year.  There’ll be a discount on the old covers while supplies last.  That way, there’s an opportunity for people who want the same content at a bargain.  I also have business cards with a QR code that will take people to my website, where they will find information about my eBook-only work.

Second, I’ve planned my table decor.  Having an inviting and nicely decorated sales space makes a huge difference; people want to check out your work if you and your merchandise look interesting.  Because Bayou Fire takes place in New Orleans, I’ll have Mardi Gras beads, alligators, and even a plush crawfish in the mix!

Speaking of beads brings me back to the concept of lagniappe:  I will have both the beads and badge ribbons as little give-aways, even for those who don’t buy a book.  I needed to make sure that both arrived in plenty of time for the show … and they’re here!

Third, I need to know my schedule.  I am only participating in one panel this year (“Verisimilitude in Fiction”), but there is another I really want to see (“The Girl Reporters”).  That means I need to make sure that my table is covered.

Fourth, the actual logistics of selling require that I have change on-hand and my Square device charged up so that I can take credit cards.  I also need to make sure that my brochures are folded and ready to go; I decided to do a brochure that I can change readily rather than spending money on rack cards that are obsolete the minute I change a cover!  My BoE seller’s permit, along with the secondary permit for the convention location, is in a frame so that the documents can be prominently displayed.  I already have my customer bags decorated, and gifts with purchase above a certain dollar amount lined up.  I still need to print out my price list, and my sign-up sheet for the e-mail list.

If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is!  What looks effortless once you’re at the show requires a lot of back-end work.  I look forward to seeing everyone at the convention, and having you see the final product!

I promise to take photos of my table/booth and share them here for those who live far away or cannot make it to the event for any other reason.  Thanks, as always, for reading and for being such great fans/friends.

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Frequently Asked Question: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

faq-2027970_1280I follow the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog, and their question this month happens to be one I get fairly often: what is the weirdest/coolest thing you’ve ever had to research for one of your stories?

That’s actually kind of hard to answer.  Part of the reason for this is that I’m an anthropology major; whether or not something is strange becomes a matter of perspective after a while.  Still, there are some things that stand out.

Over the years I’ve studied 19th century mental health treatments for women (which were pretty brutal, since they were based on the idea that women were essentially overgrown children who had to be prevented from using their brains too much), Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing, New Orleans voodoo, Mardi Gras Indians, the architecture of the Palais Garnier, and a whole lot more.  I pride myself on using primary sources and first-hand experience whenever possible.

If I could only pick one thing out of the list, it would be New Orleans cemetery practices.  I did a post about this last month, in which I explained the two-story above-ground vaults and how the ossuaries at the bottom come to be.  Funerary practice bury widely across cultures and time, and this is one of the most unusual I’ve ever read about.