Frequently Asked Question: Shelf Life

Well, here we are on the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time for a question from the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Here we go: For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

I put it aside for a minimum of 30 days, regardless of genre. I didn’t always, but I’ve found that this technique helps tremendously. It allows me to see plot holes, and figure out whether I even want to proceed with publication.

Thing is, I never delete work completely. I have come back to a manuscript a couple of years later, for example Hugs and Hisses, and discovered that work which initially disappointed me was actually quite good. It just needed to be right time/season for me to see that. Another disappointing manuscript eventually became the Pocketful of Stories series as I pulled out all of the useful bits and left the rest behind.

Without having the perspective of that 30-day minimum break, I wouldn’t have been able to see the flaws or good qualities very well at all. Deciding to put things on the proverbial shelf for a while has made an enormous difference in my authorial process.

The Best Kind of Prize is a Surprise …

I think I have my Cranky Pants(TM) on as I write this post. It’s Frequently Asked Question time and, as is so often the case, this one comes from the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Here is the question, verbatim:

Has any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn’t expect? If so, did it surprise you?

Now, like I said, maybe I’m just cranky. The subject/verb agreement issue in the first sentence isn’t the end of the world. But I can’t help thinking, If I didn’t expect it, isn’t it automatically a surprise? I mean, that’s the literal definition of the word.

I guess the one example that comes to mind was a reviewer who wrote that a certain scene in In The Eye of The Storm left her in tears. Honestly, I felt like I’d done my job: I moved someone. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do? I certainly think so.

Frequently Asked Question: Are You a Risk Taker?

Hi, everyone. It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time for a question from the Insecure Writers Support Group.

Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work?

I guess the answer is: it depends on what you mean by risk.

I wrote The Rock Star in the Mirror in second person present POV. Honestly, it was an experiment. However, I wound up loving both the immediacy and the conversational tone it gave to Joe the Lion.

Several  of my books (the Seen Through the Phantom’s Eyes series and Down on the Corner of Love, just to name a couple of examples) deal with racism and prejudice — which has somehow become controversial to call out, but not to perform. Bayou Fire‘s female protagonist, Diana, lives with an invisible illness.

Some people might say that by writing about these issues, I’m doing something risky. I don’t think so. All art is intended to be thought-provoking.

Honestly, I think I took a bigger risk when I took a sternwheeler ride on the Mississippi River when researching Bayou Fire than in anything I’ve ever written. I’m a lousy sailor, but I got on that boat anyway so that I could see what it was like to ride one and understand how it worked.

At the end of the day, shouldn’t we all be extending ourselves just a little bit for our art?

Frequently Asked Question: “What’cha readin’?”

Hi, everyone. It’s time once again for the Insecure Writers Support Group‘s question:

Everyone has a favorite genre or genres to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely or only within the genre(s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choice?

I think it’s crucial for authors to read widely … and not just in the genre they write. Branch outside your comfort zone. Sure, you may find that not everything is to your taste, but you’ll know what’s out there. If you most frequently read (or write) cozy mysteries, check out some noir or historicals. You never know; you might, as I did, find a new favorite author or two in the process. You will learn things about pacing, vocabulary, creating tension, and more if you expand your reading habits.

(Photo by the author, taken a couple of years ago. This stack includes books that came home with me from Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans in 2018, books from a swap shelf at the office, and those sent for review. Numerous genres and authors represented.)

Frequently Asked Question: With a Little Help From My Friends

Today’s question comes, once again, from the Insecure Writer’s Support Group:

Blogging is often more than just sharing stories. It’s often the start of special friendships and relationships. Have you made any friends through the blogosphere?

It may help to know that WordPress is not my first rodeo as a blogger. I was on Livejournal in the early 2000s (I have a paid, permanent account), but I was part of the exodus after the Russian company bought it out and laid down some heavy censorship. I also had an author blog over at GoodReads starting in 2009; this blog is now sent there via RSS.

So, when you consider that I’ve been part of the blogosphere for 20+ years, it makes sense that I have indeed made friends this way. Back when we were still traveling, we would meet up when one of us was in town (whoever’s town it was) and have dinner and/or drinks. It’s been wonderful getting to know the folks who were, at first, just pixels on the screen.

What doesn’t make sense is asking a closed question (i.e., yes or no) as a writing prompt.