Surviving a Fiction Critique

Last month I attended my first Romance Writer’s of America National Conference in Orlando, Florida. I’ve attended several regional events in New England and New Jersey, but this was my first National Conference. It was a wonderful experience and I’m glad I went in spite of the sweltering temperatures and humidity. This Yankee doesn’t do heat.

RWA conferences are truly professional development conferences for romance writers. Nationals is so on an exponentially larger scale. Regional conferences might see representation from a few publishers. Nationals is a must-do for anyone who publishes romance. Several publishers host signings because above all, romance writers are romance readers. The bigger players are featured in spotlight information sessions and several even host open houses.

Dinner with some of my NHRWA Chaptermates!

In conjunction with the conference Carina Press hosted a contest to win a critique of the first two chapters of your WIP. If picked, you had an opportunity to have your work critiqued by a Carina editor and the other participants in your session.

I’ve had my work critiqued before, but mostly personal essays. People could pick apart my grammar and sometimes the angle I chose to present the story, but those works were based on my experiences. Some find that a vulnerable place to be, but for me, it’s my life, it’s what I experienced and my thoughts. You don’t have to like them, but it’s my truth.

My fiction is different. These are stories I’ve made up. Sure I’m influenced by my experiences, but there is so much more too it. I’m perpetually waiting for someone to pop up and say “You’re doing it wrong!”.

It was time to put up or shut up. I polished my words (with the help of an editor friend) and sent it off. It was a random drawing and according to the staff at Carina, they got a great response. I was stunned when my story was picked. I posted to my RWA chapter Facebook group that I was equal parts excited and nauseous. I was relieved to hear that’s normal.

Each session was an hour and was supposed to have 4 authors in it. Due to scheduling conflicts, our session only had three participants. As part of the process, I had to critique the work of the other authors in my session.

I was nervous reading the others work What if it’s better than mine? Like WAY better. In some ways their work was better than mine, but all in all, I felt like my words held their own. The day of the critique, the excitement and nausea was present full force.

Carina Press Assistant Editor Stephanie Doig looks on while Senior Editor Kerri Buckly announces The Dirty Bits, a new line from Carina https://carinapress.com/blog/2017/07/introducing-the-dirty-bits-from-carina-press/

I lectured myself in advance to be quiet and take notes. So much so that at one point they wanted an explanation for something, and I was so intent on listening and taking notes about what they said, I had to be prompted to give the information!

The whole experience was very positive. The other authors offered great insight and it was good for me to hear where they were taken out of the story. Kerri Buckley from Carina was very encouraging and basically told me to finish the damn book! I walked out of there smiling so hard my cheeks hurt.

That’s not to say I agreed 100% with everything they said. Some things they needed more information to understand but I could also see how I could either trim or foreshadow more for clarity.

I am really excited to get back to work on it. In an odd way, I now feel like I have justification. Which is dumb. Because “I want to write” should be enough, but alas, that’s not how my brain works.

I can make time to exercise because that’s good for my health and things fall apart when I’m sick. My writing is harder for me to make time for. Now I feel like I have validation and justification. I’m writing something people want to read.

Have you ever had a piece critiqued? What was your experience?



Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

A Demonstration of Point of View

Two Points of View

Despite the events of Labor Day Weekend 2004, Tim and I are not only still married, we’re still hiking together.

Point of View is the perspective from which a story is told.

One of the best ways to understand Point of View is by example, so here are two versions of the same story told from two different points of view.

A Touching Reunion is a story about a time when my husband and I became separated while hiking. I told it to a live audience at a Vermont Public Radio event. It was subsequently broadcast. If you read it or listen to it, you’ll understand why my husband wanted to tell his side of the story.

He’s too busy to write it down, so I’ve taken the liberty of doing it for him. It follows below.

Searching for My Wife

I don’t know that I’ll ever live down forgetting the color of Deb’s eye ever since she broadcast what happened on the radio the time we became separated on the Long Trail.

We didn’t get on the trail until after 3, but Deb was right behind me – right on my heels – even though she was carrying a heavy pack. So I walked faster and pulled ahead.

The next time I stopped, she wasn’t behind me. I doubled back and couldn’t find her, so I hurried ahead.

Desperate, I called the police from a woman’s trailer just before dark. Then I headed back to the trailhead and slept in the car. Or tried to, but a carload of guys from out-of-state pulled in about midnight and started to barbeque. They offered me a burger and beer, said they were heading out first thing to climb Killington. I told them I’d be searching for my wife.

“Sorry man,” they said. If any of these frat boys were married, they didn’t act like it.

I liked being married. I liked being married to Deborah. And I was worried: where was she? What happened? Was she okay? I wouldn’t allow my mind to go further than that.

At first light, the frat boys were snoring in tents pitched in the parking lot. They didn’t even stir when the rescuers started to pull in.

A woman named Josh was in charge. She asked me Deb’s height, weight, hair color, eye color, and her birthday. Deb’s always riding me about getting her birth year wrong, always making her younger than she is. It isn’t intentional, but it’s become one of those tics that’s hard to correct once you’re unsure. So I was afraid they wouldn’t believe I was really her husband if I didn’t get it right, not after being unsure about her eyes. So I guessed a year earlier than I usually do. I think that was right, but what would they do if her ID didn’t match what I said? I couldn’t even prove we were married. Sure, both our names were on the car registration – our different names. Was that going to be another barrier to my credibility? If they didn’t believe I was her husband, how would I ever get her back?

Just then, Josh stepped away to the radio. When she came back, she said, “Your wife’s just called in. A trooper’s gone to pick her up. She’s okay.”

I was so glad to see her, and I did look deeply into her eyes. I wasn’t ever again going to be in doubt to their spectacular, loving, hue. So I did shout, “They’re blue!”

But really, how important was it to the search – if there had been one. As far as I was concerned, the Search and Rescue people could just round up every medium sized, brown haired forty-eight year old white female lost in the woods and we could sort them by eye color later.

 

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin tells a story every Wednesday at Living in Place.

Reading to write

Reading is something I’ve always done. When I was a kid, my mom would take away TV as a punishment and once I got over the initial sting of being in trouble, I’d go find a book and that was that. As an adult, I’ve often said, I could live without a TV, but you’ll pry my kindle out of my cold dead hands.

I wish I could remember the first time I heard “To be a good writer, you must be a good reader.” I even Googled the phrase to see if I could find someone other than one of my teachers to attribute it to. I can find many an essay or blog post touting that as truth, but I can’t find a source.

Romance is my genre of choice, but I find my writing is enriched by everything I read, so I work to expand my horizons. That said, I’m an emotional person, and I can be deeply impacted by what I read. I read some mystery, but suspense stresses me out and I need to read thru to find out what happened. Sometimes, my schedule doesn’t allow for a marathon reading session.  Horror is a no go for me. The boogeymen take up residence in my brain and I can’t sleep. I enjoy memoir, biography and autobiography. I love in depth news articles about places and experiences different from mine.

My TBR (to be read) pile of Romance books is extensive, but I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at the moment. I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougal with plans to go back to fiction, but After I read Deborah’s review of Word by Word by Kory Stamper, I made that my next read.  I’m really enjoying it I didn’t expect to laugh so hard at a book about dictionaries.  Both books introduced me to new information about the world I live in.

I find that reading across genres strengthens my writing. Bits and pieces of what I’ve read get manipulated, massaged and woven into fictional tales. Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting I read someone’s biography and use their experiences verbatim to create a character. That’s NOT cool.  It’s like cooking, take a physical trait from one story and combine it with a personality trait from someone I’ve encountered and expose it to a life changing event from a from my imagination. Boom! I have a rich, three-dimensional character that people want to read about.

Reading about different geographies introduces me to different locals and potentially different motivations for characters and events. This is another area where it is important to do my research to make sure I really understand how things work. We don’t have typhoons in the Eastern U.S., but hurricane season is real. And, the way we prepare in the Northeast is likely a little different from a Floridian’s preparation. The devil is in the details.

These days, the news is sometimes stranger than the imagination, and plot twists and character flaws are the low hanging fruit. Talk about stressful reading! I do think reading makes me a better writer. How about you, can you read while you have a writing project active? What is your preferred reading genre? What genre stretches you?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once.  She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction

Late to the Party – Finally Reading The War of Art

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is one of the books that, as a writer, you feel obligated to read. It’s right up there with Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird, but it perceives and talks about art in a completely different way. It takes a “harder” and more pragmatic view of the creative process and the writer’s life. It’s a no-punches-pulled, nose-to-grindstone, get-off-your-lily-ass-and-do-your-work kind of pep talk.

And, it isn’t.

Despite the fact that he employs a lot of  military and warfare metaphors, Pressfield actually has an almost lyrical view of how writers get their ideas and develop their work. He talks a great deal about angels and muses; and he’s not referring to them in a strictly conceptual way. He believes that there are various intelligences operating on different planes of reality who are helping the human race evolve by inspiring artists to bring their work into the physical world.

Pretty cool, right? Almost magical.

I found it interesting that a book titled, The War of Art, has so much to say on the subject of love. While Pressfield is unflinching in his admonitions to stop making excuses and just do your work already, he always circles back to love as a touchstone – as the driving force behind our creative impulses. This is always a helpful reminder. When you are, as my friend puts it, “slaving away in the word mines,” it’s important to remember that you crawled in there of your own accord, and you did it for love.

If you haven’t read this classic yet, I do recommend it. It might not be exactly what you expected, but I guarantee that you will come away with at least one (and likely many) nugget of wisdom to help you beat your Resistance demons. While I’ve had a paperback copy of this book sitting on the shelf forever, it wasn’t until I stumbled across the audio book version (read by one of my all-time favorite narrators, George Guidall) that I finally took the plunge. It’s a short listen – just under four hours including the foreword by Robert McKee.

Love to hear what you think of it if you have already read it or if you decide to listen now.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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When Words Fail to Come

When words fail to come

Leo’s his usual, joyful, self – and very helpful when words fail to come.

What to do when words fail to come?

It happens sometimes. Yesterday morning, in fact.

I had a post due on Living In Place, and I didn’t have anything to say.

Worse, my brain was foggy, possibly due to the antihistamine I succumbed to the night before. Or maybe it’s my broken sleep cycle. I’ve been waking at 3:30 am and reading until daybreak, then getting on with my regular day. But I’m dragging.

I  lubricate my brain with coffee and head out with the dog for a walk, though I hardly have any forward momentum. Leo’s his usual, joyful self. I’m dull and cold, huddled in a hoodie and worried about how I’ll meet my deadline if I have nothing to say.

That this deadline is self-imposed makes no difference. When I started my blog, I tasked myself with an essay every Wednesday. In 135 weeks, I’ve never missed a week, though twice I’ve posted a day late.

I think of all the non-writing tasks I could console myself with: paying bills, filing papers, cleaning my winter clothes for storage.  Then I remember I have a blog due for Live to Write – Write to Live, too. I think maybe I’ll write  about how sorting and cleaning tasks often help me on days when I’m stuck on the page.  But I think maybe I’ve written something like that already, and I don’t want to repeat myself.

Then I remember that sometimes I do repeat myself – on purpose. Last summer, when I was hiking The Long Trail, I scheduled work from my archives for the weeks I was away. Could I do that again?

I pushed back my hood and looked up. The morning mist was lifting. I picked up my pace and flipped through my mental file, searching for something I could reuse. I remembered an essay I wrote about the summer solstice back in the pre-internet days. Maybe that would work.

The sun burned through the fog as I reached the apogee of my circuit. I unzipped my sweatshirt and strode back to my desk, where I drafted this essay with ease. Then I went to my files and found Hum Time, which I edited and formatted for the web. I polished this essay and queued it for today. I’ve done all the work that seemed unlikely just a few hours before.

It was a long journey, but all it required was a short walk. When words fail to come, I go for a walk. What do you do?

Deb wearing purpleDeborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator, contributing regularly to this blog since 2011.

Marketing Tool – Swag Boxes

Loot Crate, Bark Box, Snack Fever, whatever your interest, I’m pretty sure there is a swag box out there for you. What’s a swag box you ask? A swag box is a monthly subscription service that delivers a box full of goodies catering to a specific area of interest and often organized around a theme. Book related swag boxes cater to readers of mystery, YA, Inspirational, Jane Auston, Sci-fi and Romance, among other genres.

Recently, I caught up with Jeannie Lin, Ever After Box creator. The Ever After Box is a monthly subscription service, curated by romance writers for romance readers. Jeannie and her partners Shwantelle Madison and Amanda Berry, are multi-published in the romance genre.

How The Ever After Box Started

In 2015, the three women were discussing the rise in popularity of subscription boxes. It seemed there was a subscription for every interest, so they decided to investigate starting one for romance readers. They ran focus groups at the Romance Writer’s of America’s National Conference where they talked with readers and authors and found there was definitely interest and more importantly, enthusiasm for the idea.

The Romance Community is very tightly knit and the three knew with their reader base and industry connections they could make it work. It took six months to set up the company, they shipped their first box in January of 2016.

Lin is up front about the fact that this is definitely a collaborative effort. First the team develops a theme for a box. Theme ideas come from a variety of sources (readers, authors and sometimes even publishers and publicity people). To be clear, not every theme that is pitched becomes a box. “Once an idea is pitched or an author expresses interest, there is a lot of back and forth to refine things.” The team’s focus is on creating the best experience for the reader.

Content for the boxes is acquired in a myriad of ways. Sometimes publishers provide the books. Sometimes authors contribute back list books, free download cards or swag items. The Ever After Box team takes the job of curating the content very seriously., but there is also a delicate balance to keep shipping costs down.

Examples of the ever After boxes , the Regency Ball, The Birthday Box and the

Examples of Ever After Boxes, The Regnecy Ball, The Birthday Box and, the Badass & Beautiful Box. Images Courtesy of The Ever After Box.

What’s in it for authors?

Swag boxes are  another tool in your marketing arsenal. It’s like a giveaway, but a giveaway, to a highly targeted audience. In this case, women, aged 21 to 50+ with disposable income who already read romance (many across sub-genres), and are on the lookout for new-to-them authors or books. You may even be able to track your return on investment if you provide items that allow for that (such as downloads with a specific URL). According to Lin, authors who use downloads have seen a download rate higher than than those of random giveaways because people have paid for the product and are invested.

The Ever After Box is only in it’s second year of operation, so their focus has been spreading the word to authors and industry people alike. Subscription numbers fluctuate depending on the season, summer months have shown about 150 subscribers and a peak with numbers of just under 200 hundred around the Big 3 holidays (Christmas, Valentines and Mother’s Day).

The Ever After Box team works with interested authors to help them create something special for readers without breaking the bank for authors. They have lots of tips and tricks on how to stretch your promotional dollars.

The team is currently working on a box for writers for NaNoWriMo.

If you are interested in participating in an EverAfter box or subscribing, everything you need to know can be found on their website If interested in subscribing visit. http://www.everafterbox.com/.

How do you think a swag box fits into your marketing plan?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

Personal Becomes Universal Through Research

Guest Post by Novelist Donna D. Vitucci

Book cover

Donna Vitucci’s new novel, Salt of Patriots, published on Earth Day 2017.

The answer to my question, How long does it take to write a book? is fifteen for the novelist Donna Vitucci, who has just published Salt of Patriots after fifteen years of research, writing and revision. In this guest post, Vitucci describes what motivated her – and kept her going.

Origin of Salt

At my mother’s wake in the summer of 1999, the reminiscences we’d heard through the years got dragged out and enlivened by re-telling. The time all Uncle Bobby’s hair fell out when he was working at Fernald. The spills and inherent danger of any other kind of factory, but Fernald was processing uranium. A different kind of plant, in the early atomic days, in the 1950s.

Fernald closed after dust collectors failed in the 1980s and leaks into the Miami Aquifer hit the press. A class action lawsuit helped shutter the plant and place it on the Superfund Cleanup List. A Public Information Center was established as an aspect of remediation activities—eureka! I’d write my family Fernald stories infused with true and accessible information.

Research

To write it, I needed to understand it, and I’m no scientist. I dashed daily to the Information Center, reading and trying to understand what Fernald workers did. What were their jobs? What might Uncle Bob have done once he clocked in for 2nd shift? What made his hair fall out?

I read The Atomizers, the Fernald company newsletter. I studied processes the Fernald scientists developed, and the chemistry and metallurgy that had men in various buildings turn out uranium ingots or rods. I sought the secrets and security, the rumors in the community, how everybody had a relative or friend who worked there, or lost their acreage, or got sick or died. Newspaper articles on microfiche announced the building of the “new plant” and how it was going to bring hundreds of jobs—which it did. The nuclear industry was in its infancy. They were playing with dice and hoping for the best in beating the Russians.

Interviews

Uncle Bobby was my eyewitness, my conduit to the past, to the plant, to the human aspect. At the time, I’d envisioned the book completed and published to celebrate Fernald’s 50th anniversary—2001. I really had no idea.

I questioned Uncle Bob: “What about losing your hair?”

“That was nothing.” Same closed-mouth attitude from interviewees and others beholden to their government, their employer, and their own promises.

“Loose lips sink ships”—caution right there in The Atomizer. I don’t believe the workers were afraid. I believe they were patriotic. I believe they believed the government wouldn’t ask them to enter a dangerous work situation. And as long as a man was working he was doing the right best thing–echoing Uncle Bob and dozens of Fernald employees in their interview transcripts.

Striving for Authenticity

What did Uncle Bob do at Fernald, what it was like, what were his buddies like, did they understand the danger, and did they care? I took notes; I had a binder of industry and government papers I’d copied. I studied these like I’d be tested. Above all, I wanted to write with authenticity, and I knew it would be so hard. Till then, I’d only written stories that emerged from inside me. This story would have to be, on many counts, outside of me. I would immerse myself in research until I was busting with the Fernaldia I ingested.

Writing, Revisitng, Revising

A year and half later, nowhere near finished mourning my mother, and now her brother, Uncle Bob, was dying. Feed Materials, as I called the book, was where I poured this loss, revisiting my loved ones, revising them, and being among them, seeing them so clearly in memory and then freshly relevant in the stories where I cast them. No wonder it took me 15 years to complete. Writing this book kept them alive, and I didn’t want to lose them twice.

Donna VitucciDonna D. Vitucci is a life-long writer, and was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize in 2010. Her second novel, SALT OF PATRIOTS, shines light on the nuclear industry’s early days at the Feed Materials Production Center (FMPC) by focusing on ground level workers in this rural Ohio uranium processing plant. Characters and events are inspired by her uncles, who worked at the FMPC, and imagined from hundreds of true interviews conducted as part of lawsuit remediation activities in the 1990’s. Donna lives, works, and shares the best of urban living with her partner in the Historic Licking Riverside District of Covington, Kentucky.

Deborah Lee Luskin has been a regular contributor to Live to Write – Write to Live since 2011. She blogs weekly about Living in Place, Lessons from the Long Trail, Middle Age, and Vermonters By Choice at www.deborahleeluskin.com. Hope to see you there!