Blog

Help Wendy and Tanay Get to L.A.

Two Girls + A Car, the Passing of a Pop Icon, and a Devil to Dodge…and L.A. Bound….

Will They Make It There?

 How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought

The Book Trailer!

on Blog Tour

More sites to be listed soon!

So I’d Rather Be Writing…

With my nose running down my face, I gathered kindling today for our wood stove. It was a bitter cold for this California girl, twenty-something degrees, so I snapped sticks with a vengeance and got my freezing self back indoors as soon as possible.

Photo by Steve Ohlsen

Don’t feel sorry for me–it wasn’t a Little House on the Prairie moment, as in the endless blizzards of The Long Winter. But I did tell myself I felt virtuous and outdoorsy, meditating on why I needed to be doing this very thing rather than writing.

Most days, I’d rather be writing or doing something related to it, as the self-publishing world now demands. When you choose to go indie, you learn quickly that you must not only keep to a writing schedule for your big projects but also craft

  • promotional emails
  • social networking status updates and profiles
  • articulate specs to the designers for covers and formatting 
  • accurate profiles on retail platforms
  • succinct, clear emails to contract workers
  • effective press releases
  • and much more writing I haven’t yet discovered.
But the fact is, if I’m not actually creating new pages for a novel or short story, I feel like a fraud. So I had to tell myself as I snapped sticks and swiped at my nose that every little thing counts–like warming the house so I can sleep well tonight–or editing a profile on Amazon. 
There’s a time to write, and there’s a time to publish. And if you choose to become part of that 287% rise in self-publishing since 2006, or that 1.5 million books published per year (and rising), you’ve got to take that time. As Dan Blank says so eloquently in his post, “Should Writers ‘JUST’ Write,” connect with your readers if you want to get read, using all your writing talent. And that’s not just through your books. 
Now the wood stove roars with its fat chunks of wood and hot-orange coals, sprung to life through all those dry sticks I found. The little bits start something big. It’s only me that can start this fire.

My collection of short stories, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future, is available on Amazon. It’s viewable on Kindle, and with the free Kindle app on iPad, iPhone, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android.  

And the Winner Is…

I’m excited to announce my series title!

The Girls Outside series. Gifted. Weird. Wise.

Image found here

In December, people voted here at the blog, or wrote me messages on Facebook, or commented on my status updates. After gathering all the feedback and mulling for a few weeks, I feel great about this choice that has both a title and a tagline.

A special thanks goes out to Madeline, Jen, and Nancy whose ideas inspired me this direction. Madeline gets credit for thinking up “Girls Outside” and Jen and Nancy encouraged me to think about keeping individual titles for each book, and to perhaps have the titles themselves follow a pattern. Nancy challenged me to think about why I need a brand at all, and that thought helps me to keep everything in perspective. The brand is not all. The work is.

And we discussed that while that is true, this age requires artists to market their works themselves, no matter whether traditional or self-publishing is the mode of release. Understanding your target audience and who will be most drawn to your book is the first order of business for a writer who wishes to tell the world, “Hey, my baby’s here!” You want what’s called “word-of-mouth on steroids.” The UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School shares an interesting post on the fast pace of today’s marketing and how branding evolves from audience. One of the subheadings, “Learning to Listen,” is exactly what happened here–I asked The People Who Might Like My Book what they thought of my ways to describe my characters. I’m not just invoking cliche when I say I couldn’t have come up with a name without you, Dear Readers!

I also appreciated the meditative posts and comments from Maureen that explored connotations of all the words on the table (nerd, geek, etc.). It’s just that kind of analytical thinking that helps me weigh the resonance of terms and what will last with certain groups. I should do that with every word of every story I publish. When I draft well and meticulously, that’s actually the writing process I can follow.

There are too many others to thank, so instead of listing all your names here, please know I am grateful for the time you took to think on behalf of my creative work and help me with your opinions.

When I publish HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT this spring, Wendy’s story will be the first of three books where teen protagonists overcome strange, crazy, and sometimes traumatic situations. They’re survivors, all of them, so the next book could likely have “SURVIVED” in its title, as would the next. Or not. What’s important here is that Wendy, Minerva, and Alastrine are all girls on the fringe, trying to find their voices, and they are definitely gifted, weird, and wise.

So what’s on deck now? Wendy’s story is in final developmental edits, and my first publication, a short-story collection, will release very soon. THE FLAT AND WEIGHTLESS TANG-FILLED FUTURE is uploading to Kindle in a matter of days. The product of eight years of toil, and happy toil, for sure, will be hitting the electronic shelves, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Stay tuned!

Help Me Build My Brand

The people have spoken! I offer you a poll to help me choose my brand name. 

What made the list are ideas from girls and women ages 15 through 50. Two boys also contributed, ages 11 and 15. Thanks to everyone for great submissions. 

Image found here
If you’re going to self-publish, it helps to have a brand. Genre authors (mystery, romance, sci fi, etc.) have the luxury of a recognizable type–a guarantee regarding content and style–but as an author of hybrid works (literary and commercial), I’ve got to find ways to communicate the personality, essence, and passion behind my books.

I want the audience to know what it might get from my next book. I want my work to stand out from the crowd and be discoverable. I want to have a say over the perceptions of my work. Most importantly, I want readers to feel my words connect with their life experiences, concerns, and joys—that through my writing, I know them, and they know me. I want girls and women ages 15 and up to feel their voices heard when they read my books. Empowered, positive, inspired: a brand they can trust. I want the brand name to communicate strength, positivity, and intelligence. I don’t want to deter or alienate boys and men; that said, when I look at my books, I realize I have a niche and it will help readers to know what it is.
Before you vote, here are some points to consider:

I like to write about teen girls who are scary smart and pretty weird. I like to tell tales of their social misadventures with popular beauty queens who don’t take kindly to quirky, nerdy, and wise. I like to break all these stereotypes in the course of the story and leave the audience believing that each character is very, very human. I have one book finished about wise Wendy and two in the hopper about MENSA Minerva and academic Alastrine. Look below to learn about each of them.

Below the synopses, you will find comments from various respondents who contributed to the poll names. They might sway your final vote.

Wendy in HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT

At 16, Wendy Redbird Dancing flies her freak flag high; she’s a precociously smart white girl with a hippie mom, a missing father, and a rabid Michael Jackson obsession. And it doesn’t help that Sunny, her mother, just uprooted them yet again, this time from California to North Carolina. It’s May 2009, and now Wendy has to survive a new school’s exams, track Sunny as she hunts men, and fight off bullies like Deanna Faire, a mean Taylor Swift who rules this Southern roost. But one girl reaches out—Tanay, the only black girl in AP class—and she and Wendy forge a friendship to help Wendy defy Deanna. And Sunny’s new boyfriend turns out not to be the usual sleaze but instead, a charming and attractive guy. Shaye Tann brings peace to the household by taking Wendy under his wing. As he gains her trust, a crush ignites, and her confidence soars. When Shaye makes sexual advances, Wendy is flattered and confused. When Shaye rapes her, Wendy goes underground. Michael Jackson—St. Michael when he dies on June 25, 2009—is now the only one she can trust.
Minerva:

Minerva, a nerd girl ready to become an ace investigative reporter, uses the power of her pen and its propaganda to get ninth grade girls thinking boys want chaste girls. Girls start choosing celibacy as a way of life when they realize they are happier, healthier, and safer without the threat of sex too early. In the process of manipulating others, Minerva discovers her own sexuality and how much she has tricked herself.

Alastrine: (note, this is a genre novel with dystopian themes)

It’s 2077 and America has loosened up. Sex is fine, whether you’re a teen or an adult, as long as you don’t get pregnant; do it with whomever, whenever, and however many times. Just make sure you have the Freedom Ring implanted, girls. The seven dirty words are allowed on every TV station, all hours, and everyone can drink anytime when alcoholism can be deterred by a pill. In other words, the Kardashians have won. As wildly free as it sounds, life is managed by high-security cameras, body scans, and government intervention—led by a fascist Founder Party that keeps citizens well fed and compliant. Girls with naturally good genes, no assembly required—the Naturals—are fodder for this dominant political party that keeps the trains running, the rich richer, and teenage girls groomed to become First Ladies, part of a Presidential harem. 16 year-old Alastrine Bantam may be a leggy blonde Natural who doesn’t need modifications like almost every girl she knows, but she hates her celebrity status. She prefers staying home studying history to standing dumbly on a pedestal of beauty. She has not had sex like most girls, and it’s a terrible, embarrassing secret she hides quite well. She still harbors a hope she can somehow hide and avoid the inevitable future of political stardom due a Natural. But that pipe dream is exposed the day she learns a terrible secret from her best friend, Seagramme…

Knowing what you know about my stories, what should the name of the series be?

Other Ideas:
A writing colleague suggested that the titles be specific to the storyline: that each begin with a HOW (insert character title) DID SOMETHING… A series that has a formula for its titles might aid in the recognition and discoverability factor. She said, “focus less on the series and more on the book at hand. You could have a title that could be used for later books with a subtitle then.  I was thinking of ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid,’ which was the first book in the series. The rest of the books have that title along with another title.”
Former students suggested the following: “Since your target audience is probably pretty intelligent, I don’t think they’ll be drawn in by creative spellings of ‘girls.’ ‘Nerd’…might be past its prime, or it never really got there. ‘Geek’ is the cool thing to be now.  On the other hand, ‘nerd’ is broader in its connotations than ‘geek.’ Geeks, I think, tend to be more game/fantasy/electronics focused. Nerds just have a thing they really, really like. Just a thought.  I’d also try and avoid anything that sounds like it was written by a well-intended adult; loving your inner nerd sounds kind of preachy.  Could you focus more on a specific character trait of these girls?  When I think of Wendy, I think of resilience.”
A friend and fellow writer wrote, “Grrlz is cool. Feminist connotations. Gorilla Grrlz.”

Other ideas that didn’t make it into the poll:
  • The Girls Outside
  • Precocious and Proud
  • Smarty Skirts
  • Overachievers
If you don’t like any of the poll choices, please do leave a comment. Bring on the ideas!
Thank you for your time. Crowd sourcing makes me a wiser woman!

We’re No Longer Cuban

“The point of those stories isn’t that writers should always close themselves off to editorial suggestions, but you do need to know what your core values are as a writer, and commit yourself to expressing those values through your writing to the best of your ability at any given moment.”


— Ron Hogan

Image found here

While at the NCAGT conference in Winston-Salem, I went searching for a restaurant I’d enjoyed the year prior. I recalled an outdoor restaurant that offered the cool air and nice bustle of Fourth Street while enjoying savory Cuban food. I found the restaurant, but with an American bistro menu. There were a few items of perhaps Mexican or Latin-American fare but not what I remembered. I said to the owner, “Was this once a Cuban restaurant?”


“Yes,” he said, “but we found there really wasn’t a market for it. So we changed our menu.”


Not a market for Cuban food.


I ordered what turned out to be a fairly bland set of fish tacos with cheddar cheese–the shredded, cellulose kind–and unremarkable salsa. The fish tasted too fishy. 


But the appetizer–the fried artichokes with bok choy — now that was something to remember. Those got gobbled and made the meal. 


The host and owner was gracious. He worked as hard as his servers. He was fully committed to the enterprise. You could tell he valued every customer.


Even though I didn’t love those fish tacos–the ones I’ll call “dumbed down for the market”–I’m going back. The appetizer rocked, the ambiance was great, the staff was kind, and I was surrounded by happy customers who either knew the host or who were Winston-Salem arts students with eclectic tastes. Maybe there’s something else on the menu worth a try. I’m open.


If I sound like a prissy artist who’s about to segue into a diatribe against The Evil Market while elevating artistic integrity, you’re half-right. It’s ridiculous that the Cuban-specific menu is no more. Winston-Salem denizens and Winston-Salem tourists, shame on you! I said to myself while walking off my meal. Shame on you and your bland palates. I daresay if you ate a greater range of savory foods, you’d find both your lives and waistlines happier and healthier!


Or is it that Winston-Salem doesn’t draw enough diverse tourists to merit Cuban food? Is the restaurant located near too many other diverse ethnic choices or bland American crack fare (Doritos and gummy worms kind of satisfaction, the stuff-your-face kind of glee, that I’m certainly not immune to)? Publishers and agents are dealing with all these variables when they tell you, “I’m sorry, but your work you think is literary beauty, your baby that you think is the best thing ever, not enough people will buy it.”


I am not critiquing the restaurant’s choice. Note this restaurant is still alive, kicking and serving. As I rewrite my novel and think up a more market-worthy synopsis, one that average 16 year-old teen girls can hang with, I face the fact that what I had before while interesting, complex, and rich in characterization, it lacked enough to sustain the average reader’s interest for the long haul. This average reader is me, too–addled by TMI and overwhelmed with too many electronic places with unclosed loops of communication. We have tight schedules committed to productivity, and to be honest, reading doesn’t feel all that productive somedays. So when we sit down, that page better turn itself.

“Average” 16 year-old teen girls are kept dumbed down by our society: we prefer them highly distracted by boys and drama, hair and drama, make-up and drama, babies come too early with drama, and with grades and college as afterthoughts. These girls do have deep thoughts and read deep books on occasion, but only under duress. Their brains aren’t fully developed and societal pressures say, Look good first before you open your mouth. I remember the smartest ones in the classroom being girls who affected “dumb blonde” accents and slang instead of holding forth in intellectual ways. But, these “average” girls do buy books. And I know that despite the dumbing down features of our society that elevates the Kardashians, I know these girls are smarter than they appear, have the potential for deeper thoughts, and can soar to greater heights than they’re being challenged.


The trick is writing a book that hooks them, gets them thinking hard and fast about issues they care about…while sneaking in literary elements–flights of figurative language fancy, deep emotional digging, and unified plot, setting, and character with rich, specific elements. These girls can find their inner Cuban and like it. And let’s just say I picked up a current YA bestseller and it took me 15 pages to see that while the plot sings with promise, the people were as interchangeable as blank paper dolls, perhaps with red or black hair plopped on top. That will not be my book. Not at all. Wendy Redbird Dancing and her crew are for real–so I must make every action taken “for real” and irresistible.


And those, my friends, are my core values.


This week Hope Clark tweeted, “There’s nothing so captivating as smart simplicity–remember that in your writing.”


As I dig deep for my core, I’ll keep her wisdom in mind.

Oh, and by the way: the restaurant’s new name is Encore. 

Writing Prompts:

  •  When faced with the choice of encore or hiding, what have you done? Have you walked out on stage with a new costume, or did you hibernate for a while? Write about a time of standing in the spotlight with a new set of clothes, or, about a time when you went underground, and why.
  • What are your core values as a teacher? As a writer?
  • This week I spoke to teachers about digging deep to find the “Big Ideas” of a literary text, especially those old-school texts that students love to hate (Shakespeare, Twain, and Conrad). I spoke about how these texts aren’t dry and dusty but full of relevant, passionate feeling–feelings our kids can relate to. Love. Envy. Courage. Lust. Hate. Fear. Inspiration. Loyalty. Deceit. Can you find the Big Idea of your story? Of your life right now? Write about what you are trying to convey in your fiction or nonfiction, and then go back to your writing and see if the concept resonates through character, scene, detail, setting, and language.
  • Three-Minute Fiction has another contest. Enter it.