March Novel Tip: What’s in a Name?

These are but a few examples of names that can inspire an author.

In my latest story the charcters changed names so many times that by the end of 2018 I had to keep reminders close by on who was who. From the main characters to the villian to secondary characters and flat characters. It was crazy at one point.

Here’s the thing…in books a name does matter. Forget what Shakespeare said, a character’s name introduces not just who they are but what they are to the reader. Tate does give off cheerful vibes and Grayson does make you think of someone mature and with wisdom. Grayson is a strong name. Solid. I would go so far as to say responsible. The same as Michael.

If you’re a writer and you find yourself obsessing about character names, than you are on the right track. Because names are important.

#happywriting

#happypublishing

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February Writing Tip 2

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This is a helpful tip for romance writers. I recently read a book where everything emotion/thought was over analyzed and I kept saying, “Just show the story. I get it. Your character feels like crap right now…but for goodness-sake can we get on with it!”

This is where a beta reader, editor or friend can come in handy. I usually give msyelf permission on the first draft and even second to get everything out. Then during edits and rewrites I check everything.

From the get-go I’ve been a strong writer when it comes to character development. The emotional journey is important to me. But I’ll never over do it and bog the story down or lose intrigue. The character can’t be self-aware from the beginning.

This tip is very useful and a nice reminer when self-editing.

#happywriting

#happypublishing

February Publishing Tip 1

This chart isn’t the full tea sis…okay I’ve been watching too many Shane Dawson and Sister Squad YouTube vidoes.

What I meant to say in my adult voice was this: Up until the agent part this chart is a sure fire way to get you started. But an agent isn’t the only option to get a publishing deal. It’s a traditional way, but not the holy grail. Let’s just put it out there.

I got my first publishing contracts from e-publishers I queried myself with a full self-edited manuscript. There are traditional publishers and e-publishers that don’t require you to have an agent. And of course when you self-publish this whole chart isn’t for you. You’ll go about publishing differently than someone who wants to work with a publisher.

Though the chart is still helpful for someone just entering the publishing world.

#happywriting

It’s the half year mark

IMG_20180706_134751It’s the half year mark and everyone’s obsessed with “Where did the time go?” At least everyone around me.

Everyone’s evaluating what they’ve done so far, checking their list of things for the year and depending on how many are checked off, they might either be embracing the next six months with open arms or sighing at the mountain that’s still ahead.

I prefer to take the ‘easy lane’, as in I don’t obsess about what I’ve accomplished so far or haven’t gotten to yet. I also keep the big picture in mind. Because at the end of the day, that’s the ultimate goal. Life happens and it happens whether you want it to or not. For a writer that can set you back. Because let’s face it, we all know when it comes to our writing time we literally have to shout from the rooftops for some “respectful distance” from those around us.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been off Facebook, because that’s the social platform that sucks most of my time. Personally I’ve also kept a low profile in relationships, because like I said above, sometimes we need to enforce a “respectful distance”. (I don’t know why I’m making quotation marks; it just feels like it’s needed. Sue me.)

This helped me to get to where I want to be by July in regards to my writing. And it also made me realize just how healthy it is for a writer to get away from the clutter of voices that constantly bombard you on social media. Though I have to add, I find the clutter less on platforms like Twitter (surprising I know) and Instagram, probably because I tend to not follow as many people in my industry on those platforms. This honestly keeps me sane. There’s only so much shoptalk a person can take without blowing your brains out…uh too much? Yeah, that’s how it feels like sometimes. Way too much writing and publishing “talk” that I literally want to gauge my eyes out. Can’t help it, my creative mind is sensitive like that.

But I do appreciate how accessible our information society is (ooh look at me using that one module I hated at university’s lingo. Seriously, that class was just not my cup of tea. The very young tech savvy lecturer was, but not the class. Sorry not sorry). Without it I wouldn’t have embarked on this writing journey. But I digress.

It’s the middle of 2018. So far I’ve come a long way with my rewriting project *laughs* That’s such an awkward sounding sentence.

But I have. And I’m kind of proud of myself for rewriting a book from the foundation up, sentence by sentence and really getting into the nitty-gritty of who my characters are and what they want and how they are going to get it and what obstacles are going to be in their way.

While rewriting I realized the foundation of my story, the conflict was just too shallow and I couldn’t submit a book that didn’t build on the level of emotional upheaval that my previous stories had. It would’ve been a step back from what I normally write. And I like writing characters that have to fight for a happy ending, characters that come with their own internal struggles. It’s what makes writing so much fun for me.

I also love that I’m still learning with each book. I recently read an article that brought everything back to the heart of why I write and how to write.(http://romanceuniversity.org/2018/07/09/on-writing-by-ella-carey-2/) It’s just one of those things that will never get old for me.

So, have I checked everything off my list for the first half of the year? Uh no. But then again, I didn’t really have a list. I had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish throughout the year and there were definitely dates on each one of them, but not many were set in stone, hence the reason I’m so relaxed about the half year mark and everyone around me is going nuts! No seriously, they are. And I’m not just referring to the writing world.

I am still working on my latest project, but I’m not stressed over it. Why? Because I’m rebuilding. I’m reworking chapters and loving it. I’m learning new skills and applying them. I’m focused on telling a story that I love.

I’ve also personally and professionally accomplished most of what I wanted to. The book fair, for one. That’s done. I also joined the South African Writers’ Circle this year. Something I’ve wanted to do for ages but hadn’t gotten to. I’ve also set out the goal of branching out and reaching out to more writing communities/authors. I’ve done that. And will keep on doing it. I do believe that sometimes you can get stuck in a comfort zone, a bubble with the same group of people and become so used to a certain way of thinking/seeing that you don’t realize how narrow that can be. Not all writing groups are toxic, but some do encourage toxic behavior (with writing, publishing or otherwise), case in point #Cockgate and #Getloud.

It’s good to get in touch with people who might not necessarily write what you write. I’m not particularly fond of the ‘us against, them’ mentality in the writing world. Probably because I live in South Africa and that’s pretty much what you get here pre-and post-Apartheid SA.

But enough of that *smile*

So far 2018 has been back breaking work…but worth it. I’ve gotten a lot done, but with others I am taking my time because at the end of the day I want a product I’m pleased with.

Hope your half year mark doesn’t look bleak and that you’re not being too hard on yourself if it is. We are only human after all *wink*

#happywriting

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Lessons Learned in Publishing So Far

I feel like this post should be done in point system, because some points need to be elaborated on but not all of them. They are easily understandable.

So let’s get right into it!

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Ten lessons I learned in my publishing journey:

  1. Do your research. Research the publishers you want to submit your work to. Research the genre you want to write in. Research the subject/theme your story is about. Research your novel. Research your market. Research everything basically. Don’t go into publishing with blinkers on.
  2. Ask if you need help. Yes, you’ll hit a few walls but there will be someone willing to answer your questions. And please don’t let one of those questions be “how much money do you make as an author?” That’s not going to endear you to anyone. No one, and I mean no one, likes to talk about money. If it’s that much of an issue for you, than see point number one.
  3. Writing groups exists for a reason. Authors/writers like to congregate there. It’s a good source of information, creating networks and developing writing skills.
  4. Take a writing course. If it teaches you nothing else, it will test your commitment to wanting to go into writing.
  5. Publishing is a slow process. No seriously, it is. You submit (pitch) a manuscript, it takes six weeks for you to get a response. Depending on the response, if it’s a revise than it can take another couple of weeks to work on the manuscript and to get an answer you’d like. If it’s a contract, pop some bubbly but don’t get too excited. There’s editing. You could’ve written the book a year before and it only comes out the following year. Some publishers work faster and with self-publishing the decisions are up to you, so you can have a book out as soon as you feel comfortable with the public seeing it.
  6. This brings me to number six: Self-publishing. Many authors are hybrids. They can be traditionally, e-published and self-published. Some only take one of the three routes. Authors following more than one lane aren’t as uncommon as it used to be. So keep that in mind when you do your research.
  7. Having a few published books doesn’t make you a master at writing, keep developing that skill.
  8. Branding is important. So is keeping your sanity. If you like writing in more than one category, than by all means do. Just know what your readers expect from you. If they can go on a contemporary, paranormal, science fiction and historical journey with you, than good for you. Pen names are also an option to keep the brand ‘pure’.
  9. Writing awards/competitions work well to establish an author in the industry. If you feel so inclined, than do enter your work. Some competitions give feedback. However keep in mind these awards/competitions also need to be researched. A while back I entered a competition that I thought would be impartial, as it turned out it wasn’t. Not only was my novel never entered, after I paid the fee, but I only found this out after an email was sent to everyone that the judging panel had read all the books and had scored them. Not only wasn’t I given an apology for what happened, but my book was placed under a distinct disadvantage. They now had to scramble for judges on the panel that would be willing to read and score the ‘late’ entry. They rushed through my book to hit the competition’s deadline. Needless to say, I’m still a bit sour over that. Though that’s only the tip of the iceberg of the snafu. So make sure you want to enter, and then make sure your book has actually been entered after you paid the entry fee.
  10. This is not a sprint industry. ‘Overnight’ success isn’t always ‘overnight’ successes. If you put in the work, time and effort you can make it in this billion dollar industry. But that’s on all on you.

 

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A Snippet of Poetry

Cards

It’s cards

It’s endless conversations that we had

We can’t forget it,

It’s miles

we walked, feet soles will remember

though years may fade

They won’t regret it,

And nothing remains the same

In our souls we all change

Heartbreak makes fools of us

We vow and swear never to trust

Until the next leap of faith….

It’s cards

It’s laughter when your heart at least expects it

You won’t regret it,

It’s love

undone

This time around you chose better than empty words

Loyalty comes first,

Oh you won’t forget it,

You won’t, you won’t forget it.

~inge saunders

 

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Do You Journal?

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One of the early signs that I’d end up writing professionally was the fact that I kept journals from a young age. At first I liked the romanticism of it all, then I’d like that I could write secrets in codes inside and then it became part of my psyche as a reflective human being.

The act of writing down my thoughts, not just events but how I felt about them, how I internalized actions and behavior, became the first stirrings of writerly observations.

In my teenage years I would switch from writing poetry, stories and weekly entries into my journal. At varsity as life became busier, taken up by studies, societies and friends, writing took a bit of a back seat. I mostly focused on poetry and keeping a journal. Then in my final year of undergrad when I received a new computer, I started to write stories again.

I’ve heard that writers should keep a journal. I don’t know if I fully agree with it or not. I’m undecided *smile* As someone who did/do still journal (though not as much as I have in the past) I can say that it does create a certain level of awareness. Reflection like this can sort out the cobwebs.

These days I like to keep journals and notebooks that centre more on developing book ideas. I keep my reflections for my poetry *smile*

In that sense, keeping a journal does serve a tangible purpose. You can go back to it and look at an outline, a mind map or character sketch you scribbled down. You can plot out a story in a few sentences. I once rewrote a synopsis in a journal because I needed a different form of writing. I couldn’t look at the synopsis on my laptop screen any more. Fixing it that way became problematic after a certain point, so I grabbed a pen and one of my journals. I could easily see where I hit a snag. Sometimes a different medium offers solutions.

Journaling definitely got me here…on this blog *smile* It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t felt comfortable writing my thoughts down. So there’s that. Oh and did I mention I wrote for my school newspaper? *ha* What I’m getting to is this, keeping a journal can create confidence in expressing thoughts and ideas. That’s a plus for any author. For any type of writer.

So if you haven’t kept a journal before, and you’re serious about writing, why not try it for a month, see where it takes you. If it improves your way of writing, or not, come tell me about it *smile*

 

Pop Culture and Writing

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I was watching a Nail Horan performance (yeah I never thought I’d open a blog post with that line) and what hit me about his performance was the level of honesty in his music. An earnestness. And I couldn’t help but compare him to the other One Direction “boys” who’ve released solo albums.

If you didn’t know, which none of you probably did, I was a One Direction fan…but not a fan-girl because I’m (honestly put) too old to be getting pfklahbjkllmwnhkowz about boys in a boy-band. I did that with Backstreet Boys, Nsync, Boyzone, Westlife, 98 Degrees, Five…*cough* uh yeah, I have a thing for boy-bands so sue me. I should add The Beatles to the list too since I jam out to their music once every blue moon. But I digress.

So being the fan that I am, I still follow the members and former member’s solo careers. And recently Nail and Liam (Payne) has released albums. While I wasn’t too hyped up about their releases, out of the two Nail’s music seem to resonate with me more. (Let’s ignore Liam’s Justin Timberlake inspired offering of “Strip That Down”.) After watching Nail perform on the Ellen Show, I understood why. He wasn’t trying to sell his music to me as the next number one hit in the world (though I’m sure he’d love that); he was just singing a song that came from a sincere place. My Mom actually walked out of the kitchen into the TV room and said she loved his voice. This people, is a feat in itself since my Mom isn’t big on music in general if it’s not gospel.

As I watched him perform I also realized that as a reader sincerity is what I look for in a book. It can be from the straight-forward romance story of a Harlequin/Mills & Boon novel to the more complicated genre bending dark romance; I still expect sincerity.

But now you ask, “Inge isn’t that what every writer puts in their work?” And I’d have to say, no. Not all writers write books because they feel compelled to write them or because the characters can’t leave them alone or because the story is important to tell (and I’m specifically referring to the romance genre here). I’ve read romance novels that felt rushed, whose characters were one dimensional and the plot unmemorable. Someone once said in a writing group, the romance is the plot. And I thought, yes it is. But, the journey is what makes it interesting. The intrigue. The pushing, the pulling, the crisis, the misunderstanding, etc. you get where I’m going with this.

In romance we only have so many tropes. Sometimes it can become generic and repetitive. I’ve read so many romance novels in my teens and while all of them were enjoyable, I couldn’t tell you who wrote them. I kid you not. I just didn’t pay attention. I paid more attention to the logo of the publisher printed on the book because I knew what type of story I would get.

Back then authors didn’t have to be writing machines the way they are required to be now…and because of that, I do believe a lot more honesty in prose has fallen to the wayside. Characters and plots that grip you at the heart rather than ones that tick off all the boxes that makes them a “hit on the charts” *smile*

There is no formula to romance, no matter what people say. Writing a romance isn’t that simple. However, there are elements to romance novels that are expected to be in there. And for some writers/publishers just hitting those marks are enough to put the work out and on your virtual and non-virtual bookshelf. The same way you hear the same generic pop songs on the radio or on music channels. (I haven’t listened to the radio in years. Wow. I should try it again. *ha*) For the same reason we love artists like Adele and Lorde, because they stand out from the crowd. They offer you something that doesn’t sound standard, but sincere. Authentic, if you will.

Which brought me full circle to myself as a writer; so far I have three published works out there in the universe. I like to believe I hadn’t become generic in my writing (though a part of me suspects that I might have) and with my current manuscript, another paranormal romance, I’m aiming to not just hit all the elements of what’s expected. But to bring honesty to my work.

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I recently read a Brenda Jackson novel, (a first for me) and though the premise of the story has been done before, the way she told it completely drew me in. I’m hooked to the series now. She put a spin on the “brothers-coming-home-per-the-patriarchs-request” on its head by throwing in a murder mystery that spans three books. Nothing felt contrived. I didn’t get the sense that she was writing a series because her publisher or readers demanded the next Brenda Jackson novel. This in turn made me think of the latest Veronica Roth novel that I read, racist and mind bending insensitivity to people who suffer from chronic pain aside, the story hit the checklist of a “hit making” YA sci-fi novel aimed at teenage girls. And it is a bestseller. Like a Veronica Roth novel would be in this decade. It still didn’t change the fact that it was generic. (I’m not going to read the second book.)

What’s funny to me, is that you’ll get big names like Adele and Lorde (yeah I’m back to music again *smile*) who will go to pains to give you something true…honest…authentic. But then also artist who because they have big names, seem to think, they can sell you anything and you’ll buy it. And let’s face it; a lot of us buy it.

I recently mentioned to someone that Taylor Swift’s 1989 sounded to me like she took a lot of inspiration from her friends and sister-music-group HAIM. And it seems to be right around the time she met them that Tay-Tay’s music started to change. Now I’m not saying we can’t be influenced by people, but if you want to listen to the ‘original’ download a HAIM song (my favorite is “If I Could Change Your Mind”).

As a writer, as someone who is operating in the realm of creativity, honesty in anyone’s work matters to me. It’s become one of the things that cause me to return as a customer. If you’re sincere in what you’re offering to me, I’m more likely to buy in to you. Over the years I can only name a few authors I’ve consistently bought and read.  At varsity I bought so many chicklit books but I can’t say I consistently bought a certain author over and over again. I’d invested more in the genre than the authors and when I got sick of the genre, I stopped buying the books.

What I will add at the end of this very longwinded view on Pop Culture and Writing is that I love what self-publishing has done for sincerity and authenticity in the romance novel. Too many checks and balances can make for generic reading. It can keep out voices that stand out from the crowd, that write for the love of it, not just for the deadline or bottom-line. This is a shift I noticed in music too. Singers who start their own label and produce the type of music the recording companies wouldn’t allow them to make. Something that I as a (reader and) listener want: artists who walk on stage like Nail Horan with the ‘world’ at your feet but still have the sensitivity to know that your audience isn’t stupid. We can spot a fake. We’ll know if you put your heart into it, if you borrowed from someone else and if you’re just doing it for the money.

 

 

On the Bandwagon: The Dolan Twins

I’m on the bandwagon. Of what you may ask. The Dolan Twins.

And yep I had to write it out like that *grin*

A few years ago I was introduced to these twin brothers who were at the time, very popular Vine stars. They had something like six million followers (?) on the thing. Then they moved over to YouTube too and started making their brand of videos consisting of pranks, challenges and all around randomness.

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Ethan and Grayson Dolan

Now if you Googled ‘Dolan Twins’ because you don’t know who the heck I’m writing about, than Google would’ve coughed up a short bio of comedians Ethan and Grayson Dolan, a list of the Teen Choice Awards they’ve won, links to their YouTube channel and their most recent popular video uploads, as well as entertainment news articles about them. Depending on who has recently tweeted, you might also get a news feed of either Ethan or Grayson’s recent tweet history. Btw Ethan’s older than Grayson by twenty-minutes. I could tell you the dramatic story that accompanies why that is but I’d let them tell you themselves.

Here’s a link to “Draw My Life” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5QZVaw3-6E

I was just done with the Africa Online Book Fair, mentally and spiritually exhausted. I had also come to the disheartening conclusion that I would have to do a full scale rewrite on a completed manuscript since I discovered some issues with it. So, not in the best of moods.

Cue to me re-watching a YouTuber (Reaction Time aka Tal Fishman) reacting to a Dolan Twins Vine Compilation. I think it was a 2015 one, not sure. Anyhow, I decided to check the twins channel out on YouTube. The first video that caught my interest happened to be the one they did with Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez. It shook me out of my exhausted state and into a shocked and laughter induced one. I was high on endorphins as I kept replaying Ethan Dolan face planting while trying to beat his brother at gymnastics. (Here’s a link if you want to watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3J5fXd71Vmc )

People the stage was set for a Dolan Twin marathon. A marathon I’d only recently come out of to find the world hadn’t changed much. Jacob Zuma was still dodging the courts, Donald Trump was still the number one President of Twitter and the weather was wrecking havoc on the world. Between politics and Mother Nature I was glad I had this Dolan Twin-reprieve.

And that’s why I’m on their bandwagon. I have no clue what they’ll be in ten years time, because we all know sometimes child stars don’t translate well into adulthood (though I don’t think the brothers will have a problem with that.) In spite of this, I’m firmly in their corner. They’ve been honest about their mental struggles, and also about why they love making YouTube videos. They come across as well-adjusted and grounded people. They spread positivity and always strive to make others laugh. And they genuinely seem to enjoy what they’re doing. You buy into who they are because it’s not fake.

Watching them made me understand character and plot driven stories more. Yeah I’ve gone back to author mode *smile* If the Dolan Twins was a book, you’d be reading it because of who the brothers were. You’d get invested in their personalities, characters and because of that, want to know how the book ends. Whether it was a romance novel, adventure story, mystery…theirs would be character driven. They’ve got strong personalities and are charismatic in their own way. Of course it doesn’t hurt that they won the genetic lottery when it comes to the looks department, though I have to add it’s not their biggest selling point. The ability to provide entertainment, fun, convey camaraderie and add a sincerity to what they do, give them a well earned place as one of the top YouTubers on the website.

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So if you need a pick me up…check them out. If you’re on a break from writing and want mindless fun…check them out. And if you’re thinking this is me doing some free promo for them…you’re right. But still check them out *laughs*

 

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#happywriting

 

What writing Fan-Fiction taught me

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As most of you know, I’m a romance writer of both contemporary and paranormal fiction. I never considered writing fan-fiction before 2017, simply because as a fiction writer I like the idea of coming up with my own characters and worlds.

Which brings me to some of the flaws about writing fan-fiction; it doesn’t teach a novice writer how to do world building since the world you’re writing in already exists, the same with the characterization. The characters already exist with all their strengths and weaknesses so it’s easy (in this regard) to write a new storyline. It can also create expectations in regards to how fast a writer gets feedback on their work. With fan-fiction there’s already a built-in audience—the fans. As an author starting out, that will not be the case, which means you’ll have to have realistic expectations.

Now to what fan-fiction taught me *smile*

1.      It forced me to come up with an angle that no one in the fandom have considered writing about yet. I had to consider how ‘fresh’ the story would be in the fandom as well as stay true to my romance writing roots. So it definitely helps to develop that part of creativity in writing.

2.      Fan-fiction can span from 100k novels to 3k shorts. I chose to go the short story route. It took me out of my comfort zone and helped me to think about what information was really important to give through to the reader in this short story format.

3.      Romance publishers, especially Harlequin, love to tell writers who are interested in submitting to them to open with a bang. Your first line of chapter one has to be gripping and pull them into the story. And then also the end of that chapter has to make the reader want to move on to the next chapter. This technique then should be used throughout the rest of the novel. With fan-fiction, you have to keep the reader interested. Even though they are fans of the celebrities, movies or authors work you’re writing about, you can still lose them if you don’t apply this strategy. It’s also a fun way of developing this skill.

4.      It honed my research and observational skills. I’ve written two fan-fiction stories. One in 2017 and another last week (https://www.wattpad.com/user/IngeUlrike ). Needless to say, I watch the YouTubers I wrote about on a regular basis and enjoy their videos. However, I’m not a ‘fan-girl’. I’m subscribed to their channels but I’d be lying if I said I follow what they do constantly on social media. So I had to delve into their ‘worlds’, read some of the fan-fiction that had been written about them and get the tone of the ‘characters’ as accurate as possible. This made me examine how I research my fictional stories for my novels and how taking more from real life observations can improve my writing.

Needless to say, writing fan-fiction as any writing endeavor teaches you a lot about yourself as a writer.  Do you have anything to share about writing fan-fiction? I’d love to hear read it. Feel free to leave a comment, if so.