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The Research Quagmire

 

Happiest of Scribe Days to you! What’s Scribe Day? July 7, of course. Seventh day of the seventh month. Seems like a good day to celebrate!

Fireworks

The Scribes have come a long way since that fateful day in 2011 when we launched this blog. We are all now published or, in my case, about to be published–FETA ATTRACTION releases January 6! Cover reveal coming soon, I promise. Yeah, I’m the caboose on the Publication Train, but I hope it’ll be worth the wait.

One problem I never thought I’d have three years ago was being on deadline. Oh, of course I’d heard of other writers being in a mad race to finish and turn in a manuscript to an editor–I just never really considered that someday I’d have a pony in that race.

So here I am, in the middle of the third book of my series, which is due in a couple of months, and I’ve found myself bogged down. I haven’t been writing. I’ve been researching. Ah, research. My Strange Addiction. I keep waiting for the producers of that television show to call me.

I’ll say it now. I. Love. Research. Love it. Give me a computer with an internet connection and I’ll happily research anything, for hours on end. Genealogy and local history are my two danger zones. And both of those topics feature heavily in my Greek To  Me Mysteries, set in the Thousand Islands, situated between New York State and Canada in the St. Lawrence River.

Kraft%20Thousand%20Island[1] My latest research obsession? Don’t laugh. Salad Dressing. Thousand Island salad dressing, to be exact. Next time you open a bottle of that pink creamy stuff to pour over your greens, you might be interested to know that the origins of this dressing are shrouded in mystery. There are three competing versions of its Creation Myth, all with a northern New York connection. And based on my hours of poring over old cookbooks at Project Gutenberg and Archive.org and some more obscure digitized public domain materials, I think I’ve come to a decision about which of those myths is the most likely to be true. Not that I can reveal it just yet, LOL! But if you’re interested in a summary, click here.

But for a book to feel authentic, a writer needs to do her research, right? So the hours were necessary. Well, yes, but only up to a point. My story only needed a minimum amount on this topic–and yet my investigative journalist-like nature overtook me and I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery. See, I’d like to be the one to break a story like that. Someday, I just might do it.

Research can enhance your storytelling. Or it can be a huge timesuck-slash-avoidance behavior.  The research doesn’t mean much if you don’t get the words down on paper and out the door to a waiting editor.

So, I am allowing myself one more hour of research on this topic–for now, until book 3 is finished. I ordered a DVD of a local PBS documentary which claims to have found the smoking gun in the Thousand Island dressing and when that comes, I will watch it. But no more hundred-year-old cookbooks. No more searching the Internet for contemporary accounts of salads. Pinky swear!

Do you do research for your writing? Can you stop anytime you want or do you get obsessive? What’s your favorite salad dressing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do You Watch?

It’s late, it’s raining, thundering and lightning. The house is dark except for the TV and the pendant lights in the kitchen. It’s kind of eerie — the silence, the TV, the dark, the sudden crack of thunder now and again, the flick of a brown-out.

I’m watching the news for want of something to watch since none of my favorite shows are on tonight. I wonder what other people are watching in this summer season when we are being peppered with a barrage of next-new-must-see TV shows. I wonder what our choices say about us, and especially because we’re writers, I think it’s necessary we do watch TV for all these shows can teach us about story, arcs and characterization.

I get teased in my house for watching Pretty Little Liars, but I’m fascinated by the continuing mystery and the peeling away layer after layer as the Liars cope with all the consequences of their lies. Vampire Diaries lost me after a while. I’m watching Arrow, The Hundred, The Last Ship, The Leftovers, Under the Dome. I will watch Extant, and Newsroom, Downtown Abbey and Homeland (when they return).

I wish I’d watched Revolution and Falling Skies. I will catch up on NY Med and Turn. Ongoing favorites include Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Criminal Minds. I peek into Undercover Boss now and again. We don’t subscribe to Netflix. Yet.

I love shows whose characters are “family” — you could argue most shows have a core “family,” even if there is no family. I love mystery and suspense. I love ghost stories and gothics, but most of all, I love romance. So you can find me on weekends glued to the Hallmark Channel (especially during Christmas).

You will notice I’m not watching comedies (exception: Big Bang Theory). Or any of the major reality shows. Dramas are enough reality for me these days. And my own life. I’m just excited there are so many good new shows with such terrific writing. It takes nothing away from my own
writing to spend time watching these. I constantly look to find lessons there for us all.

What do you watch on TV? Do you think it reflects who you are? Any guilty pleasures?

Thea Devine is the author of more than two dozen novels. Beyond the Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart, will be published October 2014 as a Pocket Star eBook.

Interview with PJ Sharon about her Latest Release

Suze here, posting outside our regular schedule. But PJ Sharon’s new novel, PIECES OF LOVE, has just released and I couldn’t wait to ask her some questions about it. PJ will be in and out today to answer your questions too!

She’s got a heck of a schedule planned for her blog tour where she’ll be giving away some neat prizes like signed books and a nifty beach bag!

1.  Okay PJ, tell us a little about PIECES OF LOVE.

So cool being on this side of the interview questions, Suze! Thanks for being here with me to celebrate and chat about the book.

PJSharon_PiecesOfLove_800pxIn PIECES of LOVE, a Contemporary YA Romance, sixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to play her guitar and get high, hoping to escape the pain of losing her sister. But when her second arrest for pot possession leads to her mother’s breakdown, Lexi is sent to stay with her grandmother for the summer. While embarking on a Mediterranean cruise hardly sounds like punishment, being forced to face her demons and falling for a guy she may never see again gives Lexi a chance to discover what it means to love someone—even when you have to let them go.

2. A trip to the Mediterranean inspired the setting for this novel. What was the most beautiful or memorable place you saw on your trip?

An impossible question to answer—mainly because they were ALL beautiful. But honestly, it was such a whirlwind trip, the days and ports kind of melted together, LOL. I remember LOVING Barcelona and thinking I had to go back to see more of Gaudi’s amazing work and the passionate artistry that infused every part of the city. I also remember not having a good impression of Cannes, France, but that’s because of a bad allergic reaction to the perfumes! The Greek Islands are heavenly, but I’d have to say Dubrovnik Croatia was one of the loveliest, most interesting locations. Old Town is a spot not to be missed! I have to go back just to walk the mile long, 19-foot thick wall surrounding the village.

3. A little birdie told me that there’s some extra special companion content that goes along with PIECES. Want to tell us about it?

Um…you must be referring to the PIECES of LOVE theme song. This came about because my character, Lexi, is a song writer and singer. In an effort to get readers into her head, I decided to write a song for her sister in the book. In spite of the fact that I’ve never written lyrics before and don’t write music, the words flowed onto the page and a tune popped into my head to go with them. Funny how those creative little miracles happen. So I downloaded a recording app onto my phone and sang the song so I wouldn’t forget the tune. With four years of voice lessons behind me, it didn’t sound half bad. I approached my neighbor and good friend, Ozone Pete, who is a professional musician. Once he saw I was serious, he helped me with the arrangement. He happened to “know a guy” who runs a recording studio in Westfield, MA. A month later, I had recorded the theme song for POL. I was pleased enough with the outcome to put it up on i-Tunes for sale and used part of the song for the book trailer.

4. So, what was it like being in a recording studio? How long did it take to get the final version of the song and what’s the process?

Jim Fogarty of Bing Studios is awesome to work with and he gave me a great deal on studio time! Adding his piano skills as well as his sound engineering expertise, Jim spent ten hours with me and Pete the first day and another five hours two weeks later for the finish work and editing. He hooked me up with a mike and headphones, and played Pete’s instrumental version in the background for me to sing with. He gave me a few tips along the way, but essentially, it was just singing take after take and then editing the best pieces together. It’s really an amazing process, especially when he starts manipulating things with auto-tune and adding background and harmony. He was able to take out any excess vibrato in my voice (opera training has its downside), and clear up any pitchiness. As he put it, “It’s still you. We just accentuated the excellence and removed the suckage.” To keep things fun, and not drive himself totally crazy listening to the song a thousand times, he would change the words once in a while, singing “Pizzas of love, pizzas of looove…” That’s when I knew it was time for a lunch break. I won’t even tell you some of the other lines he added. When it all got to be too much, he’d flip over to Three Stooges movies for a short giggle break.

5. The cover for PIECES OF LOVE is just gorgeous! Can you give us an idea of how you work with a cover artist to get just the right look for your book?

That is a challenge, Suze. I start with gathering stock photos that I like to represent the characters. Some cover artists will do this for you and give you some choices, but I generally know what I want and it saves time. I pay anywhere from $10-20 for a high resolution stock photo from Big Stock Photos. Cover artists usually have a form for you to fill out, asking you to detail the tone of the book, genre, color preferences, story concept, etc. Once they have all that information, they will work up several covers to choose from. It takes a few times going back and forth to decide which font works best, and to make necessary adjustments until I’m satisfied. It’s a relatively quick process if you have a good cover artist and you know what you want. If you’re picky like me—or unsure of your vision, it can take a little longer. Kim Killion from The Killion Group, made this cover for me in only a few days. Granted, she had a design concept already made because I had original hired someone else who came up with the basic design but just got too busy and wasn’t able to make the changes I wanted. It was a bummer starting all over with someone new, but I’m so pleased with the results of working with Kim, I’m planning to re-brand my Lily Carmichael covers this summer.

6. What are you working on now? What’s your next book and when can we expect it?

Gulp! Isn’t that always the question? I’m working on HEALING WATERS, book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy, and hoping to have it done later this year.

Thanks, PJ! Can’t wait to read (and review!) PIECES OF LOVE.

Readers, until June 30th, PJ has her book on sale for only $2.99 for Kindle, Nook, and i-Tunes e-readers. The price goes up to $4.99 on July 1st, so don’t miss out!

Thank you, Suze, for taking time out to set up this interview. The support and generosity of my Scribe sisters is what keeps me going some days. In case I haven’t told you lately…you’re awesome!

Questions, comments? Any good books on your vacation TBR pile?

 

Summer Vacation in 3 Weeks

Hello World!  Remember way back when you were an elementary student?  For me, those years were…cough…some 30 year ago, but I remember summer vacation being one LOOOOOOOOONG stretch of time spent entertaining myself outside until I was actually bored enough to be looking forward to school.  NOT so these days, at least not in my household. 

My kids’ summer vacation this year, real vacation with nothing planned, no place to be, etc, last exactly 3 weeks – two weeks at the beginning and one week at the end. 

That 3 weeks is really “veg-time”.  By that, I don’t mean sit around and watch TV all day, but rather, go-outside-and-entertain-yourself time.  Play soccer or baseball in the yard.  Climb a tree.  Play in the sandbox.  Ride your bike.  Swim.  Huddle next to the air conditioner and eat popsicles on 100 degree days.   Okay – that one’s inside, but hey, it get’s hot here in CT. 

Funny aside – I got an email from Romance Writers of America about he national conference I’m attending this summer in Texas.  It informed me that it get’s hot in Texas in July, like between 70 and 90 degrees.  Seriously?  70-90 degrees?  That’s amazingly pleasant compared to the 90-100 degrees with 90% humidity we usually enjoy here in Connecticut in July.   Maybe I’ll pack a jacket…

For the rest of the summer out-of-school time, my kids will be at various summer camps, having a blast for sure, but not likely getting bored enough to look forward to school.  Hmmm.  Maybe that’s something for me to think about for next year.

What does your family do during the summer?

Looking Out For Number One

Hi, Scribelings. Suze here. Welcome!

We usually keep things light here at the Scribes but today’s topic is serious. I’m talking about transitioning from your day job to your full-time writing career. Let me explain.

MV5BNzA1MTYwNjUyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDQ3MDQ2OQ@@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_[1]Like virtually all writers and wannabe writers out there, I started out doing something else. For a couple of decades I worked for a medium-sized company as a staff person. When I sold my first series (debuting January 6, 2015 and available for preorder now!), I figured I’d work for a few more years until I was (hopefully) making enough to live on from my writing. Well, that was a nice plan. But it didn’t happen.

I’m here to tell you, unless you own the company you work for, no one is indispensable. (Depending on the type of company and the structure of management and boards of directors, even the owner might not be indispensable). I don’t care how much you think they like/love/respect/can’t function without you, you’re wrong. Everyone is replaceable or do-without-able. Everyone.

And once people at your day job find out that you’ve sold your novel, you might be replaceable sooner than you think.

thumb_money_bag_green[1]See, everyone thinks writers make scads of money. I went to a job interview recently and the interviewer said, after having seen that I had a book contract, “I thought you must be a millionaire.” Um, seriously? Do you think I would be interviewing for a part-time job with you if I were a millionaire? Don’t you think I’d be sitting on a tropical beach somewhere, wearing oversized designer sunglasses and wrapped in an expensive silk sarong while a buff, half-naked island man served me cocktails and gave me suggestive looks? But this is the kind of thing you are going to get handed to you. A lot.

And the other thing you will probably face at some point is that not everyone will be happy for you, maybe not even members of your own family (not the case with me, thank goodness, but it happens). Because when you take steps toward living your dreams, it causes other people to examine their own lives, and when those lives are less than dreamy, it can foster resentment. Even active, malicious sabotage, which actually happened to me.

Think about the people in your circle. How many of them are doing what they really want to? How many of them are moving toward fulfilling their dreams? I hope it’s lots of them, because there are so many opportunities now that make things possible (see below for more explanation on that). But the truth is, it’s probably almost nobody.

So this post is about Looking Out For Number One–You, Yourself, and You.

Despite being under contract for three books with a Big Five/Six publisher (the biggest one, LOL!), and having something else in the works that I’ll be able to tell you about soon when the ink is dry, I don’t make a living wage from my writing. I think I will, hope I will, in the next few years. But for right now, I would have liked to have kept that day job for a while longer. However, someone else made that decision for me.

So here’s my advice to every writer out there who still has a day job working for someone else:

Consider very carefully whether you will disclose to your employer and your coworkers that you are writing on the side. Consider even more carefully whether you will tell them when you sell. I opted to tell, figuring that for various reasons it was going to get out anyway and I’d rather they hear it from me. I also showed my supervisors my contract, so they could see exactly how much money I was–wasn’t–making. Didn’t seem to matter to them, they let me go anyway. But you might work in a company (perhaps you work at home, and never or almost never see your coworkers) where you can remain relatively anonymous. In that case, I’d keep it quiet. What they don’t know, they can’t use against you. Share your success with your writing peeps and your close family and friends. Otherwise, don’t. Your boss, the administrative assistant, or the accounts receivable person at your office probably won’t buy your book–may even perversely enjoy not buying your book–so why bother?

Start NOW developing a side business, not necessarily writing related.  A person would be foolish to invest all of her money in only one stock–smart investors diversify. Well, if you’re not at the point yet where you’re making enough at your writing to satisfy your needs and at least some of your wants, think about having something else in place in case your day job goes bye-bye for whatever reason.

Need editing or proofreading? Stop by! www.crazydiamondediting.com
Need editing or proofreading? Stop by! http://www.crazydiamondediting.com

I’d be willing to bet that most all of us have a skill/talent that could make extra money. Me, I do editing for indie-pubbers at Crazy Diamond Editing (click here for more information).  Now that my unemployment has run out, I’ll be looking to expand that business. And I’m also thinking about resurrecting a handbag-making microbusiness I had a few years ago. Does all this take time and planning and organization? Yes. But you’re working for you, and I can’t tell you how satisfying that is.

But Suze, you say. I don’t have the kind of skills that people will pay money for. Are you sure about that? Can you read a label? Why don’t you go around to tag sales and look for consignable clothes? You could sell them on Ebay or ThredUp. Have you got stuff around your house you could list on Ebay or Craigslist? Can you knit or crochet or make beaded jewelry or other crafty items? These skills are not hard to learn and you could set up a table at a flea market or farmers’ market or sell online at Etsy. Can you garden? You could grow flowers or vegetables and put them out by the road to sell. Do you love animals? How about developing a pet-sitting, grooming, or dog-walking business? Have you got a skill you can teach someone else? Look into your town’s Adult Education department or local community college’s Continuing Education program and see if you can put together a class.

Think outside the box. I’ll bet you can come up with more ways of making money than you know.  (And for even more ideas and inspiration, check out Barbara Winters’ Joyfully Jobless website–there’s lots of practical and motivational stuff there) The more diverse your interests, and the more you put yourself out there creatively, the better your writing is going to be.

Have an exit plan. Somebody should do a workshop on this (in fact, maybe I will). What do I mean by this? Here are some suggestions:

  • Know what your company’s policy is regarding termination of employment. What benefits are available to you if you retire, quit, are fired for cause, or are laid off? Are you entitled to severance pay, unused vacation and sick time, unemployment (will depend on your state and the reason you and the job parted ways)? If the worst happens, how will you make the most of what you get?
  • If you did lose your job, just how much money do you actually need to live on? Most of us don’t know. Make a list now of the money you have coming in. Then track where your money goes for a month. For bills that come less frequently, like real estate tax bills and winter heating costs, look at your bank statements from last year and average them out to a monthly cost. Identify what’s a want and what’s a need. I’ll bet there are places you can cut back. The grocery bill and shoe-shopping (insert personal vices here) bills are great places to start. Look at your phone plans and cable bills and gym memberships and make sure you’re actually using the services you’re paying for. Eliminate what you can.
  • Save money NOW. Save as much as you can, even more than you think you can. So when your employer gives you a surprise one-month’s- pay severance “package” and a copy paper box to carry your stuff out in, you’ll be okay. Maybe not comfortable, but okay.
  •   If you’re a two-income household, can you live on what the other earner makes? It’s not a great idea to think you can fall back on somebody else, though. Because stuff that can happen to you (job loss, illness) can happen to the other person in your life too.  I hope it doesn’t. But let’s face it. None of us are getting any younger, and, well, stuff happens. Be prepared for it.

What about you? Do you think you’ll ever make a living wage from your writing? Do you have a plan (share it with us, if you’re comfortable doing so) for making it your full-time job? Ever been fired and want to vent here? Inquiring Scribes want to know.

 

 

 

 

 

Let It Go

Thea here in this season of graduations, retirements and tag sales, sitting in my house that looks like we’re perennially moving in.  This is the first time I’ve ever thought, everything’s got to go.  The big stuff, the stuff we’ve collected or inherited from our parents.  The stuff I’m not sure my sons will really want.  Things I want them to keep forever.

Because everything has story:  my husband grew up with this item; his parents collected that stuff on the Cape in the 1950’s;  they bought that painting from a local artist there; and brass bed at an auction in Maine.  Things that my husband is loath to let go.   On my side, there wasn’t quite as much of value, but  among the things I kept were the living room lamps from my parent’s first apartment. I remember that apartment vividly even though I was only four or five at the time.

The lamps sat on two tall side tables flanking a camelback sofa.  There was a large framed print over the sofa of a medieval farm scene, and the lamps, perhaps hand-painted, echo that theme.  They’re tall and urn-shaped, with a little curly-cue on each side.  Those curls reminded me of my mother’s very curly hair.  I remember playing with those curly-cues when I was very young.  And because of that I can’t bear to get rid of the lamps even though they don’t fit anywhere in our house.

Or maybe there’s a different reason for my reluctance, and that is in letting go of those objects we are in some respect erasing our story, our past and our present both.  Because what will our sons do with all we’ve assiduously collected?  The books and paintings we’ve loved.  The Eastlake dresser that was one of first things we bought after we got married.  The painted sleigh bed.  The antique dishes.

There’s a memory. a story behind each of those things.  And in them, the story of our lives together.  We’ll be married 48 years this month, and will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the night we met in September.  How do I let it go?

And how do I let go the memory of that little girl playing with the decorations on those lamps because they looked so much like her mother’s curly hair?

Are you clearing out and paring down?  How do you handle it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kait Ballenger’s Cover Reveal

Hi All,  Jennifer here,

Paranormal Romance author, the lovely Kait Ballenger, and I share the same agent.  When she posted on our agency’s loop that she needed help to promote her release Shadow Hunter at .99, I jumped right in.  I’ve read Kait’s work and its FAB!

ShadowHunter_FINAL

If you like awesome, well-written paranormals, then Kait is for you!

Here’s the blurb!!

Vampire hunter Damon Brock’s first assignment with the Execution Underground is Rochester, New York, a city crawling with the undead.  But he isn’t the only hunter in town gunning for vamp blood. Tiffany Solow is fierce and ruthless when it comes to slaying the monsters that destroyed her family-and she works solo. But being alone is no longer so desirable when she meets the mysterious hunter who wants more than just her turf. As they work to massacre the local covens, the line between good and evil blurs when they are forced to decide between their lifelong beliefs… and their newfound hearts.

 

Buy Links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Hunter-The-Execution-Underground-ebook/dp/B00K4M3I26/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1401256662&sr=8-2&keywords=Kait+Ballenger

BN: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/shadow-hunter-kait-ballenger/1119434584?ean=9781459256347

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/shadow-hunter-10

 

Author Bio: Kait Ballenger is a full-time paranormal romance author, wife, former professional bellydancer, and soon-to-be-professor. She has a BA in English from Stetson University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. She lives in Central Florida with her screenwriter husband and three sweet furry babies, all three of whom are named after fictional characters. Kait hopes that one day with hard work and dedication, she will be a bestselling author, and then, people will name their pets after her characters, too.

 

Website: http://www.kaitballenger.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kaitlynschulzromanceauthor

Twitter: @kait_ballenger or https://twitter.com/kait_ballenger

Google+: https://plus.google.com/108985176548347481138

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/kaitballenger/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/kaitballengerauthor