Why I Did Not Share #NakedTrump on Facebook

Last week when those statues of Trump popped up around America, I laughed. If I’m being perfectly honest, I thought it was pretty hysterical.

And then the New York City Parks Department tweeted this response.

nakedtrump

I was in stitches. It’s funny, right?

Actually, when you think about it, it’s not that funny at all.

After several hours of whooping it up at the expense of this statue, my good friend Adrienne Wright posted this to Facebook:

trump shaming

Adrienne makes a very good point. It’s one that was a huge wake up call for me. Was I really so blinded by poking fun at the reality TV celebrity that I’d lost sight of right and wrong?

Yes, I was, and yes, I had.

I went from being a liberal-leaning, feminism-promoting, #IAmWithHer supporter who claims to #FeelTheBern to someone who blatantly advocates #BodyShaming. My laughter over the statue was on the same level as Trump’s thoughtless comments about immigrants and refugees.

Over the next few months, I’ll definitely be more careful about what I share, where I comment, and what I say when I do comment.

Not only does it affect how others see me online, but I have two sons who, despite being old enough to vote, are still easily influenced by their parents. The last thing I want to do is make comments that push them in a direction that I feel is wrong.

So what about you? How did you react when the statue appeared? Do you agree that a statue like this is akin to body shaming or do you feel Trump got what was coming to him?

Writing a First Page an Agent Will Love

literary_agent_conference

When I finish my current novel and begin querying agents, I want them to ask me for the first few chapters – or better yet, the entire manuscript. Either way I’m posed with the same challenge. I have to get them past the first page.

The First Page – What Agents Want to See

  • Start with Activity – The Intern at In the Inbox suggests starting with activity because, “Manuscripts lose the reader’s attention when they start in characters’ heads. Frustration, anger, and apathy are week beginnings.”

    Don’t tell the reader what’s happening. Show them by the activity taking place on that first page. If you feel you have to start with an internal monologue, then maybe it’s time to rethink the starting point of your novel.

  • To Prologue or Not to Prologue – The prologue takes place before your story begins. Sometimes the author puts the prologue in italics to distinguish it from the rest of the novel.

    Although there are some books that use a prologue and are better for it (Orphan Train, Water for Elephants, and The Lovely Bones come to mind), Elmore Leonard suggests avoiding them. He calls them annoying back story and claims the writer can drop the information in wherever they want.

  • Create a Well-Balanced Opening Scene – The opening scene should combine the right amounts of tension, setting, and action to cause the reader to want to turn to Page 2. In a guest post on Jane Friedman’s blogDarcy Patterson, the author of Start your Novel, says:

    The first pages of a novel encapsulate much of the story and are extremely important in establishing setting, character, pace, audience, tone, and voice. First pages give readers a door knob to turn, an opening to the whole story. Editors are sophisticated, critical readers, and they immediately pick up on missteps such as the following.

    Holding back too much information can cause confusion for the person reading your book. Giving too much information is akin to giving someone a spoiler alert to how a movie ends before the previews finish playing.

Now It’s My Turn

Here are the first few paragraphs from my work in progress.

CHAPTER 1

“A funeral home?” Harriet McConnell exclaimed. She paced the length of the galley kitchen in her ranch-style home, a route that took about eight steps in either direction. “Why would my brother die and leave you a funeral home?”

Joe slouched into one of the two chairs on either side of the table in the adjoining dining area with a shrug. He laid his hand on the table’s Formica top and stressed, “I swear, Ma. I dunno why he’d leave me his funeral home.”

“A funeral home,” she repeated. “I know he was single and didn’t have any kids, but I figured he’d leave it to one of his charities. Or maybe your… well, never mind that.”

“Or maybe my what? Wait. He supported charities?” Joe tilted his head. “When did he do that? After Grandma and Grandpa’s funeral? Was that why after they died you told me he was too busy to come to my birthday parties?”

Joe vaguely recalled his uncle’s presence in his early life, but truth be told, until the lawyer’s office called he’d nearly forgotten the man existed. The news of an inheritance surprised Joe as much as it did his mother.

“What’ll you do with it? Oh Joey, you can’t keep it. You know that, right? Just think of all the corpses that passed through the place. And worse things. Oh, Joey.” Harriet punctuated her words with a shudder, avoiding her son’s earlier question. Turning to face him she asked, “You’re not going to keep it, are you?”

What do you think? Without hearing the elevator pitch, does it make you want to know more?

When People Give You Advice – Whether You Want It or Not

writing advice

After my husband retired from his career as a firefighter, it soon became apparent that one of us needed to get out more. We aren’t the kind of couple that enjoys being connected at the hip 24/7. Not even a little bit.

So I bought him some power tools. When he pondered aloud about what he could make with them, I pointed him to Pinterest. Before long we’d started our family’s arts and crafts business – Hammerhead Woodcrafts. We make signs, furniture, and home decor items out of reclaimed materials, like hardwood pallets. There’s an entire movement dedicated to this. It’s kind of a big deal – just look on Pinterest.

Last week we set up at a street festival downtown. It’s an election year which means politicians put themselves in the public eye to shake hands and kiss babies. Our local ones were out in full force. Four years ago I helped with the graphics for a prospective delegate, linking me to most of the county politicians by just a few degrees.

(That reminds me – I have a Bacon number of three. My dad did some construction work for Robert Duvall, who was in the movie Jayne Mansfield’s Car with Kevin Bacon. I also have a Bacon number of three two other ways, through both Sinbad and Raymond Burr, but I won’t bore you with those stories. Pardon the digression, but I just had to share that random bit of trivia.)

During the last half hour of the event, an older guy sauntered up to our booth and looked around at our stuff. After a few minutes, he proceeded to tell us what kind of items we ought to sell and then stalked off.

What the ever loving heck happened there? My husband and I had no clue. We quietly discussed the man’s suggestions then dismissed them as they were both too complicated and required reclaiming materials that were either too expensive or too difficult to acquire.

When Writers Get Unwarranted Advice

Sometimes the writing advice can prove similarly baffling. Random comments and reviews that come out of left field make me wonder if the person ever read anything I’ve written. After all, why would they say that about the work I put blood, sweat, and tears into writing, re-writing, and re-writing again.

When these comments happen, I’d rather whiz toward the second star to the right and straight on til morning. I’m a little past Neverland though, which leaves me with a 3-step process for confronting the comments head-on.

  1. First I take some time, a few hours or even a couple of days, to digest what the person said. I ask trusted friends if I’m overreacting in thinking the advice was out of line.
  2. Be grateful, always. When talking to the person who gives me the advice, I thank them for the time they took to read your work. Regardless of what they said, they actually read something I wrote, which means there’s a chance they had to buy it. Barring that, they acknowledge that I’m a writer, which is an achievement on a whole other level depending on the person.
  3. And now comes the hardest part (for me, anyway); I tell them I welcome the chance to discuss their thoughts and give them a way to contact me – even if it’s just through private messages via my author page on Facebook.

I have to confess. Sometimes I don’t go through with #3. Sometimes I say, “Thank you for letting me know” and go about my business.

Some people come to writers with advice because they genuinely believe that writer is the person to tell a particular story. Some people give advice on a whim. I’m guilty of this one.

That would make a great story!
Inspiration for a new story?
You’re going to put that in your book, right?

Guilty, guilty, guilty – and that’s just in the past week.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with someone’s advice, the person will have more respect for you and be more likely to invest in your future works if you reply with a tone of kindness.

Sometimes Advice Precedes a Bigger Message

The old guy at the street festival? He came back to our booth a few minutes before time to tear down for the night. We treated him with the same kindness we had during his first visit, despite his boisterous suggestions.

This time, instead of giving us more advice that didn’t suit the nature of our business, the man explained how he and his wife had recently adopted a son. This man wanted to get the kid something, but nothing seemed “right” for a boy that age. Beware of the Teenager was too abrasive, and Welcome, Little One was too babyish. The advice he gave described the the type of item he hoped to find on his previous visit.

Working together, we finally found something that would convey the love this dad had for his new son without completely embarrassing the kid. The guy took our business card on his way out after asking if we did custom orders for holiday gifts.

May I be as fortunate with my writing.

Rejection – An Example of What Not to Do

snoopy rejection letter

So there’s this writer named David Benjamin who uses his blog to recap his latest rejections. I didn’t hear about him until he started trending on Twitter for his reflections post-meeting with Jennifer Johnson-Blalock from Liza Dawson Associates.

NOTE: He took the original down but you can find a copy of David Benjamin’s post on this blog.

If his blog post were an elevator pitch, it would read something like this:

Misogynist, ill-prepared, wanna-be writer meets with a no-nonsense, hardworking agent at a conference. After completing the list of “Things You Should Never Do When Pitching to an Agent”, he drones on and on about the unfairness of it all while throwing insults at the agent for good measure.

His plan involved schmoozing the agent by talking about her interests and then presenting her with his material, from his “extensive oeuvre, that matched her deepest literary heart’s desire.”

That’s where his plan went wrong.

When you meet with an agent at a conference, you have ten minutes to make a lasting impression. What this guy did is not the lasting impression you want to make. Don’t waste it talking about things unrelated to your book. If he wanted to touch on the agent’s interests, then he should have related it to the work he was pitching.

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock is a fan of the Gilmore Girls. If I were pitching to her I might use that to segue into my WIP, or work-in-progress.

I see you’re a fan of the Gilmore Girls. Hester, the supporting female lead in my WIP, is a bit like young Lorelai Victoria Gilmore. Instead of showing up at a hotel in Stars Hollow to live in the potting shed behind the Independence Inn, Hester shows up on the steps of a funeral-home-turned-bookstore where she….

By the time I got to the part about the demons, the loaded handgun, and the ex-girlfriend, we’d have a full six minutes left and the agent would be totally captivated. If she wasn’t, then I hope I would use the opportunity to learn something and not create a cringe-worthy experience like this guy.

The moral of this blog post is getting face time with an agent is priceless. Make the most of it. Practice, practice, practice so you don’t waste even a second. They want to hear about your book, but for them to get excited about it, you have to be excited about it.

Speaking of books, I’m heading back to the funeral-home-turned-bookstore to see if the antagonist revealed himself yet. Only finishing the manuscript will tell!

Free Writing Assistance

CatDogWishingRedPen_500w
This is how I imagine Cinnamon, my golden retriever, is when left alone with my work-in-progress.

Sometimes my grammar stinks.

There. I admitted it. No matter how hard I strive for flawless grammar, sometimes I goof. I might confuse which with that, end a sentence in a preposition, or the very worst thing ever – use passive voice.

I know, right? Every time this happens I cringe. Every freaking time.

Why can I spot flaws in other’s writing but miss it in mine? WHY is that?! It drives me nuts!

Writers need thick skin. In a perfect world, writers would sport the skin of a rhinoceros or crocodile. In reality, writers sport the skin of a Giant Day Gecko, fragile and easily torn.

When I first co-founded The Mountain Scribes, a writing group serving West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, I had a bad habit of submitting my first draft for critique from other members.

Boy was that a rotten idea! I quickly learned to read through and fix as many mistakes as I could before submitting to the group.

Thankfully friends like author Laura Emmons, who I met through my local NaNoWriMo group, suggested tools that helped them polish up their literary works. Here are my top three free, cloud-based editors, and best of all, they’re free!

  1. Hemingway App – The Hemingway Editor not only polishes up your writing, but it also allows you to format the text, import text from MS Word files, and export it as HTML right to your blog.
  2. After the Deadline – This was the first service I used. It’s also cloud-based but unlike the other two apps listed here, it only offers the bare basics. The one thing it does better than the others, in my humblest opinion, is find passive voice. It may hate passive voice more than I do.
  3. ProWritingAid – While you can get a premium membership, the free service reviews up to 3k words at a time, giving you 19 different reports in return. The reports range from diction checks to sticky sentences to overused words and a lot more.

Have you ever used these apps? Are there any in this list you haven’t used? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Get Your Tail Outta Here

Last Thursday, after breaking my finger playing Pokemon Go, I checked the news headlines only to read about another tragedy. Then I came home to find poor Captain Jack had dropped his tail.

Crested geckos aren’t like their cousin species. If they drop their tail, it’s for good. They don’t grow it back. Through the years crested enthusiasts coined the term “frog butt” for a gecko in Jack’s situation. This is because the tailless hind end resembles the backside of a polliwog.

Speaking of polliwogs, I caught a polliwag in Pokemon Go. It’s the most adorable thing ever, as far as fictional creatures go.

That reminds me, my current story has a fictional creature; it’s a door knocker which resembles an evil gargoyle. While he doesn’t have a tail, he does roll his eyes and sigh a lot. It’s too bad the current characters have yet to notice.

But they will, when the time is right. I can’t wait to find out what he says to them.

There’s a Pokemon in My Sink

 

First thing Monday morning I walked into the kitchen only to find a Venovat staring back at me. That’s right – a Venovat! As the little monster danced around in front of me, there was only one option; I swiped my finger across the iPhone screen to smack him with a Pokeball.

Have you played this Pokemon Go thing? It’s crazy. I find myself going outside at weird times; taking the dog out is a great excuse.

Because I’m pretty active on Facebook, it didn’t take long for people to find out about my new hobby. The two questions I’ve been asked most frequently are:

What Is Pokemon Go?
Pokemon Go is a smartphone app. Think of it this way – if Pokemon and geocaching had a baby, it would be this app.

Why Do You Have Pokemon Go?
Pokemon Go gets you up, out of your chair, and outside to “catch ’em all” as the slogan urges. This forces me to take breaks from my laptop. I spent more time outside in the first 48 hours after downloading it than I had all summer to that point combined.

The app also gives me a common bond with my kids. This past Sunday instead of being inside on their laptops, the Xbox, etc., my teenagers and their friends spent over an hour outside in the sunshine catching Pokemon.

Every evening we talk about our day – who we talked to, where we went, and of course who caught the best Pokemon. Unanswered texts have been replaced with screen shots of rare finds. (Yesterday I was the first in my family to catch Pikachu. YES!)

Getting outside is a big challenge for many writers. You could take your laptop outside but often the glare from the sun makes the experience more annoying than productive. Even if there’s no glare – you’re still sitting and you’re probably not interacting with others.

Here are some surprising benefits of Pokemon Go:

  • PASSIVE CARDIO – Pokemon Go forces you to walk around – often outside where the Pokemon creatures surround your house. Walking is what I like to call passive cardio. After my husband’s heart attack a few months ago, the one thing all of his doctors agreed on was that walking was the best thing you could do for your heart.
  • SOCIAL INTERACTIONS – If you go to a local park or community center, which are hotbeds of activity, then you could meet other people – which helps you promote your books through word-of-mouth advertising in a conversational tone.
  • GET SOME VITAMIN D – You need fresh air and sunshine to survive. That’s just how it is. Being outside increases brain function – which definitely can’t hurt if you’re a writer.
  • LEARN HISTORY – Historical markers are another popular site for Pokestops, where you can get more Pokeballs and eggs. Local history can inspire your next short story or novel, or maybe you can work that bit of trivia into your current project.
  • INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY – Taking breaks during your workday can increase your level of productivity. A “quick break” to check social media or read the news can throw you into a rabbit hole of endless time-wasting opportunities. Pokemon Go gives you the chance to catch a few Pokemon, which gives you a feeling of accomplishment and a better frame of mind for returning to writing.

If other people tell you Pokemon Go is a kids’ game and you’re just wasting your time, then inform them about the benefits of playing.

Download the app if you haven’t already and start playing. It’s a fun distraction that won’t eat up valuable writing time. Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.

P.S. Much to the chagrin of my teenagers, I also powered up Pikachu. Muhaha.

pikachu power

Graphics for Authors

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to connect with Audrey Knapp of The Write Services. She needed graphics for social media marketing, including her Instagram for Authors course, and was impressed with graphics I created for events hosted by a local community center.

Then another author asked if I’d create a couple of bookmarks. Then someone else asked me to redesign their Facebook cover. One thing led to another and I started my own graphics for self-published authors website using royalty-free images and web-based software.

graphicsforauthorshomepage
Click Here for Info about Graphics for Self-Published Authors

Contact me via the website linked above if you could use these highly affordable services. I’d love to talk!

Why I Dislike Fireworks

It’s not that I dislike fireworks so much as the loud noises associated with them. Because I live in a rural area we also get the super fun enjoyment of hearing shotgun blasts; our neighbors’ way of celebrating, well, anything really.

cinnamon-waiting-to-play
Cinnamon, my Golden Retriever

This is Cinnamon, my Golden Retriever. She just turned a year old in April so there’s a lot of puppy left in her. Last year when the fireworks started, she was content to curl up in my arms and sleep through most of it.

Like Gingerbelle, her predecessor, it didn’t take long for her to develop an aversion to loud things – thunder, gunshots, and fireworks to name a few. You can imagine how this might affect the upcoming holiday.

Did I mention I live in a rural area? The good thing is no homeowner’s association telling you what to do with your property. The bad thing is no homeowner’s association to enforce things like, “Please don’t make loud noises that scare my dog, especially after a reasonable hour like, oh say, 11pm.”

The occasional firecracker has already started. I can only imagine what’s in store for the weekend.

Do you have pets? How do they handle fireworks?

#MissingPeople

A couple of days ago author David Bell (SINCE SHE WENT AWAY) posted an article he wrote for Signature Reads called 5 Missing Persons  Cold Cases That Will Leave You Chilled. It’s an apt title because I seriously had chills by the time I finished reading.

The story that haunted me most was that of the Beaumont children. David writes:

People under a certain age, forty or so, would find it hard to believe that a mother would allow her three children ages four, seven, and nine to hop on a bus and ride to the beach without any adults along. But Australian Nancy Beaumont did just that in 1966. The three children were spotted at the beach by numerous witnesses, but they never came home. The children have never been found, and it’s one of those cases that changed the way we all live and raise our families.

What the ever-living what? Unable to imagine allowing my own boys to ride public transport to a crowded beach without adult supervision at a young age, I had to know more. Off I went to my trusty fact-checking friend, Wikipedia, who said:

Jane, the eldest child, was considered responsible enough to care for the two younger siblings, and their parents were not concerned. They left home at 10 am and were expected to return home by 2 pm. Their parents became worried when they had not returned and called the police at 7:30 pm.

If you’re interested in missing persons cases at all, it’s worth perusing the Wikipedia page on this one. Between the conflicting information and the possibly related cases, make sure you grab a refill on your coffee before heading that way. You could be there a while.

And you can read a free excerpt of SINCE SHE WENT AWAY by David Bell on his website.