Monday, March 31, 2014

Compelling: How do you write what people want to read? (part 1)

I love Sherlock Holmes. Detective stories have always fascinated me (thus my choice in career), but Sherlock Holmes has always intrigued me more than most.  Maybe because The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first book I ever remember bringing me to the edge of my seat.

I was in second grade. It must have been a children’s version of the story, because it’s somewhat of a difficult read for many adults, but I remember my heart pounding, my palms sweaty, my mind racing as this terrifying “dog from hell” raced up on Holmes and Watson. That day, I fell in love with both reading and mysteries.

Being able to make people not only suspend disbelief but want to, is a skill. Not everyone has it.  But how do you foster willful suspension of disbelief?

My favorite way is when you make me care about your character. Give me something in a character I can identify with, something I can understand, something that resonates with me, and you’ve hooked me. It’s why Holmes has Dr. Watson.  Holmes by himself is less than interesting; he’s an arrogant, hyper-intelligent man who has little use for the common man. But Dr. Watson is someone you can empathize with. He’s a fairly smart person (who we all believe ourselves to be) with a friend/coworker/roommate who routinely infers (or outright states) that he’s an idiot. Holmes is trying, frustrating, and, worst of all, agonizing correct. Together, they are compelling characters that draw me back again and again.

What are your tricks of the trade? How do you make me care about your character?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why I Write: What are your reasons?

The media throws hundreds of messages at young girls every day. Most are less than encouraging: you’re not pretty enough, you’re not perfect enough, you must have this thing to be liked by your peers, just buy this, and it will make you lovable.

And all of it is complete hooey.

While products were different, the message was the same when I was a kid (though I think, with social media, the messages are getting louder). None of it was helpful to an awkward little girl’s self-esteem who preferred pants to dresses and catching bugs to gossiping about boys. What was helpful, though were these five things that my parents taught me.

1.       “You are beautiful.” No, you may not look like a model, or a Disney Channel star, or the girls on Sam and Cat, but you are beautiful just because you look like you. The sparkle in your eyes, the way your face lights up when you smile, and those dimples that remind me of your Dad are simply irreplaceable.

2.       “Who you are matters.” Don’t let anyone change that. You are kind, you are smart, you are funny, and you are sweet. People will try you in a lot of different ways that those things are not important. They are.

3.       “Don’t give up on an activity you love, just because it isn’t popular.” A lot of girls aren’t interested in archaeology, or volcanoes, or math, or learning ballroom dance, but you are. That is a wonderful and fantastic thing. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

4.       “Whatever career you choose to do, I will be happy as long as you work hard to be the best you can be at it.” Be it a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, a firefighter, or the president of the United States, as long as you work to be the best as it, I will be proud of you.

5.       “You’re not me.” Your job is not to live out my dreams. You do not have to choose a career path because I chose it, or a school because that’s where I went, or a sport because that’s what I wish I did. You are unique, and special, and wonderful. Please be you. The world only gets one of you, please don’t deprive the world of that!

These are the messages I want to spread in the books I write. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Kickstarter: Hope for poor writers or a scam?

Sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe have cropped up in the last few years, supposedly allowing the community to back projects they find worthy of funding. It sounds great, right? Create a profile, a video, an explanation of your project, and then submit it to Kickstarter. Kickstarter will approve or deny your application. Once approved, your project has a certain length of time to amass “Backers” and the funding you need.

This idea appeals to me. I love the idea of putting my book out there and having it funded by people who fully support the idea. Kickstarter even has a “Publishing” section! That’s perfect for all us unpublished souls who know what it’s like to eat mac and cheese or Ramen every night just to pay the rent.

Only, I get concerned when I read their Terms of Use. They can suspend your account at any time for any reason, and they don’t have to tell you about it (whether a Bakcer or a “Creator”). They can stop or suspend a campaign at any time, for any reason. If your project is not 100% funded, you get nothing (unsure, based on my reading, if Kickstarter keeps it or the Backers get it back). If you are 100% funded, also know that Kickstarter keeps 5% off the top, plus Amazon (who you must use to get paid) charges a 3-5% fee for credit card processing. You will be taxed on what you received in funding.

Also, the accountability is limited. If I get $10,000 funded for my project, there is NOTHING in place to guarantee that I will complete my project. Absolutely nothing. Kickstarter states that the Backers and the Community are responsible for keeping the Creator on track, but how much can you do with a few emails? Kickstarter makes no guarantees to Backers, but does state that “launching a Kickstarter is a very public act”, so fail to follow through on commitments could be damaging to the Creator’s overall reputation.

This might be something that works for you. As for me, I won't use it; I’m just not convinced…

Have any of you used Kickstarter (or tried) to fund any projects? What was your experience? Can you convince me otherwise?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Disney Finally Got One Right!

Not just because of this, but it sure didn't hurt!
If you don’t know how popular Disney’s newest animated feature, Frozen, currently is you a) know no girls between the ages of 2 and 12, and b) possibly live under a rock. Not only is it being hailed as the best Disney movie since Lion King, the song “Let it Go” from the film has been topping the charts for weeks. I might be late to the game, but I just watched it for the first time. And, I’m not going to lie, I loved it!

A princess who doesn’t need some random rich guy to be her savior? A princess who is not only brave enough and tough enough to forgive her sister who she believes has horribly mistreated her, but who is also willing to save her sister a great personal cost to herself? That, ladies and gentlemen, is a great role model for young girls.

Are the characters flawed? Absolutely! Beautifully so. Are they damaged? You bet they are. Who isn’t? That’s what makes them so relatable. Those are the kinds of characters I want to present in the books I write. Characters that have depth and resonate with kids, because even at a young age, bright, wonderful, amazing girls already know they aren’t perfect.

Did you see this movie? What did you think? Honesty is welcome here...

Also, this.

Brilliant Ideas: When Does “Unique” Become "Too Weird"?

Occasionally I have what I just KNOW to be a brilliant idea. In a flurry of excited, disjointed sentences, I blurt out my thrillingly awesome thought, only to have my patient, loving husband kindly pull me back into reality before my head explodes with sheer cleverness.

He’s probably just jealous.

Or maybe selling everything we own and moving into a yurt in the mountains of Montana in the middle of January wasn’t a great idea (but people, A YURT!). 

If you’ve been following along, you know that I'm working on self-publishing a children's book. I was thinking, it might add an interesting visual element if I have some kids I know write out the story and I use my words in their handwriting for the narrative.

Unfortunately, my husband is currently out of town on a family emergency, so I need your input: is this a good or bad idea? Why?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Finding Inspiration: What Has Inspired Your Writing?

My children’s book that I am working on publishing, The Clumsy Princess, is really a story about my friend’s little girl, who we’ll call “L.” L is a sweet, stubborn, adorably fierce and fearless 2 year old. After L spent another afternoon in the Emergency Room, this time for taking a header off of an older sibling’s top bunk (nothing had to be casted that day, thankfully!), I referred to her as an “accident-prone princess.”

                                           The face of fearlessness!

I thought about how Disney princesses appear so perfect: graceful, beautiful, well-dressed, and well-spoken. Their whole goal in life is to find their true love and live happily (and richly) ever after.

What if, instead of presenting our girls with an impossible standard to achieve, we created princesses who were more like real people?  What if we stopped subtly telling them that their goal should be to find a man to "rescue" them, but instead encouraged them to celebrate their differences and embrace life?

What if there were stories about clumsy princesses, and shy princesses, and bossy princesses, and tomboy princesses? 

Those are the kind of princesses I want my daughters (should I have any) to enjoy; princesses who are flawed, and wonderful because of it. The idea for a book series was born!

Please share! I want to know, where do you get your inspiration? 


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Finding an Illustrator: the Non-Typical Route

I wasn’t sure how to go about locating an illustrator. There's not way I could illustrate it myself; I'm pretty thrilled if someone recognizes that the deer I've drawn is an animal. There’s probably a book or checklist that would be helpful; out there somewhere… A google search left me overwhelmed. Places with illustrators for hire I found particularly helpful:

Ultimately, though, I decided to go with an old standby: Craigslist. 

I know what you’re thinking. Craigslist?! You’re going to experiment on publishing a book and you’re using Craigslist?! Except, I live in a wonderful college town with incredibly talented and artistic people, and illustration jobs are hard to come by (technically, I first offered to hire my sister who, unlike myself, is a fantastic artist, but she shot me down), and all I was asking for were simple line drawings. Besides, I only had $100 total set aside for illustrating. Within 24 hours I had over a dozen responses, many accompanied by beautiful portfolios. And one guy who told me that he charges $100 per page, so if that’s what I meant, he was my guy (it wasn’t what I meant). 

I finally decided on one illustrator for two reasons: because she had attached her profile, which had glowing testimonials from previous clients, and because her portfolio was bright, fresh, clever and fun. We emailed back and forth a few times, before I decided she was my gal. She gave me a two week timeframe to have the illustrations I’d described completed, and one week for making any adjustments I’d like. Now, I guess I wait. 

How do you go about finding an illustrator? Has anyone else used Craigslist before (or are my methods horrifying and barbaric)?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Question: Can an Unknown Author Succeed with Self-Publishing?

I wrote a children’s book. It’s a simple, light, amusing story about an accident-prone princess (because who needs another perfect Disney princess, am I right?), aimed at the 3-8 year old demographic. And if you google “publishing a children’s book”, it’s got a better chance of being the third monkey on Noah’s Ark than it does of ever being read by anyone other than my mom.

So this is my experiment: can I, an unknown, unpublished author, succeed where all signs point to success being impossible? And, what more can I do it without breaking the bank?

I have some obstacles: I work at least 40 hours a week and on my days off, I watch some pretty awesome little princesses, so my time is fairly limited. I work in public service, so my finances are not unlimited. Writing short, fun kids’ stories is my forte, but I’m a dismal artist, so I’d have to hire someone to illustrate for me. And that’s only the biggest issues I can see, from the starting line.  

Never one to let the obvious hurdles get in my way, I’m hopeful this can be done. With this blog, I hope to sketch out a rough map of what to do (or not to do) in this very unscientific experiment!