Toot Your Own Horn

Someone once said, “Toot your own horn because no one else is going to do it for you.”

Writers understand that. You can write a great book and have it published, but the writer must still be involved in the promotion of the book. Unless of course you are a celebrity or political figure, then it seems that you are on the best seller list before the book even gets printed. That’s the way it works sometimes. Publishers pre-sell a book in such large numbers that it becomes a “Best Seller” (imagine me doing finger quotes) before it appears on the shelves.

If you are already famous or a known writer, you’ll get plenty of offers to appear on talk shows and requests for interviews. For the rest of us, promotion and public relations falls on our shoulders. I’m going to use myself as an example because it’s all I’ve got.

I wrote a book –A Spirit in the Heart. It’s available on Amazon.com and I think I’ve made a whopping twenty or so dollars off it. As I’ve said before, I’m not going to get rich on my books, but, hey, twenty dollars is twenty more than I had before, and a few people are reading my writing, so I’m thrilled.

Back to promotion. I vacationed in the city (Bemidji, Minnesota) where my romance novel was set. Bemidji is a town of about 14,000 people in the northern part of the state. It’s a beautiful town that attracts tourists all year around, even in the winter when they rename it Brrrrrmidji.

It’s also a town with a strong arts community. I made the rounds of the gift shops and found one that spotlights local artists and promotes most things related to the city. That’s the one that agreed to take a few of my books and offer them for sale.

When I returned home, I sent the Bemidji newspaper a press release saying what the book was about and where it could be purchased. I haven’t heard from them, yet.

Then I sent a press release to a couple of local newspapers where I live and I got a response. A reporter contacted me and asked if I would be willing to do an interview for the paper. Gosh, let me think about this….of course!

One more thing I did was to contact my local library and put in a request that they place the book on their shelves. I was told they would submit the request. I’m still waiting to hear if that happened, but I’d love to walk into the library and see my book up there with all those best-selling authors.

Everyone wants to feel good about themselves and what they do. Even a little recognition goes a long way in stroking a writer’s ego. All in all, I’m happy to say that it’s been a good week for me.

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The Great American Novel

I had a sudden realization this week. It happened while I was reading a major news magazine and came across two pages of “novels to read this summer.” The subject matter in the selected books was varied, and serious. I mean really serious stuff.

Included was a book on the struggle of a family surviving war and genocide; another on teenage angst and the years after high school graduation; a tale of the ravages of AIDS across two generations; and a religious cult at a university.

The time it took for me to read the blurbs about these meaningful, informative, passionately written books equaled the time it took for me to realize that I am never going to write the great American novel.

Compared to those deep-thinking authors, my writing is simple fluff, in the fluffiest sense of the word. I write happily along, falling in love with my characters and putting them into cutesy or unusual situations, and I’m content. And, spoiler alert … my stories all have a happy ending.

And you know what? That is just fine, because not all of us were destined to write the deeply profound manuscripts with which our bookstore and library shelves overflow. There are just as many interesting, humorous, educational, suspenseful, exciting, colorful, (add your own adjective), stories and articles bouncing around our world and appreciated by readers, who are as diverse as those of us who write for them.

What I write may appeal to only a small percentage of people and they may not be the same ones you target. What’s wrong with that? This doesn’t mean that I won’t keep exploring and expanding and attempting to venture into different genres or areas of publishing. I’ll try different things and test the waters here and there, but I’ll still be happy enjoying what I do. Can it get any better than that?

Yeh, yeh, I hear someone mumbling something about getting rich with writing, but that’s probably not going to happen either. The best that most of us can hope for is to actually make a living at writing. So, go back to your computers and get to work on what you do best.)

No Critique for me, thanks.

My local library recently started a writers’ workshop that meets once a month. When I first heard of it, I was excited, and I attended the first two meetings.

I’m not going back, and the reason is that I don’t like critique groups, and that’s where this group is headed.

Don’t get me wrong, having someone critique a piece of your writing can be valuable. In my earlier writing years, I may have asked others to read my work. An important point to consider here is that I searched out those who were established, qualified writers or editors in the same genre or area of interest as I; people who could be objective and honest, even if I wouldn’t want to hear what they said. I trusted them.

It’s easy to tell someone how good something is if that is what you honestly believe. It’s not so easy to tell someone their subject is boring: their spelling is atrocious; you don’t like their style; or that they should just go back to English 101 and start over.

I have critiqued the work of others, but I don’t like doing it because each individual has his or her own special style of writing, and it’s not like mine. The only way to find out if a piece of writing is good enough for publication is to refine it as best you can and send it to the people who matter — editors and agents who can champion your work.

Not everyone likes what I write, or the way I write. I don’t like every writer I’ve read, and that applies to some well-known authors that others rave about. Sometimes I’ll start a book by a best-selling author only to find out that I really don’t like the way he/she puts words together, or I don’t like the subject or the way its handled. Would I critique it and say it’s not worth reading? Of course not, because I’m only one reader, and what do I know?

To those who want to be in a writers’ group, don’t make it only about reading each other’s work and commenting on it. Real value in these groups comes from sharing tips on writing that others can use; learning how to write query letters; understanding how to move a story along; learning how to research the market and find the right publisher; sharing relevant information on publishing; bringing in guest speakers who have some expertise with writing; generally supporting and encouraging fellow writers; and above all, learning to use the research resources of your library.

Special note: never ask your best friend, loving spouse, or anyone who is really close to you, “What do you think of my story?” Trust me on this one.

A Spirit in the Heart

A Spirit in the Heart (an excerpt)

Peri hesitated near the rear of the cabin. Far above her head the stately Norway pines pierced the sky and blocked out the sun. Only the tiniest rays filtered through the canopy and dappled the ground with spots of light. The trees swayed and made soft whispering sounds as they talked to the wind. The repetitive and mournful call of a loon echoed across the stillness of the lake and faded away. Then the wind stopped for an instant and nothing moved. All was quiet, and the only sound she could hear was the pounding of her heart.

“I don’t think I like this,” she said aloud, and her voice sounded strange and misplaced in the quiet of the woods. More softly, “I know I don’t like this.”
She hurried down a slight incline toward the front of the cabin, stepped through the screen door and reached for the lock, but found none. None on the inner wooden door, either.

“Great,” she muttered, but it wasn’t great at all. She felt exposed and vulnerable, and even a little frightened. It was a feeling strange to her, and she didn’t like it, not one bit.

*********************************************

Peri Fergeson’s life revolves around the city and her career as a lawyer, but she’s burned out and needs time to re-energize. “I know the perfect place for you,” her father says, which happens to be a cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota, miles from anything that remotely resembles civilization to her.

She decides to give the wilderness a chance but becomes a bit too brave and almost drowns in the lake her first day there. It is Hawk, a bronze-skinned, part-Chippewa Indian, who is her savior, and thus begins a relationship that seems doomed from the beginning.

Peri feels indebted to Hawk for saving her life, and when she learns that he is in danger of losing the land that his family has lived on for generations, she decides to help him.

Respect, friendship and passion surface between them, but Peri must return to the city. She immerses herself in work, but her thoughts keep returning to the little cabin on the lake, and to Hawk.

A place, its beauty, peacefulness, and wildness; its people, their diversity, and their unity; and the love that surfaces in unexpected places, are all there waiting in A Spirit in the Heart.

A Spirit in the Heart is available as an ebook on Amazon.com.

Observation brings inspiration

How well do you observe the world? Do you really look at the people, places and events around you? Or is it all a blur in your memory when those things are no longer directly in front of you?

We are all so busy with our individual careers, families, worries … life in general… that we move automatically through 0ur daily routines without taking in the details. But as a writer it’s those details that matter and can make the difference between a good story and an exceptional story.

Some of the nicest comments I’ve received is that the readers felt as if they were in the places about which I’d written. I think that comes from having been a travel writer, as it was my job to take in the details and describe locations in a way that would make others want to go there. My articles had to lead the reader into a locale by making it real for them.

I would say that is one of my strong points. On the other hand, I’ve not always been so good at detailing the people in my articles or the characters in a story. That is where I work the hardest. So, over the years, I’ve learned to study people: their general appearance, habits, facial qualities or lack thereof; their way of walking and talking, and the way they interact with others. Sooner or later, some of those bits and pieces will find their way into a character in my fiction.

Even if you write fantasy and specialize in characters from other worlds, you must include the details if they are to be believable.

Observations bring our written pieces to life. If you aren’t already being overly observant, start practicing right now. Look out your window and take in all the details of the scene. Really look at it and study it. What’s in the scene? What stands out? Look at the colors; describe them. Are there hidden places there that you might want to investigate? Does the view give you a feeling of any kind; make you smile, make you sad?

The next time you are talking to someone, be it relative, friend or colleague, take a moment to study their face and the way they talk. Do they have any habits that are obvious, or quirks of personality? What does their skin look like; or their eyes, ears, hair, hands, clothing, posture? All of these things make up the total person and we know that when it comes to each individual, we can use the word “unique” correctly.

Sometimes it’s fun to sit in a crowded place and focus on someone to study. I find this is particularly easy and entertaining in airports, with its many kinds of interesting subjects rushing about or sitting across from me in the waiting areas. The same could be said for a busy restaurant, or a shopping mall, gatherings of every kind.

Inspiration through observation is everywhere. Take the time to look around you, and be inspired.

****

Now available as an ebook on Amazon.com:

“A Spirit in the Heart” by Ell Wheeler is a light romance that takes readers into the north woods of Minnesota and the beauty of the lake country. When a man and a woman from two different cultures meet and try to understand each other, anything can happen; and does.

Just keep writing

Happy New Year! Here we go again. I hope this will be a healthy and happy year for everyone.

We are a few days past the celebrations when the world welcomed in 2018, but that’s just long enough to have finalized those resolutions, or already have given up on them. The problem with resolutions is that we often don’t think them through. They are not always realistic.

For example, in 2017 I was determined that I would finish my newest novel by year’s end. I forgot to consider all the days during the year that I might not be able to write. Such as: the week-long trip to visit distant family; the days I was too sick to get out of bed, let alone write; the special celebrations with family and friends; the days I helped a friend or relative who needed me; all the days when reality intruded. You get the picture. You’ve been there.

What I wanted to do was to sit down at my computer every morning at 8 a.m. and crank out about 1,000 words of perfect prose in a plot that would have the Pultizer people banging on my door. HA! What a dreamer I am. Some days I did reach that numerical target; on other days I only managed 200, but they were darn good words, and quality will always beat out quantity when it comes to writing.

I’ve changed my goals for this year. I still intend to write on a regular basis. Maybe not daily, but the best that I can in the time allotted to me. I will still set objectives and personal deadlines, but this year I will forgive myself if I don’t meet them.

Happy New Year and happy writing.

Recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses when we write. Do we recognize them? We should. But no matter what they are, they will contain much of what we are and what we know personally.

I feel that one of my strengths is in setting the background of a story so that the reader feels he or she is actually in that place. Having traveled quite a bit has given me a view of many locales and I can use the pictures in my mind to set a scene. Failing that, I can pull up an actual photo of a place that I have visited and describe it, or even a photo of a place I’ve never been and use that. After a while, my mind begins to create its own visions of the places I want in a story.

I do the same thing with characters. If I look closely at any of the characters in my stories, I will see bits and pieces of someone I know. Those little quirks of personality that I remember from someone I’ve met will always find their way into my fictional characters and make them more interesting, and real. That’s fun to do and it’s a good way to start. Once I’ve given a character a foundation of traits, it’s easier to imagine others. Sometimes they are good; sometimes bad.

In my novel, A Spirit in the Heart, I have a main character that is part American Indian. I spent a lot of time in Minnesota and I met people who share some of the same attitudes that I let that character express in the book, but I also wanted all his good attitudes to prevail.

Everyone we know has something about them that sets them apart. Maybe they are exceptionally frugal; or they’re a miserly sort; or giddy, or grumpy, or scared of everything, or annoyingly happy all the time….whatever. Those are the things that give a character substance and can make the reader love them or hate them.

And then there is plot. Alas, I have to admit that here is where I sometimes struggle. Okay, we all know that many romance novels don’t have much of a plot (no offense intended to those that do), but that’s the way I began with Caribbean Charade. I followed a formula of woman/man has crisis in love life; woman/man meets someone else that both attracts and annoys them; they start to get together; no they don’t; together again, off again. Well you get the picture. This goes on until finally they admit that they love each other and it’s happy ever after time. That was my first novel.

The second one became a bit more complex, and the third one I am working on is more complicated still. So I’m learning as I work and I believe I’m getting better as a writer.

My goal is to make everything from characterization to setting to plot come together in one dynamite story. For me, that can be a challenge. For others, it may be easy. But all of us have strengths and weaknesses, and we have to recognize them. We need to play to our strengths and strengthen our weaknesses. That’s how we become better writers.