Gift Ideas for Writers

The holiday season is upon us. Christmas carols play on just about every radio station and buffet shoppers at stores in malls and shopping plazas. Lots of shoppers are missing out on the songs all together as they pop online for a bit of shopping there. Or all of it.

No matter where you shop, writers can be hard friends or family members to buy gifts for. So here are a few suggestions that might help find something for the writer in your life.

Gift Cards
I’m partial to Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million, but any gift card will do. One to a coffee shop will get them a drink and an excuse to claim one of the tables for a couple hours. Or a gift card to an office supply store since printer ink can be pretty expensive. Even a gift card for archery lessons or a dance classes can help fuel their muse.

Signed Books
Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to find an autographed book. Small bookstores–like the Poisoned Pen and FoxTale Book–typically carry them after authors visit for signings and offer them for sale online. Barnes & Noble also carries autographed copies for Black Friday, and Target has begun carrying them intermittently. Some authors even offer signed copies on their websites.

Convention Admission
Writing is typically a solitary endeavor. But when conventions come to town, it’s a  networking opportunity for writers in their own backyard. Plus writers get the  opportunity to listen to experts on panels and ask questions of industry professionals.

Time to Write
Everybody needs more time. Writers are no different and struggle to carve even thirty minutes out of their schedule to sit at the keyboard and write. So cook dinner on Thursdays or take the dog out for his nightly walk or entertain the kids at an arcade on Saturday morning. Anything that takes an item off the writer’s to-do list and frees up time for writing.

On Stumbling Upon Inspiration

You never know when you’re going to stumble upon inspiration, whether its for a story, a character, or even a setting. My most recent  stumble was in a place that I’ve visited half a dozen times over the years: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg is known for the famous Battle of Gettysburg, a three-day battle during the American Civil War that arguably turned the tide of the war. But it wasn’t the battlefields that caught my eye after I finished my breakfast at Friendly’s Restaurant. It was the partially torn-down motel behind it.

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The first thought that popped into my mind was survivors during the zombie virus outbreak could hole up on the second floor. They’d be well out of the zombies’ reach and other survivors might think twice about entering the crumbling building.

Then I spotted the literal writing on the wall. Sale prices for desks and tables and chairs scribbled in black, and they made me think of an auction. A curious young woman might be attending that auction and discovers a mysterious object in the wall that happens to be the key to the underworld.

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Will any of these ideas blossom into a story? Or will this motel show up as a setting in my fiction? I have no idea. Maybe. But I know for sure that I’ll be keeping my eyes pealed for other inspiration to stumble upon.

Have you been inspired by a location you’ve seen while traveling? Let me now in the comments below.

James Patterson’s BookShots and the Future of Novellas

There’s a commercial that’s been showing up occasionally when I watch television. It’s for James Patterson’s BookShots. Patterson is really the only author whose work I’ve regularly seen marketed through TV commercials, so it didn’t surprise me to see his books advertised during regularly scheduled broadcasting. But this wasn’t a new middle school title or a high-octane thriller. It was for BookShots.

What’s BookShots? According to The New York Times, it’s “a new line of short and propulsive novels that cost less than $5 and can be read in a single sitting.” Each BookShot will be less than 150 pages.

They sound a bit like novellas, don’t they? That’s because they are. But the big difference is that Patterson’s BookShots are novellas with a big name author and publisher behind them.  It’s also worth noting that both the print and eBook versions will sell for less than $5. That’s the first time that I’ve seen similar prices for eBooks and their paperback counterparts.

Consider Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series for comparison. The eBook version of those novellas cost around $2.99, but the paperback versions are in the neighborhood of $12. Whereas Patterson’s and Andrew Holmes’s Hunted BookShot is available to pre-order for $4.99 as a paperback and $3.99 as an eBook.

When I first realized that BookShots were just novellas with a new, catchy name, it frustrated me. Did the publishing industry really think they need to rebrand novellas to sell them? Novellas have been selling like hotcakes as eBooks for years. They’re a staple of self-publishing, in every genre. Tor Publishing has started putting out a line of novellas, and romance publishers have been selling novellas for years.

But then I read The New York Times article about BookShots. It outlined goals like selling them in places that don’t traditionally sell books–such as supermarkets and drugs stores–and to break into a new population of readers who don’t typically read but will pick up a short, 150 page book.

Attaching James Patterson’s name to this novella line adds a level of recognition. People know who Patterson is, and they’re more likely to pick up a book with his name on the cover than one with an unknown (to them) author.

There’s a lot riding on these books. Because if they do well, then more big publishers will start seriously look at novellas. Not just as eBooks or ancillary content for existing series, but as stand alones or as their own series. That’s exciting. It could open a huge (new) market for writers.

I’m crossing my fingers that BookShots take off. Not just for Patterson, but for me and other writers. It has huge potential to bring novellas into the mainstream. And it could be wonderful for publishing and readers.

 

My Goals for June & July

June and July are going to be pretty hectic months for me. I’m moving to Charlotte, North Carolina halfway through July, and June is going to be spent handling all the odds and ends that need to be done before the actual move. Like getting renter’s insurance. And packing up my books and movies and everything else I’ve accumulated over the years.

But even while getting all those things done, I still want to get writing (and reading) accomplished before the move. Desiree over at InkyTavern wrote a pretty neat post outlining her Summer Goals as a way to keep herself accountable for working towards them. So I decided to write a similar post with my Goals for June and July.

1. Finish Bay View Outbreak, Part 2
I’ve divided the Bay View Outbreak novella into four parts and began Part 2 at the end of April. It’s about four scenes away from being done. But since I’ve been working on it for so long (and originally planned on finishing it by the end of May), I’m getting to the point in  the draft where I’m ready to be DONE. So my self-imposed deadline to finish it is July 4th.

2. Finish and Edit Chapter 1 of WolfsBane Moon  for the Collaborative Writing Challenge
In my infinite wisdom, I decided to sign up for the next round of the Collaborative Writing Challenge. That means I also thought it was a good idea to submit a potential Chapter 1 for consideration by the editors (and hopefully other writers). The first draft is about 2/3 done. It needs to be submitted by June 30th, so that’s my deadline.

3. Write Chapter 16 of The Map for the Collaborative Writing Challenge
My next assigned chapter for The Map is Chapter 16, and I get to write that next week (June 10-14). That means figuring out what’s happened in the plot so far, what questions need to be answered, and what should happen next. Then I need to write it. It’s going to be fun. And challenging.

4. Write, Edit, and Post 4 Blog Posts
Posts have come out pretty regularly on this blog since the beginning of the year, except for the last couple of weeks. My other blog, Boston to Charlotte, has been a bit neglected. So I want to give equal attention to both blogs over the coming months. That means publishing at least two blog posts for each one.

5. Finish Edits on The Shed
I wrote the first draft of The Shed last summer for a magazine’s call for submissions. It wasn’t ready to be submitted then, so I let it sit for a while before doing a complete rewrite. I’ve started (but not yet finished) the next rounds of edits. I’d like to get them done before the move so there’s one less stack of paper to keep track of between here and North Carolina.

Do you have anything that you’re hoping to get accomplished over the next few months? Let me know down in the comments.

4 Things I Learned about Character from Video Games (Minecraft StoryMode)

Characters show up everywhere, and each time they offer an opportunity to learn more about how they work. Or don’t. Even the dorky dad in an allergy commercial is a learning opportunity.

That’s the mindset I got into when I played Telltale Games’ Minecraft Story Mode. And the game presented me with quite a few things to think about when I create my own characters.

  1. Sometimes you don’t make adult/good decisions
    The characters that populate my fiction are (by and large) responsible and grownup. They pay their bills on time, never sleep through their alarm, and refuse to lie. That stuff is boring. A character who picks fights with drunks twice their size is more interesting. As is a character who sets fire to a competitor’s contest entry because they’re determined to win at all costs.
  2. You can do your best and still screw up
    There’s an expectation that when a person does their best, everything will work out. It’s a common enough theme in inspirational stories and ones intended to motivate. But real life doesn’t typically work that way. People can do their best in anything–rescuing a hostage, training for a boxing match, or studying for a big test–and still have things go sideways. The hostage is killed, the boxer trips, or the student studies for the wrong test. It makes for a far interesting character arc (and a more relatable one).
  3. Good guys/heroes lie with the best of intentions
    Good guys are still human, and they’re just as fallible as everyone else. More than a few movies, books, and video games explore this concept. However, examining a hero lying with the best of intentions is not something that I’ve seen much. And I think it’s interesting. Can a hero who tells a lie because he believes it will keep everyone safe still be a hero? What happens to the hero if their lie is uncovered? Those are fascinating questions that I’d love to try answering.
  4. Break the rules and don’t worry about the consequences
    Rule-breakers are pretty common, and they don’t always give much thought to the consequences of their actions. That’s not to say they don’t get in trouble for breaking the rules. It’s just that they want whatever the rule is blocking more than they’re worried about the consequences. Disregard for the rules–whether all the time or in certain situations–can get characters into interesting situations. Ones that readers will absolutely enjoy reading, and I’d love to write.

These things made for interesting characters in Minecraft StoryMode, and I have no doubt that they’ll help me to create more life-like (and hopefully compelling) characters in my own writing.

What kinds of things have you learned about writing from playing video games? Or even from watching movies or reading books?

 

On Not Having a Writing Routine

Right now, I’m lucky if I sit down once a week to work on fiction. I typically snag an hour or two of writing time on Thursday night depending on when I’m scheduled to work Friday morning. But then I’m constantly battling distractions like the television, family and dogs, and the internet, and I usually only get a few hundred words on the page.

This isn’t the most efficient way to write. I’ve been working on the same novelette project since the beginning of January, which theoretically should have been finished by the end of February.

What I need is a regular writing routine, where I sit down at a certain time each night and focus on writing for an hour. It worked during my senior year of college when I decided to stop waiting for time to write. Sure it was tough the first couple of sessions as I trained my brain and the muse to work on-demand. But after that, the words flowed. I regularly produced a thousand words each session.

I’d very much like to get back to that kind of a routine. However my current schedule is too variable for me to commit to writing every night at say 7 PM. Between my job in retail, my regular freelance writing deadlines, and being on-call to cover town government meetings twice a week, one day looks nothing like the next. And sometimes I don’t even know how a day is going to unfold until it’s already here.

This isn’t how my life is going to be forever. In fact, I only a have a few more months of this particular weird-as-butt schedule until I trade it for a new one when I move to North Carolina. So I’m just going to keep plugging away, stealing an hour whenever I can to sit down at the computer and write. And I’ll be daydreaming of a regular schedule that lends itself to a writing routine.

 

How to Write a Brilliant Blog Post (According to Sarah)

Step 1: Come up with a brilliant idea (typically last thing before bed) and decide not to write it down.

Step 2: Sit down the next day (or the day after) and write this brilliant blog post.

Step 3: Realize the brilliant blog post isn’t coming out as fantastic as I thought.

Step 4: Decide to scrap the brilliant blog post because it’s boring to write and will a snorefest for readers.

Step 5: Watch the weekdays tick past, and think that there’s no time to write an adequate post because of work commitments.

Step 6: Try to throw a passable post together about books only to realize I wrote a post about books recently.

Step 7: Panic.

Step 8: Write a post about writing blog posts.

Step 9: Include cute pictures of my dogs at the end.

Max, my first dog!

Where I Write

I’m always fascinated when writers post pictures of their writing space. Whether it’s a desk covered in big, green plants, a “writing shed” plopped in their back yard, or an empty table in the corner of Starbucks, that space is the magic area where which epic stories are fabricated.

So I decided to share where I write.

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Those little figures sitting on the windowsill and on top of the desk are part of my ever-growing collection of Funko Pop figures. Those white pieces of paper featuring Hamilton lyrics (not that you can see them) are a pretty new addition. For my perpetually messy desk, it’s actually pretty clean at the moment. That’s not going to last long. It’s going to be covered in notebooks and legal pads and stuff-to-be-filed within a week.

What does your desk look like? If you can, share a picture in the comments or on your blog.

Writing (Or Not)

This has been a rough week. A really, really rough week personally and writing-wise. Writing-wise meaning that it seems like I’ve gotten almost nothing written.

So a quick recap: I’ve been trying to move from Massachusetts to Charlotte, North Carolina. However there have been a number of roadblocks: finding a job when I didn’t live in the city, apartment complexes disappearing off face of the internet, and saving up enough money to pay a whole lot of rent in advance. Then I found the perfect apartment complex and banked more than enough money to pay for a six month lease. This past Thursday, I learned that complex doesn’t lease to someone who doesn’t have a job in Charlotte.

It’s the whole “can’t find a job until I have an apartment but can’t get an apartment until I have a job” problem. Now I’m onto Plan C: apply, apply, apply to jobs until I find one not put off by me living so far away. Add that to the “what am I doing with my life?” panic about a career, and that’s a recipe for one very stressed Sarah.

Stressed Sarah does not write well, if at all.

It’s tough enough for me on a normal day to get my head into a story with the distractions of dogs and family. But when my mind is already crowded with worrying about jobs and moving and everything else, I can’t write. I can’t concentrate long enough to get the words down on the page, and I get frustrated when the word count isn’t rising fast enough. The end result is that I shut off the computer before walking away.

I’ve written my freelance articles this week. No fiction, though. At least no more than a few hundred words a session. It’s better than nothing, I know. That knowledge doesn’t do much to satisfy me.

My best guess is that there’s anxiety at play. Maybe a smattering of depression mixed-in, too. I’ve never been diagnosed with either, but there’s a history of it in my family. I’ll be seeing a doctor on Tuesday to talk about whatever’s going on. Hopefully she’ll an idea on how to get this all straightened out.

After I finish writing this post (the Friday before it goes up), I’m going to open up a short story on the computer and just start plugging away at it. I want five hundred words, but I’ll settle for half that.

Writing Zombies, Part 3

Zombies seem to have taken over my life recently. My television, the action figures next to my desk, and my current work-in-progress are practically all zombie-related. Even this blog seems to be drifting off into the living dead with this Writing Zombies series.

This is the third and final post on Writing Zombies. Though it should probably have the subtitle: The Living. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found at those link.

Who survives the initial outbreak?

It’s important to consider the types of people most likely to survive a zombie outbreak, not just in
terms of who will survive long term but who will survive the initial outbreak. First responders (like paramedics, firefighters, and police), emergency room/hospital personnel, and soldiers will probably not survive for very long during the initial outbreak. They come in contact with the infected and zombies first simply due to the nature of their jobs, responding to emergencies.

So people with jobs not directly responsible for the life and safety of others (such as in offices, at schools, or in retail) are more likely to survive the initial outbreak. They have a much smaller chance of coming in contact with an infected individual.

Who survives long term?

Once people start venturing out after the initial outbreak, a significant number of them probably won’t survive for very long. Not understanding what zombies are or how the virus is transmitted will lead to a lot of infections and deaths. But there will be people who survive from sheer dumb luck. Or simply because they refuse to venture outside.

Those survivors are not guaranteed to survive beyond that. Human beings need basic necessities like food, clean water, and shelter. So they’ll need to be adept at scavenging or hunting for those things, possibly coming against other groups which have and/or want those things. They’re also going to need weapons to protect themselves.

Yet if all of those things manage to go right, injuries and illness will still happen. Broken limbs from falls, infections from uncleaned or untreated cuts, and internal injuries like burst appendixes are deadly without the proper treatment. Plus there’s the glaring issue of medication and medical supplies. The average person isn’t going to know the proper antibiotic dosage or how to suture a wound. As mentioned before, doctors are going to be in pretty short supply.

So what kind of person is capable of all those things? Former soldiers, hunters, and survivalists seem like the obvious answers. But anyone can have those skills.

Does society rebuild? 

About half of zombie fiction (whether TV, movie, or books) keeps humans in a state of perpetual conflict with each other and with the zombies. They fight over food, shelter, and supplies. The groups that form are more like warring states clashing on a regular basis. Society as a whole never really reforms. The Walking Dead is a great example.

However the other half of the zombie genre is more optimistic. After a period of turmoil, people begin to work together and achieve their goals. They rebuild cities and downs, get a handle on how to defeat or at least manage the zombie problem, and form a new society in this changed world. Think Rot & Ruin or World War Z. Life is changed for good, but there’s a society that’s built from the ashes.

So that concludes my three part Writing Zombies series. I learned a whole lot more about my zombie writing process from these blog posts, and I hope that something in here sparked your creative juices.

Do you have any favorite zombie writing advice? And what’s your favorite zombie work?