insecure writer support group
It’s December, 2015, the second of the month, to be exact, and it’s time again for my contribution to Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer Support Group, a forum of bloggers who share their fears, hopes, dreams, and ideas for the benefit of the writing community. You can see a list of them here, as well as throw your own hat into the ring and share your pearls of wisdom.
This is the last post of the year and, sadly for me, my last contribution to the group. I find that running two blogs, reviewing 3 – 4 books per week, trying to write my own books, and teaching three courses at local colleges—just to list my main activities—takes up more time than I’d anticipated. In addition, I’m not sure I have anything else to share that’s really new.
I thought for my last post in the group, I’d talk about the things I’ve gained from being a part of IWSG for the past many months. That’s right; this has been more of a learning exercise for me—I’ve gained much, much more than I’ve given.
I’ve learned that, while writing is essentially a solitary activity, thanks to social media, blogs, and the Internet, a writer doesn’t have to be totally alone. I’ve gained many friends over the past three years, many of them writers, and I’ve learned something valuable from each of them.
Reading the blogs by other members of the group I’ve improved my own writing. Hints on how to develop characters, or to develop meaningful character names, a great post by Jody Hedlund. There were a lot of inspirational posts, like Rachel Shieffelbein’s advice on not quitting when the going gets hard.
There were more, so many more that there’s not enough space here to mention them all. At this writing there were 255 bloggers participating in the Insecure Writer Support Group monthly posting. That’s a lot of potential sources of advice and inspiration. I know—I’ve been inspired and gotten tons of advice over the months. I’ll keep dropping in from time to time, because I know there’s always something new to learn.
In the meantime, my parting piece of advice to all you writers and wannabe writers out there—stop threatening to write, stop procrastinating. Listen to Rachel Shieffelbein; sit yourself down and put fingers to keyboard and WRITE.
Happy holidays to all my regular readers, and a happy successful year ahead. Keep reading, keep writing.
In this month’s offering for Alec Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer Support Group monthly blog, I’d like to continue my post from last month about the source of ideas for the stories I write. First, though, a few words about the group. This is a posting on the first Wednesday of each month by some outstanding bloggers from around the world addressing the insecurities and fears of writing as well as advice and tips on how to get the most out of your talent. You should pop over and check it out, and while you’re there, sign up to join this august crew.
Okay, enough promotion, now on to the finale of ‘where story ideas come from,’ an adaptation of a post I did a few years ago.
When I started writing the Al Pennyback mystery series, I didn’t have a specific sub-genre in mind. It’s not a hardboiled mystery with a hero who is always battling bad guys; nor is it a procedural mystery – I go light on the technical aspects of crimes, criminals, or police procedures. I was just going for a good story that had a crime as a central element, which the hero, Al Pennyback, would then set about solving.
My main motivation for writing this particular series was the fact that I live in the Washington, DC area, and have for more than 30 years, and most of the stories set in this locale are about politicians, spies, or high-powered lobbyists. I know that the average Joe and Jane who happens to call the Washington metro area home lives a life that can be just as exciting as the K Street crowd, or the boys across the river in McLean, so, about ten years ago I started drafting.
My first, Color Me Dead, went through more than six years of rewriting; the title changed, the central plot changed, and most importantly, the name and background of the main character changed. I no longer remember what I called him at first, but, one day as I was sweating over the tenth or twentieth draft, Al Pennyback was born. He’s an African-American; after all, the area is predominantly African-American; he’s retired military; being retired military, I can relate to that, and the area also has loads of retired military people; and he’s a sucker for puzzles and unsolved mysteries. Despite, or because of, his military background, he hates guns, preferring to use his wits or his martial arts ability to get out of tight spots. He’s a widower; gives him an air of sympathy; but, has a girl friend. The sex scenes are only hinted at. I think too many modern mysteries go overboard on the sex. And, the language is mostly mild. On occasion, Al or one of the characters lets fly with an earthy expletive, because that’s the way people talk after all, but you won’t find curse words on every page.
That’s sort of the definition of a cozy mystery; cosy in British English; but, I didn’t set out to write cozies. Despite that, one of my British readers has decided that’s the sub-genre of at least one of the stories in the series, Dead Man’s Cove. He gave it such a good review, I don’t have the heart to argue the point.
Following the advice given in most books on writing, I try to show, not tell. I let the characters’ dialogue and action move the story rather than filling page after page with exposition or descriptions.
Now, the question one might well ask is; where do the ideas for this series come from? The answer is – everywhere. I read newspapers, print and online, and every edition has at least one story idea. Till Death Do Us Part, for instance, came from an article I read in a South African newspaper on a flight from Capetown to Copenhagen a few years ago about a couple who’d come to Johannesburg on vacation and been victims of a carjacking. The wife was killed, but the husband escaped unharmed. It turned out later that he’d arranged the incident in order to get rid of his wife. I changed the setting to Jamaica and was off to the races.
I’ve done two books about radical militias, Dead, White, and Blue and Deadly Intentions. The proliferation of militias and other hate groups in the U.S. over the past several decades has always concerned me, so this was a natural.
Deadline started out as a story about scams against lonely women, but about one-third into the first draft I decided to throw a ghost in just for the heck of it. I’m a bit agnostic about ghosts – I don’t know that they are real, but I don’t know that they’re not, so there you are.
Whatever motivates the story idea, my main objective is to write a story that keeps the reader wanting to turn the page to see what happens next.
There you have it; that’s where story ideas come from. I’ll bet if you stop and think about it, you’ll find that your inspiration is similar.
It’s that time again – time for another contribution to Alec Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. You should really pop over and join. My offering this month is about following (or not) advice.
There’s tons of advice out there for writers: how-to, what you shouldn’t do, you could fill the Library of Congress with it. I’m taking a poke at one piece of advice in particular – some people are adamant that you should never give what you write away for free as this devalues it. I’m not taking a side, nor am I attempting to debunk that belief. I’m doing what all the how-to authors should do, and telling you what works for me.
I’ve been publishing my books on Kindle for several years, but I resisted participating in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select) program for a long time because of the aforementioned advice. It was only after I’d launched my Buffalo Soldier series that I decided to give the KDP free offer a shot. I did the free 5-day giveaway with the fourth in the series at the same time I published the fifth, just to see what would happen. Up to that time I’d been getting 3 – 5 sales per month. That month, though, after over 600 downloads of the free book, I saw a significant uptick in sales of the earlier books. The new book also had amazing sales (nearly 800 during the first three weeks).
Since then I’ve been doing a 3 to 5-day giveaway each month. My sales went up after I started the practice, with an average of 100 – 150 per month. I can’t attribute all of the new sales to the promotion, but then again, who knows. Maybe it is a bad idea to give your work away, but then again – –