Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A list of ___ things

I recently read an article that touched on the topic of writing list-style articles. (I'll point you to it later.)

I have to admit that as a freelance writer, I have written list articles - 5 Ways to Bake Cookies Without An Oven During an Oregon Summer; The Top Ten Things You Need to Know About Odors in Your Closet; Three Reasons Pet Rocks Trump Pet Frogs - that sort of thing. There are advantages to the list article, not the least of which is that it can be a helpful way to group semi-unrelated thoughts.

So here's my list article for the week.

(or Random Excuses I May Want to Pull Out as a Deadline Approaches)

1. A wildfire.

Yep. I walked out my front door Monday afternoon only to discover that 600 acres of my view were in the process of being consumed. It was an interesting day. I'm a prairie girl and don't know a lot about forest fires. But I did know that if the wind shifted, we were going to be in real trouble. Fortunately, due to a host of heroes from across the state, no homes were lost in this fire and only one (that had been vacant) was lost in the sister fire down the valley.

2. Make that two wildfires.

It was an interesting lesson in crisis management. A neighboring town had a 90-acre, four-alarm fire the same day the fire broke out across from my neighborhood. And there was talk of a third fire in between. The good news is that every possible resource was in motion very quickly. But the rumors and speculation ran rife for quite some time. Why? Because the people that had the accurate information were busy doing the job that had to be done. Even now, there is still no definite word on the cause of either fire (or confirmation of the third).

3. A broken faucet.

The kitchen sink went kablooey, meaning I've had to do dishes in the laundry room. It would have been a great week to strap on the pedometer.

4. A virus.

It's the beginning of the school year and somehow that seems to amount to an open invitation for every virus in town to come visit. Again, though, there is a silver lining. Because of H1N1, students are coming home jam-packed with information on preventing germs from spreading. Which they explain to us as they pass the germs along anyways.

5. Router issues.

And I lost my favorite pencil. (You guessed it - Ms. Organization tried to tidy up.) How is this related to my router? Please don't ask me to explain. Not now that I've finished my list and am wrapping up.

In the meantime, here's the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post, "The List of N Things" by Paul Graham. I think you'll enjoy it. And in a somewhat related topic, I'll be posting on jargon later. After I find my favorite pencil.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Author Organization

Today at the Books & Such blog, I saw an author organization quiz in the lower right hand corner. Being a sucker for punishment, I decided to take it.

Now as much as I try to avoid generalizations, when it comes to my own work, I have many. And generally I do not see myself as very organized. I'm sure my family would agree when they step into my studio. But in other areas where I work, I seemed to have developed a reputation for organization. Ironic, don't you think?

Well, the results of the survey surprised me a little but here's what the results said (and I might add, the majority of authors seemed to fall into this group):

Organization Meister


You look organized to everyone around you because you shine in several areas, but you secretly worry about the hidden glitches in your systems.

Even meisters can improve so ... "

A Meister? Cool, but ... really?

Well for starters, I must say I don't usually secretly worry about the hidden glitches because I see the hitches every time I try to walk to my desk. Some days, it's an obstacle course. Organized? It sure doesn't look like it.

But at the same time, I don't miss a deadline unless it's for circumstances completely beyond my control. If I say I'll do something, I usually do it the moment I'm back at my computer. I figure I don't have to stress about what's on your to-do list, so the faster it's off mine and back to you the better. I have two calendars open (a desktop one and a, well, a "desktop" one) to track what needs to be done and what I have done each day. I think I can say it's fairly organized.

Here's where I think the dichotomy lies:

I do have a system. I jokingly refer to myself as being a "visual filer" because my system runs somewhat on the principle that out of sight is out of mind. So I tend to have stacks of papers or letters or supplies sitting around me. My desk does tend to overflow. All my shelving is open so I can see at a glance what's there. Project supplies, research or notes get stacked together. I prefer the open mesh-style filing boxes for current stuff. And I usually have one small box of stuff "to be dealt with." It's not urgent but I don't want to put it away just yet because it's significant for some reason.

Now here's the thing - I can find everything. I know which stack to look in. It's when I clear up and file things that I lose track. Occasionally I do a massive purge (like the days before company comes) and then I have to reorganize the mental files to match the move in the physical ones.

So while my friend the professional organizer might agonize over the state of my system, it's working. I hear, though, that even meisters can improve and I never want to close the door on improvement. I'm sure there are tips and tricks that will let me better mesh neatness and organization.

But for now, I'll add that thought to the appropriate stack. Then I'll know where it is when I need it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Author visit with Donita K. Paul

School starts in my area today and to mark the occasion, we have a former teacher visiting today!

Donita K. Paul is another of the authors that participated in the Motiv8 fantasy fiction tour. I met her on that tour when I heard a young reader say, "You can tell she has fun writing her books." Of course, with an accolade like that, we had to bring home DragonSpell (Dragon Keepers Chronicles, Book 1).

I've since learned that before picking up her pen to write, she worked in the classroom. So let's sit down for a chat with her today while the students are finding their way to their seats.

Q: What is your background and how did that lead to your career in writing?

A: You know that old saying, "Don't quit your day job"? In a manner of speaking, my day job quit me. I was an elementary school teacher, but I became disabled in '96 but didn't give in to not working outside the home for a couple of years. Writing became a career because I was stuck at home - an A type personality in a D body. In order not to go crazy I started writing again, something I've always wanted to do.

I think this is just where God wants me. I kind of wished I'd listened earlier to the gentle nudgings.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Do you plan first or let the story develop as you write?

A: I am definitely a seat of the pants writer. I "see" the scenes in my mind and just write them down. Then I go back and do the technical stuff. I have a general idea that will be accomplished by the end of the story, but there are no details on neat 3x5 file cards. No story board. No notebooks. No character sheets. If I die just before the climax of my next book, everyone is out of luck. No ending!

Q: You work in two genres (romance and fantasy) - does the process vary between the two?

A: The process is the same with both my romance and fantasy novels.

Q: Christian fantasy has historically been considered a very tough market. How did you find your publisher? How long was that process for you?

A: It didn't take long at all. I submitted the manuscript and had a contract in eighteen days.

Q: What marketing techniques or events have you found to be most successful for you?

A: Without a doubt more books are sold by word-of-mouth than any other ploy. So you need to consider how you can stimulate conversation about your books. I use bookmarks and t-shirts as giveaways.

Q: How did the Motiv8 tour come about? Had you met any of the other authors before?

A: I knew Christopher Hopper from one quick meeting. This young man is a dynamo and has a wonderful ministry to teens. I know LB Graham from another brief meeting. I was most familiar with Bryan Davis and Sharon Hinck. We've been online writing friends for several years. The fantastic four (Wayne Thomas Batson, Christopher Hopper, Bryan Davis, and Sharon Hinck) did a book tour up the east coast the year before the Motiv8, and they invited us to join the troupe traveling down the west coast.

Q: What were some of the benefits of working together with other Christian fantasy writers?

A: One of the things we did as we talked to readers was to guide them to the authors who had the books best suited for the reader. I would point out that the mother of my young fan would appreciate Sharon's book with a mother protagonist. For younger brothers and sisters of my readers, I could point to Eric's and Jonathan's boks. For those interested in more epic fantasy, we had books by Bryan, Wayne, Christopher, and LB.

Q: Drawbacks?

A: With eight authors and readers with limited funds, the frustration of young readers wanting to buy everything they saw and not having enough was a bit sad. However, we encouraged the patrons to ask their public libraries to get copies of the books and to put the books on their birthday and Christmas lists.

Q: What encouragement would you offer writers that are just beginning their journey to publication?

A: 1. Read. Read. Read.
Read the genre that you intend to write.
Read the books on how-to.
Read the books you like and try to figure out why.
Read the books you hate and try to figure out why.

2. Get in a productive critique group. Don't pick one where everyone says "Oh that was just wonderful!" Don't pick one where there is one person who "knows it all" and has the kind of forceful personality that dominates the group.

Q: Are you already working on another book? What is next for you? For your readers?

A: I have started writing the next book. It picks up where The Vanishing Sculptor: A Novel left off.

Q: One last question - I noticed on your blog that you sometimes take your dragons out for dinner. Are they generally well behaved?

A: They are generally well behaved. However, if the grandsons go also, the dragons become excited and don't behave.

Thank you, Donita!

If you want to know more about Donita K. Paul and her books, visit her website at for games, downloads, a photo gallery, writer's resources and more.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Measuring success

I recently was part of a community fun fair. It was a first attempt by a local group and they had a few problems with the logistics of the event. I don't want to comment too much on that, but it did lead a lot of the vendors to look at each other and ask, "How was the weekend for you?"


One vendor said she'd met her goals. Enough books sold to cover her fees plus some community connections that would lead to more business. Another vendor was cautiously optimistic - he never knows until a couple weeks down the road what final results are. Some just shook their head and several others actually packed up and went home part way through the day.

It made me stop and think about how I was going to measure the event.

Sales? Well, I sold a respectable number of books, plus had the pleasure of seeing some faces really light up as they looked through them.

Give aways? I gave away over 200 gum balls, plus every one of the dozens of coloring pages I'd brought. (I literally finished the day by cutting my master sheets apart.)

Contacts? I had a great chance to talk with several area teachers and handed out brochures about school visits and art residencies. It remains to be seen whether any of those translate into visits. And I was able to provide resources to many parents and a few aspiring writers as well. That's always a perk.

Publicity? This was the most interesting one for me, this time. Each of the brochures, business cards and coloring pages I handed out listed my website (of course). Yesterday I went to my web stats and found some exciting numbers. In that one weekend, the number of unique visitors to my site had jumped by 25%; the number of visits by almost 30%; page hits were up and so were page views.

So I think the upshot has to be that, yes, it was a successful event. And I learned a few things to do slightly differently next time and that counts in the plus column too.