Monthly Archives: July 2012

Finding Inspiration in Weird Places

Sometimes we all feel uninspired. We drag our feet to the computer, open up our latest project, and stare at the blank screen. After a while we get bored of staring at the blank screen and start checking our email and reading our RSS feed, and before we know it it’s midnight and we haven’t written a single thing.

Situations like this can go on for days, weeks, even months if we’re not careful.

To break out of this endless cycle of non-productivity, often all we need to do is shake up our routine. Writing is an art, and art is best inspired by living differently. Allowing yourself to get stuck in a rut financially, emotionally or socially often stifles your writing life.

The next time you get stuck, try breaking out of your life routine. Here are a few ways I’ve found unexpected inspiration:

1. Read a graphic novel. Or two. Or three. If you’re like me, you might have read ten or eleven graphic novels and a handful of manga in your whole life. It’s a shame, really. Graphic novels are one form of storytelling that we often snub our noses at, but it can be just as powerful–more powerful for certain stories–as any literary fiction. Graphic novels often feature stories that rely heavily on the visual component and might not even work without it. And they’re often humorous.

I read two graphic novels over the weekend–one of the best perks is that they’re mostly images, so reading them is a breeze–and quite enjoyed them. Now, on Monday, I’m feeling inspired and ready to get started on my novel edits. The graphic novels had almost nothing in common with my novel-in-progress, but they still inspired me and recharged my creative batteries well.

2. Record your dreams. Every writer should make at least a half-hearted attempt to keep a dream diary. Keep a notebook by your bed and when you wake up, write down anything memorable from your dreams. Sometimes you’ll find small elements of a dream which could help you tell your stories. Other times, the dream itself will be a story ready to be told. The novel I drafted during last year’s Nanowrimo originally came to me as a dream. The dream told the whole story in a skeletal way, and my novel draft simply filled it out and made it better.

Not every dream will be a novel waiting to be written, and not every writer will have a dream they turn into a novel–but just in case, make sure you have a notebook by your bed. You never know what your dreams will contain.

3. Get out of–or into–the city. If you’re a city kid like me, you could probably benefit from some fresh air. The kind of fresh air you can’t get without driving an hour or two away from the city. Beg, bribe or plead with your family to plan a camping trip or a cottage trip. Ask to be kept as a stowaway when your best friend’s family goes to the cottage. If you have some money saved up, spend it on a trip out of town. It’ll do wonders for your mind.

Conversely, if you’re a small town kid, maybe the city’s what you need to get inspired. Maybe you need to walk around at 3AM, amazed by how many lights are still on. Maybe going to a club you’d expect to see one of your characters in will help inspire you. Find a way into the city–there’s no more complete way to shake up your routine that I can think of.

These are just a few ideas to help you get out of a rut and back into your story. There are dozens of ways to change up your routine, and how we can change it–and how much we can change it–without damaging our finances or sanity varies from person to person. When you’re stuck, the important thing to ask yourself is how can I break out of my routine and find some inspiration?

What are a few of the weirder things you’ve done to find inspiration?

A Variety of Markets

Today I’d like to introduce you to two markets which accept non-fiction and two markets looking for fiction. In the attempt to build a freelance career, I’ve been doing mostly research on non-fiction markets lately–since all my finished short stories are out to different competitions–but fiction will always be my passion and I suspect the great majority of you prefer to write fiction too.

Let’s start with the boring stuff to get it out of the way…

The Non-Fiction

Vibrant Life is a bimonthly publication promoting a healthy lifestyle and mental clarity. They’ve got lots of different sections and accept articles about any aspect of health or well-being. They’re looking for articles of no more than 1, 000 words, and shorter pieces are always in more demand. They also accept personal stories that fit with the theme of healthy living. Vibrant Life prefers that you submit finished articles to them. Payment ranges from $100-$300.

Divine is a Canadian women’s magazine, covering fashion, healthy living, love, and entertainment. They’d love to see articles about anything of interest to Canadian women, including careers and money management. They accept both queries and finished work, and they accept work from unpublished authors as long as it meets their standards of quality writing. Unfortunately, they don’t mention exactly how much they pay.

And now on to the good stuff…

The Fiction

Arc is a science fiction magazine looking for stories written in the near future. They want fiction of 3000-5000 words, and seem to be running a competition. First place wins five hundred Euros, and five honourable mentions win two hundred each. Seems like an interesting competition; if you write science fiction, don’t hesitate to submit.

Lamplight Magazine is a brand new quarterly looking for dark speculative fiction and horror. It’s published as an ebook and they pay a flat rate: $50 for flash fiction and $150 for short stories. They read year-round but have specific due dates for each issue. We’ve just entered the submission period for their winter issue, which ends on October 15th.

Hopefully one of these markets looks right for something you’ve been working on–or has inspired you to write something new. And don’t forget that if you keep writing, editing and submitting–in that order–you’ll eventually break through to the other side of published writer.

Musa Author Interview: Cynthia Vespia

This week’s author is a woman who’s worn many different career hats and has recently begun her career as a novelist, Cynthia Vespia. Her novel, Sins and Virtue, was released by Musa Publishing on June 29th. Please give her a warm welcome.

1. Can you tell us a bit about Sins and Virtues?

A unique hostage situation is about to turn ugly unless author Ben Haskins can use his gift of words to befriend his captor.

Fantasy novelist Ben Haskins has taken a remote cabin in the wilderness to revive his shaky marriage and failing career. Within the peaceful surroundings he runs into real trouble when convicted murderer Sam Mitchell breaks into the cabin after she escapes from prison. Marked by a dark past of abuse Sam is volatile and ready to snap. It is up to Ben to use his writer’s gift of words to diffuse the situation before time runs out for them both.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I used to read all the time when I was younger. I’d write short stories on my sister’s old typewriter. It wasn’t until high school that I read my first Dean Koontz novel and I decided that I wanted to pursue writing full on. I wanted to instill the same emotions in my readers that Dean did for me.

3. You’ve been through several different careers. Other than writing, which career did you enjoy the most–and why?

I like anything that involves being creative so doing graphic design work and video editing is always fun. I’m also a big proponent of fitness so being a personal trainer is highly fulfilling when you have a client reach their goals.

4. How has your variety of careers prepared you to become a writer?

To be honest they haven’t. Anyone in the arts knows you just get different jobs to pay the bills while you work on your art. But different experiences in life usually contribute to the writing in one way or another.

5. Sins and Virtues is about a writer–how much of Ben’s character is taken from your own?

A lot of the writing related detail that Ben faces comes from my own career. Other than that Ben is his own man. I suppose it is the same way Stephen King will make a lot of his characters writers. You write what you know and we are writers so it is easy to fall back on.

6. If thrown into Ben’s situation, what would you do?

Y’know I always say my stories are about real life situations you could find yourself but hope you never do. Unfortunately it is a different and dangerous world we live in now. My instincts are survival at any cost. But you really don’t know how you will react to a situation unless you’re actually in it. For me I try to prepare for anything and with that in mind I would go down fighting. So why do I have Ben reason with his captor? Because it has been done. I’ve read about a very similar situation where the woman in this case talked down the man holding a gun on her. That doesn’t mean it always works out that way. Some people are just too far gone to be reasoned with.

7. What advice would you offer a writer just starting their career?

The first thing I tell a writer when they ask me how to start is to finish the book. You can’t do anything with just the spark of an idea. Put something down on paper and then go from there. These days there are so many options to get a book out there. You just have to research them and find out what would be right for your particular book. The other thing I tell them is not to follow the trends. What is popular today will probably be old news by the time you finish your version of it. Write the next big thing instead.

8. If you could re-do any one thing in your life, what would it be and how would you change it?

I’m torn between having regrets and knowing that I wouldn’t be where I am and who I am without having those regrets. But there are a few things that I wish I had done differently. One of those things is school. I was going to go to art school in Pasadena right out of high school. A friend of mine even offered a place to stay at the time. For some reason I never followed through on it. Now I’m trying to go back and rectify that. It isn’t easy.

9. Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I always wanted a huge career as a writer. Major international successes, motion pictures, maybe even a popular TV series based on my work. Now I’ll settle for peace. I just want to live in a cozy town, do work that I enjoy with time for travel, sharing fun experiences with loved ones, and of course I’ll be writing. No matter what I’ll always write.

10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

I’ve been working on a lot of short stories which has been fun for me. I’m currently editing short thriller based on a hitman. After that I’m starting on the follow up to my fantasy series Demon Hunter. This time the hunter’s daughter is the one following in the family business…so-to-speak.

Bio: Cynthia Vespia has a background as an award-winning video editor; certified personal trainer; licensed private security guard; and trained mixologist. But the allure of writing has always been her biggest passion. Today Cynthia writes character driven suspense fiction. During her down time she enjoys getting lost in a good book or movie and keeping active through various forms of martial arts and fitness. Visit the official website at: http://www.CynthiaVespia.com

You can purchase Sins and Virtues here. Don’t forget to leave your comments and questions for Cynthia, I have a feeling she’ll be around today.

12 Steps to Becoming a Famous Writer

I’ve been reading a lot of articles dealing with depression, self help and addiction lately as market research, because it’s always a good idea to be familiar with what potential markets have already published. Along the way I ran into a couple articles that mentioned twelve-step programs. So I decided to come up with a semi-serious twelve step program for writers. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

1. Write a trilogy. Everyone loves trilogies, right? In the world of fantasy, famous trilogies are everywhere–Lord of the Rings being the most obvious. Sometimes you’ll even see two or three connected trilogies–Star Wars, anyone? So there’s no denying that trilogies work. In order to get famous, you should write your own trilogy so that readers can obsess over your characters while waiting for the next book to come out, increasing your fame level. Don’t sweat it if your trilogy turns into four or five books along the way–it worked for Douglas Adams, after all.

2. Write something controversial. Even better than a trilogy is a controversy. Stories about things like teen pregnancy and spouse abuse are sure to get people riled up–which means they’ll be talking about you. But be careful when including violence, because if it’s gratuitous, no-one will publish it. Of course, you could always self-publish and people would probably read it, but that can be expensive and time-consuming.

3. Employ the use of bad puns. Monty Python, anyone? This doesn’t just work in movies. Include some puns that would make even the Python gang groan and your book is sure to hit the bestseller lists–after all, it’s hilarious.

4. Accept that whether or not it gets published is totally out of your hands and pray. The thing about publishing is that you need other people’s approval: the editors and worse yet, the marketing team, decide whether or not your book is saleable. Why not skip all that and let God decide? Pray over your printed out manuscript every night. Leave copies in churches near you and hope the priest will pick it up and recommend it to all his friends–and call you to tell you about it.

5. Join every writing forum you can find. And tell them all about your work. By casting a wide net, you’re sure to get some returns in the way of readers.

6. Blog about it. Make your own blog and record your thoughts, goals and all that praying you’re doing to get published. People are sure to listen up, and if God hasn’t sent you a contract before you have a few hundred followers, you can always self-publish your trilogy and sell it from your blog.

7. Twitter! Everyone loves Twitter. And most people are already there. Through Twitter you can share your favourite sentences from your books, your blog posts, and what you ate for breakfast. People might not care what you ate for breakfast now, but they sure will when you’re extra-famous.

8. Write another trilogy. Obviously you can’t just stop writing and leave everything to God. In between praying and sharing your prayers with the world, write another trilogy. Stick with the trilogy format because it’s proven to work well. You can even apply all the things you learned from writing your first trilogy to this new one. If you’re feeling really brave, you might even edit this one, too.

9. Go to conferences. And introduce yourself to every agent, publisher or already famous author there. Throw around business cards like confetti. Sit in lessons, take notes, and occasionally correct the teacher. Famous authors love it when you correct them–and agents do even more. You’re sure to make friends this way.

10. Read stuff by famous authors. If you read everything ever written by the most famous authors in your genre, they’re sure to rub off on you, and soon you’ll be famous too. Reading stuff by unknown authors is pointless, because obviously they don’t know what they’re doing–otherwise they’d be famous, right?

11. Make stickers and T-shirts for your books. Obviously, if people see that you have T-shirts and stickers with awesome logos on them, they’re going to want to find out more about you and even read your books. CafePress allows you to do all this for free. Once you’ve created your awesome merchandise, don’t forget to plaster pictures of it all over your blog and link all the products individually to your Twitter page.

12. Self-Publish if God’s not on your side. You’ve been following all these steps for years, and you’re still not getting any contracts? Self publish. Beg, bribe or coerce your friends into reading your trilogy and writing awesome reviews. Hopefully you also have friends you can coerce into doing your cover art and formatting for cheap, because otherwise this gets expensive. Finally, if you don’t have any friends… start over from step one until you get some.

All right, that turned out a little less serious than intended… but most of this is almost good advice. I think.

If you enjoyed this article, please check out my new blog, The Dabbler, where the conversation about writing continues

Prompt Time July 20th

Today’s prompt was inspired by a free email course I’m taking on the art of writing fairy tales–if you’re interested, you can sign up for it or any other course through Writing Bliss. The more I thought about creating my own fairy tales, the more I realized how important fairy tales are in our world–and therefore, how much depth they add to fantasy worlds.

And thus I came up with this:

Write a fairy tale retold by one of your characters.

When doing this exercise, you can either have one of your characters retell a fairy tale from our world, or you can have them tell a fairy tale from their own world. The important thing is that you’re writing in the voice of whichever character you’ve chosen, and that the character is retelling a fairy tale that means something to them. The other important thing is that you remember the form of a fairy tale: a character, usually without magic and without much depth, goes on a quest to achieve something, gets some magical help along the way, and finds success in spite of prohibiting challenges.

Don’t aim for any length, instead aim for a finished story. It can be told in dialogue, with your character sharing why it’s important to them, or it can be told as its own story about your chosen character. Whatever you do, I’d love to hear how you made this challenge your own.

Please post either the first sentence of your response or a couple sentences about how you wrote your fairy tale.

Musa Author Interview: HL Carpenter


Today’s interview is one of the most interesting I’ve ever had because it’s not just one writer, but two. In fact, it’s a mother-daughter team, Helen and Lorri, who published their debut YA novel, Skyhorse, through Euterpe–Musa’s YA imprint–in March. I’m really excited to have them here, and I hope you’ll find their thoughts on co-writing and fantasy in general interesting.

And on to the interview…

1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, The SkyHorse?

Sure, and we’ll start by telling you it’s not “our” book. Tovi Taggert – she’s a teenager who lives in Honeysuckle Hollow, Florida – she asked us to write it, and the story’s hers. She wanted The SkyHorse to sound like a novel, though it’s really a how-to manual on flying horses. Tovi says everyone needs to read it, because you never know when a SkyHorse will canter into your life. She wants you to be prepared.

2. Where did you get the idea for The SkyHorse?

From a chicken who hatched five eggs, one of which was a lobster named Ralph…and other assorted nuggets of imagination-fodder: The marvelous horses we’ve loved and lost, newspaper articles of house-eating underground monsters, bits of poetry, images that made us wonder what if. That’s where the fictional elements came from, anyway. Tovi told us the real story. We just embellished her narrative of what actually happened.

3. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

Hobby? What is this “hobby”? Joking aside, we never considered writing a hobby. We always wrote for publication. We studied other writers, we read magazines, we learned style and voice, and we wrote, wrote, wrote. We worked our fannies off, and we still do, every day, writing and re-writing and editing and querying and promoting and the thousand other things a writing career requires. Happily, for us, writing is work-that’s-not-work. Dare we say we have lots of fun? We have very trim fannies, too.

4. What is your definition of “writing success” and how close to it do you think you are?

We think success in any venture means doing what you enjoy. So, by our own definition, we’re super-successful. And modest, too.

5. What part of the writing process do you find most difficult, and how do you make it easier for yourself?

Keeping track of the story trajectory during re-writes is tough. Many small actions in the first chapters lead to important decisions later, and changing something that seems inconsequential at the beginning of a story can have a real impact further down the trail. You know – stuff like, she needs to have the retractable dagger in her bra when she meets the killer. Is it still there? To make sure the daggers stay where they belong, we create files of notes and reminders.

6. You’re a mother-and-daughter team. What led to the original decision to work together on your fiction?

Several years ago we began talking about a character we both liked and brainstorming sticky situations for her to stumble into. She evolved into a sleuth, and the sticky situations became short stories. We were delighted to find a talented and generous editor who loved her as much as we did (Hi, Zee!), and who included the stories in a series of anthologies. We just kept going from there, and we feel very fortunate to have found Musa Publishing, whose hardworking staff believed in us and The SkyHorse. (Thanks, Celina and Kathy and Jenn and Kelly and Coreen and Amy!)

7. What does the collaboration process look like for you?

Like an intelligence-gathering operation. First we draft a one or two line sketch. We expand the sketch into action points, arcing through the entire story. From there we tag-team, in covert surveillance style. One of us spies on our character, following along to a natural stopping point. The other picks up the trail, and we swap back and forth until the book is finished. It’s always a kick to see where characters go. Driving black SUV’s with tinted windows is fun, too.

8. Do you think collaborating to create your fiction has created tension in your relationship or made it better?

Umm…neither? There hasn’t been much impact on our relationship. When we disagree, we rewrite. Our writing – now that’s a different story. Collaborating definitely made our writing better.

9. Have either of you considered doing solo work?

We’ve both written solo, and sometimes still do, for contests or non-fiction projects. Writing together is more fun.

10. What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?

The next book is about a girl who meets a ghost. The one after that is about a girl who finds the Fountain of Youth. We also have one in the pipeline about a girl with precognitive ability. Oh, and there’s the one about the girl who meets a seventeenth century pirate. And the girl with the dragon tattoo…no, wait, we just wish that one was ours. Hmmm, sounds like we’ve done an awful lot of surveillance. No wonder our fannies are so trim!

BLURB:

When fourteen year old Tovi Taggert moves to Honeysuckle Hollow to take care of her grandmother, she has a hard time fitting in. For one thing, she’s been tagged with the hated nickname Too-Tall Tovi. For another, everyone at Honeysuckle Hollow High believes Tovi played the Choking Game with someone else’s boyfriend – and made out with him besides.

As if she doesn’t have enough problems, after the latest stand-off in the school hallway, Tovi finds a gorgeous speckled egg nestled in a feather lined nest.

She takes the egg home – and mysterious visitors begin appearing almost immediately. Even more worrisome, whatever is inside the egg starts chipping its way out.

When the egg hatches, revealing a winged horse, Tovi’s troubles multiply.

As she struggles to return the horse to the magical land where he belongs, Tovi must make a courageous decision – and accept what that decision will cost her.

HL Carpenter is a mother/daughter writing team. Their young adult novel, The SkyHorse, is available at Amazon.com and at the Musa Publishing web site. Read an excerpt of The SkyHorse at http://www.TopDrawerInkCorp.com.

Amazon link:
http://www.amazon.com/The-SkyHorse-ebook/dp/B007PF7WEK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1333121433&sr=8-1

Musa link:
http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=5&products_id=223

Growing Your Blog

Once you’ve launched your blog comes the long term task of maintaining it and nourishing it so it grows. Hopefully you’ve already got a few weeks worth of posts drafted–not that this means you should stop writing new ones, in fact you should try to write one every day or every other day so that you’ll have lots of back up posts if there’s a crisis. So today I’d like to give you some strategies for finding more followers, and a couple to help you find ideas for your blog posts.

Let’s start with how to get more followers…

Pay attention to and utilize social media. For most of my blogging career, throughout my various old blogs, I’ve been awful at this. I’ll admit that even now I’m not a social media genius, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it. You should have already identified which social media sites you’re going to focus on and made a plan for promoting each post. But social media isn’t just about promotions–it’s about community. So it’s a good idea to log into your social media accounts every day and check in with your followers. Let them know what you’re up to, and comment on what they’re up to. People like feeling valued, and you can do that by also visiting their blogs and communicating with them honestly through social media.

It’s also important to stay up to date with social media news. New social media sites are created all the time, and if you can figure out which ones are gaining popularity and worth your effort, it will help you find more followers.

Be consistent. Provide your readers with consistency: post according to schedule whenever you’ve agreed to post, keep the quality consistent, and keep going back to your social media. Prove to your readers that you’re reliable and eager to communicate with them, and they’ll keep coming back–and they’ll be a lot more likely to share your site with their friends. I’m terrible at consistency–mental health problems combined with the pressures of school, my internship and my friendships and relationship tend to get in the way from time to time–but I’ve worked really hard to get better at it.

Part of this is making your schedule something you can actually keep up with. Not everyone has the time to write a post every day–or even every other day. I used to blog every weekday, but I couldn’t keep up with it and kept missing posts. Instead of continuing trying to post like a madwoman all the time and disappointing myself and my readers by not living up to that expectation, I cut back to three posts a week. I still miss posts sometimes, but I miss a lot fewer than before and I think that’s a big part of why my subscriber list keeps growing.

Add your URL to your signatures. You probably belong to at least a couple forums and have an email address you use regularly. Most of these places allow you to create a signature which will be posted after every comment made or email sent. You might even already have signatures set up in a lot of places with your name and anything else you consider important, but have you put your blog URL in those signatures? If not, I suggest you do–not only will you make it easier for people you’re communicating with to find your blog, but links on high-ranking forums will also help your Google Page Rank go up.

As to Ideas…

So where can you get ideas for more blog posts? When the well runs dry, try reading other blogs in your niche. You might decide to write a response post to something someone else has written, linking to their post and then adding your commentary on the issue on your blog. I’d suggest also checking Twitter–I often find great stuff there, including all kinds of quotes that can be used to start blog posts.

Brainstorming also works, using your topic as the centre bubble of a mind map and then creating different sections on the page for different sections of your blog. I’ve also asked people who read blogs in my niche what topics they think don’t get enough attention–this is something you can also do via Twitter or other social media. If you’re planning on going to any events related to your topic, you can also review those to create more blog posts.

Finally, sometimes what your brain really needs to restart is a walk through the park, a good movie or a nice massage. A change is as good as a rest. Don’t feel guilty if you have to walk away from the computer for a couple hours to recharge your creative mind.

All of these tips will help you maintain your blog and grow your following, but there’s a lot more to learn. There are dozens of blogs devoted specifically to helping you with this stuff. Not all of them are good, but several are. I personally am subscribed to Social Media Examiner(http://sodialmediaexaminer.com) and Problogger(http://problogger.net). Find a couple blogs/websites relating to social media news and advice that you like and follow them, but don’t follow too many–eventually they become a big time suck. Besides, there’s only so many ways you can spin each tip.

How do you find ideas?

Markets for Non-fiction

In keeping with my goal of building a writing income, I’ve spent much of the last week researching markets which publish articles on the topics I’ve decided to focus on: mental health, travel and entrepreunership. These are all topics I can write about without much research. I have struggled with mental illness since I was eleven, I’m creating my own freelance business right now, and I can write about great destinations in my city while fine-tuning my article writing skills for when I can afford to actually travel.

I’ve decided to share some of the markets I’ve come across in my research with you. I hope sharing them will help you build your own writing income.

Today’s markets are all very different from one another, but they all accept travel articles of varying length:

In the Fray is a magazine that seeks to promote understanding between people, encouraging tolerance, and defying categorization. They accept News writing, Commentary–including personal essays and travel writing–and Cultural Criticism, which includes essays and reviews. Being a small publication, they don’t pay a lot, and pay is different for each category. Commentary, the category travel writing’s in, will pay you $25-75 depending on length and quality. Articles should be 1, 000–4, 000 words long.

Up! is a magazine run by Westjet, aiming to enrich travel experiences with a focus on Westjet destinations in North America and the Caribbean. There are several sections including features, Eat+Drink, and you can even submit for the website/blog. They DO NOT TAKE UNSOLICITED SUBMISSIONS. Instead they ask you query, for time-specific stories between six months and a year in advance due to long lead times. Pay rates aren’t mentioned specifically, but my understanding is the magazines connected to various airlines–several have them–pay quite well and are worth the time.

Journeywoman is a travel magazine designed just for women. They accept articles covering women’s travelling concerns. Length is up to 900 words, with sidebars containing additional information outside the 900-word article. Payment is a $35.00 honorarium and eligibility for the Journeywoman writing contest, which has a prize of $100. There are several categories to submit to and they prefer stories which contain actual travel tips rather than just telling a story.

Don’t forget to read the guidelines thoroughly and check out a couple of the available online articles for each before you submit/query these markets. Knowing your market and understanding what they’re looking for is the best way to create something they’ll want to publish.

Have you submitted any non-fiction before? Did you meet with success?

Live and Let Fly by Karina Fabian

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while may remember Karina Fabian’s guest post on the submission process and my earlier interview with her. Most recently I had the opportunity to review Live and Let Fly, a paranormal fantasy released by Muse It Up Publishing earlier this year.

Let’s start with the back cover:

For a dragon detective with a magic-slinging nun as a partner, saving the worlds gets routine. So, when the U.S. government hires Vern and Sister Grace to recover stolen secrets for creating a new Interdimensional Gap—secrets the U.S. would like to keep, thank you—Vern sees a chance to play Dragon-Oh-Seven.

No human spy, however, ever went up against a Norse goddess determined to rescue her husband. Sigyn will move heaven and earth to get Loki—and use the best and worst of our world against anyone who tries to stop her.

It’s super-spy spoofing at its best with exotic locations (Idaho–exotic? Well, Idaho’s exotic to them), maniacal middle-managers, secret agent men, teen rock stars in trouble, man-eating animatronics, evil overlords, and more!

And on to the review…

As a reader, I quite enjoyed this book. Its main characters, Vern and Grace, are a great pair, with Grace’s calm and faith in God and Vern’s sarcastic narration. Their different personalities balance each other out, both directly in the plot and in the overall tone of the piece. Each also possesses a specific talent: Grace is a strong magical warrior, and Vern… well, he’s a dragon, which comes with all kinds of perks, most of them strength related.

One of my favourite things about this book is that the main relationship which ends up being the driving force of the story is that between best friends rather than lovers. It’s always nice to see characters who aren’t focused on finding romantic partners–though there is a romance sub-plot between two side characters.

That said, the best thing about this book is probably the range of mythologies it includes. While the main characters are Christian–Catholic, to be precise–and in this universe it’s made clear the Christian God does exist, several Norse deities are also included and real in the world of Faerie. My own spiritual belief is that all gods exist and are different representations of the same energy, so the idea of Asgard coexisting with the Christian heaven resonates deeply with me. It’s awesome to see something like this in fiction.

What else was awesome about this book? The Monty Python reference on page 27 and Vern’s insistence on mocking cheesy spy movies everywhere.

As a writer, I enjoyed this book, though I sometimes found the writing overbearing. The sarcastic narrative balanced out the religious references and sometimes ridiculous plot, but even the humour occasionally became overbearing. Sometimes I found the writing style overdone and thought it detracted from the story, but overall I didn’t mind it.

One thing interesting thing was the very deliberate censorship. Because Vern and Grace are (somewhat) strict Catholics, mentioning vulgarities without saying them outright fit in the context. Many of the jokes in the book also worked better because of the character’s religions. As a non-religious person, I usually don’t get through books about stricter religious characters, but Live and Let Fly managed to keep my attention with superb, if occasionally overbearing, writing. The characters are also well-written, well developed and a great team–without the chemistry between characters, I would never have finished this book.

What one line stood out to me most as a writer? I loved this one–or two, from page 109: “Daring rescue, close escape from death, injured knight, and exotic and comfortable transportation? Add that to true love, and you need a chaperone.”

You can purchase your copy of Live and Let Fly here. If you’d like to learn more about Karina, you can visit her website here.

Preparing for Your Blog Launch

For the last few weeks we’ve been talking about the process of creating your own blog, from choosing and testing a blog topic to the design of your blog to creating a coherent marketing strategy for your blog. If you followed my suggestion and have written a blog post every day since you started planning your blog, you’ve got about a month worth of posts ready to go–and it’s time to start thinking about your blog launch.

When planning your blog launch, there are three important questions to ask yourself:

What should my first post be about?

You want your first post to give readers an idea who you are and what your blog’s about, but don’t leave it at just that: you want your first post to touch on readers’ emotions. Starting with a personal anecdote related to your topic, a recommendation for some of your favourite topic-related products, or some advice to help readers reach their own goals will make people want to come back and spread the word. The more value the post has for your readers, the more likely it is to be shared.

Remember that your first post shouldn’t be a novel. It should be a few hundred words long, with a picture if you can find a suitable one, and it should give some details about yourself and your topic without covering too much. You don’t want to bore new readers by talking about yourself for hours, and you don’t want to detail topics which you can write other blog posts about.

What DO you want to include in your first blog post? A simple check list can help you make sure it’s ready for the public:

  • Your name.
  • Your region–country or state, you don’t have to mention city, but people like to have an idea where you’re from.
  • What you do for a living–this helps people connect to you and remember that you’re a real person.
  • What your topic is and why you chose it.
  • What you’re planning to write about over the next few weeks.

Containing all of this information will help readers connect to you and will hopefully excite them for what’s coming next on your blog. Once you’ve written an introduction post containing all these things–and maybe a couple useful tips or websites you like–it’s time to ask yourself the next question.

What else do I need to have ready before I can launch my blog?

Your blog needs more than just a first post to thrive. To give it the best advantage, you’ll want a clean, professional design, and you’ll need a handful of other pages to help readers familiarize themselves with you and find more useful information within your topic/niche.

Here’s a check list of things you should have ready before you launch your blog:

  • Clean, professional design? Without this readers will just click away. If you’re not confident you can make one yourself and you don’t like any of the templates provided by your blogging software, you can pay someone else to do it. Just don’t give yourself a disadvantage by publishing without a professional design.
  • About page–this is where readers should find a picture of you and some back story–where you grew up, where you went to school, what you do for a living now, where you live now and a little bit about how you got where you are today.
  • Collected Works/Products Page–if you have a book for sale, or have been published before either on or offline, or want to sell all your old clothes through your blog, you’re going to need a page which either lists all your published works or all the products you have for sale. This enables readers to get still closer to you and to make a decision whether or not they’d like to hire you.
  • Contact Page–This page should have either a contact form or a listing with your email address, phone number if you’re comfortable giving that out, fax, or other preferred method of contact with your readers/customers. Depending on how much access you want readers to have to you, you might even list forums/groups you participate in and your username in those places.

When you’ve got all these things on your blog site up and ready to go, there’s one last question to ask yourself:

Who am I going to tell about my blog launch?

This is perhaps the most important thing of all. The people who you share your blog launch with can help you build a strong following and can become your first loyal readers–or might only read your first post and never bother to check back. You’ll obviously want to tell your supportive friends and family about it so they can come congratulate you on your new blog and spread the word amongst their contacts. Less supportive family or friends can be left out for now–your blog’s still fragile, and you don’t want to let people who will discourage you or bring you down see your blog until it’s already going strong.

What about when you run out of friends and family? Well, hopefully you’ve already set up an account on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Share your new blog with all your contacts on these social media sites. These might be tiny followings and there might be some overlap–but your friends and family probably won’t be mad if they get one email and one Facebook message about your blog, as long as they see it’s a mass message.

What about news sites? Not too many will cover new blogs. There are services which, for a fee, will distribute a press release about your new blog to all kinds of news sources. Personally, I’ve never used them and I’ve still experienced quite a bit of blog growth, but I have been told they’re worth it. If you can put an interesting spin on it–like if you’re already a local celebrity or your blog is based on your local business–you might get some bites from local reporters. Don’t expect the big newspapers to cover your blog launch–in fact, I’d suggest not relying on newspapers at all and just spreading the word through your own network.

Once you have the answer to all three of these questions and you’ve checked off everything on your lists, it’s about time to launch your blog. Next week I’ll talk a little bit about sustaining your blog and growing your following.

If you are creating a blog right now and you do launch a blog sometime over the next couple of weeks with the help of my advice, send me a link and I’ll add you to my sidebar–and maybe even write up a post sharing your new blog with my readers.