Monday, September 16, 2019

Deliberately Thinking Structure

I've been working on a Jolie Gentil novella, tentatively called "The Twain Does Meet." I'm shamelessly borrowing Janet Evanovich's phrase and referring to it as a between-the-numbers book. It takes place between books ten and eleven.

Why? By book eleven, Jolie and Scoobie have a set of three-year old twins. I've had a blast adding them to the mix. But I didn't want to include their birth as part of one of one of the mysteries. It siimply seemed that murder and newborns didn't mix.

"The Twain Does Meet" certainly has a lot going on, and some problems to solve. But, no corpse to find on a porch or under a pirate ship.

Since I was doing something a bit different, I spent more time on structuring the story than I usually do. My friend Leigh Michaels had recently sent me a reference to K.M. Weilland's wonderful website, which has many articles on writing. One series deals with structure, and I found it so useful I printed the posts (yes, printed, not just skimmed online).
Books as building blocks.
I found the article on the difference between the inciting event and the key event to be the most useful. I don't always see the distinction in my own writing. I have two distinct story lines in "The Twain Does Meet," and I realized I needed to have separate events for each.

What's the difference between an inciting event and a key event? Think about the first Star Wars film (technically episode IV). The inciting event is Luke's uncle buying the droids. The key event (which changes everything for Luke and propels his future) is the death of his aunt and uncle.

Enough said. You'll have to check out Weilland's site. Do.

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Learn more about Elaine and her writing at www.elaineorr.com

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Thinking Like a Twelve-Year-Old

No, I have not been recently accused of this. I'm doing a Jolie Gentil short story (as yet untitled) that takes place in between books 10 (The Unexpected Resolution) and 11 (Underground in Ocean Alley). Why?

Book 10 sees Jolie and Scoobie getting married and an 11-year old enters their lives in the form of a half brother that Scoobie did not know he had (Terry). Skip forward 3 years and Jolie and Scoobie have 3-year old twins and a now-high-school-age brother with them. That's Underground in Ocean Alley.

I decided not to write the 'big baby event' of the twins' birth as part of a mystery, but I promised readers that they would see that moment in a future story. Of course, a story has to have legs, so there's a lot more involved than that.

However, having already written Terry as a high school age young man, I'm finding it difficult to depict his younger self. Generally my characters advance in age rather than regress.

These are some of the traits and attitudes I'm trying to imbue in 12-year old Terry.
  • Friends, and their opinions, are very important.
  • Sports are the best part of school.
  • Food, lots of it, is always good.
  • It's better to tease than be teased.
  • Waiting for a baby is good, because life will really be different when it arrives.
What have I missed? I'd love your ideas!
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To learn more about Elaine or her writing, go to www.elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Learning From Jane Friedman

We learn from many sources, but some are more consistent than others. About 25 years ago, at  a Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana, I heard Jane Friedman speak. At that time she was with Writer's Digest (F&W Media), and had a lot of good info on getting into print. She gave practical advice and suggested other resources so a writer who wanted to publish could learn how to go from novice to published author.

Since then, Jane has left traditional employment and become a publishing guru who understands the nexus of the published word and the digital world. Hers is one of the few blogs I read regularly, and I commend to you her book, The Business of Being a Writer.

Nothing can be published until a writer places her tailbone in a chair and puts solid time into writing and revising. And no one needs to learn intricacies of the publishing world until they finish a good product. However, as you write, you can learn the industry in small doses. Jane Friedman's work is the place to start.
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To learn more about Elaine or her writing, go to www.elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Libraries Targeting Children

Chatham PL coffee shop with used books, play area in front
Countless people I know credit their local library with starting their love affair with books. Yes, parents probably read to them and introduced them to the library. But the neat thing was, you could go there on your own and select books yourself.

I grew up one block from the town of Garrett Park, MD, and at that time my siblings and I walked or ran across a big field (now a parking lot) along a well-trod path. Once inside the tiny building (now part of a nursery school) we browsed the shelves.

There's now a much larger Kensington Park library about 1.5 miles down the road, and the former Kensington Noyes Library is a children's library -- to which my sister takes her granddaughter.

Fond as I remain of all those libraries, the best library for children I've been in is the Chatham, Illinois Public Library. Part library, part huge play area, part cafe and used book sales room, and part genealogy room. Oh, and lots of room to do puzzles.

I wish I could show pictures of the dozens upon dozens of children who visit most mornings during the summer, but I would never ask parents to let me put their kids' pictures on the Internet. You'll have to be content with photos of the space itself.

On the left is a main area of activity. The table at the forefront is one on which kids play with cars and trucks. Note the playhouse on the left.

Even on a quiet day, it's busy. To get the photo at left, I had to take several shots. Each time I thought I had one without a child, one would stream into the frame.

On the right (in the same photo) is a smaller play house. Toward the back is one of several book sections.

And the tree? It's a walk-through space, with a toddler slide at the front.

Below, on the right, is the reading cubby, which gives kids a private place to curl up with a book.

While it is certainly used a fair bit, the interactive nature of the place has the kids sometimes too busy to go off by themselves to read.
Book cubby for a quiet space

This summer, the theme of the summer reading program is "a universe of stories." Lots of prizes, many reasons to come to the library to win them -- and see friends. -- Elaine L. Orr --

Toddler Tree Slide
A Universe of Stories


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Resources for Your Writing Business

     I find many authors don’t put on their business cap until they have something to sell. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with that perspective, in fact it’s what I did. 

However, if you do want to start or change careers, you’ll consider such things as who you are writing to, how many books you’ll need to sell at which price to make a certain amount of money, and how to manage the businesses processes.

Maybe you’ll do your own taxes and file a Schedule C. Or should you set up an LLC – limited liability corporation? Don’t ask me, ask your accountant. You need an accountant? Possibly.

To be clear, I do not advocate that we right-brain creative types stop writing and do a lot of left-brain work to establish a business. That can come later, for most of us.

Write that book first.

RESOURCES

The Business of Being a Writer, Jane Friedman
Possibly the best overview of what you need to know after you write your book. You get an excellent work at the publishing world, too. Kindle and paperback.

The Indie Author Business Plan
Good overview, with a downloadable workbook. If you like multi-media learning, this is a good place to start.
Kimberly Grabas

7 Elements for a Nonfiction Writer’s Business Plan
An overview that could be helpful whether you write fiction or nonfiction.
http://writenonfictionnow.com/7-key-elements-successful-nonfiction-writers-business-plan/
 
A Long-Term View of the Indie Author Business with Liliana Hart
42 minutes, but a good example of building to success in the real world.Hart (who has sold more than 3 million books) also compares Amazon and ibooks – not saying one is better, but discussing differences. Apple has 7 billion devices out there. I learned a lot watching this, especially about the Apple market for audiobooks.
The podcast interview is conducted by author/publisher Joanna Penn.

Tonya Price’s site deals with business aspects of writing. Her book on the writer’s business plans is comprehensive. Just looking at the description gives you a sense of things to consider.

Your tax dollars at work – Small Business Administration overview and links on preparing a business plan. A good reference point, but too much to think about if this is all new to you.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website, www.elaineorr.com.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thinking about Our Skills to Write About

We like to play to our strengths. We don't sit around and say, "What am I bad at? I think I'll do that again today."

I certainly don't think I'm the best storyteller around, but you would definitely want to hear my stories more than you'd like to eat my cooking. Or have me clean your house. Or give you driving directions. I could go on.

Image by Angel Nichols.
Recently I thought I would work on a self-help piece, for fun, in between fiction projects. I have a breezy writing style when it comes to how-to writing, and I don't mind making fun of myself. The combination works well in self-help writing, and I used it in a book on caregiving in the 1990s and in some of my books and articles on writing and publishing.

So, what do I know enough about to help someone else who wants to do it? The first thing that popped into my head was "moving." No, not yoga or jogging. Going from home to home.

I didn't plan to move as often as I have, but I've learned how to get organized, pack and unpack, and learn a new town. If I had to pick one word to describe moving success it would be listmaking. And doing the items on the list, of course.

I moved to Iowa because I wanted a lifestyle where I needed less money to live and had more time to write. When people would ask why I picked that state, I'd say, "Cleaner, cheaper, safer, quieter." This is not to insult my native state of Maryland, it's just that housing costs in the DC suburbs are astronomical.

Since moving to Iowa I've married and we've also lived in Indiana (and then to Iowa and back to Indiana) and Illinois. In each place, I moved from apartment to house or house to house. I'm probably certifiable.

Learning the Ropes

As hard as it is to get organized and complete the move itself, diving into a new town is what's challenging. Friends. I need friends.

In my new book, Fitting in After Fifty: to Your New Town, I talk about becoming acquainted with a town and its people in several groupings. You'll want to get to know your neighborhood and the larger community. You'll also want personal friends, maybe even want to date, and perhaps you'll volunteer.

Why the "after 50" in the title? In my humble opinion, it's easier when you're younger. Your job may be welcoming, kids' schools or sports involve meeting other families, and you have more energy. Of course, fifty is the new forty, so I remember having lots of energy at that age. :)

If you move to be near other family or to find an area in which to retire, you have to make your own reasons to meet people.

Getting to Know People in Your Neighborhood

To give you a sense of the kinds of information in the book, here are some ideas for making neighborhood acquaintances:
  • Smile and nod. That gives others an opening, should they want to engage.
  • Be willing to introduce yourself and stick out your hand, but don't be offended if your actions are barely (or not at all) reciprocated.
  • Attend announced events, such as block parties, as well as informal activities, such as rummage sales.
  • Buy what local kids sell – within reason. Some schools still raise money through direct sales (think cookie dough and wrapping paper), while Scouts now tend to set up at local shopping centers.
  • Become aware of local sports teams—school and professional. Sport pride and the weather are neutral topics in grocery store lines, which is where you'll see your neighbors.
  • Ask Suri or Alexa what's going on. I never thought I would talk to a round piece of plastic (I use Amazon's Alexa on an Echo Dot), but these devices (which require an internet connection) are handy for weather, local news, and activities.
Don't get discouraged if you don't have people to do more than nod to after a month. Everyone is busy and your neighbors are probably involved in their jobs and kids. Just keep at it.

Beyond Your Own Block 

I love being in neighborhoods where people are friendly and do things together. However, you can't know how that will work out. And you'll probably want to be involved in the larger community.

Have a look at the chapters in Fitting in After Fifty.

1. Reasons for the Move and Getting Started
2. Deciding How Involved You Want to Be
3. Getting to Know the Immediate Neighborhood or Complex
4. Beyond Your Street or Building
5. Deciding Whether to Volunteer
6. Making Friends or Dating in a New Place
7. Holidays: Do You Stay or Do You Go?
8. What about Major Life Changes?
9. Keeping Those New Friends

Each chapter has a resource listing at the end, mostly links to web articles, since that makes it easy to to go the info mentioned in the ebook. The resources would help the 'movee' as well as others who want to help family or friends learn a new town.

This won't be a book that people pick up to read for fun, but I hope they'll find it when they need it.

Fitting in after Fifty is in Kindle Unlimited. Maybe you'll want to give it to your friends...

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To learn more about Elaine or her writing, go to www.elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Choices about the Profession for Amateur Sleuths

When I decided to write mystery series with amateur sleuths, I spent time thinking about careers that would put them in contact with a lot of people, provide a flexible schedule, and be interesting to men and women.

I had learned in an earlier stand-alone book that the protagonist couldn't be tied to her career. When would she investigate? I had created a teacher, and then had to have her break her arm so she wasn't in the classroom all the time.

I settled on a real estate appraiser for the Jolie Gentil Jersey shore cozy mysteries and a reporter-turned-gardener for the Iowa River's Edge series -- Melanie. It seems no matter what Jolie and Melanie do, they don't attract many male readers. Or at least, male reviewers. It seems women read male protagonists but men don't often pick up books with female sleuths.

The second question was how much daily life should mix with murder. Readers pick up a cozy in part because of the sleuth's profession. People can relate to bakers, dog walkers, and bookstore clerks. I figured a real estate appraiser was just different enough to be equally interesting.

Most people buy or sell a house at some point, so they would recognize the work without finding it too familiar. And boy, can Jolie get in trouble in a vacant house.

Newspaper reporters are more common in thrillers, less so in cozy mysteries. Melanie didn't last long in that role -- in fact From Newsprint to Footprints opens with her firing.

So, she became a gardener, which happens to be one of my hobbies. Most of us have planted something in the dirt at some point, so I figured readers could also get a sense of satisfaction when plants sprout along with suspects.

I plan to continues the two series and a third, which features a small-town police chief -- the Logland Series. I call that a police procedural with a cozy feel.

Lately, I've done a book a year in each series, but I think readers expect more regular installments. I traced publication dates over the last decade, and realized I did three Jolie books in the first publishing year. I'd written them over several years. I need to pick up the pace. Yikes.
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 Learn more about Elaine at www.elaineorr.com, or sign up for her her newsletter.