Helping other writers is my passion
Why? I didn’t have a lot of help in the early part of my writing journey, and so I feel driven to use what I’ve haphazardly learned to help other writers cultivate a better beginning to their journey – by showing them how to get help, feel supported, and stay inspired. One of the ways I do that is by writing and speaking about Writer Self Care.
Obviously, writing is what you love. Now it’s time to get serious about loving what you do.
How? Minimize what you don’t like to do as a means of building more JOY into your daily process. I’m specifically talking about writing, but this idea works in many contexts. So how do you do that? Start with self-reflection.
For this part, we need to get off the treadmill, so to speak, long enough to gain a perspective on what we’re doing. Take an afternoon off from writing or a day or two to rest your hands, rest your brain, and create some space to assess and recalibrate.
Which parts of your writing life and process bring you the most happiness and satisfaction? Research?
And which parts do you dread because they drain your life force? Editing? Marketing? Promotion and outreach?
Let’s dig into this a bit because I have good news: there’s a way around the pain. I know what you’re thinking, though. You’re a writer, so that means you’re gritty, and you’re accustomed to pushing through obstacles. That’s a good thing. But you might also be wasting a lot of time and creative energy agonizing about what you don’t want to do, finding ways to procrastinate, and ultimately not meeting your writing goals.
Here’s a solution: Outsourcing.
Outsourcing is an old concept primarily based on supply chain engineering and the economics of leveraging available resources. The aim is efficiency and cost-savings (and there are many definitions of “costs”). The vast benefits include reducing the size of your to-do list, leveraging specialists who have expertise in the areas you need, and saving you time.
Another benefit I’ve discovered is that the feeling of having people on my writing/publishing “team” helps me feel more supported, more empowered, and less alone.
I hired a graphic designer to design a book cover for me, and now she’s designed a few social media ads that are sized correctly for each platform (Facebook, Instagram, etc.).
In preparation for my forthcoming book release, I’d been searching for someone to help me with social media – not so much posting, but more like ad placement, targeting, and trafficking. So through a marketing friend, I found a social media manager who’s been helping me with Facebook and Instagram ads and advising me on hashtag strategies, audience targeting, and timing. It feels so wonderful to have a grownup sitting at the table with me to help coordinate and manage the parts of the process I’m not good at, and I’ve learned so much from her.
Where to get help:
For the parts of the writing and publishing process that you dread, maybe there’s someone who finds joy in those specific tasks. And maybe the work they do for you will help bring refinement and visibility to their skills. And by getting support for these things, you’ll be freeing up more of your time and mental energy for the things you love doing most (more joy).
If you’re traditionally published, your publisher or agent might have resources available for you to consult with or a list of trusted vendors you can hire to perform the work for you.
How do you decide whether to outsource or not? You might want to create a mailing list and start publishing monthly email newsletters. Consider why you need this resource, whether this feels like the right time for it, how hard it would be to learn it yourself, and how much you’re willing to pay a freelancer to do it for you. The upcoming Sisters in Crime NorCal workshop on October 16th will include an author panel on developing author newsletters featuring bestselling authors MM Chouinard and Gigi Pandian. Click here to register.
Most people think of the writer’s journey as being very solitary. But as I’ve grown as a writer, I’m realizing that writing is a team sport, and the process works better that way – for you and for the team that’s supporting your success.
One of the most important symbols of self-care is saying no. And outsourcing some of your most unpleasant tasks is a compassionate way to maintain boundaries, prioritize your mental wellness, and keep yourself pumped up for what you want to do most – create!
To learn more about Writer Self Care, check out this blog post: https://digitalraconteur.wordpress.com/2021/08/01/self-care-for-writers/
And to stay updated on my book and writing news, you can subscribe to my email newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/hFmk8P.
Till next time,
Lisa Towles is the author of the award-winning crime novels Choke and The Unseen. Her 7th novel, Ninety-Five, will be released in November of 2021. Learn more about Ninety-Five and read a sample here: https://www.indiesunited.net/ninety-five.
My debut novel, Unnatural, Erica Rosen MD Trilogy Book 1, is a medical thriller
Unnatural features a San Francisco pediatrician who happens upon a Chinese girl with blue eyes. Puzzled by this seeming impossibility (Chinese people have brown or occasionally green eyes – but not blue), Erica eventually learns that the girl is the product of embryonic stem cell gene editing performed at a secret government facility in China. Erica and her roommate, Daisy (a Chinese American), head off to China to expose the secret operation and rescue the girl’s younger brother, who is being held at the secret facility.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m in between. I have a definite plot and resolution in mind, as well as many of the stops along the way. However, I do not make a detailed outline. As I write, I’ve found that I come up with ideas that are better than many I think of ahead of time, so I go along with those changes.
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve been sticking to the suspense/thriller genre, mostly medical suspense/thriller. I enjoy using my background in biochemistry and medicine when developing my plots. Keeping the details accurate is challenging and fun.
What is your writing process? I come up with a general concept, either something I’ve read about or something that pops into my head. After that, I need time to develop a plot around the concept. For Unnatural, I decided to write about embryonic stem cell gene editing. Then I figured out the where and the who. My writing is more plot-driven than character-driven, although I do put a lot of thought into developing the characters.
What kind of research do you do? I do a lot of research. For instance, for Unnatural, I learned about gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9. The technology that forms the backbone of my story, by reading A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg. Dr. Doudna recently won the Nobel Prize for her work in that area. Another book I read was Young China by Zach Dychtwald, where I learned a lot about the current culture. I also read relevant references online. I find the internet indispensable not only for researching the scientific aspects of my writing but also for maps, pictures, videos, and information on hotels, airline flights, and general fact-checking. I’ve found that such research often leads to pesky emails and website ads for things, such as hotels and restaurants in Beijing. A small price to pay for all the information I can gather from the comfort of my home.
Where do you write? I like to write in my home office, at my PC. I bought myself a large, curved screen a year ago, which makes my writing much easier. I can have my word document open while I search the internet for information. Sometimes I’ll reference an eBook I display on my screen. When I have finished the whole novel, I can scroll through many pages at a time to look for underlines Word has made. I find the large screen to be very efficient. I prefer to work in a quiet environment, but since I don’t live alone, that’s often impossible. When I’m traveling (something I barely remember doing, but which I hope to do in the future), I bring my laptop but mostly use that only for typing short stories and editing, not for novel writing. For that, I like my home setup.
How much of your plots or characters are drawn from real life? All of my characters are fictional, although I give many of them attributes I have gleaned from people I have encountered. For instance, in the first novel I wrote (unpublished at this time), one of the characters was a graduate student in biochemistry who was also a nun. That’s an unusual combination. However, years ago, when I was a biochemistry graduate student myself, there was another graduate student who was also a nun. Strangely, she also had a prosthetic leg. I let my fictional graduate student keep both her legs because one has to be careful not to make fiction as bizarre as real life often is—readers won’t go for it.
As I am very familiar with laboratory and hospital settings, it is easy for me to come up with accurate descriptions. I had to google some specialized laboratories and equipment, however, to accurately describe some things. I found YouTube videos extremely helpful.
What are you currently working on? I am working on books two and three of the trilogy. Book two is titled Unwitting; I haven’t decided on a name for the third book. While the main story in Unnatural reaches a resolution, the next two books include developments in the lives of Erica and other characters introduced in book one, as well as new problems Erica finds herself thrust into.
How do readers contact you?
I can be contacted through my website https://www.devengreene.com
My blog is https://www.devengreene.com/blog
My Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/devengreeneauthor
My Instagram name is: devengreeneauthor
The Birth of The Mona Lisa Sisters
Ten years ago, I was managing Safety and Security for Palm, Inc. A few months later, Hewlett-Packard acquired Palm in what is often referred to as a disastrous acquisition. Not long after, H-P began the layoffs. I got a weekly list of those to be laid off the following week. When the notice came for my team, I gave them the week off to start on a job hunt. A few weeks later, I learned I would be terminated the following Monday. I cleaned out my office but hung around in case there were any problems.
Then began my introduction to how rampant age-discrimination had become. After three months, it was so obvious; I started a spreadsheet. I recorded 140 applications after that. Often, I could swear the hiring company had used my resume as the requirement for the position. My mistake was being honest. I included that I was a Vietnam War Veteran. Any H/R person in the world would spot that and know I was at least sixty years old. I got one interview. I walked in, business suit, tie, and white hair. The two people I talked with were wide-eyed twenty-somethings. They were polite in their T-Shirts, torn pants, and sandals . . .for about five minutes. Then, “Thank you for coming in, George. Have a good day.”
Early 2012, I saw that the local senior center was offering a writing class. I figured it might help with a new resume—wrong. It was a fiction writing class. I was learning creative writing, and I loved it. After a month or so, the instructor passed out random pictures to each student. The assignment: “Study the image, take fifteen minutes, and describe the scene.”
I took one look at my picture, two girls looking up at the Mona Lisa, and ignored the assignment. In those fifteen minutes, I knew I would write a novel. I had notes on paper, the story in my mind, and the title. And it all came together to form the genesis for The Mona Lisa Sisters.
That began an eight-year journey.
I enrolled at Las Positas College and took writing classes. Unlike my earlier college years, it was no longer drudgery. I earned straight As. The assignments lead to multiple revisions of my novel.
In a class taught by Karin Spirn, I read about a fantastic instructor at UC Berkeley who did not have a doctorate. Instead, he held an MFA. In another class, I was introduced to the work of Native American poet Joy Harjo. She was recently appointed to a third term as the U.S. Poet Laureate. I began following her on social media. I saw that Harjo was a guest lecturer at the Institute of American Indian Arts, MFA Program. An enrolled descendant of the Karuk Tribe of California, I called IAIA and applied. Five days later, I received an acceptance notice for the Low-Residency MFA Program. IAIA, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
For the next two years, my manuscript was my thesis paper, The Mona Lisa Sisters. I rewrote, revised, and learned. My mentors were terrific and have, over time, become much more to me. One area that I got dinged on was when I brought my characters to the dinner table. The settings often lacked enough detail to draw the reader into the scene. Ismet “Izzy” Prcic, roared “People don’t go to dinner and leave. They eat. What the “F” are they eating—saying?”
Mona Lisa is set in the early 1890s. So, I had much research to do before bringing food to the table. I did it—overdid it—added several thousand words. Izzy, “I don’t need to know every single effen thing they ate and how it was prepared.” I subtracted words to please him.
Each addition or subtraction required rewrites.
The program required a great deal more than working on my manuscript. I attended lectures, readings, workshops, and read and wrote critical reviews of over forty books. Two authors I had held extreme distaste for became favorites—Albert Camus and Joyce Carol Oates. Most of those forty books are full of underlining, highlighting, and writing in the margins. My mentors and I collaborated on the selection of books. Native Americans wrote at least half our choices. I was introduced to the work of such great authors as,
- Debra Magpie Earling (Bitterroot Salish) – Perma Red
- Louise Erdrich (Chippewa) – The Round House
- David Treuer (Ojibwe) – Little
- Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) – Ceremony
I met many who shared their world and writing. I met Joy Harjo and chatted over cafeteria dinner. Tommy Orange, There There, was a contemporary, as was Angela Trudell Vasquez. Angie is the Poet Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin.
When I faced the challenge of my thesis/manuscript, one of the questions came from another, fantastic teacher and author, Pam Houston. Her first question had to do with the scenes set in . . . the dining room. I shouldn’t have, but I laughed. I know Izzy put her up to it.
This year, I finished the twenty-third revision of The Mona Lisa Sisters. Agent queries had been returned with polite rejections. I sat back, told the manuscript, “I’m starting to hate you. I’m finished.”
I reached out to Paula Chinick of Russian Hill Press and told her I was done and wanted her to publish the bloody thing. She agreed. I figured my work was done—wrong.
The cover design took months. Getting back-cover reviews became urgent. I was stuck until I recalled a talk where a young author mentioned he sent out requests to known authors and asked them to read and write reviews. “What have I got to lose?” I asked myself and sent out four requests. Three agreed to write reviews. I even had one person, out of the blue, offer to write one.
I used two. Ramona Ausubel wrote one. I love her novel No One is Here Except All of Us. The other, by playwright, editor, and UCLA instructor Victoria Zackheim. I also used a Kirkus review.
Violet (Vi) Moore came on board as the editor. She forced me to pick up the manuscript and read it line by line and make corrections before she would touch it. I’m glad she did. Over two months, we made more corrections and changes than I will ever admit.
Then the galleys came, and Paula made me do it all over again. The editor is usually done by then–nope. Vi called and ordered me to reread it. I know we missed at least one typo. One of my readers sent me a note informing me of my oversight.
Paula, Vi, and the cover design team were all very reasonable in the charges to bring the project to fruition.
Amazon released The Mona Lisa Sisters on August 14, 2020. A little over eight years after the instructor handed me a picture of two young girls looking at the Mona Lisa.
I met and have become friends with so many fine people as the result of my diving into the world of fiction writing. I have been and will forever be blessed for having started the journey when I couldn’t find a job.
Into Madness (Born from Stone Saga – Book 1 of 3)
After a decade in hiding, captured, and imprisoned, Ravin Carolingian believes she has nothing more to lose. Instead of the execution she expected, Ravin faces a forced marriage to Brakken, the son of the man who killed her father and toppled her kingdom. Blinded by hatred, Ravin vows that marriage will never take place. Instead, she will exact revenge, no matter the cost.
Following a series of magical attacks, and as she fights the unnatural attraction she feels for Brakken, Ravin is left to question everything she thought she knew about herself. Still, as the line between ally and enemy blurs, one thing becomes clear, if she is to help the Carolingian people, Ravin must escape the evil that walks the halls of the palace she once called home.
The second book in the trilogy, Heart’s Divided, is due to be published in May of 2021, and the third, The Reckoning, later that fall.
Do you write in more than one genre? Memoir, short stories, and fantasy.
What brought you to writing? As a child, there wasn’t much I loved more than reading. Actually, there was nothing I loved more than horses. In my youth, I didn’t have a horse; I fed my passion by submersing myself in books: My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty, and any novel where the protagonist was a girl with a horse.
As an adult and a trainer of racehorses, I started writing freelance for industry publications, like Backstretch Magazine, Bloodhorse, and The Racing Form. From there, I branched out and started writing special feature articles for local newspapers, like The Contra Costa Times, Tri-Valley Herald, and Valley Times.
When I joined the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club, I was encouraged to write a memoir. My book is about the horse I owned and trained to run in all three legs of the American Triple Crown of Racing—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
With international recognition for Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure, I tried my hand at telling stories. Short stories kept my interest until a close friend encouraged me to try the NANOWRIMO challenge. Four years later, I published my debut novel, Into Madness.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I would have to say hybrid. Literary agents, through their query submission standards, make it difficult to hire them, emphasis on hiring them. To send a query, you must follow their detailed outline—and whatever you do, don’t deviate from their outline—and, by the way, don’t expect to get a response unless they pick you. Still, I prefer a readers’ opinion over an agent who’s looking for a reason to reject rather than enjoy.
Where do you write? And what about distractions? I sit at my kitchen table here in Central Oregon and gaze out at a bucolic scene for inspiration. Here are my distractions:
- I get to watch as the deer clear cut my garden.
- Squirrels chew off the sprinkler heads, trim the siding, and shorten the roof’s metal exhaust pipes.
- Don’t even get me started on the Robins.
- Pine needle hurricanes.
- Still, the quail and their walnut-sized babies are as cute as all get out.
Do you ever develop plots or characters around real-life experiences? Memoir aside, in my first book of short stories, For Want of a Horse, I drew on my twenty-four-year experience with training racehorses. Some of the stories were real-life incidences, though a few I embellished.
The current novel that I’m writing and have tentatively named ‘Out of the Blue’ is a middle-grade novel about training and racing dragons. So, of course, after more than one-third of my life spent at the racetrack, I change everything that has to do with hoofed animals to winged animals.
Since dragons don’t eat hay and grain, I doubt children will like the idea of leading lambs down the shedrow at feeding time. Feeding the dragons was a problem to overcome. An essential part of the story, it had to be ironed out right from the start.
How do you come up with names for your characters? That’s the easy part of the creative process, at least for me. I develop a character in my head, and then the name comes easy. I Google popular names for specific eras in history—for instance, Irish names in the 8th century. I don’t use character names that aren’t easily pronounceable. To me, those types of names tend to slow down the reader.
Do you use real settings or make them up? Unless it’s a massive city like New York, London, Beijing, I like to make up a name located in a recognizable area. Heaven forbid that a real town resident reads my book and calls me out on a lake that doesn’t exist.
In my historical fantasy, Into Madness, I loosely based the world I built in a Baltic region. The landmasses and names are all created. However, there was a Carolingian in history. I liked it, so I used it. (My sister, who I lost to cancer, was named Carol. Might have something to do with the name choice and why I liked it.)
Have you ever developed a quintessentially eccentric character? At first read, this question seemed simple, but I found myself stumped. Once I begin to interact with them within the story, my characters become very real to me, and I don’t think of them as quirky or eccentric.
What is one of your favorite books? Why? Lonesome Dove — If I had not seen the mini-series first, I would’ve put this book down in the first chapter―pigs, dust, and rattlesnakes. For me, it started so slow; it was an effort to turn the pages. When I finished the book, I grieved. I grieved because there was not another page to turn, I grieved for the loss of the friends left behind within its pages, and I grieve even now―because I wasn’t the one who wrote it.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? As an author? Literary agents. ?
Looking to the future, what do you see? Finding within myself the focus necessary to finish the three novels I have in the works. And in particular, I am excited about the dragon racing novel. The characters are so endearing, and the plot elements are so current. My characters face prejudice, racism, bullying, climate change, species extinction, fair play, and hope within the story’s overall umbrella.
Any other thoughts you care to share? I have heard many reasons why writers write—the list is long. A good story is a gift. A gift that you get to share over and over again. And each time you share it, you enjoy it once again along with the recipient.
We don’t need to ask a comedian what’s the best part of his performance. It will always be the audience’s laughter, right? As an author, I find no greater pleasure than the thought that my words, my story, brings a few minutes or a few hours of entertainment into someone’s life.
What do you find to be the best part for a writer? A review. A five-star review was recently posted on ‘Into Madness,’ in the comment section was a “ :)” and nothing more. While I like to hear my readers’ opinions, what they liked, what they wanted, still that smiley face was just as encouraging as any other review. It told me so much about how my story had affected my reader. And, just as important, that smiley face encouraged me to get to back work.
For those of you who hesitate to take the time to post a review, remember even something as simple as a smile is manna from heaven for the writer who has spent hundreds of hours alone bringing words to life.
How can our readers contact you?
Our guest today is Alec Peche author of Mystery and Thriller.
Who knows the most about how to get away with murder?
Jill, Nathan, and Angela head to New Zealand and Australia on a trip that is part work and part vacation. Jill is speaking at a forensic conference, while her friends are meeting with wineries to conduct business.
Dr. Jill Quint is a forensic pathologist by training. She left her crime lab to pursue her own winery but was called back by old colleagues to comment on cases. Those referrals expanded into a business where Jill offers second opinions on the cause of death. She also has her PI license and can be hired to investigate a suspicious death. Her friends assist her with cases by bringing their own skills like accounting, interviewing, and social media research. Nathan is her partner and is a world-renown wine label designer.
New Zealand has a reputation as a very safe country, so why are people dying in the cities she visited so far on her trip? They aren’t dying by gunshot or stabbing, rather these are unusual ‘accidents.’ In time, it becomes clear that these deaths are staged as ‘how to get away with murder’ events by a professional.
As Jill and friends transition to Australia, will the killer follow them? Is Jill the final target?
Read Forensic Murder for a crime story set down under.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? Probably sometime in my 40s after reading a bad book. Throughout my high school and college classes, I was at best an average student, and I hated creative writing. I could rarely think of something to write about when I had to do it for a class.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? In July 2012, I made my first attempt at writing a mystery. I fumbled around looking for a format on what to do. I hit a wall early in that I didn’t know who my characters were or much beyond the story’s premise. I tried software and a few books, but my page was still empty. Then I decided I would just sit down and write a page, then the page became several pages and flowed into chapters and a story. I had no contacts in the writing world, and I felt like my style of writing was cheating as I had no list of characters or an outline. I was a pantser but didn’t know there was such a thing. I finished the book in the spring of 2013, and I had a friend who was my first reader, and she said she enjoyed it. She didn’t tell me it was the best book she’d ever read or that it would be a bestseller. She told me where the holes in my story were. I came out of the business world and had never written more than a three-page memo, so I hired an editor who taught me a little about grammar and style. I published that book in September of 2013. I’ve gone back and re-written it a few times. You don’t use contractions when writing in business, and so I didn’t do that in my first two books. That makes any dialogue stiff, so creating contractions and more casual dialogue was part of the book’s improvements since being first released. I read Stephen King’s memoir ON WRITING and heaved a sense of relief when I learned that many authors don’t outline.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? Indie for all 14 books.
Where do you write? Ninety-five percent of my writing is done in my office on a desktop computer in Word. I’ll occasionally write on my iPad, but I like the big screen and mechanical keyboard in my office.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? Silence! My characters are talking to me in my head as I type, and that’s all the ‘noise’ I need to write.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? A fair amount of my real life is in my books. My three best friends are the series recurring characters. I worked for over thirty years in hospitals. Not as a physician, but with a lot of physicians over the years. Generally, every book setting is a vacation I’ve taken. I visited Australia and New Zealand two years ago. In FORENSIC MURDER, there are cities in the two countries that I didn’t visit (Wellington, Christchurch, the island of Tasmania), so I used Google Earth to fill in the blanks.
Describe your process for naming your characters? I used to keep a telephone book’s white pages around and randomly pick names. Now, that I have many countries that I set my stories in, I’ll google ‘popular first names or surnames in Israel or Quebec’, and pick a name.
Real settings or fictional towns? A little of both. My protagonist in one series lives in a made-up city in the central valley of California, and my protagonist in my second series lives on Red Rock Island, an actual island in San Francisco Bay.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? Harry Potter, the popularity of that book series is quite the empire. Also, it’s a mystery and an adventure. Of course, if I had written it, probably the last two books in the series would have been less dark.
Everyone, at some point, wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? I wished I had picked a different pen name.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? There’s so much strife in the world at the moment, who has the mental energy for pet peeves?
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Another person, a big dog, and shelter.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held? Hand cutting onions at Jack in the Box. I would have to go into the walk-in refrigerator to slow down the tears. To this day, I hate onions.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Hard to say. I’ve listened to On Writing 2-3 times, Harry Potter – first in series, Ron Chernov’s Bios of Washington and Grant, JD Robb’s In Death Series. They are all very immersive stories.
What’s on the horizon for you? I’m playing with proposals in my head of starting a new series in Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Mysteries. But first, I need to finish FORENSIC MURDER for its release date of November 2.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? My writing process is evolving. I haven’t hit on the perfect path that works for every book.