A Conversation with Author C. M. Fleming

I recently caught-up with author and fellow “Writers and Wannabes” friend C. M. Fleming and I’m delighted to be able to share her insight on several topics with our readers.

NC: If you were entering the world of writing and publication today, what would you tell your younger self?

CMF: Start early, perhaps in kindergarten. Just kidding. It’s important to work on improving your craft, no matter what it is. This is especially true of writing. I wrote my first story when I was in 4th grade. It was a fantasy, or a fable about how the Great Lakes came into existence. My teacher LOVED it, but my mom said it was ridiculous. I guess she wasn’t a fan of fantasy. So I didn’t show her my writing again. But I think the most important thing I would tell me is not to give up. If it were easy everyone would have a published book.

 NC: Each week I make it a point to check out your blog. You inspire me and sometimes more importantly, make me laugh. I know how to find your blog but how do others find you?

CMF: With great difficulty, I put a link on facebook (http://theacceptablesin.blogspot.com) when I publish a new post. I’d like to learn how to optimize traffic to my blog. SEO Scariest acronym on the internet. Search Engine Optimization. I’m open to suggestions.

 NC: For those who haven’t found your blog yet, what’s your purpose?

CMF: I want to help others get healthy. I’ve struggled with my weight all of my life. I’ve written a book about the struggle with eating disorders leading to obesity, and how to overcome it. The working title is “The Real Reason You’re Fat: The Acceptable Sin and Biblical Guidelines for Overcoming Obesity”.

 NC: What does it take to build a writing platform today?

CMF: I’m not really sure how to answer this, but I think hard work and being consistent. You have to have a PRESENCE in public and on social media. I actually had to “google” this. Here is what I found: (About.com) “Your writer’s platform is basically the group of activities you engage in that gets your name and work noticed by the public, It’s marketing, not of a specific work, but of you as the author. It’s everything you do to build your brand.”

 NC: What is your writing platform and how have you achieved it?

CMF: Right now my platform is more of a raft. Picture Huck Finn and the runaway Slave Jim. Sometimes it floats gently down the lazy publication river, and other times I’m tossed about by the rapids.

 NC: What is the best advice you’ve been given about becoming a writer?

CMF: Don’t quit your day job. Actually that was about my illustrating. In all seriousness, writing doesn’t pay a lot unless you are Stephen King, or J. K. Rowling. Speaking engagements help supplement a writer’s income, but that takes away from writing time, so it’s a double-edged sword.

 NC: What is the best advice you’d like to pass on to aspiring writers?

CMF: Read, read, read. I’m not talking about how-to books on writing. Read in the genre you want to write. Soak up everything. Take the stories apart. See what works and what doesn’t. Then write your own. Know when to follow the rules and know when to break them.

 NC: If you were not a writer, what would you wannabe?

CMF: An actor. Last year, just before my 70th birthday, I was hired along with my fellow-wannabe, Susan Spain and my husband as an extra in the movie “Prisoners”. I actually got about three seconds of screen time. Unfortunately, my big scene with one of the main stars (Terrence Howard) ended up on the cutting room floor.

 NC: What a fun interview! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit with me and our readers. I learned a lot and know our readers did, too.

Plagerism Or Creative License?

I stayed up late to finish Jann Martel’s, Life of Pi so I would be ready to see the movie version the next day. How could such a complex, beautifully crafted allegory be adapted to the silver screen?  After seeing the movie (which I thought was very good) I HAD to know more about the author and where he got the brilliant idea for his novel. I searched cyberspace only to find that Jann Martel was accused of plagiarizing Life Of Pi. By his own admission, Martel had read a review of a novel with a strikingly similar premise, written by a Brazilian author.  Martel also claims he was never able to find, let alone read, Moacyr Scliar’s book.  Nevertheless, accusations were hurled.

As a writer wannabee I am always searching for new characters, new plot lines, new ways to string words together. But just when I think I have created a story that no one could even imagine, let alone put on paper, I find that MY STORY was stolen and is now a New York Times Best Seller. What psychic ability did J.K. Rowling use to span the Atlantic Ocean and pluck Harry Potter out of my head?

How many of my writer friends have had similar experiences?

All of them.

That is because there is nothing new under the sun.

I can craft a story involving a vacuum cleaner, a Chihuahua, an alien life form, and an elderly widower. Place them in Atlanta, Jamaica or Hong Kong. Write it first person or third person, from the vacuum cleaner’s, dog’s or widower’s prospective and somewhere, somehow, some else has had a similar idea. Maybe it is already published or still just the seed of a story in another writer wannabee’s head.  But writer friends, do not despair.  Short of photocopying another author’s published work, I believe it is virtually impossible for two people to create the exact same story.  It is time to stop using this as an excuse to throw your manuscript in the trash. There are only so many things to draw from in the universe, but there are also unlimited ways to put these things together.

So, sharpen your pencils, boot up your laptop, and dust off those ideas that you discarded years ago. What you write is uniquely yours. Get back to work!

Writers and Wannabees Interview with Kathleen Vrona and TK Read

Writers and Wannabees Interview with Kathleen Vrona and TK Read

 

By Nancy Craddock

 

I am so excited to share the following interview with one of my critique partner, T.K. Read, along with her sister Kathleen Vrona. These two savvy sisters have a brand new book out that needs to be on every writer’s Christmas List this year. First, I’d like to tell you more about T.K. and Kathleen.

TK Read works by day as a civil rights and personal injury attorney. You’ll find her sipping wine late at night and coffee early in the morning while working on one of her middle grade fantasies or YA thrillers. With three young adults of her own, two cats, one dog and a District Attorney for a husband, she finds inspiration for her novels from her family, and what she can’t learn from them, she gleans from shopping centers, the Travel Channel, and the Internet. You can read more about her at http://www.tkread.com/.

Kathleen Vrona’s career spans 25+ years as a marketing professional and entrepreneur.  Kathleen has developed and marketed new products for both Fortune 500 companies and her own business ventures.  She is currently developing creative marketing strategies for a Fortune 100 company while writing in her spare time.

NC: What inspired two sisters to write 100 Small Fires?

TK:  As a writer and voracious eBook reader, I’ve watched the growth of the eBook market with great interest and have been tempted to dive-in. I’m cautious by nature though and wanted to learn as much as I could about the process of publishing and selling an eBook before I took the plunge. Naturally, I asked my sister to help with my research project. We found that there was not enough practical information available on which to base an informed decision about the benefits and pitfalls of publication and marketing, so we decided to turn our efforts into something tangible that could help other writers.

KV: When TK asked me to work on this project, I was truly inspired.  There are some universal truths and marketing strategies that could and should be applied to any marketing project regardless of the product.  I didn’t see any books on the market targeting authors/writers taking that approach.  Writers have to learn some of the basics to market effectively.  There is no getting around that in this industry today.

NC: What approach did you take and how did you research the information in this book?

KV: As I mentioned before, we wanted to take a different approach and cover ground that other books were not covering.  So we started with the hottest business marketing trends like Content Marketing, Antic Advertising and Gamification and then researched these topics to find the latest strategies including how authors were leveraging these strategies today.  Also, we looked for traditional book marketing gaps; for example, other books covering book marketing and promotion weren’t covering important strategies like audio books or translation and foreign distribution.  So again, we researched the latest on these strategies to try and give them full coverage in the book.

NC: How was the co-author process?

TK:    I’m very sure I would not have completed this book without my co-author.  Our strengths complemented each other and over-all contributed to a better book. Additionally, there were so many tasks required to both finish the book, and prepare it for publication, that it really did take both of us to push it through to launch day.

KV: Ditto. TK and I have been partners on many projects.  At one time she worked with me on a business I was running –she was legal counsel for my Internet company, WorldWide Access- and then I worked for her when she was running her business, GAMA.  I trust her completely and that’s so important for any partnership.

NC: Of the 100 Fire Starters contained in 100 Small Fires, what’s your favorite one?

KV: By far my favorite is Fire Starter #12-Use content marketing to create lasting relationships. Content Marketing is the hottest marketing trend today and will be for some time to come.  Writers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this trend, not only to sell their own books, but if they are willing, to help others sell their products and services (for a fee) by helping them develop compelling and engaging content. It’s really never been a better time to be a writer/creative, you just need to know how Content Marketing works and how you can leverage it to be successful.

TK:  I’d have to say the recommendation for adult romantic fiction writers to get sales smoking by sexifying a special edition of their book.  In other words, after their first edition has hit the shelves, and just when sales have fallen, to bring out a “Special Edition” which takes the scenes where characters are having mature interactions to the next level, AKA Fifty Shades of Grey.  I like this suggestion because it is has the potential to build a broader audience for the writer and maybe even result in fired up sales.

NC: I love that you’ve given ideas for authors on a low (or no) budget, those able to spend an average amount of money, and those with an unlimited budget; as well as, a calendar showing when an author should accomplish certain marketing strategies. How does 100 Small Fires fall into the amount of money you’ve spent and the general timeline? Is there anything you’d do differently?

TK:    When we were at the research phase of the book, Kathleen and I agreed to publish this book using the Small Budget and to spend as little as reasonably feasible on the publication and marketing processes.  We wanted to prove that you can be successful without spending an inordinate amount of money. While over-all I feel like we’ve done very well following the small budget, for our next book, I’d definitely pay someone to code it for Kindle. The coding process turned out to be much more complicated and frustrating than I imagined.  Also, we would love to come back and answer this question again for this group a couple months from now.  We still have a lot of marketing to do!

NC: Readers always love leaving with something they can take with them. Is there a piece of book marketing advice you can give us that didn’t make it into the book?

KV:  Wow, great question. As I read back through the book, it struck me that we didn’t really call out what I would say is the obvious best approach to get started, especially for people with small budgets which is probably 90% of authors out there today.  Here it is; start your book marketing by taking advantage of every FREE opportunity we cover in the book.  They are easy to find because we highlight them with a bold FREE.  In researching this book, that was the big aha moment for me.  I couldn’t believe all the FREE opportunities out there for authors to take advantage of.  I think if you started with those, and had a good marketing book at your side for guidance, you can be successful.

NC: I know many of our readers are going to want to buy a copy of 100 Small Fires, can we have information on where to find it?

TK and KV: Sure! Here it is: http://www.amazon.com/Marketing-Selling-Including-Time-Lines-ebook/dp/B00A9GHI6Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1353800145&sr=8-1&keywords=100+small+fires+to+make+your+book+sales+blaze

NC: And now, one last question: I know both of you are extremely busy with your chosen careers which seem the perfect combination to co-author this book, but for the purpose of our interview, you are both writers. So, if you were not a WRITER, what would you WANNABE?

TK:    I wannabe an artist/illustrator, like E.B. Lewis.

KV:  Ok, you’re talking sky’s the limit right?  I wannabe a singer/songwriter and sing in coffee houses.  TK got the singing chops but I can play the guitar. Her daughter Camilla writes beautiful songs and sings as well.  Perhaps our next project will be a song writing collaboration!

 For more about the sisters and their book, check out www.100smallfires.com!

Potential

When I wake up in the morning, I’m afraid to open my eyes. So I do it slowly, peeking out through my skimpy eyelashes. Sometimes there are only a few of them standing around my bed, other times the bedroom is full, all of them crammed together like so many sardines in an oily can. If I slide back down under the blankets and throw the duvet over my face they will go away.

Coffee, that’s what I need. It’ll help clear my head.

When I get to the kitchen, Ethel is standing next to the sink. “What are you doing here?” I ask her. “I killed you off in Chapter 5.”

“There’s always hope,” she says. “I can be undead in a single keystroke, or resurrected in Chapter 6.” Her eyes meet mine. “There’s no Chapter 6 yet, is there?” she says.

“You don’t need to remind me.” My stock remark flows from my mouth. “I’ll work on it later.”

Ethel disappears into the steam drifting from my coffee cup.

The worst part of the day is when I go to my computer. So many of them huddled around me, jockeying for a better view of the screen.

“It’s my turn,” Marvin whines. “You abandoned me mid-sentence, and I’ve been dangling there for weeks. Do I ever get home?”

I click an icon and begin downloading my email. Nothing from any of the agents or editors I queried the day before. I am the only one who sighs.

A tall, handsome man with a mustache pats me on the shoulder. “You need to move on. For God’s sake, you haven’t even named me yet. Will I ever be more than a poorly organized paragraph? Look at me! I’m full of potential!”

“Me too,” I mumble. “Full of potential.”

I slowly move the mouse and click on Facebook. The shadowy figures, so full of potential, fade away.

August 30 Blog Tour Stop: Interview with Donna Jo Napoli!

WIK’s2012 Keynote Speaker! Donna Jo Napoli!

What a privilege it is for me (Susan Rosson Spain– hereafter SRS), to wrap up Southern Breeze’s blog tour with our WIK keynote speaker, Donna Jo Napoli! <Polite but excited applause!> Donna is an incredibly accomplished Professor of Linguistics and a prolific author of children’s literature, and has agreed to tell us a little about herself, her books, and her writing process. So, without further ado:

SRS: I hear you were in Dublin this summer. Was that business or pleasure?

DJN: I was a Long Room Hub fellow at Trinity College Dublin. Part of what I worked on was linguistics. But the other part was a novel, about a little Irish girl in the 900’s who winds up in Jutland alone and has some pretty disturbing experiences. It’s a companion book to my novel HUSH: AN IRISH PRINCESS TALE. It’s the story of the younger sister, Brigid, who gets separated from the whole family. I love to write on site as much as possible, and if it’s not possible, I love to visit the site.

When you walk around the place your story is set, or the place your character loves and will be missing, you notice things that books may not tell you—sounds and smells—the feel of things. I’m going to be working on this sort of thing in one of my workshops (the senses). [DJN is referring to WIK]

SRS: Oh, I hope it’s one of the workshops I’ll be attending! Tell me, as productive a writer as you are, with more than 70 books to your name–everything from picture books through early reader, middle grade and young adult—do you have a favorite genre?

DJN: Truly, I don’t have a favorite genre. I get stories in my head that I need to tell—and sometimes they are for one audience and sometimes for another—and sometimes they are of one type and sometimes another. Probably the type that is most fun to write for me is animal novels—because I do a lot of reading about natural history and a lot of observing the animals—and then I just write without worrying that some warthog or swan or frog will be offended that I didn’t represent them in the way they wanted. It’s almost relaxing—which is so unusual, since writing really is a terrifying act in a way.

SRS: Well it’s good to know I’m not the only one that feels that way. <grin> You’ve mentioned that your work in progress is a companion to HUSH. Do you write more than one book at a time? Perhaps more to the point, what does your writing schedule look like on a “normal” writing day?

DJN: I never go back and forth between books in the middle of drafts. But when I finish a draft of one book, I always complete a draft of another before I return to doing the next draft of the first book. It helps me to get distance and perspective so that I can cut what doesn’t work without crying.

But I try not to have more than one book for a given age audience on my plate too close together in time. I try to keep my voices distinct, and I worry about one teen voice, for example, influencing another. Right now, for example, I’m working on a teen book, a middle grade book, and a picture book—finishing a draft of one, then moving to the next. I like this mix. It’s like eating a meal of varied vegetables.

I don’t really have a writing schedule because I have a full time job. I used to wish I didn’t—I used to envy full-time writers. But I have hermit tendencies, and I think being forced to get out of the house and interact with people (which my job does for me) helps me to have more things I want to write about. So, really, a job helps me as a writer.

I begin a first draft of something only when I know I can have uninterrupted time—so that means between my teaching semesters or in the summer. Then I’ll get up early and write as long as my body will allow me (I find I need to get up from my desk more frequently as I get older—my hands hurt, my legs need to move). Day after day. Until I finish.

But on later drafts, I just steal the time here and there while I’m doing my regular job. So maybe I’ll get to work all weekend on a book. But maybe I won’t get to work at all for three weeks. It always makes me a little scared and sick not to write for too long—and to me, a week feels too long. But sometimes I have no choice.

SRS: Are you into any new types of writing?

DJN: Yes, and I’m terrified. A couple of years ago David Wiesner handed me a pile of illustrations he’d been working on which somehow just didn’t get in his head. He asked me if I’d like to try to come up with a story. I wrote a novel—he liked it—and so now we are doing a graphic novel together.

It is a very different experience from writing a picture book—where I do the words and then the illustrator does whatever appeals. And it’s very different from writing a novel—where I see through my mind’s eye, and therefore I can see inside and outside. In a graphic novel, you cannot go on and on about feelings—I mean, come on, what illustrations can fit that? You have to constantly think about what kind of visual scene might go with your words. We are both new to this, so we are feeling our way. Slowly.

SRS: Wow. That really is different from your previous body of work! Tell me, how do you manage teaching and having a personal life, and still get so much writing done?

DJN: Badly.

But I believe in that. Perfection is not something I believe in—so I don’t strive for it. I strive to understand my stories my characters, and to help my reader understand them. I enjoy what I do—in fact, I’m totally passionate about it. And I know anyting I write will never be “finished” in the perfection sense. Anything can be made better—that’s fact (except perhaps in mathematics and religion)—and I don’t want to spend my whole life trying to improve a single sentence. So I do the best I can in a sensible amount of time and I move on. (“Sensible,” of course, is relative. Once I spent seven years writing a first draft. That’s not sensible. But I only did it once.)

SRS: As a linguist, do you consciously try to educate your reader?

DJN: Last spring I heard Eileen Spinelli tell a group of young writers that she “loved words.” I really don’t think I had ever thought about it before like that—but once she said it, I realized that I do, too. Words are such amazing things. And when a writer uses exactly the right word for the scene, I want to kiss the earth in joy. Many times a very ordinary word is the right word. But sometimes you have to shake yourself free of thought and let your instincts about your own language have rein. You are aware of the nuances just by being a native speaker of a language—use the nuances. I try not to intellectualize about it. I write my stories out loud (speaking as I type), and I let myself feel the words in my mouth as I see them on the page and hear them in the air. I trust my instincts to choose them.

SRS: Donna Jo, thank you so much for speaking with us. What you’ve shared is fascinating, and I’m sure our readers would love to know more about you and your books. Are there other ways to read further? A website, blog, Twitter, or Facebook page, perhaps?

DJN: I gave up on a blog and never figured out Facebook (though I have a Facebook page that I hope people will visit and “like”—because I put announcements there sometimes). So my website is my best source: http://www.donnajonapoli.com.

Aug 15 Blog Tour Stop: Interview With Sharon Pegram!

Connie Fleming, hereafter noted as “CF”: For the first-ever WIK blog tour, I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing (and introducing) this year’s Southern Breeze WIK conference coordinator, Sharon Pegram. Sharon lives in Suwanee, GA.  Don’t you love the Southern sound of that?  I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting Sharon until the interview. I think you’re going to adore her. I know I do already.

CF: So, who are you, anyway?

SP: I write science fiction and play a lot of video games with my engineer husband and eight-year-old son. In other words, I’m a geek. In my pre-parenting, gainfully employed life I was a school librarian, so I do enjoy organizing things and helping people connect with a good book.

CF: Sounds like you are perfect for the job of coordinator. Having been a past conference coordinator and know the huge amount of work involved, so my next question is, “What made you decide to be the 2012 WIK coordinator.” Or in other words, “Have you lost your mind?”

SP: At Wik’10 Lisa Stauffer asked me to be her assistant for Wik’11 (while I was picking up my sandwich at lunch, so walk carefully through that line…), as training to coordinate Wik’12. I went back and forth over it for about a month, and then my husband said, “Just do it. You’ll be great.” He knows how to access the confidence I sometimes forget I have.

CF: What are you working on?

SP: Panacea, about a girl whose blood heals and the guy who gets tangled in her problems. Pelagos, a sequel with a new love, an old enemy, and a helicopter mom with special forces training. And Self-Evident Truths, in which a girl falls in love with her dad’s artificial intelligence project.

CF: Sharon is too modest to mention that her novel, Panacea, was a semi-finalist in the 2011Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.  Congratulations on that, Sharon. Now, what is it like coordinating a Southern Breeze conference?

SP: Kind of like coaching a team where all the players know more than I do. Fortunately, they’re good teachers.

CF: I hear that! What have you learned about how WIK works?

SP: Jo, Claudia, and Heather do more than should be temporally possible. One of the more interesting documents in my notebook is the itemized schedule. To fit so much into one day, they have everything scheduled, down to which announcements are made at the welcome and which at lunch. And it’s color-coded by person, so everyone knows who’s doing what.

CF: Wow, you ladies are organized! What’s special about WIK this year?

SP: The first-ever Southern Breeze blog tour, of course. I’m also excited about having 15 speakers on the faculty. There should truly be something for everyone.

CF: Have you run into any glitches yet, and if so, how have you handled them?

SP: I think it’s early for glitches, but I’m sure they’ll make their appearance as preparations progress. My favorite glitch from last year was when I called the day before to confirm lunch for the intensive, and the restaurant had lost the order. Always call…

CF: Sharon, I know with you at the helm, the conference is sure to a great experience for Southern Breezers, as it always is. Many thanks to you and all the volunteers who make these events possible. We hope you will check back with us after the conference for “the rest of the story.”

This is dedicated to the Ones I LUV.

No. I do not mean my husband, kids, mother, father, sister and brothers. Nor do I mean my country, or even God. Sure. I love them too, but this is not about them.

This is about my fellow WINGs members. Yes, they are also my fellow Writers and Wannabes bloggers, and you can see them on the panel to your right.

Now, you’re probably saying to yourself; Yeah, they’re a pretty good looking bunch, but, “LUV?” Really?

Yes. Really. Let me tell you the sad story of a lonely puppy that got lost on a dark and dreary night, and huddled in the confines of a leaky sewer pipe until she was rescued by a beautiful light. Ok? What? Been there? Heard that?

Well, then, I’ll tell you another story. My story. Flash back to New Year’s Eve, six years ago and there’s TK Ed 2006., sitting in her living room, little puppies, err, kids, all around her, wine glass in hand, pondering her existence. She had the golden ring; the kids, the trophy husband, the house and car, the fancy law office, the respect of her colleagues… Well, maybe. TKEd06 sat there and thought until her ingrown toe nails grew in grown toenails. What was missing in her life? What did she really want to do? What did she really want to achieve?

Several wine glasses and ball droppings later, she realized what she’d been missing – self-satisfaction, gratifying goals and… friends.

Fast-forward to TKEd12, and she has all of these and … it’s all thanks to those women to your right.  Just about the best critique group ever, they’ve been there to pick me up after a bad reject, to celebrate my one or two small successes, and when I’ve needed a shoulder to cry on.

WINGS, my fellow, WRITERS AND WANNABES, Susan, Nancy, Connie, and Stephanie. This blog is for you.

TK Read

To meet them, click the profile pictures on your right to go to our Author Bio page.