Friday, June 30, 2023

The Angst of Finding a Great Book Title: If You, Like Me, Don't Score High at This All-Important Task, Some Tips to Try

OK, I admit. I am not the best when it comes to book titles. Occasionally, I score. But most times, in my publishing history, editors or agents have changed my proposed title. Radically.

Case in point: When my second novel was ready to be shopped to publishers, my agent emailed me with a big problem—the title. I had written the novel under the title of OUTLAWS. I loved that title because it represented all the bad-ass glory I love in women who are heroes at heart. I embedded the theme of outlaws into the story, placed it (very occasionally) in dialogue as a marker for the reader to go “Ah-ha! That’s why the title.”

But she didn’t like it. Editors would be confused, she said, thinking it was a Western. Which it most certainly is not. It’s about an indie musician on the run from a murder-frameup and her estranged sister who has to hide her, against her better nature. Both women are pilots. My mom was a pilot, and she had a little of that free spirit I imagined for these two characters. So OUTLAWS was a tongue=in-cheek, rather brilliant way, of alluding to that heroic nature.

Thelma and Louise. Butch Cassidy. Society’s outcasts who win our hearts. Right?

My agent wasn’t having it.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Organizing the Mess of a Book: Four Methods for Staying Sane and Focused

The two most common questions I get: (1) how do you find your ideas and (2) how do you keep it all organized?

I used to write a weekly food column for the Los Angeles Times syndicate. My job was simple: come up with 600-1000 words about something related to food, design and test one or more recipes to go along with it, and send it off to my editor. Other than the natural mess recipe-testing makes in a home kitchen, I didn’t have much to organize. I liked the ease of the weekly deadline, I loved eating the leftovers from testing or inviting a bunch of friends to come over and share.

My column got noticed. I got asked to contribute to books. That was my first foray into the world of 300-pages of writing. My first moment of understanding how big and unwieldy a book-sized writing project can get.

Early days, I just put parts together and sent them off to my editor to organize. I wasn’t able to—or interested in—seeing the big picture. Then I got approached by a larger publisher and asked to not just contribute but write a whole book myself. I’d be assigned an editor, but I was responsible for delivering the manuscript by deadline, all 90,000 words of it.

That was back in the Stone Age of file folders. I brainstormed my chapters and wrote each on the outside of a paper file folder, in a circle. Then using a method some call clustering or mind mapping, I designed the parts of the chapter as spokes radiating from the title in its circle. Then I began my research.

Each piece of information—since these were food topics, I might research the history of the kiwi fruit, for instance—went physically into the file folder for the chapter where it would live. My interview notes got distributed the same way. I didn’t begin actually writing until the folders were fat and I had plenty to work from. I knew if I had to look at a blank page on my computer screen, I’d lose confidence fast. The contents of each file folder was spread on a table, and I created a possible order for all the pieces. Sometimes I wrote bullet points for each piece on an index card so I could just shuffle those instead (an early storyboard).

After I had most of my material and a rough order planned out, I’d sit down and begin entering everything into the computer. Again, each chapter got its own computer file. I didn’t arrange the chapters in any final order yet—I wanted to see how they’d line up with their contents in place.

The first draft was pretty awful, usually. But I made sure I got it written then printed out. I edited on the hard (printed) copy and input corrections into a new Word document on my computer. There was a master file for the manuscript, individual files for each chapter, then all the chapter (and manuscript) revisions.

By the time the book was ready to send to my editor, I had a file drawer of drafts and revisions and many, many electronic iterations.

Incredibly cumbersome. But it wasn’t a bad system. I wrote five books this way, all published, selling well for years. I remember moving from the house where I did most of those books and struggling to throw out all the paper copies with their edits. It felt like destroying history.

Organizing my writing this way continued for a few more books, until I got to my first contract for a book that wasn’t about food. The publisher I approached said yes to my proposal for a self-help/spirituality hybrid. I was thrilled—until I realized I had no idea how to structure it.

Some of you who’ve been in my classes have heard this next step: A writing friend gave me a book called A Writer’s Time by Ken Atchity. The genius of A Writer’s Time is the concept of writing in islands or snippets of ideas, scenes, information. It makes good use of the random brain, the flow (unorganized) part of our creativity. I brainstormed islands and created enough to fill the book. Again, my file folders came out and I created my chapters, the circled title and the spokes of topics within. Then index cards to start a sequence of chapters.

There I stalled. Organizing the flow of this new book was not like arranging the courses of a meal.

Again, someone in my lovely writing community told me, just in time, about storyboarding. I learned my first storyboard in the shape of a giant W, with rising and falling action. It’s said that Joseph Campbell first tried this method. If you google storyboard W you’ll see how the idea has taken off.

Using my index cards at first, then Post-it notes for more ease, I arranged the rising and falling action of my book on the storyboard chart. Here’s a video about it, if you’re new to the whole idea. It was new to me but it’s not uncommon now—a method used in screenwriting, filmmaking, editing. I remember seeing my first storyboard at an ideation session for one of my food books. We gathered in a conference room at the publisher’s and on the wall were large white sheets of poster board, arranged like an empty cartoon. We literally sat there for eight hours and filled them in.

Voila, a book.

These were good techniques for organizing massive amounts of writing, yet I was ecstatic when I discovered yet another, better way to keep sanity around a book project: Scrivener.

I’ve devoted many posts to the glory of Scrivener as a writer’s organization tool, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve written five books using it. It hasn’t failed me yet. Gwen Hernandez was one of my first online teachers and she’s excellent if you want a tutorial or class to get going with it.

I love writing books and will keep doing it for a while. Sometimes, though, I think longingly of the past, those 600-word columns. Or the short stories I write now, just for a break. Short pieces of writing are easily gathered in file folders. Even multiple revisions or printed pages from feedback become simple revision lists. While a book used to take up at least one file drawer, forty-five of my short story drafts fit into one woven shelf basket in my writing room.

I also sometimes long for the tangible, the feel of printed paper and not a keyboard. I never would go back to a typewriter but I do miss the satisfaction of a pile of completed pages stacked on my desk.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise: browse the recap of methods, plus a few new ideas, below and use them as fuel to explore your current organization and what it might be missing. Pick an idea that interests you and try it out, even a little.

Method 1: Project Box
Twyla Tharp is famous for this method--each choreography project gets its own new box. Into that box she puts all her notes, objects, fabric samples, videos, anything that has to do with the project.

If the container is big enough and inspiring to your creative self, a project box works for a book. One stalled-out day, when I couldn't write, I collaged the outside of a large wooden box and tried it for a year. Images on the collage led me back into juicy writing time after time.

Method 2: One or More Bulletin Boards
I read about a writer who starts her book with seven bulletin boards in her kitchen (big kitchen, I thought). She pins everything to them that has to do with the book. Images, lists, sketches, photographs, diagrams. As she writes the book, she condenses the number of boards to one, discarding all the material that doesn't actually fit the book now.

Anything easily visible--a board on a wall--helps the writer keep the book at close attention.

Method 3: Old-School File Folders
Using the method described above, try file folders as organizing tools later in the book process. Once your have chapters organized in your computer, create a folder for each. On the outside of each folder, brainstorm ideas—let yourself fly with this, no holding back.

Or try my method of a circle with spokes coming off. In the center of the circle is the chapter's purpose (or title if the purpose is still evolving). On the spokes are the scenes or points the chapter now includes. Add and subtract as you revise. Inside the folder are the research notes, photos, images, lists of ideas, anything you want to keep in mind as you continue to write.

Method 4: Scrivener or Other Software

Some writers combine Scrivener with other software, such as Aeon Timeline (great for figuring out different thru lines in a story) or Devonthink Pro, which comes highly recommended by one of my online students, although I haven't used it yet. But new software comes out constantly so do your research.

Software includes learning time, It helps if a writing buddy can show you the ropes. I was fortunate to get great help for Scrivener setup during one of my workshops.

When Private Becomes Public: Facing Criticism and Exposure As Your Book Gets Published

We all have a great deal of personal freedom with what we choose to write--or do we? I've spoken with many writers, of all genres, who are conscious of the reader looking over their shoulder, judging their words. Or family, people they want to include (fictionalized or real), who may get hurt or shun them for the way they tell their story.

Some writers don't care. "It's my story, I lived it, and I can tell it however I like," one student told me. More power to you, I thought. I knew her as a forthright activist, never shying from truth telling and confrontation. I'm not that way, and maybe some of you aren't either. You may, like me, worry a bit (or a lot) about judgment.

Friday, June 9, 2023

It's All Too Much! (Risk, That Is): Recognizing and Balancing the Risk Quotient in Your Writing (and Your Life)

Long ago, I wrote a book called How to Master Change in Your Life, which is, as you probably guessed, about how different people view and react to change of all kinds. One of the more fascinating parts of my research for that book was what I began to call the risk quotient of each person. Including myself.

Evidently, there can be a vast difference between how we deal with external risk (driving across Europe alone) and internal risk (telling a friend that we can’t be friends anymore).

Since the book was published, I’ve kept that fascination with risk. I use it to weigh my characters’ effectiveness in a story. I evaluate how much external risk I’ve put in the plot—how many dramatic moments, how intense or low-key they are. I’ve studied my own tendencies towards different kinds of risk. Is it a male-female thing? Is it influenced by location? Or class or education or race?

When I taught writing, I sometimes asked students about their tendencies to allow risk into their stories. I noticed a real difference in the answers when I taught, say, in Minnesota versus New York.

I began wondering if the place we live reflect or instructs our tendency to bring risk into our creative work. Does a mountainous, storm-ridden region make a writer more able to write terrifically intense scenes with a lot of external tension? Does the flatland do the opposite, perhaps bringing out more internal risk in characters or narrator?

Friday, June 2, 2023

What Works When Sharing Your Work? Unexpected and Traditional Publicity Tips from Five Published Writers

Be sure to scroll down to the Shout Out! at the end of this post for some exciting news.

I've been learning--somewhat to my private self's dismay--that reaching out to readers requires not only persistence but exposure.

It's risky to share the author behind the book.

Yet this week I interviewed five published writers--and former students of mine--who have gone on to reinvent their outreach and succeed beautifully in touching readers and building a worthwhile, supportive community in the process.

What if you don't want to build community? Or have readers know you behind your book?

I've heard this a lot from writers: "You mean, after all the years of putting together a publishable book, I also have to welcome readers into my private life and be glad about it?" It's certainly up to you. And in past times, that worked--the writer stayed in her cozy room and her book got whisked into the hands of readers without much effort. Or so it was true with my early books.

Promotion when I began publishing in the eighties was also more about how you appeared than anyone getting to know you as a person. When one of my nonfiction books was published, the publisher hired a wonderful publicist who got me interviews on over 100 radio and television programs, and my goal was just to look and talk like an expert--or at least someone who knew what they were writing. Of course imposter syndrome flared--I ran the gamut, grateful when my book sold well, but all the time wary of being outed for my real life. I didn't want readers coming too close--I'm able to admit that now, looking back.

Today's author needs to be more focused on building community with readers. Podcasts, "in conversation with" events, how we share on social media, all this is about getting to know the story behind the story. Readers want to relate to the person who wrote the book we so admire--or are curious to read.

It means the writer becomes known, not just for her words but for herself.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Subscribe to this blog on Substack!

Dear wonderful subscribers,

This is just to let you know that I'm moving my blog to Substack this week, which allows you to receive my weekly posts in your inbox each Friday morning.  If you prefer that option to reading it here, please go to Substack and enter Mary Carroll Moore in the search box then click on People.  My name will come up with my tiny photo. Click on that and subscribe.  It's free!

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Thanks for being a subscriber!


Friday, May 26, 2023

Bringing Authenticity into Your Writing: The Challenges and the Benefits of One Writer's Journey with His Memoir

Many of us say we want to write with authenticity.  Of course, that's a worthy goal, as is living an authentic life. But it can also be a challenging one. In our lives, we can decide what to reveal or not reveal, and still live authentically within those perimeters, I believe. On the page of a book, it's different. You share a story from your life, from your heart and core values, and readers can take it anywhere they want.    

I've been drafting short essays about my mom, who was a pilot in World War II.  Her story of being in the Women's Airforce Service Pilots program was recorded in a Library of Congress interview. She died several years ago at age 98. Reading about her flying years, now that she's gone, made me realize how little I knew of her life, as her daughter. We get to know our loved ones even more after they're gone, a bereaved friend once told me, and I'm seeing that now.  I have so many questions:  how did she get to be so strong, such a survivor? At twenty-two, she was ferrying B-24's across the US to Canada. Once, her plane engine caught on fire and she had to do a dead stick landing at LaGuardia.    

One of my past students, Jody Lulich, was another example to me of surviving. I had the privilege of working with him both in classes and as a private client after he won the prestigious Loft Mentor Series in 2015 for his memoir-in-progress. Jody struggled to structure the story of growing up in a biracial family with a mother who committed suicide when he was a boy. 

Friday, May 19, 2023

Good News for Older Women Writers: Your Age Is a Bonus!

Imagine my surprise when I came across this article in The Guardian: older women writers (in their fifties, sixties, even seventies) are now a hot item with publishers.

The trend is slow but steady, according to the editors and agents interviewed. My surprise came because of decades of reading the "30 Under 30" lists and being dismayed at the publishing industry's romance with youth, youthful appearance, and many years ahead to write.

I was even told--before I signed with my agent--that trying to get another agent after sixty was iffy. You may have a good track record, you may write publishable books, but do you look like an author with a long future? How do you look, actually?

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Personal Narrative--What You (and Your Book) Are Trying to Say

Now that review copies (ARCs) are being readied and I'm entering the window of pre-publication excitement with my new novel, A Woman's Guide to Search & Rescue, I'm studying up on something I never took time for while I was busy writing: the book's narrative and how it intersects with my personal narrative.

Turns out, this element of your story--its message, its meaning--is the way readers most engage with your work.

Sure, an exciting plot is important. Great people to populate your book's stage. But the take-away, the story's impact, is what makes a book truly loved.

This isn't just a question for pre-publishing time, by the way. You may be in the throes of creating your first draft, an exciting and wonderful stage. Or you may be struggling with your structure, via a storyboard or chapter grids.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Rituals for Writing--The Relief of No Choice

A Woman's Guide to Search & Rescue, my second novel, is getting its cover designed this week. A huge step in making any book real and soon to be released. It takes all my patience to stay patient! Good distractions are needed--and there's only so much pie in the house--so gardening is my answer. Getting deep in the dirt, getting way out of my head. Allowing time to pass and trusting the process.

All those good things.

Spring in New England is an iffy time, too--kind of like my own temperament these days. The week begins with temps soaring into the lovely 70s then plummeting to thirties at night. Birds are loud--they don't care--and spring peepers in our vernal pond are too. My masses of perennials are up, daffodils and hyacinths are a riotous mess. It happens every year, the beautiful routine.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Detail That Matters and Detail That Doesn't--What's Too Much, What's Not Enough?

Some people love lots of sensory detail in writing. I'm one of them. If a writer shows me the place, what the people wear, the smells and sounds, I'm right there with the story.

But I've learned over the years that detail only works if it's relevant to what's happening. One of my teachers called it "salient detail." In other words, if the character or narrator isn't experiencing shifts because of the detail, it's irrelevant to the reader. It can even derail the story's pace and purpose, dulling its shine.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Finding Character in Landscape--Working with Reflective Surfaces in Setting to Enhance Emotion

A memoirist in one of my online classes was trying to write about the sadness she felt at her father’s unexpected death. Her feedback group gave her an unexpected response: while it was clear she was very sad, when they heard her speak of his death, her feelings on the page were abstract, hard to really grasp.

“They don’t feel any of the sadness I feel,” she told me. She cried as she wrote, so this bland response confused her.

When I read the chapter, I too noticed how distant the writing felt. My take-away was an almost-intellectual sorrow, a wistfulness. Not a strong emotion.

Friday, April 14, 2023

How to Find a Writing Group or Publishing Partner Online

Some people feel Covid is behind us, some are still being cautious about in-person meetups. Whatever your preference, it's also sweet to have the freedom of online connections when you're a writer. Or maybe you're a new parent or travel a lot for work, and you can't imagine a schedule where you can meet physically with other writers. Such is our life now, or so it is for many of us.

If you're working on a book, as I've said often in these posts, you need ongoing support. It's very challenging to write, develop, and submit a book in isolation. It speeds and smooths the way if you have fellow book writers creating a community and lending their enthusiasm.

When I poll student in my online classes, at least half the group belongs to a writer's group or has a writing partner. Writing is solitary; it's easy to get a little nutso when you've been on your laptop, deep in your story, for hours without interacting with another human. I know this well! Even virtual interaction with someone else who gets it can ease your way back into your normal life. Fellow book writers also give needed perspective on what you've been doing (even if it's a universe in itself). And of course, there's the immense value of feedback along the way.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Three Tools for Getting through the Post-New Year's Resolution Slump

We're a few months past the "whee" of New Year's resolutions when anything seems possible. I love setting them, but I also know how to create ones that I will keep.

Around mid- to late March, the truth comes out--how many did I actually make progress on this time? If I've used three essential tools, the odds are more in my favor.

Because I've written and published thirteen books in three genres, working now on my next two, I've had a lot of practice at success or failure with this. I also know how down I can get when I don't meet my own promises to myself, especially in an important arena such as my writing life.

So back to those three tools I rely on. In order of how much they matter, they are: (1) accountability, (2) inspiration, and (3) determination.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Pros and Cons of Present Tense versus Past

The question of writing in present tense versus past tense didn't even occur to me when I began writing and publishing back in the eighties. Or even when I started writing and publishing fiction in the late nineties. I never thought about writing in any tense but past. It was the norm. Only writers on the very edge, in my unschooled opinion, ventured into present tense.

Present tense almost seemed impolite, if I can use that old-fashioned term. The writer, the writing, was pushing into the reader's face, demanding attention over the story itself. I personally thought using present tense for a novel or memoir, for instance, was like shouting the story rather than letting it speak for itself.

That was then. Now, present tense is ordinary. Half the books I pick up use it. And as a reader, I can appreciate it; it doesn't feel wrong or awkward or too attention-getting to me anymore. Not at all.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Mix It Up--A Sweet, Simple Recipe to Break the Block (Inspired by Alison McGhee)

Alison McGhee, writing instructor and author of many wonderful novels including Shadow Baby (my favorite), once taught a very effective exercise in a writing class I attended. I've shared it before in these posts, but it continues to be an easy writer's-block-breaking recipe, so I wanted to pass it along again, in case any of you are experiencing March doldrums and need a lift.

My memory of the specifics is a little faint, so I'll give you the basics, and encouragement to let it morph to fit your writing needs.

I do remember there were three lists on the whiteboard: people, ages, and objects.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Jealousy and Envy in the Writing Life (Does This Happen to You?)

I finished a really GOOD novel last month--written by someone else, a writer who is just entering the publishing scene but has done a marvelous job with her first book. It was light and fun, but it touched on difficult subjects such as aging in our society and loss of a child. I wanted to finish my day so I could get back to it each evening. I was very bereft when I read the last page. I might read it again right away.

(The novel was Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, if you want to check it out. It may not hit you the same way as it did me, but I loved it.)

The next morning, when I sat down to write, I couldn't. I was able to journal up a storm, but writing fiction felt impossible. Like the channel was clogged. I pushed myself but the result was not worth the time.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Researching Your Characters--Real or Imagined

The internet is full of great questionnaires for characters. I love taking a break from the grind of writing a book to play with one of these. I can even put on my journalist hat and imagine interviewing the character--real or imagined--to see what new information I can dig up.

This week, pick one of your major or minor cast and spend time getting to know them in a new way. People move stories, illustrate theories and ideas, and rumble in the background of all great literature, no matter the genre. It's up to you, the writer, to get to know them.

Friday, February 17, 2023

It Ain't Over Til It's Over--The Unfolding of a Story (and How to Hang In There)

One of my favorite weekly reads about writing is George Saunders' Story Club. Recently he wrote a post about the time it takes to grow into appreciation of a story, as a reader. He mentioned a Chekov story he'd read in college but didn't really "get" until many years later. Both his own writing and his skill as a reader needed time to mature. A big lesson from this, or at least my interpretation of what he learned was profound: to not discard that which we can't yet understand.

I read this before one of my afternoon walks and thought about it for the entire hour. I loved the idea because it was ever-expanding: our appreciation of writing is a skill to be developed just like knowing how to pace or draft good scenes or revise.

But the real take-away for me was this:

Friday, February 10, 2023

Referrals--The Networking of the Publishing Industry

As in any business world, referrals matter in publishing. I wish I could say that books are bought by publishers on merit alone, that it doesn't matter who you know. But I've learned the hard way that your network, something you may or may not have developed as you wrote your book, is a very useful element when you release that new baby into the world.

People help people, and no more so than in this tight-knit industry. A fellow writer commented decades ago that everyone knows everyone else at the agented-manuscript level. While this may not be totally true, the marketplace does operate on subjectivity--which comes down to who you know, and what their opinion is.

Of course, there's business smarts too. An editor may love a manuscript but her sales team isn't convinced because of the numbers. But that editor's enthusiasm is still the first spark, the necessary one that starts the process. How does that editor get sparked? Usually, someone presents the book to her, the concept catches her attention, and she reads the manuscript. That someone might be an agent or a fellow editor or even a friend. People helping people.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Five Gates You May Encounter as You Plan, Write, and Develop Your Book

An important lesson I learned as I wrote and published my books was this: there are predictable gates, or passages, in the journey. These are places where the writer can typically get stuck. They must be traversed but often new skills are needed. I've seen many books fail at these gates, so it's often helpful to know about them and prepare.

Writing a book, as you know, is not just serendipity. We don't just sit down and "let it flow." Rather, we may in the early stages, but once the book becomes its own being, it requires structure and refining to grow into a publish-worthy effort.

So this week I'd like to review the five gates and the potential problems that arise at each. Knowing about them lets you recognize where you are, if you're ready to move on, and--at the last stage--when you've finally done enough.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Surprising Benefits of "Download" Writing Every Day

At a gathering this past week, a friend was talking up Morning Pages, the stream-of-consciousness writing activity proposed by Julia Cameron in her Artist's Way books. My friend recently rediscovered the benefit of them to her art.

"It's basically an effective download," she said. "I don't much care what I write; it's the act of cleaning out that makes a difference when I sit down to write, later."

Life is hectic for her. She can get so overwhelmed, "bottled up inside" from news chaos or family trauma or her satisfying but all-consuming job. She gets up early to get in those daily pages. They empty the detritus from mind and emotions, let her process stuff that ultimately distracts from work on her book.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Revision Checklists--Super Handy Tools for the Final Stages of Your Book Project

I'm reprinting this post from 2012 because I get more questions about it than almost any other. Enjoy!

This month, my novel-in-progress reached a new level: final revision.

Only a few steps remain before it's ready to send off. These final steps are key: If they go well, the "whole" becomes much bigger than the sum of its islands, or parts.

Most writers feel a sense of urgency at final revision. As the book comes into its own, you can see the good objectively. You've been asking yourself, Is it publishable? for a while. Now you can answer with a hopeful YES!

And this urgency is the danger zone in final revision. We are understandably impatient: It's been a long haul. Get it done, already!

Shortcuts look tempting. Skip a few steps, get it out the door into other hands. Contact that agent, editor, publisher--now! Capture their attention--before your courage flies away or the publishing window closes.

As a professional editor for over twenty years, my job was to put the brakes on--calm the over-eager writer, and remind them what's at stake. What do you stand to lose, if you rush through these final steps?

Friday, January 13, 2023

What Are You Reading Right Now? (And Why That Question Is Vital to Your Book)

One of my favorite winter traditions in our book-loving family is the box of books we give each other for the holidays. Sometimes they come from a book-loving sibling. Sometimes from the give-away at our local recycling center or the free library down the street. Or sometimes they are bought new (or used) online.

In December, I posted a question on Facebook and got very lucky. I asked: What's your favorite novel, one you'd recommend? I got dozens of responses, and not just novels. I made a list. Some I'd heard about but an equal number were new titles. I spent a few hours online and found most of them.

Last year, my sister was the gifter and she sent five excellent books. This year, our gift box held fifteen titles. Our shelves are well stocked, so after the holiday, I choose an equal number of books we've already enjoyed to rehome. And begin choosing my first new read.

I got derailed by a surprise from another relative: three super-intriguing nonfiction titles. I allowed myself one. Soon, I'll browse our shelves.

The mix is always eclectic. Classics alongside prize winners alongside indie published but well loved. All genres. With a nice stack of movies on my Netflix queue, this will get me through winter.

What's the purpose of reading, if you're a writer?

Friday, January 6, 2023

Writing a Series--If You're Called to Connected Stories, Some Important Tips

Every now and then in my classes, a writer would ask about series. it takes a dedicated soul to even consider a clutch of books and plan for their overarching purpose. Most of us have enough challenge with just one, right?

But the question is a good one. There are indeed certain tips or techniques for those who are tempted to try two or more books using the same topic or characters.

I wasn't going to be one of those, but the characters in my first novel wouldn't leave me in peace after it was published. One of them, the narrator's father, made it into a few short stories (notably the just-published "Breathing Room" which I mentioned last post). He was challenging and interesting to write, and I felt he had a lot more to say than just one novel, or as it turns out several short stories, allowed. The young narrator of Qualities of Light also intrigued me, and I was especially taken by her love interest. So I began to wonder: what might happen three or five years down the road with this family? How might they be same, different, tragic?

That's usually what launches a writer into series land.