Monthly Archives: August 2012

Soaking up experiences

Writers are like big sponges. We absorb experiences. Learn from feeling, new emotions and events to enrich our writing and make us better artists. This is the outlook I’ve taken lately as I’m surrounded by paperwork and boxes in preparation for our move to Saudi Arabia.

            This week I’ve been listing and pricing EVERYTHING we own. Yes, I’ve been forced to acknowledge our pack-rack tendencies but it’s been fun to rediscover some items and get rid of things that we truly don’t need.

            When the stress gets overwhelming, I take a break for a good book. I’ve found many old favorites among our things and it’s like spending time with an old friend.

            This experience of moving might be stressful but it is a new experience. I’m looking forward to life in the Middle East. It will be a new life, new culture, new food and new friends. What a way to enrich my writing experiences with new life experiences.

            You don’t have to move to grow from new experiences. You can take on a new hobby. Set a new schedule to introduce a change, etc. What have you done to create and benefit from new experiences? Are you taking advantages of your new experiences and letting it enrich your writing?

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A conversation with non-fiction and now fiction author Amy Shojai

There are so many roads to being a published fiction author. I’m currently navigating that road after years of freelance journalism and a non-fiction book under my belt. Amy Shojai is the accomplished author national authority on pet care and behavior. I met Amy through the same publishing house (Cool Gus Publishing) that published my book, ‘Caring for Your Special Needs Dog.’ Amy is author to numerous pet books but next month she debuts her first fiction novel, a thriller titled ‘Lost and Found.’

            As someone paving a similar path I’m of course intrigued to know about Amy’s road to publication. Everyone has their own unique journey so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with author Amy Shojai.

How long have you been writing non-fiction?

I began writing nonfiction articles in the mid1980s and at this point have lost count as to the numbers of articles and columns–well over 2,000 at last count. *s* I was contacted by a publisher to write my first two books after she read some of these articles. My first nonfiction book was published in 1992 by Bantam/Doubleday/Dell and since that time I’ve been very fortunate to have had two-dozen nonfiction dog and cat care and behavior books published.

When and what inspired you to start writing fiction?

Actually I always wanted to write fiction, and most of my attempts included animal characters, so LOST AND FOUND (my debut thriller) runs true to form.

I wrote my first novel, a rip-off of Beautiful Joe, when I was in fourth grade. It was illustrated (by me), and bound/published (by me) using shoe laces and cardboard from the back of yellow tablets. Yes, I had dogs and cats and horses and other critters on the brain even then, and read every book I could that included them. And I’ve always been a voracious reader.

When I got married we lived in a very small town with little outside entertainment, no jobs available, and only one TV station accessible. I’d nearly exhausted the local library. Like many readers, at some point I read something that made me thing, “I could write something better than this!” but I had never had the time. Finally I had no excuse. So I began writing fiction. I wrote (counting on fingers…) six complete novels and two partials. The first four were typed on my old Royal typewriter, and boy, was that a bugger to try and edit before computers. They will never see the light of day, thank goodness!

Describe your journey to fiction publication.

Long, arduous, frustrating, exciting, heartbreaking, nerve wracking…and worth every angst along the way! Part of the journey is described in the previous question. While I attempted to find an agent for my fiction, I wrote personal experience stories about dog and cat care since I’d become a veterinary technician by this point. That eventually led to more and more nonfiction assignments, and I began to create a platform–before anyone knew what ‘platform’ was. I had submitted my sixth completed novel, what today would be described as YA Horror, to a well known agent and she told me she didn’t handle YA because it didn’t sell. (My how times change, eh?) But she liked my publishing credits and said she’d be interested in me pitching a nonfiction book.

But nope, I ignored that invite because I wanted to write FICTION. And I continued to write the nonfiction articles about 40-50 a year, and along the way ended up being asked to write my first three nonfiction books by editors based on my “platform.” Finally I had a near-miss for a BIG nonfiction book, and when the publisher backed out I remembered what the agent had said–especially since she was a last minute speaker at an upcoming writer conference I planned to attend. So I faxed her (yes, that was a no-no), and she called me within 10 minutes, and I had an agent. We sold about 16 nonfiction pet books together and I was so busy and very successful with spokesperson contracts and tours with major pet food companies, that I had no time to think about fiction.

Then the Internet changed nonfiction pet book sale dynamics. Once again I had time to think about fiction. So I began working once again toward that dream of publishing a novel. Five years later–yes, FIVE YEARS!–my debut novel LOST AND FOUND will be published.

How has been a seasoned non-fiction author helped your fiction writing?

This has helped tremendously. First, I already know that the chance for success is very small but that the odds increase simply by plowing ahead. Successful authors don’t quit.

Second, as a nonfiction author I know how to research, understand editing, have gone through the process of start-to-finish book writing, and understand it takes a huge effort and many people to make it happen.

Third, and probably most important, I am a much better writer now. Those early fiction works, though they may be crappiocca, taught me how to write, allowed me to experiment and make mistakes, and gave me the confidence to know that I could finish a novel. Writing so many nonfiction books gave me the discipline to schedule work, follow through, and learn from my readers what is important and how I can answer their needs. Nonfiction also gave me my platform, an existing readership and way to reach them that will help enormously with LOST AND FOUND, because the story includes my nonfiction expertise of dog (and cat) training and care. Heck, the book even includes dog viewpoint! Didn’t you always wonder what your dog thinks? Now you can find out from the canine perspective.

What’s been your greatest challenge throughout this journey?

As with the rest of my life, the greatest challenge has been finding the time to git-er-done. One of the reasons LOST AND FOUND took five years to complete was that my nonfiction commitments paid the bills. Fiction work had to be fit into the empty spaces on weekends, evenings, and for a little over a semester I wrote on the book in between teaching high school choir classes.

The other challenge was concentration. With nonfiction I have no problem multitasking. I’ve researched and written multiple articles or even books at the same time. One year I researched and wrote three books, much of the writing in airports or on planes while touring, and never had a problem concentrating on the topic or switching gears to the next.

But writing fiction (at least for me) requires no distractions, so that I can fall into that world I’m creating. The phone’s interruption, or the cat or dog demanding attention, takes me out of the moment and it can be a struggle to get back into the story. I’ve gotten much better the longer I worked on the book, and believe the next novels won’t be quite such a struggle. Paws crossed on that!

Greatest joy?
Oh, there have been so many joyous moments along the way. Probably the first was finishing the dang thing! And then, with trembling a-plenty, I sent the manuscript out to several “early readers” for their thoughts and comments–and they liked it. Wow. I started breathing again.

An even bigger joy was when I heard from my editor they wanted to publish the book. Yay! And that was very shortly followed by another huge thrill that LOST AND FOUND had qualified me to be accepted into the International Thriller Writers Debut Author Program.

Most recently, though, best-selling thriller author D.P. Lyle read the book and gave me an AWESOME cover quote for the book!

I have to say, though, that the biggest thrill will be when my parents have the opportunity to read the book after it’s released on September 20. They’ve been encouraging supporters throughout this journey.

I understand you have incorporated your love for animals into “Lost and Found.” Did you use your real furry babies for inspiration or were these characters true fiction like the human cast?

I’ve heard different opinions on how much of “truth” to put into fiction. Perhaps I’m cliche but quite a bit of reality is in LOST AND FOUND in terms of the furry cast, and to a much lesser extent the human characters.

The main character, September Day, is an animal behaviorist and so I drew on my own experiences for her background. She has a trained Maine Coon cat, and has also trained a German shepherd service dog for her autistic nephew. Scenes in the book demonstrate how these animal characters were trained, and as I said earlier, the dog has his own chapters and his own personality and character arch just as human fiction characters do.

I live with a Siamese wannabe (Seren) and the Magical-Dawg (a German shepherd) so yes, both inspired me in different ways. Maine Coon cats are quite different than Siamese, though. And the dog character in the book is a nine-month-old puppy so I channeled my memories of Magic as a youngster. I have to admit, writing the dog and cat scenes were great fun, and thus far they’ve been favorites with early readers.

What did you wish you knew going into your journey to fiction publication?

I wish that I’d jumped on board the fiction train much earlier. There was a two-year period of time when my nonfiction book career changed and I banged my head against the wall–and then went into mourning when it wouldn’t stay the same. I might be two years ahead, if I’d not spent that time wishing for bygone times, instead of embracing the future.

What advice do you have for other authors out there wanting to write both non-fiction and fiction?

DO IT! Be brave. Be fearless. Or rather, do it despite the fear. Publishing changes so quickly these days that current and future authors must be prepared to move quickly and ride the wave–or risk drowning in the might-have-beens.

 

You can read Amy Shojai’s debut thriller ‘Lost and Found’ September 20.

In the meantime, crazy move is going full speed ahead for us. The move date is September 7th and that will be here before we know it. Sorry if I’m not online as much!

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Throw away the excuses and clean for better writing

But I need to write (insert whiny voice here.) I need to play princess tea party. It’s Sesame Street time with Baby Markey! Yep, I can think about several more blog posts filled of the excuses I use to not clean. Lately though cleaning has been unavoidable with our house on the market. As much as I despise this task I can say that it has been beneficial and educational.

Even without knowing it, clutter can serve as an unwanted distraction from writing. Even if you still write, there can be a nagging reminder in your mind of how you are avoiding somethings that should be done. I have learned that when I sit down in my clean office I feel a great sense of relief and accomplishment. I am able to devote more focus to my writing projects.

So I took this realization further than just cleaning the house. I tackled the task of cleaning/organizing my desktop. Goodness I’ve been trying to work while staring at clutter right in front of my face! This was also important to do because I recently resigned from my local freelance contracts since I’m moving to Saudi Arabia and want to focus more on my book projects and International contracts.

As much as some of us dislike it, cleaning can be benneficial in ways other than getting the obviously clean house. For those of you that have school age children, this can be a great time for some cleaning. Soon you’ll be diving back into your non-summer routine, and what a better way to do that than with some cleaning?

Have you discovered the magic that cleaning can bring to your writing and life in general? Share it in a comment!

For a moving update, we finally have the official move date! We’re moving to Saudi Arabia on September 7th. That is just around the corner! I apologize for not being as big of a presence on Twitter lately. I miss my #MyWANA peeps but life is super crazy! I’m looking forward to finally being moved and getting settled into my new routine.

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Writing while on the move…literally

So my writing routine has been erratic lately all thanks to my upcoming move to Saudi Arabia. I’m a huge fan of keeping a routine. I preach this over and over in my Writing Moms workshops. But there are some times in life where any routine is thrown out the window. That’s where I’m currently at and since I love routine and do best when on a schedule, it’s driving me CRAZY.

So here I am pulling my hair out when all I want to do is take my laptop and be here….

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But that’s not an option at the moment so how am I staying sane? Well, firstly I remember my priorities. I’m first a mother before being a writer. I’m fortunate to have a career where I can work from home. I get to spend all day with my precious two-year-old and three pets that feel that they are children too (and let’s be honest, sometimes they are more difficult than the toddler.) Though it’s a blessing to work from home with them it can also be a problem especially in chaotic times such as this move.

I’m sure many of you have also encounted crazy times that might have thrown a monkey wrench at your writing. Well, here are some things that I’m doing to weather the storm of crazy.

1. Reevaluate what you can realistically do. I’m a huge fan of lists. I always have a daily goal list that I work from but as things come up such as a major move, that goal list may not he as doable as it normally is. I take a look at what I can get done realistically given the situation and amend my goal list accordingly. This prevents me from having a long list of uncompleted goals at the end of the day.

2. I make time to work out. I’m always a fan of a good workout and believe it’s value in my daily routine. Any stressful and hectic time is NOT the time to cut out a workout. Now I have had to cut down on the amount of time I give my workout but I still keep it up at some degree. Working out is a great way to relieve stress and stay productive when it’s easy to feel down.

3. Take a break to read. Reading is so important for any writer. During this crazy time of moving I’m not able to read as much but I’m setting aside a little time each evening to read. This helps me relax before bed so that I can actually take my mind off all that needs to be done and get a good night sleep.

4. Spend time with your significant other. It’s so easy for me to retreat into my at-home-office once my daughter is in bed for the night and get lost in my work. My husband is quick to steal me away at times even if it is just to watch a sitcom on television and snuggle for a moment. Even a short time together helps me to clear my head and remember that I’m not alone in my stress.

I may not be working at my normal productivity level but I’m making progress and staying in the writing game. This helps me to hang on to me and what I love to do. Despite the stress of moving I do have the excitement of looking forward to returning to a more productive writing routine and feeling settled again.

How have you handled times when your writing had to cut back due to life circumstances?

Announcement:

As may know I’m a proud artistic instructor (AI) for WANA International. Our brilliant innovator Kristen Lamb is always working to help us artists successfully navigate the social media world. This is a hard task to do. We want to write, not Tweet and blog! And we definitely don’t want to get sued because of an image we quickly pasted on our blog post. So WANA International is bringing you the answer with WANA Commons. Read all about it here. Make your life easier and avoid lawsuits. Sounds like a plan to me!

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Unleashing the super writer post conference

I just wrapped up the 2012 RWA National Conference and like all conferences I’ve attended I left exhausted. All those workshops, pitches, and networking is draining BUT I still left with a greater urge to write than usual. I’m excited to be an author and yet overwhelmed at the goals in front of me. So how do you do it? How do you unleash the super writer in your post conference glow without further depleted your energy?

When you figure it out please let me know. Ha, but seriously the post conference wind down is different for every writer. We all have our different needs so I can only tell you what works best for me and how I’m going to handle this crucial time in a writers process.

1. Capitalize on the energy- Though I’m tired I’m also pumped with excitement and ideas. I use that excitement to boost some of my energy into my writing. Set word count or page goals and stick to them! Now is the best time to feel excited about your career.

2. Take a break to follow up- If you pitched to an agent or editor FOLLOW THROUGH WITH ALL REQUESTS. If you don’t you are  only rejecting yourself. Also follow up with any new contacts. This year I found a new critique partner so I’m following up with her and setting a strict schedule so that we can both stay on track. Take notes on all the business cards you collected. Just jot down a word or two so  you’ll remember who everyone is. Hope that they all read this blog so they will be sure to do the same thing!

3. Take a break!- That’s right. Take a day off before diving into your writing. This may seem to contradict my first point of capitalizing on your energy but I’ve found  that taking a day off to process all that you’ve learned and take time to reboot from the conference chaos is good. Do the laundry, clean house, do whatever you need to do so you can have the time to write. Whatever you do just move around! Get done what you need to do around the house so that you can give your writing your full attention.

4. Look over your notes- If you’re like me then I’m sure you took so many notes. Go over therm and remember the points and sections that you need to implement.

5. Thank the workshop instructors- I always send a brief thank you email to the workshop instructors. It’s just the nice thing to do and you never know when someone could come back offering to read some of your pages. However, do mean the thanks and don’t do this hoping for help.

What do you do after attending a major conference? Whatever it is, I hope you make the most of your conference experience.

As always, one of my favorite things about conferences is getting to meet some great online friends. I had so much fun at breakfast with Kristen Lamb, Tameri Etherton, Jami Gold, Jenny Hansen and August McLaughlin. It was great to get to meet these fabulous fellow WANA International gals.

Conferences are also a great time to meet up with friends. I’m going to enjoy this part even more in the years to come since I’m moving to Saudi Arabia. I had a wonderful dinner with Nicole Flockton, Vicky Dreiling (RITA nominee) and Shana Galen.

Like most conferences I met some great writers and new friends. I want to give a shout out to Jenna Grinstead, Talia Quinn Daniels (a Golden Heart winner,) Cecily White (Golden Heart nominee,) Stephanie Winkelhake (Golden Heart nominee,) Natalie Vawter (Golden Heart nominee,) Pintip Dunn (Golden Heart nominee,) M. Kassel (Golden Heart nominee,) and Pam van Hylekama Wieg.

Share some of your conference moments below and good luck in unleashing the super writer in you post your conference experience.

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