I decided to talk a bit about writing through unexpected events and how to write through them.
Certainly. This snippet is taken from the story that leads off my catastrophically absurd debut, “It Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time.” Author’s Note: It only gets weirder from here.
“Hello? Hello? How’s the reception up there?”
Artemartedoxtorix, called Art by his friends, squinted at the blood in the sand as it rolled like the weeping tides of humanity and also heavy cream. It danced with static before it eventually flared to life when the sound of screaming filtered through. Art looked around but no one was really paying attention. He covered his blood screen anyway because he wasn’t the type to make a scene if he could help it. Some jobs you just don’t want to draw attention to yourself while performing and his hallowed position of receptionist was one of those jobs.
“Art? Is this Art? I was told to call Art,” screamed the voice from the other end of the line.
“What? Well yeah of course it’s me. Is this…” he looked at his sheet of paper. “I’m sorry, I can’t pronounce your name.”
Art stared blankly at the dancing blood. “I’m sorry, that doesn’t help,” he said. “What does that rhyme with?”
“I don’t know…Cave?”
“What about Potato?” asked Art. “I know that one.”
“My name doesn’t rhyme with Potato, Art,”
“Ah…” said Art. “Well can I just call you Potato? It’d make this a lot easier.”
For a long moment there was silence on the other end of the line.
“Can I talk to someone else?”
“I’m afraid not. Everyone else is out on assignment,” said Art. “What’s the problem?”
“Well, I put the kid in the burlap sack but he doesn’t seem to be drowning and now the whole thing is wet,” said Dave, also known as Potato.
“Do you have the blood already?” asked Art.
“The what?” he asked.
“The blood. You know you can’t kill him until you have his blood, right?”
“Oh yeah. For sure. Totally,” said Dave. “I was just about to do that.”
“While he’s underwater and suffocating in a sack?”
“Yep. I’m thrifty,” said Dave.
Art looked around the receptionist center and threw a rock at a winged adder. This wasn’t his fault. The project had been passed on to him by someone with a better castle in the aftermath of one of Potato’s many mistakes, at which point his superior decided that temptation and possessions were more his bag. He’d said Art was on track for a promotion if he succeeded, so the receptionist who’d always seen himself as more of a hero type leapt at the opportunity. It was only a matter of time until greatness was his.
“Look, Potato,” said Art. “We’re in this together so all I need to know is one thing.”
There was silence on the other line. “What?” asked the human.
Art rubbed his temples and winced when he pricked himself on a horn.
“Can you find a rock?” he asked. “I just threw a rock at a flying adder and that seemed to work.”
“What’s an adder?”
“A snake,” said Art, and for a moment Potato was silent.
“Wait. There are snakes down there?” he asked finally. “If there are snakes down there I don’t think I can do this.”
Art looked up at the swarms of flying adders that soared through lakes and clouds of fire.
“Are there what?” he asked, a master of changing topics.
“Snakes. Are there snakes in hell?”
If a demon could look awkward, Artemartedoxtorix, Demon of the Fourth Degree, definitely looked awkward.
“What? Oh yeah no, definitely not,” he said. “You misheard me.”
“Well what did you say then?
Art looked around for anything his mind could seize on.
“Pits of endless despair,” he said finally when his eyes fell on the pool of weeping where acid carved canyons in the faces of the suffering.
“Well hold on now, that actually sounds worse.”
“Look, Potato. Do you want eternal glory or not?”
Please welcome my fellow North Dakotan and Romance Writer, Marie Johnston, to The Clog Blog! Marie, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I started out as a science geek, and I guess I’m still one. I left full-time lab work ten years ago when we had our third kid (we now have four), worked for almost five years part-time, and then wrote full-time in the last few years. But COVID has drawn me back to the lab and I’m really enjoying it. Now that my kids are older, I’m determined to juggle both my writing gig and my med tech career. It won’t be easy, but I’m too social to work at home during another North Dakota winter.
What are your current projects?
I’m usually working on more than one book at a time. I have a paranormal romance that releases in July that I’m finishing edits on. It’s the last one planned in that series, which spawned from my first series ever. I’m in the middle of writing a contemporary romance that will be published by K. Bromberg in her Everyday Heroes World in December. It’s been a bit harder (a whole lot harder) to find the time to write while I’m working. I miss those long stretches where I can really sink into the story.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I’m fortunate to be a versatile writer. If needed, I’ll write on anything, anywhere. I prefer to sit for long, uninterrupted stretches, usually before noon. Some of my best writing has been done while waiting in the car with my computer propped on the steering wheel outside of one of my kids’ practices. No one’s called the cops on me yet for sitting in a dark, almost empty, parking lot of a school for over an hour.
When I don’t have my computer or space is limited, I’ll type out an email to myself on the phone. If I’m really time-crunched, I’ll dictate, but I don’t prefer it. I like physically typing. If I only have a pen and paper, then I’ll plot even though I’m typically a linear pantser. I like to write from beginning to end and let the story unfold, which works better for me since I don’t care for the editing stages, which I have a lot of if I jump around to write different scenes and then seam them all together.
You’ve written over forty books, where do your ideas come from?
Anywhere and everywhere. I’ll hear a song, a phrase, anything that evokes emotion and puts a scene in my head. From there, I’ll ask questions and more of the story will be revealed. Sometimes, all I have is that scene or idea and I’ve incorporated those in my stories. One of them was the idea of the heroine sitting in a coffee shop, eavesdropping from a booth on a lovey-dovey couple who are ordering. When they leave, the barista makes a comment to her about how she loves seeing a guy dote on his girlfriend like that. The heroine thinks to herself She isn’t his girlfriend. I am. I used that as an opening scene. I even paired it with a what-if idea I had. What if the scorned heroine had to move out of her place and one of the guys helping her move is the new love interest? That became the second scene and I felt like I got two hooks for one.
Thankfully, I don’t lack in ideas. Just the time to write them all.
How are you publishing your most recent book and why? (*e.g. Indie, traditional or both)
I’ve always been indie. I started that way because I needed a shot at an income now and not maybe years from now. Little did I know how fickle both routes can be. Shortly after I started, I wrote a couple of manuscripts and pitched agents and nothing came of it. I self-published those books and I love the flexibility of that route. I can change prices and covers and blurbs within minutes, or days depending on the retailer. I’m changing a three-book series I have—new covers, new blurbs, new titles, and I’m even switching a series from 3rd person POV to 1st person POV.
This year, I’ll be writing two books in other authors’ worlds. I have one releasing in September in the Cocky Heroes World and one in December in K. Bromberg’s Everyday Heroes World. It’s not quite like traditional publishing. I used my own editors and my own cover artist, but they publish it under their brand. Their audiences are huge so I’m hopeful I’ll find new readers. It’s been a good experience, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. I’d rather put that effort into the worlds I built. (Unless they sell like kettle corn and make a lot of money. Then I’ll totally do more!)
I wouldn’t mind being hybrid but I think I’d try that again with a non-romance book. I have too many romance books I want to get out in the next year and a half, so I’ve tabled those plans for a while.
What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
I mentioned the flexibility with pricing and advertising, but I think the speed is a huge benefit. I’m a fast writer and I’ve built up a sizeable backlist. While I’m working heavier hours at the lab, I can ease off the keyboard a little and play with what I have. I can repackage different boxsets, run them for a limited time, and take them down. I can change covers and do special edition sales. For me, the biggest benefit is that if I’m not earning royalties, I can do something about it.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
I love any review I can get. Somehow, my book resonated enough with someone for them to go through the time and effort of a review. As long as the book’s average stays above 4.0, I don’t worry about it. But I never read them. They are by the readers, for the readers, and even the good reviews stifle my muse. The bad ones echo in my head for months. Some authors read reviews and gather information about how to improve their writing, but it’s not good for me and I leave it at that.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
There’s so much, but the best advice I got was Just Write. Even after 45 books, it still comes down to that. It’s what I have the most control over. It’s what drives my business. Just write.
Where can readers find you on the World Wide Web?
Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share with us?
This is from my upcoming release A Shifter’s Salvation. It (was released)… on July 20th. Enjoy!
A lumpy bundle in the ditch captured her attention. Patience was past it before she braked. Frowning, she peered in the rearview mirror and waited for the dust cloud to settle.
What was it? Too large to be a dog. Maybe a bear? A garbage bag? It wouldn’t be the first time some idiot tried getting rid of their trash on the side of a rural road.
Squinting, she couldn’t make out what it was, but she swore part of the blue appeared to be denim material.
No. It couldn’t be a person.
Looking around, she couldn’t see a motorcycle or anything that suggested an automobile wreckage of any sort.
She ran her tongue along her teeth. Good thing she fueled up. Someone had to check this lump out.
She stepped out of her car and blinked in the sunlight. It was a cool day, typical for late spring. Dirty snow was still piled in the ditches, but it’d been a mild winter, and whatever the bundle was hadn’t landed in more than dried grasses.
“Hello?” She inched closer to the edge of the road. If it was garbage, please be old rags. Something that didn’t ooze. Picking up other people’s trash was full of icky surprises.
The lump didn’t move.
“Garbage dumpers,” she muttered and crept closer. A mop of rich brown hair caught her gaze.
The pile wasn’t small. And it had hair.
Her heart rate kicked up. A person. But there was no vehicle around. Was he dumped?
She knew it was a he because of the size. Not that women couldn’t be that big. But this was definitely a guy. Because the more she studied him, the better able she could make out that he was on his side and had incredibly broad shoulders.
“Excuse me?” she said, sounding more timid than she cared to.
“Sir?” She took a step closer.
She closed the distance between them and stood over him. His shoulders moved in time with his steady breathing. Good, he was alive at least. Before she could wonder about her personal safety, she crouched as far away as possible but close enough to reach out and nudge one heavily muscled arm. “Hey?”
Circling him, she had a dying need to know what he looked like. If she was getting taken down by a stranger, she wanted to see his face.
Admittedly, this stranger didn’t seem like he’d attack anyone any time soon.
A leather coat flap obscured his face. Since he was breathing, she pushed him to his back. A normal person would call an ambulance, but there was no way she’d risk that. With her luck, Damian would be on duty, and she couldn’t risk running across him. The restraining order had expired and he hadn’t bothered her—yet.
The man groaned as he settled on his back.
Her lips parted. He was a mess. But he was a hot mess. Bits of grass mixed with rich brown strands. A neatly trimmed beard framed his chiseled face. Everything about him screamed strength and power. Quite a feat for an unconscious man. She didn’t have to move his jacket and shirt around to know that he had a great body.
But she had no wish to touch his shirt. Blood was spattered across it. She couldn’t see any open wounds. Not his blood? Her gaze swept his long body. No major injuries other than bloody knuckles.
Her jaw tightened. He was in a fight before he ended up here. Self-defense? Or was he a mean bastard?
“What’s your story?”
I’m over at my fellow Writer Zen Gardener and friend Darla Sands today talking about my book, “Finding Your Path to Publishing”. Please join me.
When I first started in this business over 15 years ago. A common thought was that you needed to quit your job and write full-time in order to be successful (i.e. make money).
Granted the Romance Industry is full of female writers, who maybe started out as a stay at home mom’s and wrote on the side. I believe this is where the myth of full-time writing started. I think of authors like Nora Roberts and Heather Graham whose mythology stories contain elements for writing from home. If any of you think they were successful because they didn’t have a job, you’d be wrong. Motherhood is a full-time job in itself, regardless of whether you work outside the home or not.
I read recently that John Grisham wrote A Time to Kill over three years while still working as a lawyer.
What makes these authors successful is not whether or not they wrote full-time, but that they wrote in every spare moment.
A book I’ve found helpful in carving out time is The Chunky Method Handbook by Allie Pleiter. She breaks writing blocks down so that even the slowest writers among us can create a schedule.
What makes this so relevant to me is that as of December 1st of this year, I’m no longer employed with a company I’d worked with for 21 years. I was released as a series of layoffs.
While my job took time away from writing, if I had made time for it I would’ve been more successful (i.e. written more books). As I head into the new year, I’ll be looking at some serious goal setting. For me it will be evaluating what Success looks like to me – Finishing Books. I feel like everything else will fall into place as long as I just keep writing.
A lot of writers get asked what kind of tools they use when writing and editing. Here are a few of mine:
The Romance Writer’s Phrase book by Jean Kent and Candice Shelton – It’s a handy little phrase book, used for tag lines, body language, etc.
A more updated version would be The Emotional Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I use these books when I’m in the layer process of my book. I used to use them during the rough draft, but found I got too bogged down with particulars rather than just writing the damn book.
The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer – I have an old copy of this, but found it useful for understanding aspects of the business like Sell-thrus and royalties. I believe he has an updated version.
And of course I have a Thesaurus, Dictionary and Two Style Guides.
Pinterest – I use Pinterest to store a lot of my pictures for characters, setting, clothes, etc. Of course you can totally get lost on there.
First Draught – I have to give a shout-out to these ladies, because they cover a range of topics and they talk about everything from craft to publishing. I love their Vlog!
Jenna Moreci – Jenna is a YA Indie Writer and she has this Vlog where her topics are humorous and based on her writing experience. I highly recommend this if you are exploring Self-publishing or are a YA writer.
Google Keep – I sort of stumbled across this recently and use it in place of Scrivener. I make up all these little notes on characters, settings and scenes I need to write and then I can have it on the side of my Google Doc. I’m sort of envious of Scrivener, but the feature I was really wanting was to replace my post-it plotting system that I learned from Cherry Adair.
Last week I covered the importance of finding your tribe, and of course my tribes are some of my favorite things.