Category Archives: Writing

The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky

The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky.I’m always thrilled to see other writers succeed, and am even more excited when that writer is part of what I consider my “writing family.” On Friday I had the privilege of going to my friend Summer Heacock’s book launch. I’ve seen Summer go through being on submission with multiple projects, breaking up with one agent, signing with her current agents, and finally reading from her debut book at a real, live bookstore!

I’m really busy with both writing stuff and library stuff this week, so I’ll leave you with my review of Summer’s book, The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky​. If you want to laugh your pants off while you’re feeling all the feels, pick up Summer’s book!

Fantastic book! The voice is so strong and unique. I laughed out loud on every page — often multiple times per page! I loved the dynamic between the four women at the bakery, and how open they were talking with one another about everything. If you like baking, feels, and uncensored talk about lady parts, do yourself a favor and get your hands on this book! The coarse language isn’t for every reader, but if you don’t mind a liberal amount of (non-gratuitous) swearing, I highly recommend this book.

Why having friends who write is awesome

Community.I’ve mentioned before how nice it is to have people I can talk shop with, but Midwest Writers Workshop really drove that home for me last weekend. As much as I love my family and friends who don’t write, none of them will truly understand what it’s like to be in the query trenches or on submission or pitching to an agent. R&R is just more likely to mean “rest and relaxation” than “revise and resubmit” to them. It’s hard for them to grasp both how exciting signing with an agent is and how signing with an agent doesn’t mean your book will be on shelves next week.

If you’re a writer who sees writing as your career, I highly recommend you have at least one friend who also considers writing a career. Have someone who gets what you’re going through, someone you can celebrate and commiserate with, someone who’ll swap queries with you and provide honest feedback on what isn’t working. Find your people, and cheer each other on. Celebrate their successes. Be there for them when things aren’t going well.

We all need someone who will pick us up when we’re down, and encourage us to keep going when we’re in a rut. And there’s no greater feeling than celebrating with a friend who’s just signed with an agent or gotten her first ARC or has her first book out in the world.

How did you find your writing community?

Genre Lessons: Historical Fiction Revisited

Antique watch.

I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re reading historical fiction, and I picked a couple amazing books. Here are my biggest takeaways:

  1. Multiple plot lines are great for maintaining tension. Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a great example of this, with the adventure/mystery plot alternating with the romantic plot. (I don’t normally name the books I read for genre lessons, because some of these posts can get critical and reading is highly subjective, but I’m making an exception because those like me who struggle with pacing can learn a lot from this book.) Every time the tension eased in one plot line, it ratcheted up in the other. I’m not saying add subplots to increase tension, but if you have a subplot, consider complicating that at points where the main plot slows.
  2. How people say things is just as important as what they say. A good historical fiction novel immerses readers in the setting with vivid descriptions; a great one also has characters whose diction indicates their culture and upbringing. This goes for other genres, too; writing a character from the American South doesn’t mean just writing an accent, it means having that character use Southern expressions and turns of phrase.
  3. The best villains are characters whose motivations readers understand and believe, even when they disagree with the villain. My favorite villains are the ones I feel a little sorry for when they lose.

Those are the main things I noticed as I read historical fiction this month. Have you read any great books in this genre recently that helped improve your writing?

I’m suffering from a conference hangover right now, but I’ll talk about Midwest Writers Workshop next week!

Will you be at Midwest Writers Workshop?

Midwest Writers Workshop.Today’s post is short, since I’m busy getting ready for the 44th Annual Midwest Writers Workshop. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve probably heard me sing the praises of MWW, as it’s where I met many of my critique partners and closest friends. No matter what stage you’re at in your career, if you have the time and means to attend a writing conference, I highly recommend doing so.

And if you’re going to be at MWW, please say hi!

Reflections on writing #ownvoices books

Mirror.I got into writing via Dungeons and Dragons; when my friend’s dad (our Dungeon Master) commented on my unusual multi-class character, I decided I wanted to know what led her to be the adventurer that she was. So I started writing her story.

My early books were all speculative works, even as my reading habits in the last several years have expanded to include a lot more contemporary novels. I always considered myself a writer of sci-fi and fantasy. Until one day a book demanded to be written that was basically a thriller with light sci-fi elements.

And then November happened. Seeing a rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric exacerbated the feelings of “other”ness I’ve had since moving to central Indiana, working in the town that is the birth place of the Church of God. Suddenly, I wanted to tell the story of someone like me, a Jewish girl thrust into the Bible belt after growing up in a town with many more faiths represented.

The main character of that book is not me, but she shares a lot more with me than other characters I’ve written. I’ve never written someone whose views on and practice of Judaism so closely matched my own. Heck, I’d only ever written one Jewish character before, and she was a minor character who only appeared in one scene. Writing this character gave me a space to explore my relationship with my faith (I identify as an Agnostic Jew — culturally Jewish but religiously out on the whole God question) and the role it played in my relationships with family members. Like me, the main character has a Jewish mother and a Catholic father; though unlike me, she had no older sibling to emulate or younger sibling to educate (as best as any kid can answer any other kid’s questions about religion). Writing that book left me with different views on what it means to be a Jewish woman in a Christian town, and a stronger relationship to my culture.

Since I was on a contemporary kick, and I had another idea for a Jewish character with a passion for music, I started another #ownvoices book while querying my first contemporary. This character is #ownvoices not because of her faith (she’s Jewish, but that’s not central to the plot) but because of her struggles with anxiety. Writing the first draft of this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because pushing this character through anxiety attacks forced me to re-live my own. I wrote the lowest points of my life into her. But I also gave her a loving family like mine, and friends who helped her pull herself out of those low points. As I struggled alongside her, though, I gained a new perspective on my own mental health. While I’m quick to tell others that mental illness is not a weakness, I often see my own anxiety as a fault. Writing a character with anxiety made me re-evaluate that assessment, as I see how strong this girl really is in facing challenges head-on. Again, she isn’t me, but she shares more with me than past characters I’ve written.

The thing I love most about writing is seeing the world through my characters’ eyes. I love telling others’ stories, even — especially — when they make decisions I might not make, or are in situations I would never find myself in. But there’s something to be said for giving characters bigger pieces of myself, and coming to terms with those pieces of me alongside them.

Have you written an #ownvoices story? What was your experience?

Refilling the creative well

Sunset.At some point, every writer will feel their writing stall. I’m normally a “write every day” writer, because that routine helps me stay in the world of whatever I’m writing at the time. When I feel my creative well running dry, I simply switch projects. I’ll take a few days off and write short fiction or poems instead — things I have no intention of sharing or trying to publish, that let me keep my routine of writing every day while still taking a break from the project that left me feeling drained.

This time around, I knew I would have a busy few days visiting family, so I decided to take a true break. I’ve written two or three sentences that were more journal entries than anything else, and that’s it. I look forward to going home refreshed and ready to tackle both my work in progress and the start of Summer Reading.

How do you refill your creative well?

Genre Lessons: Women’s Fiction

Woman reading.I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re reading women’s fiction. If you asked me what genre I read the least, it would be women’s fiction. There are a lot of excellent women’s fiction writers out there (a few of my friends among them), but it’s not the type of story I typically look for. Women’s fiction and romance tend to be predictable — you may not be able to guess every turn the plot takes, but you always know the couple will end up together. I don’t see this is a fault; in these genres, it’s intentional. It’s what the reader wants. They may want to be surprised by a twist, but they expect a Happily Ever After.

But here’s the thing: having a predictable plot gave me ample room to explore the different beats of the plot. There were conflicts in each protagonist’s work life. There was a secret that threatened to ruin everything. There was an antagonist ex-fiance, a climax, a dark moment when it looked like the relationship was over, and an engagement at the end. If, like me, beat sheets make you cringe, women’s fiction is a good genre to work on breaking down the plot of a story.

Another thing about great women’s fiction: setting. The book I read was basically a love letter to Milwaukee, where it’s set. I’ve never been to Milwaukee, but now I have a loose map of the city in my head, and I’d love to visit for one of their cultural festivals! Perhaps in part because there’s less room for the plot to meander, women’s fiction has ample opportunities to develop rich settings. And the way the characters describe their settings speaks volumes about who they are.

Have you read any women’s fiction recently? What writing lessons did you learn?