I just got back from my first Killer Nashville conference AND my first visit to the state of Tennessee. As it turns out, I have a bunch of family living outside of Nashville and was able to not only get some writing inspiration, but also see family members I haven’t seen in years (and, in some cases, decades). The Nashville area is gorgeous and it was so nice to reconnect with my relatives.
I also got to do some sightseeing including a visit to the Parthenon (hey, Percy Jackson, look what I found!), tours of the Belmont and Vanderbilt campuses and a trip to Hattie B’s for some hot chicken (PS when they say hot, they mean HOT!).
The conference itself was a real eye-opener. I’ve never left a writing conference where I didn’t learn something, and this was no exception. I visited the mock crime scene several times to test my sleuthing skills. I attended a number of panels on craft and career management. And, most importantly, I networked. I met some incredible writers, made some new friends, and was given some heady perspective on my writing career. I hadn’t realized it before, but I was making some pretty major decisions about the direction of my career based on fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of making the wrong choices.
For the past two years (almost) I’ve been inviting authors onto my blog to talk about their writing journey, the risks they’ve taken and the things that have inspired their work. As a result, I know that I’m not alone in feeling the pressure. I’ve learned a lot in the past four years of full-time writing, but the lessons never stop coming and for that I am immensely thankful.
Killer Nashville provides a really interesting mix of opportunities. Over the course of four days, I met four literary agents, two of whom requested materials. I took copious notes on the craft of writing (Jeffrey Deaver’s master class was amazing!). And I heard some inspiring success stories about self-publishing. This last point caused a whole lot of commotion in my brain. I self-published Wallflower Bloomingearly in my career, when I was still learning as I went. An indie publisher in Colorado picked up WB and its sequel Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters. A third book was in the contract, but life happens to all of us and book three was put on the backburner as I turned my focus to writing thrillers. And in doing so, I found myself back where I started with no agent and no publishing contract.
That was OK by me. I needed to work on my craft and revise my plan for moving forward. In the meantime, I published a short story and more pieces for ESME and Novelty Bride. I kept busy. I decided to start again with traditional publishing as my goal, and once the revisions were done on my first thriller manuscript, I started querying agents.
I’m still immersed in that process. I’d put the whole idea of ever self-publishing again on hold indefinitely, but when I heard J.A. Konrath speak at the conference, his words stopped me in my tracks. I love it when someone makes you throw out all your preconceived notions and take a hard look at what you’re doing. That’s what Joe’s talk did for me, and as the weekend progressed I heard more stories that continued to challenge the plans I’d made for my writing career.
When I got home, my husband (smart guy that he is) listened as I rambled about the direction of my writing career and asked a simple, but incredibly important question that I hadn’t been putting into words up until that moment: what are your career goals? Seems pretty basic, yes? This is advice I give to other writers all the time—define success, put your goals in writing, and so on—but somehow was overlooking for myself. And as I started to answer this question, I realized that my previous plans had been largely based in fear.
On the final day of the conference, Joe Konrath asked me what my take-away from the conference was. Here it is. No fear. As I move forward, I will make informed decisions based not on what everyone else is doing, not on what I think I SHOULD be doing, but based on what I WANT to be doing, what I feel is right for me, and what will help me reach myprofessional goals. Could mean traditional publishing, could mean self-publishing, or maybe some combination of both. It probably sounds simple, but sometimes you need a good kick in the pants to make you see things you should have been seeing all along. Thanks Joe!
And here we go!
About a week before conference time, I start getting a little bit nostalgic. During NCW, I spent hours reminiscing over previous years programs and all the shenanigans I enjoyed. Now it’s time for Thrillerfest and I’m strolling down memory lane. This is my second year. When I decided to change direction with my writing, I started looking for craft and community opportunities. I ran across the International Thriller Writers Organization and, as a result, got introduced to Thrillerfest. The organization was founded by some of my favorite thriller authors…names you see on the best seller shelves at every bookstore you visit. And the prospect of being in the same room with some of those people was daunting to say the least. I’d finished my first thriller manuscript, but I wasn’t ready to pitch yet. What I knew though, without a doubt, was that I needed to be with people doing the same thing I was doing.
Now, I’m not going to lie. I am a completely over-the-top fan girl when it comes to authors. As a library volunteer in New Mexico, some of my best memories include authors like Michael McGarrity, Denise Chavez and Hampton Sides. I’d discovered that George R. R. Martin lived in Santa Fe and I was scheming on ways to entice him down to my hometown when Game of Thrones hit HBO and I figured I’d lost my chance to meet him (keep that in mind, it becomes relevant in a few paragraphs). Last year at Thrillerfest, Lisa Gardner (who is one of my very very very favorite thriller authors) was receiving the Silver Bullet award and, at one point, being interviewed by Karin Slaughter (another favorite). I nearly died of a heart attack before I even got there! No chance of keeping my cool. As a thriller fan, meeting Gardner and Slaughter, as well as Lee Child, David Morrell, Lisa Jackson, R.L. Stine, Megan Miranda, Shari Lapena and so many others was magic!
I adore New York City. As a visually impaired person, big cities offer freedom that you just can’t find in small town America. Arriving at the hotel, I settled in and tried to put on my game face. I’d volunteered to room monitor for a few sessions as a way of getting past my nerves. That’s how I met Sam Wiebe, who I’ve since come to adore and admire greatly. I took in a zillion pieces of new information (as you do at conferences) and met a lot of really great people. What was most amazing to me was how accessible the stars of the thriller genre are. I had casual conversations with people I’ve been reading for years (in some cases, decades). It’s hard to put to words how important that experience was for me.
So, I’ll be heading back to NYC again next week for Thrillerfest 2018! Woo hoo! And guess who this year’s Thrillermaster is? George R. R. Martin!!! A decade later, I’m going to get to meet another prolific author who I’ve read and loved and admired. So exciting! And I’m looking forward to connecting with the people I met last year, and writers I’ve had the honor to get to know online in the meantime. Who’s joining me?
Here are some pics from last year's conference and some sight-seeing with my cousin Rachel. We saw three shows during our stay. Waitress was definitely the best!
It has been such an interesting and exciting year, especially here on the blog. We'll have new authors telling us their stories starting next week, but today I'd like to take this chance to thank all the amazing authors who've shared their experiences with us. We've been so fortunate to have aspiring and emerging authors, self-published and traditionally published authors, just starting out authors and New York Times Bestsellers, and everyone in between. Thanks for the stories. And thank you readers for taking an interest in all these wonderful authors! Below you'll find the links to all the authors who've participated in #WhatsYourStory to date. Check them out, add their books to your to-be-read lists and share them with your friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving!
Sarah Reichert (S. E. Reichert) is a writer, novelist, poet, and blogger. She is a member of Northern Colorado Writers, Wyoming Writers, Inc., and a member of The Romance Writers of America. She is the author of Fixing Destiny, Finding Destiny, and Fighting Destiny a series of paranormal romances set in Maine. Her work has been featured in The Fort Collins Coloradoan, Haunted Waters Press, Tuliptree Publishing’s 100-Word Dash, and Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology. She has blogged for The Writing Bug and the Be True Be Love website. She plans to debut her own blog this summer tentatively titled “The Beautiful Stuff”. Reichert lives in Fort Collins with her family.
We all begin somewhere, usually not having a clue where we will go or what will become of the quick flash of light that is our human existence.
When I began writing, some time in the fifth grade, I didn’t understand what I was doing. I only knew that ideas were in me and they needed to get out. Post-it notes, notebooks, floppy disks full of ideas and characters, poetry, essays, thoughts that occurred to me randomly or stewed in my brain for months, all cumulated into boxes and files of thought.
Still, I never considered myself a writer.
I just had ‘stories’. I only ‘dabbled’. I was a girl who tended towards depressive thought and knew I felt better when I wrote. I daydreamed about different lives, different people, and how they would move through the world. They were only stories, nothing fantastical or significant.
When I moved from Wyoming to Oregon, to California, and finally to Colorado, my words moved with me. I would occasionally pull out each page like a handmade ornament, re-reading and losing myself in my words. I remembered what was happening in my life at the time I wrote them, then I’d carefully put them back.
After the birth of my first daughter, and deciding that even though it was a financial hit, I’d much rather spend my days with my greatest creation than putting up with cranky adults, I found a different kind rhythm to life. I gained moments in the day that I could explore my writing.
I started to write more in depth and longer stories as the characters in my life fleshed out from my own experiences and failures. My writing became more interesting; it became more complex as my life did. It evolved.
Soon, I was cramming in word counts during nap times and typing madly away in the car during preschool, until, little by little, paragraph at a time, I had a book. A book I’d written. A beginning, a middle, and an end, filled with characters that I loved and cared about.
Only then did I wonder: Could it be that I was a writer? Is that what it meant? That my “stories” were actually part of my identity? That maybe I could pull out the boxes of secret thoughts and see that I had always been a writer?
Being self aware as a writer didn’t happen over night for me. Most artists understand who they are early on, but I never thought enough of myself to believe I possessed any kind of mad-genius creativity. I only knew the words burned inside and I wasn’t happy until I pulled them out.
Along my journey, inspirations came from all over. The books and writers I loved (Jane Austen, Emily Dickenson, Lord Byron, Shelly, Whitman, Charlotte Bronte, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Preston Child, Paulo Coelho, Jean M. Auel, Anne Rice, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Neil Giaman), quirky stories and complex characters pulled from my own life, from movies, books, and even the news, all gave me fodder for creating my own worlds. Where one thought travels, more tag along behind.
Writing is a tough journey. It is wrought with tears and missteps. I’ve failed spectacularly on the page more times than I care to admit. There are times when I look at my laptop or tattered composition notebooks and physically feel the frump of not wanting to write. Many times, I feel I don’t have anything left to give the page.
But that’s never true.
It’s inside, and more often than not, festering to be let out.
What keeps me going back, is not that its always fun or easy, but that the work I put in, (the hard hours of editing or writing pages that will never come to anything themselves) has cemented in my head, where it matters most, that I am a writer. My writing isn’t insignificant, its integral to who I am.
One book led to two, which led to three and now soon to be six.
I didn’t know when I sat in the rocking chair in a state of nursing exhaustion, and thought about a girl and a ghost that it would be a bellwether to my writing career. A brilliant, burning light that led me through the darkness and inspired me to tell her story. (Fixing Destiny, Finding Destiny, Fighting Destiny)
I didn’t know it would instill in me the courage to tell all of my characters’ stories, because they matter. All stories matter. Getting them out of your head and onto a page matters. To you, to your health, to your mental well-being. To your journey.
We can only move forward if we honor what burns inside of us.
I’ve learned in whatever state I am, in whatever moment of life, in whatever hardship I’m shouldering, that writing is my tool. It helps me work through my depression and anxiety. It helps me regroup.
I’ve learned that not all of my writing is meant for everyone. And even the writing I do make public will not affect everyone the way that it has me. I’ve learned, most importantly, that that’s okay. Our jobs as writers are not to please everyone, or sell a million copies. Our job is to write.
Bring what burns inside of you out and light the world.
You can follow her recent releases and news about her writing on her Facebook page:
Sarah's novels can be found on Amazon:
Andrene’s graduation piece for a presentation skills course she took for work was entitled, Breeding before Forty and garnered enough laughs that she was persuaded (some might say coerced) into taking part in a rookies’ night at an Auckland comedy club. The club asked her back and she stayed on the professional stand-up circuit for three years, before retiring to concentrate on her long-form writing. Her novels are irreverent, edgy and very funny.
I’ve been hooked on writing, ever since getting my first favourable review, aged 9. It wasn’t 5 stars; it was an A on a writing exercise in English Class. I’m still not sure what our teacher was thinking, getting 9 year olds to write a story about a real-life Welsh mining disaster where a school-full of kids was buried by a collapsing slag heap. I had nightmares for weeks.
There was then a hiatus until my writing got a kick start courtesy of having to pen my own speech for a presentation skills course for work. I wasn’t able to help myself. There was going to be no dull, boring speech for me. I had to slip in a few laughs. And then a few more. One thing led to another and next thing I know I’m writing my own routines for stand-up.
I stayed on the professional circuit for three years in a constant haze of writing, pure unadulterated fear (that was the performing part), tweaking the jokes to make them work better and then trying them out again. It taught me about writing to a deadline and taking feedback constructively, even if it hurt at the time. Drunk people can be incredibly cruel.
It was around this time I decided to try my hand at writing something longer. Something that could be understood by people who weren’t half, or in some cases, fully cut. I dutifully crafted a synopsis and a few chapters and sent them off to an agent to get myself signed up. Boom! Blown out of the water. Ever so nicely, I have to say. Such a newbie mistake to make, looking back. If memory serves me correctly, I burned the returned submission, whilst dancing naked around the fire and cursing the agent’s name to the heavens.
But it was this very kick up the bum that set me on the path to being a published author. I took courses, so many courses. All of them useful, but none of them really giving me the key I was looking for. I was then very fortunate to be accepted into a six month creative writing course. The course itself was average, what was brilliant about it was my being assigned a mentor for the final month.
I didn’t just get any mentor, I got assigned a mentor who’d had a book on the New York Times Best Sellers List, who’d taught creative writing at university level and who believed in called a spade a $#@*$ shovel! Let’s put it this way, when submitting work to her I NEVER made the same mistake twice. The woman’s lessons stuck like %$#@ to a blanket. I’m paraphrasing here.
Because of her input and my hard work, when I submitted my novel, This Girl’s Abroad, to my preferred publisher, it was accepted straight off. I think I might have cried. Okay, I did cry. And danced. No fire this time. Since then I’ve gone on to publish Mounted and Hung and Screwed for Money. These three titles make up my Excess Baggage Series which is set in the fabulous seventies. A time when life was simple, pants were wide, heels high and hair as close to Farah as you could get without asphyxiating yourself. The series is a little like That '70s Show, but with an R Rating.
I’m currently working on DietVale, a comic horror set on a fat farm on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand. It follows one woman’s journey from lard arse to kick arse, all while on a steady diet of B-List Celebs.
And if that wasn’t enough, I’m also writing a series of novelettes that sit alongside the Excess Baggage Series. These are only available to my subscribers, although after I’ve finished all five or six of them, I might publish them as a collection. The first, Smashed Nuts, is available now.
My motivations are definitely being able to write as well as my heroes Anne Rice, Marian Keyes and Janet Evanovich, to have people love my books and to know I’ve brought laughter into their lives. There are a lot of very serious books out there and sometimes, if you’ve had a rough day, that’s not what you need. Listen to me, I sound like Freud!
One writer I would love to meet is Bill Bryon. I adore the man’s ability to describe a place in a few well-chosen words that somehow have me laughing until my sides hurt. It’s a skill I’d like to emulate one day.
Most Recent Work
SCREWED FOR MONEY – Book 3, Excess Baggage Series
Brenda hasn’t had a money worry since puberty hit, because she’s always been well cared for by the elderly gents she’s latched onto. There’s none so generous as an older chap who’s allowed to get his wrinkled mitts on a pair of boobs not in danger of being tucked into a waistband.
She’s therefore gutted when her very healthy nest egg courtesy of one of them is scrambled through no fault of hers. On the bones of her arse, her choices are going back to a love live littered with dodgy prostates and bouts of emergency CPR, or getting a job.
But Brenda has issues with the old nine-to-five, preferring nine-ty-five-and-loaded and so the plan to teach others the art of relieving rich old gents of their spare change is one borne of desperation. She’ll be golden, so long as she can avoid being arrested.
You can follow Andrene online at:
Where to Buy Screwed for Money
#WhatsYourStory is a weekly guest column at AmyRivers.com. The focus is on our writing lives and the risks we've taken to achieve our writing dreams. Please share these stories and help support a talented group of authors.
Welcome to March, dear readers! I am so honored to have Laurie Notaro as my guest blogger today and the first in my #WhatsYourStory series, featuring established and aspiring authors who will share their experiences in this writing life. You can find Laurie's books on the shelves of your favorite bookstores. In addition to her writing work, Laurie recently launched Laurie Notaro Creative, offering structural, line, and copy editing services and consultations to creative and academic writers at every level. Here's what Laurie had to say:
Very clearly, I remember the first morning I came home after my first book tour. It was already a scorching Arizona day at 8 a.m., but when I opened the back door to let my dog out, I smiled when my face was instantly warmed by the sunshine.
"This morning will be the morning for the rest of my life," I thought, then poured my coffee and sat down at my desk to work on my second book.
That was sixteen years ago. In the course of that time, I've written and published fourteen books of humor, women's fiction and historical fiction. Some did very well; others did not. But every day since then, including this morning, I got my coffee, let the dog out, and went to work at my desk.
Today will mark the last morning I move in that routine, my last morning of that life. I, like many, many other authors I know, cannot make a living solely by writing books anymore. It's time for me to get a day job and return to the workforce, and instead of sitting down at my own desk to write, I will be sitting down at another desk across town to give my time and effort to something that does not have my name on it.
Believe me, I am grateful that I even have the opportunity and skills to return to the workforce. Before I became an author, I was a reporter and columnist for a large metro daily newspaper; before that, I was an editor at a beautiful city monthly magazine; before that, I was the public relations person for a non-profit. Before that, I started an alternative magazine with my friends straight out of college. I made $800 a month and still had to ask my parents for money. Before that, I spent my college years not in class but working at the university newspaper, often times at the office until at three in the morning literally putting the newspaper together. I graduated with an unimpressive GPA, but with a firm foundation of writing, publishing and knowing what it was like to get paid shit for what you love to do.
When my first book came out and made it to the New York Times bestseller list, I hoped I would have a tenure of some sort to stay in the business. I did not know then how difficult it would be to repeat that success, and that in the book publishing world, there is no such thing as tenure. Your record is not in your work, it is not in your effort, it is not in what you put down on the page. It is a numbers game only. I was naive enough to believe that if people wanted better sales, they should write a better book. It was more than naive. It was baseline stupid.
The New York Times reported earlier this year that over 80% of the revenue that used to funnel toward newspapers and book publishing now goes to Google and Facebook. That is daunting news for writers who want to make their living doing something that they are the most skilled at. As a result, I am not the only New York Times bestselling author I know of who has gone back to work and will have to write books "on the side," or as a labor of love. For many of us, this is a reality now. Full-time writers have taken an 80% pay cut since 2002.
Should this be daunting to new writers? It's not good news, but it should not curb hard work and your passion for telling a story. Without stories, our cultural fabric loosens, it frays, it falls apart. If there is a book in you, a tale, a narrative, you carve out time to put those words down, whether it is at night, early in the morning, or in whatever spare time you can scratch out. I still have stories I want to tell. I still have books I want to write. It will take me longer, certainly, but the need for it does not leave me. I have the knowledge of being in the publishing industry for a very long time; the good news is that new writers are getting published every week. With a strong query letter and solid work, the opportunity to publish has really not diminished. I am a huge supporter of helping new writers navigate the channels of publishing protocol. I will always encourage writers to write; without our words, our society dries up and becomes static. Without new perspectives, we turn to stone. Find the time, tell your story. People need to hear it.
My last book was the best thing I've ever written, but it got lost in the frenzy of the election and an uncertain future for our country. It was the real story of three women who were determined to see their goals come to fruition as all of them attempted to make the transatlantic crossing before Amelia Earhart did in 1928. It took me five years of research to write that book, and it was the experience of my lifetime. But the sales numbers were terrible. My publisher turned down my next book proposal, saying verbatim, "Laurie is costing us money."
Those were hard words to hear. They were hard words to write.
The words that will not be hard to write will be the chapters of the next book, which I have not stopped working on. I believe in telling that story, and whether it is in the dark hours of early morning or late night, in the time that I may have gone to see a movie or on my lunch hour, I will write it.
You have my word.
Laurie Notaro was born in Brooklyn, New York, then spent the remainder of her formative years in Phoenix, AZ, where she created something of a checkered past. She is the New York Times best-selling author of the humor memoirs The Idiot Girls Action Adventure Club, Autobiography of a Fat Bride, I Love Everybody and Housebroken, along with numerous others; two humor novels; and Crossing the Horizon, a novel of historical fiction that tells the true story of once famous and now forgotten aviatrices prior to Amelia Earhart that vied to become the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic. She resides in Eugene, Oregon, has a cute dog, a nice husband and misses Mexican food like it was her youth.
In February, Laurie launched Laurie Notaro Creative. Visit her website to learn more.
...channeling West Side Story...OK, moving on.
It seems like every day of this new year brings some sort of change for me. I've got projects coming out my nose (really, it's very painful) and am traveling a lot (next week, Tucson Festival of Books). There's the usual insanity of parenthood, marriage and friendship. And although I admit, there are times when I start feeling a little bit overwhelmed, it's hard not to smile. Life is good.
When I named this blog "Kissing Authors & Astronauts," I was thinking about risk taking and facing the challenges that come in life. For me, an opportunity to produce an online news site in my hometown put me in contact with some amazing people, and yes, there was kissing involved. It started with Michael McGarrity. Michael is a very talented and charming author based out of Santa Fe. He's a big supporter of libraries, and I worked with him on several programs for our local library. I also went to Santa Fe to interview him about the first book in his upcoming series.
During that time, I created programs about literacy, history and culture. I met authors, astronauts and artists, got in free to cover concerts at a beautiful mountain venue and explored local politics during a mayoral election. Sometimes I look back on those days and think: What if I'd said no? What if I'd decided not to take that chance? It was hard work and balancing the news site with the full-time work of my marketing firm was often a juggling act. But I did things that I never would have imagined doing. I was bold. I was brazen. I was persistent. I was unstoppable!
Being a writer is also about taking risks. Sure, there are those enviable stories about authors who were discovered and became NYT Bestsellers on their debut novel! Yay! But most of us have to work long and hard to make progress in an industry that can easily be soul-sucking and cruel. We face lots of rejection, some of which is kind. Some, not so much. We get excited when someone loves something we've written, and then we agonize over how to translate that into a viable income base. We love to write, but for many of us, we're also trying to make a living and it's not an easy field to be in.
So why are so many of us doing it? And what are the stories of those writers out there in the trenches who didn't find overnight success but persevered?
Starting in March, I hope to explore those things on this blog by inviting guest posts from authors who are living the dream (and trudging along). These are funny, smart, creative, hard-working men and women who've decided that being a writer is their passion and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Some are full-time writers. Some have day jobs. We'll get to hear a little bit about how they got their starts, the challenges they've faced and where they are in their writing careers. Most of all, we'll be introduced to current authors and writers who are out there creating, and dreaming, every day.
Please share these posts with your friends and family. Maybe you'll find your new favorite author right here :)
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
Be My Guest!
#WhatsYourStory? Are you an author? I'd love to hear your story and so would my readers. Email me for more information.