NewsFlash – Vol. 6 # 19

October 9, 2014 in #AmWriting, Book Launch, Community News, Contests, News Flash by JM Strother

NewsFlash

When it rains, it pours. This week we have more news than you can shake a stick at. Enough cliches yet? Well, let’s get cracking.

Emma Newman will be a Guest of Honor at this year’s BristolCon, one of the biggest SF&F conventions in the UK. Emma is a long time member of the #FridayFlash community and author of the excellent Split Worlds Series and co-host of the “Tea and Jeopardy” podcast, along with her husband, Peter. Other Guests of Honor are fellow author Jon Courtenay Grimwood, and artist Julian Quaye. The con will be held in the DoubleTree Hotel in Bristol on October 25th. Memberships are £25. Peter Newman will also be a guest and panelist. He has posted his schedule here. Oh that I were in Bristol.

On September 29th Alan Baxter appeared on Channel 31’s “Behind the Words” television show. Channel 31 is a local community television station in Melbourne. The show features interviews and sound bites with writers and publishers attending the Continuum Convention earlier this year. Through the magic of the Internet you can see the show in it’s entirety here. The entire episode, which runs 24 minutes, is worth watching, but if you want to cut to the chase Alan’s bit starts at the seven minute mark. You know you’ve always wanted to see Alan in person, well this is the next best thing.

An article by Kyle Chayka on the Penguin-RandomHouse blog, Hazlitt, discussed the #AmWriting hashtag and resultant community created by Johanna Harness. While the article was less than flattering, if not downright mean spirited in nature, as Johanna says, there is no such thing as bad publicity. You can read the entire article here.

Editorial note: People pour their heats and souls into the books, stories, and articles the write. To belittle anyone for that effort is small-minded at best.

G. P. Ching was a panelist on the “Publishing In the Digital Age” panel at Archon38 in (actually near) St. Louis this past weekend. I was lucky enough to attend that session and have a summary chock full of good advice for writers up on my blog, Mad Utopia. It was a pure pleasure to finally get to meet Genevieve in person. By the way, if any of you are ever attending Archon please let me know. I’d love to meet you too.

April Brown announced the release of six, count ‘em – six, books last week. April has been very busy indeed. The titles include four cookbooks and two novels. They are:

Coffee, Tea, and Gluten Free: Desserts and Grains (in print only)
Coffee, Tea, and Gluten Free: Meats
(print only)
Coffee, Tea, and Gluten Free: Vegetables
(print only)
Coffee, Tea, and Gluten Free: The Cookbook (print and digital)
Trails 1: Trails Through the Fault Lines, (print and digital) and
Crosswinds: Past, Present and Future Combine (print and digital)

All six of the books are available from Amazon and Smashwords.

This is the last week you can enter the Halloween Humor and Horror Contest. All entries must be in by midnight, Saturday October 11th. The winner will be announced on Halloween. Good luck, everyone. May the best man, or woman, or android win.

Catherine Russell continues with her series on the darker side of fairy tales with a feature on Snow White. Be sure to drop by tomorrow (Friday) to give it a read.

Continue to amaze me, folks. You are wonderful.

~jon

NewsFlash – Vol. 6 # 17/18

October 3, 2014 in #AmWriting, Awards, Celebration, News Flash by JM Strother

NewsFlash

Happy belated NewsFlash. I have not been too good about keeping these things current, and for that I apologize. However, we do have some exciting news this week so let’s get to it.

The deadline for our Halloween Humor and Horror flash fiction contest is fast approaching. Just a friendly reminder, all stories must be in to Submittalbe by midnight, October 10th. You can read the guidelines and access the submission form here

Johanna Harness won a 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for her debut novel, Spillworthy. She received a Gold award in the category Pre-teen Fiction, Mature Issues. Not to give too much away, Spillworty chronicles the adventures of Ulysses Finch, a homeless ten year old boy, and his friends as they struggle with issues as deep as homelessness, acceptance, and abuse of authority. The Moonbeam Awards are issued annually by the Jenkins Group, an independent book publishing service. This is the 18th year for the awards. You can read more about this year’s winning books here. 
Spillworthy is available here. Congratulations, Johanna!

Marc Nash’s digital flash story “Just Aphasia Going Through” was shown as part of the Brighton Digital Festival on September 25th. The Brighton Digital Festival just wrapped up its month-long celebration of digital culture. From the BDF website: “The festival provides an exciting platform for a community led programme produced by a network of organisations from the arts and digital communities, alongside individuals who are passionate about digital culture.” You can see “Just Aphasia Going Through” in its entirety on YouTube. Also, check out this nice shot on Twitter of the festival screening. Congrats, Marc.

Drop by next week for another article on the darker side of fairy tales from Catherine Russell. Heigh ho!

An Interview with Johanna Harness

April 24, 2014 in #AmWriting, Blog Tour / Blog Hop, Book Launch, Community Highlight, Interview, Thursday Writing by JM Strother

The cover of the paperback edition of Spillworthy, by Johanna Harness.Today we are very pleased to host an interview with Johanna Harness. You probably know Johanna as the creator of the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter and the founder of the #amwriting online community. Unfortunately the #amwriting site is no longer active, though a good bit of it remains available in archives. In its heyday there was a huge crossover of membership between our two sites, and many in #FridayFalsh community continue to use the #amwriting tag to this day. I’ve always felt a kindred spirit, not only with Johanna, but with all the fine writers I met through her site.

~~~

Hello, Johanna. It is an honor to have you here with us today on FFDO. I hope you fared well over this long cold winter and that springtime has actually arrived in your area.

Thanks so much for inviting me! And yes, spring is finally here in Idaho, which generally means the weather can’t make up its mind. Local wisdom is never to plant until the snow is gone from Shafer Butte–usually around Mothers’ Day.

I asked to have you here today for two reasons: one, to discuss the upcoming release of you new novel, Spillworthy; and two, to discuss this interesting concept you’ve come up with to introduce it to the world which you have dubbed Catch and Release. So let’s get right to it. Can you give us a short synopsis of Spillworthy, and perhaps tell us the origin of both the conception of the book and the title?

The story revolves around Ulysses, a bright kid who loves to write and who happens to be homeless. When a stranger intervenes and places Ulysses’ mom in detox, the 10-year-old finds himself bussed off to rural Idaho to stay with grandparents he’s never met. As readers, we see the action unfolding through Ulysses’ journals and sometimes through public notes he leaves for others to find. These public notes are ideas he deems too good to be kept to himself, the ideas that are worth spilling to the world. He calls these notes spillworthies.

The idea itself comes from teaching writing to kids. Too often we teach writing through assignments with very strict rules. Students learn to suss out what the teacher wants and write exactly that response. Very rarely do instructors ask students to write about the things they truly find important in life. In teaching writing, the biggest challenge is helping students connect to their own sense of purpose and power. When they make connections between ideas–when their responses are so important that they have to tell someone–when they really find something spillworthy that has to be written–they start to care about writing. You can see it in their eyes. They get hooked on it.

Can you give us a little character sketch of Ulysses – what makes him tick? What made him a compelling character for you to write about?

Ulysses is innately optimistic in any situation. I’ve noticed in my own life that challenging circumstances will lead some people to really dark places while others seem to radiate an inner light. I’ve always been intrigued with what sets those optimistic souls apart from everyone else. It doesn’t seem to be religious faith or economic resources or education. There are just some people who always see goodness in the world, no matter what happens to them. At first glance, these people seem slightly innocent, even to the point of being naive or gullible, but you get to know them and it’s evident that’s not the case. Generally they have a depth of understanding that amazes me. Ulysses is one of those people in childhood. Some of his innocence stems from his age, but we see his mind working through the complexities of his experience and we know there’s something more at work.

I must tell you that my ARC copy came in the mail today and the first chapter pulled me right in. Ulysses has a terrific voice and is quite compelling. Was it hard for you to get into his head, or the heads of the other characters, for that matter?

The kids in the book are all very real to me. Part of my difficulty in changing the book for an editor was this horrible sense that I was being unfaithful to them. I tried being rational, reminding myself that they were not real people. I made them up, so I could change them. Still, there’s always an aim for truth when writing fiction and the characters do put up a fight when we try to turn them into something they’re not. So I guess the answer is that I didn’t have trouble getting into their heads, but sometimes I did have trouble getting them out of mine.

You describe Spillworthy as a middle-grade novel, as opposed to children’s or young adult. While I’m sure both younger and older readers will enjoy it, how do you see the difference when it comes to categorizing a novel?

The distinction for me is really about appropriateness of topics presented. I suggest ages 9-12 as a starting age for reading, depending on how early parents are ready to talk to their kids about social issues. The book introduces topics of drug use, addiction, homelessness, social responsibility, abduction, corruption of authority figures, religious differences, abandonment. Sounds pretty heavy, I know. But all of those things really make up the setting. Those things are all part of the world those kids are living in. And, if we’re honest, those things are all part of the world our kids are living in, too.

Spillworthy is not didactic and it won’t provide answers, but hopefully it will provide a safe way to begin conversations with kids about serious issues that tend to scare parents to death. It gives parents a chance to say, “what would you do?” and “Do you think they handled that the right way?” And, at the same time, it allows kids the opportunity to say, “Yes. I feel like that too. Adults hardly ever listen to me.”

It’s a good story, but hopefully it’s also the beginning of a discussion.

Can you describe your own journey to publication and what guided you down that route?

I started out planning on traditional publishing. I submitted manuscripts, signed with an agent, went out on sub, and wrote book after book during the years I waited for replies. The replies really frustrated me. Invariably, I’d get comments about my unique voice and intriguing characters and then the advice would be to change it to be like everyone else. It was all about marketing and sales. I apparently had to pay my dues writing stories like everyone else’s, break into the market, and then bring out the unique voice after I’d proven I could fit in. I told myself it was like breaking grammar rules after you prove you can follow them. I’d change these stories into cookie-cutter designs and then I’d be free to do what I wanted later.

I hadn’t calculated the impact that experience would have on me as a writer. Rewriting my own spillworthy stories into teacher assignments–that’s what it really came down to for me. And it killed my will to write.

I went through a dark period. I used to worry about never getting published and suddenly I was worrying over the opposite–that I’d sell one of the stories I’d rewritten (and destroyed).

I didn’t know what I was going to do, only that I couldn’t do what I was doing any more. I admitted defeat and fired my agent.

I didn’t even admit to myself that I was planning on self-publishing, but I started doing things that betrayed my intentions–things like learning to use inDesign software and doodling ideas for book covers. Even after it was clear the path I was walking, I kept it very close, giving myself the option of changing my mind at any point.

That decision to go it alone, while probably scary, must have given you a tremendous sense of liberation, to be free of the constraints others were trying to place on you. So you had complete freedom on everything from layout to design, right?

Liberation is one of those double-edged swords. On the one hand, I can do anything I want! On the other hand, I have to take full responsibility for all those decisions. It is scary, but it’s also a relief.

Speaking of which, is the cover your own design? I really like it.

Thank you! Yes. The cover design is mine. I created several before this one, but they all ended up too even and polished. I finally found what I wanted when I gave myself permission to play, without worrying about the results.

Based on your own experience, do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?

In the process of writing your books, take time to care for the writer. We do a lot of foolish things to prove we’re good enough, but killing the writer behind the writing defeats the purpose. Write your spillworthy ideas and know your limits–both in your writing and in your life. Never feel like you’re less of a writer because you limit the things you will do to get published. Those limits give you strength.

Thanks, that’s very good advice.

Let’s talk a little about your catch and release promotion. First of all, with a moniker like that I have to ask, do you fish?

I grew up fishing and thought I was quite good at it. As an adult, I’ve discovered that my dad was really quite good at fishing and I just went along for the ride.

So how does catch and release work?

Early readers from all over are releasing copies of Spillworthy into the world during the first ten days of May. The books are left for others, with the request that they be set free again after being read. Each book is tagged and can be reported as found on the spillworthy.com website.

After books are released during those first days (and the participants are no longer there), the locations of the books will be revealed through social media. If someone nearby goes to get the book, that’s awesome. If not, we leave it up to fate to decide who finds it.

That sounds like fun, and a terrific way to spread the word.

Are you also physically hitting the road for the promotion? If so, what stops are you planning to make, and when?

I am going on a book release road trip in Idaho, Oregon, and maybe Washington. I’m playing more than working, releasing books myself during those first ten days, plus stopping in at libraries and bookstores. I have no schedule to keep, which is entirely by design. I’ll be posting photos during the week and telling people where I’m releasing my books into the wild.

Back home in Idaho, I will be doing some workshops for kids as well. Although they tie in with the idea of creating spillworthy poems and art, they’re entirely an excuse for me to get kids hooked on writing.

A worthy goal, indeed.

What was the hardest obstacle for you to overcome in the whole concept to publication process? What was the greatest joy?

The hardest thing is knowing that my mom died too soon to hold this book in her hands. She always believed this day would come and I wish I’d moved forward earlier, to share this experience with her. My greatest joy is opening a box of books and having my kids clamoring for copies of their own.

I am so sorry about the loss of your mother, I know you were close. I see you have dedicated the book to her. I’m sure she is very proud, not only of this book, but of all that you do.

Thank you. We had time to tie up loose ends before she died and she made sure I knew she was proud of me. She was good like that. And honestly, if I had put this book in her hands, I’d have been sad that she couldn’t hold the next one. There’s never a good time to lose the people we love.

Finally, I want to ask, do you have any other writing projects going that we can look forward to?

I wrote quite a few books while waiting for agents and editors to write back to me. My older daughter has already selected the next one she wants me to revisit. DisasterMinds is a young adult novel about a socially inept teen who believes he’s so smart he must have been genetically engineered in a secret lab. He convinces his childhood friend, a girl who happens to have been conceived in the same IVF program, to take a road trip with him, to either prove or disprove his theory.

Nice. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today, Johanna. I really enjoyed talking to you and learned a lot through your keen insights. Best of luck with the release.

~~~

Spillworthy will be available May 1, 2014
Print copies: Amazon, B&N, & other fine book sellers.
Ebook available only on Amazon Kindle.
Amazon Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9913810-2-9
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9913810-3-6
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-9913810-0-5
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9913810-1-2

Picture of Johanna Harness.Johanna Harness has ten years experience teaching college English, and fifteen years experience homeschooling, writing, teaching workshops, and puttering around her big, red barn. Johanna loves exploring the natural world and enjoys trees in particular. She was born and raised in Idaho, where she and her husband went to kindergarten together. She now shares her love of books, science, and history with her kids, sheep, cats, and guinea pigs (but mostly with her kids).

Waiter, there’s a Troll in my Blog!

February 13, 2014 in #AmWriting, Thursday Writing, Writers by Angie Capozello

Writers, by nature, tend to be sensitive souls. They pour their heart into every word, lovingly polish each phrase and hold the final piece up to the muse to bless.  And the muse says, ‘It’s beautiful honey! I love it!”  But sadly, the rest of the world is neither so kind, nor so careful of your feelings.  And while honest critiques can be good for a writer, there will always be those who feel the need to tell you what they think whether you asked them to or not.  These gutter slimes take advantage of the anonymity of the web to verbally assault you  – they leave nasty, personal comments on your blog, they try to bait you into pointless arguments on chats, they trash your book on Amazon –  these, dear writer, are Trolls.

vacuumSo what do you do if you have a troll infestation?  First off, don’t reply to them.  Nature abhors a vacuum and so do trolls.  If you ignore them they will often wander off to find an easier target.  Remember, they want to wind you up, they get off on making people miserable, so don’t give them any fuel to work with.  On your blog, you can always apply the Mighty Sword of Comment Deletion.  It works, and it’s fun to do.  Hah, take that Troll!  (Imagine Errol Flynn as Robin Hood while you delete, I know that makes the Muse feel better, she’s a fan of his…work…heh.)

But sometimes, even if you get them to go away their hurtful comments stick with you.  We all have that little scared voice inside that says, what if they’re right, what if my story really is that bad?  Fear not dear writer, there are fun and easy things you can do to patch up your battered ego, and even come out the better for having encountered your personal boogeyman.

Here is my patented 3 step method to recover from Troll attacks:

The Zen Approach

Try to think of trolls with compassion – the enlightened soul realizes that pouring out vitriol is what this poor, benighted troll needs right now.   There must be some pain in their life, some deep seated hurt inflicted on them that goads them to behave so badly.  And you understand, you’ve lashed out when life has poured salt into your wounds.  You, the zen Buddha saint in training, know that this person is not angry with you, nor do they hate you, it is instead themselves that they are at odds with.

Whoa, deep, eh?

Sadly, I am not usually quite so enlightened.  When someone is being an a** I immediately want to borrow a hat pin from the Muse and play pin the tail on the donkey.  Which brings me to step two:

The Comedian

PrintTake a moment to contemplate the lighter side of trolls.  Just who whizzed in their wheaties today? Did they wake up to find their pooch dry-humping their leg?  Did the cat hork a hairball onto their lap?  Go ahead, let your muse have some fun at their expense.   Don’t let that lady-like exterior fool you, she packs a wicked sucker punch. And when you see those nasty-grams in your inbox, just remember:   Opinions are like a**holes – everybody has one.  Some are just louder than others.

Right, let me just hand the hat pin back and get the Muse to stop giggling madly so we can move on to step three:

Use Your Trolls Wisely

The muse is really into recycling.  Everything in life is grist for her mill, and trolls are especially good when reduced, reused, and re-characterized.  If you ever wondered how to make your antagonists more antagonistic, keep a file with notes about trolls. Real life is filled with petty jerks, and the world your characters inhabit should have them too.  Just remember, no naming names.  Lawyers have these fun little toys called libel and defamation of character – avoid them at all costs.  Your muse is creative though, I’m sure she can find ways to use their character traits without going into recognizable details.   Odds are if something makes you cringe or grit your teeth, you can use it to gain sympathy for your main character and build tension in your story.  Keep your eyes open for trolls, they may be the inspiration for your next really juicy villain.

Okay, that’s enough from me, what do you do to deal with trolls?  Share your ideas in the comments section, let’s try to make Troll an endangered species!

~Angie C.

*Graphics copyright Angie Capozello

The New #Amwriting Member Directory

October 1, 2012 in #AmWriting, Community News, Guest post by JM Strother

The Amwriting logo in a wooden picture frameWe are very happy to have a special guest here today. Johanna Harness, founder of the #amwriting meme on Twitter, has stopped by to share some of the changes you will find on the new amwriting site, which officially reopens today. Specifically, she dropped in to discuss the new member directory. After reading this post be sure to follow her link over to the site itself to read about other exciting changes, and to wish her the best on the new and improved #amwriting. ~jon

The New #Amwriting Member Directory

by Johanna Harness

The #amwriting hashtag started just over three years ago on Twitter. As our membership grew, I set up our first web page: a membership directory. It was a simple enough idea. I collected short bios for our members and published each as a post on our website. Anyone who used the hashtag was welcome to send me a bio. As the community grew, I quickly found myself overwhelmed. Even with a volunteer helping me, we couldn’t catch up.

So we changed. We set up a multi-author blog where members could post their own information. As a result, our author bios jumped from one hundred to nearly six hundred in a matter of months. Success, right?

Well, yes and no.

We were growing and that was fantastic. Unfortunately, giving everyone access to the dashboard created a really unstable blog. By August of this year, it was clear we’d have to shut down for a month and rebuild from the ground up.

One of our key priorities was creating a solid membership directory. Starting in September, I began pulling a small group of #amwriting peeps all over the internet, trying out the features of one site after another.

For our membership directory, our criteria didn’t seem that demanding:

  • Each person should have a page with a photo and room for links and a complete bio. It should feature the author and really make the person look good. (I was amazed how many author bios appeared as tiny little entries below huge advertising banners. Yick.)
  • We should be able to customize the information requested from each person. (More than one service charged significantly to even alter the wording, while some services wouldn’t allow any changes at any cost.)
  •  We wanted a good search function. In other words, we didn’t just want to search on the title of the biography, but also the contents. If I’m looking for other fantasy writers, I should be able to do a search for “fantasy” and see a list of those authors. If I want to see if anyone else mentions Idaho, I should be able to do a search.
  • Export. Oh wow. I had no idea how difficult it would be to find someone willing to provide an easy export of data. If we ever decide to move to another site, we should be able to take our data with us. That seemed obvious to me.
  • Cost. While we are happy to accept donations, we are committed to making this service free for all. I’m a teacher and a writer. I can absorb some expense, but many of the sites seem to have been developed with corporations in mind. I didn’t even bother dragging my team to most of the directory services discovered.
  • Terms of Service. By the time we found a site that could meet the first five conditions, I just prayed the TOS wouldn’t be horrible. At the very least, let it be in line with other membership directory services.

I’m very happy to say that we finally found a new home for our membership directory: http://groupspaces.com/amwriting.

In all, the directory is only one change of many taking place this month. For a full review of all the changes, please see today’s post on The Amwriting Blog (http://amwritingblog.com/wordpress/archives/15142). Or, if less talk is more your style, jump right into the action at the new #amwriting site: http://www.amwriting.org.

Photo of Johanna Harness, founder of #amwriting.Johanna Harness writes middle grade and young adult novels in both Northwest and fantastic settings–often forgetting which is which. She homeshools her kids, explores out of the way places in Idaho, and hangs out with other writers in the #amwriting community she started on twitter.

Name That Horror Movie Contest Suggestions

October 20, 2011 in #AmWriting, Contests, Dot Org, Tips and Suggestions by JM Strother

A blow up Frankenstein monster in a back yard.Thanks to everyone who dropped by #AmWriting this week to read my Name That Horror Movie Contest preview story, “Lady In White.” I had a lot of fun with it and I think my readers did too. That’s really the point, having fun around Halloween.

One unexpected twist for me was the sheer number of horror movie titles that were in my story. It really added to my enjoyment to discover one after another, many I had never even heard of before. Seems I have some movie watching to catch up on.

One issue that did come up is that with the open-ended nature of this contest it may be darn near impossible for readers to guess your movie title. To avoid reader frustration I have a few suggestions.

  • Unless it is painfully obvious try to keep the words of your title together in your story. I did that in “Lady In White” – the movie title was “Rear Window.” The important line came near the end, when I figured the reader would be more engrossed in the story than in hunting for a title. “The woman in white screamed again and Randy bolted down the corridor, straight through the rear window, taking panes, frames, and draperies with him.”
  • Try to avoid single word titles, as there are so many of those out there nearly any word in the story is a likely guess. If you do use a single word title it might be sporting to let your readers know that up front in order to narrow down the likely candidates a bit. Not using my own advice, my earlier preview story “Room With a View” is woven around a single word title. So far no one has guessed it.
  • You may want to offer hints. You can do this right up front to give everyone an even chance, or offer some hints later if it seems your readers are completely awash. For “Lady In White” I ended up giving two hints before someone successfully guessed the answer. As to “Room With a View,” the same hints I gave for “Lady In White” apply. It may be more often considered a suspense movie, and the phrase, “Good Evening” might come to mind.

These are all just suggestions to give your readers a better chance of connecting with the ball (hey, it’s World Series time – I had to work a baseball metaphor in somehow – Go Cards!). If your story is already written don’t feel like you need to change a thing. But if it seems like you’ve completely stumped your readers have mercy on them and offer up a hint or two. Remember, even though there is a nice prize pack associated with the contest the point isn’t so much winning as it is to have fun, for both readers and writers alike.
~jon