Thursday, August 7, 2014

Feminist or goddess – why must women choose?


A funny thing happened during the release party for Goddess, Awakened. At first, we were having fun, discussing mythological goddesses and favorite authors and books.

Then someone asked if my book promoted feminism. The question confused me at the time. Here was my answer:
“Not at all. The theme encourages women to empower themselves by accepting who they truly are and strengthening their unique talents. All things positive.”
Maybe I should explain why I began writing this series, The Goddess Connection, which will all be paranormals/fantasies based in mythology, all stand-alones, each based on a different goddess.

I love empowering women. Celebrating their uniqueness. Each of us have talents or skills we might view as quirks, and maybe we even dislike ourselves because of them. Or maybe we simply ignore them to fit into a more standardized life where we go through the motions but don’t really feel fulfilled.

In each of these books, the heroine will have lifelong quirks that she sees as detrimental, but by the end, she’ll learn that these quirks are actually strengths. They help define her as an individual, and that’s not a bad thing.

So it saddened me that, when I read the answers to one of the questions I posed at the party, “Do you think women should be treated like goddesses?” and some said no. Some argued women shouldn’t be put on a pedestal – and I agreed:
“that’s definitely not the message I want to send. As I mentioned above, the idea is *not* to put women on a pedestal or treat them as divas, but to value who they are in all their flaws, unique beauty, and talents. The theme of the Goddess Connection is for women to nurture that in themselves, too, and not let others devalue us. I hope that makes sense.”

I’m definitely confused too. Obviously, these young women have the wrong idea about feminism. Maybe they picture a militant society where females are barely distinguishable from males, some sci-fi interpretation that skews the real meaning. To me, feminism honors the struggle and hardships women endured to receive basic rights that should be afforded any human. To vote. To have an education. To choose for themselves how to live their lives. To better themselves in whatever way that appeals to them.

Lately, I’ve been seeing the term thrown around pretty freely, and it’s disturbing. Another article claimed the Starz series based on Diana Gabaldon’s work was the “feminist” answer to Game of Thrones. Why do journalists feel the need to pit one show against another? One gender against another? (Yes, I know – to boost ratings)

The HuffPost article put the question about a feminist label for my books in perspective, and if someone asks again, I’ll have to better qualify my answer.

Yes, to be a goddess means to embrace your best self. The only way to do that is by freeing yourself from restraints, either from outside or originating in yourself.

In my mind, the same definition applies to feminism.

And if you’re interested in The Goddess Connection, the first book is now available from Kensington Publishing’s Lyrical Press imprint.


Goddess, Awakened
The Goddess Connection, Book 1
Fantasy/paranormal romance novel
About 89,700 words
 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Exploring the Feminine Heroic


I haven’t yet written about Engaging the Feminine Heroic, the workshop I attended recently. This was intentional. I find it somewhat difficult to describe in words, and I’m still processing all that took place.
Dara Marks and Deb Norton are an extraordinary team of teachers. They guided us on a journey not only of writing but of interior exploration, into our darkest places where we hold long-forgotten experiences and emotions. Our personal Underworld. A truly transformational experience. It would have been a frightening place had we not shared the experience. In a safe and sacred space, we supported and encouraged one another and continue to do so.

I wish I could have tapped into the deep well of creativity within my psyche that some of the others reached. I have never been good at timed writing practice because frankly, I’m a slow study. Once I get an idea, I can run with it, but it takes me longer than most people. (I thought of a great one on the drive home.) The stories these women pulled from their personal experience and crafted into fiction were nothing short of astonishing. I felt like an amateur in their midst. I’m still in awe.

But now that I’ve learned some of the tricks of going deeper into characters, I will practice them and hopefully enrich my stories.

I have long had a few ideas about really strong feminine characters, but now feel better equipped to explore them. I’m also excited to have learned some details about Persephone I hadn’t known before. Someday I will incorporate them into the revised version of my Goddess Connection story related to Persephone.

If you don’t get the chance to take the workshop, I encourage you to read Dara Marks’ Inside Story.

You can also follow DebNorton on her Part Wild site. Check out the left side for specific writing posts, a virtual mine of writing richness.




Thursday, May 22, 2014

Writers and Editors and Agents, Oh My!

I spent last weekend at the Pennwriters Conference, something I've been writing about quite a bit in my blog over the past week. It was a great weekend, with an amazing number of workshops and multiple opportunities to engage with one of the thirteen agents and editors in attendance.

I've engaged in some interesting conversations this week about whether or not writing conferences should include access to editors and agents. It could be easily argued that many writers are just not ready for pitch sessions -- which is the opportunity most conferences afford, and for which an additional fee is sometimes charged -- and when that is the case, they do more harm than good.

psmag.com
I like going to conferences where editors and agents are present. As the gatekeepers of the traditional
publishing industry, they possess a certain mystique that can intimidate -- or perhaps even terrify -- authors who've poured their heart out onto the page. And conferences can help de-mystify these all-too-human people, rendering them mere mortals who love reading and books as much as writers do.

But on the flip side, I can't imagine listening to pitch session after pitch session, going back to work reading pitches all week and then the next weekend, traveling to another conference in another city, listening to more writers peddle their wares.

And so I don't think agents and editors should be required to receive pitches when they attend a conference. One of the best workshops I attended all weekend was the agent panel. Ten of the industry professionals not receiving pitches in that time slot introduced themselves, shared what they were hoping to find and fielded questions from attendees. And we, in return, got a sense of who they were and what their personalities were like. I left that workshop with a short list of three people I wanted to meet (two of whom I'd already short-listed when I read the conference literature before attending). By the end of the conference, I'd met all three of them through appropriate channels (which do not include cornering them in the elevator or the bathroom or bending their ear about the value of your latest project every time you see them).

Not surprisingly, these were normal (well, at least as normal as writers) people. Most were generous with their time and advice as well. I had not intended to pitch, and so when appointments arose, I offered modified, impromptu versions of an unplanned presentation, spurred on by the panel's agreement that they preferred conversations to hard core pitches.

The best part? I'm not afraid-a-no agents. Well, at least not these agents. When I'm ready to craft a query, I'll start with these human beings, who are no longer frightening, and, by virtue of their willingness to listen to modified, impromptu conversational pitches, at the top of my list.

What do you think? Does having editors and/or agents at a conference increase your interest in the event?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Muse Wore Flip Flops

publicdomainpictures.net
Yesterday, I wrote a blog post about how excited I was to flip flop my schedule (summer pun intended) and put writing first. My schedule has been cooperating, too -- April and May have offered up writing events including my critique group's semi-annual writing retreat and Lancaster Christian Writers' Super Saturday, and the Pennwriters conference is just around the corner, promising workshops, socializing and a weekend where writing takes center stage. Earlier this week, I created and sent out my first ever author newsletter, complete with giveaway. Summer writing time is indeed in the air. 

We writers are a diverse bunch. There are those who live for silence and solitude, unable to work anywhere noisier than the library. Others depend on active social lives to get the neurons firing; without  feedback from the outside world, there can be no new ideas, no story lines, no dialogue. 

For many of us, the writing life is a tenuous balance between extroversion and introversion, with one providing inspiration and the other providing time to realize it. Sometimes the opportunities to exercise extroversion occur by choice; other times they come in disguised as day jobs and family obligations, perhaps even masquerading as roadblocks. Some writers seek solitude; others find it, unbidden.

Under ideal circumstances, each writer achieves his or her own balance, but sometimes circumstances weight the scales for us. Deadlines and job responsibilities tip the scales -- and not always in the way we'd like -- as do procrastination and exhaustion. Sometimes finishing a writing project is more like climbing a mountain than a date with the muse.

Yet we keep climbing. Whether we've chosen writing, or it has chosen us, it keeps showing up on our to-do lists, often at odd hours of the day. The longer we pursue it, the more likely it is to drag along companions of its own -- social media, promotional activities and platform building -- forcing us to open the door a little wider and grant them admittance, hoping they bring their colleagues acceptance and royalties to the party as well.

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But somehow, no matter how crowded or boring or monotonous the party gets, a serious writer keeps coming back. She joins the crowd, or finds a quiet corner or like-minded colleague and tips the scales in favor of productivity. She refills her water jug at the junction of conference and conversation and returns to her work because nothing is quite as satisfying as a writing day well-spent.

Except perhaps a good review and a royalty check.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Celebrating Strong Women


I’ve been remiss. March was Women’s History Month, and there are so many amazing women. Inspiring. So many to remember and celebrate, worthy of teaching our daughters about their accomplishments.


Celebration - and recognition - begins at home. My mom had seven kids, me the youngest. These days, an unimaginable feat (the cost alone is staggering) but when I was growing up, not a huge deal. Other families in our town outnumbered ours by at least twice as many kids.

Mom was a pioneer in her own right, a frustrated artist too dedicated to her family to put herself first. In her youth, she drew some wonderful illustrations, but never did anything with them. Decades before composting was a popular “green” activity, she practiced it. I can still recall the vivid colors in her flower garden.


I didn’t learn until the day of her funeral that she was also a writer. My dad often wrote – sometimes town history, sometimes little essays, but most often for his duties as a deacon in our church. But I had no idea my Mom won an honorable mention for a story she’d submitted to a national contest.


Her love of the piano was unfailing. She took on sheet music like MalagueƱa, a complicated piece. When she played, it didn’t sound like this. But she played it because she loved it. And she inspired me to teach myself piano. I wish I’d kept at it.

 

I wish, too, that she’d taken more time for herself. Channeled her creativity into the things she loved. Instead, she sewed clothes for us. And for herself, when she wasn’t filling a bag at the second-hand store. She was a whiz at stretching a buck. And she put together fantastic outfits. Her shoe collection rivaled that of Imelda Marcos’.


She may have even made the PBS list of people who define cool. Some of her outfits were downright bohemian for the times.


But she was not one who sought fame. She was a wife and mother, first and foremost. Not a saint, but none of us are.


So many women are deserving of recognition and accolades for all they do, and most do it as a matter of course. 


Kudos to you, Mom, for all of your achievements. You were one of the strongest females I knew. My earliest inspiration for my fictional heroines, determined, fierce and a force to reckon with.


“an originality of artistic vision as established through a signature style, which is to say their artistic vision cannot be separate from their personality. Second, that in a given historical moment, they were perceived as a cultural rebel. Third, that they have high profile recognition. Fourth, that they have a recognized cultural legacy.”
Something tells me you didn’t look hard enough to balance out that list. Thank goodness Georgia O’Keefe made the list. Patti Smith and Bonnie Raitt? Excellent. Joan Didion and Lauren Bacall. Wonderful.


But where’s Frida Kahlo?
Helen Mirren?
Katharine Hepburn?
Tina Fey?
Maya Angelou?
Diane Arbus?
Gloria Steinem?

You done our gender wrong. All you had to do was thumb through a copy of Ladies First. Easily enough women to make a separate top 100 list.


If you’re unfamiliar with the book, I highly recommend it. Full of amazing tales of female pioneers and groundbreakers from every walk of life.


Happy (belated) Women’s History Month. I hope you celebrate the women who’ve made an impact in your life.



Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dealing with Writing Deadlines

Cyber Self Defense book cover
 ISBN: 978-1-4930-0569-7
Release Date: October 7, 2014
 Globe Pequot/Lyons Press
The publisher gave us a choice of three awesome covers. It was a difficult decision, but we went with this one.

Now all I have to do is get the book written. The book sold on a proposal, which was the exciting part. So was getting the first part of the advance. But the proposal only had one of the sixteen chapters, so I'm still writing the others. That's the hard part. So is the tight deadline.

We wanted an October release to coincide with Domestic Violence Month, because many of the scenarios in the book are about relationships gone bad. Relationships that move from love to hate, or from friends to enemies. And when those relationships end, people can do all kinds of cruel things to get revenge. There are other scenarios in there too: teen bullies, coworker sabotage, and even cyber danger from strangers.

But to make an October release meant only a few months to write the book. And even worse, I had two other book deadlines between January and March. So I've been writing and writing and writing. That's the not-so-glamorous part of being an author. Working when you'd rather be playing. Editing when you'd rather be reading. Researching when you'd rather be sleeping.

So many people dream of being authors. They think it would be exciting to see their name on the cover of a book. And it certainly is. But most people don't think about the long hours of learning the craft, or of forcing yourself to write to make an approaching deadline, or of learning to take criticism so you can improve.

I belong to an online group of writers who all hope to be published someday. Some have succeeded, but others are newbies or working hard to get there. In December when I mentioned a tight deadline for some articles I was writing, one wanna-be author wrote: "I could never write anything under that kind of pressure."

I was tempted to write back that she should quit now, because if she reached her goal of getting an agent or editor, she'd find her whole life revolving around deadlines. Submission deadlines, editing deadlines, marketing deadlines... And if she sold more than one book, those deadlines might even overlap. Agents and editors don't want a one-book wonder. They want authors who will keep writing. Many authors sign a 2- or 3-book contract, which means even more deadlines, because usually book two is being written as book one is edited. Meanwhile book three is in the planning/outline stage. Once your book is accepted, there's no getting away from deadlines. So be sure that you really want to be published.

If you can't handle deadlines and pressure, you can still write. Write for yourself, for your family, for magazines that take completed articles. Write blogs, write for pleasure, write when the muse strikes. All of these are valid ways to enjoy your passion.

But when you long to see your byline on a book cover, be sure you understand the reality of getting to that point. Long hours of work and dedication to your craft. Participation in critique groups, attending writers conferences, submitting and getting rejected. And deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.

If you're willing to endure all of that, then you have what it takes to succeed. You will get there.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The lesson of the boot print

One morning this winter, I came in the house after some mundane chore and bent to remove my boots. Afterward, this was what was left on the floor.


An antlered deer! Or maybe a chupacabra? With a saddle? (Don't ask me what that ball-shaped thing is behind him, lol)

In any event, I thought it looked pretty cool. So I grabbed my camera because I knew it wouldn't last long.

Sometimes like story ideas. They flash through my head. Sometimes, I'll write them down while they're fresh and capture them. Other times (if I'm somewhere I can't jot notes), I'll keep repeating it in my head in hopes I don't lose it.

Sometimes, though, like the deer/chupacabra, it melts away. *poof* Gone, and once that happens, it can be gone for good.

Another lesson to apply to writing - get it down while it's fresh, and the image is clear.

A deeper lesson is to stop and look in the first place. There's so much we miss on a daily basis because we rush, rush, rush. It's worthwhile to stand still and look around. Take in all those details that might otherwise be a blur, or fade before we can admire them.



Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Winter blahs got you down?


Ashcombe's has the cure! On Saturday, Feb. 8, join 14 local authors at Ashcombe's from noon to 3:00 p.m.

All the authors are putting together a special gift basket to give away. Ashcombe's will give away a gift card, too! And you don't want to miss their lunch special - buy one, get one half price. Mm, and chocolate covered strawberries, and heart-shaped sugar cookies.

And, of course, tempting offerings from the 14 authors! Say 'no way' to Old Man Winter and cozy up with a heart-warming read. There's nothing better to cure those winter blahs.



Find the complete list of participating authors here.

Find directions here.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, January 31, 2014

It's Both

Eight or nine or years ago a few 'book' people predicted the eventual demise of traditional books. They expected in a few short years that everyone would do all their reading on an eReader or a computer. No one would be buying paper books.

During a few years from 2008 onward, it seemed it might actually come true. With the introduction of such devices as the Kindle and the Nook, ebook sales shot upward but not quite to infinity and beyond. Those sales did cut into the sales of physical books but they didn't push them into extinction. Predictions now are that they probably never will.

Like many authors in today's world, I sell many more ebooks than I do print books. My publishers pay me a higher percentage of the profits for ebooks also since their overhead is less. I'm glad ebooks are having their time in the sun. But as a long time lover of books, I'm also thrilled that traditional book formats are still among us.

According to this 2013 report from BEA and shared in Publisher's Weekly, traditional books and ebooks can coexist but what share of the market each will share is still and evolving numbers game. 

I still like having book signings and spend many hours in bookstores shopping, but how long will that last? I'm amongst the group of readers who still enjoy some paper books but also do lots of digital reading. My children in college have classes and textbooks online. My one son, a voracious reader, does most of his reading on his Kindle. As the generations who grew up reading traditional books ages and slowly disappear, will books become all digital? Will that pleasant, slightly dusty scent of paper books be gone forever?

Do you think the ebook versus traditional book competition has evened out? Are any members of your family in school and using digital textbooks? Do you still feel the same away about ebooks as you did a few years ago?

Please check out my latest ebook release, The Marine's Heiress, now available at a very reasonable price from New Concepts Publishing. It's formatted for any digital device.

Susan Gourley writes romance as Susan Kelley. You can find her at her blog, Susan Says.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The lesson of the sled

This is my sled. Sure, it's a holiday decoration *now*.  When I was a kid, it was my ticket to ride. To fly.

My sisters and brothers and I would drag our sleds about a quarter mile from our house to sled down a steep hill. Mini-mountain might better describe it. Sometimes at the bottom, we'd build a snow ramp so we'd catch some air (though we didn't call it that in those days, the term wouldn't be invented for decades to come).

We'd sled for HOURS. Pull the sled uphill, legs burning, until we reached the top. Take a moment to survey the slope, then position ourselves on the sled and *whoosh*. Down in much less time than it took to climb that hill.

But we kept doing it over and over and over. Because view from the top was so spectacular, made even better because we knew the thrill was coming. The trip down gave us such a rush. We didn't complain about the hill being too steep because that was the point of it - the higher the hill, the better the ride.

Nor did we complain about our sleds being too heavy - about 25 pounds by my husband's estimate. It must have been taller than I was. It stands up to my shoulder now. These days when I pull it out of the basement to set it outside, I always think 'Wow, this is heavy. How the heck did I manage to use it when I was a girl?'

For one, in the Sixties, the Flexible Flyer sled was probably state of the art, lol. And because when we're kids, there's a clearer goal ahead - the fun. Words like "impossible" held no place in our worlds because we challenged everything and turned impossible on its head.

And it was so worth it.

I admit, at some point years later, we traded in these heavy runner sleds for the plastic saucer-type. But it wasn't quite the same. Maybe I'd outgrown the whole thing, or thought I did.

Not hard to guess how this applies to writing. Just do the work for the prize at the end, and because you love it - ups and downs alike.

I put the sled back in the basement until next winter, but I'll try to keep the lesson fresh all year.

The best part is, I'll never stop writing.

How about you?