Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Catholic Writers Retreat Set For Oct 5-9; Register by Sep 28

NOTE: We need more people to sign up by the 20th or we have to cancel, so if you know you want to go, please register before then!

Catholic Writers to Enjoy Special Spiritual Retreat

Lansing, MI: In collaboration with FAITH Catholic Publishing and Communications, The Catholic Writers Guild, will sponsor Your Word is My Delight, a Catholic writers' retreat, Oct 5-9, 2011. Come and delight in God's word and sacrament, and pray in a beautiful and serene retreat setting.

The retreat's key presenter is Pat Gohn, Catholic columnist, podcaster and catechist (link: http://www.patgohn.com/patgohn/About.html) . Other presenters are Father Charles E. Irvin, David Krajewski, Father David Rosenberg and Father Larry Delaney.

Writers will enjoy five spiritually-enriching days of daily Mass, adoration, the sacrament of reconciliation and many hours of writing time. Talks will explore how God speaks to and encourages writers through Scripture, papal writings and other topics in order to promote faith-filled writing.

Opportunities for networking also will be offered through an informal "book bash and social hour" Wednesday evening and Faith Catholic's one-on-one "pitch sessions" that give writers the chance to sell their current writing projects.

Cost for the four-day retreat is $450, which includes meals and accommodations. Deadline for registration is Sept 28. A nonrefundable deposit of $45 is required at registration.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Want to learn worldbuilding?

People who read my blog know how bizarre my imagination gets, and how detailed and wild I can get in my worldbuilding. Even though I'm more of an intuitive, seat-of-the-pants kind of writer, I have broken down worldbuilding into several steps and I'm teaching them at savvyauthors.com September 5-October 3. I really stretched this class out so that folks had a lot of time to think, research, etc. However, you can go at your own pace, do don't let the length intimdate you. I have taught this in week-long conferences. However, you are going to get up to four weeks of my attention for only $25 ($25 for Savvy Author members.)

Get more information here: http://www.savvyauthors.com/vb/showevent.php?eventid=1001

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chatterday: How do you handle Writer's Block

We talked this week about writer's block. I shared my own idea that it's a lie that hides the real reason writers don't write and I offered some ideas. Now it's your turn:

Do you get "writer's block?" How do you break it?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Busting Writer's Block

Last week, I talked about writer's block being a lie that keeps writers from their dreams because it hides the real reason writers don't produce:
1. Intimidation
2. Sloth
3. Perfectionism
4. Guilt
5. Rather talk about being a writer than write

Regardless of the reason, hiding behind writer's block will stop you from doing what you want to do--write! Here are some tips for busting the lie of writer's block.

#1 Sh**y First Drafts. In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamont talks about giving herself permission to write a "sh***y first draft." The idea is that you can always fix your prose, your story, your characters---but only if write it out first.

This is the best advice I can give someone who feels intimidated by the task or shackled with expectations of perfectionisn. Give yourself permission to write tripe. Order yourself to put words to paper (or to the screen), even if (as one presenter at CWCO put it), you end up with a virtual "steaming pile." When you are done. If you let yourself--make yourself--do this, one of three things will happen:
1. You will discover you wrote better than you expected.
2. You will write junk that you can fix.
3. You will burn part of all of the work in the name of public safety, but you will have written. And havin written once, the next time will be easier. There is a saying that the first million words you write are practice.

A last note on this--resist the urge to edit while you are writing. Make notes if needed, but get the entire thing written unless you already know you can finish the task.

#2 BICHOK: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard: You cannot be a writer unless you write. You can make writing a habit.

This is hard. Remember my analogy last week that plumbers don't get plumber's block? If they did, they don't get paid. Ditto the reporter--reporters don't get writer's block. No work=no pay.

Many of us aren't there yet, however, so we need other ways to motivate ourselves. Maybe write 20 minutes, then play a game? Go out to dinner when you finish that novel? Have a special place to write--or leave your house until you have the habit. Some authors make mock-ups of their covers to motivate them. Others take their day's goals before the Blessed Sacrament. Find what motivates you and do it.

#3 Set realistic goals. This helps Guilt as well as Sloth. If you are busy and writing is a sideline, developing the habit is more important than the actual number of words you produce. For an example, when I still had a baby and a toddler and homeschooled my older two, my goal was simply "one sentence before bed." Now, with older kids in public school, I can devote a few hours a day. In both instances, I kept a habit of writing.

#4 Don't control your creativity. Perfectionists hesitate to start a project until they think they are completely ready to do it. Those who are intimidated worry that their creative ability isn't up to the job. Others find a story stalls because the characters won't do what they want them to do. Some would-be writers never get past the research stage.

Let go and let flow! You can't always control the direction of the creative process. Let your characters lead you in the story. Start writing that article and discover what the Holy Spirit (or your subconscious) drives you to write. Stop researching, outlining, profiling, and write. If you run into a fact or a question or a scene you're not sure of, just flag it and move on.

#5 Stuck, still? Take a break and write something else. Can't figure out the next chapter? Skip it or write a different scene with the character--or a character interview. Can't figure out the next chapter on your book? Write a related article. Start a new project if you like, but remember to come back to the original one and finish it.

Writing is 10 percent creativity and 90 percent productivity. Even more, when creativity stalls, productivity can get it started again. The lie of writer's block, however, can stop you from seeing that.

Got questions or a comment on writer's block? Post them. I'll answer as best I can, and maybe blog again on it next month.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's Vern in his glory days!

Bought this at the art sale at WorldCon because it is Vern in his pre-George days. The title of the work is even "Lunch"! This is a man who understands Vern.

Incidentally, Magic, Mensa and Mayhem was quite a hit at WorldCon. Made me happy, especially with Live and Let Fly coming out, but I had to admit to being surprised. It's over a year old and the cover was the most cartoony of all the ones at the table. the usual reaction I get from people is "Is this manga or for kids?" but at WorldCon, folks just thought, "What fun!" Guess the lesson is never assume what a group will like based on other groups.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Lie of Writer's Block

Karina is at Renovation this week, so she's running these blogs she wrote for the Catholic Writers Guild blog in April:

Has your plumber ever canceled an appointment because "the pipes aren't talking to me?" Have you ever heard of an architect who wouldn't finish designing a building because he's not "feeling it"? Yet the most common reason writers give for not writing is "writer's block."

I don't believe in writer's block. I see writer's block as a socially accepted lie that keeps writers from achieving their goals. Sound harsh? Consider this:

Benjamin Franklin said invention is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. The same holds true for writing, I believe: 10 percent creativity, and 90 percent productivity. Even more, the simple act of writing can inspire greater creativity. However, writer's block disregards the 90 percent and places undue importance on the small percentage of the writing act.

So what really causes writers to stare at the blank screen for hours before turning with disgust to Facebook or YouTube?

#1 Intimidation. A blank page is intimidating. Having a whole story perfect in your mind except for that first sentence is intimidating. Taking on a project you feel will bring people closer to God is intimidating. Sometimes, just the throught that strangers will read your blog is intimidating.

What happens when you are intimidated? You freeze. But instead of recognizing that fear and meeting it head on, writers say they are "blocked" and don't address the issue.

#2 Sloth. Writing is work, but too often, writers, especially new writers, believe that if they are truly inspired, the words will flow from their mind to the keyboard. When that doesn't happen, it's easy to claim "writer's block."

#3 Perfectionism (or the need for excellence right off): This, to me, ties into both intimidation and sloth. It's the idea that if you are "truly a writer," then each sentence comes out as perfect. If not, you are a failure as a writer. Who wants to face that? Easier to say you're "blocked."

It's also the trap of believing you have to have everything perfect--from your research to your carefully mapped plot and characters--before you can even start.

#4 Guilt. This especially happens to those who are not making a living off their writing. Getting published is a long, slow process, and you can't wait for a contract before you write your book or story. Yet it's hard to justify taking time "away" from family, the house, social or charitable obligations. (What kind of mother, after all, would forego a PTA meeting to work on her sci-fi novel?)

Recently, a friend told me about a "writer" who complained of writers block for a year and a half. He got lots of sympathy, but never produced anything. Some people choose to talk about being a writer instead of confronting the realities of writing. Writer's block provides an easy way to do that.

Don't let writer's block keep you from your dreams.

Next week, we'll talk about ways to break writers' block.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tips for Making the Most of a Writers' Convention

1. Make a list of goals or needs. Why are you attending this conference? Have some specific things you want to get out of it. Some ideas:
* meet publishers
* find a critique partner or group
* get more marketing ideas
* meet illustrators
* specific things you want to learn

2. Have a business card. Give one to everyone you talk to. In fact, have a pen handy always and write on the back: "Enjoyed talking to you about..." so they know why they have your card.

3. Take notes: Either on the back of their business cards or in a notebook or on your smart phone or... Get the person's contact info and write down what you talked to them about and why you want to follow up. It will be very handy when you get home!

4. Talk to authors: find out their stories, their issues, how you can help each other. What's working for them? What are their challenges?

5. See a radio station or podcaster? Ask them if they have an open slot! You could get some free advertising! If not, get their info and contact them after the convention.

6. Talk to the booksellers at the expo. Some might take a copy or two of your book on commission. Others might be run by the publisher themselves.

7. Go to the con suite if there is one. Meet people. Network. Have fun. Get free snacks. Can it get any better than that?

8. Bring advertising stuff for the freebie table. Bookmarks, etc. It doesn't cost anything to put them there--jsut be sure to gather the extras before you leave!

9. Know anyone getting a booth? In a group that might pitch in for a booth together? Make it happen.

10. Have fun! It's not all learning and networking. Relax and enjoy yourself. wear a costume (if it's that kind of convention) or a funny hat or vest. Some of the best stories come from conventions after hours.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's Conference Woman!

The Amazing Discovery at the Catholic Writers Conference Live--Clark Kent's glasses trope really works!

Conference was great. New York City was amazing. Technology totally failed me on the trip. I'm home now and overwhelmed with what I need to do before going to WorldCon in Reno. I want there to be two of me--and I want to wear the hat!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It's Out! Mind Over Mind is here!

Deryl Stephens' uncontrollable telepathic abilities have landed him in a mental health institution, where no one believe in his powers.

Joshua Lawson, a summer intern at SK-Mental Institute, does something no one else has ever done: he accepts Deryl's reality and teaches him to work with it. As Deryl learns control, he finds his next challenge is to face the aliens who have been contacting him psychically for years--aliens who would use him to further their cause in an interplanetary war.


Ydrel threw himself into wakefulness with such force that he sat up in bed. Still, the nightmare images clung to his mind: the beat of a hundred hearts, the smell of sweat and fear. He clutched his stomach and fought the urge to scream.

A hundred bodies crowded around him, crushing him against the splintered wood of the boxcar.

No, this isn’t real!

No room to move. No air to breathe. Suffocating. Drowning.

No, this isn’t me!

Confusion and fear. Fear the trip would never end. Terror of what waited at its completion.

NO! These aren’t MY memories!!


Ydrel threw up shaky mental barriers. The visions faded, just slightly. He forced his eyes open, drinking in reassurance from familiar objects.

He sat in bed, an oversized twin, backed up against pillows rather than splintered wood. Pre-dawn light shone softly through the blinds. On the nightstand, Descartes regarded him with one button eye. The only thing left from before his mother died, he’d slept with that bear until an orderly commented on his “abnormal attachment.” Since then it had stood watch over him instead, braced against the lamp. Even now, without any orderlies around, Ydrel resisted the urge to clutch it close to his chest, but he reached out to touch one tattered foot.

On the shelf beside the window sat a portable boom box, a gift from his first birthday here—his thirteenth. Five years ago, today. The maintenance man had disabled the volume control after Ydrel played it too loudly. Thereafter, he’d found other ways to block out the moans and occasional screams that penetrated the closed door. Happy birthday.

The stereo held up several books. He was studying them in case it called. He both dreaded and longed for the calls. Each episode only gave them more reason to keep him here, yet there was something as familiar and comforting about it as his old bear.

He turned his gaze to the far wall and the framed pictures of a nebula and the solar system by his half-empty closet. On his sixteenth birthday, he’d been allowed to decorate his room and he’d chosen those posters and a mild blue paint to replace the still–lifes and the institutional burgundy-and-pink color scheme. While it had been a relief to his eyes, it was also a constant reminder that they never intended for him to leave.

This is my room, he thought. In the asylum. Even after five years, he’d never call it home. He’d never give Malachai the satisfaction.


Calmer now, his mental barriers in place, Ydrel allowed himself to examine the vision that awakened him. Hundreds of bodies packed into a train car not suited for twenty. Most had traveling clothes, but had shed them against the heat. No room to move. The air was stifling and stale. No one knew where they were going. Some suspected, but said nothing. The destination was worse than the trip.

Ydrel sighed. Isaac was on the train to Dachau again.

Ydrel threw off the covers and dressed quickly in a blue t-shirt and jeans, socks and generic sneakers. Already Isaac’s projected fear was breaking down his mental defenses; Ydrel’s fingers trembled as he fumbled with the laces.

Once out in the corridor, he hastened to the old man’s room, forcing himself to keep his pace smooth, his face composed. Someone would stop him if he hurried or looked distressed, and any delay would be unbearable. As he walked he got into character. His stride lengthened; his face hardened. He held his hands relaxed but ready by his hips. When he got to Isaac’s door, he cast a wary look down the hall, then slipped in.

The old man lay on a standard hospital bed, his wide, wild eyes staring at the ceiling but focused on his inner horrors. His hands fluttered helplessly on the thin coverlet. He labored for each ragged breath.

Ydrel sat beside him and composed his own vision.

The train stops so suddenly that people would have been thrown down if they hadn’t been so tightly packed in. The sound of gunfire and shouts in German. The boxcar door opens with a rusty screech. Someone yells in Yiddish, then German: “Out! Now! Quickly, to the woods—to the south!” Relief from the press of bodies, then a new pressure as the flow of people pushes him through the door. Someone grabs his arm—

Ydrel grabbed Isaac by the arm as he pushed the new vision into the old man’s mind.

Isaac blinked, twisted toward Ydrel, then smiled, his eyes bright with tears. “Gideon! Old friend. Thank God!”

Monday, August 08, 2011

Review of Viper by John Desjarlais

Summary: (From http://www.johndesjarlais.com)
Haunted by the loss of her brother to drugs and a botched raid that ended her career with the DEA, insurance agent Selena De La Cruz hoped to start afresh in rural Illinois. But her gung-ho former boss needs her back to hunt “The Snake,” a dealer she helped arrest who is out of prison and systematically killing anyone who ever crossed him. His ‘hit list’, appended to a Catholic Church’s All Souls Day ‘Book of the Deceased,’ shows Selena’s name last. Working against time, small town prejudice and the suspicions of her own Latino community, Selena races to find The Snake before he reaches her name while a girl visionary claims a “Blue Lady” announces each killing in turn. Is it Our Lady of Guadalupe or, as others believe, the Aztec goddess of Death?

Mini Review:

Another excellent mystery by John Desjarlais. Too often anymore, you read a thriller/mystery and have to wonder if the main character is even human for all the abuse and emotional trauma they live through in the course of a book. The thing I enjoy most about John's books is that he doesn't rely on over-the-top action or heart-clutching angst to get you through a story. Rather, he begins with a strong mystery with believable characters you could expect to find living next door, and he lets the excitement and the emotion flow naturally from the story. The result is a novel that will keep you reading through the end, but not leave you feeling like the characters--and you--need a long vacation on a deserted island just to recover! The Catholic and Hispanic culture, so well researched and deeply infused in the book, add flavor and uniqueness. Definitely worth reading!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Time to Re-assess Social Marketing

As many of my friends know, I've not been happy with the results of my years of social marketing. I spent a couple of days after I finished writing Discovery to map out what was bugging me the most, and it's that I really don't like all the shouting out to the world, "Hey! Lookie at me!" and I like it even less when all that shouting doesn't get results--i.e., book sales.

Recently, the Writers' Chat Room had discussion on blogs and what attracts readers. We all agreed that they should be entertaining and/or informative and have a unique angle. Many folks take that to be a personal approach--funny stories about their lives, etc.--but I'm not comfortable with that. Frankly, it's one thing I've been getting discontented about. I normally don't like to talk about myself (ironic, I know, but really, call me on the phone and see how I calm up), and when it comes down to it, I don't want people to buy my books because they like me, but because they like the characters.

So...what to do?

Over the next couple of months, I'll be retooling my social marketing efforts to center more around my books and my characters. I'm going to share some of my mad ideas, whether they make it into a story or not. I'll be doing character studies, world notes, favorite quotes... I'll probably keep My Novel's Journey because people do seem to like that, but I'll try to cut down on the me-me-me and concentrate more on the story or the lesson. I'm also going to start posting some serial stories, which I'll be asking for donations to support them. I'm also going to experiment with video blogging, interviewing different writers at conventions and such. Not sure how that will work. I have to play with the technology.

But you tell me: What would make this blog more interesting? How about Facebook/Twitter posts? If you are a writer, what do you do to draw readers? If you are a reader, what kind of posts convince you to take the step from blog to book purchase?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Interview with John Desjarlais, Author of Viper

Yay! Tomorrow, I'm heading off to the Catholic Writers Conference Online. One of the many fantastic people I'll meet there is John Desjarlais, who writes awesome mysteries with Catholic characters. His latest, VIPER, came out July 15. I'll have a review up on the 8th, but here's an interview of him. Enjoy!

A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, John Desjarlais teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990, re-released 2000), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval thriller, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, re-released 2009) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder and Viper (Sophia Institute Press, 2009 and 2011 respectively) are the first two entries in a contemporary mystery series. A member of The Academy of American Poets and Mystery Writers of America, he is listed in Who's Who in Entertainment and Who's Who Among America's Teachers. Today, we're talking with him about his latest book, Viper, out from Sophia Institute Press.

Where did you get the idea for the murderer putting her name in the Book of the Dead?

I’m a relatively new Catholic, and so I’m very excited to observe the many customs, traditions and practices I never knew about in my many years as a devout Protestant. Soon after I finished BLEEDER, my first mystery, I was considering a sequel and on the lookout for a story idea when around All Souls’ Day I noticed an announcement in my parish’s bulletin reminding people to write the names of departed relatives in “The Book of the Dead” so they could be remembered and prayed for. To a mystery writer, a phrase like “Book of the Dead” sounds like a premise and a title! The wheels began to turn: what if there were names in the Book of people who weren’t dead yet? What if they were being killed in the order in which they were listed? Who would they be, and who would kill them, and why? And what if the last name in the list was one of my characters? It had to be Selena De La Cruz, especially since this observance has a close connection to the Mexican festival in November called “The Day of the Dead,” which became my working title along with “The Book of the Deceased.” (It ended up being “VIPER” to match the two-syllable title “BLEEDER” and to refer to the snake-themes in the story: the drug dealer named “The Snake,” the snake handling, the Aztec interest in snakes, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose name in the native Nuahtl language means ‘she who crushes the snake’).

Did you have fun looking up women's footwear for Selena?

I learned early on in the research that Latinas dig the zapatos. At the elaborate coming-of-age celebration for fifteen-year-old girls called a Quiceañera, one custom calls for the father to give his daughter her first pair of high heels as a symbol of her womanhood. For Selena, the stylish shoes are a sign of her Latin identity, her social class and her empowerment as a woman in a man’s world – besides handing a P226 SIG Sauer and racing a muscle car! I found all I needed in Latina magazine and zappos.com, and my Latina reader/translator had some suggestions. I have no particular attraction to women’s footwear, lest anyone wonder about that. And I’ve never actually tried wearing them to get an idea of their balance. My research only takes me so far. The aim was to make Selena both unique and authentically Latina.

What was your favorite part to write?

The climax, the final showdown, is always a gratifying part to write since it is the dramatic pay-off that you’ve been setting up for a long time. Apart from that, I enjoyed all the ‘flashbacks’ and brief remembrances of Selena’s upbringing and family life. These intimate interactions made the character come alive for me and absolutely real for readers. I didn’t include all these parts in the novel; one must be judicious with backstory. I’ve saved them and I might use them in my blog (http://jjdesjarlais.blogspot.com) when Selena writes there as a ‘guest.’

What's next for you?

I’m brewing ideas for the third mystery in the series to address a few unresolved issues left over from VIPER. Insofar as VIPER considered Selena’s relationship with her mother (an immensely important figure in Mexican families), the next story will examine her troubled past with her father. This has always affected her relationships with men, and until she deals with this she cannot move ahead in her relationship with Reed Stubblefield. So I’ll have Selena investigate the mysterious circumstances of her father’s early death, which is somehow connected to his former position as an executive with PEMEX, the Mexican national oil company, and his sudden transfer to the Mexican Consulate in Chicago.

Thanks for letting me visit with you, Karina! Your readers can stay in touch with me at jjdesjarlais(at)johndesjarlais.com. Visit my web site, www.johndesjarlais.com.