2016, A Year in Review (and a few resolutions, too)

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Twenty-sixteen was my best year yet when it came to writing (not so much the number of words, but the number of finished projects, publications, and contest wins).  I’ve decided my minimum is 300 words (Stephen King’s is 2000, but unfortunately, I’m unable to write for a living yet).  If I want to go over that, that’s wonderful, but the overage won’t count towards the next day.  I have to keep myself accountable.

I have several New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Get more organized.  This will waste less of my precious time.  I have spent part of the last day of the year clearing out my favorites, deleting e-mails, organizing my USB drive, transcribing my notes that are scattered from pillar to post, polishing the drafts in my blog account so I can either “plush or slush” them (this I’ve done over the last week, explaining my prolific posting).
  2. Do more, and by that, I mean trying different things (especially physical ones, liking biking, climbing, etc).
  3. Plan meals so that I never have to wake up needing to cook.  (I hate cooking in the morning; I’d rather have fish for breakfast…and I have.)
  4. Write something using dictionary.com’s “word of the day”.  This will help me remember it far more than simply memorizing it.
  5. Don’t start writing any more books until I’ve finished (and edited) the ones I’ve written.  (This will take all year.)
  6. Keep coupons in the car or purse.  I am just too forgetful.
  7. Don’t respond to outlandish status updates on Facebook or you will be expected to post one.  I’m sorry, but these really piss me off.  Just like the ones that say “If you love Jesus, you’ll share this”, and others of its ilk.
  8. Include, in my daily to-do list, all the activities I want to do with my daughter.  This includes not just reading stories at bedtime, but other books during the daytime.
  9. Make at least one video of my daughter a week.  I’ve slacked on this as it’s harder to edit videos (or take good ones) than it is a photograph.
  10. Wear less black and gray (yes, it’s slimming).
  11. Do different things with my hair (it’s one of our greatest accessories).  I dug out my old crimper (I’m an eighties girl) and got many compliments on my new look; got a snood for Christmas and if you don’t know what that is, look it up.
  12. Work on Christmas gifts all year long (which would include trying a new recipe weekly).

And that’s just the beginning, but it’s a start.

~

One of my proudest moments this year was winning first place (in the same contest I placed in second twice last year) for my story, “The Punch Drunk Potluck”, about what happens when a saucy girl brings pot brownies to a Mormon Church party and spikes the punch.  Let’s just say everyone’s spirits were lifted.  (I will post the link when the online newspaper editor has it up.)

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I was also published in Bella Grace magazine, for which I wrote a narrative poem about the magic of childhood.  The magazine seemed tailored just for me, with its almost “Pollyannish” take on life (Pollyanna being one of my favorite movies).

I also got published in the anthology below.  This site, http://writingcareer.com/, has been a great help to me in finding places to submit.

I wrote for the student newspaper this fall semester, am writing still for a parenting blog (https://getconnectdad.com/?s=sarah+richards&lang=en), and help write and design the newsletter for a local veteran’s organization.

As far as my personal writing goals, I got on a blogging schedule, where I only have to create new content once a week (the Writer’s Digest Wednesday Prompt); for the months of April and November, I successfully produced a poem a day.  My Monday and Friday posts come from what I’ve tweeted out, which I artfully compile.  I’ve started a Facebook page with writing tips and truths (https://www.facebook.com/sarahleastories/), also of which will someday end up on this blog (waste absolutely nothing you write).  All of these things have helped me become a better, and more confident and prolific writer (and it all counts towards my daily 300).

Though I’ve enjoyed this year immensely, I am never sorry to see it go, because every year just gets better and better:  I learn more, I become more.

Cheers!

Sarah Lea

5 Really Cool Things About Kindle

  1. Free books.  I don’t consider PDF downloads “real” books, but I love the free ones (especially on writing) offered on amazon.com.  It’s a great way to connect with other authors and learn something about the craft.  (I highly recommend “How to Write Poetry, by Cynthia Sharp; it’s not free, but it was well worth the $2.99).  I already have a free e-book idea of my own I am developing (writing prompts with examples), as a way to gain followers, and perhaps even contacts.
  2. Samples:  I can sit anywhere (like in bed) and read a sample of the book before I buy.
  3. Instant gratification:  I don’t have to wait for a book in the mail.
  4. It’s minimalist.  I hate clutter (I can count on both hands the number of DVDs I own, and there is a cap on how many of anything I allow myself to own); nothing looks junkier than a bunch of dog-eared paperbacks.  Plus, the electronic device is also much more sanitary than a used book that someone may have read while on the can.  (Hey, going to the bathroom is boring.)
  5. I can send documents.  http://www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle/email.  This is my favorite feature, because I’ve been wanting to print up a booklet of all the kids’ songs I sing to my daughter (as I haven’t learned all the verses to them yet–even the lyrics I wrote myself), but now I can just send a Microsoft Word document with all the songs as an attachment to my Kindle e-mail.  I can also read my own work, thus saving ink (but I can’t edit it).

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There are a few drawbacks to an e-reader, like not being able to give away a book you will never read again.  (I don’t pay $3.99 for a book to just delete it.)  A few of the authors I read, like Lisa Jackson and Sandra Brown (mainstream fiction authors, whose focus is on plot, unlike literary fiction, where the focus is on characterization), I won’t read again.  I know the plot, and the characters aren’t compelling enough to revisit.  (I like to compare mainstream novels to milk chocolate, and literary novels to dark.)

Furthermore, I was under the impression that Kindle books were cheaper, but they are not, considering I rarely ever buy a new book.  I generally by “Like New” books in hardcover, or, unless they are by one of the authors I mentioned, I buy a cheap paperback.

Also, there is nothing like browsing the bookstore for an hour.  It’s one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon (usually with a coffee).  I say, I will never buy an illustrated children’s book on any kind of electronic device.  My daughter likes turning the pages, and I like the aesthetics of a shelfie.

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So, I am what I call a hybrid reader–beloved books will still have a place on my shelf, but pure escapism can be relegated to my Kindle.

10 Elements I Don’t Like in Popular Novels

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  1. When the story starts off in the wrong place, as in LaVyrle Spencer’s, “Bittersweet”.  The catalyst for the heroine returning home to her “real” friends from high school (apparently, she didn’t make any real friends after high school) was the death of her husband.  We read about her support group, and then never hear from them again.  The book should have started with her leaving her old life behind.
  2. When the book is really two, interweaving stories.  One story is always going to be more interesting.  This was done in Francine Rivers’, “The Scarlet Thread”.  Sierra Madrid (yes, that’s really the name of the main character) is the heroine of the modern day story, and her grandmother (whose name I cannot remember, as hers was the story that didn’t interest me), the heroine of the “backstory”.
  3. Too many characters.  It’s why I didn’t finish the “Left Behind” series.  Mental overload.
  4. Slutty men.  Okay, this is popular in mainstream romance.  I don’t see why a romance has to be a “Christian romance” for the man not to have slept around.  A man who doesn’t sleep around can be attractive, too (and it’s not totally unrealistic.  I’m not saying he has to be a virgin.)  Lisa Jackson apparently doesn’t think so.
  5. Female protagonist, if she’s going through a stressful time, she always under eats, never the other way around.  I guess the author has an impossible time of conceiving a man being attracted to an overweight woman.  (It does happen.)
  6. When all your main characters sound alike.  Even though I enjoy Mary Higgins Clark, all her women come across as bland (they all seem to like linguini with clam sauce, too).  None of them have any memorable quirks or say anything witty.  However, I read her because I like her plots.
  7. When the author is in love with a hobby, and talks about it in minute detail.  Barbara Delinsky obviously loves knitting, and she mentions it in her books, but she doesn’t overdo it.  The one time I remember my eyes glazing over was when I read “The Bridges of Madison County”–the photography jargon bored me.
  8. Too many references to pop culture.  Jodi Picoult is bad about this.
  9. Too many complicated names.  Rachel Ann Nunes (an LDS author) tends to use a lot of unusual names in her novels.  One or two is fine, but any more than that is distracting.
  10. Poetry in novels.  If one of the characters is a poet, it makes sense to include something they wrote, but sometimes, it just seems like the author couldn’t find a market for the poem, and wanted to use it, so he/she stuck it in there.  Tami Hoag did this in one of her books; the poetess was supposed to be gifted (she wasn’t, in my humble opinion), and her work just sounded like a moody teenager’s stream of consciousness put on paper.

Can you judge a book by its title?

Several years ago, I heard that Harlequin romance read every manuscript they received, and so I began writing short romance novels, tailoring them specifically for that market.  I won’t lie–I’ve always believed they would publish anything.  One book I read had a character named Darren, also spelled Darrin.  I couldn’t help but think of the two Darrins on “Bewitched”.

I’ve read about a hundred Harlequin romances (for research more than pleasure), and I’ve probably liked about five of them.  Most of the titles (and characters) are forgettable.  (Though much meatier, I can barely name any of the Lisa Jackson and Sandra Brown books I’ve read.)  However, there is a market for these little books, and so I’ve been working on a handful of titles–I just need to write the stories that go with them!

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I ended up writing two novels, “Regina Fair”, a light, fluffy romance for the Harlequin American romance line, and “A Splash of Blue”, a darker novel for one of the other lines.  I came up with “Regina Fair” for the title (it was originally “Regina’s Rainbow”) when I read that Audrey Hepburn’s “Sabrina” was originally “Sabrina Fair”; someone thought that sounded too highbrow (fearing they would think “Vanity Fair”), and so it was shortened.

My protagonist, Regina Morrow, is a refined girl who works a blue-collar job (she is a grocery clerk).  I wanted to show (and not tell) that a girl could have class without money and/or a white-collar job.  Plus, a character like that is more relatable than most of the contestants that compete on “The Bachelor”.

“A Splash of Blue” is about a young woman who runs away from her mother’s smothering love to become a mermaid for Soda Springs water park (based on Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida; I’ve been there, and it is truly a relic from the 1950’s).  This title is reminiscent of the 1965 movie, “A Patch of Blue”.

I do think the greatest books have the most memorable titles (“Gone with the Wind”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”), and a catchy title (like a book cover that pops) is important, as are character names.  Did you know Pansy was Scarlett O’Hara’s original name?  Or that Mickey was born Mortimer Mouse?  I can’t imagine it either.

Mr. Wonderful Full of Himself, Wordsmith Stars, and Perfect Sense

I happened to catch an article (wish I had kept the link) that suggested a book doesn’t sell as well if it won an award.  My theory is that when people see a book won a prestigious award, they assume it’s boring (or overrated, like some classics).  Most people don’t like highbrow stuff.  They don’t want to think, they want to be entertained.  At least one out of every ten books I read is for pleasure, though I am challenging myself to read at least one nonfiction book a month (which I am 99% sure will be about writing, though the last nonfiction book I read was a biography of Marilyn Monroe, which read like creative nonfiction).  As you can see, I am not an egghead, nor will I ever pretend to be, but I am educated and do believe in lifelong learning, whether it be taking a class (I am hoping English composition will be one of the first classes I have to take when I go back to school) or teaching ourselves something new (I am getting ready to make my first batch of handmade soap).

Though an award would be an honor, I’d prefer to have the sales (unless the award came with a big payout).  I’m like Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O’Leary) from “Shark Tank” in that way, though only in that way.  I will forever care about the quality of the writing that will be published under my name, whether I write for Harlequin Romance or a scholarly journal.

I’ve been on a “Little Women” kick lately.  I tried watching the 1933 version, but I just can’t stand Katharine Hepburn, so after about fifteen minutes, I had to pass on it.  I’ve always liked the 1949 version, even though I’ve never been a fan of June Allyson, who plays Jo, and then I watched the 1994 version with Winona Ryder, who made a less annoying Jo.  Her spouting “Christopher Columbus” all the time in the earlier versions was annoying, and seemed put-on to make her more of a tomboy (though I realize this was probably how she was portrayed in the book which I read a VERY long time ago).  Though the cinematography was far more realistic in ’94 version, I still prefer the ’49 movie.  The ’94 version just didn’t have the charm its predecessor did.

I like “Little Women” because the protagonist is a writer, but I relate to her because she is a female writer.  However, one of my favorite films of all time is “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.  I fell in love with it as a little girl; Francie Nolan was just like me.  She had what her teacher called imagination.  My third grade teacher, Ms. Cahoon, was the first person outside my family who recognized my talent, and will be one of the first people who will receive a copy of my book.  Every morning, we had to write in our journals, and I would always write about my summers up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, when I stayed with my grandparents.  My aunt, uncle and cousins lived right next door to them.

I wrote about what I knew and loved.  I still do that today.  Oh, I’ve fancied myself writing some nonfiction piece about a subject I know nothing about (writing creative nonfiction is a great way to learn something new through research), but personal essays are one of my favorite mediums to write in because it is a story no one else can write.

That teacher scene with Francie after class still brings a tear to my eye.

Now though I am not a fan of Stephen King’s books (or even most of his movies), I did enjoy his novel, “On Writing”, and I like his personal story of how he got where he is today.  It is very inspirational.  I’ve noticed he likes to make authors his main characters, as in “Secret Window”, “Misery”, and “The Shining”.  (I liked those.)

Cuba Gooding Jr. played a struggling writer in “A Murder of Crows”.  I don’t think it was a hit, but it drew me in like a Lisa Jackson novel.

While I’m on the subject of movies, there is one that I believe everyone must see for the experience, if nothing else, and that is “Perfect Sense” with Eva Green and Ewan MacGregor.  It’s like poetry on celluloid.  I will say nothing more.

My take on entry/reading fees

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This is one issue I see from both sides.  I think with the ease of electronic submissions, magazines are getting bombarded with rubbish, because if submitting a piece required no monetary investment, there is less of a stake in making sure it’s polished.  There is sort of a “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” sort of attitude.  I admit, I’ve been guilty of this, only because I’ve seen so much bad, poorly written material get published, I thought, what the heck?  Of course, I take pride in my work, but when something was free to enter, I didn’t worry as much about trying to make sure it was what they were looking for (I didn’t read their publication, because I didn’t want to pay for a sample copy.  Yes, I’m cheap, but that gets expensive, if you start buying sample copies from numerous publications.).

So, I ordered last year’s Writer’s Market (it was a third cheaper than this year’s) from amazon.com (I rarely buy new books), and was pretty ticked off when I spent the better part of the hour I should have been sleeping, compiling a list of all the poetry contests that didn’t have an entry fee listed.  And guess what?  When I went to the websites, I found that all but one (some blue collar poetry contest–how narrow of a category is that?) was the only one out of 20+ contests that didn’t charge the author for submission.  I think that’s a bit sneaky, because that is pretty much the deciding factor for me, at least for now, and I’m talking about fifteen dollar entry fees for the chance to win a hundred dollar prize, not to mention a few were chapbook contests, so for a collection of poetry, that was all you could win.

I get it.  Most of these publications don’t make any money off subscriptions (I’m beginning to think the arts should pay for themselves, but I’ve heard it said if that was the case, only “art” like the latest pop music, etc., would exist, but that’s a topic of discussion for another time), but to charge (most of them) such exorbitant fees, just to read your work, is unconscionable.

Seems like everyone writes poetry, but few read it.  Since I’ve gotten onto a poetry writing kick, I’ve been reading it more.  It’s not like a mystery suspense novel, that makes you keep turning the pages–poetry isn’t something you consume like fast food, it’s something you savor, and, as Americans, we tend to like everything fast.  Poetry doesn’t just make you think about what’s written, but what’s not written, what’s between the lines.

I have to say, I’ve had much better luck finding free venues in which to submit my work through http://writingcareer.com/, that a girl from our local writer’s group turned us on to.  It’s fantastic!  I’ve submitted to several publications through this, and haven’t had to pay a penny to do so.

It’s too bad, because I love to support the little guy (or girl, or people), but I can’t afford to pay them for the subscriptions they don’t get.  I have to send my work to places like “Highlights for Children”, to give an example (though I think the only people who subscribe to them are doctors’ and dentists’ offices), even though the competition is much more fierce; yet, I think I might have a better chance with them, because they’re producing for the masses, and I get the feeling that having some kind of Ivy League or degree in English literature (“Glimmer Train” comes to mind) is almost a prerequisite.

I like what I like, and I don’t try to pretend I’m into all the classics, though there are a few I enjoy, but I don’t eat them up like I do with a novel of Lisa Jackson’s, for example, whose stories keep me reading late into the night.  I like a little more substance than Harlequin romance, but I’m not into slogging through tomes like “Don Quixote”.

So, backtracking a bit, I don’t have a problem with a three or even a five dollar entry fee here and there, but for the most part, I’m going to avoid them and pursue all the free entries I can (ones that pay more than publication and contributor’s copies, anyway).  Heck, as much as some of these fees are, I’d rather just have to pay to mail them in!  That alone, would cut down on the rubbish they receive, because having to prepare a submission for snail mail, then having to drive to the post office and having to wait in line…that takes commitment.  I guess an entry fee is the price we pay for convenience, because having to pay a fee on top of the cost of mailing it in, well, I think they would get few takers on that.