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Book Release Day! Lisa Manterfield’s new novel The Smallest Thing

One of the most exciting parts of living a creative life is finding kindred souls along the journey. I had the good fortune of meeting author Lisa Manterfield several years ago at the UCLA Writer’s Studio, and I quickly discovered I’d found a both a talented writer and cherished friend. Lisa’s writing is a marriage of science and emotion. An accomplished writer of both fiction and nonfiction, Lisa is unafraid to venture along the dark and curving paths of human experience (or climb onto high, precarious ledges). She invites her readers to the call of the wild while awakening a sense of timelessness and gravity, united with both the earth and beyond. Wherever Lisa takes her reader, you can be certain it’s new territory and you wouldn’t want to be there without her as a guide.

Lisa Manterfield is the award-winning author of A Strange Companion and I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. Her work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Los Angeles Times, and Psychology Today. Originally from northern England, she now lives in Southern California with her husband and over-indulged cat.

Her newest book releases today! I’m honored to be among the first to announce Lisa Manterfield’s latest novel, The Smallest Thing. In celebration, you can ENTER TO WIN a lovely swag box that includes a signed copy of The Smallest Thing and some fabulous gifts. We chatted about her experience researching and writing the story, and why her protagonists’ fathers tend to figure so prominently. I got the inside scoop on how published authors can find effective book marketing techniques that work for their readerships.

Ok, let’s begin! First, tell us what The Smallest Thing is about.

lisa manterfield authorpic

LM: When 17-year-old Emmott finds herself trapped in her tiny English village by a government-imposed quarantine, she must choose between saving herself at all costs or doing what’s right for the people she loves the most.

RL: What is the category and genre? Did you plan to write for this audience, or did the story dictate its own voice?

LM: The book is contemporary YA with a strong cross-over into Adult. I didn’t set out to write YA. I tend to write for a slightly older reader, but I needed to tell this story and my main character dictated the category. She was pretty adamant about telling it her way.

RL: This has been a very big year for you as an author! You’ve released not one, but two books, A Strange Companion and The Smallest Thing. How are they similar, and how are they different?

LM: They are both stories that demanded to be told and stuck with me until I wrote them. They’re both set in Northern England, in surroundings that are very familiar to me, and they both have young female protagonists who don’t always behave well. Both Kat and Em make some poor choices in their stories and don’t always treat people as well as they know they should, but in the process, they both learn a lot about who they really are. In both stories, there is a romance element, a struggle with family dynamics, and of course, death. Love, loss, and family always seem to crop up in my work.

Beyond that, my first novel, A Strange Companion, is a coming-of-age love story with paranormal elements. The Smallest Thing is a big mash-up of adventure, thriller, sci-fi, and romance. At their cores, though, they are still stories of young women figuring out who they are in the world.

RL: The Smallest Thing is loosely based on a true story about Eyam, “The Plague Village,” in Derbyshire, England. Can you tell us a little about the historical facts that inspired your novel?

LM: I grew up not far from Eyam and have always been fascinated by the story of self-sacrifice. The Great Plague was raging in London in 1665 and found its way to Eyam, some 150 miles away, when a local tailor brought in a bolt of cloth containing fleas (probably not unusual at that time.) When people in Eyam began succumbing to the plague, the villagers, led by the local vicar, made the decision to quarantine their village to prevent the spread of the disease to surrounding villages and to the thriving market town of Sheffield, my hometown. That decision saved untold thousands of lives, but cost the village dearly. All told, 260 of the 350 villagers lost their lives.

One of the personal stories that stayed with me is that of Emmott Syddall, a young woman whose fiancé lived outside the quarantine zone. It’s rumored they continued their courtship at a safe distance across the village boundary. Rowland Torre was reportedly one of the first to enter the village when the quarantine was lifted. Only then did he learn that Emmott had not survived. I took a great many liberties with the facts in my contemporary version, but the themes of love, self-sacrifice, and community are still what drives the story.

RL: You and I share the trait of writing young characters with dead or absent fathers. What is the significance of this in your stories?

LM: Ah yes. My dad died suddenly when I was 15. Thirty years later, I am still trying to work my way through that in my fiction. While neither of my novels is a fictionalized version of my personal story, there are elements of me in there. Like Kat, I was not prepared for the loss of my dad and, also like Kat, it took me a long time to work through my grief and move on. I suppose with Em, I was exploring what it might have been like to try to break away from my dad’s expectations for me, and be my own person. I imagine it would have been just as contentious as Em’s battle for independence, but hopefully not in such a terrible environment.

RL: Your protagonist Emmott is separated from her boyfriend when her village is quarantined. Under the same circumstances, how do you think you’d fare if your wonderful husband Mr. Fab and your devoted kitty Felicity were across Cucklett Delf?

LM: Astute readers will notice that there are no pets in the village. I made a deliberate choice to exclude them. I had no trouble writing terrible deaths for people, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it to the pets.

But, as you’re forcing me to imagine this scenario, I think I would be very grateful that Felicity and Mr. Fab were out of harm’s way. And then I would get down to the business of self-preservation. I’d like to think that I would also be a good citizen and try to be helpful to those trapped with me. We never really know how we’ll respond in crisis until it happens. Generally, I’m pretty cool under pressure, but who knows how I’d act if my life were truly in danger.

RL: Your biweekly inspiring blog posts have attracted a wonderful community of newsletter subscribers. Do you have any book marketing advice for indie authors?

LM: There are mountains of really solid information out there from authors who are insanely successful and have more information than I could offer. The problem is, there is SO much information and much of it is conflicting. It can be completely overwhelming for a new author. So my advice would be to read voraciously, gather information from several sources, and then walk away and think about what kind of author you are and what exactly you want from your career. Then pick the tools that will support that, take a deep breath, and do something that feels right. It may take some trial and error to find your groove, but it will end up being a lot more effective than hurling yourself into someone else’s best practice only to find it’s a poor fit.

RL: Do you maintain complete control over your characters or do they ever take the proverbial wheel?

LM: I tend to let them run wild and free in the first draft. I have an idea of what I’d like to happen, but I try to stay open to possibilities. The “mysterious man in the HAZMAT suit” in this novel was not in my original idea. He came out of a writing prompt, but the second he appeared, I knew he had to stay. His creation dramatically changed the course of the novel for the better.

RL: Do you miss the company of your characters when you finish writing a book?

LM: It took me ten years to write my first novel, A Strange Companion, largely because I couldn’t let go and call the book finished. Perhaps one of the hardest skills to master is finding that sweet spot between revising a book until it’s as good as it can be and knowing you’ve reached a point that there’s nothing more you can do and that more twiddling will only make the book worse. At that point, it’s time to move on.

When I’m working on a book, I am in that world with those characters. I wake up thinking about them and I talk to other people, not about the book as a whole, but about the characters by name. Once a book is finally finished, though, I go through a brief period of mourning, and then I let it go. And I’m a fickle lover; I’m already deep in a relationship with a whole new set of characters.

RL: Thank you, Lisa! I look forward to meeting your new characters and continuing our travels together on the journey of writing. Best of luck, wherever your creativity takes you.

The Smallest Thing is available now! (non-affiliate links)

 

Enter to WIN 

a lovely swag box that includes a signed copy of The Smallest Thing and some fabulous gifts! 

Click HERE to enter.

More about the book…

The Smallest Thing

By Lisa Manterfield

thesmallestthing coverThe very last thing 17-year-old Emmott Syddall wants is to turn out like her dad. She’s descended from ten generations who never left their dull English village, and there’s no way she’s going to waste a perfectly good life that way. She’s moving to London and she swears she is never coming back.

But when the unexplained deaths of her neighbors force the government to quarantine the village, Em learns what it truly means to be trapped. Now, she must choose. Will she pursue her desire for freedom, at all costs, or do what’s best for the people she loves: her dad, her best friend Deb, and, to her surprise, the mysterious man in the HAZMAT suit?

Inspired by the historical story of the plague village of Eyam, this contemporary tale of friendship, community, and impossible love weaves the horrors of recent news headlines with the intimate details of how it feels to become an adult—and fall in love—in the midst of tragedy.

ISBN:           978-0-9986969-2-8
Category:      Upper Young Adult Fiction
Publication:   July 18, 2017
Pages:          286
Size:             5.25 x 8.00 in.
Price:            $15.95
Binding:        Perfect Bound
Publisher:     Steel Rose Press

Stay in touch with Lisa Manterfield!

http://www.LisaManterfield.com

Facebook: AuthorLisaManterfield

Instagram: @lmanterfield

Twitter: @lisamanterfield

Goodreads: LisaManterfield

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Party for the Oscars – Presented my book!

What an amazing weekend! I had the honor of presenting RADIO HEAD to Oscar nominees, actors, recording artists and press at a pre-Oscar Awards party at the W Hotel in Hollywood! I met some fabulous people, from the legendary Maria Conchita Alonso, to up and coming actors who score roles pretty much everywhere – hi, Austin Mincks and Bill Parks! As a Middle Grade writer and fangirl, I was thrilled to meet Dee Wallace, star of the show, Just Add Magic. My sons and I binge-watch the excellent MG-targeted Amazon series. Thanks to visual artist and dear friend Jason Mascow for taking photos and going above and beyond.
(Love these? Check out my pics from the Grammy Awards party at REN Gallery!)

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My book selected as a gift at New Media Film Festival

newmediafilmfestival-logo-press-downloadI’m so excited to announce that Radio Head was selected as a gift for the judges of the 2016 New Media Film Festival.

The only book included in the gift bags, the judges for the Film Festival represent HBOThe National Academy of of Television Arts and Sciences (the Emmy’s), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-Aftra), The Grammy awards, Marvel, and The Oscars.

About New Media Film Festival®

All Ages • All Cultures • All Media

For years, The New Media Film Festival has led the way in the pursuit of stories worth telling, the exploration of new media technologies, boundary pushing resulting in new distribution models. The New Media Film Festival embodies the transformative power of the cinematic arts and it reaches across cultural bridges to wed story and technology for everyone. What people are saying:

  • “The New Media Film Festival seemed like an outlier when it started in 2010, with their strange categories, web series, 3D storytelling, digital comics, now all of a sudden these phrases are the new normal. The NMFF is always looking to the future, challenging creators, the market and the audience to discover new storytelling. There are not many festivals pushing the limits – go NMFF!” ~ Nicholas Reed
  • “Festival worth the entry fee.” ~ Movie Maker Magazine
  • “Makes the cutting edge accessible” ~ Huffington Post
  • “Stories that exemplify the power of the cinematic arts to inspire and transform” ~ Hero Complex

Judges from

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10 Mother Figures in new novels – Great literary examples for writers

Writing a believable mother figure can prove, shall we say, “therapeutic” for some writers. Delving into the details of our first primary relationship can shed light on our sense of nurturing, and inspire ways to help our protagonist reach her goal. It can also uncover old hurts. Let’s look at how some new novels showcase memorable fictional mothers. From loving, supportive mothers to complex, trailblazing mothers to selfish, vindictive mothers, this list from Andrea Lochen, author of The Repeat Year (Berkley, 2013) and Imaginary Things (see below) has it all!

1. The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White (Lake Union, July 2015)

cpwElla Fitzwilliam, the mom in The Perfect Son, quit a successful career in jewelry design to be full-time parent, mental health coach, and advocate for her son, Harry, who has a soup of issues that include Tourette syndrome. She has devoted 17 years of her life to his therapy, to educating teachers, to being Harry’s emotional rock and giving him the confidence he needs to be Harry. Thanks to her, Harry is comfortable in his own skin, even when people stare. After Ella has a major heart attack in the opening chapter, her love for Harry tethers her to life. But as she recovers, she discovers the hardest parenting lesson of all: to let go.

2. Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb (Plume, January 2015)

HWIn Rodin’s Lover: A Novel, Camille’s mother, Louise Claudel, is spiteful, jealous, and disapproving of Camille’s pursuit to become a female sculptor in the 1880s. She also shows signs of mental illness. Because of this relationship, Camille struggles with all of her female relationships the rest of her life, and ultimately, to prove to her mother that she’s truly talented.

 

 

 

3. Imaginary Things by Andrea Lochen (Astor + Blue Editions, April 2015)

ALIn Imaginary Things, young single mother Anna Jennings has a unique power that most parents only dream of—the ability to see her four-year-old son’s imagination come to life.  But when David’s imaginary friends turn dark and threatening, Anna must learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon, what his friends truly represent, and how best to protect him.

 

 

 

4. The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister (Sourcebooks, January 2015)

GMCAIn The Magician’s Lie, Arden’s mother is remarkable both for what she does and what she doesn’t do. As a young woman, she bears a child out of wedlock and runs away with her music teacher, never fearing the consequences. But later in life, her nerve fails her—just when her daughter needs her most.

 

 

 

 

5. Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer (Putnam, 2014)

JLT In Five Days Left, Mara Nichols is, in some ways, a typical mother: she loves her daughter fiercely, thinks about her constantly and goes to great lengths to balance her high-stress legal career with her daughter’s needs. But there are two ways in which Mara isn’t typical at all. First, she adopted her daughter from India, making good on a lifelong promise to rescue a baby from the same orphanage where Mara herself lived decades ago. And second, when Mara is diagnosed with a fatal, incurable illness that will render her unable to walk, talk or even feed herself, she has to make the kind of parenting choice none of us wants to consider—would my child be better off if I were no longer alive?

6. House Broken by Sonja Yoerg (Penguin/NAL, January 2015)

SYIn House Broken, Helen Riley has a habit of leaving her grown children to cope with her vodka-fueled disasters. She has her reasons, but they’re buried deep, and stem from secrets too painful to remember and, perhaps, too terrible to forgive.

 

 

 

 

 

7. You Were Meant for Me by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Penguin/NAL, 2014)

YZMIn You Were Meant For Me, having a baby is the furthest thing from Miranda Berenzweig’s mind.  She’s newly single after a bad break up, and focused on her promotion at work, her friends and getting her life back on track.  Then one frigid March night she finds a newborn infant in a NYC subway and even after taking the baby to the police, can’t get the baby out of her mind.  At the suggestion of the family court judge assigned to the case, Miranda begins adoption proceedings.  But her plans—as well as her hopes and dreams—are derailed when the baby’s biological father surfaces, wanting to claim his child.  The way she handles this unforeseen turn of events is what makes Miranda a truly memorable mother.

8. The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft (Sourcebooks Landmark, May 2015)

KCIn The Far End of Happy, Ronnie has hung in there as long as she can during her husband’s decline into depression, spending issues, and alcoholism and he will not accept her attempts to get him professional help. She is not a leaver, but can’t bear for her sons to witness the further deterioration of the marriage. She determines to divorce—and on the day he has promised to move out, he instead arms himself, holes up inside a building on the property, and stands off against police. When late in the day the police ask Ronnie if she’ll appeal to him one last time over the bullhorn, she must decide: with the stakes so high, will she try one last time to save her husband’s life? Or will her need to protect her sons and her own growing sense of self win out?

9. Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke (Washington Square Press, 2014)

LF&In Your Perfect Life, long-time friends, Rachel and Casey wake up the morning after their twenty year high school reunion to discover they’ve switched bodies. Casey is single with no children before becoming an instant mom to Rachel’s two teenagers and baby. Despite her lack of experience as a parent, and her often comedic missteps with the baby in particular (think: diaper blow outs and sudden sleep deprivation) Casey’s fresh perspective on her new role helps her connect with each of the children in a very different way than Rachel. And when the oldest, Audrey, is almost date raped at her prom, it is Casey’s strength that she draws from an experience in her own past that ultimately pulls Audrey through. Although it is hard for Rachel to watch her best friend take care of Audrey when she so desperately wants to, she realizes that Casey can help her daughter in a way she can’t. And Casey discovers she might have what it takes to be a mom to her own children someday.

10. The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman (Bantam, 2013)

EBElizabeth Bohlinger, the mother in The Life List, is actually deceased. But she still has a big presence in her daughter’s life—some may say too big! With heartfelt letters, Elizabeth guides her daughter, Brett, on a journey to complete the life list of wishes Brett made when she was just a teen. Like many mothers, Elizabeth has an uncanny ability to see into her daughter’s heart, exposing buried desires Brett has long forgotten.

 Do you have any book recommendations for stories with memorable moms? Comment below, or tweet me at @TheRJLacko!

Andrea Lochen is a University of Michigan MFA graduate. Her first novel, The Repeat Year (Berkley, 2013), won a Hopwood Award for the Novel prior to its publication. She currently teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, where she was recently awarded UW Colleges Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Andrea lives in Madison with her husband and daughter and is at work on her third novel. For more information visit www.andrealochen.com

Book Links for Imaginary Things:
Publisher:  http://bit.ly/1HJ3VW9
Amazon:  http://amzn.to/1FOikjL
B&N:  http://bit.ly/1DXghMZ

 

 

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How to Sell More Books – 10 Question Checklist for Authors

 

How to Market a Book, by Joanna Penn

How to Market a Book, by Joanna Penn

It’s time to get the party started, an author friend of mine quipped. She was referring to the independent publishing party, the one where our lovingly written and agonized-over manuscripts become honest-to-goodness books for sale.

I couldn’t agree more.

Joanna Penn, author of several best-selling thrillers and book marketing expert (see Penn’s book, How To Market A Book) at The Creative Penn offers some of the best advice on the web for publishing and marketing your books.

Penn says she is asked on a nearly daily basis: How do I sell more books? “There are 10 questions I think you need to answer,” she explains. Note there is nothing on Penn’s checklist of questions about blogging or platform building on Facebook. These are the fundamentals critical to setting the stage for sales.

Here are the first 5 questions an author must ask:

1) Is your book available as an ebook? Penn uses Scrivener for formatting in Kindle, ePub and Word formats and publishes on Amazon KDP, Kobo Writing Life and Smashwords, BookBaby and B&N Nook PubIt.

2) Has your cover been professionally designed? Penn believes this is non-negotiable if you want to stand out in the crowded market. Check out the ebook cover design awards at TheBookDesigner.com to see some great covers and some truly awful ones. Then hire a professional cover designer, give them that information and work with them to create a professional cover.

“If you don’t have a budget for this, then work extra hard until you have that extra money,” she says.

3) Has your book been professionally edited? According to Penn, “You should edit your books until you can’t stand them any longer, and then you should consider hiring a professional editor to help you take it further, because you cannot see your own words after a point because you know the story so well.”

You need other eyes, preferably professional eyes who will critique you honestly and tell you where the problems are. “Here’s some more articles on editing and my recommended editors,” says Penn.

 4) Have you submitted your book to the right categories on the ebook stores? Sorry, but not everyone will like your book. The category/genre reader has expectations and if you don’t ‘fit’ they will be disappointed. Match your readers’ expectations and the promise of what your book delivers with what your book is actually about. A great book on categories and Amazon algorithms is David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Visible.

 5) Have you optimized your Amazon sales page with a hook, quotes from reviews and other material? Treat the product description like a sales page. “People will not buy your book if your description is badly written or hard to understand because it’s an indication of the quality of your book,” explains Penn.

Read the other 5 questions you need to answer and find out how you can action them here. Number Ten is especially important, so please do read on!

As you can see, there is a significant investment the writer must make beyond writing the book itself. A professionally-produced book will earn a loyal readership, and excite the reader to explore your backlist.

Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers on the edge, as well as non-fiction for authors. I’m also a professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. Follow her on Twitter at @thecreativepenn.

Interested in more tips on selling books? Check out Sell More Books with Calls To Action at the End of Story

Let’s connect on Twitter! @TheRJLacko

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How to Use an Unreliable Narrator in Your Story

The character who is an unreliable narrator can be one of the most powerful tools available to a writer, telling the readers a story that the reader cannot take at face value. In this post, Now Novel, an excellent resource for writers, explains: “The unreliability may be obvious to the reader throughout the novel, may be revealed gradually or may come as a single revelation that results in a major plot twist. This may be because the point of view character is insane, lying, deluded or for any number of other reasons.”

In my novel, Radio Head, protagonist Shelby has undiagnosed schizophrenia. From her point of view, everyone has a song inside–and she can hear it. The reader is drawn into what may prove to be magical realism, or possibly the delusions of a mentally ill young woman.

illusions

What does the writer stand to gain from using an unreliable narrator to tell a story?
What is the purpose of the unreliable narrator in fiction? How can the writer ensure that the reader understands that the narrator is unreliable?

Here are highlights from the post:

The narrator is unreliable by the very nature of who that character is. Some stories are related by narrators by who are such terrible people that they cannot tell their stories objectively. In general, even people who commit the worst crimes do not go around thinking of themselves as monsters; they justify their actions to themselves. In Lolita, Vladimir Nabakov signals Humbert Humbert’s unreliability to the reader in a number of ways such as his outrageous claims, his endless justifications for shocking acts and his contempt for others. Alex from A Clockwork Orange is another example of a reprehensible character sharing his unreliable narrative of violence and mayhem with the reader.

The unreliable narrator can also be used to great effect in stories of crime and mystery. Both Agatha Christie’s classic novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and the recent Gillian Flynn best seller Gone Girl employ unreliable narrators whose lack of reliability is crucial to the construction of the mysteries at the hearts of both novels. In these types of books, the reader starts out trusting the narrator and it is only as the story goes on that something begins to seem amiss.

The unreliable narrator is not always deliberately deceptive. Sometimes, a narrator is unreliable due to youth or naïveté. The young autistic narrator of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon or the five-year-old narrator of Emma Donoghue’s Room are simply reporting the world as they understand it. These books rely on the readers to make inferences based on clues from the narrators and an assumption from the outset that due to the ages and circumstances of these characters, they are not always accurately interpreting what is happening around them.

The unreliable narrator can be of particular use to the writer of horror and supernatural fiction or fiction in which the writer wants the reader to question the line between fantasy and reality. A  recent example is Yann Martel’s novel The Life of Pi in which the reader may increasingly wonder about the reality of events as described by the narrator.

A narrator can be unreliable due to having incomplete or incorrect information although initially neither the narrator nor the readers is aware that this is the case. The narrator of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier initially misunderstands nearly everything she learns about her new husband’s dead wife, and therefore, the reader does as well.

Read the remainder of the post to learn how Lionel Shriver combined several of the above types in We Need to Talk About Kevin. The post also outlines the dangers of using an unreliable narrator and how to avoid them.

How have you used the unreliable narrator in your own writing?

Now Novel  is an organized, easy to use novel writing method. We help motivate and structure your writing process. Follow Now Novel on Twitter @nownovel.

Follow me on Twitter! @TheRJLacko

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Kill Writer’s Block Now: The Fast Track to Creativity Starts Here

Staring at a blank page?

No me, my friend; I’m already off and writing this blog post, charmed by the prolific Charles Bukowski, “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” (The Last Night of the Earth Poems)

Garnering the wisdom of two of my favorite writing instructors, I’m here to solve your blank-page-trauma in only five minutes. Yes, you can be power-typing a brand new story before a fresh pot of tea is ready. Here are my tried-and-true, never-fail rules for copious creativity:

Know what a story is. If you haven’t already (why haven’t you?) get yourself over to WiredForStory.com, home of famed storycraft maven Lisa Cron. You must learn, internalize and copy/paste at the top of your page Lisa’s mantra:
A story is HOW and WHY what happens (the plot) affects (the protagonist) who is in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (what the story is about).

If your idea is “Mom makes a peanut butter sandwich,” then apply Lisa’s guideline as follows: Why does she make it?  Does she have a child who will order a burger and fries in the school cafeteria if no PB&J is offered? Slow down the action and tell us HOW she makes it. Make her think about the pattern on the plate, the weight of knife, and whether she’ll choose Tupperware or a ziplock and WHY. How does she feel about all this? When the sandwich is complete, how has she changed by the experience?  Satisfied in her parenting skills, or comforted after concern from pediatrician about high fat and cholesterol in child’s diet? Is she thinking about her own mother, or suffering any symptoms as a result of a nut allergy?)

Writing Prompt Helpers. That peanut butter sandwich prompt was genius Rebecca, but where can I get ideas so shiny and bright? Generally, I have a character or situation to begin with–especially when I’m starting a new chapter in an existing fiction piece. If I’m at ground zero, I Google “writing prompts,” like a trained chimp, ahem. The silliest prompt can elicit some profound thoughts, so don’t be afraid to grab the first one and go.

Brainstorm without borders. For no-nonsense writing advice from an accomplished writer and busy mom, you can’t go wrong with Author Jody Hedlund. I love her brainstorming plan, and I think it’s a must-do at the beginning of every creative venture. Jody says, “Before writing, I come up with pages of ‘what if’ possibilities for my story. I make long lists of all kinds of wild and crazy ideas that I could include in the story. I don’t limit myself. No idea is too stupid. I write down everything and anything… Usually the first few ideas we have are somewhat boring and cliched. So if we stop there, we’ll find ourselves frustrated. But if we list a hundred (or more ideas), then finally we’ll start digging deep enough into the creative well to pull out fresh ideas that excite us.”

This is solid advice, but one HUNDRED? (Yes!)
My next tip will save you from spending the entire weekend on that list…

The 5 Minute Miracle This is my own, personal, golden ticket. I set my phone or kitchen alarm for 5 minutes and I type as fast as my little fingers can. I don’t care about spelling, punctuation, capitalization–nada. I don’t stop to sip my coffee or pet the cat. I type without censure. You may call it stream of consciousness, but it isn’t. Why? Because of Lisa Cron’s mantra at the top of my page. I start with who, and I steer myself toward how, and that leads me to why, and then aha! Even I didn’t see coming the natural progression to the change experienced by my protag as a result. I type these scenarios as fast as I can, and when the alarm goes off, I have several ideas, a bunch of junk to be edited or cut, and some real, solid, satisfying fiction leads I may have taken HOURS to arrive at, without these tools.

Same goes for dialogue. If I’m working a scene and I don’t know exactly what my characters ought to say, I five-minute the heck out of them, and when the buzzer goes I’m surprised to learn what they “really” wanted to say all along.

Set your alarm, find a prompt, and let the five-minute-miracle unfold.

Oh, then tweet me about your adventure @TheRJLacko –or comment below, of course!

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