Blogging and Creativity

I’ve been a lousy blogger lately. My infrequent post have become a source of personal anxiety lately – the kind that keeps me awake during the hours my brain and body should be at rest. Because I don’t like being tired, I dug deeper to figure out why this blog has given me fits lately. Two reasons emerged.

Career-wise, I’m in a bit of a lull. I’ve been writing, but my finished manuscripts are on submission. For the last 18 months, I’ve been honing my pitch and query letter, writing new versions in hopes that one will capture the interest of an editor or agent. Since last July, I’ve spent about ten hours each week researching agents and publishing houses, with the occasional foray into self-publishing options. That is more time than I spent on weekly blog posts back when I posted more regularly. Each new project that arises competes for time with my other responsibilities. Until I have a good reason to blog more, such as more interaction on my posts, I have found blogging less worthy of my time than other aspects of my career.

More than time, the bigger reason for my decreased blogging is the creative suck it generates. A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Windy City RWA conference featuring Barbara Samuel. She spoke at length about nurturing creativity and replenishing the “creative well.” Minnesota had a mild winter, so I only had one opportunity to refill the well through snow-shoeing. At the same time, I encountered more drains. Tweaking my query causes a few words to trickle out of the well. Each change costs me at least one drop of creativity. But there is another larger drain.

I’m currently serving as chapter president for Midwest Fiction, my local chapter of Romance Writers of America. I am a true believer in giving back to the community through service and I am grateful and honored that my fellow MFW members found me fit to guide the group. But oh that monthly “Letter from the President” for the chapter newsletter. The roughly 500 word column on something both relevant and clever drains considerably more creativity than a drop per word. It’s more like an open fire-hydrant.

I know my creative well will be refilled. Every day, I notice something that adds to the sense of wonder and beauty necessary for my creative world view. (You can see pictures of some of them on my Instagram feed). Until I have a chance to repair the well’s mortar or get a book contract that takes me off the query-go-round for a while, I suspect my blog will suffer a bit.

Or maybe you, dear reader, can help an author out. What are some of the ways you refill the joy in your life?

First Friday Five Lessons from #RWA16

Last month I attended the Romance Writers of America annual conference. Since embarking on my writing career, this is the third time I have been able to attend. The 2016 conference marked my first visit to beautiful San Diego, CA. I wish I could go more often, both to San Diego and to the conference. In the meantime, here are five lessons I learned.

  1. Romance authors are wonderful people. We are smart, funny, hard-working, determined, curious, gracious and generous.

    Fantastic keynote speaker Beverly Jenkins

    Fantastic keynote speaker Beverly Jenkins

  2. Always wear comfortable shoes, especially when volunteering as I did during the Readers for Life Literacy Signing. You never know when you will need to race through the building to lend a hand to one of those wonderful authors.

    Helping at Readers for Life: with author Camille Di Maio

    Helping at Readers for Life: with author Camille Di Maio

  3. Be ready with the one line elevator pitch ANYTIME. I am on cloud 9 that my dream publishing house requested a full manuscript based on a one minute interaction.
  4. Small mental shifts in how one approaches the business of writing can be powerful. Damon Suede and Heidi Cullinan shared ways to make promotion a more playful rather than dreaded part of of being an author. When Mary Burton quipped “It’s not concrete, folks, it’s words,” I found the idea liberating.
  5. Last, but not least, I learned I once again picked up too much amazing swag and too many books. This is small sample. RWA16swagThe books are in another room. I can’t keep it all. Over the next few months, I’ll draw names from my newsletter subscribers and send out some goodies. I even have a few things that I can ship overseas. If you aren’t subscribed, sign up here.

Talking with Nancy Holland

Today I have my fellow Midwest Fiction Writer and contemporary romance author Nancy Holland on the blog. Rather than the usual questions, Nancy stopped by to share some of what she learned at the Romance Writers of America conference held earlier this month in beautiful San Diego. Take it away, Nancy

Three Things I Learned at RWA 2016

Thing One — Beverly Jenkins is the best!

I was able to go to two of the talks by romance legend Beverly Jenkins and both were amazing. She spoke at the Golden Network Retreat (GNR) on Wednesday about creating vibrant characters, and the first thing she said was that characters aren’t characters — they’re people. Light bulb! Then she went over a very helpful list of things that make your characters the people they are:  their inner and outer influences, their physical attributes, the things that symbolize their personalities (such as their homes or clothing), and their setting. She also had wise things to say about how plot is what lets your characters discover who they really are. Needless to say, she was also wildly inspiring in the bargain.

Beverly Jenkins also gave the keynote speech at the Thursday lunch, where she talked about the history of romance and specifically the role of African-American authors and stories in that history. Once again she was awesome and inspiring, especially for those of us who follow her on social media and know the challenges she’s faced lately. And the best part was everyone got a free book and cool Beverly Jenkins notepad!

Thing Two — Branding can be fun (no, really)

Damon Suede and Heidi Cullinan also spoke at the TGN Retreat (they did a workshop for the PAN retreat, but I had another obligation at that time). Damon and Heidi walked (well, more trotted) us through some fun exercises to help determine what our brand is and, amazingly, mine was pretty much what I already thought.  They also shared some great information about how to use your brand in promotions and marketing.  I strongly recommend checking out their website, http://www.your-A-game.com.

Courtney Milan and Alisha Rai did a workshop on how to identify the audience for your books, how to use that information in designing covers, etc., and how to connect with your audience on social media. The session was too short to cover everything they wanted to, but they gave a lot of helpful suggestions that dovetailed nicely with what Damon and Heidi had to say. Thanks to these workshops, I may just have this branding thing down. Sort of. Maybe.

Thing Three — Hanging out by the pool is totally part of the conference

Since the AC in the meeting rooms was set on “arctic,” I left one session early to sit out in the sun by the pool. On the way out the door I met an author with a charming British accent, and we fell to talking (as one does). She looked vaguely familiar, but it took a while before we exchanged names. Turns out she was Stella Cameron, one of my late mother’s favorite romantic suspense authors. We had a lovely chat about anything and everything (as one does), including her personalized recommendations of places to stay when my husband and I go to England next year.

The take-away? Always take time to make new friends at RWA — you might meet someone like Stella Cameron or, as two of my fellow Harper Impulse authors did, end up having lunch with the real-life Rita for whom the Rita Awards are named!

***

Found-OSBLola here, hopping in to add that Beverly Jenkins is amazing. She is a master of research and character and hope. Nancy learned some new promo tricks, but in her note above she was too humble to mention her latest book, Found: One Secret Baby which came out days before we left for the conference.

I make no guarantees regarding the cost and how long the discount will last, but I picked up my copy for the unbelievably low cost of $.49.

LA lawyer Rosalie Walker will do whatever it takes to protect her adopted son. She promised his mother before she died that she’d look after him and keep him safe from his paternal family. So when delectable Morgan Danby walks into her office in search of his nephew, she must keep the baby in her care a secret—even if one look from Morgan makes her want to share everything with him…

As a favour to his step-mother— the woman who actually raised him, unlike his real mother who abandoned him as a child—successful businessman, Morgan is searching for the son of his incarcerated step-brother. He can tell Rosalie is hiding something and the temptation to seduce her for her secret is strong, but will he be able to handle the consequences once all is revealed…?

Found: One Secret Baby is available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble 

 

Celebrating Lucky Traveler

Lucky Traveler releases today! As a writer, launching a project into the wild is both exciting and scary and Lucky Traveler was a bit of a departure for me. Why? For one, it’s short. I tend to write short, but not novella length. The character development process is different, but I enjoyed it so much, I’m working on some other shorter works.

Lucky-Traveler-300Second – it’s sexy. When I first started writing, the idea of writing a sex scene made me nervous. It still does, but I let my characters dictate the story and Logan and Keira had some specific ideas about what they wanted to do.

I hope my readers, new and returning, will enjoy Lucky Traveler.

To celebrate, I have a month long giveaway for a $10 gift card. a Rafflecopter giveaway
//widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Here are a few places you can get Lucky Traveler. Enjoy and let me know what you think in a review or through sharing.  Amazon  AllRomanceEbooks iTunes

Writing is a strange business

Every time a non-writer friend shares an article about the writing industry, I’m struck anew by how strange this business is. For a job that seems like a dream, the reality is different from about any other job I have held.

In the work world, I was expected to work for a certain number of hours and at the end of that period, I received money. As an author, I can spend hours and hours and years working on a manuscript and receive nothing except a pile of paper to support the dust bunny colony hiding under the bed.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know when to give up on the manuscript under the bed. In my work world, either a time clock, a deadline, a boss or a shift in corporate culture let me know when it was time to stop. Now, I can’t tell if the manuscript call is an authentic need to revise, or merely a distraction and there is no-one to tell me.

I’m trying to move forward with newer projects, but some days, that manuscript calls out and the ghost of a character whispers “but what if you…”

If I stop cleaning long enough, maybe the dust bunnies will finish off the project.

First Friday Five I love #Maps

Give me a good infographic and I’m a happy girl. Put that same information on a map and I get downright giddy.  Here are five maps that I love.  Most are links because I don’t want to get in trouble, but they are all click-worthy.

  1. I cannot find the original maps created by Joshua Katz as part of his dissertation research, but this summary on Business Insider has some of my favorite linguistic maps that prove Americans really don’t speak the same language. Come for crustaceans, stay for the crayons.
    http://www.businessinsider.com/22-maps-that-show-the-deepest-linguistic-conflicts-in-america-2013-6
  2. Ever wonder what some of those languages you hear on the street are?  Slate put together a series of maps based on census data.  Maps like these are a great way to layer flavor into a contemporary setting.   http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/05/language_map_what_s_the_most_popular_language_in_your_state.html
  3.  Writing and need to make sure your character’s drink of choice is mainstream or freakishly weird? The good folks at finedininglovers.com can help.  https://www.finedininglovers.com/blog/food-drinks/infographic-united-states-of-alcohol/
  4. Not sure what holiday toy to buy for that great-niece in another state? Last winter this helpful map made the rounds based on google searches by state.  I’m looking forward to seeing what this year brings. I will add to the Lego totals for Minnesota.
  5.  This last one may be the most awesome interactive map I’ve come across. ZatoNovo published a map by Brian Rowe that lets you enter a name and watch how the name changed in popularity over the last 120 years.  For fun, try female names like Jennifer, Cora, and Hermione. Maybe I’m easily amused, but this combines my loves of names, history and geography in one swell place. http://zatonovo.com/dataviz/baby_names

Summer vacation, sort of.

My children finish school this week and I end another work cycle. From September to effectively the end of May, I am a WAHM or Work at Home Mom. During June, July and August, I am primarily a SAHM or Stay at Home Mom.

My day to day schedule becomes more fluid for those three months. The kids retain a set bedtime, but we relax our routines. If the weather is nice, we explore different parks. If it’s not so nice, we revisit a favorite museum. I take editing work with me, or write blog posts long hand while they hit the playground, but my writing work takes a back seat to togetherness. My social media time drops off as we engage in a different kind of face-time.

By the end of the summer, my ever-present notebook will be with ideas for stories that may never be written. More importantly, my kids heads will be filled with memories that they will turn into stories they share. The work is unrelenting, but I love it.

First Friday Five – Resolutions

Ah, January. In the first few weeks of the new calendar year, most of us resolve to change something for the positive. How many lists have you seen (or made) that start with words to the effect of I will eat more vegetables?

Not here. Maybe I’m cranky because the pond behind my house suffered too many freeze-thaw cycles to be useful for skating, but I decided this year I’m resolving NOT to do things in my First Friday Five.

1. I resolve NOT to give up coffee in 2015.

2. Likewise, I resolve NOT to give up chocolate, because I’m no quitter.

 

3. I resolve NOT to parachute out of an airplane naked.

4. I resolve NOT to sit for so many hours each day. Laying down requires less energy.

5. Finally, I resolve NOT to let fear of rejection keep me from submitting the three finished manuscripts I have.

What do you think? Is there anything you resolve NOT to do in 2015? There will be a surprise for one lucky commenter who leaves contact information (use the name at server dot com format so you don’t get spambotted)

 

My terrible error

I signed up for NaNoWriMo, which is all well and good. My goal is to produce a follow up to Bad Traveler featuring a secondary character in a starring role. This is not my error, at least not yet.

No, my problem came when I sat down to do character research. I made a mistake. A big bad terrible mistake. I forgot to use an incognito window on my browser.

Going incognito sometimes presents problems, like I can’t link directly from an incognito window to Pinterest.  Since I wanted to populate my newly created NaNoWriMo board, I didn’t want to be incognito the entire time. But then the mistake happened. I was so excited to see a link for “Fifty Beautiful Welsh Women” that I clicked rather than pasting into a incognito window.   I ended up on a “lad-mag” site.  The women were fully dressed and if you check out my board, you will see they are indeed beautiful, but I fear my advertising stream will switch over almost entirely to Viagra and body building techniques.

I already miss the pretty shoes and boots. Perhaps the new advertising stream will inspire a different type of story.  In the meantime, I’ll try to practice safe pinning.

Talking With: Liv Rancourt

Thanks so much, Lola, for the chance to be a guest on your blog. I had to answer six questions – can’t color in the lines, either – but I’ll try to keep my answers short. 😉Between the Sheets_highres cover

What inspired you to write this book?

Between the Sheets is a story about the shenanigans at a weekend retreat for music teachers. Most of the significant people in my life are musicians, and some of the most influential teachers I know teach music, and the story is my way of saying kudos to them. I did my best to create characters who are real and human and sexy (some of them, at least), who also happen to be music teachers.

 

What types of books do you enjoy reading? What is on your nightstand?

I’m all about the romance, with some creepy paranormal/horror mixed in. Recent favorites include The Quick by Lauren Owen (shivery fun!), Liberating Lacey by Anne Calhoun (title = goofy/Hunter = HOT), and A Private Gentleman by Heidi Cullinan (fabulous historical m/m action). Last night I started Charlaine Harris’s new one, Midnight Crossroad, which features one of the minor characters from the Harper Connolly series. Only about a third of the way through, but it’s too much fun so far!!

 

Do you listen to music when you write?  If so, what?

Sometimes, not always. I don’t create an individual soundtrack for each book, but I do usually have Pandora playing, and I’ll often identify a theme song for whatever I’m working on. For Between the Sheets, the theme song is something bluesy and rocking, like Tom Petty’s American Girl or maybe Tumbling Dice by the Rolling Stones.

What is your favorite part about being an author?

Making shit up!!

Excuse my outburst, but I love to let my mind wander and dream up new ways of messing with my characters. The getting it down on paper thing is a bit more challenging, but it feels good when it’s done.

 

If a celebrity did the audio book reading, who would you pick and why?

In my dreams, Benedict Cumberbatch and Orlando Bloom would wrestle for the right to do the narration, because they have such lovely….voices.

 

We’re at a bar with your hero and heroine, what are they drinking?

Randy’s got some history with the demon drink, so he’s having Coke. Maggie’s got a beer, because she’s that kind of girl. She also plays first base on her coed softball team, and her favorite band is Albannach (Scottish drums and pipes). Randy thinks bagpipes are hard to take at the volume Maggie likes to play them, but he also thinks she’s the prettiest thing he’s seen in a long time, so he keeps his mouth shut. He does sometimes turn the stereo down when she’s not looking….

 

Dessert time! Give me your “either—or” answers

  • Chocolate, fruit or other?
    • Duh, chocolate.
  • Warm or cold?
    • Warm, as in on-a-beach warm.
  • Buttercream or fondant?
    • Fondant.
  • Cookies or brownies?
    • Cookies. I have a short attention span, and there are more varieties.
  • With nuts or without?
    • Mostly without, though I do make exceptions.

Thanks again, Lola!

You’re welcome.  I had a chance to read Between the Sheets and loved it.  For readers wanting more, here’s the blurb.

Between the Sheets_highres coverLife for music teacher Maggie Schafer has been full of flat notes lately. Sick of being single and celibate, she vows to get her groove back at the upcoming Western Washington Choral Directors Annual Retreat. 

Too bad the only guy who seems interested is a pompous dork who thinks he’s God’s gift to women—and the music education world. When he gets a little too arrogant and crosses boundaries, gorgeous pianist Randy Devers swoops in to run interference. After sharing a shockingly hot kiss in front of the whole conference, Maggie and Randy come up with a plan to pretend they’re dating.

However, the more time they spend together—and the more physical their “pretend” relationship gets—the more she wonders if there could be anything beyond just smoking chemistry and a friendly agreement between them.

Maggie’s got history, Randy’s got baggage, and they’ve got a weekend to get their rhythms in sync and figure out how to turn their solo lives into a beautiful duet.

 

Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22731244-between-the-sheets)

Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/between-the-sheets-liv-rancourt/1120082650?ean=9781440584855&itm=1&usri=9781440584855&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10:1&r=1,%201)

Kobo (http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/between-the-sheets-29)

Google (http://books.google.com/books/about/Between_the_Sheets.html?id=t98-BAAAQBAJ)

Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Between-Sheets-Liv-Rancourt-ebook/dp/B00N0Y5WV0/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1409150375&sr=8-2&keywords=liv+rancourt)

Liv Rancourt writes light, funny, contemporary romance and urban fantasy. Her novel Hell…The Story was a 2014 Amazon Livselfie_4.27.14Breakthrough Novel Award quarterfinal entry. Previous publishing credits include Forever & Ever, Amen, a paranormal romance from Crimson Romance, and A Vampire’s Deadly Delight, an urban fantasy novella from Black Opal Books. She has also contributed several short stories to the Ten Tales series edited by Rayne Hall and she is represented by Margaret Bail from Inklings Literary Agency.

Liv’s day job is as a neonatal nurse practitioner, and she’s taken care of small and sick infants for almost thirty years. Before she got serious about writing, she spent her free time fronting a rock band and hanging out in the church choir. Currently, she lives in Seattle with her husband, her two kids, and a slightly addled menagerie.

She can be found on-line at her website & blog (www.livrancourt.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt).