Spotlight on….Misty Simon!

We’re proud to welcome Misty Simon to A Writer’s House this week. for-web-misty-simon2

Misty Simon loves a good story and decided one day that she would try her hand at it. Eventually she got it right. There’s nothing better in the world than making someone laugh, and she hopes everyone at least snickers in the right places when reading her books. She lives with her husband, daughter and three insane dogs in Central Pennsylvania where she is hard at work on her next novel or three. She loves to hear from readers, so drop her a line at misty@mistysimon.com

Thank you for being with us Misty. I can’t wait to hear what you have up your sleeve. Tell me about your latest release.

This is the last Ivy Morris Mystery in the series. Box Six ties it all up. I’ve loved writing Ivy throughout the years and am sad to see her go, but she’s grown into the woman I always knew she could be and it’s time for both of us to move on to new adventures.

Readers have enjoyed watching Ivy grow up as well. What’s next for our intrepid sleuth?

I loved the idea of a tomato tournament with Ben trying his hand out at growing and cooking. And it seemed perfect that one of the judges would die for reasons unknown to anyone. I always love to complicate Ivy’s life.

Was there anything that complicated your life in writing this particular book?

It was one of the hardest books I’ve ever written, knowing that it was the end. I had to tell myself over and over again that I wanted to do her justice and see this through. It took a while but I finally did.

You certainly did! I know how exciting it is to finish a book. I can’t imagine putting “the end” on a series. That’s quite an accomplishment. What’s a favorite milestone in your career so far?

 Anytime I have a new book in my hands! Also the fact that I have now signed with a traditional publisher for a new mystery series which will be my very first mass-market paperback!

That’s incredible! Congratulations, Misty! Tell me more.

Tallie Graver will be starring in her own new mystery series starting in November and coming out from Kensington Publishing.

I know I can’t wait to read the new series and I’m sure your readers will feel the same. So leave us with some last, best words of wisdom that keep you going when things are tough.

First, think. Second, believe. Third, dream. And finally, dare. Walt Disney. This speaks to me because before anything else you have to believe in yourself. There are going to be days where you might be the only one who does, but your dreams are important and you are the only one who can give yourself the time, the space and the love to make them come true.

Thank you so much for being here today, Misty. And best of luck on the new series with Kensington. Now, let’s take a quick look at your latest release, Hoedown Showdown available from The Wild Rose Press.

HoedownShowdown_w11268_med “I’m so sorry, Mr. McIntyre,” Myrt said with her face close to his, her hand patting his chest. There was a crinkling noise, but she was still talking. “So very sorry. When Irma died last year in her sleep after winning her forty-ninth straight tournament, I thought I finally had a chance, and now I hit you, and I’m so very, very sorry, and I can’t believe I mistook you for a burglar.” She twisted her hands together like she was wringing out a dishtowel. And she was going to draw blood if she continued biting her lip in between babbling some more.

I had few choices right now. I have to admit here that I had no desire whatsoever to call the police. I didn’t want to be involved in things. I had plans this week. This was not going to keep me from swinging from the freaking chandelier if I could.

Of course, I could go across the street and call from the house, or have Ben call and then remove myself from the situation altogether. But that would be completely unfair to Mrs. Crandall.

I couldn’t help myself. I let out a scream that would have brought down an opera house, something between frustration and fright because, at that moment, something furry ran against my leg before shooting into the bushes.

In the end, the decision of what to do was taken out of my hands because the police came tearing up in the one marked car in town, screeching to a halt at the curb. A man in uniform was out of the car before I could blink again. And I’m glad I didn’t blink because I would have missed the way he jumped from the car and then did a forward roll across the front lawn as if he was in some crazy-assed shootout.

Misty’s Website                         Misty’s Facebook                          Misty’s Twitter

 

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Teenage Lessons for the Adult YA Writer

I wrote my first YA short story when I was a young adult. It was full of the typical teen angst you would expect. Lots of never-ending, die-if-you-don’t-love-me emotion. Even more of the teen hero or heroine as the lone wolf against the world. And every one one of my heroines or heroes died in the end because that’s really the ending I learned from the greatest love story: Romeo and Juliet.

Flash forward a few decades and the world of writing has changed. Heroines aren’t virgins. Heroes aren’t all billionaires. Teens are the same as they were…and completely different. It should be noted that’s true for every generation of teens. They face new complications and challenges the previous generation didn’t experience and will never fully understand.

Then how do we, as adults, write believable YA fiction?

It’s really not any different from writing fiction for an adult audience. Listen to their world. Learn their language. But also learn how they use it. Even more importantly, when they use it. If you’re familiar with the movie classic, Clueless, teen air head Cher, has many personas. She is flighty and needy with the boys. She is surprisingly insightful with the adults in her life. She is relaxed and charming with her step brother.

Avoid the cliches. It’s not just true for your narrative, but your characters. Dig past the stereotypes. The gay best friend better be the captain of the basketball team rather than the effeminate counter point to the heroine. The goth chick with the black lipstick and overly lined eyes better be working at a day care rather than singing emo songs in a dark corner.

Female characters don’t need to be taking karate and beating up the bully. Male characters don’t need to be the school leader or the school bad boy. Racism or xenophobia don’t have to be a conflict for every character of color. Stretch the boundaries of the challenges faced by kids today. The economy, politics, religion, cyber lives, basic safety at home or school….all present sufficient challenges for the fictional teen.

I think the biggest difference for YA audiences is the expectation of a HEA ending. Personally, I want it all to work out in the end. I get mad when it doesn’t. But when I was a teen, I actually expected the disappointing, brokenhearted endings. The caution I give here is don’t market your book as one thing (romance) and give them a contrary ending without some warning. Then again…know your audience. That may be ok with them.

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Writers That Inspire Me

I remember the day I knew I wanted to write romance. I was sitting in my living room, 15 years old, having had a bad case of bronchitis for the previous week. I’d been writing for a few years, mostly teen angst stories where the heroine usually died at the end. But I finished Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen Woodiwiss and I knew I wanted to do this.

I immediately turned the book back to page one and started again.

I don’t remember how I discovered Woodiwiss but I immediately bought everything else she had out. Patricia Matthews was next. Julie Garwood. Johanna Lindsey. Danielle Steele. I also loved Sidney Sheldon. I discovered the Bronte sisters in high school. Leon Uris. Louis L’Amour. Robert Parker. Later on it was John Irving. Steven King. Margaret Atwood. Michael Malone.

Each brought me something unique. Atwood was the first that taught me to look at the common world in a different way. The epic nature of books from L’Amour and Uris. But my heart always came back to romance, especially as it transitioned from the virginal heroine being saved by the rich and powerful hero, to the heroine who saves herself and picks up the hero on her way to greater things.

I love watching the arc of Ellie Dinsmore in LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory. Anita Blake in Laurell K Hamilton’s series is just kickass. Darynda Jones’ Charlie Davidson is a go-to series on my keeper shelf as well. Anything by Lisa Gardner and Detective DD Warren. Nalini Singh.

What list of inspiring writers can’t mention JK Rowling? I guess that one goes without saying. Norah Roberts. Yeah….

And if you want to laugh…Christopher Moore.

Some new authors that are earning my respect and envy. Jeana A. Mann has taken her Felony series to exceptional heights and proven that self-publishing is a viable avenue for new authors, not just those with a built-in audience. Abbie Roads gives new meaning dark and twisty romance.

Who is your inspiration?

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Ways to stay creative

I wish my creativity had a switch. I could turn it on when I have the time and energy to write. I could turn it off at 2AM when I’m trying to sleep but my characters are busy plotting out the rest of my book. I’m grateful for that, don’t think otherwise. I’d be a little more grateful if they’d do it during business hours. Or at least daylight hours.

So I’m constantly looking for ways to rejuvenate the creative juices. Here’s a list of things I use to restock the brainpan when it’s running a little low.

  1. Keep a notebook (or your phone) handy to jot down ideas as they come to you. Telling yourself you’ll remember it for later is a recipe for disaster and you don’t want to lose the perfect line of dialogue or the perfect description for your setting because you also had to remember to go to the grocery, sign the kid’s permission slip and pick up the dry cleaning after work.
  2. Free association writing. For a scene that’s giving you trouble, don’t think. Just write. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s words on the page. They can be edited or discarded as necessary but you may find a kernel of genius that you can then use to focus the scene and create something you do want to keep.
  3. I love the news, especially weird news. Some of these are just stories waiting to be turned into a scene in your book. Jot down ideas in the notebook from item #1.
  4. Brainstorm with a writing partner. A fresh perspective may be just what you need to spark the creative juices and get past a troubling scene or find a new twist for your story.
  5. Get physical. Exercise. Walk. Swim. Run. Bike. Do something that quite literally gets your brain pumping. Notice this list doesn’t include laundry, dishes or vacuuming. Those things suppress the creativity in my opinion (all the better reason to get someone else to do them!).
  6. Change tactics. Rather than write about your scene, go online or pull out a magazine and find pictures that make you think of the scene you’re writing. Maybe it’s a picture of a tree or the ocean or a hospital room. Maybe it’s a model that reminds you of the hero, heroine or villain.
  7. Closely associated with #6 is making a list. Focusing on the senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) make a list of things that could be in your scene. Include anything you can think of because you won’t necessarily use them all. It’s a starting place for ways to add texture to a scene.
  8. Take a break. If you’ve been staring at the computer for hours, get up and move around or find another way to occupy your brain power for a little while. This may be where the laundry or dishes get done. See a movie. Read a book. Talk to a friend. Drink wine. Eat chocolate. (Do we really need an excuse for those last two?)
  9. Break the rules. Find a rule that applies to your genre or your market or yourself…and BREAK it. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t but without taking a risk (another way to keep the creativity moving) you won’t know. For me, ending this list at #9 is going to drive me crazy. I’m analytical. A touch OCD. Lists should be in even numbers or numbers that make sense. Ten. Twelve. Five. (and those are out of order, I hope you noted) Nope. I’m going to stop at 9. I’m such a rebel.

Happy writing everyone!

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Immersed

The new year is shedding the moniker new as we move solidly into February. More than likely those New Year’s resolutions are starting to waver as reality puts a crimp in our determination to make this year different from the last. What promises did you make as a writer? And how are you doing at keeping those promises?

Creativity is hard in the harsh glow of reality. Many of us still have real jobs that pay the bills. There’s nothing that will sap the creative juices faster than a 12-hour day at the office. So I went looking for ways to keep the creative muse happy this year, starting with a four day intensive workshop called Immersion given by Margie Lawson.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been to a one-day workshop with Margie in the past, and had taken several online classes through her website. The information can be a bit overwhelming. There’s so much to take in and apply to my work that I will confess much of it went into a folder and didn’t get brought out again until I was prepping for Immersion.

Immersion is exactly what it sounds like. You are immersed in an environment of learning. This is not a workshop meant to teach you about writing per se. You must be fairly well versed in plot, conflict, characterization and dialogue. You will not learn about the basics of these writing elements. What you will learn is how to take what you know and make it better. This is the next level you hear so many editors and agents talk about.

The workshop teaches you ways to deepen the emotional context of your writing so the reader connects at a visceral level with your characters. It teaches you how to add depth with your setting, dialogue cues and body language. Using Margie’s deep edits system, it shows you how to see if your scenes are balanced between narrative, dialogue, setting and conflict.

The best part of the workshop? My Immersion-mates!! (Go Bear Souls Immersion!) This was such a great group of ladies. We spanned the gamut of experience – new to multi-published. Pantsers and plotters. Different genres. Different personalities. But all focused on one thing: making our writing stronger. We also had plenty of fun, which made the long days of work bearable.

I also have to give a shout out to Margie’s husband, Tom. Such a wonderful man to put up with all these crazy writers invading his home. Not to mention a fantastic cook. He also went above and beyond by fixing my glasses that broke as I traveled to Immersion. Ack! And I can’t forget Calypso, the Dachshund extraordinaire that shared our writing space and napped his way into our hearts while nibbling on carrots and yogurt (but wanting bacon and pot roast which we totally did NOT feed him from the table while Margie wasn’t looking).

I came home more focused than usual about my writing. Thanks to the exercises and the brainstorming, I have a renewed sense of excitement about my book, one that’s been under the bed for a decade.

Next up is Central Pennsylvania’s yearly retreat in May. I’ve been fortunate in my many moves this past decade to always find a local RWA chapter that embodies what I love best about RWA: sharing information, friendship and education. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey to stay inspired this year.

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Who to follow

Social media is a trap, in case you aren’t aware. A time-sucking, soul-draining, brain-numbing trap. And we need it, dammit.

It’s one of the areas I’m weak in my writing career. Once upon a time, a writer had to focus on writing. Now, we are editor, agent, publicist. Sometimes we are videographer, cover designer, director, music organizer and producer. We are usually speaker, event organizer, marketing guru and mule (unless we can bribe the wonderful SO in our lives to tote that barge, lift that box of books). The days of the publisher doing any marketing for our books is long gone for most of us.

Social media does have its benefits. It’s an easy platform for sharing information. Whereas we used to rely on print ads, press releases or radio/tv, we now can reach our audience almost instantaneously. And people are as connected to their smart phones and iPads as they are their thumbs.

The cost is virtually free for most applications – just the time needed to input what we want to share. Many are second nature to us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Others include WhatsApp, QQ, QZone and Telegram. There’s a list here that I found useful.

But sharing information isn’t the only benefit. We can learn. From other authors. From industry professionals. From academics. From the market. Just as there’s no shortage of people looking to learn, there’s no shortage of people looking to teach.

In picking who to follow or watch on social media, think of your goals. Are you a new writing looking to learn the craft? Are you a mid-list author trying to break through to bigger markets? Are you self-published and want to move to traditional? Traditional looking to explore self-publishing?

If you are new to writing, find authors who teach online or have an active blog or newsletter. It’s also important to be active in a local writing group because they can be a first source of information. RWA has an active forum online that can be useful for writers of all levels. There are also sites that offer a smorgasbord of online classes and other events that will connect you with readers, writers and industry professionals. Here’s one of many lists of blogs for aspiring writers.

If you’re published and want to expand your reader base, consider following other authors who cross genre lines or who have a large author base in the genre you’re interested. It can give you direction when you want to try out new ideas. Writer’s Write put together a list of author blogs they felt are top notch. There are also reader websites, blog hops, review websites and online “parties” on platforms like Twitter or Facebook where visitors can learn more about you and other participating authors.

Following editors for lines you’re targeting, or agents you would like to submit for representation can also give you an idea of the dos and don’ts for that house/line/agency. I’m partial to Savvy Authors for pitch events. Sometimes I just want to see what the editor or agent has to say about a particular submission tag line to know if I’m targeting the write person.

The key point I hope you take away from this is the availability of information is vast. Deep space kind of vast. You have to research to see where to properly target your space ship so you don’t end up Lost in Space.

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First Impressions

Contest season has begun!

There’s a love/hate relationship between contests and writers. Writers, even those who would never show their work to another living soul under normal circumstances, want the feedback from a reader. Does our story connect with them? Do they laugh at our jokes? Feel chills when the bad guy shows up? Cry when the hero and the heroine finally get their happily ever after?

We also want to make the finals because in today’s cut throat publishing world, getting in front of an editor or agent is crucial. It’s a jump to the top of the slush pile. A shot at partial request, a full request…publication or representation.

I’ve had the pleasure of judging lots of contests over the years. It’s a scary feeling though, knowing that some author has put their baby in your hands and asked for your opinion about their work and, in truth, their talent. It’s what I was silently asking when I would send off my chapter. Am I good enough? Should I keep this up?

Yes!!! The answer is always yes. You’re good enough, no matter where you are in your journey to publication. You know why? Because you’re out there, doing it. Putting words on paper. Putting ideas on napkins and sticky notes or in a secret file on your computer.

Here are my take aways for getting the most bang for your contest-entry buck.

  1. Pick a contest that has an editor or agent that you would want to work with. It’s the house or line that you are targeting with your manuscript, or an agent that represents your genre or authors similar to your voice. This can take research. Your best source of information is your local RWA chapter or the national website. Watch sites like Savvy Authors or local conferences for workshops and events with editor and agents and sign up. This is tough business. Be prepared.
  2. Edit. Edit. Edit. I’m not going to tell you that a single typo or misplaced comma is going to ruin your chances at winning a contest. That’s ridiculous. However if you’re storey is litered with,, with mistakes it will leeve an impresion. (See?) If you’re not confident in your proofreading skills, ask a fellow writer or a critique partner to give your story a once-over.
  3. Read the contest rules carefully. If they ask for 15 double-spaced pages, don’t send 20 single-spaced. Use a standard 12 point font – either Times New Roman or Courier New are considered the norm.Contest coordinators are busy but they aren’t generally ogres. They recognize that computers and word processing programs can format things differently, so they’ll help you out if something is missing or arrives as an unreadable file. But help them out and comply with the rules. Sending your entry in early never hurts either.
  4. Start in the middle of the action whenever possible. I know you’ve spent lots of time researching and creating your world. You know about the cobblestone walkway or the location of every pothole on Main Street. And you especially know what your character looks like, every hair, dimple and quirk. But remember: there’s plenty of time to put all of that in LATER. You have a very brief window of opportunity to impress. Start at the moment the life of your character changes for the better or worse. This will capture your reader and it lays out the main premise of your book for the judge…and the editor/agent reading when you make the finals!

And if you’re lucky enough to be asked to judge a contest, authors, remember that you have someone’s hopes and dreams in your hands. Be constructive. Be honest. Be kind.

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