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Author: KJ West

How Outlining Saved My Novel

How Outlining Saved My Novel

When I sat down to write the first draft of my first book, I had my protagonist and a handful of scenes firmly in mind. I had a beginning and an ending, and three fun scenes of my character kicking ass and being sassy. I knew who was going to live, who was going to die, who was going to be maimed for life, and a few key points along the way. The rest of the story, I assumed, would work itself out as I typed, flowing from my inner, obviously brilliant, muse.

I was wrong. So very very wrong.

Sixty-thousand words in I found myself in deep trouble. My narrative hadn’t just magically flowed from the goddess of creativity and I’d deviated so far from the main storyline that there was no way to bridge this new convoluted narrative with my originally envisioned ending.

Do you know what could have saved that project from disintegrating? That’s right, an outline. If I would have taken the time to sketch out the measliest plot arch, I would have been able to connect the important dots. Instead I had this: Beginning —> kick ass sassy scenes —> ??????????? —> more kick ass sassy scenes —>End.

Yeah, that wasn’t the best way to begin a project.

Determined not to make the same mistake with my NaNoWriMo 2017 draft I spent most of October pre-writing.

Scene by scene, I plotted the course of my story. It wasn’t an especially literary document, but it did the job. A typical scene entry had a heading, then a few lines and/or bullet points and/or stream of consciousness ramblings that described the main action and goal of the scene. Here’s an example from my outline:

Scene 4: Ashley has her first shift at the Alma House B&B

Show Ashley’s hectic work schedule and financial trouble, as well as her mentor relationship with the owner. Ashley asks for legal advice about Reichenhall and her family’s land, as well as to post an advertisement in the Alma House’s window. At the end of the scene Ashley collides with a stranger who, like Ashley, is a new student at the recently built girl’s campus of the long established Military Boarding School.

Brief, concise, not winning me any awards but exactly the right thing to keep me on track with noveling. Just enough information to remind me about the scene’s content and purpose. Plus, with a complete outline I know what happens next and my writing moved swiftly onward.  

With my scene-by-scene outline in hand I knew exactly where I was headed. I had a map and avoided getting lost in the woods.

This isn’t to say that my story become overly calculated. I had a clear plan to follow but I didn’t follow it to the letter. I like breaking rules, even when those rules are my own, and as I got caught up in the story bursts of inspiration had me scratching off sections of the outline and replacing them with better ideas that came at me out of nowhere in the shower. That’s how it goes.

My outline may barely resemble the finished novel, but I still believe that the outlining was necessary, at least for me. Without a map I wouldn’t have had the confidence to leave the path, to wander in the woods discovering better ways to tell my story.

When it comes to the outlining vs. organic writing debate my only advice is the classic find what works for you. I found that outlining didn’t squash my creativity nor spontaneous inspiration nor the free will of my characters. Writing an outline didn’t kill my muse.

What writing an outline did do is revolutionize my process. This is the first novel length project where I didn’t start floundering mid-way through. I know where I’m headed and  how to get there. I’m making consistent progress on the draft and the end is in sight! Even the pantsiest pantser should give outlining a shot.

If my humdrum scene-by-scene outline isn’t your style, there are many other ways to outlining to try. I plan on doing a future post exploring the pros and cons of each but in the meanwhile here are some useful links to get you started:

Writing a novel is an overwhelming undertaking. Outlining is practical. It makes the task of actually writing less daunting. But is it necessary? No, of course not! The only thing that is necessary is writing. So you do you and I’ll do me. It’s two weeks into NaNoWriMo and I am very happy I did that outlining. What about you?

Happy NaNoWriMo-ing,

Kayla

In case you missed some of our past Wrimo posts and need a little mid-November pick me up:

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 3: The Future!

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 3: The Future!

Welcome to the third and final installment of Kayla goes to fall lit events. Instead of telling you about cool events that I’ve already been to, I’m going to tell you about the ones that are coming up and why you should get your butt off the couch this fall and get out to the literary community of the great and glorious Twin Cities, long may they prosper.

October 27: Spontaneous s Combustion Vol2. Authors were given story prompts on Oct 19th and had 24 hours to write. The top 15 stories earned a spot in this story showcase. The authors will read their stories and the audience will vote. 6:30 PM @ Magers & Quinn

October 27 – 31: Victorian Ghost StoriesA spooky night out for literary lovers. Costumed actors present dramatic readings of 19th-century ghost stories in the dimly light parlor of the James J. Hill House. Hear from Edgar Allan Poe, Edith Wharton and the Brothers Grimm, as well as lesser-known authors of the period, plus some “true” ghost stories.

October 29: Caffeine and Correspondence. Host Jessica Lindgren provides stationary, writing implements, and postage for correspondence. A fun and social way to revive the dying art of letter writing. 1 PM @ The Coffee Shop NorthEast

October 29 and November 26: Barbaric Yawp – Literary Open Mic Night. Christopher Title hosts this monthly Literary Open Mic event. Bring your poetry or prose and share the company of your fellow writers. 6:30-8:30 PM @ Underground Music Cafe

October 30: Cocktails and Correspondence. A happy hour version of Caffeine and Correspondence. Jessica encourages the cocktail sippers to think of someone who deserves a handwritten note. Two hours dedicated to the fine art of putting pen to paper on the last Monday of every month. Stationary and postage provided. 4 PM-6 PM @ Hewing Hotel Library Lounge

October 31: Countdown to Midnight PartyStart the month with a bang and get a headstart on your word count before most people have even gotten out of bed.  A classic Twin Cities Nano event.  Come before midnight to eat and socialize, but once the clock strikes twelve, Cinderella’s got to write herself into a novel! 11PM-Wed 12 AM @ IHOP near MOA.

Oct 31 and November 16: Talking VolumesMPR’s famous Talking Volumes series has two events left in the season. Ron Chernow and “Grant” on Oct 31st; Dan Brown and “Origin” on Nov 16th. @ The Fitzgerald in St. Paul

November 1: Birchbark Books Reading Series. Heid E. Erdrich, David Lawrence Grant, Linda LeGarde Grover, and Thomas Dillon Redshaw will talk about their books and engage the audience in a workshop. Curated by Michael Kiesow Moore and Ardie Medina, the reading series features new, emerging, and established writers quarterly September through May. 7 PM @ Birchbark Books

November 1-8: Brain Science to Keep You Writing. As we get into NaNoWriMo, get tips on building and sustaining momentum in your writing project. Discover why you procrastinate, distract yourself and find it so hard to write at times. Harness the power of brain science to show up, sit down and write, no matter what. Taught by writing and creativity instructor and author Rosanne Bane. Great way to share ideas and connect with fellow Wrimos. Various times and locations.

November 1-30: NaNoWriMo Twin Cities Write In’s. Various times and locations across Minneapolis and St. Paul. Meet fellow wrimos and slam out a few words at a cafe or resto. I’m a frequent flyer at the Blue Moon write in (Wednesdays during November and year round).

November 1, 17, & 28: The Beautiful Beginning, The Murky Middle, and The Exhausting Ending Write In’s.  Had to highlight these special write-in’s at one of my favorite bookshops. Snacks, wi-fi, writing prompts, and plenty of places to sit. Plus, all month long, there will be a special sale on journals and craft books. Starting the month 30% off, and then the discount will decrease 1% each day to help youcountdownn to the end of the month. Various times @ The Red Balloon 

November 2: Gentrification, Artists, and the “Rediscovery” of American Cities: A Conversation With David Goodwin and Artspace’s Tio Aiken. This will be a great opportunity for activists and citizens to engage the author in conversation about how gentrification works and how residents can become proactive and retain their power within the community. Books can change the world and spaces like this to discuss important books and critical issues are invaluable. 7 PM @ Magers & Quinn

November 5: Autumn Leaves: An Afternoon of Poetry and Music. Featuring Thomas R. Smith, Ardie Medina and the Asiginaak Singers, Michael Kiesow Moore, and Lars Krogstad Ortiz. 2 PM- 4 PM @ Quinn Violins

November 7: Let’s Talk YA with Livia Blackburne, E.K. Johnston & Sara Shepard.  It’s time for the talk– the Young Adult talk.  The St. Paul edition of Let’s Talk YA.  We’ll be chatting with YA authors about their new books, writing, life as an author, and more. Enjoy a panel discussion, Q&A about why we love YA, themed activities, and great company. 6:30 PM @Red Balloon

November 11: MN Publishing Tweet-up. Another awesome tweet-up is happening at a rad bookstore. Common Good Books is one of my favorite places to peruse;  come for the fellow writers and publishing types, stay for the books and coffee! This will be the last gathering of 2017 for the MN Publishing Tweet Up. It won’t be back until Feb. 2018! 10 Am-12 PM @ Common Good Books

November 19: Maggie Stiefvater, ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS. Bestselling author of the Raven Cycle will give a talk, read from her new book, take questions, and sign books. 7 PM @ The Red Balloon

November 25: Indies First: Author Booksellers on Small Business Saturday. The holidays are here and it’s time to shop local and small! A whole crew of local authors for one spectacular Saturday of shopping known as Indies First. This program is held every year on Small Business Saturday and highlights what makes independent bookstores so great by giving authors a way to support their local bookstores. Various locations.

December 2: NaNoWriMo TGIO. Party location and time TBA, but get this on your calendar! Hang out with the Twin Cities wrimos and celebrate everything you’ve accomplished this fall.

Wow, this turned into the longest thing. This is a lot of events…I may not make it to all of them but I’m going to try my darndest! I’d love to hear from you in the comments about events you’re interested in. Please let me know if I’ve missed something.

Peace & Love,

Kayla

 

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 2: Twin Cities Book Festival

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 2: Twin Cities Book Festival

Welcome to part two of three! If you missed part 1 you can find it HERE and if you want to review last year’s post about why fall is an amazing time of year in the TC book community you can click HERE.

I am thrilled, delighted, elated, positively jubilant to tell you all about this year’s Twin Cities Book Fest. It was rad.

Ok, deep breath, dial down the excitement. It was just that cool, though, I’m telling ya.

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Put on annually by Rain Taxi Review, the self-proclaimed ‘champions of aesthetically adventurous literature supported by readers like you,’ the Twin Cities Book Fest is the largest literary gathering in the Upper Midwest.

The book fest is always awesome but this year it was exceptionally so. I haven’t laughed so hard nor felt such temptation to max out my credit card on books in all of my life. From the rock star authors, to the local lit heroes, to the publishers/magazines/booksellers/vendors I was quite literally dazzled. There were panel discussions, workshops, author signings, and discounted books galore. If you’ve never been to the book fest I recommend prior to the event reviewing the authors and subjects, highlighting choices for each time slot, and making sure you’ll be able to get to the presentations you can’t bear to miss.

Early in the day Al Franken made a big splash promoting his new memoir. Some of my favorite local book vendors had festival deals and specials that were overwhelmingly seductive. And best of all iconic cartoonist Roz Chast, of whom I am a long time fan, was there to talk about her life as a cartoonist for the New Yorker and her new books: Going into Town and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? If you’re unfamiliar with her work, here’s one of my favorites:i-cant-believe-i-ate-all-that-kale-for-nothing-roz-chas

Roz flashed her comics on the big screen and narrated them for the audience, with a fair amount of surprisingly brilliant acting. It was hilarious. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long long time. My sides were aching and my seat neighbor, who I did not know prior to this event, was literally slapping my knee and guffawing as I giggled like a drunk baby. We were not alone, the entire audience was in stitches.  

I also sat in on the speculative fiction geniuses Charlie Jane Anders and Cory Doctrow as they took on a discussion that ranged from gamification to Confucian Capitalism to meritocracy to maker culture. It was intellectual, philosophical, and riotously funny. They spoke in depth about diversity of voice in literature. Both authors challenged world-builders to create diverse communities rich with different people and perspectives. This is something I’ve been struggling with as I flesh out characters for NaNoWriMo with competing worldviews. Does diversity of perspective necessitate conflict or can my characters get along? Hmmm….still wrestling with that one but I left the author talk with fresh enthusiasm.  I can’t wait to read their newest books: All the Birds in the Sky and For the Walkaway.

I ran between buildings to catch as many authors as possible but it was raining so my thrifted-forest-green-wide-brimmed-wool-hat became a droopy mess of beaded raindrops. Strangely, the hat garnered me many compliments, but only after it became wet and pulpy…perhaps half-drowned Odin is a look I should wear more often?

There were author signings throughout the day (including Roz Chast and good ol’ Al Franken author of Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken…), a raffle of shiny, glamorous prizes that I did not win, and a nifty Poetry Bus with rotating workshops and activities. Upon entry the bus attendant proudly proclaimed: “Whatever you need, poetry has it!” Please look upon the magic of the poetry bus as it glistens in the setting sun upon the hallowed grounds of the MN State Fair and feel a happiness within you that such a thing exists.

kayla j west nortrup twin cities book fest lit events minneapolis saint paul silver sky press

We have a phenomenal lit scene in the Twin Cities. Journals, publishers, writers, and readers. Our community is bustling and booming and profusely incredible. The Twin Cities Book Fest is a great way to get a little taste of all our local community has to offer. Hopefully someday soon Silver Sky Press will have a booth! 

 Stay tuned for the next installment of Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events!

Here are links to most (but not all) of the amazing people and organizations that showed up to TC Book Fest and made it awesome: insert links

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 1: Comic-Con

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 1: Comic-Con

Last year I blogged about how fall is the best time of year for book events in the Twin Cities (for a blast from the past click HERE). This year is no exception! Welcome to the three-part series I will be devoting to this beautiful season and our marvelous lit community. Part 1: Comic-Con

Thank you, Midwest Comic Book Association, for bringing us the awesomeness of a Twin Cities comic-con every year without fail. MCBA is an all-volunteer organization. Without those comic book geeks, we wouldn’t have a con. Take a second to contemplate what a tragedy that would be. I love you TC comic book geeks! Never change.

The con is held at the State Fair grounds and is 100,000+ feet of comic book mayhem and goodness, over 200 guest creators, huge variety of comics/collectibles dealers, and free kid activities! Can I get a…

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MCBA will be celebrating 30 years of cons this upcoming spring, so mark your calendars for the sure to spectacular weekend of May 19th and 20th. I haven’t been attending the MCBAcon for thirty years or anything but I happen to be coming up on a decade since my first visit. I know this is going to make me sound old, but the con was a much different scene back then. My first time I brought the then 8- and 6-year-old little sisters. They loved it, one got a flash comic and the other got in trouble. Which is typical.

When I brought my sisters all those years ago they were anomalies. In fact, I was a bit of an anomaly. There were zero children and only a very small handful of young women.

It’s a much more tiny human-friendly event these days with designated kid areas and kid activities: coloring, photo ops, free stickers, all the things kiddies love.  And this year there were just as many women as men. The high rate of costuming made for an ocean of exposed breasts and thighs. Which is why the only pic that is safe for work is my little Batman with the poster-version Spiderman. Every other hero we posed with was nearly nude.

kayla j west silver sky press comic con lit event saint paul minneapolis twin cities

The costumes really were out of this world. I’m talking all out cosplayers, handmade cloaks/weapons/armor, and a legion of storm troopers. I cannot begin to contemplate the level of sewing skills required for the marvels on display. There was a man who looked so much like Hagrid and was dressed so much like Hagrid that for a moment I truly believed that he was there to give me my letter and all these years in the muggle realm truly were a mistake. Sigh. He wasn’t there to give me my letter. But he may well have been the real Hagrid. We may never know.

Because I was a slacker and didn’t prepare until the day of, my kiddo wore batman pjs and I wore a TMNT t-shirt with a red bandanna because Raphael is the best. A Naruto scolded me for dressing the family in contradictory universes. Next year I’ll try to be more on top of it, Naruto, jeez.  

Little bats had the time of her short life. She was toddling around screeching with delight and waving at the fellow con-goers. She made lots of friends. I never made random friends at events the way I do with kiddo in tow. She’s like a magnet for happy, personable passersby. I highly recommended a baby as an accessory to all social misfits. It’s a sure way to make more friends than you can handle.

One woman I chatted with had an itsy-bitsy human tethered to her chest with one of those natural baby carriers. She told me that a few months ago she went to a con out of state and dressed up as pregnant Amy Pond. That lady was one cool mom. I’ll probably never be that cool, but the number one reason I love comic-con is because I get to rub elbows with the coolest, most magical, creative, awesome humans this side of Hogwarts.

As I wandered between the booths – ogling the art, admiring the new graphic novels, making friends, and taking in the novelty of professional drawings of dogs as superheroes – I realized how incredibly important, albeit downright wacky, this festival of comic and graphic books really is. Writers, artists, and fans come together for a day of fun and leave inspired to create new stories, new art, and new cosplays.

I walked away from comic-con inspired and dreaming of the year I’ll have a booth of my own, showing off my art and rubbing elbows with the local creators I’ve long admired.

There was a bit of poignant symmetry this year at comic con. My first year I was living at home, dreaming of college, and taking my little sibs out for a day of adventure. This year I’ve got my own kick ass adult life and the cutest baby in the universe.  Nearly a decade of con-going framed by two vastly different, but similarly inspiring, outings with tiny humans. Happy memories, happy present, and – if the force is with me – many more happy cons in my future.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events!

Peace & Love,

Kayla

 

Here are a few links to some of the awesomeness I experienced at comic-con: insert hyperlinks

Kayla is Back with Thoughts on World Building

Kayla is Back with Thoughts on World Building

Hi everybody, Kayla here, anyone remember me? It’s been ages since I’ve been on the blog, sorry about that. But not really that sorry since you lucky ducks have had extra awesome Brooke posts in the meanwhile, and it doesn’t get much better than that, am I right?

This summer I put a hold on structured writing projects and took a break from blog deadlines so that my creative energy could focus on the launch of Mama Terra Gardens. That’s right people, I’m successfully self employed now!

Fortunately I am in a seasonal business and now that fall temps are moving in to kill the plants I get to scale back the garden design/install business and scale up the writing.

That means jumping back into revisions of Witch Girl right where I left off; world-building and the pursuit of making it feel real.

I know what you’re thinking – world-building is for writers of elf-dwarf fantasy and alien universes populated with space unicorns.

But guess what? It doesn’t matter if your protagonist is surviving high school or surviving a quest to Mordor – your story needs a well built, diverse world to be believable.

If you are writing a story then you are building a world.

And if you’re building a world, THEN BUILD A WORLD and make it a good one. A world is diverse, fascinating, real. A world is not a few towns, it is not one accent, it is not one race. That is what makes world building so downright overwhelming and why most writers shy away from fantastical worlds and beasts and socio-economic-political discords.

But world-building is also a lot of fun. As readers we love being transported to impossible, incredible places filled with characters we want to meet or be or strangle. And as writers there is nothing better than making a world come alive in your head and in your heart and then finally upon the page.

So yes, world-building can feel overwhelming, afterall a world is overwhelmingly diverse, but it doesn’t have to drive you crazy. You don’t have to pin down every far flung detail all at once (that’s a good way to drive yourself bonkers). Here’s a simply two part formula that works for me.

One: Start by identifying the core element in your story

The core element might be the main theme, the main character, or the BIG IDEA/AHA moment. The core element is the central beating heart of your story. It is the reason you wanted to tell this story in the first place and it is the reason you stick to this story when the going gets tough and the world building gets tricky.

Two: Spiral out

Once you have that core element, spiral out. Build upon the central idea with relevant details. Then build upon those details. Spiral outward until you have the bones of a world. Spiral out still further until you have the flesh. Your central idea is the pulse and your job is to give it a body.

I started Witch Girl with my main character powerfully alive and ready to live. It wasn’t difficult for me to build a world for my sassy protagonist Skara – teenage orphan/refugee turned runaway/tree-house-building/freedom-fighter. Her character was dynamic, her plot demanded setting and props and side-kicks. First I had my character and then I built  a world for her to inhabit.

Not every writer begins with character but the best worlds begin with a core idea/theme/character and spiral out from there. Building upon the big ideas with colorful, vibrant, sensual details that make the world real.

As you spiral out here are some things to consider:

RESEARCH:

Trust me, as you spiral out from your core idea the key is research. Research, research, research, research. Ok, once more so you know I’m serious, RESEARCH! You have to know everything you can know about a few things before you can even begin to layer in all the complexities of a world. Of course making things up is the goal, but you need to build the meat of your world on a skeleton of true info so people will understand and believe. Most writers of fantasy love non-fiction. They love military history, linguistics, obscure texts on petticoats… They love this stuff because it helps them write believable make-believe.

RELEVANCE:

Don’t get overly hung up on research. I mean…a petticoat is a petticoat and I’m not very interested in them. A big part of world building is choosing what details to focus on and when. Trust your readers, they can extrapolate quite a bit from a small tid-bit. That’s why I recommend keeping your core element in mind at all times and spiraling out from there. If the details are relevant to the core element they will push the narrative forward. Don’t slow your readers down with the irrelevantMost of the time we don’t need to know (or care to know) the weather patterns and pollen counts in the village two rivers over.

DIRECTION:

Even with your core element in sharp focus world-building can still feel daunting. Afterall, you could spiral out from any given element in hundreds, thousands, nay, infinite directions! The choices I made at this point of infinite possibility were mostly just about what I wanted personally, and that is a legitimate way to make a choice as a writer, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you want to write about petticoats then knock yourself out and don’t let the likes of me get in your way. So what do you want to talk about? Loss, love, birth, death, kissing? Or maybe the practical details of your world get you excited – family groups, funerary rites, currency, technology, recreation, food… I love writing about food. Do you have any idea how many speculative fiction books I’ve read where nobody ever eats anything? Too many. I personally would love to know what people eat in space or if werewolves are gluten intolerant. Also, why does everyone eat ‘stew’ in questing novels and what is in the stew?!?

Spiral out in the directions you find most interesting (and relevant). Then Research, refine, expand. Steal from the real world. Steal from Napoleon’s battle tactics. Steal from your parent’s year book. When it comes to world building, inspiration is literally all around you.

In summary, there’s a pretty simple formula that makes world-building less overwhelming. Start by asking yourself: What is the beating heart of this world I am making? What is the why? And then spiral out from there.

Best of luck on your world-building quests! I’d love to hear from you in the comments about your literary journeys into worlds beyond.

Peace & Love,

Kayla

 

 

Books & Beer

Books & Beer

There’s an old writing maxim, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, that will forever wed the worlds of beer and books: Write drunk, Edit sober. 

A recent Twin Cities event dared to re-imagine that old quote: Write sober….Market drunk.

Ladies and gents, may I introduce you to the Books & Beer Pop-up Bookstore. Love books? Love beer? Love meeting local authors? This is the event for you.

Mid-May I popped in to see the pop-up (hey, you’ve read this blog long enough to know some amount of shameless word play is to be expected) and an impressive line up of Minnesota authors were in attendance. Now, most (not all) writers of literature are painful introverts but the authors at this event were chatting happily over their pints, promoting books, and acting unnaturally extroverted. I think the beer had something to do with it. Hence the new maxim: Write sober, Market drunk

Some Kayla trivia of the day, my favorite things start with B. Baths, bikes, books, blog, beer, baby, oh yeah and Brooke of course. I could go on (but I won’t, you’re welcome). This seemingly incongruous event combined three of my favorite B’s in one awesome literary evening: Books, Beer, and Baby.

The baby was, of course, optional. Husband and I both wanted a beer, and a babysitter – yes, another favorite B – could not be obtained on this particular evening.  But we were not the only parents desperate enough for a creative book-beer pairing to venture out of doors with an infant/toddler. No indeed. Three tiny humans under the age of two were in attendance and Lake Monster Brewing  had a child play area set up. Way to be inclusive Lake Monster! Sweet babies, please take from this experience a love of books and do not grow up to be drunks.

With dark beer in hand and husband/baby in tow, I browsed the long tables and mingled with  Minnesota authors who had set up shop. It was an awesome experience and I took home an important lesson: Drinking local is fun, reading local is awesome.

Our  community is home to so many talented folks. I met fantasy novelists with epic trilogies for sale, youthful poets, and writers of every genre imaginable. I was duly impressed. It was inspiring to see local authors, many self-published or published with small, local presses, confidently promote their books. Many offered friendly words of encouragement when they found out I too was a writer. I am happy to know that when my book is ready I have a warm, open-hearted community to share it with.

Readers and writers connecting, personally and intimately over a brewksi, is not a common occurrence. We often connect over the internet while remaining isolated in reality. But for most of human history storytellers were part of the village. They were community members, just like their listeners. They weren’t celebrity stars who lived far away in a Manhattan tower – inaccessible, unknowable, glamorous – they were your neighbors, regaling you with tales over fermented beverages. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still love connecting over fermented beverages. We still love stories, particularly when we know the teller.

Go to Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg, New York or any other literary hub and you’ll find café bars where great writers, past and present, started their day with a caffeine hit and moved on to something stronger. Perhaps Lake Monster is destined to be the next Les Deux Magots. I for one hope beer and books become regular and happy bedfellows in our literature community.

The Books & Beer Pop-up Bookstore created an atmosphere where writers and readers could enjoy good books, good drinks, and the company of fellow booklovers and I can’t wait for the next event later this summer. Stay tuned on SS Press and I’ll let you know when it’s happening.

If you’re in need of a book to pair with your favorite beer, check out the local authors who participated in the Pop-Up:

PARTICIPATING AUTHORS:
Kimberlee Ann Bastian
Kate Bitters
Julien Bradley
Scott Burtness
W.S. Datko
J.D.Delzer
Anthony Eichenlaub
Jeff Falkingham
William Fietzer
Angeline Fortin
Kara Jorges
Kim Kane
Briana Lawrence
Catherine Lundoff
Patrick W. Marsh
Annie Meehan
Kenneth E. Olson
Dave Oppegaard
Marcie Rendon
Sam Richard
Ozgur K. Sahin
Jeff Smieding
P.V. Tkach
Tony Writ

Indie First! Buy Books Local

Indie First! Buy Books Local

Independent Bookstore Day is a one day national party celebrating indie bookstores and local book culture. Every year on the last Saturday in April indie bookstores open early and play host to author appearances, live music, doughnuts, costume contests, readings, temporary tattoos, and…literary condoms. That last one is a real thing.

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Yep, the Indie Bookstore scene in the Twin Cities sure is virile. For the second year in a row the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association has printed an Indie Bookstore Passport for the big day. This year 18 booksellers signed up to be included and book lovers like yours truly spent the day collecting stamps, earning coupons, entering drawings, participating in events, and eating free doughnuts.

Everyone who collected five stamps won a limited edition Twin Cities bookstore map created by Kevin Cannon. Check out this beauty:5e41d9c335802ffc7f0736c8f3da5465

I scored an artsy map, was entered into some pretty sweet drawings, and collected eleven stamps for my passport. That means 11 bookstores in one day with baby in tow. It was a marathon but baby loved it and so did I. We visited many of my favorite shops – Magers & Quinn, Once Upon a Crime, Dreamhaven, Moon Palace Books – and had a blast with face painting, folk dancing, door prizes, bookshop bingo, A Wrinkle in Time read-a-thon (baby loved this especially, that a girl), temporary tattoos, and tasty treats. Besides visiting my favorite places I also discovered a few shops I’d never heard of – Birchbark, Addendum, and Paperback Exchange.

Indie Bookstores aren’t just for in the know hipsters. They stock all the mainstream, pop culture, and YA novel dorkiness you crave. Speaking of which, young adult lovers must check out Addendum. Get this, it’s a bookshop solely devoted to the awesomeness of YA!

If you can believe it all eleven of the shops I visited were within a six mile radius of my house. I am so spoiled. We really do have one of the best literary scenes in the world. Next year baby will be a lot sturdier and I’m hoping to bike us between the shops.

There’s growing public awareness and support for independent businesses. The buzz around buying local is loud and getting louder, but are we being loud enough? Not many among us are willing to call out the biggest threat to local bookstores – Amazon.

Amazon is the evil Empire to the Independent Bookstores Luke Skywalker.

Amazon.com is responsible for a third of online sales, and that number is growing every day. This triumphant success is owed to unfair business and labor practices. I’ve attached an infographic at the end of this post if you want more details.

Melville House was one of the first independent publishers to confront Amazon  over predatory and escalating fees assigned to small publishers, as well as the clandestine war on the publisher Hachette, which it carried out by deliberately delaying shipments and hiking prices. Not cool, Amazon. Melville House is now speaking out against Amazon’s  new physical bookstores, which they take issue with because they don’t employ booksellers. I find Amazon’s aggressive efforts to dodge the collection of sales tax particularly distasteful.

Amazon isn’t your buddy. It’s a giant monopoly that will stoop real low to make a profit.

To avoid sounding overly negative I’d like to be fair and point out some of Amazon’s redeeming qualities. It is the biggest book retailer in the world and they get books to places that people used to not be able to get books. I’m all about books getting into hands! And almost every indie author over the past three years has gone into business online, where they can cheaply and easily publish their work as e-books. I’m all about the empowerment of self publishing! (Shameless plug to please support SS Press’s own indie author Brooke Stewart on Amazon!)

I’m not saying NEVER shop at amazon, I’m just saying shop at indie bookstores MORE. Amazon is wreaking havoc on the book industry and local book culture. It’s a challenging economic climate. If we book lovers don’t support the bookstores than they’re going to disappear.

Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers run by passionate book lovers who want nothing more than to spread the joy of reading. When you enter an indie bookshop you enter a carefully tended universe of ideas, adventure, and serendipity. They are lively performance spaces, with our Twin Cities shops offering weekly readings, signings, live music, children’s storytime, and family games. Indie bookstores connect authors and readers and foster a book-loving community in a way that Amazon never can and never will.

If we support the local shops then they will flourish, grow, expand, multiply. And that’s the kind of world I want to live in. That’s the world I’ll be voting for with my money.

If you’re journeying into the wild waters of self-publishing consider other options besides Amazon. Did you know that you can buy eBooks at your favorite indie shop? All you need is a Kobo eReading app on your device and you can buy eBooks through many independent bookstores in Minnesota. And when you self publish on Kobo your readers can support an indie shop when they buy. In my experience indie shops are also very open to physical copies. I’ve approached local Moon Palace Books and Boneshaker Books and they’re both willing to take on a short comic or story (in the form of a zine) on a consignment deal. Small peanuts, I know, but it will get my stuff out there and gain me connections with local booksellers, a valuable ally.

Choose local whenever possible. You can bypass big business in favor of local entrepreneurs by: choosing farmers market over target, local cafe over caribou, and family bookstore over amazon.

You don’t have to do it every time, but a little effort from all of us will go a long way.

If you’re tempted by the price at Amazon, check with your local shop, their prices are competitive too. In my experience the local place is never more than a dollar or two over what Amazon is offering. A few extra bucks  from your wallet is worth it when you think of the local jobs provided and the awesomeness of having a corner shop in your hood. And if your local place doesn’t have a book in stock they’ll order it for you. I’m on a first name basis with a few shops and I love that. They treat me like family and I return the favor.

“Consumers control the marketplace by deciding where to spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

― Ann Patchett, bestselling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books, an Independent Bookstore for Independent People

I’d love to hear about your favorite bookstores, shoot me a comment with any recommendations both here and abroad. If you’re not sure where to find a store near you check out the Indie Bookstore Finder

Here’s that infographic I promised about the evilness of Amazon:
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An Hour a Day is Better than No Hours a Day

An Hour a Day is Better than No Hours a Day

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Brooke and I are big NaNoWriMo enthusiasts and we write about it a lot here at SS Press…so if you’re sick of reading about NaNo then this isn’t the post for you. Because I’m going to talk about Camp NaNo like the happy little camper I am. Ok, you’ve been warned.

It is day 30 of Camp NaNoWriMo and I just hit the validate project button. Boo-ya.

More than any other NaNo, this Camp helped me start and maintain a daily writing habit. And, yeah, I know I should have developed such an obviously useful and wonderful habitude before now, but hey, better late than never.

I got a lot done this month and the only thing that changed is that I shifted my focus from writing a lot (word count) to writing often (hour count).

My goal was to write one hour a day, everyday in April. That might not seem like much, but that’s the point! One hour a day is only .0416% of the month. The thought was if worst came to worst on a busy day I could always just stay up an extra hour after the family went to bed. One hour of sleep isn’t a lot to sacrifice. I mean, in college I would do anything for an extra hour of sleep but I’ve evolved since then.

Not only did I write everyday, but something magical happened, as something magical ought to do when you plunge into the ocean of imagination, sometimes when I sat down to write an hour…I ended up writing 2…or 3…or 6! Yep, sometimes all you need to do is show up and let the magic happen. And of course there were days when I forced an hour and quit as soon as the timer hit 60 minutes, but more days than not I got on a roll and just kept rolling.

Here’s how it worked. By showing up everyday I developed discipline. When developing a new skill or ability the key is not how much you do it, it’s how often. If you start out spending an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting you’re going to burnout. When a person goes to the gym for the the first couple times, should they A) Workout all day pumping the iron, or B) Do several short workouts a week. B, of course. If this gym newbie gives their wimpy virgin muscles time to heal and grow they’re going to see results, and if they hit the gym a couple times a week and keep that up for a month or two they’ve got a habit. And pretty soon they’re going to be working out for longer stretches and then, voila, you’ve got a Hulk look-a-like.

Here’s advice for those of you struggling to build discipline and form habits:

Don’t write a lot. Just write often. 

Habits practiced once a week aren’t habits. They’re obligations. Like calling your mom. And if you only do something once a week it’s likely only a matter of time before you stop doing it altogether. Unfortunately writing isn’t like your mom. It’s not going to hunt you down and mercilessly attack with disappointed mom face until you are sufficiently guilt ridden and ready to give her as much quality time as her majesty demands. (Mom, in case you are reading this you are an angel and this paragraph is pure FICTION)

Show up, do the work. It’s that simple.

And yeah, it’s also that hard. But I did some amazing stuff this month, and trust me you’ve got an hour per day. It’s only .0416% remember.

Peace & Love, Kayla

 

Life is a Juggling Act and Sometimes You Drop the Ball

Life is a Juggling Act and Sometimes You Drop the Ball

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Life is a juggling act. At work and at home we have things to manage, priorities to balance, and too many balls to keep in the air.

Sometimes  I’m on the ball, pun intended, all areas of my life get some attention, and things revolve perfectly as I toss-catch-throw without a stumble.  Other times…I drop the ball.

I’m a busy lady with a lot on my plate. Big, luxurious blocks of time to write just aren’t possible right now. I can’t quit my job, force my mom to babysit, or stop cleaning/eating/showering/doing life like a passably normal adult. The amount of free time I have now is not likely to increase so I’ve been training myself to take advantage of little snippets of time to write. It feels good to fit writing into my hectic life – even if it’s only 45 minutes every other day.

I was on a roll for a couple weeks as I balanced a full schedule with productive bouts of writing. But then…I dropped the writing ball and I got pretty frustrated with myself.

Which got me thinking, if life in my time-strapped, chaotic world requires juggling, then shouldn’t I learn how to be a better juggler? Instead of complaining maybe I should practice. Afterall, it’s juggling – it’s supposed to be fun!

For some juggling advice I turned to a pro, check out the TED talk. Michael Moschen is arguably the world’s greatest juggler. He’s redefined the art of juggling and it’s been said that calling Michael Moschen a juggler is like calling Michelangelo a stonecutter or Mozart a piano player. Moschen has proven that juggling can be an art.

Anyone can learn to juggle. The odd thing about juggling is that it’s so damn frustrating when you can’t do it and then, when you finally can, you can’t understand why you couldn’t always do it….People always put obstacles in the way of their learning. My job is to help them confront their fear — of hurting themselves, of failure, or of just looking stupid.” – Michael Moschen

So the master of juggling says anyone can do it! But we need to practice and, more importantly, we need to get comfortable with failure. If you expect to do it perfectly every time, right out of the gate, then you are going to get frustrated when you inevitably screw up. We have to first deal with our expectations so that we can loosen up and have fun. Dropping a ball here and there is part of the process.

Balance is essential to juggling — as well as to life. But balance is not an unchanging state of perfection. It’s the ability to respond to an unexpected change. Tiny movements that create a perfect, but temporary, equilibrium. So the key to successfully juggling your priorities is the ability to shift and re-focus. At times, one area of your life will need more attention than the others.f3310d917de4083334075af00dc00a80

I had a great juggling sequence going before I dropped the writing ball. I’d been trying a variety of approaches to scheduling; taking advantage of the hour after baby went to bed, lunch break sprints, and I even did a few words at the co-op cafe before picking up groceries. I was doing great, but then life happened.

I won’t bore you with the details, but something came up at work and then a minor family crisis had me running nervously to and from my hometown. Once the smoke cleared I was a long way from reaching my monthly writing goal, but I didn’t regret taking care of the other areas of my life when they needed it. Becoming a master juggler means learning to prioritize, and learning when to drop a ball or two to keep the others in the air.

So I can’t drop the baby or my health, but writing…for a day or two, or even a week, if I need to drop it to take care of things then I will, and life will go on.

This week I put my affairs in order, finished this blog post, picked up the fallen ball, and started again. I didn’t waste a week. I spent a week caring for things that needed tending.

We’re all jugglers in some way or another, balancing our careers and our families, our passions and our laundry lists.

There is an art to juggling priorities, just as there’s an art to living. Take a look at your time and set your goals. Hold yourself accountable to a deadline BUT don’t sweat it when you need to prioritize life before writing. Try a variety of approaches to scheduling, but keep your mind open and your heart forgiving, because inevitably a variety of emergencies at work and home will conspire to pause your progress.

Try to have fun juggling your priorities, it will make life more enjoyable! It’s not about work-life balance, it’s about work-life flexibility. Be flexible enough to let the rubber ball drop so you can spend time caring for the fragile parts of your life. Beware extremes and respect all priorities.

I had a bad week, but life goes on, and everyday I’m getting better at juggling.

I’d love to hear about how you keep the balls in the air, or manage the fallout after they drop. Stay positive, writing buddies! And stay tuned to hear about our plans for taking on Camp NaNoWriMo as well as some super secret super exciting news about SS Press.

Peace & Love, Kayla

Plunging into Editing

Plunging into Editing

Every winter hundreds of people all over the world willingly dive into a frozen body of water. Insane, right? It’s called the polar bear plunge and it’s done in the name of charity.  I admire these brave and generous souls. It must be scary, not to mention extremely uncomfortable, to strip down to your skivvies and run full tilt into an icy lake.

This winter I will be taking a different sort of plunge. Instead of diving into frigid water, I will be plunging into the wild, wild world of editing a novel.

In a previous post I revealed how long it took me to finish my first draft – too long! I don’t want to repeat that same mistake with editing. Polar plungers know by instinct not to stay too long in the cold water. I mean, you don’t want to end up like Leonardo di Caprio in the Titanic, am I right? A quick icy plunge is all fun adrenaline and happy games, a too long submersion is death by hypothermia.

Brooke recently warned us about getting lost in the editing spiral and I am determined to make my editing journey efficient and mercifully quick. T0 do that I need to get my act together in a major way. So I am making a plan and sticking to it! Here are my five steps to a complete second a draft:

Step 1: Take a break

I’ve already completed this step. I haven’t looked at my story since August, yeesh that’s a long time, whoopsie! I can hardly remember what I wrote, but that’s a good thing for one important reason: I’m coming back to my story with fresh eyes. Fresh eyes are important because if you begin the revision process immediately you are still too familiar with your work. To edit effectively, you need to possess objectivity, which means you need time to forget. I’ve been hiding from my draft for five months so now I’m ready to tackle it with cold, objective clarity. Though I probably shouldn’t have waited longer than three months. It’s hard not to disconnect from your work after nearly half a year off. Oh well, lesson learned.

Step 2: Double check the map

When you find yourself facing a long and arduous journey through confusing, uncertain territory, it’s best to pack a map. The map of your story is an outline. I’m going to put in a lot of time up front in the editing process making sure my plot is airtight. The plan is to spend the month of February combing my draft for plot holes, timeline errors, unanswered questions, and incomplete scenes. These are the problems that cannot go unattended. As Brooke told us in her last post, a story needs to be complete and make sense. I do not want to enter the second draft without a sensical and complete plot. Knowing exactly where the story is going and how it gets there, step by step will save me a ton of editing effort down the road. Plus, a thorough read through will identify the problems that need fixing.

Step 3: Plunge into Editing

Once I have my airtight plot ironed out I’m planning to take that icy cold plunge and jump right into revising. I’ve never attempted this before and I’m a little nervous. I want to do a good job but I don’t want to spend too much time in the icy water. I don’t want hypothermia, I want to finish a second draft! The name of the game is discipline. I’m not yet sure how I will be fitting editing into my busy life but ideally I’d like to commit to two hours a day, five days a week. Stay tuned for an update on my progress.

Step 4: Contact the Beta Readers

Other human beings are indispensable to the editing process. Beta readers can be literary minded friends and family or they can be paid professionals. While they aren’t editors, they are essential. Like in step one, you need fresh eyes on the story. If you don’t get other eyes on your story then you are operating in a vacuum and your story will suffer for it. Another human is going to see things that you will not. Face it, as writers we are in love with our characters and our stories, and love, as they say, is blind. Beta readers will see flaws in your favorite character’s development and they will point out when your descriptions aren’t clear. I’m excited to have a second draft that makes enough sense to share, and I have a few literary lovers in my life who are excited to receive.

Step 5: Make it Shiny & Pretty

I’m not going to worry about step number five until I have a second draft that I can be proud of. While working on draft two I will correct and polish as I go but I’m not going to focus on nit-picking my grammar, word choice, or punctuation. I’m going to save that joyful task for later. After the first round of revisions and beta readers I’ll polish up my sentences and make my story shine. Anyway, it’s for the best if I don’t get too far ahead of myself right now.

“The best writing is re-writing.” -E.B. White

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Well, here I go, deep breath, time to edit. Wish me luck! Excuse me while I go stock up on red pens.