Why I Joined a Writer’s Group



Capital City Writers Association

typewriter keys

You would think, at the ripe old age of 976 that I would have acquired all the information I’d need to swim the deep waters of publishing fiction. I’m a writer. I have been for years. After all, my byline has sat prominently in print many times and a whole lot of people have seen the ads, heard the commercials and even read the essays that came up out of my head.  

I have found that a vastly different set of writing muscles is required to park yourself in a chair for hours on end to crank out sixty thousand words of make believe that engages and enthralls a reader. I figured out I might need some guidance after first trying to do it all on my own-since that’s how I’ve always done things. Five minutes after he had carefully attached the newly purchased training wheels onto my baby blue Schwinn, I asked my dad to remove them. One minute after that I was riding down the block like a pro. So, given my knack for quick study, wouldn’t the transition from contracted writing to fiction writing be just as easy for me? It was not. 

There were considerations of dialog and plot, pacing and setting in the marathon that is novel writing that require specific training not needed in the short sprint writing of a five hundred word article. After slogging through the process of putting the story down on paper I became painfully aware that a whole other obstacle course awaited me in the form of professional editors, literary agents, publishers, marketing, intellectual property protection and the list goes on.  

Two years ago, I stumbled across an ad for the Write on The Red Cedar conference taking place less than a mile from my home. Workshops! Craft lectures! Answers! Other writers! I bought my ticket that same day.  

Writers tend to put their nose to the keyboard and forget that there is a world out there beyond the one they are creating on paper. Writing can be a lonely business. Hours of research and development happen in solitude. Unless Homeland Security has been spying on your browsing history for your fiction novel. Then you might have unexpected “company.”

Joining a group like CCWA puts you in touch with other writers both novice and published who are ready and willing to sit down and pound your manuscript into a shape worthy of a reader’s time. You’ll do the same for them because these people will become your friends, your co-conspirators navigating the ever changing waters of writing and publishing. They will have answers or they will point you in the direction of where to find what you need at whatever stage your project is currently in. 

That’s why I joined the Capital City Writers Association here in Michigan. CCWA; the people, the gathered wisdom, the community of writers that together can help each other take the next big step as an author. Czech writer, Vaclav Havel, said so eloquently, “It’s not enough to stare up the steps. We must also step up the stairs.” 

CCWA is the next step for serious writers in Michigan and I for one, am very glad I took it. With great programs like Finish The Damn Book- a year round series of workshops and special events, you’ll be doing instead of just dreaming about it.

Write On The Red Cedar conference January 22 & 23, 2016 with keynote speaker, New York Times Bestseller- BOB MAYER! Are you kidding me? He’s amazing. Meet him. Learn from him. Buy his books:   http://www.bobmayer.org/




Vanity Schmanity: Self-Publishing Shame


“Writing is an act of ego. You might as well admit it.” William Knowlton Zinsser


An act of ego. Yes. Let’s get that right out there at the starting line. Writing, or for that matter, any art that is practiced must always begin in the depths of that small furnace of creativity that fuels the action of creating. It’s the same furnace where ego either burns you down to a liquid pile of defeat or forges you into a powerful blade that can vanquish doubt. Knowing this and choosing to wield your pen anyway, you will now face the next challenge; Self-Publishing versus Traditional Publishing. Or as some literary elitists prefer to see it; *Vanity Publishing* versus *Real Publishing*.

If you didn’t already think of yourself as a clever writer, you would only be writing in a private diary, locked with a key and tucked in a safe place where your sister won’t find it. The minute you hand your words to one other human being for their feedback you have taken the first step towards a life of more writing. That initial hit of praise can soar through your system like an opiate, making you crave another hit and soon.

So the big question I am wrestling is this: what is the definition of Vanity Publishing and is it still relevant in a world of eBook vs. paper book sales? I have a favorite author who also blogs and works the heck out of her writer platform. I get to peek into her day to day world like a viewer watching The Truman Show. Typically, I read her posts and find I’m nodding in agreement or laughing- as her posts are hilarious. The other day she wrote a piece on vanity publishing that pointed to a Florida bookstore that only sells self-published books by local artists. She referred to the store as a Vanity Bookstore. I’ve got to say, it rocked me back when I read those damning words.

Is that a fair statement? Vanity Bookstore? Or *Vanity Publishing* for that matter? Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know there is dreadful, self-aggrandizing drivel out there. Some of it, so bad that given a format it is deserving of, would rest at the bottom of Polly’s cage with cracked sunflower seeds obscuring the guano smeared letters. But, there is also a rising tide in the world of self-publishing and on its crest rides word gems and stellar stories. Those are told by amazing writers who want to put their work out there but shy away from the slave auction setting that has become Traditional Publishing.

Let’s get real. The big publishing houses will only select a tiny handful of authors to join their stable and of those, you can count on one hand which ones get the lion’s share of promo-money to get their books to reader’s around the globe. It’s a lotto win, not a guarantee of success when you are picked up by a publishing house. And even if you do win that lotto, you have a matter of weeks- less than six according to a New York literary agent-friend, and if your book doesn’t break the sound barrier within the pre-determined time frame then it will be put out to pasture like a lame horse. When that happens, your only chance of making money from your title is when stragglers trip over it at a bookstore, if they keep it on their shelves, or an eBook purchase when it’s offered at 99 cents. Or, you could wait until your contract with the publisher is over and then take back your work and go the self-publishing route, earning more than 80% of the cover price yourself.

What keeps rising in my mind in the great Indie versus Vanity Publishing discussion is that writing seems to be the only art form where people feel perfectly comfortable slapping a negative, mocking label onto your work because of the way it is served up to the public. Who are these *mean girl* people who revel in throwing down the V word like an insult meant to diminish the writer and their work?

Imagine this. You’re hanging out in Nashville on a Tuesday night. Looking for some food, cold beer and music you wander into the Bluebird Café over on Hillsboro Pike. A woman steps to the stage; slings her six string over her shoulder and cozy’s up to the mic. Over the next three and a half minutes you are transported to another plane of existence by her lyrics, her voice and the skill of her hands on the strings. Would it have ever occurred to you to say; even think, she’s a *Vanity Performer*. She isn’t signed to a record label. Hell, she even wrote her own song! Who is this chick and why is she taking up space on a stage meant for “professional” artists?

Hey! You with the shredded toe shoes! Yeah, I’m talking to you, skinny. Get off that stage and take your chine’s and demi-pointes with you, you poser. You aren’t signed with a ballet company so you’re a *Vanity Dancer*!

And you, with the paint brush and the forty-seven hour madness in your eyes! Take that canvas and go back to your garage where you belong! You don’t have an agent or a gallery representing your work so what are you doing at this fine art show anyway, you…you… *Vanity Painter*!

You catch my drift. Writing is the only art form that appears to be vulnerable to shaming through labels. Perhaps because the majority of the shamers have a degree in English that is currently in use lining Polly’s cage while they are paying their bills by hostessing at Applebee’s.

I’m asking the world in general to allow the Darwin theory to weed out the wheat from the chaff; survival of the fittest. Any individual with the ego, the courage, the talent and the tenacity to go through the process of self -publishing should have their day (or years or five minutes if it’s awful) in the published author’s glorious rays of sun. Once they upload their title into the Thunderdome that is Amazon Books, reviewers, trolls and meanies will either swoop in for the kill and pick their bones clean until they remove their title through sheer humiliation; or they will be raised up on shoulders with high praise; into the rarefied air of the best seller names where they can do lunch with Amanda Hocking in her Learjet as they wing their way to her private island in the Azores.

The waters of self-publishing are just as infested with sharks as traditional publishing seems to be. You could lose a limb either way if you don’t seek assistance in reading contracts and steer clear of companies that require exorbitant amounts of money from you along with your manuscript. There are also Fairy Godmother/father editors, graphic designers, formatting options, even promotional companies that can get your title out there for a reasonable fee. Many are not only legitimate businesses, but they can end up being life-long partners for you in your writing career.

Frankly, I can’t afford to be traditionally published at this point in my life, and so my titles will be self- published eBooks, and print-on-demand for those who prefer to read my words on paper. Call it whatever you want. The natural order of things will either crown me or kill me. Maybe I’ll be bleeding on the Thunderdome floor or maybe Amanda Hocking and I will be clinking champagne glasses at 30,000 feet. The point is, if my writing is fit to survive, it will. And if it’s not, well, you’ll never know unless I tell you that once upon a time I wrote a book.

Falling into Wonder


Great blog posts are a little like the holes covered in smooth water on forest pathways where your foot sinks in deep and you’re falling and twisting; adjusting to the shift in equilibrium. Recovering your balance, you might find that you’re facing a different attitude direction now, and the path of your day has changed, ever so slightly.

That makes me think about trajectory. Turning your foot a few degrees in a new direction will not change your world overmuch if you aren’t planning on going very far. But making a tiny adjustment to how you walk through your life can, over the long haul, bring you to a very, very different destination from the one you thought you were heading towards.

Starting out a day with a steaming bowl of Crap Soup with a side order of Unfortunate Circumstances will always set your internal GPS on an expressway to Meltdown City. Reading something that changes your mind, just a little, is a reset move that lets you input a new route for your wreck-of-a-day, putting you on course for a much better destination.

As I wander the Internet, especially on my own Crap Soup days, I love to find myself stuck, neck deep in someone’s clever pile of wonder. Their carefully chosen words and images encircle me like tendrils and hold fast. I can go no further until I’ve drank my fill of what they are offering and when I am released, I am just a little bit different. I have new words now. I have something in my head that wasn’t there this morning and I’m on a new quest to find a little altar in my mind or in my living space where I can put it on display.

I hope that’s happening to others when they trip on a search word and fall, head first into this blog site. I hope they push themselves up and find they have a little bit of something I wrote stuck in their hair and it’s talking to them, like some enchanted leaf; turning their head just a tiny bit and sending them on a trajectory towards more and more wonder.

Even when I am too busy to post here, like I have been lately, I notice that new people are dropping by all the time. I love to get your emails and feedback! I really love that you all tend to come back again, now that you know the way here. There are footprints of nearly 1500 of you on this blog and closing in on 6,000 on the other, over at http://laughingmyrearendoffliterally.blogspot.com/

I’m imagining myself as a wood sprite, positioned in the trees above and watching as unsuspecting visitors stumble in to this joint. It delights me to know when you’ve gone back into the archives and dug out some words that you want to take home with you.

I recently had the weird experience of having someone who was conducting an expensive self awareness workshop at a university be handed a little memory card I had done with some powerful questions written on it. They had a little epiphany and asked if they could copy it and hand it out to their attendees because it was exactly what they needed to hear. Discussions of pending book projects and intellectual property were had. I decided that while I wait for the publishing world’s response to my manuscripts, I would push ahead and get the Three Questions project going. And so, I have dug a new small web hole that you’re invited to trip into. Soon, I’ll have some products (wallet size cards) for the project and you can carry them to remind you of how easy it can be to communicate clearly with others. http://crystalclearmeaning.wix.com/crystalclearmeaning

I’m doing a fair amount of wandering whenever I have free time, reading through your sites too and sharing the gems and shiny things with links back to where you dropped them. It’s always a really good day when I trip over a diamond and fall into a big pool of wonder.

Poetry Day: Waiting for Judgement- Submission


There is this terrifying place:
between the creation of a thing
it’s inevitable arrival
in the real world.

Falling from the sky
stomach in mouth
trying to track your twisting mind towards a water landing,
hoping no sharks wait to greet your soft offering.
Nothing to be done now;
it is out
and delivered
on a silver platter
offered to
knee bent
head bowed

stomach in mouth
hurtling down
the timeless distance

Toast, Fried, ZiZZZZZZ.


I’ve typed the words, THE END, onto the last page of The Grove. Well, the end of Book One of The Awakened Trilogy, that is. See? There it is. Just above this blog post. It’s REAL. That, is nearly five years of thinking about it, researching it, toying with the concept and then six months of writing, almost every day. It’s a good feeling to type, the end. I’ve hard edited several times and handed it off to beta readers who I’ve asked to read and rip before I start the extra, super fun process of peddling my soul to the highest bidder.

My brain is now fried, toasted and making that zizzing noise it makes when you are done with one thing and trying to clear the debris of creation to get ready for the next big thing.

For creative sorts, like myself, here is where fantasy slams head-on into reality. This isn’t the Renaissance and families like the Medici’s don’t go around adopting wayward artists anymore; letting them create in a studio they’ve provided just because they love art in all its forms. Now, that would be the ticket, would it not? To have someone love what you do so much, that they sponsor you and take on the pimp role of selling your symbolic flesh and blood to interested parties while you get to stay in your studio and crank stuff out. Imagine that!

There are rooms in houses, basements, garages and attics filled with glorious art, photography, writing, sculpture, pottery and other feats of wonder that no one will ever see because the people who create these things are not marketing/sales/agents/promoters/pushers or pimps. They are creative souls.

We fantasize about waking in a place where all the tools we need are within reach and the day and night stretch out before us, eager to be filled with whatever we haul up from the nothing, to play with and shape and make into our art. Our dream is that one day, there will be a knock on our door. We’ll answer it with paint in our hair or a crazed seventeen hour writing buzz blazing in our eyes and there will be an angel knocking, wanting to bring our things out for the world to see. They’ll tell us they could feel the wave of creation pouring from this place and they just had to come and see what was here.

We do not want to write query letters and spend the last of our money printing and mailing and waiting for some kid, two years out of college, to reject our work because they, personally, don’t like Sci Fi-anything. We don’t want to have to sit down, after writing 105,317 words (The Grove word-count), and force ourselves to write some clever tag line or Book Blurb that becomes the only thing that grabs or bores a potential “customer” into buying or not buying our books.

Self promotion is a lot like doing your own dental work. Sure, I could get a mirror and some drills and shit, but I will probably just make a big, bloody mess because I can’t see what’s inside my own head like an outside observer can.

Hire someone, you say! Just for shits and grins, take a little saunter through the websites that list literary agents and see if you can find someone that WILL read a Sci-Fi Fantasy Adventure manuscript. One that has adult language, some sex, some violence and humor and its all wrapped around humans who are changed in order to save the planet from other humans who are wrecking it. Go ahead. I double dog dare you.

For every legitimate literary agent, editor and publishing company out there, there are two who have hung a shingle and know as much about book pimping as I do, and probably have the same amount of influence approaching the big dogs with my manuscript.

“You could have just written a Young Adult Romance novel because those sell like hot cakes and it doesn’t require the research or rewrites you did on your last one”, you might say.

Well, I did not. I did not because that is not what was pushing its way out of my head. This book, The Grove, is what was asking to be born, this time. I wrote it because I could not not write it. I have four other projects right behind this one, plus two more books to write in The Awakened Trilogy. Put on the coffee…

So here I am, big ole manuscript in hand, checking the M’s in the phone book for “Medici”, to see if they have any American cousins who might want to adopt me, so I can be their in-house source of wonder.

In the end, I’ll write the fricking blurb and the damn query letters. I’ll do all the things I will have to do to launch this project out into the world. If for no other reason than the fact that it would be epically pathetic to actually be living in Paris Hilton’s pool house.