My Top 10 Tips for Writers

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Write for yourself, not for the masses

Don’t write in a genre just because it’s popular; write in a genre because it genuinely appeals to you. Remember, it takes approximately nine to twelve months to write, edit, and publish a good novel. That means, by the time you finish writing about vampires, school-age wizards may be the rage.

Write in a genre because you enjoy that style. Someone who loves (or at least enjoys) writing and the genre they’re writing in, breathes more life into their characters, adds more dimension to their settings, and presents a more well-crafted story than that person who is merely trying to cash in on something that is momentarily popular.

(Obviously, this is a tip for people who are serious about writing, and doesn’t apply to those who are merely writing because they think it’s the easy road to riches. Which leads to our next tip.)

Be prepared to work

Being a full-time author (whether it be books, stories, blogs, or other material) is arduous work. For those of you who think that writing a best-selling book or an award-winning blog is a quick, easy way to make money, think again. Stephen King and JK Rowling spent years struggling to make ends meet before someone finally thought their work might have potential. And when you look at the number of authors who actually make a decent living from their books versus the number of authors still struggling, the odds are not in your favor. Writing, like acting or any other art-based endeavor, requires dedication, commitment, and hard work.

Write honestly

The truth of your writing is noticeable to your readers. Although your characters are fictional, they must feel real to the readers. Men cry. Women can be strong. People aren’t superheroes (and even if they are, they can still be vulnerable).

Even when you create a fantasy world, the ‘rules’ of the world have to make sense to the reader. Otherwise, they won’t believe in your world, your characters, or your story. The honesty of your story—the world, the characters, and the plot—must come from you. If you aren’t honest, the readers won’t buy it.

Take writing and literature classes

Don’t presume that your one or two classes of English and English Lit in high school are enough to make you a writer. Relearn basic sentence, paragraph, and chapter structure. Find out how to craft a short story (which is much more difficult than building a novel). Refresh yourself on basic grammar (especially verb tenses), punctuation, and spelling.

When crafting a house, you need a good foundation, and the same is true of building a story.

Edit and proof; then do it again

Don’t presume that because you used an online grammar checker (such as Grammarly or Word’s spellcheck tool) that your story is good to go. While those tools may catch 80 – 90% of your blatant errors, they don’t catch all. (They won’t tell you that the phrase “She licked the lock on the front door…” is absurd. After all, licked or clicked are both perfectly acceptable words.) Worst of all, those online tools won’t tell you whether your story or novel needs restructuring. They can’t tell you if your voice is wrong for the type of story you’ve written; they can’t help you figure out how to fix the pacing; and they can’t help you figure out that you jumped from one character’s head to another without indicating the switch. The only way to learn about those types of missteps, is to hire a story editor. After the story editor has gone through your work; then you need to have it edited/proofed for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Play with your words

At least once a week, take a break from whatever you’re working on to play with your words. Find a phrase, sentence, or scene that you like, and use it to prompt you into writing something. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t even have to be publishable. The point is to practice creating images with words. Just visualize a scene, and then create that scene with your words. Try painting the scene in a flowery, overly descriptive way; then try painting that same scene using short, choppy descriptors. Use a different voice for each style, or try a different pacing. Play with it; have fun with it.

Reject rejection

Whether you’re an independent or traditional author, you’re going to receive negative reviews from readers and critics or rejections from agents and publishers. Remember, though, that it’s just their opinion. Does it hurt? Of course. But, they are just one person out of billions. So, let it go. Unless a review or rejection letter tells you specifically something that you can do to improve your writing (your characters are poorly developed, the pacing is off, or the manuscript needs proofing), then just try to shrug it off. Not everyone is going to like you or your creation. After all, you don’t like every book you read, every piece of art you see, or every meal that is served you.

Each artiste (and yes, I consider authors artistes) has their own style and not everyone will like it. Don’t let the negativity get to you. Just focus on the people who do like your work.

Read

Read everything, including styles and genres you don’t really like. Push yourself to read outside your comfort zone. If you do, it can help you grow as a writer. As you read, listen to the cadence and the rhythm of the words. Figure out what appeals to you and what doesn’t, and then figure out why.

Opening yourself to other styles, different authors, and different genres may just spark something in you and help you broaden your skills and techniques.

Network

While this concept dredges up feelings of horror in most authors, who tend to be an introverted lot, it is a necessary evil.

Use your online tools to help you network. Create a presence online so that you are visible to both those in the writing/publishing world and those who love to read.

Join Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. Find groups who share your interests. (There are groups out there for almost anything.) Start a website and blog. Write posts (articles) and share them with other bloggers…and not just about your books. Write about topics that interest you, whether that be ghosts or antique car restoration. Your interest will garner readers, and if those readers like what you have to say, they may just check out your books, too.

For those authors willing to get up close and personal, there are conventions (book conventions, comic cons, romance conventions, fantasy conventions, and more). Conventions are a great way to meet fans and others in the writing and publishing industry. You can usually find information online for the type of convention(s) you might find interesting and pertinent.

Other places that authors should check out (depending on the types of books you author) are historic re-enactments in your area, gaming groups, mystery groups (who actually plan and solve mysteries together), as well as writing groups, and library reading sessions. Also, many senior centers love to have people volunteer to give talks and presentations. Plus, there are historical societies, women’s groups, or you can be a guest lecturer at your community college.

There are many ways you can network to gain readers, mentors, or support.

Be kind and helpful

Being kind and helpful already comes naturally to most people; therefore, this could be one of the best and easiest ways to market yourself. When you help someone else, not only do you get to feel good about yourself, but you never know what might come of it.

Offering to help someone in your critique group may result in them helping you obtain a speaking engagement (perhaps at the school their child attends, at their neighborhood library, or at the senior center their mother visits). More importantly, though, that person will tell other people about your kindness, and word of mouth sells a lot of books.

So, being kind and helpful is not only a great reward in its own right, but, it can ultimately lead to a lot of book sales.

Escorting the Dead

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AN INTERVIEW WITH TA SULLIVANpsychopomp-3d-dls-8pxls-2

One of my favorite movies is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir starring Rex Harrison (1947). In it, the ghost of a sea captain comes back for Lucy when she’s ready to pass. I always loved that he came back for her when it was time. Many of us will have heard stories about people getting close to death who see their loved ones, or sometimes angels. Beautiful, satisfying stories. But what if they’re not stories? What if that’s precisely what happens for many of us?

I recently finished “Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp” by TA Sullivan. It’s a fascinating read about her experience as a death escort for the recently departed. As a child she was sensitive, but it wasn’t until she had her own near-death experience (NDE) that her life took a turn and she started to train as a guide for the dead.

Please welcome author and photographer, TA Sullivan. Thank you for agreeing to talk about what is a difficult subject for many.

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2 Thumbs Up for “11.22.63”

11.22.63“11.22.63” by Stephen King

Summary: Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald.

Recommendation: Yes (in fact, if I could, I would give this book a dozen stars)

Review:

Not since “Bag of Bones” have I enjoyed a Stephen King novel as much as I have this one. In fact, I would say that this one may just tie with “Bag of Bones” as my top favorite book.

Touted as an alternate history/time travel novel (which is a genre I love), for me this book was more about the characters that peopled it. Stephen King’s understanding of human nature is obvious in the way his characters slip into your mind and your life. When I had to break from reading the book, I still thought about the characters; wondering what they might be doing at that moment, as if they were living human beings instead of just fictional characters.

If you’re looking for constant thrills and adventure that keep you on edge until the end of the book, this is not the book for you. While it has thrilling and edgier moments, it also has a lot of pathos, romance, and relationship building. This is a book about people caught up in situations that they want to capture, change, examine, or build. It isn’t a book about car chases, shoot outs, or winning the race; although, there are enough chases, spying, secrets, and edge-of-your-seat moments to keep you enthralled.

Overall, though, this is a book about people. To me, the core of the book was about the characters and the travails that forged their humanity. It is the Stephen King writing that I fell in love with way back at the beginning of his career. This is the magic that that I’ve always admired him for—the magic of writing real-life characters that are at times more real than the people we interact with on a daily basis.

If I could, I would give Mr. King a huge hug to thank him for giving us another of his marvelously peopled, and lovingly executed books. The ending may be bittersweet, but the book contains enough life lessons and thought-provoking insights to keep someone like me rereading it for years to come.

Psychopomp vs. Grim Reaper

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What’s the difference between a grim reaper and a psychopomp (other than the fact that psychopomp sounds much cooler; while grim reaper has become a Halloween and horror story cliche and an overused media trope)?

Both are spiritual entities that assist the soul to cross over to the afterlife; so, what really makes them different?

grim reapers:

  • actually take lives
  • are considered the personification of death or demons
  • escort souls to the afterlife, but are primarily associated with the underworld
  • are identified with Halloween and horror stories, so present themselves as frightening figures or demons
  • bring fear, regret, and despair to those they interact with

So, in brief, grim reapers are the personification of death and demons. They represents all the fears of the unknown that people still harbor about death, dying, and the afterlife.

psychopomps:

  • wait until the person has died
  • act as guides and escorts between planes
  • are identified with angels and demigods
  • can present themselves as friends or relatives of the dying person
  • bring comfort, solace, and hope to the dying

Briefly, psychopomps are angel-like beings. They represent all the hope, love, and spiritual comfort that people expect and hope for when they die.

A grim reaper is a much more grisly being than a psychopomp. In fact, the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse (Death) is depicted as a grim reaper. You can’t get much more grisly than that. Whereas Psychopomps, when depicted in human form, are usually shown as angels—gentle, kind, and with an ethereal glow about them. This is just one of the fundamental differences between a psychopomp and a grim reaper.

Reapers are, as their countenance depicts, there to reap your soul. However, they are not there to ease the soul’s hurt or turmoil during the transition. If anything, they may deliberately make the crossing as traumatic as possible. This is because it is their job to fulfill every fear that the transitioning soul has regarding death and dying.

However, when psychopomps come, they counter the soul’s fear and try to ease the trauma. Psychopomps attempt to show the soul that death is just a new beginning and not a fearsome or pain-filled event.

Neither option is wrong or right. In fact, both options are needed so that every soul can have a wide range of experiences. Some people embrace death and the act of dying because they’ve had nothing but positive experiences. So, perhaps they need a less-positive experience to understand and develop compassion for those who are more fearful of dying. Just as those who are ‘deathly’ afraid of dying may need several positive experiences before they begin to understand that the experience of dying isn’t always something to fear. It is simply another part of life. A moving beyond this reality by the spiritual part of you.

The real key to dying (besides not doing it), is to understand that the choice of guide (grim reaper or psychopomp) is up to you. You get to decide what type of death experience you will have. So, if you want something traumatic and eventful because you feel the need to learn some spiritual lesson, then (by all means) let the grim reaper be your escort. However, if what you want is something more tranquil and a little less gruesome, then call on that psychopomp. Either one will come when you ‘call.’ And either one will give you whatever type of experience you desire. Therefore, only you can decide whether your experience of death requires a grim reaper or a psychopomp.

So, which will it be?

DEATH – Why Does It Frighten Us So?

Death.

That word probably frightens people more than any other.

Why?

Because it represents the ‘great unknown.’ We know less about death than we do about outer space or the deep recesses of Earth’s oceans. After all, it’s not easy to explore a dimension or state of being that requires us to cease living. So, for most of us, death becomes the area that, like on maps of old, was marked with the words: ‘There be monsters here.’

Monsters. Demons. Angels.

 

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These are what we think of when we think about death, because that’s all we know, or at least suspect, based on the stories that we are told about the land of beyond. Of course, some people eschew the typical concept of death being a place or a continuation of some form of life. Instead, they see death as a black nothingness. Still others divide the realm of death into two states: one where demons and monsters abide, and another where angels and cherubs live.

Proof.

Of course, trying to prove if there is a type of life after the physical body dies isn’t easy to do. After all, how do you gather statistics and measurements when you have no physical form? It is just this conundrum that has plagued most of us who have died and returned. We have garnered little acceptance from the scientific community regarding our experiences simply because we lack the physical proof of what occurred. All we have is our memory of the events, and even those vary widely based on each person’s interpretation. For instance, for someone who is a strict Catholic, the experience may be interpreted through the filter of their Catholic iconography and tenets; while, someone who is an atheist may describe their experience using a filter of science or space aliens.

Some experiments have been conducted. They are usually of the sort wherein someone is forced into a chemically- or electronically-induced death, and then revived within the time limits deemed safe. While these experiments are done within the confines of labs and under the supervision of ‘specialists,’ the interpretation of what did or did not occur on the ‘other side’ (if indeed, the other side was even reached) is still up to the individual who died.

The specialists monitoring the physical side of the experiment can note data on the ‘traveler’s’ body—heart rate, brain waves, blood pressure, etc.—however, they are unable to experience what the traveler who died experienced. Scientists can site all types of speculation and theories to explain what may or may not have happened—low oxygen levels in the brain, random electrical pulses, or a bad interpretation of what was happening around the person who was ‘dead’—but without proof of whether or not the dead person actually traveled their suppositions are as bogus as their disdain of what the travelers experienced.

Been There.

Having made the roundtrip at least once in this lifetime, I suppose that until we devise some sort of carrier to ferry us (the physical us) into the realm of death and back, we will simply have to rely on our own beliefs and truths as to what awaits us when we die.

To that end, I have written my interpretation of my experiences with the hope that they help people overcome some of their fear of Death. Death isn’t anything to fear. It’s merely another step along life’s path.

 

Make It Personal

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When preparing for speaking engagements and presentations based on my non-fiction books, I always ensure that I include several anecdotes or observations. While some authors prefer to keep their personal life private, sharing snippets of yourself with your audience usually helps them relate to you and your story.

Include anecdotes and personal observations.

The most typical question that I’m asked during the Q&A period of my presentations is how the event affected me or my family. People want to know that not only have you overcome the tragedy or grown as a result of the incident, but they want some examples. Sometimes the examples I include are also in the book, but usually not. And sometimes I include a mix—some anecdotes from the book and some not. Letting attendees know that there is more anecdotal material in the book helps sway them to purchase the book because they know they’re not just getting a rehash of what they already heard during my presentation.

By sharing these snippets of insight into my life, it helps me and the audience connect, and not just as reader to author, but as caring individuals sharing a similar experience. After all, many people relate best to your story when they understand the person who wrote it. This is especially true of two of my books (Escorting the Dead and On Dreams and Dream Symbols). These two books also generate a great many questions and much discussion between me and my audience. Therefore, once I’ve read them a chapter or two or given my presentation, I regale them with one or two anecdotes. This usually spurs a spate of similar stories from the audience, which soon leads to some very lively discussions. Once people realize that other people have had similar experiences, thoughts, or questions, it’s easy to get them interested in learning more, which leads them to purchasing your books.

By bringing some of you to the presentation, you show your audience that you and they are not so very different. Perhaps you’re wondering just what to share with your audience. Think back to when you were writing the book:

  • What prompted you to write about that moment/challenge/event?
  • Why was the moment, incident, or event special or important?
  • What about it did you think others might want or need to know?
  • How did it change you or those you care about?
  • What insights did it bring to your life?
  • How did you grow from the incident or overcome the tragedy?

The answer to any of those questions should prompt an anecdote or memory that you can work into your presentation. So, select two or three different ones each time you do a presentation; this almost always guarantees you a lively discussion or question and answer session. Using different stories and anecdotes for each presentation also keeps your talks fresh.

You might even incorporate bits and pieces of your audience discussions as anecdotes (as long as you leave out names and other identifying information). It all helps the audience and potential readers identify with you and your topic. It helps them understand that other people also have similar ideas, thoughts, and questions. And it ultimately leads to book sales.

(To see a video copy of one of my presentations click here.)

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Coming This Fall

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A lot has changed since I last announced that I was writing a paranormal romance. I had the story all planned out; unfortunately, once I got into it, the characters had a whole ‘nother idea. In fact, the characters pretty much wrote the whole thing for me. Now, it’s just up to me to get everything finalized. (You know, edited, proofed, rewritten…all that ‘fun’ production stuff ; )

Anyway, here’s the synopsis for “The Past Rekindled,” the first book in my paranormal romance series about Terra McGinley—techwriting guru by day and tran’zr by night.

Synopsis:

I’m Terra McGinley…technical writer and tran’zr (short for transitioner to the afterlife). With Death out to get me, I don’t know what to do or who to trust.

My new tran’zr partner is tall, dark, handsome, and completely annoying. While he’s checking the rule books and noting every little infraction, I’m helping people move on–even if it means bending those rules a bit.

In the real world, I’m stuck working with my high school crush. Although he hurt and betrayed me back then, I’ve always wondered what would have happened if we had gotten together. Is it too late, or should I take the risk?

Short Blurb:

Finding love is the last thing on Terra McGinley’s mind as she divides her time between writing how-to procedures and escorting visitors to the astral plane. But when one of her charges contacts Terra and her new partner for help, they encounter Death, who has his own plans for Terra. Now she must decide who she can trust with her life and her heart – past love or new partner?

One of the issues I haven’t yet worked out is whether to use my current pen name – TA Sullivan; or my real name – Tricia Sullivan. There’s a whole controversy over using different pen names for different genres. Some say it’s better because it helps your audiences identify with you for a specific type of book. However, there’s a whole other group that believes once you have your brand established with a name you should stick with that.

I’m not sure which school of thought I identify with; however, I do know that I have a completely different issue that I keep tripping over. There is already an established author with the name Tricia Sullivan. (In fact, she and I were nearly collaborators on my first book–a different story.) I’m not sure if the duplication of names would be to her benefit/detriment or mine. So, in keeping with my current indecisiveness, my wonderful book cover designers have allowed me to put both drafts out here for your perusal. Let me know what you think…do you like it, hate it, have no opinion about it?

To say I’m excited is an understatement. But then, every time I get one of my books done I’m excited. Each book is a labor of love, because I love the book, but I also love my readers. So, I want each reader to love my creations as much as I do (an impossible dream…but then again, who knows. And that’s why I #keepwriting. ; )