I received an advanced reader copy (ARC) of veteran poet Phill Provance’s first full-length collection. I was immediately delighted with the book, which amounts to a meaty, accessible memoir of a man’s life written via poetry. Fascinating!
Though I read poetry almost every day, most people are leery of the form, believing poetry to be too high-brow and only for those who’ve taken courses in that realm. That’s absolutely wrong-headed, in my opinion, and neither does the anonymous donor who’s putting up $10,000 to the winner of a contest for this book that runs from now until April.
A journalist by training, to me the deal sounded too good to be true. So I got confirmation from Vine Leaves Press, which will publish Provance’s book Sept. 29, 2020. Apparently a benefactor who loves the poet’s work believes the book deserves a wider audience, a hence began the contest that will end April 16. The promotion states a winner will be chosen from those who do the following:
publicly post a selfie on Instagram or Facebook
along with a person you consider to be a hero (I assume this means either stating who your hero is or posting a photo of the person if you have one)
a favorite line from Phill’s book
and the hashtag #APlanInCaseOfMorning
What an amazing opportunity for the poet and his work to help convince more readers that poetry is for everyone and should be embraced with joy, rather than trepidation.
To do my part in encouraging more regular consumption of poetry, I’m posting the review I wrote for Goodreads. Whether you win the $10,000 or not, I hope you enjoy this collection as much as I did.
Phill Provance’s new poetry collection, A Plan in Case of Morning, is truly a fast-changing landscape of emotion riding on varying currents of form.
Just as sculptors and other fine artists allow ideas to choose their medium, so Provance allows each poem to choose its own pace, rhythm and tone to best express the impassioned flow with an end clarity that’s eminently satisfying. In subject matter, Provance flies us around the world, both literally and proverbially, as we visit times and places in his life and within his heart.
That mix of shifting fluidity, instinctual word choice and unpretentious honesty — sometimes gentle, sometimes melancholic, often brutal — make this collection a swift ride you want to prolong.
For a full list of my book launch events, visit my website.
Just by participating, your name is entered to win the Chicago-themed prize. I’ll choose a winner at 5 p.m. Pacific/7 p.m. Central/8 p.m. EST on Mon., Sept. 28, via Facebook Live.
I do know Sept. 28 is Yom Kippur. If you’re busy celebrating that holiday, you’re welcome to join the next two giveaways:
Sept. 28 (winner chosen Oct. 6)
Oct. 6 (winner chosen Oct. 13)
All prizes are Chicago themed to reflect the book’s setting. The first is this, an amazingly soft CHICAGO BEARS plush toy.
If you’re not around for the live drawing, I’ll message you for contact information so I can send the gift.
For those of you who will be arranging fun events for the publication of your book, I worked with publishing consultant Kate Tilton to organize these three giveaways. I found her help with timing and logistics invaluable!
For a full list of my book launch events, visit my website.
Eileen Donovan was one of many marvelous writers who attended my workshop Grow Your Great Character and Plot! last week during the SavvyAuthorCon 2020. Despite being online and having a lot of attendees, who communicated by chat, I felt like we were all in the same room having a rowdy time together!
Throughout the 75 minutes of fast and furious exchanges, what became evident — what always becomes evident during these workshops — is the extent to which authors are willing to go to develop in-depth characters readers care about. There’s no room for ego, but instead, every effort is made to think more, then more and still more, about how their characters think and why they do what they do.
That dedication and willingness to learn while struggling through one difficulty after another builds our own character. We have to plumb the depths of our own lives to figure out how our characters feel. We have to dedicate time to learning everything our character know. And just as our characters face their obstacles, so they make us face our own, which can be so harrowing.
Diligence, persistent, an undying curiosity, a true humility: those are the qualities we writers have in spades, thanks to our characters, who most often teach us the journey is the reward.
Which brings me back to Eileen Donovan. When I asked people to share their successes with me, she sent me information about her debut historical novel, Promises. Then she was kind enough to explain the inspiration behind her story, meaning what touched the deepest part of her character.
As far as why I chose this topic for my book – I watched a documentary on PBS many years ago, The Lost Children of the Empire (I think that’s right), that told the story of British children being shipped to the colonies for a “better” life. Many of the children were orphaned, or given up by destitute families who were assured their children would be well taken care of. However, that was not the case. Many of them suffered terrible abuse by their host families, or the orphanages who took them in. The children were sent to Canada, Australia, South Africa, anywhere the British flag flew. The program was initiated by religious groups then taken over by the government. It started in the 1800’s and didn’t end until 1968. Aside from a “better” life, the children were meant to reignite colonists’ fidelity to Great Britain.
So, that’s a long drawn out explanation. After watching this documentary, I couldn’t get it out of my mind for years. So, I finally decided I had to write about it. I decided to focus on the government sponsored program initiated during WWII to rescue children from the Blitz. Of course, many of those children also suffered terrible abuse, as had their predecessors.
“I couldn’t get it out of my mind…” That’s the kind of passion that causes us to create great characters who can tell important stories!
Thanks for sharing, Eileen. And for those reading this post, please consider reading and reviewing Eileen’s novel.
If you get the chance, let me know how the characters in your stories have helped you build your character!
In Promises, 13-year-old Lizzie and her 9-year-old brother Colin are on their way from England to Canada in 1940. Nightly German bombings convinced their mum to enroll them in a government evacuation program. They’re told this short holiday will be filled with trips to the Rocky Mountains, the chance to meet cowboys and Indians, and promises are made to return them to England when the war is over. When one of Colin’s friends is swept overboard, Lizzy’s doubts about this adventure begin. Arriving in Nova Scotia, they are placed with Mr. and Mrs. Harris, who work them like slaves – Colin as a hand on his lobster boat, and Lizzie as a servant victimized by Mrs. Harris’s abuses. When a telegram arrives saying their mum was killed in an air raid, Lizzie realizes there’s no reason to go home. Can she rescue Colin and herself from the Harrises? Will she keep her promise to her mum to protect him?
I wanted to do an online author reading for my new book, Winter Light(Oct. 6, 2020), but I didn’t want to go it alone for all of the reasons that come to mind:
People will only want to listen for a short while, so what do I do the rest of the time?
What if no one comes?
Who’s going to think of this as a legitimate event if I, the author, am hosting the reading, rather than a bookstore or organization?
My social media network is small. How do I get more people to come?
So instead of going solo, I tapped into the support of the independent publisher of my book, Vine Leaves Press, and specifically the wonderful camaraderie among VLP authors, and put out a call for those who could like to do a group reading.
And voila! Four other talented women embraced the idea.
That’s resulted in Vine Leaves Press: Strong Storytelling by Strong Female Authors, an author reading, Q&A and giveaway at 5 p.m. Pacific/7 p.m. Central/8 p.m. EST on Thurs., Sept. 17, 2020.
Now how did we get to this point?
The advantages of a group reading are numerous:
By banding together, we give one another courage. In the process, we authors get to know one another better and broaden our author network. In the future we’ll help each other promote, provide advice, and just generally aid one another in the tough business of publishing.
A group means we can offer our audience a fun mix of stories. When promoting as a group, we greatly extend our reach to well beyond that of our own networks.
We have fun and learn something new!
As with most events, 98% of the effort revolves around the details of hosting what amounts to an online party.
The first task is to collect the contact info, bios and short book descriptions of those taking part.
Once collected into one document that can be shared, the organizing can begin.
One of our members recruited a very accomplished author to be our moderator. Her job will be to greet the audience, introduce the authors and announce the winner of the giveaway.
A giveaway helper
My sister very generously volunteered to collect participants’ names, put them in a bowl and pick one to be the winner of our 4-book bundle + 2 notebook giveaway.
We decided on a 45-min. event, which seems like a reasonable amount of time for an evening’s entertainment.
In terms of choosing a specific time, we had to accommodate authors on both coasts, and so chose a start time of 5 Pacific/8 p.m. EST. Interested viewers on the West Coast won’t mind ending work a little early, while those on the East Coast won’t feel too tired.
We chose a Thursday night, though anywhere between Tuesday and Thursday is suitable. People tend to feel overwhelmed on Mondays and ready to relax by Friday, and weekends are usually reserved for family.
We chose a date that wouldn’t conflict with any holidays.
We chose Zoom, a venue most people are now familiar with.
Whatever venue you choose, be sure the platform has the features that will allow you create the show you want. We didn’t want any time constraints and we wanted a webinar format that will allow all of us to be onscreen to answer questions. Therefore we chipped in to purchase a premium membership for a month. We now have unlimited time and have planned a webinar that allows panelists. Participants will be able to use the chat function to say where they’re from, as well as ask questions and make comments.
Whatever venue you use, do multiple practices until you fully understand the various features and which will be most appropriate for your event.
Because I purchased the upgraded Zoom membership, I’m the host, and so spent several hours and recruited a number of friends to help me determine:
how to admit panelists and participants
who will have video and audio capabilities
how to show slides
how to eject disruptive guests
My rule of thumb is to practice until I don’t have any more questions about how things word.
We developed a program to fit the time limit we set. The program includes:
an introduction from the moderator
a 3-5 min. reading by each author, which is the recommended limit
the Q&A session
We also developed a script. That’s a more detailed document that tells each person what to do and when. Make sure the script is very easy to read. Consider sending each person an individual script that outlines their cues about when to speak and/or take action, such as when to turn their video/audio on.
We also wrote a verbatim script for our moderator so she’d be sure to cover the points we want to make.
To incorporate visuals as well as helpful information, we made Keynote slides that show viewers the titles of our books and where and how to buy them.
Copies of our stories
We sent the moderator copies of our excerpts. That way, if someone’s connection goes down — as it did for one of our members during practice — the moderator can read the excerpt.
We created graphics like the one above to promote the event everywhere we could think of:
announcement pages of social media groups we belong to
our personal newsletter lists
all social media outlets
We also asked our fellow VLP authors to spread the word through their social media networks.
Our publisher, Jessica Bell, graciously offered ebook copies of our books, two gorgeous notebooks and an impressive discount of VLP books as a giveaway. You can also get authors to donate a copy of their book or chip in to buy a nice gift, such as a bedtime reading gift basket with a throw, tea and other goodies.
Similar to any event, we had two practices. The first consisted of:
We positioned the giveaway at the end of the program to encourage people to stay.
We held two practices. We used the first one to:
get to know one another
learn to use the technology, such as turning on and off the video
run through the program
and offer suggestions for improvement
Besides ironing out mistakes, we discussed suggestions such as placing our books behind us so viewers can see them. We also provided one another with feedback regarding the lighting and positioning of the camera in our locales.
We used the second practice as a dress rehearsal where we ran through our scripts from start to finish.
As the host, Zoom will automatically make a recording of the event. We’ll edit that, and maybe include bloopers from our practices for fun, then post the video on the VLP YouTube channel.
In the End
As authors, we can’t lose when creating a fun evening of entertainment for friends, family and readers, wherever they might be located!
If you’d like to see what you can do with your writing friends, please join us! And as always, feel free to reach out for more help in organizing your event.
Since signing a contract for this book last December, I’ve kept you all apprised of the various marketing strategies I’ve been trying. Most have given me a heart attack, because they’re often emotionally, intellectually and technically exhausting. But usually once I’ve figured them out, I’m really gratified. By practicing the life philosophy of comfortable being uncomfortable, I learn something new.
Goodreads used to offer giveaways for free and allowed authors to send books anywhere around the world. Then the company was bought by Amazon, which restricted winners to those who live in the US or Canada. A seeming deterrent for authors outside of those countries, I’ve told my writer friends they should consider trying the giveaway based on two realities: 1) those are huge book-reading markets, and 2) the publishing world has become so global, readers crave stories based in foreign locales, eras and cultures.
Amazon also instituted a basic package charge of $119, with the option of choosing a more expensive package. Either package allows you to give away physical books or Kindle copies. Before you decide, determine your goal. Do you want to send out signed copies that winners can pose with for photos they post on social media, thus increasing your followers? If so, you or your publisher will have to foot the bill for the cost of the book plus postage.
My goal is to get as many reviews as I can, so I chose the Kindle giveaway that requires an independent author or publisher to connect the book’s Amazon account to Goodreads for an easy digital transfer.
An ebook costs nothing to send to a winner, which means you can offer up to 100 books, which gets the story into more hands and so increases the odds of getting more reviews.
About eight weeks after your Giveaway ends, winners receive an email from Goodreads to remind them to rate and review your book.
Though winners are not obligated to review the book, Your Guide to Giveaways on Goodreads claims, “Roughly 60 percent of giveaway winners review the books they win.” I’m not sure I believe that, but even if 1 out of 10 writes a review, and you give away 100 books, that’s 10 more reviews for your book.
The sign-up process takes about 10 minutes and includes a best practices page to guide you in how to use the opportunity while avoiding mistakes. Your current Goodreads friends are automatically notified about the giveaway, while your book is added to the want-to-read shelf of anyone who enters. The offer is also featured in the Goodreads giveaway section, which is well-known to those readers who love trying to snag books for free.
Goodreads recommends running the offer for a month and end at least three weeks before your book is published, giving winners enough time to read and review the book.
And keep in mind that when it’s your turn to promote your book/charity/sports event/artistic endeavor, I’ll be there to help you not only with emotional support, but offer you the experience I’m gaining.
We are all so much stronger as a team!
Preorder my forthcoming novel, Winter Light, due out Oct. 6, 2020.
One of the most primordial things humans do — and love to do — is tell stories and listen to them. Campfires, bedtimes, pajama parties, long hikes, weddings: none of them would be the same without someone verbally engaging our minds with a story to elicit an emotional response, whether fear, love or humor.
All of us have had our books published by VLP, a publisher that fosters a great sense of community among its authors. In this case, when I mentioned the idea of a reading, the four other authors listed in the flier above piped up immediately and threw themselves into taking care of the details necessary to make this night a wonderful evening of storytelling for listeners.
Our publisher, Jessica Bell, has not only been fully supportive, but has also arranged the giveaway: a 4-book bundle of the above books along with two beautiful notebooks (of the winner’s choice) and a 40% discount on 10 or more VLP books. That last is a great offer, considering the breadth of the VLP offerings: memoir, poetry, writing resources, short story collections and novels of all kinds; literary, young adult, science fiction.
Our group recently had a practice in which we read excerpts of our work. Just listening to the other authors’ stories worked on my brain like chocolate. I was immediately pulled in by the descriptions, predicament of the characters and places and times where I’ve never been.
Come let us be chocolate for your brains! And please, please, please reblog or share this post or pass on the URL (https://wp.me/p5pzxL-6a) so we can make the most of joining together for a night of storytelling!
Though only 75 minutes long, I plan to pack in simple, yet effective process for developing characters your readers fall in love with during Grow Your Great Character and Plot on Sun., Sept. 13, during the SavvyAuthors 2020 WritersCon.
I’ve created a great slideshow packed with writing exercises, so plan to come ready to work on your own character.
I’m including the syllabus below to give you a detailed idea of what we’ll cover.
I hope to see you there!
To demonstrate how, if we writers spend the time necessary to understand what makes our character tick at a deep, internal level, the character will write an exciting plot all the way to a dynamic climax.
What’s Your Story About?
Exercise #1: In one sentence, what’s your story about?
A word about exercises: Don’t panic if you can’t easily complete an exercise. Instead, make a note to start at that point during your next writing session. Sometimes writing one simple sentence can take hours of thought.
You and Your Character
Definition of a character: a living person
Definition of a great character: consistent, believable, admirable
Types of characters and their general purposes (page 22 in GGC):
Protagonist: goes on a journey that leads to an epiphany
Antagonist: opposes the protagonist
Catalyst: jumps the tension by greatly upping the size/severity of an obstacle
Support: supports main character
Side: brief appearance
Exercise #2: In one sentence, what’s your character’s type?
The Defining Detail
A defining detail:
shows the reader what makes a character tick
can be based on a prominent physical characteristic, incident, imagined
blemish, object, what interests you most about the character
must be specific
Exercise #3: In one sentence, what’s your character’s defining detail?
Use the defining detail to reveal:
What the character fears most (internal belief)
What he’s motivated to do (external behavior)
Once readers know what scares the character most, they can understand his motivation and interpret his actions. He’ll strike readers as both consistent in how he views the world and believable in what he does.
Exercise #4: In one sentence, what does your character fear most? In one sentence, based on that fear, what’s he/she motivated to do?
The Five Questions
What defines your character? What’s her greatest fear? What motivates her? What’s her greatest strength (cause for admiration)? What’s her greatest weakness (point of vulnerability?
Exercise #5: In one sentence each, answer the last two questions. (Hint: the last two answers should match.
And obstacle is the same as a conflict. Your character wants to do one thing, but faces the prospect of being forced to do the opposite.
Obstacle/Conflict + Action = Scene
A scene is when your character is in one emotional state, confronts an obstacle/conflict, takes action (he/she is a doer), and as a result changes to another emotional state. Over time, those small changes lead to the character’s final transformation.
Series of Obstacles/conflicts = Plot
Obstacles should increase in size and intensity and drive the character toward the moment she confronts her worst fear (the story’s climax). Each obstacle should be organic, meaning the new conflict/obstacle is a direct result of the previous one.
Exercise #6: Create a list of the obstacles your character encounters. Do they get progressively bigger and more severe?
Welcome to my new monthly new series, Interview with… My aim is to introduce you to authors you may not have come across before. The first few will be with fellow Vine Leaves Press authors, mostly because I asked and they were hugely enthusiastic!
So without further ado, please welcome poet Bauke Kamstra…
Hi Bauke. Tell us a little bit about yourself
Originally a farm boy, I left home early to seek my fortune (never found it), I discovered nothing was what it seemed. I was starting to do visual art at that time, travelled to many countries around the world, acquired the skill of cooking to find jobs, and worked as a carnival ride jockey, golf caddy and other jobs, met peoples and cultures, reading reading always reading, trying to figure everything out. I still am.
I discovered beauty, and developed a passion for it. I still have that…
Many years ago, I remember reading an essay in a literary journal by a woman who said her unsuccessful 10-year-attempt to get published almost drove her to suicide.
I couldn’t believe it. Or rather, I believed she was telling the truth about her experience, but I wondered how anyone could get so lost in one endeavor as to so severely lose perspective.
Then years passed, and with it, writing successes here and there, but no jackpot. No fancy agent and a six-figure advance with a huge publishing company. Given that constant rejection, doubt is an almost certain byproduct of attempting to achieve the almost impossible while isolated in that task.
Fortunately I wasn’t totally isolated. I had — and have — my writing buddies, with whom I can commiserate on those days you receive your 500th rejection, a problem that’s faced by anyone in the arts.
Ewan Morrison talks about that very subject in his article The Suicidal Artist in Psychology Today (April 2019):
Artists, according to one recent study, are now considered to be 25% more likely to carry genes for mental illness. And artists can become dependent on the anti-social practice of art making as a substitute for socialised behaviour and mental health. Art making can, in fact, become a dangerous surrogate and addiction, one that can lead to burn-out and suicidal ideation.
He goes on to say some troubled artists worry that if they improve their mental health through therapies of one kind or another, they may lose their creativity.
Memoirs have changed so much since Mary Karr made history with the spectacular success of The Liars’ Club in 1995. Before then, memoir was a realm reserved for celebrities of one sort or another: political figures, movie stars, sports stars. In other words, people designated by their wealth, fame and broad influence as having lives interesting enough to deserve writing about.
But with Karr’s telling of her rough youth in East Texas, she broke open the genre so regular people like you and me can tell our stories. Over the last few decades, one memoir after another has been awarded the spotlight in which to show how so many seemingly ordinary lives are, in fact, extraordinary.
Joanne Nelson is one of those people. Over the years, she wrote essays about her youth that were published in a variety of journals. She collected them in a basket and put them forth as This is How We Leave, which will be published Aug. 11, 2020. I feel particularly fond of this book because I grew up in that same region, so her descriptions of neighborhoods and family angst feel spot on.
Here’s my review of her very deserving work:
Author and therapist Joanne Nelson proves through her tender new memoir, This is How We Leave, that writing is indeed the best therapy.
Through a series of essays, the author shows us her youth growing up in a dysfunctional blue-collar family in Milwaukee. Through detailed, sensory-packed prose, we see, listen and feel the violent slaps; the cursing and criticism; and the drunkenness. When the father abandons the family, the two teen sons go off to their lives, leaving Joanne with her alcoholic mother.
“In the working-class neighborhood the indoor swells of our parents’ dissatisfactions and angers were the most dangerous. The problems — broken appliances, disobedient children, and unexpected bills — often played out during supper with raised voices and smacks to the head.”
Such honesty, combined with the many insights the author imparts, are what make this memoir so touching. She’s neither bitter nor forgiving. Instead, she tells of her anger, despair, fear and disappointment. Ultimately, however, she comes to understand that her parents came from an uneducated background and lived during an era where no one was encouraged to share their feelings. Nor did they have the advantage of parenting classes or counseling. The result were people like her parents, who lived with inner demons from which they never escaped.
Most satisfying of all, Nelson shows that though she had a rough start in life — one made easier by her loving grandparents — she went to college, married and created a loving family. Through her training as a therapist and passion for writing, she processed the pain, and while unable to forget, she moved forward, to a place of acceptance and happiness.