Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Writing Retreats: The Benefits, and How You Can Plan One Without Going Broke

Friends, today we have an awesome guest post by a super nice dude, Dean K. Miller. He's here to chat about writing retreats. But first, there are a couple of things I wanted to mention:

  1. Big congratulations to all of you brave folks who conquered the A-Z Challenge. *applauds loudly*
  2. In case you missed it, be sure to check out my guest post over at Janice Hardy's blog, Fiction University. I tackled the subject Are print books necessary in the digital age?

Now, Dean Miller shares with us why writing retreats are priceless, and how we too can plan one without draining the bank. Take it away, Dean!

Writers on Retreat
No, we aren’t circling the wagons or high-tailing it back to the fort for safety. With the world of publishing opening up like the Red Sea, writers are coming out in droves. And a vast majority is producing some high quality work.
But where do we find the time to hammer out novel after novel? I mean, really, with a day job, family, fly fishing, kids in school . . . the list and its demand on our time is nearly endless. 
One way to squirrel away precious writing time is to take a writing retreat. Yes, we all dream of countless hours of uninterrupted writing, prepared meals, and nature’s harmonious sounds in the background while we tap away on our keyboards, producing chapter after chapter of splendorous verbiage.
I already hear you lamenting (in your loudest, four-year-old, whiny voice.) “But that costs a lot of money.”
Yes, it certainly can. But it can be worth it. For my first retreat I paid $345.00, which included a single room, two four-hour days of fly fishing and nearly three days of uninterrupted writing (except to eat and refill my wine glass.) I skipped the movie night and at the end of the weekend I had added over 15,000 words to my novel.
However, my first writing sabbatical took place on a trip to Houston, TX with my daughter for a swim meet. We had budgeted for this and I took along my laptop. In between swim sessions I wrote for several hours. To learn more about this journey, visit Leanne Dyck’s great blog on August 15th.
But there are other options, many less expensive and even a few for free. Here are a few creative ways to find yourself with hours of quality writing time.
  • Amtrak’s Train Writing Residencies: Amtrak is offering 24 writing residencies free of charge. They are accepting submissions and are awarding free travel on one of their 15 long distance trains. Each recipient will receive roundtrip travel in a sleeper car, complete with desk, bed, electric plug ins and a window for inspiration. (I’ve already applied!)  Learn more here.
  • PLAYA: Located in the Lake County, this southern Oregon Outback nonprofit organization supports innovative thinking through work in the arts, literature, natural sciences and other fields of creative inquiry. Organized in 2009, they began their Free Residency program in May 2011. (Info via Playa Website)
  • Another great resource is author C. Hope Clark’s newsletter, Funds for WritersThere is a free edition (limited listings) or the full newsletter for $15.00 annually. It lists job markets, agents, writing competitions, and fellowships/retreats/grants and residencies, many of which are free of charge. Some offer stipends as well and several are open to emerging writers. You don’t have to be a published all-star to apply or get selected.
Okay, so you can’t leave town for an extended period of time. Do you have any friends, or friend of friends who own a cabin or condo nearby? Would they let you stay overnight for little or no cost? Or you can grab your best writing buddy, travel to a nearby locale and split the cost of a motel room. Scout out great locations, do some writing and add some critique time as well.
How about that nice two-person tent in the basement that’s never been out of the box? Find a park or campground, pitch that baby up for a night and find inspiration in the stars at night.

And if you can’t even get away for one night, find a few hours in a park, along a river, near a lake or in the middle of a farmer's field. Be creative, be bold and honor your inner writer. With a little research and some innovative planning, who knows where you’ll find your next best piece of writing.
Dean, thanks so much for this great information! I've never taken an official writing retreat, but I live in the boonies and create my own writing oasis from time to time.
Friends, have you gone on a writing retreat? Was it helpful? Does the cost of writing retreats keep you from taking the plunge? If so, what's your opinion of Dean's low cost solutions? Please share!
Dean is giving away one signed copy of his book, And Then I Smiled: Reflections on a Life Not Yet Complete. No hoops to jump through! All commenters will be added to the drawing, which ends May 5th.
Dean is a freelance writer and member of Northern Colorado Writers. His work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood, TROUT magazine, Torrid Literature Journal and other literary magazines. His essays won three separate contests at
For 26 years, Miller has kept the skies safe as an air traffic controller for the FAA and received the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) Northwest Mountain Region 2010 Archie League Safety Award. In his spare time, he enjoys fly fishing and he is an avid supporter and volunteer for the veteran’s support group Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. He lives in Colorado with his wife, Laura, and their two dogs, Bear and Snickers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Writing lessons learned from #WOOL

It's been way too long since I've shared some of my writing lessons learned from great fiction! Today I'll gush about WOOL, by Hugh Howey. These notes are based on the omnibus edition of the story, but you can download part one for free here.

First, a brief description of book one:

Thousands of them have lived underground. They've lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside. Or you'll get what you wish for.

I've learned some important life lessons from Hugh Howey, like the one I detailed in this post "Are you the Tiger Woods of publishing? Does it matter?" But I also learned amazing writing lessons from his books. (Alert! Read no further if you don't want to know any plot points!)

  • Keep the secrets coming: the entire WOOL series thrives on the unknown. Why is humanity living underground? When was the silo built? Who built it and why? Who's good? Who's bad? Who's withholding the truth? All these questions kept me turning the digital pages.
  • Provide good reasons for secrets: folks who live in the silo are punished for asking too many questions. Wanna explore the outdoors? Buh bye, you're dead. This provides a great reason why the characters don't know much about their living conditions. They accept their reality and don't dare question it.
  • Give it a rest: WOOL builds tension at a steady pace until soon it's break-neck. But Howey does a great job of giving small rests. For instance, opposite sides start fighting. Bullets fly. While all this happens, we're watching a mechanic fiddle with a radio for communication. It's not much of a rest, but it's there.
  • Build conflict among books & among the series: Howey not only creates tense action and meaningful character arcs within each book, he also does this along the entire series. Stakes rise and conflict builds chapter by chapter, book by book. (By the way, I totally admire writers who write series. What a great skill)
  • Answer a question, introduce a question: just like secrets, Howey doles out questions throughout the entire series. As one question is answered, another is introduced. Readers don't know everything until the final chapter of the last book.
  • Multiple points of view? No problem: most of the series is from one point of view, but many other points of view were expressed when needed. This didn't bother me a bit. It gave me insight to areas of the story the main character wasn't aware of.
Have you read any books from the WOOL series? What's your opinion of these writing lessons? Have you used any of these writing techniques? Please share!

My kids are on spring break next week, so I'll skip next Wednesday. The next post will be up April 30th--with a special guest!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How to Create a Print Book

(Here's me holding my proof copy. Almost as exciting as giving birth to my children, and not quite as painful!)

Today I'll share how I created my print copy of The Boy Who Loved Fire!

There are many reasons why I think print books are a giant bonus, even in the digital age. I'll share more on that topic in my 4/24 guest post on Janice Hardy's blog. For now I'll discuss the how instead of the why.

For the purpose of this post, I'll focus on CreateSpace--the company I used for my print book. I've been really happy with the outcome.

Here's a step by step guide to creating a print book:

Cover Design

Print covers require a spine and info for the back cover. I used J. Allen Fielder to design all my covers, including print. For a small extra fee, he adjusted my digital cover for print. He knew exactly what to do. All he needed was the book size, page count, and ISBN. This was one of the many benefits of working with a cover pro! If you're working with a cover designer, let them know you're doing print and discuss the details.


Before you even sign on to CreateSpace, you'll need to format your final, super duper edited manuscript for print.

  • Choose a book size: I pulled favorite YA contemporary books off my shelves and whipped out the measuring tape. I chose 5.25" x 8". Another popular size is 6" x 9".
  • Format to size: I write with Apple Pages. I updated my page size in Inspector>Document>Page Setup. (CreateSpace offers help to Word users in this link)
  • Choose margin sizes: I used a ruler to size up my shelved books, then changed the margin settings. In Pages it's Inspector>Document>Facing Pages and >Headers, >Footers.
  • Chapter headings: I moved my chapter numbers to almost mid page of each new chapter. I also increased the font size of the chapter numbers.
  • First lines: remove indent from the first sentence of each new chapter and after each scene break.
  • Delete unnecessary data: remove the table of contents from the front matter, and digital links from the back matter.
  • Save as a .pdf
Upload to CreateSpace

Once you have a nifty cover with a spine, and a re-formatted document, you're ready to upload your book. This part moves easily from one step to the next. Here's a short breakdown.
  • Open a CreateSpace account: some of your information from Amazon will transfer over. Everything else is self-explanatory.
  • Title page is self explanatory
  • Interior: choose paper color (cream is most common for fiction) and type color (black and white). This is also where you upload your .pdf file.
  • ISBN: I chose the free ISBN offered by CreateSpace. For more info about the ins and outs of ISBN numbers, read this post on Janice Hardy's blog.
  • Cover: choose matte or glossy finish (I chose glossy). Upload your cool cover with spine.
  • Complete setup: this is where you review all the info you've entered.
Once you've completed all the steps, CreateSpace then reviews your book for quality. You'll receive a message when it's approved.

  • Review your book online: click through each page and see how it will look once printed. 
  • Browse through errors: in your online book review, you will likely see errors off to the right. Click through those to figure out what needs to be changed. If you're unsure about these changes, or can't see anything wrong where an error message appears, visit the forums. Many of these "errors" are simply glitches that don't need to be fixed.
  • Proof copy: once you've reviewed your online book and can't find any errors, it's time to order your proof copy. Once you receive your proof copy by mail (a totally exciting experience, by the way), go through each page of the book. Look for anything wonky.
  • Change and re-upload: make any necessary adjustments to your main document, save to .pdf, then upload a new copy.
  • Channels: I made my book available everywhere.
  • Pricing: I made my book as cheap as CreateSpace would allow. Print books are already more expensive than digital. I wanted it to be as affordable as possible.
  • Description: this is where you add your book summary and author bio.
  • Keywords: very important! If someone wanted to search for your book, what would they put in the search engine? I used teen, arson, hispanic, burn victims, romance

Once your online book and physical proof have been reviewed for accuracy and beauty, click Publish and get that baby out there!

Yes, print books require additional work, but it's soooo worth it. My biggest advice is this: use the forums. Click here and search for anything you're up against when creating a print book. CreateSpace authors have done and seen just about anything, and they generously share solutions. Forums are an indie author's best friend.

For more tips on self publishing, including ideas for a professional print book, I'd highly recommend James Scott Bell's Self Publishing Attack.

If you're indie or traditionally published, is there a print copy of your book out there? If you've used CreateSpace, or another print service, can you think of anything I've missed?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Inspired by a Best Selling Author #IWSG

Welcome, Insecure Writer's Support Group! Clicky clicky here to sign up for this amazing, supportive group.

This month I'm not insecure. I'm inspired.

Have you ever connected with a best-selling author? Until recently, I never had. I'd never sent an email or commented on their Facebook page.

My 17-year-old son and his required reading for AP U.S. History changed all that.

He was assigned to read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. My son's plan was to skim through the book and write his essay. I was disappointed and told him how much I'd loved that story, and how he should give the book a chance.

Let me back up. Teens these days are required to read some of the most boring books EVER. No offense to long-dead writers, but their stories are not what interest today's teens. My son has morphed from a book lover to a book dreader, all within a span of three years of high school. Needless to say, he had no plans to enjoy this book. I urged him to at least read the first few chapters and see what he thought. Then I went to bed and left him to his homework.

He stayed up until the wee hours of the morning and finished the book. No joke. He loved this book even more than Hunger Games. After my sleep-deprived son left for school I logged on to Jamie Ford's web site and sent him a message about my son's experience and how much he loved the book.

My son had already tweeted about his love of the book. Jamie Ford retweeted. And he responded to my email within an hour. Since then we've had a nice email exchange about teens, books, and writing. He mailed us each a signed copy of his latest release, Songs of Willow Frost. He even agreed to a blog interview (more about that later). My son noticed that Jamie Ford was doing a library event close to home. Of course we had to go.

What's my take-away from all this? My son got a valuable lesson in giving books a chance. I got a valuable lesson in reaching out to authors, even those who top the best-seller list. They may respond and they may not. I also learned that all authors, whether new or multi-published, like to know when someone enjoys their book.

Jamie Ford inspired me. He took time to reach out to a teen reader. He took time to connect with another writer and answer questions. He's won two lifelong fans.

If you haven't yet read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I highly recommend you add it to your list. It's an amazing book that still lingers in my heart. And if you love a book, I recommend reaching out to the author and letting them know. Writers--even those at the top of their game--deserve to hear how much their work is appreciated.

Have you ever reached out to a best selling author? Did they respond or ignore you? How did that encourage or discourage you from reaching out again? Do you have teens who dread their required reading?

(my son's tweet)

(me, Jamie Ford, and my son)