On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to the Village

Catherine Lloyd Author

On a lucky trip to the library a few months ago, I pulled Death Comes to the Village off the shelf and quickly hunted down the next two novels in The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries series (Kensington Books).

There’s nothing like writing your own first novel to give you an appreciation for all authors. One of my goals this year is to reach out and thank those writers whose books I’ve enjoyed. That’s how I “met” New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Catherine Lloyd. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her books and her writing process.

Death Comes to the Village        Death Comes to London      Death Comes to Kurland Hall

Congratulations on the success of The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries. You write under a pseudonym (Kate Pearce) as well. Do you have a preference for one genre over another?

Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to write something different. I also write romance, but they are very different entities. With romance it’s more about the love story and the character’s romantic arc. With the mystery, the plot is more front and center, and the characters don’t have to be quite so romantic.

I don’t really have a preference for one genre. They speak to different sides of my brain and my writing process. I’m lucky to get the opportunity to do both.

You’ve previously said it took you five years to get your first novel published. Can you describe those five years; the successes and setbacks?

Yes, that was back in the days before self-publishing in its present form existed, so the process was literally to send off lots of submission letters with a stamped addressed envelope and wait for the reply in your mail box. It took me a while to find my first agent, who then immediately died, and a little longer to find my second agent. The third one was the charm. Once I’d sold a couple of my romance novels things did start to get easier, but it took me 5 complete manuscripts and almost five years to get there.

Sometimes it was difficult to keep going. At one point I almost gave up, but decided instead to be braver with my writing and really write what I wanted to rather than what I thought was the popular thing. That proved to be the right decision for me. I also learned how to deal with rejections in a more private way than anyone who self-publishes these days and has to deal with reviews on amazon etc.

With the mystery series things happened a bit differently in that my current editor asked me if I’d like to write something else for the same publishing house. I went home to think about it, and submitted a proposal for the cozy historical mystery series. It combines my knowledge of the Regency period with my love of Agatha Christie in a perfect way.

How did you develop a knowledge of the Regency Period?

Well, I grew up in London with a mother who did her teaching qualification in history, and always talked about places we were visiting, which inspired a great love of the past in me. I also did my degree in history, so I know how to research a time period. I read voraciously and loved Rosemary Sutcliff, Dorothy Dunnett, Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I gained a sense of what I wanted to write from there, and the rest I just research as I go. It really does help having been born in England with the history all around you.

You say you went with what you wanted to write rather than what you thought was popular. What did you think was popular? What were you trying to write?

I was originally trying to be Jane Austen or write more cookie cutter romance.  I couldn’t really be Jane, and I’ve always had something of a subversive nature, which meant that my historical romances always pushed at the boundaries of what was acceptable. (I was more interested in writing gritty dark romances with multifaceted heroes with questionable sexual proclivities than the standard Alpha male. LOL.)

For my mysteries I wanted to write something that wasn’t centered in the city of London with a strong male protagonist. I wanted to write a cozy mystery set in the English countryside where the hero and heroine are unconventional in a different way. I researched what was published in Regency mysteries, and I found a nice little niche for myself.

What was your mindset during those years? What made you persist?

I think I just wanted to communicate. I knew that writing was the piece that made sense of who I was, and I was determined that I’d eventually get published. I couldn’t not persist if that makes sense, but I had to give myself permission to be brave, and think outside the box. Getting angry at all the rejections helped sometimes as well.

What does the physical process of “thinking outside the box” entail? Do you make lists, brainstorm, try scenes from different angles, etc.?

No, I just write and let my brain noodle away at what will happen next. Sometimes if I’m aware there is a problem my unconscious will happily provide me with a solution when I wake up. Sometimes I can see a scene is wrong, and I’ll go back, try it in a different point of view or look for where the problem starts, and write on from there.

For me thinking outside the box means more that I look at my strengths as a writer and I commit to using those strengths and not compromising when I write by worrying about the market too much or what I ‘should be writing.” You have to be aware of what is popular, but you can’t follow trends, and make yourself miserable writing things that don’t work with your writing style.

How does penning your own books affect you as a reader? Are you able to read and get lost in stories?

It depends on the story. A fantastic author who can pull me in, and not let go makes me very happy. I do have a tendency to work out the plots ahead these days though, which sometimes even annoys me.

What books are on your to-be-read pile now? Favorite type of story to get lost in?

I have eclectic tastes. I currently have:

Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes.

Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison.

Get A Clue by Jill Shalvis

The Roads of Taryn McTavish by R. Lee Smith

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen

I’ll try anything, I like to see how other authors do things especially in literary fiction.

Being a full-time author is a dream for many writers. What is one thing about the reality that would surprise most people?

I think it can be quite lonely, and that you have to establish boundaries to either protect your writing time, or not let your writing time take over your real life. For me, it’s also my job. I sit down five days a week and write. That’s what I do.

Aspiring writers have a fascination with the writing process of a published author. Do you care to share any special aspects of your process or your opinion on this fascination?

I plot my mysteries quite extensively, and talk them through with my editor. The end product sometimes doesn’t have a lot to do with that initial synopsis, but the basics are there. I like to be surprised when I’m writing, and I like to follow off down trails that appear and use them to make the book better.

For my romances I’m even more vague because I really enjoy writing in the moment and discovering the emotion along the way.

My husband sometimes taps me on the head and says, “Where does all that stuff come from?”

Answer: I have no idea.

How much of real characters in your life make it into your books?

None in the sense that you’d recognize anyone. I do, however notice small things about people, their body language, the way they accent certain words etc. etc., and those things sometimes creep into my writing. I am fairly famous for eavesdropping in restaurants.

What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you ever received?

The best? Write the book. Repeat.

The worst? Write what you know.

Why was “write what you know” not good advice for you. Can you elaborate?

I meant it in the sense that most of us live fairly unremarkable lives, and can’t time travel back to the Regency or out into the future. To me my imagination was my escape from the everyday, and it’s where all my best ideas come from.

Something readers would be surprised to learn about you? Any hidden talents or obsessions?

I’m British, but I currently live in Hawaii. That’s fairly unusual I think. I love to knit. I make hats and scarves and Outlander cowls and send them overseas to the cold people in my life.

If time and money were no object, describe an ideal day for you:

I’m pretty lucky actually. I get to live on the Big Island of Hawaii, with my lovely husband and daughter, three cats and fluffy little dog. I can get to the ocean in ten minutes. I love my job. I can’t really think of anything else I’d want except if I were a billionaire, I’d have a cat butler to let the cats in and out because they drive me nuts.

Lastly, if you could get newer writers to understand one thing about writing a book, it would be:

It’s hard work, but if you get it done you will learn so much along the way that even if it sucks, (and first books often do), the next one will be better.

A big thank you to Catherine for her time and generosity! Look for Book #4 Death Comes to the Fair, set to be released November 29, 2016.

Visit my #BooksByTheBed page for my take on the first three books in The Kurland St. Mary series.

For more information about Catherine and her books, check out her website. If you enjoy edgy romance, check out her Kate Pearce Novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Thoughts on “On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

  1. Just finished today the third of the Kurland St. Mary mysteries and loved all three – it’s a long wait until the next one

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The Forrest Gump Effect: Is Your Stubbornness Making You Miss Good Stuff?

Ignoring Advice

The Forrest Gump Effect

“OMG, OMG, you have to see this movie.” Friends, family, the media . . . everyone wanted me to go see Tom Hanks in THE BEST MOVIE EVER!

Of course, when I finally bought my ticket and popcorn, I was disappointed. With all the hype there was no way the film could have lived up to the push. It had been oversold.

This happens with motivational sayings and life hacks, too. When someone oversells the latest self-help book or when a piece of advice is repeated ad nauseam, it becomes background noise. We resist.

I made this mistake recently trying to get my son to read a book that I’d found beneficial. I tried giving him a synopsis. I quoted from it every other day. I shared examples of how it had helped me overcome a bad habit.

As he resisted, I started leaving it “accidentally” where he might stumble on it, as if finding it in his car would make him more likely to give it a try.

Stubborn Kid Won't Read Book

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He is now convinced it is THE WORST BOOK OF ALL TIME. I blew it, and he’s missing out on some good stuff because of his stubborn refusal to give in to his mom.

Anytime we dismiss the too-often quoted or ignore advice with a “yeah, yeah, yeah,” we could be missing a life-altering nugget of truth.

There’s no shortage of advice out there for writers, either. We’re faced with never ending truisms about craft or the creative process and we often become conditioned to ignore the most common.

After this post about learning in layers, I had an epiphany on the idea behind “truth is stranger than fiction.”

In the popular book Immediate Fiction, Jerry Cleaver reminds his students that fiction is heightened, concentrated reality.

. . . you think there’s nothing to it, that writing a story is just like life. Like life, yes. But not life itself. Creating stories is a special craft—a special way of capturing reality on the page. It feels real, but it isn’t. You can’t just break off a piece of reality and stick it on the page. It won’t work. It won’t work because fiction is concentrated, heightened, intensified reality. It’s the essence of reality. All reality doesn’t contain such essence or truth, but all fiction must. You, the author, must create it.”

That’s a gold standard of writing advice but no less true for being familiar.

I’d read this excerpt at least five times and highlighted almost every other section of the book except this one.

It wasn’t until several drafts into my current project that a light bulb went off. Readers don’t care how long it took your main character to get to the bank, or the route he followed. They care that he was robbed at the ATM. Eventually, I was able to use this in my manuscript, cutting extraneous conversations and flabby descriptions.

Look around your shelves, you probably have how-to writing books galore. Try looking at an old one a new way. As your skills improve and experience grows, an old has-been could become the new go-to.

As for the book my son steadfastly refuses to read, I’m ordering the audio version for him. I’m hoping that in a weakened state he’ll accidentally hit play and absorb the information via osmosis.

Ignoring Advice

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Don’t dismiss an overused motivational quote or the latest popular self-help trend just because they’ve been done to death. Practice looking at things in the revised context of your most up-to-date self.

Give resources another read. Reconsider tips or advice based on your new level of experience or different life circumstances. You may absorb useful information and find yourself able to apply it in meaningful ways.

As for “Gumping” something myself, I learned my lesson with my son. There’s this book I think would be great for my daughter who is just starting out in her career. But this time, I controlled myself and only mentioned it once about a month ago.

To paraphrase Forrest, Christmas is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The CD version arrived yesterday and is already wrapped and under the tree with my daughter’s name on it. She can listen to it passively on her way to work. Something’s bound to rub off.

 

 

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If You’re Doing This, Knock it Off!

Strong Women

Strong Women

Update: Author Kristen Lamb wrote a kick-ass blog post about this very topic. Need a nudge to take more risks and go for the big thing you really want? If so, check it out here.

Hard to believe women are still doing this, but we are and it’s affecting our success.

In one day, in a private Facebook group with many successful, published authors, I saw the following posts:

“I know it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what you’ve all done, but I just got my first review and I’m so excited!”

 “Granted, the category is really narrow, but I just reached #1 on such-and-such list!”

“This is just a short story, an easy read.”

These achievements are impressive and should stand on their own. No misplaced modesty or qualifiers of any kind!

Each of these statements appeared in a group for women only. You don’t see a lot of this from men.

Study after study shows that men project more confidence, whether or not they have the stuff to back it up. Strangely enough, when you project confidence, success often follows.

In fact, according to this article in The Atlantic, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Even when their performances do not differ in quality.

“Study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required.”

The article goes on to indicate that regardless of ability, confidence breeds success.

In Submit Like a Man: How Women Writer’s Can be More Successful,  a former literary magazine editor, female, confirms that women publish less in literary journals, largely because of how they do or don’t react to editor feedback.

Yes, the title may rankle, and not all women still have this issue. But in one day, in a supportive, safe, professional group; the apologizing and qualifying were commonplace.

Let’s try something like this instead: “I wrote this. I’m proud of it. Let me know what you think.”

Slip a rubber band on your wrist and if you feel yourself downplaying an accomplishment or apologizing for having an opinion, SNAP! Resist the urge.

If you know you have a problem with confidence, check out Confidence Breeds Success– And it Can Be Taught from Forbes for a start. You might like this post on self-doubt.

Maybe raising awareness will help us all to project more confidence, and in turn increase our own chances for success.

 

 

2 Thoughts on “If You’re Doing This, Knock it Off!

  1. Awesome Suzanne. I’ve been passing around a Ted Talks video on body language with similar findings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc . Thank you for this post, it’ll be there like the rubber band to remind me of the importance of owning my value.

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11 Things Writers Should Never Say (to other writers or humans, in person or on social media)

11 Things Writers Should Never Say

11 Things Writers Should Never Say

(1)  Writing is hard

Yes, but to misquote Cheryl Strayed, it’s not coal mining, it’s not sewer repair, it’s not wrangling live tigers (though sometimes you want to claw your own face off).

(2)  Buy my book

Ugh. Just ugh.

(3)  I don’t have enough time to finish my ___ (insert work in progress)

Yes. Yes you do. Single mothers with three jobs have written books. Medical students who haven’t slept in 137 days have written novels. Stop lying and finish already.

(4) I self-publish and do all my own editing

Why would you do that? Why? WHY? Unless your best friend from childhood is an editor willing to review your work for free, do not self-publish a thing if you do not secure the services of a professional editor. You will embarrass your mother, you will waste your time, you will ruin your credibility.

(5)  I don’t read – or any variation of this statement

Imagine an actor who doesn’t have time to watch movies, plays, or TV. Imagine an oceanographer who refuses to leave Kansas, or a trail guide with agoraphobia. Ridiculous, right? You have time to read. You make time to read. You read. Go to the library right now, for God’s sake.

(6)  Review me on Amazon, even if you haven’t read my book

No, no I will not.

11 Things Writers Should Never Say

(7) Buy my book

See #2

(8) I dream of being published (while not submitting)

Good luck with that.

(9) “Chick-lit”   or    “Women’s fiction”

Or any other gender-damning, soul-skewering, pigeon-holing phrase when used in the context of literary snobbery, including but not limited to: I only read literary fiction; Memoir is just journaling; Uttering the word romance with your nostrils flared as if sniffing dog poop. It’s not nice.

(10) Rejection is so hard

Yep. And? Stop being a baby.

(11) I don’t drink coffee

While this may be true, it’s enough to get you kicked out of the tribe or at least ostracized. Lie. Carry around a Starbucks cup filled with water if you have to. You’re ruining the mystique! Tea is acceptable, if you’re British, but just barely.

(12) Buy my book

*Bonus reminder, no charge, you’re welcome.

14 Thoughts on “11 Things Writers Should Never Say (to other writers or humans, in person or on social media)

  1. Very amusing, and a timely reminder, Suzy B! I also hate the ‘Chick-lit’ label, and absolutely refuse to use it. Good fiction is good fiction, and that’s all. Men aren’t banned from reading works from women authors, so why pidgeon hole it as ‘women’s fiction?’ We’ll be having ‘Menopausal fiction’, and ‘Mummy fiction’ next! And I for one, will be reading THAT!! Lol.

    P.S. How many copies shall I put you down for?? 😉

    Hedgey x

  2. Damn! Thought I was posting from Hedgeblog Times. Whoops! I just may have blown my cover! Shhhh…. 😉

  3. HaHAHA! I loved this and soooo true except you could never embarrass your mother!!!!

  4. I have writer’s block. Really? What if your plumber said “gaaah, I have plumber’s block.” Suck it up, buttercup.

  5. I still hate coffee! 😉

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When Bad is Good: A New View on Your Inner Critic

Choose Your Thoughts

Several years ago, I won a free consultation from a professional home organizer. Embarrassed but desperate, I revealed the clutter in my disorganized kitchen wondering what, if anything, could be accomplished in one 30-minute session.

This domestic genius took one look around and said “Why don’t we just put this here, closer to where you use it.”

She said it about three times—it sounded more like Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo to me—and soon, papers piled on the table, spices jumbled in a crowded cabinet, and CDs splattered with orange juice, miraculously migrated to their new, logical locations.

I watched in awe and could only think Of course that belongs there. It seemed so obvious once she pointed it out.

Bibbity Bobbity Boo

So what was my problem? Why did this expert instantly see a solution where I saw only frustration and mess?

Perspective. Her view was new and different from mine.

Perspective is everything. This became crystal clear to me recently, during a discussion with a writing mentor.

Rehashing my goals one day, I confessed that I loved the attention that came with publication. How needy and pathetic, right? I even told her my best friend had once called me an attention whore.

My mentor’s reaction changed the way I react to the negative thoughts that come with writing, or any pursuit of passion in life.

“What if your craving for attention is what’s allowing you to do what you feel called to do? What if it’s that drive for affirmation that wakes you up at 5am to work on your rough draft?”

It happened again when I told her I sometimes found myself jealous of the talent of other writers. I didn’t begrudge them their success, I just coveted a smidgen of the talent I witnessed in other, more accomplished writers.

Her response: “Excellent! When we’re jealous, it shows us we’re on the right track. We know what we’re shooting for. So many people don’t have a goal in life. Congratulations, your jealousy is pointing you in the right direction.”

Hmmm . . . maybe there’s something to this. Maybe I had been looking at my negative thoughts and labels the wrong way. As long as my thoughts weren’t manifesting in undesirable actions, maybe they weren’t so bad.

“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

~ David Foster Wallace

I decided to test my theory. In a post in one of my favorite Facebook groups, a member asked if any other writers sat down to work on their manuscripts each day, riddled with fear.

My response was “Fear is good!” Fear sent a message that what you attempted carried weight and importance in your life. When I mentioned the interaction to my mentor, she practically jumped for joy. “Yes! That’s exactly what it means.”

Of course, fear is also a life-saving emotion pointing human beings to safety and survival. But we’re talking writing here folks, not hiking in the Alps.

This is more than a lame “think positive” mantra. Changing your position and perspective takes practice. Maybe it’s all B.S. but I don’t think so. It’s worked for me.

Time and energy spent doubting abilities or fretting over perceived character defects keeps us from giving 100% to our creative projects.

Next time you’re ready to label yourself, take a minute and question the label. What are the benefits of being afraid, jealous, attention-seeking? Make a list.

Domestic Goddess Kitchen

My organized kitchen (I wish)

Fifteen years later, my spices, CDs and papers are still stored where the expert suggested, I still like attention, and I’m still not-so-secretly jealous of favorite writers. I’ve learned to question my negative thoughts and labels when they pop up.

Rethinking them has made all the difference.

Don’t be so quick to beat yourself up. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Don’t waste time fretting over imagined inadequacies, and instead, get down to what’s guaranteed to make us all better, no matter the endeavor: practice and hard work.

Blue Moon Update

Blue Moon (Montana)

Blue Moon (Montana)

Today is Blue Moon Friday. It’s been a busy, if weird, month. It seems fitting just to take stock and see where I’m at.

My husband turned 50 which is making me not look forward to my half-century celebration in just a few short weeks.

Spending three days at Ragdale was like time traveling. And psychotherapy. Writing about “real” stuff always makes you dig deep.

Submitting 20 pages to my Novel in a Year class has me on edge. I’m up for critique next week and I’m quaking with insecurity.

I’ve worked on a couple of Flash Fiction pieces and entered one in an online, quarterly contest that provides feedback. The feedback was 2/3 great and 1/3 I’m the world’s worst writer.

Did not make my goal of finishing the 2nd draft of my WIP by the end of the month. Too many major plot questions, too little skill. But I’m soldiering on.

I did submit a few pieces, finished a couple of interviews, read some great books. Just don’t know where the time goes.

Summer is fleeting and hot! I’ve been eating like a college kid on summer break and not working out at all. Just grocery shopped – all fish and produce starting tomorrow.

A second full moon may be weird, but not all that rare. According to Google, it happens once every three years or so. I hope next month is more productive and less weird, and maybe less blue.

 

 

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Wedding Rewrites – A Quick Recap

Emily Brazil Wedding Independence Grove, Libertyville IL

Emily Brazil Wedding Independence Grove, Libertyville IL

Wedding week is over. Bride and Groom are now husband and wife. I have a new son-in-law and my brown-eyed girl, our monkey, our sunshine, is somehow a married woman with a career, two dogs, and a mortgage. Life does not stand still.

My intentional week away from writing was action packed. Family and friends descended from all corners of the continent. Alcohol flowed, meals were take-out or skipped and there was no time for my fledgling meditation practice. With one notable exception.

Bride and Mother of the Bride, Emily and Suzanne Brazil

The novice officiant– a college friend ordained online and doing double duty as a bridesmaid–appeared at my side in the bridal suite as we prepared to walk down the aisle saying “I can’t stop sweating. I’m so nervous.” I suggested we take some deep breaths together. I don’t know if it helped her at all. She gave a heartfelt and inspired ceremonial speech which was the talk of the reception.

No doubt, the breathing helped me. I’ve been on the verge of crying or in full flood mode for going on two weeks. The parents were asked to give a blessing via microphone in front of 178 guests just prior to the vows.

I had written something. Rewritten it five times. Cut out the opening paragraph. Reread it to my husband who daringly suggested I cut out the second paragraph as well. Last minute, the morning of, I revised again eliminating three lines excerpted from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gifts from the Sea.

Emily Brazil and Bridesmaids

As Mother of the Bride, I had an important role to fill. I just wanted her day to be perfect. I tried to take my cue from my unruffled daughter. She only had to scold me once or twice to relax and let things go. Perfection was not the goal. Enjoying the people, the music, the food and the love in the room was the focus.

She barely glanced at the footsteps littering the train of her ivory dress; she didn’t fret over the weather reports predicting torrential thunder storms; and she graciously allowed herself to be pulled to and fro with an authentic smile on her face.

The sun prevailed, she glowed in her dream gown (with pockets!), and she and her Groom had a night to remember. The writer in me welcomed the warm response to my prepared blessing. The rewriter in me acknowledged that cutting is hard but necessary. The wife and mom in me was touched most by my husband’s toast.

Mr. and Mrs. Rankin, Independence Grove, Libertyville IL

He does not write. He doesn’t read for pleasure unless you count Mother Earth News. Yet, he had life experiences and emotions and language to share with our daughter. He painstakingly handwrote three full pages of memories, advice and wishes for the new couple. They were laced with humor, enhanced by sincerity and delivered with love. And he moved a room of 200 people.

Everyone is a writer if they want to be. I will try to follow his example in the future.

6 Thoughts on “Wedding Rewrites – A Quick Recap

  1. Michelle on June 8, 2015 at 2:17 pm said:

    Beautiful!! Very well put, Mama B!! It was a beautiful day! I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend it!

  2. Oh Suzanne – you made me cry! What a lovely memory, and one to cherish for years to come! I hope I will be as steady when (if!) my two daughters get married
    And your brown eyed girl was a beautiful bride!

    Thanks for sharing the day with us. xxx

  3. Jennifer on June 8, 2015 at 2:38 pm said:

    Congratulations! Sounds like a lovely day.

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What if I’m Not Good Enough?

heart-shaped rocks on Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan Lakeshore Walk

Last week, I made a conscious effort to find a new place to walk and a different coffee shop in which to write. I usually use the elliptical at the gym or walk in a nearby forest preserve path. Similarly, I write at the local Panera. The booths are comfy, iced tea refills are free and they have outlets and free wi-fi. Everything about these walking/writing routines struck me as dry and boring.

I set out to find the lake. Not a small local lake…I was looking for Lake Michigan. I knew it was less than 10 miles from my house in the Chicago suburbs,  but unless I was having a touristy day in the city,  I rarely venture there. Considering my love of the water both salt and fresh, the stupidity of this hit me as I was in my car driving to my usual walking spot (driving to walk may strike you as stupid but…oh, nevermind).

Lake Michigan Lakeshore

Within minutes, I was standing on the pebble-strewn shore of the lake breathing in the air as I listened to the waves break. I wasn’t sure how far I’d walk as it was unfamiliar territory. I noticed all the shiny, smooth rocks embedded in the sand and decided to go just a little farther.

Last year (on a new adventure), I met this wonderful writer lady who collects heart-shaped things. I don’t know her well but we spent time together at a writing retreat and I was impressed by her warmth and positive outlook. She posts beautiful pictures of the heart-shaped objects she finds often accompanied by kind, generous and uplifting thoughts.

After we met, without meaning to, I began searching for heart-shaped things. Leaves, rocks, you name it, I’ve searched for them high and low usually without much luck. Most days, when I remember to pay attention, I find vaguely amoeba-shaped blobs that if I squint right and cast a shadow might pass as hearts…wounded ones.

heart-shaped rocks from Lake Michigan

The beach was strewn with pebbles, boulders and stones and I couldn’t seem to find one true heart shape among them. Like my inner writing gremlin, I began telling myself maybe I just wasn’t qualified. Maybe I didn’t have the inner stuff required to see something unique in nature’s debris. I wasn’t as nice as the heart lady. I wasn’t as “spiritual,” whatever that means.

heart-shaped rocks from Lake Michigan

On my writing journey over the past year I believed I was immune to writer’s block and determined I would not let my doubts keep me from taking action. For the first time in over a year, I’ve gone almost an entire week without working on my WIP. Still, I don’t think it was really a block – I never sat down to work on it. I’m not sure why but I’m back today. I’m pushing on.

heart-shaped rocks from Lake Michigan     heart-shaped rocks from Lake Michigan

Maybe we’re not meant to analyze why we get stuck or why we lack confidence. Maybe we’re just supposed to push on. Just like that day at the beach. I decided to go past where I was comfortable. The heart shapes were there all along,  beyond my comfort zone.

heart-shaped rocks from Lake Michigan

 

5 Thoughts on “What if I’m Not Good Enough?

  1. barb armstrong on May 11, 2015 at 9:53 am said:

    Sometimes your wisdom shocks me!!!!!

  2. Beautiful photos.

    Maybe you needed a break, it’s called re-charging! And I’ll bet that your seashore strolling has given you fresh inspiration. Hope so! You can’t keep a Brazil down for long!!! 😉

    Spiky hugs,

    The Hedgehog x

    P.S. Next time can I come with you?? 😀

  3. Hi Suzanne,

    I really enjoyed your story.. you must be a good writer as I felt I was walking on the beach myself picking up heart-shaped stones 🙂
    There’s always a reason why we get ‘ stuck ‘ , but as Angela said, maybe you just needed a break and a change of scenery.. Writers are artists, so I suppose going to the same coffee shop for a long period may not inspire you enough. Perhaps, in your spirit, there is something you are not quite satisfied with in your work and the story needs to shift it’s focus.. we have a deep wisdom that guides us to stop and reassess things. Ask yourself questions and you will find the answer.. trust yourself !
    The flip side of this of course could be… fear, doubt, lack of confidence.. So, building yourself up and believing in yourself could kick-start you in no time !

    Keep writing !!

    Orla. x

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Soup to Nuts – How I Got My Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor copies arrive

A lovely writer friend said she’d love to hear step-by-step how I got my story “An Ordinary Life” published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom. I promised to do a blog post on it so here’s what happened.

Which cameChicken Soup for the Soul my name first, the chicken or the soup?

Some people write a piece then look for a place to submit others check out open calls for submissions and then write to a specific theme. I’ve done both. In this case, I really can’t remember which came first.

I think I saw the open call for their latest book and an idea popped into my head. A recent conversation with my mom had brought up an old memory and I wrote about it.

Shitty First Drafts

The first draft poured out in about 15 minutes at Panera. I read it to a good friend but she knows my mom. I wanted another opinion from someone outside my circle. I wanted to know what message an impartial reader was getting about my mom.

I had made a few connections at a writer’s retreat. I posted a request for readers on our retreat alumni Facebook page and got two responses. Kathy is a wonderful soul and she replied with general criticism and positive support which I appreciated. Ana had previously published a story in another Chicken Soup volume and has also written professionally for a long time, and gave me some great tips.

Ana went on to red-line and edit a couple of drafts for me.

Writing is Rewriting

In all, I did five or six complete drafts. I had to cut it down from about 1,600 to 1,200 words. When I first decided to commit to writing, I thought my first drafts should be good enough. If it didn’t come out perfect, I felt I lacked talent or didn’t feel like the “real deal.” I’ve since learned and come to accept that the “magic” comes in the rewriting.

If you’re just starting out, the only way to believe this is to see it work. The best wording, the right order, it all comes in revision.

Tears in the Writer

How did I know the story was working? I couldn’t read it through without crying. I’ve read it a hundred times by now and still, every time I cry. It was told from the heart.

Follow the Guidelines

The great thing about the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise is they have explicit and easy to understand guidelines.

I followed them exactly. They tell you what is and what is not a Chicken Soup story. From making sure to include all five senses, to telling the story in first person, I just went down the list and made sure my story had all of the elements.

I cut and pasted the story to their online form a couple of weeks before the deadline. They even tell you to submit early. Your story could be great but if they’ve already decided on several that share similar attributes, you may lose out.

Keep Writing

I submitted the story in late September for an October deadline. I kept working on essays, blog posts, author interviews, book reviews, etc. I submitted the first draft of my novel to a developmental editor. In other words, I didn’t sit around and wait to hear back.

The Chicken Soup website states that you will only hear back from them if your story has been selected. They don’t do rejections. If you don’t hear back from them 60 days before the on-sale date listed on the website, you probably haven’t been chosen. My on-sale date was March 17 so I noted January 17 on my calendar.

The Good News 

On December 9, or about eight weeks after submitting, I received an email saying “Congratulations, your story has made it to the final round.” The letter indicated that out of thousands of entries, they could only select 101. It cautioned that though most in the final round would make it into the book, a few wouldn’t. The email instructed me to fill out a release, submit a bio, etc. What did “final round” mean and when would I know for sure whether or not I’d be published in a book?

Email #2

On January 2, I received a second email with a PDF of my story asking me to review it and make edits before giving my final approval. It also said “you’ve made it to the final round.” At this point, I was still confused because I’d previously “made it to the final round” so I emailed back and asked the question–am I in or not?

They quickly replied that I had made it! But, they hadn’t yet notified everyone so they asked that I not publicize it until official notice came a few days later.

Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor copies arrive

The Fun Stuff

As a contributor, I found out that I would receive exclusive monthly newsletters with information on upcoming opportunities. They also encourage contributors to keep sending in their stories for other volumes. They celebrate those contributors with multiple stories.

I received several emails from their dedicated PR firm detailing how news releases were handled and providing ideas and encouragement on how to handle book signings, charity fundraisers through book sales, etc.

About two weeks before the on-sale date, I received my 10 free contributors copy and got to autograph my first book! Contributors are paid $200 per story via check about one month following the book’s release.

That payment will end this journey but I’ve already submitted my second story.

Chicken Soup for the Soul on the shelf at Barnes and Noble

I’m in a book, on a shelf, in Barnes and Noble!

 

The Steps to Publication in Chicken Soup for the Soul

Hmmmm, I think I’ve read those steps before…(duh, everywhere!)

I have nothing but praise for the Chicken Soup for the Soul folks. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it is a trusted and respected market for a very specific kind of story. They know what they do best and they treat their writers well.

Did I leave anything out? Ask me a question or share your success story in the comments. I’d love to hear about your experience with Chicken Soup or other publications.

 

 

 

 

5 Thoughts on “Soup to Nuts – How I Got My Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

  1. Hi Suzanne!
    What a great thing to do – write up tips. And more than that the time and energy you were willing to put into the rewrite of your story. Most people think writing is easy. Bang something out and send it off. I admire you for slogging through the process. Your story shines from all the polishing you did to and for it. Thank you for including me in your process. Congratulations on getting published. Wahoo!
    Ana

    • It’s Ana…the Chicken Soup Whisperer 🙂 It isn’t easy but it is rewarding and to quote some more famous writer…it isn’t exactly coal mining either! Thanks for reading and for all the help. It’s the generosity of other writers like you that have inspired me this year.

  2. Pingback: Autographed Books to Benefit Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) | Suzanne M. Brazil

  3. ksamudio on February 29, 2016 at 5:11 pm said:

    Ok, so obviously I am commenting on this older post, but since it was referenced in your latest one I went to it. What wonderful advice & tips for those of us starting our journey (and you have already been unfailingly supportive & generous) – and I love “tears in the writer” BTW. Now I need to read the story 🙂

    • I used the Chicken Soup piece to audition for Listen to Your Mother essay reading contest and could NOT get through it even once without crying, LOL. Thanks for chiming in and feel free to share/pass on any tips with your writing group. So excited for you on your journey and so many people have been so helpful to me, it’s humbling to think anything I share might be of use to someone else.

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Friday Favorites – A Few of My Favorite Blogs This Week

Elaine pushing Seinfeld

Here are a few of my favorite blogs of late…some good reading here folks!

First off, I have to mention The Palace at 2am – the website/blog of the uber talented Marly Youmans. Beautiful pictures, words, and a smattering of community. Plus, she wrote about ME on her blog. GET OUT!!!!!

Elaine pushing Seinfeld

I also adore Terribleminds.com – tough talking, straight shooting from Chuck Wendig and a whole bunch of other goodies masquerading as sweary rants of the best kind. I’d stumbled upon him last year but think my fragile newborn writer skin was too tender. Recently, a writer in the Women Writers, Women’s Books Facebook page posted a link. Better than ever. Terrible medicine that cures what ails you..whether it be writing or another pursuit.

Last but not least, I’d like to mention Kate Evans’ blog Writing Ourselves Well. She has thoughtful content and reaches out to other beginning writers.

Read a few, maybe leave a comment if  you see something you like. Feel free to mention you read about them here. It’s more personal that way and comments are “blogger currency” or so I’ve been told.

Until next week!

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