Monthly Archives: May 2015

A Whole Lot of Being Nice – Ask Alice Saturday

Question: What does it take to get the most out of a writers’ conference?

 Answer: “What it takes is a whole lot of being nice.”

Hug imageI put that response in quotation marks because I heard those words from another author. Sabrina Jeffries giving an uplifting talk at – you guessed it – a writers’ conference.

Summer is conference time. Small retreats and huge gatherings punctuate June through August for many writers. Civilians – as in non-writers – are off to the shore or the mountains or the campsite. But we pack up our notebooks and our hopes and head for a convocation of scribes.

What most of us are hoping is that we’ll find the key to getting our work published or better published. I say that isn’t the most important thing we find at these gatherings whether they take place in a grand hotel or a modest cabin or anywhere in between.

The most important thing we find is each other. We make the most of a writers’ conference by maximizing that discovery. We writers are our own most natural allies. Why is that so true? It’s true because we understand one another from the inside.

We understand what it’s like to labor in the formidable publishing marketplace. We understand what it’s like to struggle toward getting our work published and keeping it published. We know how it feels to suffer rejection and disappointment. We also know how it feels to experience the joy of our accomplishments whether they’re large or small.

We also understand we need support in these hard struggles we’ve chosen. We understand that because we need the same support ourselves. With this understanding comes an obligation. Our obligation is to reach out and give what is needed – a little bit of niceness to our writer friends.

All it takes is a few words in a few sentences of encouragement and kindness. Over the several days or even the single weekend of a conference these few words at a time will add up to what Sabrina inspires us toward – a whole lot of being nice.

Our need to succeed tells us to be nice to the max to the agents and editors and instructors we line up for to pitch our projects or sit in front of taking notes. We long to recruit them to become our allies on the inside of the publishing world. In the meantime let’s not forget the allies we already have on the inside of the writing world.

Give what you can. A word of advice or a commiserating ear or a shared laugh – and definitely a hug. As you scurry from class to class or from appointment to appointment take a moment to touch another writer ally with your own whole lot of being nice. I guarantee you will experience a whole lot of feeling good in return.

RR

P.S. My biggest writers’ gathering gig this summer will be teaching a course titled How to Stop Shooting Career in the Foot. Six sessions of sharing everything I know about how to get out of your own way and get what you need out of writing and publishing. That happens July 24th through 31st at the International Women’s Writing Guild 38th Annual Summer Conference in Litchfield CT. For more information visit www.iwwg.org.

RR

My next novel is A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – Mark & Hailey’s Story. Launching with summer on June 22nd at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 13th novel and I couldn’t have done it without a whole lot of being nice from my author allies. Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com.

 

Ryder Rides On

Ryder Syvertsen cover imageMemorial Day is for remembering and on Saturday we remembered an author friend of ours – Ryder Syvertsen who wrote most of his books as Ryder Stacy.

We gathered at a Brooklyn Heights brownstone church in the reception area quaintly referred to as the undercroft. Ryder would have had a witty wisecrack to make about that word. Possibly something to do with the region of the afterlife he expected to inhabit. Ryder was a witty guy. Smart and verbal so his humor was always crackling and on point with a cynical edge that managed to be free of malice – at least of the personal kind.

I can’t imagine Ryder in a church but I can imagine him in Brooklyn where he spent some of his best years. I can imagine him in other contexts too because he was four months older than I am. We grew up in the same times. Though he lived his most formative teen years in Greenwich Village while I was in Northern New York – in a town much like Riverton in the series I’m writing – wishing I could get to Greenwich Village.

Ryder wrote series too. His best known as Ryder Stacy is The Doomsday Warrior Series. Survivalist Science Fiction “set in a Ruined Earth America” his obit says. Ryder died on February 28th after a protracted illness. He wasn’t well enough long enough to catch the indie publishing wave now roaring like a tsunami through the book world. But I can imagine him here with us. Ranting for out with the old and in with the new. And letting his freak flag fly.

Ryder did have a freak flay and a party-down soul too. I knew him mostly from writers’ group parties where he claimed to come because they were “the cheapest drunk in town.” I always understood that he was really there – as we all were – to be among our tribe. The tribe of storytellers that began when language began around campfires where we told our tales in exchange for a shank of whatever might be roasting in the flames.

Ryder wrote in that longstanding noble tradition. So do I. So very possibly do you. Sometimes supper isn’t easy to come by. Ryder struggled with wife Paige Lewis through some lean years. Many of us can identify with that. Ryder isn’t struggling any more. But his tales are still being told. Search for Ryder Stacy or Ryder Syvertsen on amazon.com and you’ll find his stories there.

Buy a book or several. I believe that’s the memorial Ryder would love best. Maybe he’s loving it right now from the place of wild imagining and raucous parties and writing tribe companions where he is bound to be.

RR

 My own latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 12th novel and Ryder would definitely want me to be telling you about it here as I tell you about him.  Alice Orr –

 

Do Everything Right – A Writer’s Business Plan Step 2 – Orr What? Wednesday

Excellence imageLast week I talked about A Writer’s Business Plan – Step 1. That step was basically this. You have to work your you-know-what off. I told a story of a top achievement moment for me and how I got there. You guessed it. I worked my you-know-what off. That’s a tough standard to maintain but the writing career route isn’t an easy trip.

Step 2 is equally tough and demanding. In order for you to succeed your Writer’s Business Plan must be built around excellence. To be more specific – you have to do every right. I understand nobody can actually do everything right. But you must make Doing Everything Right your goal and come as close as you can to achieving it.

This is most difficult with the challenges that scare us. When I started out as a literary agent the thing that scared me most was lunches with editors. A lot of my work for my clients was done in Manhattan restaurants at a narrow table with an editor from a New York City publishing house. I’d been one of those editors myself for a while but this was completely different.

I remember walking to my first editor lunch date as an agent. I was so frightened I didn’t know how I’d be able to eat because my stomach was in my throat crowded flat up against my heart. I kept telling myself one thing over and over again. “Don’t order anything that will fall off your fork.” No peas. No pasta that requires twirling. Nothing with lots of parts and sloppy sauce.

As it turned out I needed more preparation than that. I made it through the lunch hour mostly because the editor was a gracious soul. She recognized I was floundering and helped me along. “Tell me about some of the writers you represent,” she said. She’d kindly introduced the subject I should have introduced myself. I’m still grateful to her for that.

I never went unprepared to a professional lunch again. I made an advance plan for each one. I researched the editor and what she published. I made a list of specific clients and projects that would interest her. I memorized that list and how I’d pitch each project. I arrived at the restaurant early then kept my list out of sight and put on my brightest smile.

I didn’t bring up business until the after-the-meal coffee was being served. I didn’t take notes but I listened carefully. After our goodbyes I dashed to the nearest coffee shop and wrote down everything she’d said. Back at my office I accessed the client project most perfect for that editor and emailed it to her. Next day I messengered a backup hard copy as well.

I’d discovered the three stages of doing everything right. Stage 1 – Do your research. Come up with an action plan and a specific strategy for executing that plan. Stage 2 – When your boots are on the ground and the job has to be done follow your plan. But be flexible enough to detour when surprise opportunities arise. Stage 3 – Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.

A Writer’s Business Plan stages read like this. Stage 1 – Research your story. Plan your story. Pantsters will do less of this. Stage 2 – Put your you-know-what in a chair and work it off writing every day. Stage 3 – Get your story out there. Submit to traditional agents and editors. Or to your own hired editor who will make your story the best it can be before you indie publish it.

Fill out your own individual details for each of these stages. By the way – no negative thinking is allowed. You absolutely can do this. You’re already on your way to doing everything as right as you possibly can. And when you go to lunch with an editor let me offer a word of advice. If you’re doing everything right you won’t have time to eat.

RR

My current novel is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – available at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. Next is A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – launching with summer on June 22nd. These are my 12th and 13th novels and I’m trying to do everything right with both of them.  Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com

 

Why I’m Counting Down to Summer – Riverton Road Monday

A Year of Summer Shadows - Final Cover -JPG file smallIt’s all about the learning curve – or at least a lot of it is about the learning curve. And independent publishing has a steep one. In fact getting my own books out there is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

A Wrong Way Home is out there in the world right now. I needed my ice axe for scaling that mountain because it was almost vertical and sometimes I felt cold and alone and desperate for a toehold. I slipped – meaning I made mistakes. So many that I’m releasing a revised version later this year. But it will still be Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series – Book #1.

A big thing I learned on this curve climb is that it’s a good idea to write a series. Current wisdom is that readers love reading a series. What’s most important to me is that I love writing a series. I live in Riverton as surely as my characters do. When the Kalli family sits down to dinner I’m right there with them putting my two cents into the conversation then writing it down.

Book #2 – A Year of Summer Shadows – was even more fun to write. I’m hooked deeper in than ever. I want to order a scone at Ginny’s Coffee Corner. I want to stroll around the Promenade in the July sun. But most of all I want to save these people I’ve grown to care so much about from the dangerous force that murders Finley Yates in the Prologue and is hell-bent to kill others too.

Plus there’s Mark and Hailey’s love story. I’m reminded of an old song. “If you don’t believe I love you look at the fool I’ve been. If you don’t think I’m sinking look at the hole I’m in.” These two could sing those lines to each other on every page. Or we could sing those lines for them as we wonder how they can possibly get as together as we want them to be.

Now I’m wondering how I’ll stand the wait until June 22nd. That’s a big day for me. A Year of Summer Shadows launches – along with summer on June 22nd. I’ve got a lot more climbing up that steep learning curve before then. The most precarious part is getting the word out that this launch is happening. The first step on that path is telling you about it here.

I’ll edge out further onto a perilous perch and ask if you’d like me to send you an Advance Reading Copy so you can review the story on Amazon and Goodreads. Wow! Am I in danger of falling off this mountain Orr what? If you’re interested just email me your regular/ground mailing address at aliceorrbooks@gmail.com. I’ll send you the print version and sign it too.

I’m suddenly feeling a bit oxygen deprived from the altitude and I need to save my breath for counting down. One day. Two days. Three days. Before I know it June 22nd will dawn. It will be the second morning of summer and the first day A Year of Summer Shadows steps all the way off the ledge into the world. I’ll be there. I hope you will too. Mark your calendar please.

RR

Forgive me for mentioning one more time that my next story is A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – Mark & Hailey’s Story. Launching with summer on June 22nd at amazon.com/author/aliceorr and on other digital platforms too. This is my lucky 13th novel.  Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com

 

How I Escaped Chapter 29 – Ask Alice Saturday

Question: What can I do when my story gets stuck?

Alice & Jonathan Wedding Day Answer: I’ll tell you what I did. It happened in Chapter 29 of A Wrong Way Home. I was in trouble. This was the first book in a series and if I couldn’t make this story work I couldn’t make the story work. Still I was worse than stuck. I didn’t want anything more to do with Chapter 29.

The demon in my head even suggested I didn’t want anything more to do with the whole damned thing. The book – the series – all of it. I’d come all this way. I’d written 28 chapters but it was simply getting too hard. That was the theme of my whining anyway. So I tripped into something I do too easily – the avoidance dance.

I decided our bedroom must be rearranged. Heavy furniture needed moving so I recruited my husband. He had no idea I was really avoiding Chapter 29. An important step in the dance is not to tell anyone you’re doing it. After 42 years together my husband knows it’s sometimes better just to go along with things so he hefted the heavy stuff.

[That’s us on our hippie wedding day all those years ago. We weren’t moving furniture or avoiding because we were too busy dancing.]

Back to my story. The bedroom did look better and I gave hubby a hug and loads of gratitude. But Chapter 29 still loomed large on my laptop. I needed another detour. As I gazed around our newly imagined bedroom it occurred to me that we needed to be better entertained there too. Behave. I hear your sniggers. For once I’m not talking about sex.

I decided we couldn’t survive without Amazon Prime on the bedroom TV. Again I enlisted my husband as unwitting accomplice. He was more enthusiastic about this project than he’d been about moving furniture. The prospect of binge watching Ray Donovan all weekend lured him in. He took over the lengthy signup process I dread then binged away.

Unfortunately Monday arrived and Chapter 29 still lurked. I did my best to avoid my laptop. But I was beginning to feel some shame. I needed a truly justifiable diversion this time so I decided to pay the bills. There’s usually nothing I hate as much as the tedium of bill paying. Apparently I hated Chapter 29 more.

Monday turned to Tuesday but not before I developed a convenient cough in between. I told myself I had a summer cold coming on. It was August at the time. My grandmother used to say “There’s nothing worse than a summer cold” and Grandma never lied. So I downed a couple of pills that put my brain in a fog and that took care of Tuesday.

The next morning inevitably dawned and it was just as inevitably Wednesday. Hump Day. The day I had to get over the hump of Chapter 29 or give up altogether. Would the previous 28 chapters ever forgive me if I gave up? Would I forgive myself? Then I remembered that the most important writing exercise is to put your butt in the chair. So I did that.

I opened Chapter 29 and there he was – Matt Kalli – the hero even I’m in love with in A Wrong Way Home. Matt knew I’d been gone but he was only partly happy to see me back. “You have to make something happen here,” he said. “Something that kicks up more trouble between me and Kara.” She’s the heroine I also love in this story.

Suddenly the solution popped into my head. Secrets and Lies. My two favorite plot thickeners are also wonderful story movers. Have somebody keep a secret or tell a lie and the story suddenly gathers new momentum. I needed to plant a lie and a secret here. I went back to the end of Chapter 28 and started planting.

Kara finds out that Matt hasn’t told her something crucial – a lie of omission. But she’s not going to tell him she’s found out – a secret. Matt is worried about where she is at the beginning of Chapter 29. When she shows up she’s boiling angry and won’t tell him why. Kara knows why she’s red-hot mad. We readers know why. Matt has no clue.

This creates tension and drama and a “What will happen next?” feeling. That question and the suspense that come with it carry us all out of Chapter 29 at last. I’m so relieved I can’t help but have a mischievous thought. I even say it out loud. “What if all this red-hot anger in Chapter 29 turns into red-hot lovemaking in Chapter 30?”

Voila! The story is unstuck. And so am I.

RR

 I’m Alice Orr – author of 12 novels, 2 novellas, a memoir and No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells – soon to be updated and on sale online. I’m also a former book editor and literary agent. Now I live my dream of writing full-time. Plus I present workshops on writing for publication and/or pleasure. I have 2 grown children and 2 perfect grandchildren and live with my husband Jonathan in New York City. Occasionally we partner each other in the avoidance dance. This is us on our wedding day over 42 years ago – just dancing.

Find my books at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. Email me at aliceorrbooks@gmail.com. Visit my website www.aliceorrbooks.com. Regular mail me at P.O. Box 6224 – Long Island City NY 11106. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Writer’s Business Plan Step #1 – Orr What? Wednesdays

Hard Working Woman imageWhen I started the literary agency that was my last profession before becoming a full-time writer – somebody told me I had to have a Business Plan.

I wrestled with that for a long time. I read books on business plans. I did internet research. The suggestions I found all felt too dry and bloodless for what I was embarking upon. I was beginning an adventure.

So I settled on a single sentence. “Let’s see how far I can go.” I still stand by that sentence. But my experience of running a successful agency taught me this. There’s more to getting where you want to go than that one thing.

Now I’ve leapt into a new professional adventure and I need a new Business Plan. I look back on my former experience and ask myself this question. “What was my finest moment and what made that moment happen?”

The moment memory comes easily. A scene at a national writers’ conference. I’m hosting a client dinner at the top of the conference hotel. Solid windows all around and a revolving floor. The wait staff know it’s to be an evening of endless champagne. We’re celebrating 24 clients nominated for national awards.

I look around at everybody laughing and chatting and ask myself this question. “How can it possibly get better than this?” That was an apex of accomplishment for me. What made it happen? One answer to that shouts out loud and clear. I worked my you-know-what off.

This answer transfers seamlessly to my current adventure as not only a full-time writer but a full-time independently published author too. This is possibly the fullest plate I’ve faced in all of my working life. I’m an entrepreneur again.

How did I manage that so well in my agent days? To some degree I made it up as I went along the same way I make up stories now. Some up-front planning. Then I stay flexible and take advantage of inspiration and opportunities when they come my way.

I also studied everything I could find about the publishing business. Now I study book marketing. I feel close to overwhelmed sometimes by how much there is to learn. But I keep on studying anyway. Plus I try new things and use my ingenuity.

I succeed sometimes. Other times I fall short.  A Japanese proverb tells us to Fall down seven times – Get up eight. I’m far past those numbers now but I keep on falling down and getting up again. I pray I can continue to do that.

All of which amounts to Step #1 of the Writer’s Business Plan. We work our you-know-whats off.

RR

My current novel is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – available at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. Next is A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – launching with summer on June 22nd. These are my 12th and 13th novels and I worked my you-know-what off on both of them. Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com

 

Plots Thicken in Mom’s Kitchen – Riverton Road Monday

Bad Mom imageMaybe this is a backhanded way to celebrate post-Mother’s Day. But I can’t help pointing out what great story complications can grow from the seeds of mother-child relationships.

In my workshops on writing mystery and suspense I often mention that there’d be far fewer fictional serial killers if it weren’t for fictional mothers screwing up their sons. Not at all fair to real life mom’s but we’re talking about make believe mom’s.

My favorite example is the super crazy and super delusional villain of Thomas Harris’s The Red Dragon. I don’t believe a writer must provide readers with a reason to like or even sympathize with an evil character. I do believe the writer must give us a way to understand the character.

A brief flashback scene does exactly that in The Red Dragon. A scene in a pantry between then young Francis Dolarhyde and his mother. The details are too gruesome to recount here. I will say that after reading this scene we recognize the genesis of the monster adult Francis to come.

The mothers in my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series are nothing like the Red Dragon mom. But they generate story complications anyway. That’s the role of secondary characters. To complicate plot and add more obstacles the main characters must climb over to succeed.

In the first book of my series A Wrong Way Home the heroine Kara’s mother is no longer around. Still she remains a stumbling block from the past that intensifies Kara’s struggle to come to grips with the present.

The hero Matt’s mother Angela is a continuing character. She’s the matriarch of the Kalli family at the center of the series. I want readers to be drawn to her and empathize with her. But if she’s totally likable she won’t work for the story in terms of causing conflict for other characters.

Angela is a strong woman – mostly in ways we admire and her son loves her dearly. On the other hand – in a past incident he knows nothing about – Angela overstepped a boundary she should have respected. Matt and Kara are now paying the price of his mother’s intrusiveness.

BUT – the story is stronger because of it. More conflicted. More complicated. Creating more trouble for the characters we care most about. Thank heaven for conflict/complication/struggle producing mama’s.  (Find A Wrong Way Home at www.amazon.com/author/aliceorr.)

And wait until you see the plot twists two of these mothers come up with in Book 2.

RR

 A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – Mark & Hailey’s Story. Launches with summer on June 22nd at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 13th novel and there are moms thickening the plot for sure. Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com

 

How to Be Kind to Your Author Self – Ask Alice Saturday

Question: How can I take better care of myself as a writer?

Kindness imageAnswer: You can be kind to yourself as a writer by changing your attitude about the hard times in your career.

You can and will make it through whatever hard times you may have in your writing career. You can make it because you have the skills and resources you need to do that. You will make it because that’s your only choice if your passion is to write and bring your writing to the world.

Your first step is to fight back fear. You must struggle against fear as relentlessly as the heroines of your stories struggle against the obstacles they confront in their journey to survive and go on to thrive in the end. Will yourself through the scary places.

Every morning say to yourself – “I will not be afraid today.” “I refuse to let anxiety infest my spirit today.”

Fight back fear by changing your thinking about now and the future – about today and tomorrow – especially in terms of your goals for yourself. Stop thinking about your goal as far away. Stop thinking of your progress as painfully slow.

That kind of thinking ends in discouragement and drains your hope. You lose what Ralph Waldo Emerson called The Power of Enthusiasm. Never let go of your Powerful Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the energy you need to fuel you through testing times.

Get your psyche on your side. See your goal as right here with you today. See yourself as progressing toward that goal today. If you see any progress at all – even a small step – then this is a successful day. A day when you’ve made progress toward your goal.

Do this every day. One day at a time. Set a goal for each day. Know what you want to accomplish that day. Make sure it’s a realistic goal. Don’t defeat yourself before you start by filling your plate impossibly full.

If you want your psyche on your side make sure your To Do List is on your side. Beware the tyranny of the To Do List. It’s the monster you create for yourself all by yourself.

Set a reasonable realistic self-sensitive goal. Pursue that goal that day deliberately – with intention without anxiety or rushing. Haste really does make waste. It wastes your ability to experience your achievements and savor them as they happen.

Do each day intentionally and well. Think of each day as a jewel on the thread of your career. Place it artfully and never underestimate its worth. Most important – never forget to admire its beauty.

RR

My next story is A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – Mark & Hailey’s Story. Available May 15th at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 13th novel and I was kind to my author self the entire time I was writing it.  Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com

A Kick-in-the-Butt Starter – Orr What? Wednesday

Kick in the Butt imageI haven’t been blogging much lately and here’s why. I didn’t get off my butt to do it. I was indulging myself. I needed a Kick (in the Butt) Start but I wasn’t in a kicking frame of mind.

Often when I’m doing nothing I read how-to books to create the impression I’m doing something. I finish a few chapters then they languish on my bookshelves – these days on my Kindle Book Shelf.

So I began reading How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn. The title appealed for two reasons. First I need to market my new books successfully. Second I doubt I’ll be able to market my new books successfully.

I was looking for specifics from Joanna. Social media tips. Email list building ideas. That kind of thing. I didn’t think I needed her to mess with my psyche. I didn’t want her to mess with my psyche. Consequently that’s exactly what she did.

She began by snooping around in how I spend my time. I was sure I could ace that one because – even in slough-off periods like lately – I’m a hard worker. I was about to skip time management altogether when I remembered the mantra I press on everybody else to Do It Anyway and did it.

How do I spend my time now Joanna asks? Easy question. I listed my activities plus some ways to do more. When is my most creative time? Easy peasy again. Mornings. Where do I want to be in five years? I had some fantasy fun with that one.

Finally – What would I be willing to give up to make time for writing and marketing activities? I’m not going to sell the TV but I can do social media while it’s on. Then it occurred to me to modify the question. How do I indulge myself in ways I could give up to make more time?

Especially how do I indulge myself mentally? I’m going to be very honest as I answer this question here publicly. I hope I encourage you to be equally honest when you answer this question wherever you are privately.

  1. I indulge in brooding. Mostly about things I can’t possibly change. Like other people.
  2. I indulge in worry. Mostly about what’s already happened and thus also can’t be changed.
  3. I indulge in self-doubt. Mostly about what I fear I can’t do but haven’t yet tried.
  4. I indulge in anger. Toward too many irreducible targets to list.

My indulgences occur in chunks of effort and in sporadic moments. Each one is a time waster. How much productive potential would I recoup if I quit them all? There’s a kick-in-the-butt question. Or maybe it’s a kick in the head that I really need. Come on over Joanna. I’m ready.

RR

My next story is A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – Mark & Hailey’s Story. Launching with summer on June 22nd at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 13th novel and it’s a kick-in-the-butt story for sure. Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com.