Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bend In The Road

Life is a tricky endeavor. Occasionally the way is smooth, sun-dappled, and edged with flowers. Other times the path twists and turns, hiding cockleburs, the occasional alligator-filled swamp, and most frightening all, the unknown. 

There are moments--call it moonlight madness or perfect clarity--when we bid farewell to the path of familiarity and brave the crocodiles. Standing on the cusp of that decision is exquisite and frightening. One considers what will be left behind and what dangers and adventures await around the bend
Follow your heart. Who knows where it may lead or what heartache and joy lies ahead. Only one thing is certain, it will grow you in ways you never imagined. With my book release, my self-perception changed. I have always been the Queen of Kindergarten (if you'd seen me you with a puppet and 25 enthralled youngsters, you'd be inclined to agree), but becoming a bonafide author changed more than just my Facebook status. 

Don't be afraid of change. It brings wonderful individuals and experiences into your life that you would not have known otherwise. Fingers crossed, hopes held high, and oh so many prayers sent heavenward, I am swapping out the public school setting for the charter school arena. I've never been more scared, excited, worried, and over-the-moon happy, at least not since the choice that brought me to kindergarten in the first place. 

Make your own happy. No path in life is always sunshine and roses, but you can to push through the storms until the sun shines again. I'm already mourning the friends, families, and community I'm leaving behind. But I can't allow myself to be swallowed up in what's behind and lose sight of the sunlight. Today I'm celebrating the friendships and successes I have known and making the most of the time I have left. With hugs, well-wishes, and friends cheering me on, I make my way around the bend. Soon enough, new friends and families will worm their way into my heart. 
* * *
The emotions related to overhauling my life will probably find a home in the next story, masked as the struggles of another character carving out a place in the world. Because writing from life is what we do. Thanks for all your kindness and support, my dears! The last year has beena peppered with bends in the road. To read more about them, follow the various links embedded in the post. And I'd love to hear about your adventures, leave me a comment! Here's to adventuring!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Socially Approved Stalking: The Ins & Outs of Followers

When Becoming Beauty was picked up by Cedar Fort, the marketing rep contacted and said, “So, I've noticed you only have 17 followers on Twitter...” He then proceeded to pass on some basic tips to increase my following. Now, I'm rolling past 4000 followers and I couldn't be more grateful for his guidance. Mostly, I'm grateful for slow steady growth and the opportunity to meet some amazing people. 
Let's assume you've already set up an attractive, welcoming, and error free blog/website, and profiles on social media sites. Once that's done, how do you get people to visit it? Welcome to my tips on Socially Approved Stalking!

The numbers game: Followers vs Following and choosing active, engaging people
Follow accounts that are about equal in Followers vs Following. Generally, those who follow few and have an overwhelming number of followers aren't interested in helping others. Next, check how regularly they post and what type of content they post. I always do a quick scan to see if they retweet and/or engage with others. If they don't, they won't change their game plan, no matter how amazing, witty, thoughtful, and moving your posts are. Make sense?

How do you discover people to followers? 
Hashtag city, baby! Searching hashtags is a fabulous way to discover like minded individuals. I use the  following hashtags to find new readers and writers to follow, but I discover more all the time:
Searching keywords like writer, author, and indie is another great way to connect with new people. My favorite source for generous followers are the weekly hashtag parties like #MondayBlogs, #ArchiveDay, #wwwblogs, and #SundayBlogShare. Granted, you must participate by posting fresh content regularly on your website/blog, using the hashtag, and sharing others' blog post links. They take time, but hashtag parties provide great exposure.

Personal Preferences
There are some accounts I won't follow. This includes anyone with obscenities in their profile or anyone who claims to be a writer or author but has grammatical or spelling errors in their profile. It's unprofessional and it tells me that your book/website will also be riddled with them. I also avoid anyone selling followers (since they are only interested in interacting with my money) and any account with uninteresting or obnoxious profiles (offensive picture, no picture, no description, or a description that sounds stupid or boring to me). FYI it's okay if you don't follow everyone back, if they like you, they'll stick around and engage with you and show you that they're worth following. I was totally that girl!

How do you keep followers?
I've pulled the Ms. Etiquette card before, but here's the recap: Engage with people! Be genuine and generous. Use your manners. If you can't say it in kindergarten, maybe you shouldn't say it online. And measure twice, cut once from high school wood shop can be reinterpreted as think it through and check it twice before you post. Keep it professional.

Finding unfollowers
I allow people a decent amount of time between following them and unfollowing if they haven't responded (i.e. engaged in the ever so polite Follow Back). Unless someone posts something truly offensive or obnoxious, I don't unfollow them if we're following each other. CrowdFire helps me track unfollowers and nonfollowers on Twitter and Instagram. It's free and just had a massive update so that it now provides even more information for its users. But, if you don't love it, there are plenty of other apps that will give you the same type of information. 

Will people be offended if I unfollow them?
If they're not following you or they post uninteresting or obnoxious things, why should you care? Drop the dead weight! And please, feel free to take whatever action you feel is appropriate (blocking, etc.). I regularly go through my list of followers and weed out the those who unfollow or never followed back. It's how the system works and increases your growth.

Like everything, you get out of it what you put into it. I'm a full time teacher, so I do what I can when I can and it works! For guidelines on following, friending, and trending on Instagram and Facebook, the lovely Raylynn Sleight has agreed to do a sister post. Please feel free to leave me a comment about any tips or big no-nos you've discovered. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sassy Pants

Everyone talks about crafting strong female characters who possess the perfect blend of strength, weakness, and that special something that makes them jump off the page. Well, I'm here to pass on a little secret. Are you ready? I'll give you an extra second to compose yourselves. Okay. Now? Here we go!

It ain't hard when you have plenty of sass yourself.
When you're the type of girl who naturally makes snarky comments, wears fancy footwear, and falls on Yell Leaders and/or other unsuspecting individuals, you're pretty much set. If natural borne sass is something you struggle with, I'm here to help you. Consider me your Sass Guru.

Being a Sassy Pants in Five Easy Steps:
1) Embrace your awesomeness. You can choose the label you tag onto yourself. Make it adorable, spunky, fun, and yes, awesome. Why not? If you believe it, others will see it. (Incidentally, unless it's your mother, others will not label you accordingly. Don't allow their opinions to flavor your self-perception.)
2) Dress the part. I'm sorry, but Crocks, sweatpants and/or mother jeans are not dressing the part. This isn't a 24-7 gig, but you do need to dress up in order to make an impression. Trust me, there will be time for Netflix and pajama pants in the off-hours.
3) Exude sassiness. Don't confuse sass with crass. Sassiness is a mix of cleverness, teasing, and cuteness that attracts people to you rather than driving them off. It is an invitation to spend more time with you rather than to duck and cover. (Also, in case you pass the line between crass and sass, learn to apologize appropriately.)
4) Stand your ground. You may be adorable, but you don't need to be anyone's doormat. Express yourself respectfully but firmly. (For instance, I will make you cookies in a ruffly, ruffly apron, but I will also tell you to please shush and go away if you're getting on my nerves.)
5) Learn to defend yourself. Whether it means taking a self-defense class or just watching Miss Congeniality repeatedly, learn to take care of yourself. That way if your snarky younger brother decides to kick you in the lady bits at Kmart, you too can deliver a sound jab to the jaw to remind him how to treat a lady.

Once you've uncovered your inner sass, pour it into your characters. Make them as quirky and lovable as you are. Not only will you be the strong female lead in your own life, but your characters will live and breathe.
* * *
Like to devour a bit more? Meet a few of my leading ladies in Woman: The Most Dangerous PlaythingArguing With MyselfHostile Makeover, Interlude in the Rose Garden, S'more Smoochin' Just a Taste. & Dealing With Divas. Enjoy the sass!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cringe Worthy

I'm the type of girl that makes odd comments during the dramatic moments of movies. Like when Matthew Macfadyen (aka Mr Darcy) walks across the mist cloaked plain with his coat billowing, I said, “Yeah...every guy needs one of those,” loud enough for the whole theater to hear. 
I'm the girl who thinks it's appropriate to say random crap in front of complete strangers. I've announced that, “unlike half the other girls, I'm not nursing,” in front of fifty people. Things sound so much better in my head.

I'm the girl who does embarrassing things in front of strangers. Once, I leaned too hard on a shopping cart handle, popped a massive wheelie, and ended up making a mad dash after a runaway cart in front of everyone waiting to check out. (Meh, the bread only got squished a little.)
It's all really great fodder for a writer like me, right? However, there is one horribly, embarrassing, terribly awful moment that's too bizarre to use. I may as well share it with you.
* * *
He was adorable, spunky and cute with a stocky build, quick grin, and dark brown eyes. Plus he was a Yell Leader. You know, the dude on the college cheerleading team who tosses the skinny-minnie girls around like rag dolls. (I may have been smitten by those girl-tossing biceps...maybe.)
I arrived early to class and chose a seat between my girl friend (on the left) and Mr Muscles (on the right). My friend was busy chatting with someone else, so I put my notes and multicolored pens in order and doodled until the professor's arrival.

So, there I was in my built-for-a-righty desk when my purple pen slipped out of my hand and landed between the aforementioned Yell Leader's feet. Dashing knights are meant to come to a lady's aid in moments of duress, right? I gave him a half-smile, just to be sure he would play his part. He was deep in conversation and made note of neither me nor the pen. There was nothing to do but take matters into my own hands. 

It was simply a matter of leaning sideways and reaching far enough to lay a finger on the purple pen. The plan was sound, eloquent, uncomplicated. 

Except I couldn't quite reach the pen. I tried again.

I reached a bit too far. All my weight was thrown onto the bar--you know, the one that attaches the chair to the desk. Quicker than you can say, "Sarah is a big, dumb, idiot," I lost contact with the carpet. Feet flailing, if I'd been in petticoats you'd have seen my granny panties airborne. I would have landed on the floor, desk and all, if something hadn't broken my fall. I looked up. A pair of dark brown eyes glared back. 

Meanwhile, my friend was on the other side, frantically trying to pull me upright. The desk and I remained firmly stuck in the Yell Leader's lap. I hazarded another look. Nope. He was not pleased. Luckily, he put that rage (and those muscles) to good use and popped me back up.

A southern belle would have made good use of such a moment. One hand on her brow and a drawled “My hero,” would have set everything right. (Given my overacting tendencies, everyone would have laughed it off.) Likewise, if he had been the romantic lead a girl dreams about, our little interlude might have been the beginning of something wonderful. “When we're seventy, I'll tell our great-grandchildren that this is when I fell in love.” He might have said that. But he didn't. 

Before I could say anything clever or sink into the ground like I wanted to, Mr Muscles saved me the trouble. “Next time,” he said coldly, “just ask.” The lesson was clear, ladies, nice boys are only flattered when you fall for them, not on them.  
* * * 
My advice, ladies and gentlemen? Keep record of your mortifying moments for posterity. Or whoever reads your blog. Or in case you need to humiliate a character. Good luck!

Like to read a bit more about my ridiculous life? Try Adventures in Kindergarten, I'm Too Old For...Panic City, Population: One, My Boyfriend, The BBC, or Geek Chic on for size! Thanks for stopping by, and as always, Happy reading!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Writer SuckFest 2015

It happened with Becoming Beauty even before it was Becoming Beauty and I'm fairly certain it's happened with all my other projects as well. As I struggle with feelings of doubt, I find myself asking: do established authors feel like this too? Was there a moment when Shakespeare thought Romeo and Juliet was drivel? Or a time when Jane Austen wanted to chuck Mr. Darcy and all the Bennets into the fire? I may be going out on a limb, but I'm guessing they dealt with the same issues I face as a writer.
In the past, I've arrived at the point where lighting a match to my work in progress seemed like the logical next step. It's in that moment when my finger hovers over the delete button that I have to assess what's really going on. 
Is it really trash? 
There is a learning curve after all. Some projects serve to make us better at our craft, but should NEVER be allowed to see the light of day. Like that Lumberjack/Werewolf meets Vampire/Actress romance I thought about writing. If the project is indeed crap, it's okay to give it up or use it solely as a writing exercise. 
Have I spent so long looking at it that I'm sick of it? 
Every product has a “sell by” date. When it hits that point, it's time to pass it on to someone else. Beta readers, writerly friends, proofreaders, and editors are there for that purpose. Though it makes me nervous, there's nothing more amazing than putting my story into someone else's hands. (And while they're at it, I relax, go shopping, catch a movie, or grab a sandwich and a frosty beverage. May as well enjoy myself while they're busy, right?)
Do I need a break? 
Instead of going all ninja assassin on my project, taking a breather and coming back to it with fresh eyes is a much better option. I keep a number of back-burner projects, amazing books, movies, and other entertainments on hand for this purpose. (Feel free to use my excuse for seeing movies, reading, and frequenting live theater: it's research, my friends!)
Has my story has gone off-course? 
This can happen to the best of writers. For those who plot out entire novels, the journey may fall flat. And for those like me who follow characters and plotlines to see where they lead, sometimes we hit a dead end. At that point plotsers and pantsers alike can hop right back in to do some substantial rewriting, ask someone for help, or yes, scrap the whole thing. (Seriously though, don't throw away anything. Just set it aside. You never know when that scene, plot twist, or quirky character will find a home in another chapter or another book. For instance, I'm dying to find a place for my sassy Vampire/Actress. Just not in a Vampire/Werewolf love story.)  
As writers, we have to remember that we have a story worth telling and we are capable of telling it.Yes, the SuckFest happens. Probably not to everyone and definitely not all the time, but it happens to me. When it does, I take a deep breath, figure out what's wrong, and move forward accordingly. Wallowing in my own suckiness never changes anything. At the end of the day, we all must remember that we may produce crap writing every now and then but we are NOT crap writers.

Writerly advice is on tap, my friends! Marketing for One, Please, Expect the Unexpected, Ms. Etiquette Makes an Appearance, Ready or Not, Author Envy. Happy reading and thanks for dropping by!