Friday, September 25th, 2009

Preparing for a Self-Directed Writer’s Retreat

I talked to the Baltimore Chapter of the Maryland Writer’s Association a few months ago about “Getting the Most out of a Writer’s Workshop.”

Much of what I talked about related to instructor-led workshops. But what about “self-directed” workshops or retreats? No agenda exists for them, not even a boilerplate one can subscribe to.

So, how do you prepare?

(Or do you toss preparation to perdition and ignore planning?) Maybe your idea of the perfect writing retreat is to grab your laptop and just sit down and write…?

You could do that.

I agree that taking that approach might result in extraordinary verbiage…but what will you have accomplished other than obtaining the writing equivalent of a high score?

I think if you take a more focused approach: get your writing affairs in order and make some goals, you’ll enjoy a more satisfying experience. That’s what I do.

I’m gearing up to go on retreat in October with my face-to-face critique group. I’ve no doubt I’ll spend some time with them while we’re away for the week (we haven’t discussed how much), but I believe we’ll be spending the bulk of our time away together…alone.  And I plan to use that time to target projects to get off my desk and submit to various markets. I’ve no doubt in doing so that I’ll manage satisfactory, if not a veritable high score, of word count along the way.

Discounting everything about the retreat except my writing (What should I take? What should I wear? What should I bring? Etc.) these are the things I’m doing to prepare:

1 – Cleaning Up My Writing Files – Both Paper and Electronic

I create a new electronic file for each article, story or chapter I’m working on almost every time I open it. There’s a reason for this: I might change something so drastically that “track changes” can’t revert. Keeping the old file allows me to do that. Or, the file may be corrupted as I carry it around on my thumb drive – I’ll have the previous file for retrieval.

Mostly, I maintain a separate file so that I can see how the word count grows each time I work on it. But those files tend to multiply rapidly…often in the wrong directory as I go from desktop to jump drive to laptop. They need some cleaning up.

My paper files aren’t so bad, but I have many projects running all the time: so there are lots of pieces floating around. Likewise, there are usually scraps of “story ideas” laying about: prints from science journals which caught my eye, something torn from a newspaper, lots of scribbled notes, etc.

I’ll be spending several hours putting it all away. And then I’ll be dusting off the desk and pushing the chair “just so” under it.

Why do this?

When I was younger and still lived with my parents, my Mom encouraged the family to clean the house top to bottom before we left for vacation. Everything had to be in its place: toys away, clothes washed and hung, floors vacuumed and swept. I hated it. We often cleaned until the minute we packed up the car to leave. Mom insisted there was no better feeling than coming home to a clean house to relax in after an exhausting vacation.

Mom was so right. (Are you reading this, Mom? You were right!)

When I get home from retreat, everything will be spic and span, files and research will be where I can find them, and my desk will be free of clutter to distract me from the writing momentum I hope to achieve while away.

2 – Evaluating Everything on my Writing Plate

My “writing plate” consists of everything I’ve ever started writing that hasn’t been sold yet. Big plate.

It includes the novel I’m shopping and the two novels I’m currently writing. It also includes a bunch of short stories that are languishing for whatever reason: plot holes, lack of market to send it to, forgotten about, not enough time to finish, etc. I also have some files of “vignettes” I started writing: scenes with wildly interesting characters or stories that petered out after the initial torrent of words spewed onto the page. Some are a mere sentence long; others, a few thousand words. And then, there’s the idea file: hundreds just laying there waiting to be written.

Lets not talk about non-fiction items.

I’m reviewing each article/fiction item/idea and evaluating what needs to be done to it in order for it to be marketable, and making a list of those items to work on while on retreat. There are several things I’m contemplating as I evaluate:

* How close is the piece to completion?
* If it’s complete, why is this piece still on the plate and not out making its rounds?
* What will it take to finish?
* Does it only need polishing? How long will that take?
* Does the item require more research before writing can continue?

Sadly, I have several stories that are finished and critiqued by my critique group. They only need the groups’ comments incorporated before sending out. These will be the top items on my list to complete.

(This would probably be a good time for me to make a “Master List” of all my files, along with notes of what needs to be done and how soon I think they can be completed. I should probably keep this kind of list up to date as I write…but I’m usually too busy writing to bother with the details… If I find time, I’ll probably do this while I’m evaluating.)

3 – Ranking the List

After reviewing all the items in my files, I’ll rank them in importance against my criteria (Should you feel compelled to try this insanely detailed system yourself, your criteria will likely be different, according to your goals). Items with the highest number of points at this stage will be put at the top of my list.

Below is my arbitrary point system. A story can meet multiple examples below and thus leap to the head of the pack with a very high score.

25 points Anything currently under a deadline, including self-imposed deadlines.
20 points All my completed, critiqued stories.
15 points Anything that’s almost done. Items that only need dedicated time at the computer to polish up.
15 points Any item in my “work in progress” directory that’s been there more than 12 months.
15 points Any non-fiction item – complete at 1500 words or less – for which the research is already done.
10 points Vignettes, story starters and scenes of 1000 words or more. (These may need additional evaluation later, to see if an actual story or plot emerges. For now, if I anticipate there may be time to work on any of these items while I’m gone, I’ll add them to the list.)
5 points Story ideas that might be worth tackling if there’s time.

Once everything is evaluated and ranked, I’ll return to my file cabinet and get any research or critiques which accompany the pieces and set them aside to take with me. Now will be a good time to make sure I pack any reference books I might need. (Of course I’ll take a good dictionary and thesaurus, but maybe my story set in ancient China will require me to pack the history book I was reading which inspired the tale…I’ll get that now and put it with the other items I plan to take.)

4 – Reviewing Market Lists (or: Modifying the Ranks)
There are many Web sites and newsletters which specialize in listing markets which are open to submissions. These are usually broken down by category, genre or closing date. I check several regularly: Ralan, Duotrope’s Digest, SpecFicWorld’s Market Database, to see if there are new or emerging markets than those I regularly submit to.

If any market looks interesting, I’ll review my list again and look for potential matches. I’ll add the points below to existing work and then re-rank the list, if necessary.

10 points Add to a story which might be a match for a market currently open to submissions.
15 points As above, if the market has a tight deadline.

The existence of an open market will allow me to focus even more on finishing an item.

5 – Making Sure All Completed Items are Out for Submission
While I’m doing all this record keeping, I’ll be updating my Submissions List: a spreadsheet of items I’ve got circulating to various markets. It’s an invaluable resource for me: I can see, among other things, what pieces are out and how long they’ve been at a particular market.

It’s also a nag.

A quick glance shows me which items have sat too long at particular markets, or (rats!) which pieces have been rejected – or whose rights have reverted back to me – and should have been submitted the day I got them back.

Ideally, those items shouldn’t have been left sitting, but sometimes I ignore the “business end” of being an author so that I can spend more time writing. So, before I leave, I’ll query, or resubmit, all those languishing items.

This isn’t a deal breaker. If I don’ manage to get this far, I’ll still go on retreat. But if I can manage it, all the better. How nice it would be to return not only to a clean desk, but a check in the mailbox!

So, that’s my plan. If I work hard enough before I go, I’ll have a roadmap for success (my weighted-list of projects to complete while I’m gone), a pristine work space to return to, and possibly an acceptance (or check!) in the mailbox as well.

As detailed as it sounds, I don’t intend to work the plan “no matter what.” Perhaps my muse will strike and I’ll work on (and one hopes, complete!) something new and exciting while I’m on retreat. If that happens, all the better. The prep work is still valuable…and puts me in the proper frame of mind for writing.

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Going on Retreat

Holy Cross Abbey GroundsI’m going on a writing retreat in October.

I got the confirmation card in the mail yesterday, reserving my room at the Holy Cross Abbey. All I need to do to firm up the reservation is send a postcard back, letting them know when I’ll be arriving. Will it be for dinner, or not?

I can’t wait to go. Two other members of my face-to-face critique group will be going as well. We’ll each have a private room, but we’ll be able to meet at any time to hold critique sessions (if we want). This is a retreat of our making, not one set up by the abbey, and we’ll be the ones to set the rules.

The only thing we’ll not be able to do is chat over dinner. Dinner at the abbey is a silent affair. No talking aloud. (In fact, this edict may mean no communication at all throughout the meal. I intend to find out: I’m going to use that time for studying how a silent meal is undertaken by monks…the experience will prove invaluable…for perhaps my next work-in-progress.)

Another thing I want to do is attend Vigils, a mass at 3:30 a.m. In fact, I’d like to spend an entire day attending all masses: Vigils, Lauds (7:00 a.m.), Mid-Day Prayer (2:00 p.m.) Vespers (5:30 p.m.) and Compline (7:00 p.m.) — just to have done it, of course. (Imagine the experience gained for writing!) But I think my writing will suffer…or at the very least, accomplishing my goals for the week may suffer.

My 2009 goals including finishing everything I had started. I believe it was around March that I realized I wouldn’t reach that goal…not while continuing to start several new projects this year. And although I’m already mulling over a piece I want to write once I arrive at the Abbey, I’m going to see how much of a dent I can put into my 2009 goals.

More about goals later. I’ve got a post card to fill out and return…and decisions to make: what shall I take? When shall I leave? What do I hope to accomplish?

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Do You Like Free Fiction?

Cover of Blood Soup by Kelly A. Harmon

I’m giving it away!

I’m holding two contests as part of the launch of my novella, Blood Soup, on September 8th. Here are the rules:

Contest 1 – Getting Viral on Twitter

1) Optional: Follow me on twitter: @kellyaharmon. You don’t have to follow me to win…but I hope you’ll consider doing so. Of course, following me on twitter means you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the start time of this contest…and the second contest, as soon as they start.

2) Tuesday morning (September 8th) I’ll tweet about the launch with the location of where to buy the book. Re-tweet the information with the hash #BloodSoup. Abbreviate if you have to, but don’t omit the hash or the link.

3) The first person to re-tweet with the required info wins a free e-copy of Blood Soup.  I’ll also give out free copies to the 25th, 50th, 100th…and the last person to re-tweet the information on Tuesday.

Periodically through the day, I’ll do a search on #BloodSoup to tally up the tweets. I’ll announce winners as they happen.

Contest 2 – A Chance to Win Additional Fiction

1) Buy a copy of Blood Soup.

2) Follow me on twitter: @kellyaharmon.

3) Wait for me to announce a page number, line, and location of a specific word in the line…and then email me and tell me what the word is. For example, I may tweet: “What is the 6th word on line 10 of page 27?”

If you’re the first person to let me know via email, I’ll send you a print (or electronic, if you prefer) copy of either Black Dragon, White Dragon or Triangulation: Dark Glass (your choice) …two anthologies which contain short fiction I’ve written. I plan to give away at least five winners…more if I’m able to do so.

Spread the word! I want to give away lots of fiction!

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

In a Frenzy!

Cover of

I’m reading a fantastic book (a novella) by Carole Johnstone right now and I wanted to share. It’s called, Frenzy, and I can’t put it down. I plan to have a little Q&A with the author when I’m done, so look for that soon! Here’s the information:

Frenzy

Caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea…

Eight men wake up to find themselves on a life raft in the middle of an ocean. They are stranded and alone, with no memory of how they got there, and no idea if help is coming.

But they are not completely alone. As hours become days, as water rations dwindle and tempers fray, there stirs a threat more deadly than either sharks or each other.

There is a shadow in the abyss beneath their feet. Watching. Waiting. Stalking eight men lost and adrift above the deepest trench in the world…

Available in e-book format from Eternal Press
Available in print paperback from Amazon
ISBN: e-book: 978-1-926704-38-8; print: 978-1-926704-46-3
Visit the author’s website

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Murder, Betrayal, Comeuppance…

Cover of Blood Soup by Kelly A. Harmon Murder, Betrayal, Comeuppance…

That’s the tagline for my novella, Blood Soup, available from Eternal Press on September 7. The “Coming Soon” announcements page has recently been posted. You can see it here.

Blood Soup will also be available in print via Amazon, about three weeks after the electronic version.

Do you tweet? Do you like FREE fiction?
I’ll be running two twitter contests related to the book, both on September 7th:

First: The 25th and 50th person to re-tweet my announcement on the 7th will win an electronic copy of Blood Soup.

Second: Anyone who buys Blood Soup will also have the opportunity to win print versions of Triangulation: Dark Glass and Black Dragon, White Dragon (two anthologies that some of my other work appears in) just by tweeting specific information from Blood Soup. For instance, I’ll tweet: What’s the last word on line 4 of page 22? Give the correct answer and you may win a book. I’ll give away up to five print versions of these books. More details to come closer to the launch date. In the meantime, you may want to follow me on twitter: @kellyaharmon.

Excerpt from Blood Soup:

Theodicar looked down at the mewling infant in his arms, and felt the anger rise up. Even in death his wife defied him, the nurse ensuring her success. Women did not rule. He would not allow it. They had created a male child, and that child would take the throne upon his death. “You can save the boy,” he said to Salvagia.

She slitted her eyes at him, her stare mutinous. Her words were loud and hard in the wake of Pia’s death. “I have the power to save one at the expense of the other, Sire. The girl is stronger. And eldest. She was born to rule.”

Theodicar watched the girl curl up in his arms, her birth fluids staining a brown patch on the dyed-yellow wool of his tunic. She burrowed into the crook of his elbow, trying to achieve the comfort of the womb.

“I will not hear those words again,” he said. “That absurd idea died with my wife. My son will rule.” He reached for the boy, thrusting the girl child back into the nurse’s hands. “There’s no need for a daughter. And no need for anyone to know of her.”

“So be it,” Salvagia said, wrapping the weary girl in a square of wool, covering her face. She reached for her basket.

“Kill her now,” said Theodicar.

Salvagia looked stricken.

“Sire, if we kill her now, she will be of no use to her brother. Once dead, the blood won’t flow, and we need her blood to strengthen his.

“Then drain her now,” he snapped. “I will not have her crying out when we call the witnesses back to cut the boy’s cord.”

She paled, but nodded, and grabbed the necessary implements from her basket. She did the job quickly, tears streaming down her face. To keep it warm, Salvagia set the flask of blood in the ashes at the edge of the hearth. Then she wrapped the tiny body in linen and shoved it deep into her basket.

“Your life is forfeit if you speak a word of this to anyone,” Theodicar said. “Do you understand?” She nodded, pushing the basket out of view.

He sat down in his chair. “Call the witnesses back. We’ll sever the cord in their presence to prove the succession. Wipe those tears,” he said.

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I Got My Copy…Do You Have Yours?

Cover of Triangulation: Dark Glass Anthology
I got it!

I received my contributor copy of Triangulation: Dark Glass  in the mail yesterday. The cover is even more powerful up close and in person. It’s smooth and slick and the colors are a rich, deep, gorgeous darkness…I feel like I could step right into it and ask the guy if I can have a look-see through his spyglass.

Just so you know, Triangulation: Dark Glass  is the 2009 edition of PARSEC Ink’s internationally acclaimed anthology series… I’m thrilled to have snagged a place in the line-up: only sixteen tales were chosen out of more than 500.

I’ve been reading the stories, right from the beginning…and I have to say…they’re really good.

(I haven’t gotten to my own yet…so I’m not bragging. Mom taught me not to brag.) But the rest of these tales? Really good so far.

Had you been at Confluence last weekend, you could have picked up a copy (they were printed especially for the Conference). But you can order yourself a copy on line if you’re still interested.



In Other Writing News…
I heard from my editor about a non-fiction piece I wrote on critique groups for a “how to write” book. The book is ready for print. A bio from me and the other contributors, some links to on-line resources for the chapters, and they’re ready to go… I’m excited about that one, too. I’ll put up the cover when it’s available.

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Cover Story!

I received the final artwork for my novella, Blood Soup today! It will be available September 7, 2009 – just in time to start thinking about the Halloween rush. (I think that’s why the cover is a tad more “horror” looking than “dark fantasy”… Still, isn’t it fabulous?


Cover Art for Novella: Blood Soup

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Preditors & EditorsTM Needs Your Help

Preditors and Editors LogoFor 12 years, the people behind Preditors and EditorsTM have made the world a little safer for authors, composers, game designers and artists by pointing out scam publishers, agents, and others who seek to make money off of them.

The Preditors & EditorsTM Web site is jammed with information about “not recommended” agents and publishing houses and warnings of other kinds.

It’s also replete with information on agents and attorneys, book publishers and stores, conventions and workshops and all kinds of resources for creative types.

And it’s all FREE.

Often, when an agent or publishing house is reported by P&E as “not recommended” or outright scamming, the offender slinks away in the middle of the night. Not this time, and P&E is being sued.

I’ve donated. Buddy, if you can spare some change, please donateTM to the cause. And if you haven’t looked over the resources at the Preditors & EditorsTM Web site, you really should.

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Cover Story

I would have posted this last night when I received it, but it just got to be too late. Check out this awesome cover for the Triangulation: Dark Glass  anthology, coming out July 26, in which my story On the Path,  appears.


Cover of the Triangulation: Dark Class Anthology

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Extremes

On one end of the spectrum…

I finished the edits today for Blood Soup….hundreds of edits and comments and commas (mostly commas)…most of which I agreed to; and some, I’m not adverse to changing…but I’d like more info from the editor. I just didn’t understand the changes she made.

This means I’ll probably have “round 2” edits to work through. No worries.

This editor has caught a number of issues that both my beta reader, my critique group, and a different editor all missed. She’s good. And everything she’s pointing out is going to make the piece tighter and stronger.

At the other end of the spectrum…

I received an email late tonight from the editor of the Triangulation: Dark Glass  anthology in which my story, On the Path,  is being published July 26. This was my editing document: an email. His changes: two sentences. That’s it.

And he complemented me for doing all the hard work already. Pete Butler, you’re one classy editor.