Author Spotlight: DIANA DUFF

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The genius of Diana Duff’s writing is its elegant simplicity. “It seems such a strange thing to be doing, I thought, however ordinary the surroundings: waiting in a coffee shop in Oxford Street with the London traffic roaring outside, for my mother, whom I would not recognize when she finally arrived.”

With a path that led her from South Africa to Ireland, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, Ms. Duff’s page-turner memoir, Leaves from the Fig Tree reads more like an adventure novel, submerging us in the vastly different worlds she has known with a story of isolation, travel, rebellion, love, and freedom.

At age 2, she was transported from South Africa to her family’s historic estate in rural Ireland, County Cork, in a Victorian estate called Annesgrove (originally Ballyhimmock), built in the 1700s.

A descendant of the brother of the Earl of Annesley, Diana’s pedigree isolated her as a child within the rigid confines of Victorian life in rural Ireland, with no siblings or other companions except a series of ill-equipped governesses, juxtaposed with the expansive freedom and wild magic of the Africa that called to her again and again.

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I talked with Diana from her home in Johannesburg about her story and her writing path:

You were quite the globe-trotter! You went to Kenya from Ireland at age 18, then stayed in Kenya and Tanzania until you were 30, when you went to South Africa. What do you remember most about Africa in your early days there? There was a freedom there that allowed people to live an eccentric way of life doing their own thing. During that time, it was not a very structured society, and it was a fantastic place to live. People were really individuals, they didn’t try to fit into any social system or way of behavior, and they didn’t need to. Kenya was my freedom.

How did living in the midst of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya impact your view of the world? I was so young, I didn’t really appreciate the dangers. But we certainly lived in the middle of it all.

In thinking about writing mechanics, is there one thing that you consistently see writers getting wrong? Nowadays there is a tendency to overdo the shock tactics, and maybe that’s required the way the world is now. It seems that authors feel pressured to write about sensationalist topics rather than writing what they feel strongly about, what moves them. And those books aren’t like art and it’s less of a pleasure to read them. In Isak Dineson’s Out of Africa, for example, you can really see the people, you can feel them.

Which is your preference for the books you read – fiction or nonfiction? What are you reading currently? Though I read mostly fiction now, I’m also reading Heat by Ranulph Fiennes and The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner.

Since you’ve seen so much of our world, what do you think is most different about it now compared with when you were younger? Politics, power and money seem to be the ruling factors today. A drive towards material wealth takes all the color out of life  and is not at all appealing. But there are still magical places in the world. Where I work, we have a lovely Moonlight Market – an evening, outdoor organic market with organic foods and lots of gems and minerals, which attract amazing people with amazing stories. Stories are the common thread for me, for everyone.

Everybody’s interesting. Every single

person has got a story to tell.

At age 85, Diana still works – at Bryanston Organic Natural Market, an organic outdoor market and gem and mineral store, where she meets fascinating people every day. “Today I met a man who’s building a life center on Green Island (Queensland), I met two Americans, someone who’d gone to Malaysia on a canoe trip, and someone who’d been gored by a hippo.” And she has written another story (fiction this time), which takes place in Tanzania.

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Diana’s book, Leaves from the Fig Tree is published by Rebel e Publishers in Kindle, paperback, and other digital formats and can be purchased on Amazon.

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Thank you for reading! If you’ve enjoyed this post, please Like or Share it with other readers and writers 🙂

Author Spotlight: J.H. BOGRAN

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picture1Author J.L. Bogran is a novelist and screenwriter born and raised in Honduras. The son of a journalist, the writing craft is clearly in his blood as evidenced by his media success and list of prolific projects. His debut novel, Treasure Hunt, was selected among Preditors and Editors’ Top Ten in a reader’s poll. Today we’re talking with him about Poisoned Tears – his forthcoming third novel, his writing process, and his other passion: screenwriting.

You’re bilingual in Spanish and English. How did you learn English and how do you decide which language to write in?

Just as practice will get you to Carnegie Hall, the same goes for learning English. I started with basic grammar and conversation practice at a local school, but later my jobs required me to speak English for extended periods of time. First as a front-desk clerk at a hotel, then working in the garment manufacturing industry, where I had to work with people from all over the world. And although I’m a professional translator, I don’t like to work on my own stuff, so the first thing I decide is the language to write the piece. That clears the path for all the decisions that follow.

Do you read in Spanish or English?

I read books, newspapers and almost anything in both languages.

Where did your inventive idea for Poisoned Tears come from?

My wife likes to watch animal shows on TV. One show listed the top ten most dangerous animals. That triggered the idea of “what if somebody used an animal to hide a murder?” I developed the idea further, and it later became an outline of the book. Part of my research took me to New Orleans. I had the notion that my character hated the city but wasn´t clear on why…until I saw a game in the Superdome and thought losing a pro-football career there would make the person hate the venue, and the city by extension.

What does Knox, your protagonist, struggle with the most? And what does he have in common with Sebastian Martin, the main character in your novel Firefall?

Alan struggles a lot, first with his own hatred of the city, then the police rejecting his theory on a serial killer prowling the city. Later he partners with a journalist, only to discover that he doesn’t like the opportunistic writer. Although not directly mentioned in the book, Alan Knox has a younger brother named Bill, who happens to be Sebastian Martin’s boss. So the connection is slim. In terms of what they have in common, they’re both tortured souls, both widowers, and reluctant heroes.

How did you get started writing screenplays?

That can only be attributed to serendipity. A few years ago I ran a video store, and one night a customer dropped by asking if I had any old Buster Keaton movies. Surprised that I even knew who Mr. Keaton was, we started talking about movies, and he told me he was working on a TV project. I volunteered, and first he gave me this look of “Oh, damn, not another guy who thinks he’s better looking than George Clooney!” But when I confessed that my passion was for writing, he told me he was down one writer on his team and offered me a job on the spot. So far, I’ve been a writer for two motion picture scripts, and co-writer for three TV serials. Most recently, I wrote the script for the movie 11 Cipotes (11 Kids), which was considered a contender for the 2015 Oscars in the Foreign Film category. The movie is about a bunch of kids driving everybody crazy in a small town in Honduras. A man studying to become a priest takes the kids to form a soccer team, and then they are invited to a championship in the big city. It’s the adventure of their lives. You can see the trailer here.

Are you disciplined about writing? Do deadlines bring out your best or worst writing?

I wish I were more disciplined. It’s funny how my own creations take a lot of time to finish, but if I do work-for-hire, like a screenplay, I’ll wrap everything up before a deadline. I once finished a first draft of a movie in just four weeks.

Do you write on a computer, sitting properly at a desk, or longhand on coffee-stained napkins in a noisy cafe?

A combination of all of the above, actually. And it depends on the job at hand. For a screenplay, I’d have to sit and type it because of the formatting. However, for novels or short stories, I would write chapters in a notebook, then take a picture of each page and save it to my Dropbox just in case I lose the notebook. Typing them into a computer gives me the extra benefit of doing a first round of edits simultaneously.

What’s your next project?

This is a tricky question to answer, and one I usually avoid. A couple of times my actual next project turns out to be different from the one I described in a previous interview. I’ll compromise and say I’m working on a couple of projects; a sequel to Firefall, a joint project with marvelous British writer Steven Saville, and I’m currently in negotiations to take on another script. So which one will see the light first? Only God knows!

Any favorites in your choice of pens?

Ballpoint I guess. Now, for signing books there’s nothing better than a classical fountain pen!

About Poisoned Tears, forthcoming on March 15, 2017:

Retired Dallas private investigator Alan Knox dislikes New Orleans so much he won’t even drink Abita, the local beer. It all goes back to the day his knee and his promising pro football career were wrecked in a Superdome game with the Saints. But when his estranged son calls and asks for help finding a missing fianceé, the guilt-ridden Texan heads for the Big Easy where he soon finds himself in trouble up to the tops of his snakeskin boots. What starts off as a missing person case turns into a hunt for a serial killer who uses exotic poisonous animals to dispatch his victims. Painfully aware he can’t go it alone, Knox joins forces with an over-the-hill journalist and an unfriendly police detective as he navigates the dark streets and seedy bars in search of his prey. Great plot, colorful descriptions of NOLA and well-drawn characters. Poisoned Tears is full of so many twists and turns that it will make your head spin long before you get to the heart-thumping surprise ending. –Paul Kemprecos

J.H.’s books are published by Rebel ePublishers.

For more information about J.H. BOGRAN, check out www.jhbogran.com, and follow him on these sites:

Thanks for tuning in today, and now…countdown till March 15th!

Author Spotlight: MARILYN MEREDITH

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For this month’s Author Spotlight, I’m happy to introduce you to longtime teacher, speaker, and award-winning crime novelist, MARILYN MEREDITH.

Marilyn has written over 30 novels in two ongoing mystery series – her Deputy Crabtree series and her Rocky Bluffs P.D. series (written under the name of F.M. Meredith0. As one of the earliest adopters of ePublishing, all of Marilyn’s books are available via Kindle. But we’ll get to more of that at the end of this post. For now, let’s hear directly from Marilyn about her books, her characters, and her writing process.

Of your many activities and contributions to our literary world, which brings you the most happiness and fulfillment? (writing fiction, writing nonfiction, teaching, speaking) Though I certainly love writing, I truly enjoy teaching and speaking about writing, and talking to young people about writing is particularly satisfying.

Of the writers you’ve admired in your life, who had the biggest impact on your writing career? One of the first published writers I became friends with was Willma Gore, who was in the critique group I joined. She taught me more about writing than anyone else or any of the writing classes I attended over the years.

Where did your idea for the character Tempe Crabtree come from? Is she based on you, or someone you know personally? Tempe is actually a combination of three women: A Tule River Indian I met who grew up on the reservation and is the one I see as Tempe, a resident deputy who told me about her problems as the only female, and a police officer who was a single mother who I did a ride-along with. All three have strong personalities.

What has Tempe Crabtree taught you over the years you have been writing her stories? If someone is in danger, Tempe will rush in to help regardless of her own safety. I’m afraid I’m not that brave—though in my younger years I did much of the same.

Did you plan your Tempe Crabtree and Rocky Bluff series’ ahead of time, or did you write a standalone novel and thereafter decide to bring back the same character for another book? (and another, etc.) With both series, I didn’t know that I would continue on when I wrote the first books. I fell in love with my characters, and the only way to find out what would happen to them next was to write another book, and on and on.

What advice would you give to new writers about how to navigate the publishing world? Things keep changing. You have to find out what is going on and what path would be the best for you to take. Though I have been published by one of the New York publishers at the beginning of my career, I’ve gone through several small publishers with both series. If self-publishing the way it is today had been available, I might have gone that direction. For those thinking about doing that, it is most important that a professional editor goes over your novel before you publish.

Do you maintain a strict writing process, and can you share some details of how you stay motivated and on track with your writing goals and publishing schedules? I wish I did have a strict writing process—but life often interferes, as do other writing jobs. I do try to write at least a few hours five days a week, but I’m not always able to do so. I’m a great list writer—I keep track of what I need to do each day, writing and everything else. I also keep a calendar that I check each morning so I don’t forget anything important.

What is your forthcoming book about? I’m almost finished with a first draft of an as-yet untitled Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. In this one, two of the characters are named after two people who tied in a contest to have a character named after them. It’s been fun, because I do know these folks and their characters are nothing like either one. The plot is about the murder of two people—the mayor, and an old lady.

About Marilyn’s Latest Book: Seldom Traveled, which was released in August 2016:

The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three. Tempe Crabtree is a female resident deputy in the mountain area surrounding Bear Creek which is located in the Southern Sierra. She is also an Indian (she like, others in the Tule River tribe prefer Indian to Native American) and at times she receives spiritual insights. Seldom Traveled is the latest in the series and was inspired by the fact that a fugitive on the run disappeared in our area, a spark of a story about a murder in a mountain community, and the fact that the area is prone to forest fires.

Available in Paper, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and from the publisher, http://mundania.com/

Marilyn’s website and blog: http://fictionforyou.com/ and http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/

Please post any questions or comments, and thank you for reading!

Always keep the writer vibe alive…

 

Defining (or re-defining) Success

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How do you stay motivated to write when you keep sending out query letters, manuscripts or chapter submissions and getting back form rejections or radio silence?

Let’s take a step back and look at how you currently define “success”. Is an actual publishing contract or agent representation the only way you’ll feel successful as a writer? If so, you’re not alone, this is a very universal goal among writers at any stage. But your unfailing ambition and persistence could be preventing other smaller (and maybe more likely) successes.

Success comes in large and small packages. How it’s defined is deeply personal…and you can change your definition anytime. I recently received an un-rejection by a reputable literary agent in a personalized (not form) email, and to me this felt like my manuscript sample had caught enough of their attention to ascend to a senior editor. Though that editor ultimately passed, they included a note that my story sounded intriguing and that they liked my character’s voice. I defined this response as success (a small one, yes). But if you spend all your time and energy trying to catch big, trophy fish, your artistic heart might starve in the process. In the same way that we take vitamins to supplement the nutrients we don’t get in our diet, a steady feed of small successes will keep you inspired through the process and help you to keep writing!

Aim high; aim low. Of course continuing to target major New York literary agents, as well as publishers directly, is the best chance of getting your work seen by the industry’s primary decision-makers. But with so many major publishers requiring submissions only through agents, you can boost your chances of visibility by including smaller, independent publishers, as well as newer literary agents who are just starting to build their list of clients. New agents are more likely to take a chance on a new literary voice than an established agent. Or if print publishing isn’t your only desire, you might consider a strictly-digital ePublisher. Certain ePublishers, such as Witness Impulse (a division of William Morris) balances their lack of offset printing with massive distribution and huge potential visibility.

Due diligence. Regardless of who you send your work to, keep your submission strategy simple. Go to the publisher’s or agent’s website and read their submissions guidelines, their specific directions, and follow them. Edit your query letter and your manuscript sample right before you send it. Yes, even though you’ve edited it a hundred times already. Resist the urge to include any additional content that wasn’t specifically requested in the submission guidelines. Keep track of your submission with names, dates and results.

Personalize. In the same way that us writers hate getting form-rejections, acquisition editors and literary agents have repeatedly reported that same complaint. An agent doesn’t want to feel like a number – like you’re paging through the Literary Marketplace and mass-mailing the same generic package to everyone. And I’m by no means knocking mass-mailing. I’m saying it’s advantageous to personalize a submission as a means of making an agent or editor feel…well…special. If you haven’t met the agent or publisher you’re querying, research them, learn something about them. Educate yourself about what books they love, where they’re from, what inspires them. Find a conference where they’re speaking and be there. Don’t fake a connection – make one.

Tactics. Here are a few ways to keep focused on your ultimate goal of landing a publishing contract while keeping your mind sharp, opportunities open, and muse fed:

  • You make direct contact (and get a direct response) from a literary agent via Twitter inviting you to submit
  • You learn of a new agent in New York who’s seeking manuscripts in your genre and you send them a query
  • A traditional publisher has now opened submissions directly to authors instead of only through an agent
  • You send a query letter and your recipient asks to see a partial of your manuscript (yeah, baby!)
  • You write a short story and get it published in a literary journal. If you can boost your publishing creds while finding a book publisher, all the better. The same goes for publishing a book review, or being asked to be a guest blogger on a writing blog
  • On your submission tracking list, create a separate section for Successes and list them separately, in bold, in a different color ink to call them out.

One final tip: not if but WHEN you do connect with a literary agent or book publisher who offers you a contract, check out Preditors and Editors to vet them first, read about their reputation, their contract, and feedback from other writers.

How do YOU define success in your writing career? Do you have other ways of keeping yourself inspired and motivated on the path towards publication? Please share your comments with me here, and thanks for reading!

 

 

How do you deal with rejection letters?

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If you’re a serious writer who’s either published or working to get published, you’re not new to the dreaded rejection letter. They’re as ubiquitous to publishing as milk to the coffee industry. What happens when you get one of these in the mail?

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Do they cause depression?

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Rebellion?

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Anger?

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For some highly enlightened souls, rejection letters cause them to revise their manuscript and even create a new story twist or plotline that they hadn’t thought of before.

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Some truths about literary rejection letters:

  •  They are a sign of courage that you were willing to write something worthy of market value, polish and perfect it to industry standards, and put it before someone else’s eyes to be judged. Don’t discount this aspect, it means something.
  •  They are unbelievably common among all of our industry peers – from John Grisham and Dan Brown to J.K. Rowling. Depending on what you write and which market niche you’re approaching, the odds of getting a query or manuscript accepted by either a publisher or agent are unmistakably low.
  •  It’s not personal. Unlike relationship rejection, literary rejections are solely based on your manuscript and project, not you as a person. When you can think of it in those terms, doesn’t it become a bit more business-like, impersonal, even clinical?
  • They don’t mean you’ll never get published – just that it hasn’t happened YET.

Picture yourself at a job interview. You’re highly skilled in your field, have some polished work samples and business references with you, but you somehow don’t make it to that second interview. Why? There could be a thousand reasons, and mostly they’re all because you and your skills just simply aren’t the right match for the position. This mismatch concept holds true in the literary industry as well. You’re sending your unique manuscript to a complete stranger and hoping your project and vision will track with what the agent or publisher is seeking for their client list.

Let’s step back a moment and take a look at this literary agent. And let’s assume you’ve done your research and confirmed that this particular agent is interested in acquiring manuscripts within your genre and they’re considering taking on new clients. And let’s say you’ve worked with an industry mentor to perfect your query letter, you have your manuscript formatted perfectly, and have gone through three editing rounds to fix any grammatical errors. The thing is, even if all these bases are covered, there are still lots of other variables that can influence whether an agent selects your manuscript over someone else’s. Like what?

  • Gender – Not you, your protagonist. The agent might be looking for fiction with a strong female protagonist and yours is male.
  • Voice – They could be looking for third person POV and yours is first person.
  • Length – Your manuscript could be too long or short for the existing market of your genre.
  • Subject matter – Some agents are seeking stories consumable by a wide audience. So if your book has a super edgy theme and touches controversial topics, they might opt to pass.
  • New or published writer – Some agents are eager to hear from fresh industry voices; others only want to work with established and previously published authors.
  • Setting – Some want domestic stories, yours might take place in Paris.

And these are just a few! I know, it’s enough to make you go insane. But you’re not expected to mold your manuscript to every single thing a potential agent or publisher could possibly ever want. The platitudes are true – write what you love. The good news is that there are lots of publishers and literary agents available in every genre, more every day, and lots of them are looking for new writers. Where are they? Check here.

Too often, an agent will reject a manuscript because it lacks the specific WOW factor they were looking for. That doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t like it and that it’s not good. Because the industry landscape has changed so drastically in the past few years, they’re forced to be even more selective with the types of projects they invest in. In other words, if an agent can’t immediately see the potential for revenue in your book, they’re likely to pass even if they otherwise like your story, your writing, and everything about you. Money isn’t all that matters, but it definitely matters.

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Emotional Intelligence

Rejection letters are a great reminder that we must constantly keep our thoughts on the right track and stay in a positive and inspired space when it comes to writing. DON’T wallpaper your office with rejection letters! The last things we need as writers are negative reminders. Observe your reaction to your last rejection letter. Did you use it as fuel to grow deeper into your craft and commitment to success? If not, it’s okay, there’s time to work on this. And it IS work and no one’s more worthy of that work, time and energy than you are. For more reading on creative resilience, check out this great article from Lifehacker.

Focus on Inspiration

What inspired you to write your book in the first place? What kinds of books and writing continue to inspire you? This is the fodder for your creative expression and it must be positioned on a pedestal because it’s the most important aspect of your writing relationship. You see beauty around you, kindness, amazing human stories. Whatever it is that drives you to your keyboard or your journal, hold that in your heart as your primary focus. Post pictures of that inspiration in your writing space, your desktop, as reminders of what motivates you and what drives you to succeed over and over despite the odds.

Self-Publishing

The publishing industry has shrunk, or grown, depending on your perspective. And the changes are vast. 31% of all e-book sales are from self-published authors. Why do some writers turn to self-publishing as an option? There are lots of advantages, such as royalties. The royalties are typically way higher than traditional publishers (though no advance), and it’s a super quick turnaround to see your work in print (generally 30 days as opposed to 15 months). As you’re not working with a literary agent to sell your manuscript, there’s no middle man to take a 15% cut off your royalties when they start coming in. But there are offsets, too. Self-publishing can be expensive ($500 – $5000 per book), and there’s a lot more work you’ll need to do to push your book into the commercial marketplace, like arrange for distribution, marketing, advertising, editing, cover art, and layout.

Check out these famous, best-selling books and authors that were initially rejected by (in some cases, many) publishers or agents:

  •  J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  •  Jack Canfield for Chicken Soup for the Soul
  •  C.S. Lewis for The Chronicles of Narnia
  •  Dan Brown for The Da Vinci Code
  •  J.D. Salinger for The Catcher in the Rye
  •  Margaret Mitchell for Gone With the Wind
  •  Alice Walker for The Color Purple

There’s more here

What does this tell you? You’re in good company for one thing. Rejections give us an opportunity to re-examine what we’re doing…any why. If making money is why you write, self-publishing could be a great option for you. If you’re a compulsive storyteller hell bent on finding a traditional publisher or agent, then sink your teeth into that path and persevere and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

There are many forms of success – how do you measure yours and what’s your benchmark? If you’re new to the writing path, maybe finishing a novel is a worthy pursuit right now, or you might want to publish 5 books a year, or earn enough to quit your day job. A stack of rejection letters means you’re engaged, working, and investing time and energy in your success and future. Don’t let them derail you; instead use them as a necessary tool of the trade.

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What are your rejection war stories, or successes that started as rejection letters? Please share!

Does your writing life need Feng Shui?

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Curious about Feng Shui but a bit bewildered by it? Good, me too. Read on.

When I first started researching this ancient art of placement and spatial arrangement, I felt totally overwhelmed and daunted. There’s just so much to learn and absorb. What’s a bagua? Why do I need a compass (do I even own one)? From tai chi and yoga, I’ve learned a little bit about energy. But the energy of a room, of a desk, a doorway? To be honest, it sounded a little new-agey to me.

As I continued reading, I started learning more about Qi and realized that the science behind Feng Shui is about maximizing auspicious (beneficial) elements in a room so they don’t hinder the flow of energy. So not necessarily the Qi of a desk, but more like analyzing what objects or situations near or on the desk might be blocking the flow of that Qi.

What does all this have to do with writing? Everything. Writing requires that we harness our inner flow of creative energy and imagination to tell stories. The type of stories doesn’t matter. Fiction, nonfiction, they’re all ultimately stories. Writing is hard work and requires not only time but commitment and focus. And small changes can make it easier and more fun.

Where do you write? Lying on the floor with a pen and journal, on the couch with your iPad, noisy coffeeshop, or upright at a desk typing on a keyboard? Do you feel that your typical writing location helps or hinders your flow of creative energy? If you haven’t yet uncovered your perfect writing spot or if you dread the very sight of your desk, simple Feng Shui changes could make a huge impact on how that space feels. Like anything else, it’s best to consult a trained expert on the subject, and I’m the farthest thing from that. But I have spent a couple of years reading about tips and tricks and I can attest to their efficacy in how they’ve helped me feel focused, productive, and excited about going to my writing space at home. I’ve also included lots of links in this post to Feng Shui experts and consultants.

We all have too much clutter in at least some area of our lives. Hopefully your writing desk doesn’t look like this:

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Aside from the obvious hoarding tendencies, lack of organization and a 45-year old chair, this space lacks a few other essential elements – lighting, for one thing. Check this out:

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So the desk/writing surface here is large, which is great. And they’ve got an ergonomic adjustable arm for a computer monitor, which saves tons of space. Love it! More points for the live plant in the corner of the desk. But the best part, of course, is the huge French window with a view of the woods. A nice view, simply put, will make you want to be there. Even if your writing space looks nothing like the picture above, I guarantee you could make your space feel just as aesthetic and inviting, and it might be easier than you think.

Some basic tips:

Don’t use a u-shaped desk or arrange your desk facing a wall, as these orientations could make you feel boxed in. There should be enough space for you to walk completely around your desk and it should preferably be facing the entry to the room. Situate your desk katty corner facing the door for an optimal “command position”.

Don’t put a trash can beneath the desk, as this could impact your writing success. Why? A trash can or waste container is likely to attract challenging, low-energy vibes. Set it out from under the desk and empty it frequently so as to not cause stagnation.

Stimulate your creative juices by hanging inspiring art or decorative objects on the walls. Find an image that makes you feel good, gives you energy, and draws you in. I prefer abstract art because, to me, it looks like a question that wants to be answered.

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Manage clutter! I have no drawers in my writing desk, which is a constant challenge causing me to be creative about what I store and where. I found an open, 3-shelved bookcase, which is perfect for housing decorative office storage boxes. You can find them in almost any color and size to match the vibe and color scheme of your home office.

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Confession: I’m obsessed with pens. I gather, collect, store, and hoard them, and openly steal them from my friends and colleagues. As a lifelong writer, I seriously feel on some level that all pens are just simply intrinsically mine. So one of my most successful de-cluttering tactics was to a) locate all my pens, b) pitch hundreds (literally) of broken, inkless relics, c) buy new ones, and d) display them on my desktop. Releasing that which we no longer need makes s p a c e in our lives and minds for more useful things, like ideas.

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To read more about desk organization, click here.

Next: cables. Look under your desk. What do you see?

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Even if your desktop is clean, well-organized and aesthetic, an atmosphere of unaddressed chaos beneath it can sabotage your writing process. How about this?

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Check out cableorganizer.com for ideas.

If after renovating your writing area you’re ready to get serious about Feng Shui, you can easily find a certified Feng Shui consultant online in your area. Typically an initial consultation takes 2-3 hours, and be prepared to take lots of notes! They’ll prepare a list of recommendations along with alternatives. In other words, if you’re not willing to move your home office out of the damp basement, they’ll recommend ideas for making that environment more hospitable and conducive to how you want to use it.

Want to learn more?

http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-feng-shui-your-home-office

http://video.about.com/fengshui/Feng-Shui-for-a-Home-Office.htm

Inside Voice

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Did you choose your protagonist or did they choose you? If you’ve got a novel in-progress, how did you come up with your main character? Sometimes mine come to me while driving, when my brain is active but my creativity is dormant. I also get name ideas from watching movie credits, and sometimes I hear a name so extraordinary that the evolution of the character and their attributes unfolds on its own. Kermitt Rictose, who was a stunt person in one of the umpteen Die Hard movies. What kind of character would emerge from a name like that? An older gentleman, affluent, entrepreneur, lives at the top of a hill in a gray, monolithic house. Too stereotyped? Okay, he’s a rock singer living on a houseboat and mows lawns for a living.  Kermitt the go-getter.

Tell me everything you know about your current protagonist. I’m sure you know their physical attributes, how they look, dress, walk. But do you also know what they love, what they loathe, and what they fear? What keeps them up nights, and what drives their obsessions? If you don’t know, here are a couple of ideas.

You could just…ask them. That’s right – create a sort of back and forth interview of your character, asking them about their favorite foods, favorite color, the car they drive. It’s more challenging than you think, because it takes not only creativity but courage to really make this exercise work. What you’re doing is tuning your senses inward and bringing the act of listening to a new level. I find it takes a certain willingness to surrender before your character really starts talking to you. And they will, and when they do, you’d better be listening. No, there’s no medication that can be prescribed for this affliction. It’s called creativity and there is no cure.

Another way is by mapping your characters to actual film stars.

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I find that writing realistic dialogue requires me to not only know my protag’s inner and outer personalities, but also how they express themselves and interact with other people. So I model them after an actual actor whom I’ve seen in films. In the book I just finished writing, I modeled my homicide detective after actor Timothy Hutton in his latest series, Leverage.

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I’ve been watching Hutton since 1985’s The Falcon and The Snowman, where he portrayed an unlikely 19 year old American spy. And after twenty plus years of movie fandom, I feel like I know him. I’ve watched and studied how he behaves, reacts, his expressions, body language, and from that rich dataset I can infer how he would talk to his departmental underlings, the Medical Examiner, and my protagonist.

Sometimes I print photos of all my celebrity-mapped characters and tape them around my monitor, where they serve as a sort of visual Greek chorus. Other times, I tack them to my white board all in a cluster. The idea is to know and study these people, constantly. And even if they’re imaginary, they must at least be real to you. Having a face to build upon makes them broader than one-dimensional. For me, it helps bring them to life.

When it comes to your personal writing practice, you are the pilot and, generally speaking, there is no co-pilot. So you can do whatever you want, draw on any tricks of the trade, and don’t be afraid to go deep with your characters, even if it means, on occasion, talking to yourself.