Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tamora Pierce Coming To Northern Maryland

Stop the presses! This is one of the best birthday presents ever! I just looked on the events calendar for my local library (a great way to find book groups and writer's critique groups, by the way) and what did I see but Author Visit: Tamora Pierce in big, bold letters.

For those of you who don't know, Tamora Pierce is an author of fantasy books for children, teenagers, and adults like me who aren't sure about the whole 'growing up' thing. Her books include the Song of the Lioness quartet (starting with Alanna: The First Adventure), Trickster's Choice, the Immortals (starting with Wild Magic), and many, many others. Her words have been a constant companion for me through the years, and I'd just like to thank her for being one of the inspirations for my current quest to become a published author.

If you're interested in seeing Tamora, here's a list of her upcoming appearances.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Storytime - Lueil's Lyre

I think it's high time I posted some fiction here, seeing as that's what I'm all about. So please take a moment to enjoy the following, a fairytale titled Lueil's Lyre.

Once upon a time a young woman named Lueil lived in the kingdom of Fith. Lueil had one desire in life, and that was to play the lyre in front of the king and queen of her kingdom. Three things stood in her way: she had no lyre, she had no way to travel to the castle, and her parents would not permit her to leave her loom in their small cottage in a small town far from Fith's capital unless she found a husband who would take them in as well.

Lueil could weave a pretty pattern on the loom, a cloth that her parents sold for a fair price at the market. Many men dreamed of the wealth she would bring when added to their estates. Time and again Lueil turned the suitors down, knowing that marriage to one would mean the end of her dream. She sat by her loom day after day and plied the strings, dreaming that they were strings on a lyre instead of warp and woof.

One day a young man called Urth came to the door selling yarn for weaving into cloth. The moment he saw Lueil, his heart leapt. His politeness and jolly nature got him an invitation for lunch, and he talked at length with the young weaver. The more they talked, the more smitten he became. After the lunch, he told Lueil that he heartily wished they'd meet again.

"You are friendly, and kind, and I wish you no disrespect," Lueil replied softly, "But you are not my dream. I can offer you nothing until I fulfill my heart's desire."

"What is that desire? I will do anything to help you win it!" Urth exclaimed.

"That I cannot say, but if you return here in three days with a lyre, I will reconsider your request."

Urth danced with joy and took off down the road. He had few means that he could use to get a lyre, but at least now he had a chance to win his own heart's desire. He woke up on the first day, thinking about the lyre. All day his thoughts stayed constant as he went about his work. He woke up on the second day, again thinking only of the lyre, but to no avail. On the dawn of the third day, he knew that somehow, he must fulfill Lueil's wish, or else die of a broken heart.

On his way through town, he saw an old man dressed in long, worn robes, leaning against the side of a building. At his feet lay a large bundle.

"Wise one, is there anything I can do to help you? The day is warm already, and you look tired."

The old man gratefully accepted the offer of assistance, and let Urth carry his bag and support his arm as they walked. Urth listened as the man told fascinating tales of all his worldly travels until at last they stopped at a house covered in vines.

"I thank you, kind young one. Many people passed me today, and you were the only one who stopped to help. In return, I will give you either small riches or your heart's desire."

Urth did not hesitate before choosing the second option.

"Excellent!" exclaimed the man, before pulling a lyre out of his carrying pack.

"What... How..." Urth sputtered, but the man just laughed.

"Now, this is a loan, mind you. I'd like you to return it when it's use is spent."

Urth thanked the man profusely, and said that he would return the lyre anytime the man wished. He could barely contain himself as he ran down the road to Lueil's house.

Lueil was surprised to see the young man, and even more surprised to see the lyre. Urth handed the instrument to the young woman, and she invited him to lunch and let him sit beside her. With one hand she caressed the burnished wood of the lyre and ran her hands over the taut strings, gently teasing out note after note. But after a time she grew restless.

"You are friendly, and kind, and I wish you no disrespect," Lueil said softly, "But still I can offer you nothing until I fulfill my heart's desire."

"Can you not tell me now that desire? I will do anything to help you win it!" Urth cried.

"That I cannot say, but if you return here in three days with a pony, I will reconsider your request."

Urth again danced with joy, and again took off down the road. He had no more chance of finding a pony than of finding a lyre, but his last wish had been fulfilled, and he had much reason to hope. He woke up on the first day, thinking about the pony. All day his thoughts stayed constant as he went about his work. He woke up on the second day, again thinking only of the pony, but to no avail. On the dawn of the third day, he knew that somehow, he would fulfill Lueil's wish.

He walked through town with no luck. On the outskirts of town, he came across an old woman trying to coax a hen down from a tree. Each time she approached, the hen squawked and flapped, making an awful racket. Urth approached the woman and asked if he could be of assistance.

"Not unless you can charm the wings off of that devil," the woman muttered, but she allowed Urth to try.

Urth cautiously approached the hen, who returned his look with a cautious one of her own. He came quite close, then raised a hand to stroke the bird. Gently, he pulled her out of the tree and held her in his arms. She warbled a bit, unsure of the situation, but did not try to escape.

"Well, I'll be!" said the old woman, as Urth handed her the complacent bird. "I thank you, kind young one. Many people passed me today, and you were the only one who stopped to help. In return, I will give you either good riches or your heart's desire."

Urth hesitated a moment before choosing the second option. Riches might buy Lueil's heart, and perhaps he'd charm her more as a moneyed man than a mere yarn-seller. But in the end, what would she be without her heart's desire?

The old woman nodded at his choice.

"You have a way with animals, and so I will trust you with my pony," she said, and led him around a stand of trees to the patiently waiting animal.

"Now, this is a loan, mind you. I'd like you to return her when her use is spent."

Urth thanked the woman profusely, and said that he would return the pony anytime the woman wished. He could barely contain himself as he rode the pony down the road to Lueil's house.

Lueil was even more surprised to see Urth this time, arriving on a pony. Her heart raced at the thought that she might after all achieve her heart's desire, that which she had hidden away for so long. Lueil asked Urth to keep the pony for her, then she invited him to lunch and let him hold her hand. After lunch she played the lyre for him, and he could tell that she had great skill even though she'd only had the instrument a few days. But again, after a time, Lueil grew restless.

"You are friendly, and kind, and I wish you no disrespect," Lueil said softly, "But once again I must let you know that I can offer you nothing until I fulfill my heart's desire."

"Can you not tell me even now what you desire? I will do anything to help you win it!" Urth said, practically bursting with suspense.

"That I cannot say, but if in three days time you can convince my parents to release me from my bondage, I will reconsider your request."

Urth thanked Lueil, and held her hand for as long as he could before heading down the road. He knew that this next task would prove most difficult of all. Everyone in the town knew the skill of Lueil's hand, and it would be no small feat to convince her parents to part with such an asset. But his last wish had been fulfilled, and he still had reason to hope. He woke up on the first day, thinking about Lueil. All day his thoughts stayed constant as he went about his work. He woke up on the second day, again thinking only of the Lueil and her plight, but to no avail. On the dawn of the third day, he knew that somehow, he would find a way to help her.

He rode Lueil's pony, which he had tended well for the past three days, through town and most of the way to Lueil's house with no luck. Desperation rose in him at the thought of turning up with no solution to her quandry, but he did not pause or waver. Then suddenly, on the road ahead, Urth heard a commotion and a cry for help. He stopped to grab a large branch, then charged ahead yelling at the top of his lungs, ill regarding the fact that he knew little of combat.

Urth saw several men scatter as he came among them, striking wildly about with his branch. He was no fighter, but the surprise of his attack gave him great advantage. Soon he found himself alone with a richly dressed man. Urth helped the man to his feet.

"How can I ever thank you enough! Those vagabonds jumped me, and I never thought anyone would come to my aid! In return for your kindness, I will give you either great riches or your heart's desire."

Urth hesitated for a time before choosing the second option. He knew not what Lueil truly desired. What if she wished only to run him around on strange quests for the rest of his life? Or worse, what if her heart's desire turned out to be the love of another man? Great riches might sway her to his cause. But Urth could not bring himself to disappoint his love.

"Come with me," the man said, and headed for Lueil's house.

Urth started to protest. Did this man plan to ask for the lady's hand in marriage? What could he want at the weaver's house? Too late, the man stood in front of Lueil's father and spoke.

"Kind sir, a long time ago you provided wise advice to my father, and your wisdom made our lands prosper. I understand that you left because of unfair events, and our house has not been the same since. I beg you to return, and promise a comfortable life for you and all your kin. Your counsel henceforth will come second to none."

Lueil's mother laughed with joy, and the eyes of Lueil's father shone. For they had not always been weavers; long ago an argument with a crooked councillor had forced them from the lord's house to find their living as they may, and now they could return to the friends and life they'd had to leave behind.

Urth watched this exchange, dumbstruck. So all his effort had come to naught? Lueil surely now possessed all she could ever wish for.. He noted also that the lord's glance did not miss her beauty; what could he offer to compete with the love of such a man as this?

Lueil stepped forward and smiled, the largest, happiest, most beautiful smile Urth had ever seen.

"I thank you, kind sir, for what you have given to my family. I'm happy, happier than I've ever been, for now I can go after my heart's desire."

Lueil turned to Urth, and in that moment he knew that all was not lost. Her parents did not understand, but eventually they agreed to let the girl choose the life she wished, and she and Urth loaded up the pony and headed towards the king's castle.

The journey took many days, and each night by the fire Urth drifted off to the music of Lueil's lyre, the notes more beautiful than those of the night before. When they finally came to play before the king, the courtiers all jeered and laughed at Lueil's simple ways and clothing, but the first sound of her music silenced them. The king immediately accepted her as his chief lyre player, and provided her with all she could ever wish for. She thanked Urth for his kindness and his help, and wished that he would stay with her always, for now he was part of her heart's desire. Urth agreed, but said that first he must bring back the lyre and the pony that kindly strangers once loaned to him in his time of need. He returned to his town, but was never able to find the owners of the gifts. So he made sure that from that day on, the pony lived a life of plenty, and Lueil chose to play the simple lyre that showed no gold leaf or pearl or jewel in front of the king and queen and all their court. Lueil and Urth wandered far and wide throughout the kingdom, and wherever they could helped others to achieve their desires. And so they lived in love and peace for the rest of their days.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Don't Fear The Blog

Blogging is a great method for growing your visibility in the online writing community. In addition, I've found that it helps to keep me on track with my goal of writing every day. The act of regularly writing articles that I know will be read by other people (at least, according to what I see on Google Analytics) forces me not only to write, but to write something I believe will be useful, interesting, and/or entertaining.

If you're reading this, you probably have a good grasp of what blogs are, and more than likely you have a blog of your own. However, a large segment of the population doesn't even know what the word 'blog' means, let alone how to set one up. And having at least a rudimentary knowledge of blogging doesn't necessarily guarantee comfort with the idea. There are many out there who don't know if they'll be able to contribute regularly enough to build a following, or whether the online community will have any interest in what they have to say.

I started out the same way, not knowing if writing this blog was a good idea or a terrible idea. But so far, so good. It's kept me on my toes with the whole writing thing, and new people continue to stumble across it (and sometimes even come back more than once!). Not to mention all the useful things I've learned while researching what to post on my little corner of the internet.

Bottom line is, it's worth a try to get into blogging. You might even enjoy it more than you think. Sign up for Blogger, Wordpress, or any other blogging platform you feel comfortable with, then read this article on ProBlogger for great tips for building a good blog.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Talent Vs. Publicity - Which Is The Key To Success?

I recently wrote in an email that "being a successful author has just as much to do with marketing and networking as with writing skill." I thought this might be a controversial statement to some, and so decided to expand upon my idea.

First of all, is it possible to be successful without talent? In this day and age, the answer is a resounding YES! I'm sure that as soon as I mentioned it, several names popped into your head, most likely from the pop culture arena. These people make money and stay successful simply by staying in the public eye.

Second, is it possible to be successful without publicity? I could imagine someone writing the Great American Novel while holed up in a cave and then making millions because of the sheer awesomeness of the book. However, I don't think it's very likely.

Granted, you (probably) don't want to be one of those talentless people who cling to fame long after their fifteen minutes are up. But at the same time, you can't rely on your skills alone to take you to the top, no matter how good you are. My advice is to at least consider putting decent effort into promoting your artistic pieces de resistance.

And one more note about the notion of talent - it's constantly changing. For most of the history of writing, there has been a very strict standard for what constitutes a good story. However, with the coming of the internet and the explosion of blogs and other outlets for personal expression, "good writing" isn't necessarily what it used to be. For example, I love the writing on (not suitable for all audiences). It's entertaining, relevant, and intelligent, despite the fact that it's probably not going to be featured in any literary magazines or take home any prestigious literary awards. The Digg ratings that most of the articles receive show I'm not the only person who appreciates the site. So if you're searching for success, stop agonizing over whether your work is the best it could possibly be, and start reaching out to the reading community - both online and off.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Stanford Networking Meeting

Last night's Stanford Networking Meeting in Washington, DC was a great success. At the meeting, the wonderful Patti Wilson taught a seminar on "How to Work a Room." Patti is a career coach and employment consultant who simplifies the whole networking process fun and easy to learn. Did you know, for example, that it's better to talk about a shared interest or hobby than the nitty-gritty details of your day to day job? I might get confused and frustrated if you start talking about system controls on the space shuttle's air intake valves, but the second you mention snowboarding or Ultimate, I'll be right there with you. If you need a networking presentation for your next conference or meeting, I highly recommend Patti.

Kudos also to Michelle Compton for overseeing the event and making everyone feel at home. There's nothing like getting a little taste of Stanford warmth and hospitality from 3000 miles away!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Morning Owls - Writing In The A.M.

Recently, I've had some trouble keeping up with my daily writing schedule. I usually leave my writing to the last minute, so that I'm trying to be creative and do something I enjoy when I'm exhausted and spent. It's like spending a day at the beach with a bad hangover.

In addition, I'm not a morning person, and the habit of staying up late trying to write just makes it worse. I'm lucky that my current job allows me to roll out of bed around 8:30 to make it to work by 9. However, I often find myself pushing the limits, trying to stay safely ensconced in my bed for just a few minutes longer. And it's not just me; many creative people I've met share this tendency towards loving the night.

Luckily, I just discovered a new goal that I hope will help alleviate both of these issues: write first thing in the morning! This might sound like crazy talk, given that I already push the limits of how long I can stay at home before leaving for work, but just bear with me for a moment. Before I started writing first thing in the morning, my train of thought upon waking would look something like this:

Ugh. Morning again. Stupid dog kept me up last night. So tired. What do I have to do today? Let's see, get up, shower, then go to work. I've got some people to email, then I have to call people and try and sell them a product they're not interested in. I wonder if the software manual needs updating? I wonder if this is really the kind of work I should be doing at this time in my life? Maybe I'll just stay in bed today.

After I started writing first thing in the morning, my thoughts changed to this:

Morning again. Stupid... Oh yeah, gotta turn on my laptop and write something. But what? Let's see, Elish just ran into Eydie the Unbearable, and she's trying to figure out if the girl is the Wise One she's looking for. Hey! Wouldn't it be interesting if I had those evil women find her at Eydie's house, and then there'd be a chase? That would definitely spice things up.

Writing excites to me. I love it; I enjoy it. It's so much nicer to wake up to something you enjoy than to something you dread. Until I can support myself as an author, I have to stick with my day job, and this helps me do that without going crazy.

Now the only hard part is putting away the laptop so I won't be (too) late for work...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Three Reasons To Attend The Dreaded Networking Event

On July 22, I'll be attending a networking event in Washington, DC with other Stanford alumni and their friends and families. Once upon a time, my first reaction to a potential networking event would have been, "Ugh, do I have to?" followed by, "Ugh, I guess I should," in turn followed by me most likely skipping the event at the last minute. But after experiencing several of these events first hand, I'd like to share my new, improved attitude.

Here are three reasons to attend the Dreaded Networking Event:

1.) Networking is Fun!

People who don't like meeting new people will tell me that they'd rather have cavities filled without anesthesia than go to a networking event. I'll let you in on a secret: I'm one of you! It's not easy for me to approach strangers. I always worry that I'll do or say something wrong. But despite my shyness, I've had a great time at every event I've been to. There's often tasty, free food and drink. The people are tuned into 'friendly mode,' and so even if you don't approach anyone, someone is likely to talk to you. And if you've decided to attend/been invited to an event, you likely have something in common with other people at the event, making conversation a snap.

2.) Networking is Profitable!

Granted, the profitability of a networking event isn't as direct as, say, calling someone on the phone and trying to sell to him or her. But so far, I've had the great fortune to meet several published authors and editors, and subsequently added these contacts to my lists on Facebook, Linkedin, GoodReads, etc. An author is much more likely to write a blurb for my novel if she or he knows me, and one of those editors is more likely to read my work if I make a note of our conversation at X networking event. Building a solid network of connections is the surest way to success for almost any industry.

3.) Networking is Healthy!

Let's face it, spending hours hunched in front of your computer writing every day may be intellectually stimulating, but it's not very healthy for your body or social skills. Us writers tend to miss out on the physical activity we need and the social stimulation we crave. Attending a networking event forces us to actually, physically go somewhere, to (gasp!) stand and walk around, and to converse in person with fellow human beings. Who knows, you might even get an inspiration for your next story! Just try to go easy on those delicious high-calorie appetizers and desserts if you want to maximize the health benefits.

In order to take advantage of these benefits, find networking meetings for an organization you're in, or if there aren't any, join a new organization. Grab a drink and a plate, introduce yourself to someone, and let yourself enjoy networking.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Google Tips For Writers

Those of you in the know know the importance of regularly checking up on yourself using Google (or the internet search engine of your choice). It's good to know what other people are reading about you and others who share your name. For example, when I Google my name, I find out that I'm a Dairy Princess in Oregon. Not really, but at least now I know what's going on when someone confuses me with that other Emma Larkins. And I definitely don't want to be the last one to find out that someone is posting embarrassing pictures of me!

I always Google the title ideas for my stories and novels. True, my working title may not end up as the final title if the book gets published. But when I'm promoting my works in progress, I want people to easily find information on them, and not have to sift through loads of non-applicable entries.

It's probably a good idea to search for the names of your characters as well. I know that you get the disclaimer at the beginning of the novel that states that all of the names and events are made up, but it's still preferable not to use names of existing senators or famous Bollywood actors (unless you really want to stir up some controversy).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Amazon - A Surprising Way To Boost Your Visibility

I recently reviewed a purchase and set up my profile on Amazon. During my most recent Google search on my name, lo and behold, my Amazon profile was the second site on the list.

That's pretty impressive. My blog, which I have posted to regularly over the past three months, came in sixth place, and my Technorati profile didn't even make the first page.

This means that I've just found another way to reach people who Google me for one reason or another. I suppose that if you don't want your Amazon comments way up there on the list of sites associated with your name, you shouldn't set up a profile. But if you're a writer, and you make some thoughtful reviews of books related to your work, you can easily increase your visibility on the internet with this simple technique.

(Disclaimer - this method will be most effective for newbies with relatively low traffic to their own sites, such as me!)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Norwegian Fairy Tales

Today it's time for a trip into the world of fantasy and fairytale. One of the inspirations for my writing is A Time For Trolls, a wonderful little book of Norwegian fairytales. I received this book as a small child from my Norwegian relatives, and I've read and reread it countless times since.

I'd like to try and incorporate some of the techniques and themes from these fairytales into my own fantasy stories. One of my favorite devices is the frequent use of repetition, left over from a time when the fairytales belonged to an ancient oral tradition. In the stories, the protagonist often reaches one goal, only to learn that he or she has been given a new, similar task. For example, a heroine will climb to the top of a hill to find a wise woman, and then be told that the wise woman doesn't know the answer she seeks. However, if the heroine climbs up the next hill, she will find another wise woman who MIGHT know the answer. I think it helps involve readers in a story when they see that the characters also struggle with reaching their final goals.

Anyways, I think I'll read the book again sometime soon, and hope that it inspires my fantasy to new levels of depth and creativity. Skål!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Turn Words Into Money - An Easy(ish) Way To Write For Cash

Now, maybe you want to have your stories published in a magazine or have your novel published, and maybe it would be enough for you to have your name in print and not to get any compensation for it. However, most of us need some amount of money to get along in this world, and wouldn't it be nice if you could make it doing one of the things you love? Imagine seeing your name in print, AND getting paid for it! It's the best of both worlds.

So you'd like to turn your passion for writing into a side income, or even a full income. How do you start? You can submit your short fiction, poems or non-fiction stories to magazines (which I encourage you to do, regardless). But these don't often pay, and when they do, they don't pay a lot. If you want to make some decent money from writing, and you've yet to publish your best-selling novel, you've got two choices: get a job that involves writing, or freelance.

Personally, I like the freelance option because it allows you to try out different projects to find what suits you best, and it lets you test out the waters of writing for profit before you commit your whole life to it. And freelancing is easier than ever now that it's moved online, through sites such as Elance.