Arctic Blasts and the Reason for Fiction

Thanks so much to so many of you who downloaded free stories yesterday. What took me by surprise was that the overwhelming favorite of the day was “Beneath the Winter Weeds,” the story I wrote last January. I suppose I had thought that people would be more interested reading about summer during this second (or is it third?) cold snap.

Perhaps fiction isn’t truly an escape from reality so much as it is an exploration of reality.

In case you were curious about what Michigan has been like the past few days, here’s the Lake Michigan lakeshore:

Be sure to watch the whole thing so you can see how this photographer found shelter from the storm.

This morning it’s cold (-10 on the thermostat–that’s -23 celsius for my international friends) and sunny and definitely the sort of morning that Valerie Steele might head into the woods to make her discovery…

All Short Stories Free Today!

Don’t forget to download any and all of my short stories for Kindle absolutely FREE today only as my thank you to you for reading! This will be your last chance to snap them up individually for free!

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Water & Light

A young pregnant woman is called into work at the water treatment plant on a stormy Christmas Eve. What happens that night will test her resolve and strengthen her faith. Buy it here for Kindle.

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Memory Man

People say there’s a man who can forget your bad memories for you. Lives in the city somewhere, supposedly. Problem is, I never met anyone who has actually seen the guy. Buy it here for Kindle.

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Drive

When a man drives across the Upper Peninsula to retrieve a moving truck that has been missing for 25 years, he never could have guessed what was waiting for him inside. Buy it here for Kindle.

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The Beginning and the End

The trip never should have happened—wouldn’t have happened were it not for that unfortunate confluence of romantic clichés the night of Courtney’s wedding… Buy it here for Kindle.

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The Astonishing Moment

A pleasant kayaking excursion along the southern shore of Lake Superior becomes a dangerous affair when the weather suddenly turns and the light fails. Buy it here for Kindle.

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10 Degrees Cooler in the Shade

In the light of a hot summer day at the carnival, there’s always something to see. In the dark of night, there’s always something to hide. Buy it here for Kindle.

One Endless Summer Day

One Endless Summer Day

In summertime, the days can seem endless. Whether that is good or bad kind of depends on what side of childhood you find yourself on. Buy it here for Kindle.

Clean

Clean

When it seems like everything in life is going wrong, sometimes all it takes to get things back on track is just one thing a little out of the ordinary. Buy it here for Kindle.

We Shall Sometime Come to Someplace

We Shall Sometime Come to Someplace

An unseasonable storm is just the first in a series of strange and surreal events that will set a one man’s life on a very different course. Buy it here for Kindle.

The Door

The Door

An aging homebound artist realizes that his life is not as it seems when something he paints leads him to an impossible–and unforgettable–discovery. Buy it here for Kindle.

Beneath the Winter Weeds

Beneath the Winter Weeds

On a frigid January day, one woman must return to the forest of her youth to finally uncover what lies buried beneath the winter weeds. Buy it here for Kindle.

We did it! 1,000 Followers = FREE ebooks!

Oh happy day! I’m so pleased to see that A Beautiful Fiction has reached more than 1,000 followers! I had stated last year that when that occurred I would be giving away all of my currently available short stories on Kindle, the only exception being “This Elegant Ruin” due to current rights restrictions.

While the original goal was to hit that number by the end of 2013, I’m not feeling terribly stingy. So…

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For one day only, on Monday, January 27th, each short story on Amazon will be absolutely free! Download to your heart’s content. I’ll remind you tomorrow, but for now remember that you can access all of them easily by clicking on the links found on the Books page (look above the lovely photo of seagulls over the Straits of Mackinac at the top of this page for the link, or click here).

And while you’re at it, get your own writing life energized with The Intentional Writer.

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Thank you all so much for your support, your likes and comments, and your time over the past couple years of blogging. My hope for you is that 2014 will be the year you take great leaps and bounds in your own creative pursuits. Keep reading, keep writing, keep photographing, keep painting, keep knitting, keep sewing. Whatever you’re doing to add beauty and point to truth in this world, do it even better this year!

In the Dead of Winter, Life Still Stirs

This is the view through my 75-year-old windows lately.

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Some of these patterns put me in mind of coral–appropriate in a part of the world that was once the bottom of an ocean. In summer we gather fossilized coral. In winter, it graces our living room window panes.

It has been a ferocious winter, one that still has the Great Lakes State firmly in its icy grip. But while the windows may be frosty and the ground still covered in snow, beneath it all the earth prepares for spring. Squirrels are fornicating in the back yard. Birds are twittering in the pile of sticks that has been stacked up by the side of the road since the ice storm a month ago. The buds of this year’s growth already grace the bare branches of trees and shrubs. In fact, looking at that last frost photo, I kind of see those bud-studded branches right there in the ice.

And within my mind is a steady running stream of story that my fingers are faithfully putting down into words.

Settling into Cold and Cloudy

While a winter storm is apparently raging on the Atlantic coast, we in mid-Michigan have been enjoying a sunny day. But we’ll need to soak it up while we can, as the forecast calls for high temps in the teens and lots of clouds through the end of the month.

Late January and into February, my irritating habit of making the most of the weather starts to fade. The more the people around you complain about the snow and ice and wind, the more you start to resent it all too.

But I’m telling myself that it is a very, very good thing that I will not be able to get out into the garden until late April. I have a writing goal to reach and I don’t want to get distracted. With everything in my work in progress going fairly well (I’m up to chapter nine and have topped 20,000 words since starting just three weeks ago) I’ve decided to shoot for finishing the first draft by Easter (which is April 20th this year). If I reach that goal, then I can let the thing settle for a month while I get the yard and gardens in order and spend some serious time outside enjoying spring.

So I’m looking at the cold and cloudy near future as an asset rather than a reason to despair.

What about you? What are you going to get done before spring rolls along?

Martin Luther King, Jr. Gave His Iconic “I Have a Dream” Speech in Detroit First

I’d wager that most of you didn’t know that before the March on Washington, DC, was the 125,000-strong Great March on Detroit. And that’s where 25,000 people first heard this iconic speech in Cobo Hall (now Cobo Center).

For the complete audio and text of his speech in Detroit, click here.

May we all take time today to remember a great man, a great minister, and a great Christian who made the greatest sacrifice for a great cause.

I’m pleased to say that this June 23, 1963 event is a turning point for two characters in my current WIP. And I’m extra pleased that I happen to be writing that chapter the very week we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.

That’s what I call Providence.

3 Easy Ways to Get Back into Writing Your Book

Ideally, we would all have time to work regularly on our writing projects, never allowing the fire to cool or the story to get stale. But reality is rarely ideal. It’s reality. It’s busy times at work, kids who need love, meals that need making. Those clothes won’t wash themselves, you know. So we often find ourselves torn away from our works-in-progress for a time and they turn into works-in-the-backs-of-our-minds. Sometimes we wander away from our writing fairly purposefully when we aren’t sure what comes next.

Either way, how do you get back in the groove after an absence? Here are three easy ways…

Reread. If it’s been just a few days, reread the last chapter. If it’s been more than a week or so, read what you have written so far, from the first to the last page, to get yourself not only back into the story, but also to reorient yourself to the flow of the story thus far. It’s more than simply figuring out where to go next. It’s recapturing the flow, the voice, the tension, the characters, the setting. Immerse yourself in it as a first-time reader would and you’ll be propelled forward in the story by the momentum you’ve hopefully built up. Plus you’ll see if what you’ve written thus far still holds up after letting it rest. You can also listen to what you’ve written, which gives the story another dimension altogether.

Outline. After that, see if you can outline what happens in the next few chapters. It helps to have at least a small idea of the road ahead. Just seeing a paragraph of synopsis (which I tend to write before an actual chapter is written) can almost trick you into thinking you’ve already written that chapter and give you a small feeling of accomplishment, which you can then ride into the actual writing of that chapter. Then, when it’s written, you can go back and tweak your synopsis to match what you actually wrote. In this way you are also finishing a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to put into your book proposal later. Two birds, one stone.

Research. Read over any research notes you may have taken to put you back into that world and spark your imagination with possibilities for your characters. If you are writing anything besides contemporary fiction that is set in a city like your own, you need to put yourself back in the right place, the right time period, and the right clothes. You need to pick up those speech patterns you’ve given your characters. You need to reorient yourself to that world, reintroduce yourself to its problems.

Now stop fooling around on the internet and get back to work!

The Disappearing Week

You ever have one of those weeks where you’re utterly spent and you can’t believe it’s already nearly over? It’s been one of those weeks for me. I haven’t gotten much writing done, most of my clothes are in the laundry, and my house is a disaster due to neglect.

On the other hand, I did make white sauce from scratch out of Julia Child’s cookbook and I have managed to fill the dishwasher. Small victories.

Sometimes you have to accept a week where not much gets done. But I find they are often followed by incredibly productive times. Hoping to get back in the swing of the novel this weekend. And I’m pretty sure I should start chipping away at the mountain of boots and shoes that is slowly encroaching on the living room as soon as possible.

Then again, there’s always next week . . .

5 Reasons You Need to Attend a Writers Conference

On Saturday I attended the first ever Write on the Red Cedar writing conference, hosted by a relatively new writers group in the area, the Capital City Writers Association. The featured speakers were writer, blogger, and literary agent guru Chuck Sambuchino and literary agent April Eberhardt. Both were friendly, gracious, funny, informative, and accessible. In fact, everyone was friendly and fun to be around. It was a great group of both established writers (like Lori Spielman) and beginning writers.

But why go to a writers conference? Why spend the money? The time? I’m glad you asked. Here are 5 good reasons:

1. Network. Writing may be something you can do alone, but publishing and getting your book into the hands of readers is not. Even if you self-publish, you need a network of people who can help you along the way with everything from editing and cover design connections to endorsements and book reviews. So much of publishing success lies in who you know. So you need to get out and meet people.

2. Hone your craft. Working in isolation can make us fall into lazy writing, even bad writing. Yes, you can read books (like this one) but it’s also helpful to get jolts of focused advice in one-hour portions. I went to a workshop once that was about where to start your story, with much of the class focused on just the first sentence. It was extremely helpful.

3. Make new friends. I know you have friends, but having friends who are fellow writers is awesome. Writer friends spur you on, cheer for you, complain with you, and know what you’re going through. They read your drafts and give you constructive criticism. They go to the next writers conference with you. They are special.

4. Learn insider tips and tricks. When you go to a conference attended by professional writers, editors, agents, or anyone else involved in the Industry, you get priceless insider information about how publishing really works on the ground level. I gave out a lot of such information at both Breathe, where I was a speaker, and Write on the Red Cedar, where I was an attendee.

5. Meet agents and/or editors. Nothing can substitute for positive in-person interaction between a new writer and an agent or editor. Cold calls and queries just don’t carry the same weight as a handshake and a great conversation that will make you real and memorable. Not every conference or retreat has agents and editors attending, but even if they don’t, people you meet there can lead to meeting agents or editors in the future. You never know who someone else has connections with.

If you’re just starting out on your writing journey, I can’t recommend good writers conferences enough. Just being around that many other people committed to improving their writing and helping each other along the way is energizing and encouraging.

The Intentional Writer: Finding the Time, Space, and Inspiration You Need To Write

I’ve mentioned it a few times on the blog and now here it is. Inspired by the presentation I gave at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference last October and bringing together some of my best blogging and writing about writing, I offer you The Intentional Writer.

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It’s available on Kindle now and I will soon be working on formatting the print edition. Here’s the description of what you’ll get inside:

You can make creative writing a regular part of your life—without making it a rigid daily requirement.

If you are trying to make creative writing a more intentional—and yet not tyrannical—part of your life, The Intentional Writer will help you to pursue your goals, hone your craft, and get your work out there into the hands of readers. This entertaining and informative book will help you analyze your motivations for writing, put yourself in the path of inspiration to keep your ideas flowing, deal with both internal and external distractions, reshape your surroundings and your schedule to aid your process, and take your work from first draft to final publishable product.

From encouragement and insight to the nuts and bolts of storytelling and editing, you’ll find something in the following pages that will change your writing rhythm for the better.