Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hallie Ephron The Writing Life: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Writing is hard. If you’re like me, you have more than a few moments of discouragement. You might need someone to encourage you to press on, keep writing -- it gets better.
Hallie Ephron’s keynote speech at the recent Lakefly Literary Conference did that for me.  Even though she has written and published at least nine novels, she remembers what it was like to be the only non-writer in a family of highly successful authors. Hallie’s parents, Phoebe and Henry Ephron, were playwrights and screen-writers, while sisters Nora, Dalia and Amy were established novelists.

Hallie decided to write in her 40s after a reporter asked if he could do a story about her because she was the only Ephron sister who wasn’t an author. Hallie refused, thinking if anybody was going to write about her not writing it was going to be her.

Although there obviously were writing skills in her genes, she says it took 10 years to get published. She brought a handful of rejection letters to the Wisconsin conference and shared snippets with us.

Most of us in the audience were smiling and nodding, having fielded rejection letters containing similar discouraging messages.

Hallie’s counsel was clear: There’s hope if we, as working-to-get-published authors, keep trying and acquiring wisdom along the way, eventually we're likely to get there. And, she went on to say, in the process, why not enjoy the trip?

I scribbled notes, trying to commit to paper as many of her affirmations as I could. The end result: 13 encouraging comments from Hallie, which I'd like to share.

            1.  "For a long time your taste will outrun your talent."  But if you keep writing, you WILL get better.
            2.  Practice is important -- and writers must realize that first drafts are often less than wonderful. Sometimes you simply have to “hold your nose and write.” In other words, get the words and scenes in your head on paper, even if they’re not perfect.  Each practice session makes you a tiny bit better.
            3.  But remember, on the way to getting better, you’ll have flops and failures. It’s simply a part of learning. We master new skills by making and correcting mistakes. Even when you get your story polished, it might turn out to be not quite right for a particular editor, agent or publishing house. So Hallie cautioned, "Be prepared for rejection."
            4.  "So much in what makes for success is out of your control. Get used to it."  She added: "There might be times when you do everything right and still your book isn’t snapped up."  Unfortunately, this can happen.  
            5.  So you might as well learn to have fun in this journey to develop your craft. Enjoy what you do. "Don’t wait until you sell the book to celebrate. Champagne is meant to be opened."
            6.  Know that you have a very special story to tell. "No one can write exactly what you will write."
            7.  Everything in your life, even the frustrations, can help develop your story and your craft. Learn from your daily experiences. “Everything [in life] is copy. Take notes."
            8.  Never forget:  You can learn from others. And reading is vital.  As she puts it: “You must be a READER if you want to be a successful writer.”
            9.  When you write, spend more time listening to yourself than trying to follow trends or attempting to re-create a recent best-seller. "In your writing, please yourself first."
            10.  The story you’re going to tell likely will require many hours of effort, so the best approach is to choose your topic wisely so you'll be "writing what you love."
            11.  If you want to become more proficient in writing, set aside a specific place and time to practice.  Her advice: Don't be haphazard in "making space and time in your life to write!”
            12.  As you write, remember that it’s an art and know that hard and fast rules won’t always work and that sometimes the writing and selling process doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s OK.  "Trust the chaos."
            13. Don’t consider your status as a pre-published author to be a negative. "Having never published a book might be a "brilliant place" to be. Agents and editors are on the lookout for the next new talent."
            Really? Agents and editors are looking for me? Like most of the Hallie’s Wisconsin audience, I hope so, but even if they aren't, I’m going to take her advice and enjoy my time as I work toward refining my craft.

            Hallie’s latest mystery, There Was an Old Woman, has just been published.  Actually, first, I’m hoping to read her book, "The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel: All the tools you need to write and sell your first novel."

            In the meantime, I’m open to hearing encouraging advice. Do you have any tips on starting a new hobby? Or finishing a novel? Please share.                

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ants or Zombie Ants? I Prefer the Latter.

Recently, I've been battling ants. I live in Tennessee and the ant, it would seem, is our state animal. They are everywhere! I am miserable.

"Welcome to TN, I'll be your guide..."
photo credit: Budzlife via photopin cc

So, while I invest heavily in the Raid corporation and whip up every "guaranteed non-toxic ant killer" recipe Pinterest has available, I'm seeking comfort from the encroaching horde the only way I know how... by wishing zombieism on each and every one of the nasty vermin. And for once, this isn't just a wild hope (not that I actively hope for a zombie apocalypse or anything, I just believe in preparation). Unlike humans, ants ARE susceptible to a parasite that causes zombie-like tendencies and, you know, a horrific death that is really just, in my mind, a bonus. This is a very short video clip from the BBC's Planet Earth series that explains the phenomena. Only 1 minute 50 seconds in length, it is WELL worth watching.

I get an indecent amount of joy from this clip. I particularly love the parts where the narrator says (in a lovely British accent, I might add) the fungus "...erupts from the ants head" and "...any ant in the vicinity will be in serious risk of death." As beautiful as any poetry, those phrases. But my absolute favorite line in the entire clip? "The fungus is so virulent it can wipe out whole colonies of ants."

Oh. Yeah.

Cordyceps: 1, Ants: 0

I'll take a zombie ant over a regular one any day!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I Read. You Read. Everybody Reads: Books I’ve Read This Semester

I love my position as an adjunct English instructor, but it’s cut into my writing and reading time. That makes the books I've managed to squeeze into my free moments all the more precious.

Because it’s days before finals, and I’m swamped in student projects and research papers, I’m only going to list the books and their illustrious authors. Here are thirteen in no particular order.

  1. Boneshaker -- Cherie Priest
  2. The Hit -- David Baldacci
  3. Wired for Story -- Lisa Cron
  4. The Lazarus Curse -- Tessa  Harris
  5. David and Goliath -- Malcolm Gladwell
  6. Edit Your Book in a Month -- Eliza Knight
  7. A Duchess in the Dark -- Kate McKinley
  8. A Drink Before Rain -- Dennis Lehane
  9. Practical Emotion Structure -- Jodi Henley
  10. The Fifth Witness -- Michael Connelly
  11.  The Harbinger --Jonathan Cahn
  12. Hollow City --Ransom Riggs
  13.  Allegiant -- Veronica Roth

What have you read? Since summer’s coming and I’m always searching for a new novel, what do you recommend?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Building a Super-Heroine

By Eilis Flynn

It’s finally spring, and with spring and flowers and rain (or, in the case of the Pacific Northwest, more rain) comes my workshop for the Futuristic Fantasy & Paranormal chapter of RWA, “Building a Super-Heroine.” It’s loosely based on a panel I presided over for Geek Girl Con (the convention for geek girls! Lots of fun, I recommend it highly) a few years ago, exploring what it takes to build a character who’s specifically female and super-powered. It was an interesting hour, and we built a promising character who was super-powered, but we ran out of time before we truly began to explore why said person was female.

Looking at super-heroines over the decades and seeing which ones survived and which ones walked off into the sunset, though, I had to start thinking about what the difference was. Why are some of them still around after decades, and why are some of them retired, perhaps permanently? And is there a difference in why some heroes survive and some don’t, and do those differences apply to heroines too?

So many questions, so little time. There is one factor that differentiates the survivors from the fossils, and that seems to be the way in pretty much everything. Looking at super-heroines, why did Wonder Woman survive and Miss Fury did not? Wondie battled evil through the 1940s and 1950s and kept going, as opposed to Miss Fury, who retired from crimefighting in 1953. Why did Shiera become Hawkgirl become Hawkgirl become Hawkwoman become Hawkgirl, all using pretty much the same name (although once in a while she became “Shayera”) but different personalities?

For that matter, think of Jean Grey of the X-Men, who was first known when she was introduced in the early 1960s as Marvel Girl, then became known as Phoenix or Dark Phoenix, depending on whether she was threatening to destroy all of humanity, but mostly as Jean Grey. (Also popping up in the Marvelverse are Miss Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Captain Marvel, all female. There was a male Captain Marvel, but he was killed off. But this is not the subject for today.) What does she have in common with others who have survived?

Anyway, the workshop has just begun over at the FFP chapter so with any luck we'll find out why, as well as how super-heroines are unique in and of themselves. I’ve never given it before, so it’s undiscovered country! But developing a character of any kind is always undiscovered country, isn’t it?

Eilis Flynn can be found to argue with at Facebook, Twitter, or at her website at If you’re looking for a professional editor with 35 years of experience, drop Elizabeth Flynn a line at