Love For Christmas

by Ottilia Scherschel

            Readers often ask how do you decide on a topic for your writing? For my Writing Something Romantic writer group’s short story anthology, we all agreed we wanted to write a Christmas romance, and a topic was born. We individually chose the type of romance we wanted to write. “Love For Christmas: A Holiday Romance Anthology” contains paranormal, historical, and romantic suspense stories. We needed a deadline for completing our stories. We agreed it should be July that month when all things Christmas happen.

            Why do people make such a big deal out of Christmas in July? That question had pestered me in the past. Now, it came home to roost, and I needed some answers.

            Christmas in July—what happens? Crafters start making their products for the December holiday. The Hallmark channel shows Christmas movies during the entire month as if frolicking in the snow were a real possibility. People have celebrationswhere Santa Claus is the guest of honor. Stores advertise Christmas in July sales. Authors write Christmas stories. But why July?

            I did some research and found two explanations that appealed to my writer’s heart. One claims that Irish tourists went on vacation in Australia’s Blue Mountains in July of 1980. The Southern Hemisphere with its reverse seasons was enjoying a snowy winter. The tourists convinced the proprietor of their local hotel to hold a party and called it “Yulefest.” The idea was a hit. The proprietor recognized an opportunity and held a Christmas Party each year in July. Local businesses jumped aboard for the moneymaking festival and the event became a tradition.

            Another explanation comes from North Carolina’s Keystone Camp, a girl’s campin Brevard, where “Christmas in July” was first celebrated on July 24th and 25th in 1933. Fannie Holt, the camp’s co-founder, put together an unusual party thatincluded carolers, a Christmas Tree, Santa Claus, presents, and fake snow made of cotton. The tradition carries on today in blistering-hot Southern summers.

            Christmas in July has other explanations, but these two appeal to me. I’m writing about them in September since “Love For Christmas: A Holiday Romance Anthology“will be available in paperback in October, but you can get the e-book now.

How Do Writers Measure Success-Part 2 by Jill Jaynes

How Do Writers Measure Success-Part 2 by Jill Jaynes

 

In my Part 1 Post about “How do Writers Measure Success”, I ended by asking myself:

Why am I doing this?- or What do I really want?

One of the best ways to know if you have succeeded is to have a good idea at the beginning of what the finish line looks like.

In the business world- and many would argue that writers should treat their writing as seriously as any career- one way to know is to have a business plan and set goals. That way you know when you have met them.

That’s great. I’m a writer, what is my goal?

The usual shy answer at the beginning is “to get published” which most often translates into “to convince a publisher to publish my book.”  By the way, these words have led to some of the worst contract agreements in history. Many authors have signed contracts full of clauses that are against their own best interests because they are afraid that if they raise even the tiniest question about any point of a contract offered by a Real Live Publisher, that said publisher will take their golden-goose contract and hit the road.  One newbie (future NYT) author actually naively signed over the use of her legal name to a publisher! She couldn’t use her own name on any books sold through any other publisher for YEARS.

Of course, publishers of various sorts are no longer the only path to publication. But there is still something to be said for achieving the recognition of a professional publisher as a measure of having written a “good” book. Personally, I chose to shop my first work to small press publishers rather than go to self-publishing first, because I wanted to know if my work was marketable. If someone in the business of making money off of books thought mine was worth acquiring, well, that said I was on the right track.

So, getting published is a great goal. Am I done yet? Am I a success now?

It’s a funny thing about goals, but one is almost never enough. Once you reach it, you find another one waiting for you.

So, now I’m published. And  I’m still asking “What is my goal? But now the answers start changing.

My next goal could be “I want to sell more books.” Or  “I want to get good reviews on my books.” Or maybe “I want to make the New York Times or USA Today list.”

But about now, I have some real decisions to make about what goals I’m willing to pay for. Because success, as we all know, most often comes at the price of hard work.. So I have to ask myself, what kind of success can I afford?

Tune in next time for Part 3!

Writing Short

by Ottilia Scherschel

Ottilia ScherschelWhen the members of my critique group decided to publish a Christmas anthology, I took on a form of writing I had not practiced for years. Recently, I’ve been working on novels but chose to tackle a short story. Okay, now what?

I knew writing short had its own set of conventions with which I was no longer that familiar. I hoped with a little research and study I could refresh my knowledge. The big question looming in my mind was what story could I write that occurred over a short time frame and provided a beginning, middle and end.

I read an article about Tolkien. He said important truths include the idea that all of life constitutes a clash between good and evil, dark and light, and everyone’s choices, no matter how “little” of a person they are, matter. The idea of making a choice that matters in the moment and how that affects us stuck with me. I had to think in terms of a small choice–the kind we make every day without expecting consequences, the kind we make in a pinch, the kind we see as inconsequential. After some thought, I chose to write a romantic suspense story about a business woman who encounters evil when she chooses to take a train from Beijing to Hong Kong, China, during the Christmas season.

I worked on the story for weeks to discover my facts, to pinpoint the details and action I needed and to add that touch of romance. The project turned out to be more labor intensive than I anticipated. When I completed the story, my journey felt worthy. I had a sense of accomplishment. I hope you enjoy reading “Night Train to Hong Kong” in the Love for Christmas anthology releasing in November 2017.

How Do Writers Measure Success,Part 1 by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

So, I’ve written a book. Or a few. How do I know I’m a success as a writer?

That would depend on how I measure success.

I could pick the most common measures – money and fame – but even that is a matter of personal definition.

Financial success is certainly one way to measure success. Money as the currency of success seems pretty self-explanatory.But how much money equals success? Does it have to be”Lottery Rich” (enough to never worry about money again)? Enough to quit my job and support myself? Enough to buy a house? Or does even a single sale do it for me?

Or maybe its recognition, like hitting the New York Times or USA Today’s Best Seller lists. Or winning an award of some kind.

Personally, I think a definition of success has more to do with what satisfies us than just a dollar amount.

They say that nothing succeeds like success, but I think it’s satisfaction that keeps us coming back and working hard. I work in a corporate world and I’ve seen companies spend a lot of money and time trying to figure out the key to keeping good employees. I’ve been asked to take my share of surveys that have been developed to try and zero in on what makes people want to stay a a particular job or company.

In these kinds of surveys, I’ve been asked to rate the factors like the following in order of importance for why I stay at my job or company: Salary, health benefits, geographical distance from home, manager, opportunity to grow, feeling like I have meaningful work, feeling enabled to make decisions, etc.

I’m also asked to rate the reasons I would leave, or have left, a job.

The answers are not as simple as you’d think. Over and over, the results of these surveys show that salary actually does not occupy the first position for why someone chooses to stay in a job. Actually, feeling recognized and empowered has that spot.

Also interesting – the number one reason people leave a job is their boss. A high salary doesn’t overcome the daily misery of working under a bad manager.

In other words, for people who work for a living- and work hard- money simply isn’t everything. It isn’t even the most important thing. In fact, if that is the measure of success, it simply isn’t enough.

Its something a little more wiggly and subjective. It’s a little more personal. It depends on what you really want.

So as a writer, I owe it to myself to sit down and seriously answer that question for myself;-

Why am I doing this? What do I really want?

I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

A Timely Christmas Message

Winston Churchill’s Christmas Message, 24 December 1941

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, Churchill went to Washington, D.C. with his chiefs of staff to meet President Roosevelt and the American military leaders and coordinate plans for the defeat of the common enemy.  On Christmas Eve Churchill broadcast to the world from the White House on the 20th annual observation of the lighting of the community Christmas tree.

His message begins:  I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family…..

…..This is a strange Christmas Eve.  Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other.  Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field.  Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart.  Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm.  Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter.  Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play.  Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

Churchill’s message is somehow as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.  Let’s take the message to heart and enjoy the holiday season the way is is meant to be.

Emotional Support

By Ottilia Scherschel

I recently attended the Romance Writers of America’s annual conference in San Diego, California. Those of you who attend industry events already know they involve both stimulating and exhausting days of listening, talking, sitting, and walking. They offer a veritable overload of the senses and are a physical stress test. As if all that weren’t enough, add to it emotional ups and downs.

The primary goal of any writer is to provide an emotional experience for her reader. At conference, I was on the receiving end of the emotional ride. I realized during workshops I attended that many presenters had a genuine desire to share their knowledge, so my days at the keyboard would be easier and my learning curve as a writer less steep. I sensed a contagious emotional high among the participants, a can do attitude, and a belief in their own successful futures.

My most significant emotional moment came on the night I had dinner with my critique group. I recognized how much they cared about my achieving writing success and how genuinely willing they were to help me reach my goals. These things are sometimes hard to remember in the heat of a critiquing session. Validation, emotional support, and friendship filled our evening, topped off with a few glasses of wine.

IMG_1815

My critique group with Michael Hague at RWA ’16. 

In the end, I was reminded of one of Winston Churchill’s remarks I have adapted: “If you are going through (writing) hell, keep going.” Why? Because you have a community of romance writers out there who will help you on your road to publication.

I look forward to next year’s RWA Conference for the same reinforcement I received this year. See you all at RWA ’17.

 

Stories From Under the Bed by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I was recently asked, what do I want readers to come away with after they read my book?

Well, first of all, I’m thrilled readers read my books.

That is the point, isn’t it? To write words, stories, and put them out in a place where people can read them?

I know people who write entire books only to tuck them away in neat little coffins under their beds, never to show them to another living soul. While I greatly admire their ability to actually create and FINISH an entire book, (something I struggled with for a long time), I don’t fully understand this impulse to Never Show Another Soul.  Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of writing something down? Isn’t the written word meant to be read? If not, then why write it?

I mean, I do understand that some people have a very deep fear of being ridiculed for the work they have poured their soul into. Fear can be very powerful.

And I also understand that writing is a learning process for the writer, and there are some books that should probably stay under the bed as far as” prime time” is concerned.

But writing is a learning process, so eventually, these things must see the light of day and actually be read- by someone, at some point. (Showing it to other writers is sometimes a good place to start). That is the only way to know how good, or how bad, they really are. And to create the opportunity to actually become a better writer- to learn what you could have done better, then try it.

I’ve written stories since I was a child. I knew that someday, I’d write a book. I tucked that dream under my bed and it nearly died in its neat little coffin, buried under the weight of daily life ticking away in years. Luckily it revived and reminded me it was there. One thing about this dream, though. It was always to write a book so people would read it.

Maybe it’s more natural for me to take this view of writing because I have a performer gene. I have a bit of musical talent, for both singing and playing an instrument, which I’ve gone to some trouble to cultivate. So the idea of getting up in front of an audience and displaying (exposing) my talent (or lack thereof) is something I’ve always accepted as part of the “artistic talent” deal.

And writing is a lot like music. Music must be played, it must be heard. Writing is meant to be read. It’s part of the definition of the thing itself.

When someone reads the words I write, the words become more than arbitrary ink marks on white paper. A whole world, a whole reality, springs to life in the reader’s mind. Directly from mine.

Stephen King talks about this kind of amazing connection between the writer and the reader that completes the circuit of telling the story. Like a live wire, always waiting to make contact. The reader can experience this shared reality regardless of the distance of space and time between them and the writer. The words are the notes, music waiting to be played.  Written to be heard.

I write so people can read what I wrote. I write for you, the reader.

And the answer to the original question is I hope you, my reader, come away with a combination of what I put into my book when I wrote it and what you bring to the book when you read it. That you find something that rings emotionally true to you in the story. I hope it makes you smile and I hope it makes you want to read another one!