When Your Health Steals Your Words

Several years ago, my writing was going strong. I had a schedule. I wrote most days. I had a couple of completed novels, and was querying agents. I had a dozen requests for  full manuscripts. I was so close to fulfilling my dream as a traditionally published author that I could taste it.

Then, I lost my momentum. I lost my energy. I lost my words. Literally.

I put on almost forty pounds with no explanation. No amount of diet or exercise managed to make the scale budge. I couldn’t keep my train of thought, and oftentimes, in conversation, I simply drew blanks. I couldn’t think of the words I was looking for. Not a great feeling for someone who wants to be a wordsmith.

I’m no stranger to health issues. I was hit by a drunk driver almost twenty years ago, and have a laundry lists of ailments that cause chronic pain. But this time was different. You can force your body to work to some degree. You can’t force your mind.

My acid reflux got so bad that I barely needed to chew my food – it practically dissolved in my mouth my saliva was so acidic. Obviously I was somehow related to that dinosaur in the first Jurassic Park – the one with a frilled collar that spit on the guy from Seinfeld, blinding him with his acid spit. As much as I love dinosaurs, I don’t really want to be one! 🦖🦖🦖

I’m going to take a very long story and make it short.

I was on twice the maximum daily dose of Prevacid. They thought it was Celiac, and although I initially got better on a gluten free diet, the relief was short lived. Multiple invasive, expensive tests revealed no answers.

Then my mom discovered a food sensitivity test you could order online from EverlyWell. I took the test. And while it turns out I do have a mild sensitivity to gluten, I have an extreme sensitivity to yeast – both bakers and brewers – which is still in many gluten free products.

Going yeast free meant saying no to almost all breads. No wine, beer, or alcohol other than vodka, which supposedly uses all the yeast added during the fermentation process. No fruit other than berries. No vinegar, nothing pickled, no fun.

I immediately avoided all foods and drinks with yeast, while still eating some of the ‘by-products’. (Even ranch dressing and mustard have vinegar.) And I dropped over 30 pounds in six weeks. My energy started coming back. My confidence. And then, finally, my words.

It’s been about four months now. I still slip sometimes. Mainly unintentionally, when I eat out. My stomach will blow out to about seven months pregnant, but it goes back down in a day or two. I get foggy, but it clears. I forget the word I’m looking for,  but it comes eventually. When I sit down to write, the page no longer remains blank.

I’ve gone back and forth about writing this post, but sharing is caring, and I hope this helps someone else. Not to mention that I’m so grateful that I’m able to write it – look, words!!! And I wrote them! I feel so much better, and I truly hope this reaches at least one person who benefits from this post.

(I’m not getting any kickbacks for sharing the name of the company that quite literally changed my life. There’s usually coupon codes online if you do a Google search for them.)

(If you or someone you know has a yeast sensitivity, make sure to check vitamins and supplements for the nasty little addition – it’s everywhere!)

Publication Announcement!

Recent cover image or website screenshot for Tough

I’m pleased to announce that my short story, “The Heat”, has been purchased by Tough: Crime Stories.

“The Heat” will appear on the ezine in February 2019, and in their published anthology in April!

This piece is a suspenseful mystery, part police procedural, part something more – I’ll let you decide what! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Click here to join my mailing list and be among the first to learn about events, giveaways, juicy secrets and other useful info!

(I promise I won’t spam you or send updates more that quarterly!)

Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing – Crime Baked

New England Crime Bake

This past weekend I attended the 2018 New England Crime Bake, which was my first writing conference. For a while I’d been reading about how important it is to network with other writers for both support and to establish a writing community, so I decided to give it a try.

I met so many AMAZING people there that it was worth going for that experience alone!

scoreI also met the authors of these three fantastic books and got them signed, which was a major score because they are all wonderful, yet very different, stories, and I cherish the opportunity to let a writer know how much I enjoyed reading their book. The authors are absolutely awesome, too! How awesome? Let me count the ways. . .

Walter Mosley was the guest of honor of this year’s conference. The author of more than 40 book and a multiple award winner, he’s probably best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries, yet he contributes to many genres and writes for TV and film as well (ever heard of the series Snowfall?).

Mosley is hilarious, but he’s also a very insightful, eloquent speaker who doesn’t mince words when sharing his experiences in the publishing industry. If you get a chance to hear him speak, don’t miss it – you won’t regret it!

As both an agent and a writer, Munier considers herself a “storyteller and storyseller”. She is a huge animal lover, which is all I need to know to turn into a super fan! She is also incredibly nice and friendly, a very genuine person.

Her latest release, “A Borrowing of Bones”, was inspired by the “hero working dogs she met through MissionK9Rescue”. I really enjoyed the mystery and recommend you give it a try!

 

Image result for hank phillippi ryanHank Phillippi Ryan is a firecracker! So much energy and enthusiasm and with personality for days, Ryan knows how to keep an entire room enthralled! I took a master class with her at the conference, and she was definitely one of the major highlights of the weekend!

She may be best known for her day job as an investigative reporter who has won over 34 EMMYs and dozens of other awards, but she hasn’t done too shabby in the writing department. “Ryan’s also an award-winner in her second profession—with five Agathas, three Anthonys, two Macavitys, the Daphne, and for The Other Woman, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award.” Her schedule is PACKED full of events for her latest release, “Trust Me”. This is an author that you have got to see for yourself! #TrustMe

Was it perfect? No. #CrimeBake wasn’t everything I had imagined or hoped for. I don’t feel like I learned very much, but as an event for both readers and writers, it wasn’t as instructive as conferences that focus exclusively on writing and craft development. (I learned that at the conference!)

I did, however, have a truly memorable and enjoyable time. Talking with other writers, hearing about their experiences, the other conferences and events that they had attended, was truly priceless.

Was it worth it? Yes!

Would I do it again? Absolutely!

The bottom line is that I was there to meet other writers, and that’s exactly what I did. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and most authors don’t get an agent or a publishing contract overnight. (While #CrimeBake does have a pitch option, I did not partake. This time.) To me, the important thing is that I took some time for myself and spent it immersed in my passion. What more can I ask for?!?!

 

Upcoming Publication Announcement!

I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, “Dying Print”, has been purchased and will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Wild Musette Magazine next year!

Image result for detectiveThis is the sixth mystery featuring the character Detective Shaw to see publication. There are several other Shaw stories kicking around the slush piles out there – my plan is to eventually compile a FREE anthology collection of all the “Shades of Shaw”. If you’re interested in receiving a copy, sign up for my newsletter here so you don’t miss out!

(I promise I won’t spam you or flood your inbox – I know how annoying that is! My newsletter is never sent more often than quarterly, and only when there’s enough great new info to make it worthwhile.)

#Thriller in the Woods #Book Signing and #Author Event

thrillerinwoods1-e1539282021408.jpgI’m fortunate enough to live in an area with an incredible indie bookstore and some fantastic local authors who are kind enough to indulge the local readership with awesome events.

When I heard that White Birch Books was sponsoring “Thriller in the Woods: A Night of Conversation with Lisa Gardner and Lisa Unger,” I knew I couldn’t miss it.

Lisa Gardner launches her book tour in North Conway, NH each year. She’s a great speaker, super personable, and pens thrillers guaranteed to keep you on the edge thrillerinwoods.jpgof your seat! I try to attend any event where she’s featured, because it’s sure to be a blast! This time, the event was held at Theater in the Woods, and she brought a friend!!!

Lisa Gardner and Lisa Unger are both internationally best selling authors. They both write suspenseful thrillers. They’re both named Lisa. Put them in a room together and let the adventure begin!

thrillerinwoods2The event was in celebration of the release of Lisa Unger’s newest novel, Under My Skin, and the paperback release of Lisa Gardner’s novel, Look For Me.

The two authors had an incredibly interesting discussion touching on everything from their different writing processes, where they get their ideas, how they perform their research, how they got their start, and so much more!

Both women are wonderfully dynamic, and the conversation flowed with the natural ease of two old friends having a casual chat. I really enjoy attending book signings and author talks, and have met my fair share of bestselling authors in the process – I cannot stress how genuinely friendly and engaging these ladies are! If you get the chance to see either of them speak, do it! You won’t regret it! #TeamLisa

 

 

 

5 Considerations for Your Author Website

Image result for author platformsFor years I’ve kept my author website and my blog separate. I’m not sure why. Maybe I wanted to keep my author identity and blogging persona as two distinct entities. Maybe I wanted different analytics for each one to see which got more traffic. Or maybe I just Image result for author platformslike being difficult.

Regardless of the true reason, I have now merged the two, porting over my author domain to my blog host. AdventuresinThirtysomething the blog can now be found under the ‘posts’ tab on ShannonHollinger.com. 

As I’ve been making the transition, updating and condensing material, I keep asking myself – what, exactly, should an author page entail? There’s so much hype about branding and presence and social media that figuring out what to focus on to streamline the process can be overwhelming.

There are no cut and dry rules. I did a quick study of some other author’s pages, both those well established in their careers and those just starting out, and came up with the following 5 areas of focus:

1) How easy is the site to navigate? Can you easily find what you’re looking for? Is the site sparse, tasteful or cluttered? 

2) How is the author’s “voice” represented? Is the tone casual, professional, personalized? Do you get a sense of the author from their ‘About’ page?

3) How is the author photographed? How are they posed, dressed, smiling? Is it a studio head shot? An outdoor candid? Do they show their personal style, or do they appear conservative for mass appeal?

4) What does the author place emphasis on? Is their site a billboard for their books, or a platform to meet their readers? 

5) How well kept is the site? Are there broken links? Is the information up-to-date? Is the author’s social media presence well represented, or do they suggest you check out their MySpace page?

An author website doesn’t need to be a full-time job. If there’s anything you want to add to the list, any must haves, please don’ts, or random observations, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

 

Writing with Emotional Power

One of the best lessons I’ve learned recently is that good writing is a form of manipulation. When an author manipulates the emotions of both their characters and their readers, the story resonates on a deeper level with the reader. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass is an excellent resource if you want to learn how to make your writing connect with your readers on a more visceral level. Below are some of the notes I’ve made after reading the book:

28915986* Don’t just write about the emotions your character is experiencing, but about the experience they are having to endure. Make your reader experience their journey, too.

* Pay attention to the details; have your character ruminate about the big impact of small events or the easily overlooked ramifications of major plot twists.

* Your characters’ emotions have more impact when they have personal significance to your readers, something the reader can relate to and understand, which is much more impactful than just the ‘fact’ that your character feels a certain way.

* Have a character become aware of the meaning of something small and common and everyday that they ‘just now realize’.

* “Plot events are what happen. Inner moments give those events meaning. Together they both shelter and lead the reader somewhere new.” ~ Donald Maass

* Pacing involves emotion, not just plot. There need to be emotional shifts, fluctuations, and growth entwined with the story-line and action.

Image result for readre emotions * Stakes should be personal to your character. Increase the emotion by having your character choose between the morally correct choice and the choice that is better for them personally. Make your readers feel the angst of the conflict.

* Your protagonist should discover something unexpected about his/herself over the course of the story, an epiphany about something deep at their core that makes them who they are. They should change and evolve.

* All plot events can be opportunities to manipulate emotions. Use them.

Image result for writing* Make the reader take an active role and get their ‘wheels turning’ – make them develop their own insight into the character, make them consider a moral decision your character has to make, make them think about your character and the character’s choices . . . even when they aren’t reading.

* Characters with good values are more appealing. A character committed to justice, family, self-sacrifice or just ‘doing the right thing’ hooks readers better than a character after fame, fortune, or a self-serving agenda.

* Make your story more compelling by creating a sense of hope. Make your readers fear that the hope won’t be fulfilled.

* After writing your first draft, decide what hurt your protagonist most, then plant seeds throughout the story that suggest that they are particularly vulnerable to the source of that pain.

What I’ve taken away most is that in order to write compelling fiction, you need to find a way to develop a personal connection between your readers and your story and characters. When readers feel invested in the outcome, it becomes harder for them to put the book down. Give them something to root for, something to fear, and above all else, make them feel and care.

If you have any suggestions or tips you’d like to add, I’d love to hear them! 

Please introduce yourself and what you write if you feel so inclined . . . we’re all in this together and I consider you a member of my #writingcommunity! I look forward to connecting with you here and on social media, and am open to guest bloggers who’d like to share their knowledge or experiences!

 

 

 

 

5 Forensic Tips for Your Fiction

I love getting caught up in a good, suspenseful mystery. I love losing myself in the world the author has created, book (or Kindle) clenched in a white knuckled grasp as the protagonist closes in on the villain. What I don’t love is when the author does a forensic See the source imagebelly flop.

Often times it’s a lack of research, a simple mistake caused by confusion, or a reliance on what is shown on TV shows, but it can jar readers right out of the pages of a story when they trip on a “that’s not right” moment. Conversely, going the extra mile by including some factual science can draw a reader deeper into the story because you’re constructing a more realistic world for them to get lost in.

I no longer work in forensics, and I’ll be the first to admit that my wheels are a little rusty, but here are 5 tips (based on my biggest pet peeves) to strengthen the forensics in your writing.

Image result for blood spatter analysis1) When referencing blood, it’s spatter, not splatter!!! This mistake drives me absolutely insane, probably because it’s so common. Seriously. From TV shows to books released by major publishing houses to those published by indie writers, I see this all the time, and it’s simply not correct. (On a side note, the cast off of a blood pattern can tell a detailed story of an attack – it’s worth a little research to bring this element of your story to life. ) Please, make my world a better place and tell everyone you know – blood spatters, paint splatters.

Image result for dna2) No matter what your sleuth’s connections, they’re not getting immediate DNA results. It just doesn’t work that way. If you need a way to provide a means of getting information into your character’s hands more quickly, check out what serology can tell you.

Image result for forensic burial recovery3) If buried remains are recovered in your story, either skeletal or in any stage of decomposition, the professional recovering the remains isn’t just after the body. Some authors include screening the soil, usually having the analyst recover rivets from jeans, zippers, etc. This is correct, but only a tiny fraction of what the process actually entails. The recovery person or team will pedestal the body, removing the soil from the top and sides of the remains, documenting the location of any artifacts found around the body, and screening the dirt. They will also be looking for insect casings, which can help determine the time of year a body was interred, and they’ll collect soil samples for volatile fatty acid analysis to help establish TSD (time since death). With a little quick research, you can make this scene in your novel or short story much more memorable and impactful.

Image result for fingerprint4) Any time I read a fingerprint scene, it’s so boring! And I’ll admit, fingerprint classification is tedious, but collecting them doesn’t have to be! Check out alternative methods (and the situations they are used in) to add a little spice to your scene. From superglue fumes to metal filings, there’s a more interesting way! (Also, don’t forget that other ‘prints’ can sometimes be lifted, like shoe prints.) But remember – fingerprints aren’t always present, and there are surfaces that do not lend themselves to collection.

Image result for evidence collection5) I’ve read too many books in which evidence collection is just a random handoff of plastic baggies. This is not true! First, the collection of evidence is a very detailed and controlled process. Besides everything being photographed in situ before collection, not just anyone on scene handles the collection. A chain of custody for the evidence must be created and maintained, with certain information either labeled or written on the collection container, including the initials of who collected it. Finally, the container will be sealed with a tamper proof sticker or tape that will not allow the evidence to be opened and contaminated without obvious signs. Also, what a piece of evidence is determines what is used to collect it. For example, a bloody shirt would be collected and packaged in a paper bag, not a plastic evidence container. I’d love to read a story where some really wild stuff is collected as evidence – imagine how creative you could get – or make your characters have to get to collect it!

What are your pet peeves that you hate to read in books? Do you have any items you’d like to add to the list? Any forensic question in particular that you need an answer to? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Please introduce yourself and what you write if you feel so inclined . . . we’re all in this together and I consider you a member of my #writingcommunity! I look forward to connecting with you here and on social media, and am open to guest bloggers who’d like to share their knowledge or experiences!

Write with Focus, Read with Purpose

Over the last few years, I’ve gone back and forth about getting into an MFA program. It certainly seems to lend more credence to an author’s work. Intensive work-shopping and guidance from a mentor also have a certain lure. On the other hand, I’ve already spent more than my fair share of time in the classroom, and I’m worried that if I tried to squeeze more time consuming commitments into an already packed schedule, it would be my writing time that would suffer, which seems counterproductive.

So, I did the next best thing. I just finished reading Gabriela Pereira’s book, diy MFA. (If you haven’t read it, I recommend it – for a tutorial it’s very engaging and reader friendly.)

I’ve been reading quite a few books on writing and craft developing lately, mainly to answer some questions that I’ve been unable to articulate into words. Am I getting my answers?

Yes.

It isn’t always fun, but I honestly feel like I’ve become a better writer. I’ve read dozens of times that the best thing you can do to improve your writing is to read widely. I’ve always been a voracious reader; while I feel like there’s certainly something to be gained from reading in general, reading as a writer has me seeing the words on the page in an entire new light. (A celestial light, limned with rainbows and glitter dust straight from a unicorn’s sneeze.) According to Pereira, “Reading like a writer means that you don’t read just to find out what happens next in the story. You must read to figure out what the writer is doing and how she achieves a particular effect.”

Image result for writing communityWhile I normally notice if the pacing is off, or there is too much exposition or too little character development in a story, I basically read to escape reality for entertainment and not to learn how an author is achieving certain feats of magic: How did the author make me so invested in the characters that I cried when they cried? How did the author ensnare me so deeply in his/her web that I had no choice but to stay up late reading, even though I was already dead tired and had an extra early morning the next day? How do the words on the page leave me breathless when I’m just sitting in place, reading? How? How? How?

Layer upon layer of intrigue in deftly crafted fiction doesn’t just happen by lucky accident or from reading a lot or because you caught a leprechaun and he gifted you an enchanted keyboard. One of the best things I got from this book is that writing is a form of manipulation. Your writing is stronger when you write with purpose – intentionally trying to evoke certain reactions, feelings and thoughts from the reader.

There are things I was already doing in my own writing – but I wasn’t consciously doing them. I wasn’t writing with the intent or purpose I should have been. I learned them from reading, included them in my writing, but if you had asked me the how or the why behind why I was doing it, I would have been lost to explain myself. By paying attention to the how and the why, I can craft a scene with much more impact which will hopefully resonate more strongly with readers.

Some of the information gets redundant, but I get at least 10-20 pages of highlighted notes from each book, which I then paste into a word document, print them out, and put them in a three-ring binder so I can read them again and again (yes, I am the nerd queen, but I’m okay with that).(Kindle is awesome enough to help you quickly find all of Image result for writing communityyour highlights in a book. I save PDFs of books (often cheaper to buy, especially from sites like Writer’s Digest) to the cloud to get it on my phone to read and highlight.)

The final section of this book is about creating a writing community. Having a support network of other writers, attending events and conferences, and networking is a recurring theme in the books I’ve been reading, and one I plan to return to in later posts. I’m attending my first conference this November, and I’m already hard at work researching how to get the most out of the experience (what else would an introverted nerd queen do?).

If anyone has any tips or personal experiences they want to share, I’d love to hear them!

Please introduce yourself and what you write if you feel so inclined . . . we’re all in this together and I consider you a member of my #writingcommunity! I look forward to connecting with you here and on social media, and am open to guest bloggers who’d like to share their knowledge or experiences!

 

 

 

 

Making the Connection: Investing Your Readers

Have you ever read a book that is well written, has an interesting premise, a solid plot with plenty of twists, yet it leaves you feeling either unsatisfied or it simply fades from memory as quickly as you read the words ‘The End’? Ever wonder how an author spun the magical web that left you thinking about a story days, weeks, months, even years after you finished reading the book?

The second is the kind of author I want to be. I want to haunt readers with my characters, I want to plague them with my plots, I want my words to linger in the recesses of their minds to revisit them again and again – in other words, I want my stories to be memorable. (It’a really not as creepy as it might sound, I promise!)

Question: How do you crack the code? How do you create a fictional world that captures your audience?

Answer: You create an emotional connection between your readers and the story, forging a bond that resonates at a deeper level than mere casual reading.

Image result for the emotional craft of fictionFor some writers, this may be instinctual, a natural click of the keys or flick of the pen. For the rest of us, it may take a bit more effort, in which case, The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass is a priceless resource. This book illuminates the many ways in which you can make your readers care. Best of all, many of these tips can be used during the editing process to help flesh out scenes that lend themselves naturally to the different methods presented in this book.

I’ll be sharing some of my favorite quotes from this book over the next several months.

Do you have any recommendations for strengthening the connection between your readers and your writing? Any tips, tricks or tutorials you find useful? Sharing is caring, and caring creates community. I’d love for you to be a part of my #writerscommunity!!!