Category Archives: D. A. Ratliff

D. A. Ratliff: Why My Muse Loves Jazz

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Why My Muse Loves Jazz

D. A. Ratliff

If you have read my writing, you know I generally set my stories and novels in the southern region of the United States. That is understandable because I grew up in South Carolina and live in Florida. A piece of writing advice says to ‘write what you know,” and I know the South. I can’t entirely agree with that particular advice because we can write about anything with a bit of solid research. Thank you, Google. But our life experiences certainly influence what we put on paper.

Speaking to a friend, we discussed how life impacts writing, and I stated that I do not consciously put my life experiences into my work. I no doubt subconsciously do. My attitudes toward good and evil and how characters (people) should behave can’t help but influence my writing as it does anyone. I generally do not pattern any character after someone I know, although I have done so occasionally.

In thinking back on that conversation, I wondered what my influences were. What creates the mood of my writing? I realized that there are two influences. One is my childhood memories of growing up in the South, and the other is music.

While I was fortunate to enjoy a somewhat idyllic childhood, I am not naïve enough to ignore the issues that faced my “hundred-acre woods” (thank you, Winnie, the Pooh) or the rest of the country and the world. Equality is never easy to obtain and inequality difficult to witness, and that alone will influence us, consciously or not.

My parents provided a haven for me and a feeling of security, and I realize how fortunate I am for that environment. They never hid the realities of the world from me, but the gentility that existed was also a part of my life. When writing, I attempt to show the area’s complexity because the truth is always best.

My environment, however, was not the only influence on me. I believe that growing up in the South served as the platform for what is truly my muse. Music.

I grew up listening to classical music more than any other music genre. My father often had classical music on in the car or at home. Still, my parents were huge fans of music in general, so the sounds of my early childhood included Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra.

I was a typical kid, I loved Elvis and the Beatles, but I was also the preteen who loved Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and asked for their albums for Christmas. Music was and remains an integral part of my life, and I realize a considerable influence on my writing.

For music lovers, every type of music becomes part of the threads woven to create our personalities. My memories of the spirituals I listened to as a child or the blues music that developed from various influences after the Civil War to jazz that grew from the blues and ragtime in New Orleans have influenced me greatly.

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by WikiImages from Pixabay,

Jazz. I am not sure how one can define jazz. In an opinion article written by Josiah Boornazian, the author states:

“Jazz encourages, celebrates, and rewards newness, originality, personality, and meaningful expressiveness in music. Jazz never stopped evolving.”

This observation about jazz mimics writing. Doesn’t writing do the same, encourage, celebrate, and provide the same rewards?

When I was a child, my parents had a family friend, Mr. Price, whose mother was from Louisiana and who I wrote about in a previous article. His stories of his mother’s life in Louisiana and the Cajun meals he prepared for us on some Sundays greatly influenced me. I loved the stories and the food, and as I grew up, my affection for the area never waned but became a love for New Orleans and jazz.

When I started my first mystery novel, I never hesitated to set the story in New Orleans. I visited there a few times and felt a kinship with the French Quarter, more so than with my hometown in South Carolina.

As I wrote, I felt the ambiance of the French Quarter. The colorful residents, the awed tourists, the neon, and the art and Voodou shops all mingled with the smells of spicy food, beer, incense, and, well… some other aromas, but all part of the fabric of the Quarter.

However, one component of the ambiance was the sound of jazz. Walk along the narrow streets and listen as the music waxes and wanes from one club to the next—some joyous, some melancholy, and all reaching into your soul. There is a rhythm to life, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the jazz-filled French Quarter.

When I write, those beautiful spirituals from my early days to today’s jazz are my muse. The music spurs my creativity. The connection to the life force, the vibe, if you will, from the places that create that music, hopefully, keeps me evolving as a writer.

Whatever your music tastes, play some tunes while you write. If I may suggest, play a little Bossa Nova for enchantment and romance, a little Buddy Rich for the zest of life, a little Miles Davis for the soul, and let your muse play.

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by D. A. Ratliff.

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Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/ and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thecoastalquill

And look for her mystery novel, Crescent City Lies, coming soon!

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Resources:

https://www.learnjazzstandards.com/blog/all-about-jazz/jazz-opinion-blog/whats-true-meaning-behind-jazz-music/

D. A. Ratliff: How Not to Market a Novel

I appreciate the opportunity to share this article on Elaine Marie Carnegie – Padgett’s website, The Writer’s Journey Blog. I hope that my mistakes in marketing my first book will help others as they publish theirs. Please click on the link below to visit Elaine’s site and enjoy the wonderful contributions from many authors. Thanks!!
The Writer’s Journey Blog

How Not to Market a Novel
Publishing Without a Plan

I have always wanted to write a novel.

So, I wrote a novel, or two or three.

I never published—until now.

The one thing I missed along the way was marketing the book.

As an adult, I began writing my first novel when I convinced myself I had the time. I had stars in my eyes. I would write what I hoped was a good story, find an agent, and sign a book deal with a publishing house.

I was naive.

The realities of publishing and how independent publishing had changed the marketplace surprised me. The difficulty in acquiring an agent, much less a contract with a traditional publisher, drove many authors into the indie market, some successfully and some not. The independent author became writer, publisher, and marketing manager with the click of a mouse and, sometimes, an editor and cover designer too—a lot of responsibility for someone who only wants to write.

Editing and cover design can be contracted depending on the writer’s budget, as can book promotion. The question is, at what cost? With high competition for readers, it is difficult for many writers to recoup their investment and decide when they stop spending money to prepare a book for publication.

In today’s publishing world, the brutal truth is that traditional publishers provide only minimum marketing efforts unless you are a best-selling author. Fortunately, many resources provide information on how to market your book.

So, what do we do?

Although I followed my dream and wrote a few novels, life and other responsibilities always got in the way of taking the time to publish. I had done all the research, written articles about marketing, and had marketing responsibilities in former jobs, but when it came to my first novel, I did little. The intent was there, but the execution was lacking.

Faced with that fact, I decided to publish anyway. I haven’t embarked on a marketing campaign, but frankly, I am at a point where I want to publish. I am running out of excuses.

I am fortunate to have some graphics experience and have made book covers for anthology collections.

I am also lucky to have friends who are editors. My need to pay for these services is minimal, which leaves me some financial leeway to pay for advertising.

However, with this first novel, I will forgo paid advertising and promote only on the platforms where I have a presence. I was working diligently to improve my following on my blog and was quite satisfied with the numbers. Then my blog crashed, and due to an oversight on my part, I could not retrieve my account. (a word to the wise, update your phone number when it changes). In an instant, I lost all the hard work I had done and a considerable number of followers.

The thing is, how much do followers matter? In many instances, fellow authors follow their peers for mutual support. Not all will be fans of our novels’ genres and may not be potential readers. While our fellow authors give support, it might not always be by purchasing our books.

I could enter into a discussion of the many avenues available for marketing—newsletters, email campaigns, advertising on Facebook, Amazon, free giveaways of eBooks, the list is endless. However, that would be pointless since I am not doing any of the above for this first novel. While the efforts are essential, to what extent do they work?

One author I know, who writes in a niche market, began her marketing efforts a year before publishing her first book. Another author markets through newsletters and advertising, and both are successful. Yet, many marketing stories are unsuccessful despite engaging in the exact activities.

Building an email list can be daunting. While there are many ways to acquire email addresses, it is often a slow and tedious process, and statistics show that the return on any marketing effort is in the twenty percent range. The email list needs to be extensive to be effective, and that takes time and effort to build and money if choosing to purchase an email list.

Contacting influencers and potential reviewers feels a bit like selling your soul. While reviews are akin to gold for an author, seeking them always feels like pandering. Advertising can be effective, but to be so must be planned for the long-term, which can become expensive and often ineffective.

So, what works?

I wish I knew, and I imagine I am not alone in the struggle.

My tardiness in publishing is my fault. Being responsible for a large writing group and providing content to keep members interested and informed as well as the group publishing several member anthologies certainly stood in my way—but only because I let it. Life issues often interfere as well, but the fact is, I could have taken the time to publish, and I did not.

I had envisioned a roll-out with a book launch, press releases, advertising, and book signings. Despite marketing experience during my professional career, I did not anticipate the time and expense involved in marketing a book. Careful planning is possible, but it isn’t easy to manufacture time. At least, we tell ourselves that, but like money, we can budget time.

Regardless, I am about to publish my first novel and have done nothing. That’s a bit of a misnomer. I have done a few things. I have been promoting the upcoming release on my blog, author page, and Instagram, but my efforts are minimal.

What I do know is that I must start somewhere. So, I chose to publish now and not wait any longer. And with that begins my marketing plan for the next book.

I watched one of my favorite online writing coaches recently as she discussed writing a series or stand-alone novels. One thing she said that stuck out to me is that a published body of work was often an excellent marketing tool. If you have several books available for a reader to read, chances are if they like one of your books, they will read the others. Sounds like a good marketing plan to me!

In a few weeks, I will self-publish, and that novel will be part of my marketing strategy for the next book. D. A. Ratliff, author of “‘insert title,” has a ring of credibility and might help market my second book. In addition, I might start a tad earlier on that promotion effort.

I have no delusions of grandeur when it comes to success. While I am proud of the finished product, I am under no illusion that any novel or any author will become successful. I choose to take satisfaction in the process and hope someone will enjoy reading it.

The moral of this story is do not do what I have done and neglect the things you can do to improve your success. While we have no guarantees, planning for success is much better than having no plan.

Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/

D. A. Ratliff: Why Writers Should Exercise!

Why Writers Should Exercise!

D. A. Ratliff

Before you start sweating, not that kind of exercise. After sitting at a computer writing for several hours, physical exercise might be prudent, but we will discuss that another day. This discussion is about writing exercises that help hone your creative writing skills and why they are essential.

If you belong to an internet or in-person writing group, take a writing class, or are inquisitive and search the internet for information, you are familiar with writing exercises. Let’s look at the myriad of activities created for improving your writing skills.

Writing Skills

These are some skills necessary for writing.

  • Character Development
  • Plot Creation
  • World Building
  • Opening Sentence/Paragraph Hook
  • Creating Tension
  • Dialogue
  • Story Structure
  • Grammar
  • “Writer’s Block”
  • Editing /Word Selection
  • The “Elevator” Blurb
  • Query Letters
  • Synopsis
  • Covers/Cover Blurb

Exercises for Writers

The exercises to practice the skills listed above are numerous. You can do some exercises alone, and some benefit from group participation, all designed to improve the quality of your writing.

The exercises include:

  • Character arc – Write a character at the beginning of a story and the end to show their development or lack of development.
  • World Building – Interview a member of a society, asking questions about the geography and culture.
  • Timed writing sprints – Setting a time limit on an exercise helps focus thoughts.
  • Opening Sentence – From an image or writing prompt, create an opening sentence.
  • Editing/Word Selection – Write a story based on a prompt with a word count limit which requires careful word selection, story structure, and editing of unnecessary content.
  • Query Letters, Synopses, or Cover Blurbs – Writing any of these items from a prompt is helpful, as is offering one of these writing excerpts for peer critique, which also helps hone skills.
  • “Writer’s Block” – There are conflicting opinions on the nature of writer’s block, but, at times, all writers hit an impasse, and writing is elusive. Suggestions include freewriting for a set timeframe, writing a scene further into the story, or writing from a prompt.
  • Read the works of others and learn how they crafted their stories.

You can do many exercises, from focusing on one individual aspect of writing to practicing general writing. Finding writing exercises is as simple as checking with your favorite writing group or using a search engine on the internet.

The Benefits of Writing Exercises

Besides the obvious mechanical skills that writing exercises help improve, there are other reasons for doing these exercises.

The Muse

Perhaps the most important benefit gained from writing exercises is the spark to your muse—your imagination. A common complaint from writers is “I don’t know what to write about” or “I’m stumped and don’t know where to take my story.” While imagination is not an acquired skill, you can stimulate it.

As with any profession or hobby, we can burn out or become weary of the task. When that happens professionally, we turn our attention to another project or take a vacation. A writer or hobbyist can do the same.

Writers can look to the word prompt exercises as a project change. Utilizing prompts to write something new can stimulate your imagination. Vacations are also necessary, and despite all the ‘experts’ telling you that you must write every day, you don’t have to do so. A break from a routine allows you to return with a fresher perspective.

The Fundamentals

There are basic tenets to writing. The story structure that we follow today is the same as the first stories told. As a society, we feel compelled to tell stories to pass on cultural and historical information to following generations and for entertainment.

Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Writing mechanics, sentence structure, grammar, character, plot development, and world-building have, for the most part, remained the same since storytelling began. Exercises that target these components help to reinforce the fundamental skills a writer needs to tell the story effectively. Knowing the fundamentals also allows writers to deviate from traditional structure and add a creative touch to their writing while keeping the story cohesive.

Do not forget one of the best ways to learn the fundaments is to read. Reading is one of the most fundamental exercises you can do. Learn structure, plot construction, character development, and more from other writers. Even writers who are not so skilled can teach us how not to do something.

Focus

An overactive imagination is a wonderful thing for a writer to have. However, too many story ideas can be overwhelming and cause a loss of focus.

There is nothing wrong with having several projects going simultaneously, but task focus is crucial to completing a story or novel. Timed-writing exercises are an effective way of learning to organize thoughts and keep story progression on target. A ten-minute sprint of freewriting or an hour of writing with an end goal in mind sharpens the focus, as does finishing a prompt with a specific word count limit.

Learning to focus as you write helps with the biggest disappointment many writers have—not completing the work they have started. Many novels are started but not finished because of the lack of focus on the goal.

Confidence

You’ve heard about it, imposter syndrome. The belief is that, despite your success, you are not as capable as others think you are and that you don’t deserve any accolades. Nonsense. Self-doubt about your ability to succeed at writing or any endeavor you undertake is not a healthy attribute and will cascade into all facets of your life.

Participating in writing exercises is certainly not the panacea for imposter syndrome, but what it can do is validate that you have writing skills. The proverb, practice makes perfect is true. While perfection is difficult to achieve, practicing and mastering the skills to help you become a better writer will give you the confidence to be the best writer you can be and accept your success no matter how you measure it.

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Writing is many things—fun, tedious, demanding, complex. Competition for readers is intense, and all we can do is offer the best storytelling we can to our readers. But as with any other art form, we do not achieve success without working for it. A dancer, musician, singer, or artist spends hours rehearsing their craft, honing moves, notes, or brushstrokes. A writer must do the same and put in the time to study, read, and embrace the practice—writing exercises. You will be a better writer for it.

Resources for Writing Exercises:

Grammar Exercises: Owl Online Writing Lab https://owl.purdue.edu/owl_exercises/index.html

https://www.creativefuture.org.uk/resource/creative-writing-exercises-structure

D. A. Ratliff: What? I Can’t Write Like Stephen King?

Images are free use and do not require attribution. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What? I Can’t Write Like Stephen King?

D. A. Ratliff

I came across an article that focused on the reasons not to listen to advice from Stephen King. I wondered, why not? Stephen King is a highly successful author and the author of a popular book on the writing process.

When reading articles such as this one, I always remind myself that there is advice and there is opinion. In our quest to improve, writers should always read both to obtain a broad base of information to utilize in our writing.

The author of this article isolates three of Stephen King’s “rules” and proceeds to show how the opposite of his rule can be appropriate. Of course, writing passive sentences or using an adverb or a “five-dollar word” as the author describes can be effective—in the proper context.

What this author fails to mention is that you should use these rule-breaking exceptions in moderation. A plethora (see what I did there?) of passive sentences will eventually bore your readers, too many adjectives, and you create “purple prose,” writing that is too ornate.

As for those “five-dollar words,” I prefer to call that an extensive vocabulary. In the author’s example, her use of complex, long words was entirely appropriate. When writing an educated character or one from the aristocracy, formal dialogue and those “five-dollar and change” words add realism and depth. The same terms used by a character who is uneducated or from a lower socioeconomic level would not feel authentic to your reader. A book laden with too many complex words becomes a textbook and will be difficult for most readers to follow.

This author ends by saying that writers should write anyway that they feel comfortable and break the rules if they are skilled enough.

It seems as though I have heard that advice/opinion before. That statement is what writing is for all of us. We develop our style based on what we have learned and how we arrange words on the page.

I have authored articles on the rules and my opinion of the writing process. However, I want to stress that writers should read everything they can about this art of writing. Take away those ideas, rules, and suggestions that suit your style of writing. This author inferred that if you follow Stephen King’s rules, you will write just like him. No, you won’t. The rules are not his style. How he uses words to convey emotion and create tension is his style.

I offer only one piece of advice here. As I said above, read everything you can about the writing process, read books, and glean from those sources what you need to become the writer you want to be. Always learn the rules first, then you can break them.

In the words of the infamous fashion icon Tim Gunn:  Make it work!

Image from https://me.me/

D. A. Ratliff: Out for a Morning Walk: Clearing Writer’s Block

Photo of Anhinga drying off after fishing by D.A. Ratliff

Out for a Morning Walk

Clearing Writer’s Block

D. A. Ratliff

Did you ever get to a point in a story that you could not get past? Okay, I know that is a rather silly question—of course, you have. All writers have. When you reach that crisis point and don’t know what comes next, the question is what to do. I took a morning walk.

We commonly use the term “writer’s block” to describe this condition. Defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.”

Psychological?

I have had those moments when, although I know where a story is going, I couldn’t find the path to the result I wanted. I have never thought of writer’s block as a psychological condition. However, a study by clinical psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios decided to follow a group of writers who suffered from writer’s block to explain what occurs.

After several months of research, their conclusion was there were four general causes of writer’s block.

  1. Excessively harsh self-criticism
  2. Fear of comparison to other writers
  3. Lack of external motivation, like attention and praise
  4. Lack of internal motivation, like the desire to tell one’s story

When I consider these in relation to my writing, I find these categories far too broad. Many of us are critical of our work at times, but I have never felt fear of comparisons to another writer. I may be a Leo on the Zodiac chart, but while I enjoy compliments to my work, I am relatively low-key and don’t crave attention. As far as lack of motivation to tell a story, all you need to do is check out the number of works I have in progress (far too many).

This question remains. While the conclusions these psychologists reached certainly hold validity, what is the reason most of us find ourselves slamming into a brick wall. There are several.

The Lost Plot

Pantsers or plotters often find themselves mired in what to do next. While plotters expect to have fewer issues with plot holes than pantsers, having planned their story before writing, they seem to suffer a loss of direction too.

If faced with confusion about resolving a plot, one way to find your way out is to read a book in your genre for ideas of how other writers cope with plot issues. Another way is to freewrite about any topic. You can also bypass the issue and skip to another scene, write that, or turn to other projects and concentrate on them.

Enthusiasm

When we immerse ourselves in a project, we can become overwhelmed and unable to concentrate. The flicker of imagination that prompted you to write can become lost in the research, character development, plot issues, all sorts of details required to write. One solution is to step back for a few days and consider why you wanted to write the story. What was your motivation, what message did you want to give readers? Take time to make the connection back to your story.

Over the Limit

It is difficult for us to acknowledge when we have reached a physical or emotional breaking point. Illness, stress, exhaustion, distractions such as jobs, children, a myriad of reasons can divert our attention from the highly cognitive effort of writing. There are no easy solutions to any of these diversions. Time, rest, and care will hopefully alleviate illness and exhaustion. Organizational skills and support from family and friends can help you cope with diversions.

Expecting Too Much

We are writers. It is a passion, a calling, therapy, satisfying, fun, but we can also expect too much. The “great—insert country here—novel” is something we all strive for, and we should. If we are not prepared to write the best piece that we can, then why bother?

One of my favorite writing quotes is by Terry Pritchett. “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”  Do not expect perfection in your first draft or second draft but strive to write the best that you can. Understand that all writers need help, good beta readers, excellent editors, and others. Use the resources available to you.

With the current state of publishing, and it appears that everyone on the planet is self-publishing, it is important to keep realistic expectations for success. The best we can do is try to produce a quality book and promote it as we can.

What to do?

That is a question we have all asked. How do we overcome writer’s block?

When I have run into a brick wall regarding plot, how to have a character react, or transitioning from one scene to another, I walk away and try to relax. Have you ever noticed that when you are in the shower (or my favorite, a bubble bath) or taking a walk, the solutions to your problems come to you? When our minds relax, we can process problems with greater ease.

I am fortunate to live in a warm (okay, hot) climate, and during the summer, early morning walks are advisable. The quiet solitude of a coastal community brings a great deal of peace, and it was on one such recent walk that I solved an issue with my story, which prompted this article. A stroll on a city street, along the coast, or on a country lane can be the relaxing diversion that you need.

If you search the internet, there are many suggestions for breaking writer’s block. Among the recommendations are the following, found on Reedsy.com.

  • Develop a writing routine
  • Do non-writing activities
  • Freewrite
  • Balance your inner critic
  • Change your POV
  • Map your story, pantser or not
  • Check out writing groups, writing prompts
  • Work on your characters

The important thing is not to panic, as the anxiety will increase your inability to work through the block you are experiencing. You are not alone. All writers have had some form of writer’s block, and we always will.

The best advice I can give is to take a morning walk.

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Photo by D. A. Ratliff

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Please visit D. A. Ratliff on her blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/

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Resources
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/writer%27s%20block
https://blog.reedsy.com/writers-block/
https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/644139-the-first-draft-is-just-you-telling-yourself-the-story

D. A. Ratliff: We Write. Are We Professional?

Writers lead exciting lives. We can sit in the safety of our homes or cafes or wherever we choose to write and have amazing adventures through our words. As George R. R. Martin wrote in one of his novels,

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…. The man who never reads lives only one.”

A writer lives those thousand lives as well.

Who are we who call ourselves writers?

We are ethnically diverse, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but share a passion for writing. We publish. Some of us are highly successful, some not. Many published authors would refer to themselves as professional writers. The question is, are we?

What is a Professional?

 Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.

The attributes of a professional:

  • Appearance
  • Demeanor
  • Reliability
  • Competence
  • Ethics
  • Maintaining Poise
  • Phone Etiquette
  • Written correspondence
  • Organizational Skills
  • Accountability

These attributes should be self-explanatory. We should, in all circumstances, be neat in appearance, calm and respectful, reliable in completing tasks or arriving for meetings, and all the other skills listed. All are important, but competence requires considerable study and experience in our chosen profession. Whether accountant, nurse, musician, or writer, this behavior should be our norm.

The Pathway to Writing.

Words are an author’s musical notes, brush strokes, or accounting formulas, surgical techniques, grammar rules, or any other skill required to become successful in a profession. If, as writers, we consider ourselves artists, then we need to gain competency in our art and develop the attributes that represent professionalism.

Perhaps as a child, you exhibited An aptitude for playing an instrument, singing, or drawing. While not all children with demonstrated talent will become professional musicians, singers, or artists, the training for those who do invariably begins at an early age.

The path for artists is an arduous one. Countless hours of instruction and practice are required to learn the instrument, steps, or shapes and perform with others. Years of preparation, mentoring, and often formal study at a university are required for a career in music or art. A career in music or the arts does not require higher education, but the additional training only increases expertise. Also, artists often have another hurdle before they can perform. They may be required to audition to join an orchestra or dance company.

But what about writers? In truth, writers also begin training at an early age. Primary and secondary education provides the basics of grammar, vocabulary, and creative writing. Some may continue to college, where they can major in creative writing or journalism.

Those who choose not to pursue an academic path to writing can find a myriad of articles and lessons on the Internet. Enter ‘how to write dialogue’ into a search engine, and the number of articles offered is staggering. The issue becomes which of those articles are credible and which ones are not. With the voluminous amount of material available, sorting through it to find what works for you can be daunting and confusing but necessary.

The Impact of Self-Publishing on Professionalism

With the advent of self-publishing, the number of authors choosing that route has reached an all-time high. An article by Dan Balow from The Steve Laube Agency website states, “Traditional and self-publishing generate over one million new books every year in the U.S. alone, according to RR Bowker. Two-thirds are self-published.”

That’s a lot of authors, and the question is how many have taken the time and effort to hone their writing craft. Unfortunately, it appears many have not. The areas of greatest impact on the level of quality for published books according to Barlow are:

  • Collegial control. A give and take relationship between publisher and author where negotiation is required to produce a satisfactory agreement for both.
  • Traditional publishing can take as long as eighteen months. Self-publishing can happen soon after “The End” is typed onto the manuscript.
  • Quality of the manuscript. Editing a manuscript is never completed, but all efforts should be made to create a flawless Often, self-published authors do little editing.
  • Length of manuscript. There are industry standards based on what readers expect that the self-publishing world often ignores. This alone can create dissatisfied readers.
  • Book cover. One of the essential components of a novel, the cover, attracts the reader to pick up the book, read the blurb, and be interested enough to purchase. Too many self-published authors do not take proper care with the creation of their cover and shortchange themselves.

These are all crucial issues that all authors need to be cognizant of, even with the assistance of a traditional publishing house. To be a professional when presenting yourself as a writer, these are all issues that you must address as part of the competency attribute.

One aspect of publishing that many authors, traditionally published or not, has to deal with is the most important task they undertake—marketing their book.

We welcome others buying our novels for enjoyment. Marketing is a requirement to accomplish that goal. If we are fortunate enough to have an agent or a traditional publishing house represent us, we might have help in offering our product to our readers.

The cold facts are that total marketing support is rare for today’s authors unless they are already proven revenue generators. Many writers turn to self-publishing or small independent publishers where marketing more than likely falls to the author, and few are qualified to promote their books. How we accomplish that task can define us professionals and establish how the marketplace perceives us as authors.

The Interview

There are numerous avenues open to marketing books, but interviews are personal and effective. Print media, online media, television, radio, and podcasts provide excellent resources for an author to become known to their fans. Making a strong connection with the journalist or host is imperative.      

The hosts of these media platforms offer their services, expertise, and the most important commodity, their time. While some media organizations charge, their services are usually free for authors.

These media services provide a tremendous opportunity to communicate with potential readers, lead to repeat interviews, keep the author in front of the public, and keep their book and future books in the spotlight. An essential tool for any author to utilize.

A common lament among these hosts is that authors do not respond to emails or messages, are not available at the time of the interview, or cancel at the last moment without a valid reason. Some answer the written interviews, returning the questions without bothering to edit. Some do not follow through on promoting the interview across social media. Not only necessary for the author but also for the host who has provided the service.

However, the most disturbing behavior to these hosts was how many authors they interviewed never said thank you.

We discussed the attributes of professionals. Here are how those attributes relate to writers.

  • Appearance – Dress appropriately for a face-to-face interview or a book signing/reading.
  • Demeanor – Be respectful, considerate, pleasant, and have a good sense of humor.
  • Reliability – Be on time, provide materials requested
  • Competence – Learn your craft.
  • Ethics – Your reputation is at stake. Always maintain integrity.
  • Maintaining Poise – Be prepared for uncomfortable questions by hosts or readers. Stay calm.
  • Phone Etiquette – Interviewing by phone requires you to answer clearly and concisely, then pause, and wait for the host to speak so that you do not talk over them.
  • Written correspondence – Bios should be as short as possible and written in third person. Interview questions should be answered thoroughly and edited for good sentence structure and grammar.
  • Organizational Skills – Be prepared, have whatever notes you need with you, and practice answers to questions that could arise about your book, your writing style, etc.
  • Accountability – You have agreed to submit answers to written questions or be available at a specified time for an interview or book signing and should honor those commitments.

And one last thing: A simple thank you to your host is respectful and will build a bond between you and a person who can be valuable to your future as a writer.

Are Writers Professional? We Can Be.

In this era of self-publishing, anyone can publish a book. Have a laptop, and you, too, can be a published author. You don’t need a college degree, or an editor, or a book cover designer. You can do it all. But if you want to approach your writing as a professional, study your craft through an educational facility or study information available on the internet. Use an editor so your manuscript will be as error-free as possible, focus on a quality book cover, and be prepared to market your work. Most of all, be kind and say thank you to those who are helping to make you a success.

D. A. Ratliff: Mr. Price’s Dinner Table

Mr. Price’s Dinner Table

D. A. Ratliff

Image from https://www.visitaikensc.com/

As those of you who have followed me know, I am a Southerner and quite proud of my roots. Growing up in South Carolina, I was fortunate to have parents who saw no color differences in their fellow man. People from all levels of society and cultures were visitors to our home.

My memories of my childhood remain clear today. The mimosa tree that I played under in our yard. Houses where all openings were trimmed in blue to ward off evil spirits. The dime bags of boiled peanuts sold on the street. The ‘air-conditioned tree’ at the Herlong Orchard peach stand where the temperature was twenty degrees cooler in the shade and the water stored in a metal canteen was ice cold. While there was a horrible undercurrent of fear and anger in this place I love so much, there was also a goodness of soul. Family, friends, food, and good times existed as well.

My father worked at the Savannah River Plant in Aiken, South Carolina, a manufacturer of hydrogen bombs. With workers from all over the world employed there, I met people from everywhere as a child. One of my father’s best friends was a bear of a man, a Navaho by the name of Jess Brown. His wife Athea, a small, plump woman who might have been a better cook than my grandmothers, was like an aunt to me. I am about one-sixteenth Cherokee and Jess, and Athea gave me a sense of what being Native American meant. Good, kind, hard-working, gentle people.

Yet, one friend of my parents impacted my life more than I realized. Mr. Price. Honestly, I am not certain what his first name was. My parents never called him anything but Mr. Price. He was older, a slight man but regal in bearing, with snow-white hair and a deep Southern accent that held a lilt of his mother’s heritage. She was a Cajun from southwest Louisiana. His reminisces about his mother’s upbringing fueled my love of the Cajun culture.

In those days in the South, people referred to Mr. Price,  an unmarried man of means and patron of the arts, as a ‘bachelor.’ Anyone who has read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt will recognize who Mr. Price was. Polite society did not mention the word homosexual as that wouldn’t be gracious and respectful.

We often had Sunday dinner at Mr. Price’s home, a large two-story house near downtown Aiken. I remember the opulent crimson flocked wallpaper in the parlor, the deep green walls in the dining room. If the weather cooperated, we would often eat on the back terrace surrounded by a lush garden.

But dinner? Not what you might expect for a South Carolina gentleman. While on occasion we might have shrimp and grits or barbequed chicken, we often feasted on shrimp etouffee or jambalaya, dishes Mr. Price’s mother made when he was small. I had my first taste of chicory coffee at his dinner table when I was ten.

I sat mesmerized as he told us of his mother’s home in Lake Charles and his grandparents’ home in the country nearby. He would spin tales of fun in the bayou that hooked me for life. While I loved South Carolina, my heart drifted toward Cajun Louisiana. His memories stirred emotions in me that I have kept to this day.

When I began to write fiction again a few years ago, I knew I would set my stories in the South. While I have never sugarcoated the area’s problems, which are no different from any other part of the United States, there is an ambiance and tone about the South, the southern coast especially, that is alluring. Yet, when I began to write, it was in Louisiana, New Orleans, to be specific, where I set my first novel.

Having visited New Orleans a few times as an adult, I discovered that my writing muse was evidently a resident of the French Quarter. New Orleans, the bayou, the jazz, the beignets, the sultry weather, all characters in themselves and ones I find creeping into my writing.

On a recent Sunday, I watched one of Anthony Bourdain’s final “Parts Unknown” episodes. We lost a unique individual with Bourdain’s death. A notable essayist on life and culture and how food is intrinsic to our existence, not only for sustenance but for the soul. This show centered on Cajun Mardi Gras as celebrated in Southwest Louisiana.

We know of Mardi Gras as a glitzy party of drunken revelry, resplendent with cheap shiny beads, elaborate and gaudy costumes, and over-the-top parades, as well as – well –  fun. Bourdain showed us a Mardi Gras celebrated away from the French Quarter that few outsiders know occurs. Equally as gaudy and drunken but steeped in tradition and meaning.

Despite the commercial decadence of the more popular party in the French Quarter or the more traditional decadence of Cajun Mardi Gras, the spirit of the Cajun people, their passion for life, food, and even voodoo fuel the imagination and the soul.

I wrote a short story for a romance anthology. As I developed the story, I struggled with the setting until my muse dragged me into a jazz bar in the Quarter and reminded me that I was a mystery writer and knew where my story belonged. My story is now a romance between a TV reporter and a detective brought together by a murder. The location, you ask. The French Quarter.

There is something about the tenor and vibe of that city that touches me—a mysterious city in a mysterious state unlike any other part of our country. A place steeped in tradition and, like its chronicler, Anthony Bourdain, unique.

As I get closer to publishing my first novel, Crescent City Lies, a mystery set in New Orleans, I realize that the Cajun culture remains embedded within me, sparked so many years ago at Mr. Price’s dinner table.

Please visit Deborah on her new blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/

If you are traveling South, please stop by Aiken, South Carolina—a beautiful town with the best bar-b-que you will find anywhere! https://www.visitaikensc.com/

D. A. Ratliff: Passwords and the Two-Step

Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by Werner Moser from Pixabay.

Passwords and the Two-Step

D. A. Ratliff

Learning lessons is a vital part of life. However, some of those hard lessons are everyday occurrences. Some, unfortunately, are of our own doing, as my latest lesson was my fault!

Like everyone these days, I have too many accounts, Google Gmail, streaming video services, social media sites, writing programs, financial, shopping—the list is endless, and managing those passwords can become cumbersome and frustrating.

Google has a password managing program, and there are others available, but I have had more experience with hackers than I care to say. Leaving my passwords on a site where a hacker can get a whole list of them doesn’t seem prudent. Like a good little writer, I keep a notebook with me that occasionally has writing-related notes but mostly holds the grocery lists and my list of passwords.

Now, my plan of keeping my passwords in one place, with me the majority of the time, seemed to be smart. All I had to do was keep up with any changes I made and copy the list when I got a new notebook. Easy, right? Nothing could go wrong with that plan, could it?

I can tell you are far ahead of me. Let’s say getting in a hurry and never bothering to grab the notebook when you can’t remember the password doesn’t work. I’ll remember the new password. I’ll write it down later. Uh, no.

However, forgetting passwords is not the most egregious thing I have done to myself in the password world. And this is where the password recovery process becomes a nightmare.

It is one thing to forget a password. It is another to have your email program crash and throw you out of every email you have. The personal, the author, and the group emails I had to log back into were not an issue for the most part. Then there was my writing blog.

As we all know, with increasing security necessary, most social media, email programs, etc., require a two-step authentication—a password and the ability to receive a text or email with a code. However, if one of those is not available, then trouble looms.

When I set up my author blog on WordPress, I used a landline number as the emergency contact and the email address associated with the blog. At the time, my cell phone service was spotty due to tower issues, and the cell signal was weak, so I was in the habit of leaving the landline when necessary. Then I forgot.

I remembered when I could not access the text or email that was associated with my blog account. Nor could I recover my email as I had the other ones because I used a landline number no longer in service. Without those elements to prove who I was, WordPress denied access to my blog. All the hard work I had done over the years to build blog followers for my writing, gone.

In my defense, I had changed my Google account phone number, and for some reason, all the emails associated with the account had the new number associated with them. The blog email did not.

Let me warn you. These social media sites do not answer inquiries about this situation. Due to security, if they cannot prove the account belongs to you, the account is unrecoverable. There is no recourse. I tried.

I want to impart some unfortunate words of wisdom. Sad for me but hopefully a reminder for you.

  • Keep your passwords secure. If you trust a password management program, use it. If not, keep them written down and in a safe place. Please do not share them with anyone (okay, that’s a given).
  • If you are writing them down, do that. It takes a few seconds. Never be in such a hurry that you think you will record a new password later. You likely won’t.
  • Keep your phone number used for texts updated. Use a secure email that you always have access to as your emergency email.
  • If you have a personal blog, add a person you can trust to an admin position, so if you lose access, you will have someone who can invite you back in.
  • Remember: You cannot prevent all hacks, but if possible, use a VPN service and keep your passwords to yourself.

Lesson learned as I am in the process of redoing my blog. After several years, it is a daunting task, but starting over can be a good thing too. If you followed me in the past, then I would love to see you again.

More than anything else, don’t forget your passwords or correct phone number. It’s madness.

Please visit Deborah on her (new) blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/

D. A. Ratliff: Listen to Me! No! Listen to Me!

Listen to Me! No! Listen to Me!

The Talking Heads of Writing

D. A. Ratliff

I am one of those nerdy types constantly looking for new information. When I decided to start writing fiction again after many years of writing business and marketing-related materials, I scoured the Internet for every morsel of writing advice I could find. The amount of material I found was overwhelming, but I dove in without taking a breath. I wanted to learn.

What I found fulfilled my needs, but I also found that, apparently, everyone who has ever written considers themselves an expert. The myriad of articles, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos are mind-bogglingly confusing, with almost all of these ‘experts’ saying the identical thing. The difference is how they offer their “expertise.”

My background is in science, so I took a rudimentary approach. I had taken creative writing in high school and college, but I decided to start with general information. I researched topics such as writing fiction for beginners, components of a good fiction novel, and how to write mysteries or science fiction. After looking at overviews of the craft, I pared my searches down to the basics.

Among my first questions were these:

  • How to write an opening sentence
  • How to write a hook
  • How to write an opening paragraph, a first chapter

Well, you get the idea—totally back to basics.

I wasn’t a novice, but years of writing nonfiction suck the soul out of writing fiction. I needed to relearn how to put the reader into the story for more than information. I needed them to feel the emotion of what they were reading. I searched for information on developing characters, plots, world-building, voice, structure, and grammar, among other topics.

Whether a beginning writer or one who believes in continuing education, the resources available to us are amazing. We can have information from the Internet in seconds that could take hours to find the conventional way open to us—libraries.

Libraries had librarians. Those individuals who spoke softly and always found the answers you sought. If you needed information on any subject, there would be stacks of books or periodicals in front of you, ready for exploration within a blink of an eye.

Today, while my love of libraries will never wane, my librarians are more often Internet search engines. The process is not as personal, but the information is instantaneous. It is also confusing.

There are basic steps to writing. While all of us like to be creative individuals, the art of storytelling is an ancient one and varies little from the beginning of the spoken and written word. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That pattern does not change. Our creativity is in how we construct our story.

With the Internet’s assistance, we can learn the basics and the nuances of storytelling by asking questions. For example, I typed in this search request. How to write an opening line for a novel.

The result? “About 373,000,000 results (0.67 seconds)” was the response from the search engine for all results.

For videos? The results were—“About 3,720,000 results (0.46 seconds).” That is a lot of videos for a very narrow topic.

I admit to a love-hate relationship with writers and videos. There is one author who I came across a few years ago whose advice I found to be excellent and delivered in a fun and irreverent manner. I followed this author and her advice for a long time, until recently. Her videos have become solely marketing tools for her books and merchandise. There is nothing wrong with promotion, and she has built her following and has every right to market her work to them or anyone.

However, when I am going to her for advice on a topic, having her book discussed before she addresses the subject is annoying, and she lost me as a follower. Not like there aren’t more writing advisors out there. Unfortunately, there are.

For example, one author is bright and cheery but distracted during her rushed delivery. Her camera fell during a taping and, instead of starting over, she frantically grabbed the camera, placed it where she had it, and kept talking. It was annoying and distracting, and she should have stopped and started over, but she did not. Another time, she yelled at her dog for barking. If you want me to respect you as an expert, conduct yourself like one. Her advice was nothing we haven’t heard before, so delivery and connection to the audience are imperative.

There is another famous video writing guru who has produced many YouTube videos. This is more of a personal quirk of mine, but please don’t talk down to the listener and don’t declare how proficient you are on a topic, prove it. In one video, she discussed outdated genres and tropes and noted that some genres are dead in traditional publishing but do well in self-publishing. As her focus and her professed expertise concern traditional publishing, her bias is there as well. If a genre is not selling one place but selling in another, it is not dead but subject to other markets and readers. As a writer, never forget, your success in traditional publishing is at the whim of agents, publishing house editors, and marketing staff. Your novel may be exceptional, but if it does not fit their cubbyholes, the odds of receiving a publishing contract are slim. When reaching out to find qualified advice, read the author’s bio and listen to their intent, as not all advice applies to your situation.

I am not saying that any of the abovementioned writers’ videos don’t have good advice. Advice is subjective and how we learn varies from one person to another. However, I want to offer a word of caution as many authors imparting their ‘knowledge’ do not provide sound advice.

To appear unique, people want to take the basics of writing and spin the ideas into a new way of thinking or processing the information. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when two plus two equals four, there is little room for stating that fact any other way. Overembellishing a process often leads to confusion, especially for a novice writer.

There are hundreds of processes offered as the way to write the best novel ever. The list is endless. There are numerous character development or world-building forms, specialty writing programs, name or plot generators, and different ways to plot—all ways to accomplish the same goal we all have, to write a novel.

When researching the writing process, you should read all the information you can but be wary of who you are listening to when you take lessons away from your reading. The first Internet search results will be the most popular ones, and often you will see the same writing websites or blogs listed. Popularity does not always mean quality, but if writers use the same sites for advice, there is a reason. You should read all the articles, watch all the videos, take a writing class, and read books with one thought in mind. Take the information that you gather and apply it to your writing process to fit your style. You should be unique, not the person providing writing tips.

The US Navy came up with an acronym, KISS, which stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. It applies to writers. Learn all that you can about your craft but remember the basics of writing. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end, and only you can write your story.

Listen to yourself.

Please visit D. A. Ratliff on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com

Please note: Images are free use and require no attribution. Images used by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

D. A. Ratliff: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

D. A. Ratliff

Photo from Pinterest. Image source unknown, credit to the orginal creator.

Location is vital in all facets of our lives. Comfort, convenience, commute, and community are essential considerations when selecting where we wish to reside. When writing, it makes sense to consider the impact of where we have our characters live.

Location can be more than the physical terrain in which we set a story, although some places can take a back seat to the plot. However, the setting is another tool in the author’s arsenal to add depth to the story. The choice of locale sets the period of the story, when and where it takes place. It affects how the characters behave, speak, and reflect on the society where they live. More importantly, when needed, the setting can become another character creating a mood and emotional tone.

A few inquiring minds have asked me what is so appealing to me about New Orleans and why I set so many of my stories either there or in Louisiana, where my upcoming novel, Crescent City Lies, is set. After all, I’m from South Carolina, a beautiful state with its own vibrant culture and uniqueness. It also has faults, as do all places, and those faults in a community can also add depth to your story.

When deciding on a setting for a story, the flavor of Louisiana draws me into its spell. Nothing like the sultry summer heat in the south, when life slows down, and the humidity rises. The spicy aromas and comforting palate of Cajun food and the smooth sounds of New Orleans jazz are alluring and set a mood that seems to touch my writer’s passion. Wicked antagonists, flawed heroes, and enticing strong women seem to belong in the bayou or the French Quarter.

In reality, I love the beach. Ribbons of sand lapped by waves, air tangy with salt, majestic pelicans soaring against a cornflower blue sky. My heart lies on the shore, rejuvenated by the sun’s heat. My soul rests in the bayou.

Image by D. A Ratliff

I am fortunate to live in an area that some people call paradise—if you consider heat, humidity, sun, and ocean paradise. I do! As the photo above shows, expansive sky, lush vegetation, a body of water, and a bench to enjoy the quiet beauty sets a mood just outside my door. Not to mention, there are ducks, sea birds, and two resident alligators to add to the ambiance.

I suppose we choose where we want our stories to unfold for a myriad of reasons. Genre certainly plays a role and can dictate the amount of world-building necessary to create the foundation you need. A cozy mystery often occurs in a small town, a detective murder mystery in a city setting, but let your creativity decide what works for your story. How descriptive you should be depends on how important the location is to your storyline. For instance, a city with the ambiance of a New Orleans, New York City, San Francisco, or San Antonio becomes a character within the story, adding depth and mood by using the uniqueness of the environment to enhance the plot. The same for small towns that can provide coziness and character to the story.

My thoughts always seem to be on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the Battery in Charleston, or an Atlantic beach in Florida, all locations which spur my muse. Let those places you love inspire your muse and your stories.

Image by Oliver Weidmann from Pixabay

Please visit D. A. Ratliff on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/