Welcome to Pen & Prosper

Welcome to Pen & Prosper
"Required reading" for today's smart writer. As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Daily Blog Tips, Write to Done, Technorati, WOW! and other popular sites.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview With Author Victoria Grossack




Please join me in welcoming author, columnist and instructor, Victoria Grossack to Pen and Prosper today. Here she shares helpful tips for writers, as well as strategies for success.  

Can you tell Pen and Prosper readers a little about who you are and your professional background?

I’m the solo author of two mysteries: The Highbury Murders: A Mystery Set in the Village of Jane Austen’s Emma and Academic Assassination (a Zofia Martin Mystery). Together with my collaborator Alice Underwood, we have written five novels based on Greek mythology, including Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus; Antigone & Creon: Guardians of Thebes and a trilogy about Niobe that starts with Children of Tantalus.

I always spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a story great, which started me down the path of working out issues that I was not seeing addressed in other books and articles. That got me writing my own column at Writing-world.com, and I have now pulled my ideas to create the book, Crafting Fabulous Fiction.

As for the rest of my background: I have a degree in Creative Writing and English Literature from Dartmouth College, an MBA from Indiana University, and I am also a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society. That means I understand quite a lot about insurance and mathematics.

Describe your writing process. Do you have any rituals? Do you write every day, or when your muse inspires?

These days, I write nearly every day, because I have the interest, the time and the energy. When I had a full-time job, I discovered that Mondays and Tuesdays were more intense at the office and so I was too tired to write on those days. Instead I dedicated time to my writing on Wednesdays through Sundays. I tend to write in the mornings, often very early, because I am a morning person. I think people who want to write should determine when they have time and when they have the energy, both physical and emotional, to write.

As for rituals, I find Bach very soothing, and I occasionally light a candle to summon my muse, but I often write without any music or flames.

I see that you are widely traveled and have homes in Switzerland and Arizona. Is travel writing a part of your portfolio as well?

Actually, yes – I have sold quite a few travel articles through Constant Content. I’m not trying to establish myself as a travel writer, so I usually sell all rights. That means you may never find my byline.

I don’t care much for traveling myself, but my husband does a lot for his work and so I occasionally find myself in some out-of-the-way places. Not everything goes as planned, of course, and so while we’re having problems with a hotel room or difficulties driving around Peru, I start thinking up an article. It’s a way to make lemonade out of lemons.
 
Your column at Writing World, and your new book both provide timely tips on “Crafting Fabulous Fiction.” What would you say is the most common mistake in creating quality fiction for new authors?


Many new authors assume that because they know how to read that they also know how to write. This is like someone saying that because he has been in a lot of different houses that he knows how to build one.

In my new book, Crafting Fabulous Fiction: Levels of Structure, Characters and More, I take people through a tour of the levels of structure in fiction. We begin with words, then move on to phrases, sentences, paragraphs and even up through series and even the world of literature. I believe that a writer who understands what is going on at each level of structure in his or her book is much better-equipped to write a fabulous story. Of course, there’s more than just structure to creating a novel, so Crafting Fabulous Fiction has a section dedicated to characters and another section covering miscellaneous topics such as dialogue and description.

A reason for pulling together the book is because my columns can’t go far enough. In an article of 1500 to 2000 words, you cannot see the big picture; you can only cover one corner of it.

Tell us a little about your Tapestry of Bronze series and what it was like to collaborate on that project. 

The Tapestry of Bronze series started when Alice Underwood and I decided to collaborate on Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus together. Many people think that trying to write with another person is nuts, and I had my own doubts when we started. But Alice and I discovered that our strengths were complementary.

When we were writing Jocasta, we did a lot of research into myths that overlapped with the myths of the characters of the Oedipus story, including Niobe, who was queen of Thebes just before Jocasta and Laius (Laius was the father of Oedipus). The main myth associated with Niobe is the story that her many children one day were killed by Apollo and Artemis. However, when we put all the myths together, the name of real, mortal person behind the mass murder became clear. That is why we wrote the Niobe trilogy: because we had the solution to a three-thousand-year-old crime. We felt as if we had to write it in order to clear the names of those who have been falsely accused.

Our most recently finished book in the Tapestry of Bronze series was Antigone & Creon: Guardians of Thebes – some reviewers are calling it the best – and we’re deep into the next one.

Working with Alice is great fun. There’s someone else in the world who understands my preoccupation with chariot races and siege warfare in the Late Bronze Age. On the other hand, the books, at the end, don’t really sound much like either of us, which is kind of peculiar.

I see you haven’t joined the “blogging bandwagon.” Any particular reason? Has it hindered you in terms of promoting your work?

It’s possible that not blogging has kept me from getting the word out about my work. But I write a column twice a month for writing-world and have done many guest articles for other sites. I don’t have the time or the inspiration for a blog; if I blogged, I don’t even know what I would say. I do maintain a website.

How did you find your current agent? What do you recommend to other authors seeking representation?

Actually, she found me, quite recently. She does not accept queries so I will not give out her name. It was always my dream for an agent to contact me instead of the other way around, so that’s pretty cool. We’ll see if it leads to big things.

For authors seeking representation, besides the usual process of preparing manuscripts and sending out query letters, I recommend (a) working on your writing; (b) getting your name out there; and (c) active networking. Meet people, and always be pleasant and professional. I would also warn that agents are not miracle workers; many manuscripts, even though they are agented, do not get picked up by publishing houses.

What would it surprise others to know about you?

I enjoy tutoring high school mathematics. After five or six hours of concentrated creativity, I find it relaxing to talk about simultaneous equations.

Columnist, author, instructor, editor…What would you identify as being your favorite creative role?

Author. It’s by far the most challenging, but it is also the most satisfying when a story really comes together.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Not today. Thanks for the opportunity, Jennifer!

Links:

To Kindle version of Crafting Fabulous Fiction: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LGBX3OC

Also available for the Nook and in hard copy.

To Victoria’s website:
www.tapestryofbronze.com

Friday, July 18, 2014

Word to the Wise! Motivational Quotes to Inspire, Enlighten, & Empower




I love quotes. For me they're thought provoking, wise and reflective, and pack a powerful punch succinctly. Wouldn't you agree?

Like seasonings that enhance food, quotes can be used to make for a more pleasurable experience for those who "consume" our work. Use them to tie in the message of a story, emphasize a point, or as an introductory line for an article or interview. They're very multi-functional that way. :-)

In fact, without truly recognizing it, many of us have quotes that we live by...almost like a life's motto or philosophy.
So today my goal is to share a few to motivate your creativity, mellow your mood, or make you smile.

Enjoy!

                                             ON WRITING...

"You don't write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say."
---F. Scott Fitzgerald

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you."
---Maya Angelou

"I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent, he would be wise to develop a thick hide."
---Harper Lee

"Words are of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
---Rudyard Kipling
 
                                         ON LIFE...

"What a wonderful life I've had. I only wish I'd realized it sooner!"
---Colette

"Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: "I am with you kid. Let's go."
---Maya Angelou

"My mother is a travel agent for guilt trips."
---Anonymous

"Love may be blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener."
---Anonymous

"And this too shall pass."

"A day without sunshine...is like night."

"Sometimes God will shake you up to move you forward."
---Jennifer Brown Banks

"Old age comes at a bad time."

"The greatest wealth is health."
---Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results."
---Albert Einstein

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
---Eleanor Roosevelt

"Enjoy yourself; it's later than you think."

Got quotes?
Any of these resonate with you? What's your favorite quote?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Why it "Pays" to Keep an Open Mind About Low Paying Writing Gigs...

Forget what you've been told.
You know: the conventional wisdom that contends that taking on low paying writing jobs devalues you and brands you as desperate.
Not true. Not always.
As someone who has had more than my share, before paying my dues, I'm here to give you the 4-1-1.

There are many factors that should be considered in assessing whether or not a client or creative gig merits your time and talent.
Today we'll take a look at a few of them.

WHAT TO FACTOR INTO THE OVERALL EQUATION

  • Is it a "passion project" or for a worthy cause?
  • Is it a start-up publication with limited funds?
  • Is it time consuming or laborious in nature?
  • How about the pay? Is it weekly? Monthly? By PayPal or based upon satisfying a certain "click rate" before compensation? 
  • Can you choose your own topics and titles?
  • Do you receive a byline for work and a generous Bio?
  • Is it a project that will give you a sense of pride or feeling of making a difference?
  • Does it require research?
Here's a case in point. Some time ago, I responded to a call for writers posted at a popular writers' job board. The position called for 2-3 articles per week, with weekly compensation via PayPal.
It sounded like fun, and to top it off, it was in my "specialty area."
So I threw my hat in the ring, and hoped for the best.

Fast forward...
I advanced in the screening, to the final candidates. At this point, there was "full disclosure."
In other words, the payrate was finally mentioned. I admit that I was a bit disappointed initially; it was considerably less than I was used to making at this stage of the game.
But, after some deliberation, I decided to take it.

HERE'S WHY...

  • The current work reflected on the company's site was top-notch.
  • It had a beautifully designed site with a Google Page Rank of 5.
  • Writers had their own individual "page" on the site, with a generous Bio and link to their respective sites.
  • The articles could be written on 6 different subject areas, with low word counts ranging between 400-600.
  • Pay was via PayPal weekly.
  • There were no "firm" deadlines imposed.
  • No images were required with submissions, nor was loading work into content management systems.
  • I could buy more chocolates.

The verdict is in.
It was a smart decision on my part. The "client" is easy to work with and interesting.
The position fits very nicely within the frame of other projects, (in that it doesn't take a lot of time).
And it adds to my bottom line and my portfolio.

Here's what I've also found to happen in the past, with these jobs.
Rates change.
That's right. Sometimes a low paying job can "pay off" later down the line.

HERE'S THE "METHOD TO THE MADNESS."
  • The client recognizes your value to the project and adjusts your rate.
  • A start-up business begins to make a profit and is able to subsequently pay more.
  • Your prayers are answered. 

It's important to keep in mind too that "pay" is not always monetary; it can be in perks, or satisfaction, or important connections.

Word to the wise: before you pass over a low-paying gig, make sure you've looked over all the factors, to make an informed decision that suits your goals, lifestyle, financial needs, and creative path.
Only you can decide.

Your turn.
Thoughts? Agree or disagree?
What has your experience been in this area?



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

5 Tips to Increase Your Guest Posting I.Q. (and your bottom line)!


It’s certainly no secret to today’s writers that guest blogging provides a great way to build their platform and amplify their “voice.” Top bloggers like Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and Darren Rowse, in fact, highly recommend it.

Still, very few writers reap the potential benefits of guest blogging, due to their approach and a lack of awareness of how to “work smarter, not harder.”

With this in mind, today I’ll share a few ways to increase your blogging I.Q. and ultimately your bottom line.

First things first…

HOW I BECAME A BETTER STUDENT AND INCREASED MY KNOW-HOW AND ”NET-WORTH”

As an award-winning blogger, I have had my share of hits and misses when it comes to guest blogging. I’m happy to say I’ve been rejected by some of the best in the industry.

But to my credit, rejection didn’t discourage me, or make me doubt the importance of my message. I kept trying. And you should too.

When editors/bloggers noted something that they felt needed improvement in my work, I addressed it. When I wanted to increase my success rate, I read and studied the works of top bloggers I admired. Eventually, what I learned and applied enhanced my efforts.

What I will share with you here is based upon several years of guest blogging at sites such as: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Daily Blog Tips, and Technorati (to name a few).

Read the rest at my GUEST POST TODAY AT POSITIVE WRITER.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Get a Gig! Where to Find Your Next Blog Job...

Some folks view blogging as a way to showcase their writing, or solicit support for an important cause. Others see it as a forum for rants and recreational pursuits.

It can be all these things, depending upon the blogger and his online goals.
But one of the most beneficial aspects of blogging is getting pay for your say!
That's right. There are businesses, organizations and individuals that will pay you for your perspective; some will even compensate you to help them promote their cause, or to connect with potential buyers, readers, and influencers.

And I should know. Over the years, I have held many of these positions, creating an additional income stream from freelancing.

With this being the case, I'd like to share a few sites and job boards to increase your options and your bottom line.

For optimal results, follow provided directions carefully, and remember to read the fine print.

PLACES TO FIND BLOG WORK


1. Problogger---Lists an array of jobs, many with better than average pay.
2. BloggingPro---One of the first places I actually scored a job. Has a very diverse listing of tech and creative positions as well.
3. Craigslist.org---Provides quite a few jobs with low to no pay, but also has some very profitable prospects as well; if you have the time and patience to weed through them.
4. Simply Hired---The verdict is still out on this one. I've only applied for one job here, and do not know the outcome as of yet. Worth a try, still.
5. Virtual Vocations---You can sort by geographic location, or by industry.
6. The Muffin---Featured through WOW's award-winning site for women.
7. Freelance Writing Gigs---A sizeable collection of weekly positions, in addition to helpful articles on the craft of writing and running an online business. 


I should also mention that there are many blogs that also pay for guest posts. The Renegade Writer and Make a Living Writing, last time I checked. But, do your homework here. Things change quickly in this industry. :-)

There you have it, folks. With over 500 posts at Pen and Prosper to help you hone your craft, this one is dedicated to helping you increase your cash as well!

Find this post useful?
If so, let me know in the comments section.
Or perhaps you have a link you'd like to add?

May the rest of the week be the best of the week!



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Writing Through the Distractions...of Life

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."


Most of us are familiar with the regular, run-of-the-mill distractions that rob us of our productivity and wreak havoc with our peace.
The constantly ringing phone, the barking dog begging for attention, the kids at war with one another, the numerous requests to find lost items by our loved ones.
Not to mention the countless hours enslaved to social media, and "the next shiny object" syndrome.

But, what about the difficult stuff that touches our lives that drains us and causes us to lose our focus and direction?

  • A good friend suffers bad health
  • Someone you know dies unexpectedly
  • You lose all your online projects due to a devastating computer virus
  • A financial set-back sabotages your creative game plan 
  • A divorce hits home
Let's face it: more than most jobs, creative writing requires concentration, dedication, and motivation.
Wouldn't you agree?
And one thing's for certain...if you're experiencing more "internal conflict" than the characters in your stories, you've got a problem.
Still, sometimes the worst happens to the best of us.
Life's periodic blows can "sucker punch" us, leaving us with little defense.
Unfortunately, I've had one or two of these "bouts" this year.

As such, here's what I've learned in its arena:

  • Prayer helps. Remember "this too shall pass." 
  • Sometimes the best you can do is the best you can do. Stay in peace.
  • Having a supportive network is almost as therapeutic as medicine. Spend quality time with those you care for. They're great morale boosters.
  • Even when you can't handle major writing assignments and projects, keep a journal. Often difficult times impart important lessons and fodder for creative pieces for the future. Another way to temporarily capture your thoughts and emotions is to record them on a tape player or other electronic device. Voice recognition software is yet another option.
  • In the words of Sarah Palin, "Don't retreat, reload!" Can I be honest here? If you're attempting to write professionally, for pay, most editors don't really care about your personal life...unless you're personal friends. Which means that sometimes we have to bounce back and move on. It may sound harsh, but it's true. Remember the popular slogan in Hollywood..."The show must go on." 
  • When possible, have a Plan B. For example, it could include having an "emergency fund" in place, or backing up your computer files, or diversifying your writing and your roster of clients.

Your turn.
How about you?
What do you do when you're "in-the-thick" of it? How do you successfully manage writer's distractions?
What would you add here?

Monday, June 23, 2014

How Cooking Shows Can Feed Your Writing Career

Raise your hand if cooking shows are on your weekly "menu" of must-see T.V. programs.
If they are, move to the head of the class. Because you're on your way to becoming a "hotter" writer in the near future.
The reason? Many dynamics of today's cooking shows can impart important lessons on the creative process; creating the perfect recipe for success.

Not convinced? Read on and see if you'll agree.

As a self-professed "foodie" I dig learning new recipes, coming up with variations on the old standard ones, and discovering useful tips and tricks to "wow" my family and friends.

Which is why I was so elated, in recent years, to find yet another benefit to being a culinary cutie: Cooking relaxes me and feeds my creative spirit too. Who woulda' knew? :-)

In fact, there are many similarities and parallels for these two creative arts.

HERE ARE A FEW:

  • Good cooking and good writing both involve incorporating many of the basic senses: touch, sight, sound, for the ultimate experience.
  • Both require following directions properly for optimal results. For cooking it could be a Betty Crocker recipe; while for writing it can come in the form of submission guidelines provided by a targeted publication. 
  • Good writing and good cooking call for the right balance. Have you ever over seasoned something in preparing a meal? If so, you know why too much of a good thing can be bad. The same holds true for writing. Not having a "balanced" perspective and objectivity can cause others to doubt your credibility and your writing ability. For proper balance, (particularly when doing feature pieces, informative posts and interviews) keep an open mind. Consider all the facts. Read different sources. Research. 
  • A clean, organized work area (with both crafts) enhances the creative process and de-clutters thoughts.
With these observations in mind, here are a few things to consider:
  • Don't rush results. Quality takes time. When writing, before submitting your final piece to an editor, or releasing it as blog content, let it simmer. Often, if you let things settle for awhile, you come up with new ingredients or modifications that can make your "masterpiece" even better.  
  • Never let set-backs hold you back. They're part of the overall learning process. I think I read or heard somewhere that Julia Child failed at her first few tries to gain admittance into culinary school.
  • Recognize that shortcuts can sometimes have hazardous results. Whether it's skipping a necessary step or skipping an important detail. Be forewarned.
  • Study the masters. They have reached the top of their game for a reason. I often tune into to reruns of Julia Child and Martha Stewart for their expertise in the kitchen. If you're a blogger trying to earn pay for your say, may I suggest Darrren Rowse, Brian Clark, or the bloggers you see as "repeats" on the "Top Bloggers" awards listings?
  • Have someone else "sample" it. A second opinion can often bring greater clarity.

Now, let's chew the fat on Cooking Competition shows, (of which I am also a huge fan), and how they can help us turn up the heat on our writing careers.

Take note of the following key practices and principles...

  • Time Management--Shows like "Hell's Kitchen" and "Master Chef" often include segments where participants have to successfully prepare a unique dish within a specific time frame to advance in the competition. Usually it's about 30-45 minutes. As such, time management becomes as crucial as cooking savvy. A similar undertaking applies to writing and meeting assignment deadlines and demanding blogging schedules. Knowing how to juggle, prioritize, and work efficiently through distractions can make or break your career.
  • Risk Taking--Risk often brings reward. But, it has to be calculated and clever if you're seeking a good R.O.I. (return on investment). For example, on several episodes of these cooking competitions, aspiring chefs try their hand at "experimental' dishes at the wrong time. They don't have enough experience to pull it off, and are ultimately eliminated from the running. Here's the lesson to this...there's a time for experimentation. But it's usually not when the results have great gravity. When it counts, and there's no room for error, write what you know.
 Follow these cooking tips and strategies for the perfect recipe for writing success.