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Miranda Has Plans

In addition to my writing goals, I am setting up a YouTube channel to show you how I plan my life around my everyday goals and my writing goals. Fans of Happy Planners and folks looking to find out what the life of an indie writer is all about will find some interesting tips and information at Miranda Has Plans! (link forthcoming)

Miranda Has Plans

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Writing

Seven tips to keep in mind when you query

If you are a writer beginning the querying process, like me, you have a lot of questions. I’ve spent the last six years learning about my craft in every way possible. Like many new authors I wonder how hard it is to get published in today’s market.  Agent Chip MacGregor said, “…there were about 65,000 new books traditionally published last year, and. . .maybe ten million proposals sent to agents and editors… There are a couple thousand literary agents in this country, and if they all get 10,000 queries per year on average . . . the odds are awful.” You know what that means? We need to be putting our best foot forward if we have any hope of success. Here I’ve compiled seven tips for you to consider when you start querying agents.

  1. Make sure, if you’re writing fiction, that the manuscript is complete. Do not even bother an agent until then. Why? Imagine your novel is only barely started. You’ve crafted the perfect query letter. You’ve found THE agent to make your publishing dreams come true. One morning, you wake up and find a response from said agent. She requests your entire manuscript to look over. Now what? She won’t have months to wait for you to finish it. You’ve just blown your perfect shot before you’ve even begun.
  2. Beta readers, get some. I cannot express to you the importance of a good beta reader. They are the folks to whom you entrust your very raw, barely formed word baby. They read it. They offer advice. How do you get them? You ask people who can give you legitimate writing feedback. Your mom is not a good choice. This is the woman who celebrated your first use of a toilet. Her standards are a little low. Do I recommend friends? Nope. The only caveat being they must be able to hurt your feelings and feel no remorse. If you have that kind of friend, use them (and cherish them, because honesty, baby). Pick people who are writers or readers that you trust. For example, my beta readers consist of all writers except for two. My friend AnnMarie, while not a writer, always steers me in the right direction where readers are concerned. In a recent incarnation of my first novel, one of the bad guys killed his girlfriend’s dogs. I needed to make him truly despicable. She freaked out. “Make him despicable, but almost forgivable. I have to be able to humanize him and maybe have a small piece of pity for him. If he kills the dogs, I put the book down then and there.” The last thing I want is a reader to put my book down, so I allowed AnnMarie to save the dogs. My second friend, Renee, is an awesome beta reader. She picks up on the smallest details that I get wrong, something that I, as a reader, have put books down for in the past. Everyone else is a writer. They get the voodoo that I do and help accordingly.
  3. Edits, more edits, and even more edits.  While your manuscript is with beta readers, edit. When it comes back from them, edit. Edit until your brain bleeds. Then you stash that manuscript away for a few weeks and edit until your eyes bleed.  Repeat until your fingers bleed. I know, that’s a lot of bleeding, but it’s necessary. Expect to edit more times than you can count. Then edit again for good measure. You need to be shopping around the very best version of your work. I’ve heard too many writers say that they don’t see the need to edit, because after getting an agent they’ll just edit it for them. That’s like expecting a half done lasagna to bake itself. It just doesn’t work that way.
  4. Platform, Religion, and Politics. You have a platform and a brand. It all revolves around what you write when you are a writer. Unless what you write involves religion and/or politics, don’t write or share about religion and/or politics. If the last presidential election taught us anything it is that those topics are about as polarizing as they come. One fact is true: If you don’t want to isolate readers, leave those topics at the door. If you simply must share, get a private Facebook account that doesn’t allow the general public in on that side of your life. I know Stephen King puts his opinions on social media, but he’s STEPHEN FRICKIN’ KING. When you’re that big, by all means, share away. Until then, stow it.
  5. Stalk your intended agent before querying. Okay, not really. No law breaking. But please research who you are querying. Look them up. Find their social media. Read through it. Find old interviews. Read those. Find out who they represent. Stalk them, too, for good measure. Find the agency they work for. Read their bios. For the love of all that is holy, tattoo their submission guidelines on your soul. Whatever you do, make that query letter as personal as possible and STICK TO THOSE GUIDELINES. You don’t want to get rejected because you didn’t follow what you were told. And don’t blanket a ton of agents and blind carbon copy them. It’s tacky. It’s lazy. It’s a turnoff, and almost a guarantee for rejection. Speaking of the “R” word….
  6. Accept rejection with grace. I cannot stress this enough. Agents talk, y’all. They follow each other. You will find this out when you cyberstalk them. There is nothing worse than getting a rejection to lay you low, possibly even make you angry. Do not take your anger out on them. That’s a first class ticket to Ignoring-The-Crazy-Author-Ville. Try getting someone to take you seriously when you’ve just lambasted their agent/friend all over social media. You hurt a lot of feelings and make yourself look like the amateur, insufferable jerk that you are. By all means, lick your wounds. Be sad. Tie on a feedbag of Ben and Jerry’s. Do not take your anger out on those meant to represent you. That being said,….
  7. Get back up and brush off the moss. Don’t let rejection stop you from achieving your dreams. Trust me, I know how tough rejection is. My first novel has been rejected 29 times so far. I used to take a page from Stephen King’s book and hang them all on a corkboard. But then they started to mock me. My writing suffered. I’d look at that pile of rejection letters and think the worst thoughts. I hung a little Snoopy charm (I love that beagle!) on them so that maybe I’d smile when I saw them. That cute little dog started to mock me, too. I removed it all and just keep a tally list now. I cannot allow the pain of rejection to keep me from writing. First, because there’s no stopping the drive to apply words to paper/computer screens for me. It’s how I process the world. Second, I have faith that somewhere in this wide world is one other crazy person employed by a literary agency that just might believe in me as much as AnnMarie and Renee. And I owe it to myself to find her (or him, but more likely her). So, I am getting back up, brushing off whatever moss has grown on me, and trying again. While I anxiously await agent responses, I’ve started another novel.

You should do the same. Keep chugging along. Follow these tips and give yourself the best possible chance of success!

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IWA Podcast interview

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the International Writers Association’s Robert J. Moore. In November I joined this group and met Robert, a truly kind and, I must say, the happiest guy I’ve ever met.

Stop by the podcast and follow it to get it in your inbox. Give it a review on iTunes and pass it along to friends and others you know who might like it or benefit from the great info there. Thanks for listening!

Click here to listen to the interview or click the IWA logo below.

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Writing

Open Mic Night: The part of being a writer that terrifies me

Our local library

Our local library

Let’s face it.  We all have preconceived notions.  Most people, I’m willing to bet, think that writing is a pretty easy gig.  You just sit in a chair, make things up for a few hours a day, and, if you’re any good, you get published and become famous, raking in cash like Stephen King.  You probably think writers have “people” who do the mundane things like marketing and setting up speaking events. You would also be unbelievably wrong.  We, the writers do all of it.  Unless we can afford publicists, only our own sweat equity goes into making the publication ball roll and keep rolling.  Even with a publicist, an editor and a publisher, writers are expected to put in their fair share.

Tuesday night I attended my second speaking event as a writer.  The first one went well and I didn’t feel like I did terrible, but definitely felt like I had some room for improvement.  I was one of seven authors there to hock my book. I took what I learned from that event and applied it to Tuesday. My second speaking event, Open Mic Night at our local library, featured the members of my writers’ group as well as one brave soul who came to share.  I was first out of the gate because our leader thought my writing was the most relatable to the audience (I write mostly essays about being a mom or how I have a tendency to screw up even the most mundane of tasks) and would make a good opener. Silly man.

I prepped for the event in all the usual ways: reading out loud until I was hoarse, timing myself to get the pacing right and so I didn’t sound like Seabiscuit on his way to a photo finish. I also took my prescribed, extra anxiety meds. Without those, I’d be in the bathroom and nowhere near a podium.

Almost stone....

Almost stone….

Nothing prepares me for those terrifying moments in front of a room full of people expecting me to be awesome. There’s no way to set that bar a little lower. As I stood there, racing through my essay, I heard my voice begin to quiver. My throat began to run dry. The worst of all were my muscles. I could feel them systematically tightening up, threatening to turn me to stone. All I could envision was falling over, right where I stood. I hated it. All that prep for nothing.

When I was done I raced to my seat and snatched up my husband’s hand. He kissed me and reassured me, but I still felt like a rabbit facing down a cat. What was I thinking? I can’t do this.

Then I listened to all my writers’ group members. And I realized something. I am surrounded by crazy talented people. They all did so very well, causing goosebumps to form on my arms, bringing audience members to tears. I heard a few gasp.  All I could think was, “What the hell am I doing? I do not belong among these people.”

I know that you’ll say that I shouldn’t be comparing myself, but you know what?  Everyone does.  But the simply fact remains for me that I do not feel like I’ve earned my place at the table.  I went to my truck afterward and burst out crying because I felt like a fraud.

Jim told me one thing that bolsters me, but just barely.

He said, “Miranda, the worst writers are the ones who are convinced of their talent.”

I don’t know if he’s right.  I don’t know if I have what it takes to do anything more than entertain my family with my writing.

What I do know is that I want to do more.  I want to be more.  I’ve got the gumption.

Do I have the talent?the worst writers are the ones who are

So what say you?  Ever have that crisis of conscience?  Ever doubt what everyone else says is true?  How do you lift yourself above those moments and keep on keeping on?

 

LOOK FOR ONLY TROLLOPS SHAVE ABOVE THE KNEE COMING THE END OF APRIL!  

GREAT MOTHER’S DAY GIFT IDEA!

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Writing

He called me “writer”

Like many writers I know, I have periods of massive self-doubt.  My latest dance with this particularly bad partner left me blocked for weeks on end, unable to write a single word and feeling every moment of the failure I was convinced I was.  I reached out to my equally neurotic writer friends online.  They all assured me that they, too, suffered from the same malady from time to time.  They all reassured me that it would pass.  One of my writing cohorts even shared the fact that the last time she felt that way she found an acceptance to be in an anthology in her email.  She told me the same thing would happen to me.  I’d read her work.  I was not her.  Who was I kidding?

Most of what I do as a writer is just me banging around inside my own head, fingers flying over a keyboard.  All of the blood, sweat and tears I pour into my writing is done in the wee hours of the morning, before I go to bed.  The kids don’t see it because they are sleeping.  My husband doesn’t see it because he’s usually working.

The only job any of them see me do is what makes me a Mom.  They see me cook dinner, do laundry, scrub toilets and cart their butts around from place to place.  I am Mom and that’s all that I would ever be to them.

Or so I thought.

I was sitting in the lobby of a DoubleTree Inn when I felt my chest swell a little.  I was overhearing my husband talk with the man at the counter as he checked us in.

“So what brings you to Pittsburgh, sir,” the man asked.

“Oh, my wife has a conference or audition or something,” Jim said.  “I’m not sure what it is, exactly.  I just know it’s for writers.”

“Here?” the man said.

“Yes,” Jim said.  “It’s a big step for my wife.  She’s a shy woman and she’s very brave to come here.”

“What is it for?”

“I’m fuzzy on the details.  I’m just the chauffeur,” Jim laughed.  “All I know is it’s a big deal for her.  She’s a talented writer.  Very talented.”

With that, the man gave my husband the room key and we were on our way.  It was late.  We were tired and I was misty-eyed.  We rode in the elevator and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  I couldn’t stop smiling and crying at the same time.

Because he does get it.

Because he called me something other than Mom.

Because he called me by the most coveted of labels in my world.

Because he called me “writer.”

 

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Chasing Liberty by Theresa Linden

I’ve been thinking about February because it was one year ago this month that I self-published my first book Lemonade and Holy Stuff.  It was my maiden voyage into publishing and I wanted to do something awesome to celebrate this milestone in my life.  I also wanted to pair that with my desire to always give back, to pay forward whatever goodness comes my way.  So, my goal became simple.  It was time to give away some goodness to a lucky reader, and that goodness needed to lift up a fellow writer.

I decided to interview my friend Theresa Linden.  She is an author who is local to my area.  I met her through our library’s writer’s group.  And I am beyond grateful that I did.  She is a shy, mother of three awesome kids.  She is whip smart and crazy talented.  This past November she published her first book Chasing Liberty.

Used with permission of the author.

Used with permission of the author.

From the back cover:

Liberty 554-062466-84 of Aldonia lives in a responsible society that cares for the earth and everyone on it. They have learned to balance resource consumption with replacement initiatives, unavoidable pollution with clean-environment efforts. Science ensures that every baby born is healthy. The government ensures that every baby born is needed. All are cared for, taught, and given a specific duty to perform, their unique contribution to society. Why is Liberty so unsatisfied?  In less than two weeks, Liberty must begin her vocation. Every girl in Aldonia wishes she had Liberty’s vocation. Liberty would rather flee from Aldonia and live on her own, independent of the all-controlling government, the Regimen Custodia Terra. The high electrical Boundary Fence crushes any thought of escape. The ID implant imbedded in her hand makes it impossible to hide. She has no choice but to submit. Liberty is slated to be a Breeder. As vocation day draws near, a man with an obsession for Liberty attacks her and injects her with a drug. She’s about to lose consciousness when someone comes to her rescue, a man in a mottled cape and dark glasses. She wakes in an underground facility where people watch over Aldonia with an array of monitors and surveillance equipment. These people are full of secrets, but she discovers one thing: they rescue a man scheduled for re-education. They rescued him. They can rescue her.

There’s also a book trailer you can watch.

http://www.bookreels.com/sci-fifantasy/chasing-liberty/

I gave Theresa a list of questions to help you get to know her, her writing, and her process a little better.

Where did you get the idea for Chasing Liberty?
I am one of those people who shouts at the TV when I watch the news. I can’t believe some of the things that are going on in our world. I’ve discovered actual groups that consider all life forms equal: a human has no more value than a mushroom. I’ve learned about new proposed laws, questionable scientific developments, and invasive uses of technology. Developments in morality and ethics do not seem to be on a par. Faith, family and freedom are often under attack. I can’t help but wonder where we are headed. As I writer, I don’t just wonder. I write! In a way, this story emphasizes the importance of faith, family and freedom by showing a society that has lost all three, a society where the earth has been elevated above people.

What character in your book do you love to hate and why?
I’m torn between Sid and Dr. Supero. Both of these characters are extremely selfish. Sid is obsessed with Liberty and will do anything to be with her, but he doesn’t really love her in a way that puts the other first. He doesn’t care what she wants.
And then there’s Dr. Supero, a master in warped ideologies. Vain, arrogant and closed-minded, he feels the need to control everything and resents that he can’t control Liberty. When he receives traumatic personal news, instead of facing his situation, he transfers his anger to Liberty.

Is there a sequel to Chasing Liberty and if so, what can readers expect?
Chasing Liberty is the first in a trilogy. The second book nears completion and the third is in outline form. You can expect even more action in the second book, Testing Liberty. The 3-D games mentioned in Chasing Liberty become an important part of Testing Liberty. We will learn more about Liberty, her experiences growing up under the RCT, and how she met Sid. We will also discover more about the Torva and Dedrick’s most uncomfortable encounter with them.

If there’s one message you want readers to walk away with after reading Chasing Liberty, what is it?
I didn’t write with a message in mind, but I see a message in my story. Americans have always valued freedom and have seen it as a God-given right. Our country was founded on it, but it isn’t something we should take for granted. When a government is allowed to grow too big, it can threaten the freedom of the individual. I suppose the message in my story is to question everything in our culture, weighing things in the balance, so to speak. There are things in our culture, many brought about by our government, that degrade rather than protect the individual, the family, and our God-given rights. Abraham Lincoln once said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

What piece of advice would you give an aspiring fiction writer about crafting characters? For instance, how much do you plan out beforehand and how much just comes to you as you write?
I love creating characters! I believe it is important to develop a good character profile for each main and secondary character before beginning to write. Main characters need to have likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, a past and goals. They also become more realistic when they have a habit(s) or idiosyncrasies that a reader can relate to or find humorous. I have even gone so far as to conduct character interviews so I can learn how they think. I want to see everything from a particular character’s frame of mind, recalling his or her memories as the story unfolds and reacting in ways unique to the character. When I can slip into a character’s mind and think his or her thoughts for the scene, I’m ready to write.
I am sure that I must be a sight to my family when they see me writing, my face contorting with the mood of my point of view character. “What’s the matter, dear?” “What?” I snap out of character and smile. “You look mad.” “No, I’m not mad. Liberty is.”

What is the hardest part about writing for you?
As a wife, homeschooler and mother of three boys, finding uninterrupted time is always a challenge. That aside, I find the research the hardest part because it is so time-consuming. Then I want to make sure my story is going to work before I begin writing, so creating a solid outline is the second hardest part.

Do you have any writing rituals?
Yes and no. I write at the table in our dining room, so first, I clear the table of every distraction. Then I get something to drink: coffee, tea or water. Depending upon the stage of writing, I turn on some music—I do this when I’m ready to go deep into character and write a scene.
But then again, I think I can write anywhere, anytime. Once our van broke down and left me stranded three hours from home. I had to wait for my husband to pick me up, so I borrowed sheets of paper and a pen from a nearby shop and wrote my heart out in the back of our van!

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about writing so far?
Hmmm. I have learned so many lessons that feel vital to the craft. So many facets must come together to make the work shine. I believe the most important lesson I’ve learned is to work hard on developing a good story with a solid plot and interesting characters. It saves time and frustration when the research and outlining are done in advance, so that I go into the story with a general idea of what happens. I say ‘general’ because characters don’t always stick to the plot, so it’s important to allow room for deviation.

So, your dream as a writer:
My dream . . . I’m sitting at a comfortable desk in front of a new computer. Maps, diagrams and pictures related to my stories hang on three walls. A bookshelf lines the fourth wall, holding reference materials and writing books, and books by all my favorite authors and by new authors. A glass door opens to a balcony that overlooks a lush garden . . .
Or . . . I would be satisfied just to be able to write all the stories that are in my mind, get them published, and find my audience. Every book is not for every person. I really want to find the people who would enjoy my stories as much as I do. I think that’s what every author wants. You want to find your readers and make them happy!

In an effort to help Theresa realize at least a portion of her dream, I’m going to give one lucky reader of this blog a free copy of Chasing Liberty!!!!  Entering to win is super simple.  1.  Comment “I want in” at the bottom of this post.  2. Simply share this post with the hashtag #LindenLiberty and be sure to tag me @MirandaGargasz.    Each share gets your name entered into a hat and one lucky winner will be drawn on Valentine’s Day.  Get to sharing and win this amazing book!!!!!

Website - theresalinden.webs.comFacebook

 

 

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Writing

Do what scares you

How many times have I heard that?  As a writer and an introvert the list of ideas that scares me is long and intimidating.

When I decided to throw my hat into the writer’s ring, I did so tentatively, cautiously.  I acted on my desire to write since childhood, a dream I abandoned as a teenager because I thought I’d never be able to make a living at it.  Writing was the one gift that I was given that I truly loved, and I wanted to share that gift with the world.  Just the thought of that vulnerability, exposing the soft underbelly of what little talent I may have, was almost debilitating in its scariness.

My first blog scared the shit out of me in the beginning.  I perched my hands on the edge of the keyboard scared to death that not only would I not earn any readers, but I’d be the laughing-stock of the internet.  At my husband’s urging, I did it.  And I don’t regret it.

I began Scattering Moments in 2011.  It wasn’t a great blog but it was good.  I met quite a few writer friends there and I learned a lot about what writing my audience liked and what my strengths as a writer were.  Eventually, I closed that site down because I hadn’t quite learned what I should hold back on a blog and what I needed to keep for publication.

I joined our local library’s writer’s group and, excited as I was, I was terrified to share what I had written.  I was intimidated by the other members at first because a couple of them actually went to college to hone their craft.  I hadn’t done that.  My degree was in Elementary Education.  What if I went there and they heard what I had written and thought I wasn’t much of an attribute for their group?  What was I, really?  I felt like a washed-up failure of a teacher who dipped her toe into the Mommy Blogging universe because being a stay-at-home-mom was driving me bat shit crazy. It turned out that all the worry was for naught.  Not only did I actually have something to give the group, the feedback I got from the essays I shared helped bolster my self-esteem and gave me the courage I needed to keep going.  It gave me the courage to publish my first book, Lemonade and Holy Stuff:  Collected Essays.

Lemonade and Holy Stuff‘s publication has been such a gift for me.  Not only do I feel vindicated as a writer because so many readers have loved it, but I also met an amazing string of women writers as a result.  I really feel as if I’ve found my tribe with writers like Sarah Cottrell, Tori Nelson, Lisa Kramer, Kathryn McCullough, Theresa Linden and so very many more.  (Please click on their names to check out their work.  They are amazing women.)

Because I believe that doing what scares us is also what helps us grow, I’m sticking my neck out again.  This Saturday, armed with an essay and my much more travel friendly husband (I get lost after the end of my street), I’m going to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  There I will meet the folks in charge of that city’s incarnation of Listen To Your Mother, a professional show that lends a voice to motherhood.  I will be auditioning.

My knees are knocking.

I’m losing sleep because I’m terrified.

But, I’m doing it.  I’m going to share my story before an audience of people.  I’m hoping to come back with an invitation to be part of the experience. Even if I don’t, that’s okay.  The only true failure is in never trying, and that simply will not do.

 

 

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