Monday, July 8, 2019

Email List Building

Summertime has a way of distracting me from my writing goals like no other time of year. The heat, the swimming, the heat, the snoballs, the heat, the traveling opportunities, and have I mentioned the HEAT? It seems my muse doesn't like the sweltering weather either and is MIA (missing in action) for at least a month or longer during the hottest months of the year. However, it is a great time to catch up on important tasks like reading, writing classes, marketing and basically building those business of writing skills. Our guest blogger works harder than anyone else I know to improve his business acumen within the Indie Author World. I am excited to introduce you to author Paul Heingarten.

Paul Heingarten mainly writes science fiction and fantasy, with the occasional detour into general fiction. A musician for most of his life and an IT professional because it pays the bills, he lives in South Louisiana with his wife Andrea. In addition to sharing his passion for writing with his wife and the local Bayou Writer's Club they belong to, he's also a die-hard Saints fan.

Happy Reading!

Email List Building

     I’ve been publishing on Amazon since July 2015, and in the months and years since I’ve been delving into a lot of online forums, Facebook groups, chats with fellow authors, etc.  Of all the bits of advice I’ve gotten, one that has been pretty repetitive is “build an email list”. The idea of this of course is to have a collection of people you can email about your books and have them buy them.  Makes sense, right?
By 2017, I finally got the hint and started a MailChimp account and started building a list. It was slow going at first. I quickly made it through all my friends with Bayou Writers and Facebook friends and family.  I had a small list to begin with, made up mostly of people who knew me one way or another, and were nice enough to let me send them random book spam now and then.
But, email lists for some authors are enormous!  I’ve met authors with lists over 30,000 email addresses for example!  That led me to the next step in my process, a “reader magnet”. What this is, is something free to give people for signing up to your list.  It can be a few chapters of a book you’ve written, a short story, or something similar. I wrote a short story specifically to give to people if they signed up for my list.  I used the service Bookfunnel, which allowed me to put a copy of my short story “Natural Election” (In e-reader format) online, with a link I only sent to people once they signed up for my list.
I went a step further with Bookfunnel and upgraded my account there, which allowed me to also add people to my email list once they chose to download my books from Bookfunnel.  I then added a second short story, “The Monitor” as a free download. I’ll explain why I did this in a bit.
Even with a list and now something free to offer people, I still had to get the word out. I mean, I have a website, an email list and something free to give people, but so what? There are millions, if not billions of sites out there all offering something, and the masses don’t have a clue about mine, unless I promote it somehow.
Enter the marketing services.  Fortunately, the Bookfunnel community has a variety of promotion groups that run on a regular basis.  On their site, in their Promotions area, you’ll find a listing by genre of promotions that run for a certain period of time.  What the promotions on Book Funnel are, is a website hosted by someone with a Bookfunnel account, who hosts a giveaway on their site.  They allow other Bookfunnel users to submit their books/short stories/etc. that are on Bookfunnel to the promotion. Once you’re approved, your book (that links back to your email list signup offer) will be displayed on the promotion site for the duration.  More importantly, people who access the promotion and click your book will become subscribers to your email list! Your requirement is to promote the specific link they give you everywhere you can: on Facebook or your other social media accounts, and yes even your own list.  Don’t think you’re not going to be expected to do some plugging here, as lately more and more of these Bookfunnel giveaway links are tracked for number of clicks.
The promotions are essential because it gets your book out to a much wider audience, who are already into the genre you’re writing!  My current strategy has been to use “The Monitor” in these Bookfunnel promotions, which gets me new email list signups. Those who sign up, are given the chance to download my other free story “Natural Election”.
Since starting this strategy, my list has grown a good deal.  I’m sitting at 1264 on my list now. That’s still not a gigantic list by the standards of some authors, but list building is a long and arduous process.  And more so, by having somewhat of a list, I’m able to participate in “newsletter swaps” with other authors in my genre, where I agree to include links to their books in my newsletter in exchange for them adding my book links to their newsletter.  Using this method alone so far in 2019, I’ve sold over 20 books and have gotten over 1000 page reads through Kindle Unlimited!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Writing The Setting of Your Story

The Weather in New Orleans has been horrible today and is forecasted to be the same through the weekend. It's days like this that I get so much reading and writing done and honestly not much else! Thanks to all the rain, it's perfect timing for our next blog post which is about the importance of setting in your story/writing. Our guest blogger has done a thorough job (including helpful links) in teaching us more about this subject and I know you are going to LOVE it! So let me introduce you to our guest blogger this week , Erica Merchant. 

Erica Merchant was born in New Orleans into a family of readers. Her first memories all involve books and she began writing at age seven. After graduating from LSU with a double major in Creative Writing and Philosophy, minoring in French and Painting and Drawing, Erica moved to central China where she intended to spend a year teaching English and deciding what sort of graduate studies to pursue.  Instead she spent twelve years developing her career, working a variety of jobs from ESL teacher to executive coach to soft-skills trainer.   Erica successfully completed  NaNoWriMo in 2013 and Camp Nano in both July 2016 and April 2017, writing a draft of a novel about expat life in Beijing and Shanghai and a non-fiction book about the changes in mainland China from 2003, when they won the bid for the ’08 Olympics, till 2010 when they hosted the World Expo. Erica is currently writing a fantasy novel inspired by Asian history which explores the intersection of science and spirituality. In her free time, she enjoys hip-hop, practicing yoga, making art with her children, and reading about her many interests including mysticism, transpersonal psychology, and non-dualistic philosophy.

Happy Reading!



Last November, I started writing a scientific fantasy novel that’s been kicking around in my brain since 2015. My draft so far has a lot of nuanced characters and rollicking action but is incredibly light on setting details to ground the story. Many fantasy authors can happily world build for hundreds of pages but I am so caught up in the drama I forget not everyone can see the vivid and complex world so well developed in my head.
Writer Elizabeth Bowen said, “Nothing can happen nowhere. The locale of the happening always colors the happening, and often, to a degree, shapes it.” Location is an intrinsic part of a story; even if it hasn’t seemed important in your draft so far, having a convincing setting makes your work more persuasive.  It is easy to write about primal landscapes – the place you grew up or one where you spent a lot of time. But what about foreign lands, places to which you haven’t travelled? Further out still - what about imaginary worlds, alternative histories and realities? How do you know which setting details are important? This is where point of view plays a crucial role, as the significance is determined by the observer.  A person who has never seen the ocean before will respond very differently to crashing waves on the shore than an experienced sailor, who may not even notice them.
When you begin your project, it’s helpful to decide how big of a role the setting is going to play in your work. Is the setting integral to your plot as with historical/geographical fiction or is the story more archetypal? 
We can find compelling examples of both types. Take Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. New Orleans is a central component of the story. Now imagine it set in small town northern Louisiana like Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries (which inspired the HBO series True Blood) and you have an entirely different story. Salvatore Scibona’s stylish 2009 novel The End is set in an Italian immigrant neighborhood in 1953 Ohio. The story takes place over the course of one day and would fall apart without the specific time, place, and location.
On the other hand, many of Shakespeare’s plays are more humanistic and can be transplanted to a new setting without losing the essence of the story. Ralph Fiennes set Coriolanus in modern times (while keeping the original dialogue). Baz Luhrmann remade Romeo and Juliet into a romantic crime drama. There’s also a film called A Midsummer’s Night Rave, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Wikipedia has a list of modernized adaptations of old works ( where you’ll find films like Apocalypse Now and Clueless, the successful film adaptations of 19th century novels.
            My work falls into the first category. I’ve meshed the sweeping deserts, formidable mountains, and verdant oasis of Central Asia with the towering skyscrapers of Tokyo or Hong Kong to create an entirely new world inexorably linked to the story I’m telling. Consider your own short story or novel – how would a change in setting affect the style, characterization and plot? Which setting details are significant and which are extraneous?
The answers to these questions can be applied to world building in our own writing - all fiction, even the most realistic, demands creative use of ‘reality’ and requires a suspension of disbelief. Judicious research will help you choose sensuous details that captivate your reader. The question then becomes how much research do you really need to do?
The answer will differ drastically depending on whether you are writing a modern novel set in your hometown or a historical novel set in 270 C.E. about the intervention of the central Mexican city of Teotihuacan in Mayan dynastic politics.  You also have to consider your audience – novice, expert, or somewhere in the middle? A glaringly wrong detail takes the reader out of the story and can put them in a foul enough mood that they may decide to stop reading. It helps to know your audience.  Do some market research and find out who is reading the kind of stories you are writing to get an idea of how much research is enough.
Imaginary worlds are often based on real places, and I find the level of research needed to create a fantasy world matches or exceeds that of historical fiction. Created worlds are usually inspired by the world we know, so finding a place to draw from can be extremely helpful. When writing about a world that has rules different from our own, the author must be mindful of the internal logic of the story. The rules may be different, but they must be consistent and non-contradictory, or risk deus ex machina. There should be enough truth for the reader to relax in the story world without constantly thinking, ‘That’s impossible!’ Rules are particularly important if you are writing about magic, a subject which already requires appreciable suspension of disbelief for the average reader. If you are interested in this subject, I would refer you all to Sanderson’s laws of Magic. The First law can be found at [ ] and is aimed at fantasy authors, however the second and third laws have some generally great writing advice using fantasy settings as the context.
When I think of research, the first image that comes to mind is a table next to a window in a quiet room, filled with stacks of books and dust motes dancing in the light. Research is actually much more varied and sometimes can be done from your chair with your eyes closed. Writer Amity Gage, who teaches the setting module in the Coursera creative writing course offered by Wesleyan University breaks research down into three types: functional, inspirational, and imaginative.
Functional research is discovering facts by visiting places and interviewing people firsthand, or using libraries, databases, and websites. It’s ideal to travel to your chosen location and spend some time walking, observing, and taking pictures. It doesn’t have to be a long trip, just enough for you to get a feel for the rhythm of the city or landscape. If you are unable to travel, all is not lost - you just have to get creative. I use Google Image to help me with visual descriptions. The great thing about the Scrivener software is that you can split the view finder so your chosen image takes up one half of the screen allowing you to write in the other. This helps me with landscape details immensely. I also read about the GDP of countries, locations of natural resources, food blogs, textiles and other particulars necessary when creating entirely new nations.  
Check in the children’s section of the Library (900’s non-fiction) for excellent photo books on history, religion, geography, or anthropology. You may also need to read longer primary and secondary sources, but for writing inspiration, particularly when it comes to visualizing setting, picture books with captions and chunks of information can be just what you need to stimulate your muse.
            Inspirational research involves listening to music that puts you in a certain mood, searching through junk shops or family photographs, and reading short stories, poetry, or novels that open your heart and mind. Writing about an ancient land far in the future led me to discover the oldest known melody, discovered in Ugarit, Syria dating to 1400 B.C.E. ( ). I’m fond of listening to regional music while I write and highly recommend the Traditional Music Channel on YouTube ( though I would advise against listening to sacred music casually. Sometimes when I am feeling stuck, I choose a song (instrumental or in another language), close my eyes, and start typing along to the music. This is a variation on automatic writing, the Surrealist technique used to transcend the conscious mind and tapping into the sub- or superconscious mind.
Once we have gathered our facts and found our inspiration, it is imaginative research that directs the deployment of those details. You must walk through your own setting and know it with your skin getting truly immersed in your world. Use your senses to describe not only the sight and sound, but also the taste, feel, and smell of a place. These details, even if fantastical or unfamiliar to the reader, can help to ground your story in a place.
            An excellent way to do this besides staring out the window (seriously) is to try visualization and meditation exercises. I’d like to invite you to try a short three-minute meditation. Set your clock for three minutes and prepare to sit in silence. Think of a setting you are using or want to use in your story or novel. Close your eyes. Place your point of view somewhere within that time, place, and situation. Begin to walk around. Engage your senses. You can remain on the ground or fly into the air for a hawk’s perspective. Walk in a building. Do you see any characters? What are they doing, seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling? If your mind wanders, which it certainly will, simply bring yourself back to the setting. Focus on sensory input. Do not give up – this exercise is designed to improve your concentration, a necessary quality for completing a project.
After you have finished, spend a few minutes writing out a debrief. Was that the longest three minutes of your life or was it peaceful like a budget mini-vacation?
This is a helpful exercise when you are feeling stuck. Our imagination is infinite yet the distractions of modern life make it more challenging to tap into this precious resource. The more you practice sitting in silence training your mind’s eye, the more powerful it will be. Think of your imagination as a small puppy. If you are inconsistent with training, you will have sporadic obedience. With consistent practice and discipline, the mammal can be brought to heel and come when you call.
            Aside from the links I’ve included in this post, if you are looking for additional resources on crafting setting, I would recommend the Great Courses series Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by James Hynes. It is available on Audible and Hoopla as well as the Great Courses website. Wesleyan University has a Creative Writing Specialization in 5 modules offered through Coursera. There is a special condensed version centered around NaNoWriMo which has 4 modules taking place from September to November, then a break to write your novel, then submission of your first chapter for peer review in December. This version is extraordinarily intense (especially in the two months leading up to NaNo) but provided a lot of valuable feedback in the form of peer-reviews and a lot of great insight from the professors.
            Whether your mise-en-scène is so developed it qualifies as a character or just a backdrop for your scintillating plot will in some part determine the outcome of your tale. How big of a role does setting play in your current project? What techniques do you use to transport yourself to your world?  What tips do you have for crafting sensuous, immersive settings? Let us know in the comments.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Searching for Just the Right Words

Our guest blogger this week is Van Temple from Abita Springs. Van is retired after 40+ years in community development, city government and social justice work. He was born and raised in Ruston, LA graduated from Louisiana Tech in 1974, lived and worked in Arkansas, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, Indiana, and a four-year gig in New Orleans. He enjoys writing creative non-fiction, short stories, and is now finishing Whisperwood, a historical fiction book based on his great grandfather’s experiences in the Civil War. He is also “restarting” work on a collection of a dozen short stories that he intends to publish in 2020. His writing style is Southern Story-telling.
Please be sure to leave a comment after reading Van’s post and feel free to share the link for our blog with your writer (reading) friends.

Happy Reading,


Searching for Just the Right Words

By Van Temple

I’m Van and I’m new to BWC, three meetings in, but you’ve welcomed me so well I already feel like part of the club. Thanks for enlarging your circle for a new Louisiana writer!


Uncle Judge swam two miles each morning before heading to the hospital - summer, fall, winter and spring. He was the only physician in Bunkie, so he had to be there every day. He wobbled from his car to the clinic and from room to room on arm crutches. His narrow hips and withered legs dragged along like an afterthought, belying his sly smile and pleasant demeanor.  

My uncle was crippled long before I was born. He was on his way to class at medical school when a car ran a red-light. His Harley motorcycle landed on top of him and both legs were ruined, but he lived. He finished medical school and went on to deliver babies, perform surgeries, set broken bones and treat children and adults into his 70's.

When my father was in his late 80's, I took him to visit Uncle Judge, his younger brother. Both had hearing loss and memories that had lost a notch or two, but there was magic in the way they looked at each other. I saw memories swimming in their dark brown eyes … the love of brothers who played baseball, climbed trees, and got into mischief together. Once, they decided on their own that they’d clear an overgrown lot to make their own baseball field. Arm load after arm load, they carried off woody shrubs after hacking them down with machetes. That evening they both broke out in red, itchy blisters … arms, faces, everywhere. Turned out they’d cleared a half-acre of poison sumac. 

My father’s eyes sparkled as he listened to his brother talk. I don’t think either understood much of what the other said, but that didn’t seem to bother them because they were together again after years apart. They shared a common origin, childhood, and the love and struggle of long lives fully lived.

The day was an intimate reunion of souls in their waning years, when words didn’t matter as much as they had before.


When I write and especially when I edit, I search for just the right words. I relive the moment and examine the sentences to see if I’ve conveyed the truth accurately. Sometimes the perfect word or phrase is illusive. Over the last two years I’ve written a long historical fiction book and edited it from beginning to end eight times. Through this process I’ve come to see editing not as a necessary nuisance, but more like the fine strokes of an artist painting in oil, bringing the features into just the right light and perspective so the viewer is absorbed into the scene.

·         How is it that words have the power to transport one to another place and time?
·         How do words make us feel lonely, excited, crazy or peaceful?
·         Is it the writer who makes the magic potion or is it the reader?

In the beginning was the word …

Monday, January 28, 2019

Crowd-sourcing the Novel: Wattpad as another alternative in Indie Publishing

Our guest blogger this week is the incredibly talented Dennis M. Lavoie. Dennis is a charter member of the Bayou Writer's Club and co-hosts our BWC Writing Workshop. He has become well known for his exceptional short stories and taught many of us the value of flash fiction. Please be sure to leave a comment after reading this post and feel free to share a link for our blog to your writer friends.
 Happy Reading.

Crowdsourcing the Novel: Wattpad as another alternative in Indie Publishing
by Dennis M. Lavoie

   Okay, stop me if you know all about Wattpad, but….this article opened my mind. It’s in Atlantic Magazine (Vol 322 No. 5, December 2018, pages 18-21, by Bianca Bosker. It’s the issue with the cover story “The Sex Recession”—another interesting article, but for a different discussion. If you can’t get the print version at Barnes and Noble, here’s the podcast (I haven’t listened to it so no guarantees):

   The article caught my eye because Wattpad came up at the January 10 meeting. I have to admit I didn’t see the value in a site that sounded like Twitter with longer character strings, but I decided to skim the article anyway. I often read articles whose topic I may not be otherwise interested in simply to study the craft of the writer, and this article would be worth reading for that reason alone, a well-written non-fiction piece, aka reporting. The author, Bianca Bosker, uses the story of a real-life person to illuminate the subject matter, and she brings in other people, “secondary characters”, as well. As in fiction, our real fascination is stories about people, and Bosker tells a good story.

   It’s the story of a writer who vaulted to success using Wattpad. Her name is Anna Todd. She is, perhaps, the future of publishing. When she started writing, she was 24, married to a soldier she met one month after graduating from high school, had a newborn who had daily seizures. She came from a dysfunctional family (trailer park, drug addict father stabbed to death before she was one-year-old, the mother also a drug addict — you get the picture). But she loved to read (some of her favorites were “Wuthering Heights”, “Twilight”, and  “The Things They Carried” — eclectic to say the least and not what you’d expect. Apparently no one told her they were “literature”). And she was addicted to fan fiction, which she followed on Wattpad, where it is hugely popular and where there is a lot of it. When she tired of waiting for updates on her favorite fan fiction, she started writing her own, in secret from her husband and friends, whenever she could spare a few minutes typing on her phone, and, without pausing to proofread, she uploaded her story, chapter by chapter, to Wattpad.

   By the time she had written 90 chapters of an eventual 295 (yikes!) her serial novel, “After”, had been read more that one million times. 

    The rest of the story is dream stuff: her readership got her lots of attention from Wattpad-the-company and from traditional literary agents, among others, resulting in six-figure book deals, translations, European book tours, and (the Holy Grail !) her novel is being adapted to film—which she is producing with tight creative control. Are you listening Michael Begg? 
   It is a truly heartwarming story of girl makes good as a writer, but, as I said, it is a well-written article and there’s a lot to unpack in it. Here are some of the other things that jumped out at me:

  First, there’s Wattpad itself. Bosker writes that it has “65 million monthly users, overwhelmingly female and under 35, who spend an average 30 minutes a day reading authors [ranging] from middle schoolers to Margaret Attwood” (now, there’s a surprise; traditional authors are popular as well as neophytes). Furthermore, Wattpad “has helped hundreds of stories be adapted into books, TV shows, or films…”. (Netflix’s show, “The Kissing Booth”, one of its most watched, “began as a Wattpad story written by a 15-year-old”.)
   And this: Serials are popular! Wildly. This should not be surprising. Serials have been around since at least the rise of inexpensive printing technologies and general education. For that matter, the typical novel can be viewed as a serial story bound together in a form that encourages “binge reading”. (And many serials, including Anna Todd’s “After”, are made into novels.) It’s not that today’s generation has a shorter attention span; people have always read short form fiction. Recall the thirty minutes the average reader spends on Wattpad? It’s about the length of a chapter as well as a short story (I’ve said it before in a previous blog: you don’t have to write a book to be a writer).

   And this: Young people are reading! (Maybe the doomsayers who decry the decline in reading among the young aren’t paying attention to what young people are actually reading and how they get their stories.) New readers are vacuuming up all sorts of stories from the internet at an incredible rate. Yes, some of the writing (maybe a lot) is dross by some standards, but the point is kids are reading, so who cares? Even comic books are a gateway. A lot of teachers have written Anna to thank her for inspiring their students to read such authors as Charles Dickens and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Anna’s characters read the classics, which intrigues her readers—maybe it’s the first time they’ve seen someone they care about—the character in a story that engages them— who reads traditional literature, so they start branching out. This is the mind-opening power of reading; it doesn’t matter where you start).

   So it seems that reading is not going to be dying out anytime soon. These young people are reading for pleasure. I’m not surprised: as I observed in said previous blog, reading is an act that involves our intellect, creativity, and imagination in way that other media — film, theater, oral storytelling, radio plays, books on tape — do not, and our brains are wired to derive pleasure from this type of creative exercise. This is all good news for writers.

   And this: For all these readers, there are a lot of writers out there supplying stories. If a lot of them are “bad” writers, well, the readers don’t seem to care; grammar, spelling, and the finer points of fiction writing don’t seem to matter (this jumped out at me, an acknowledged “comma nazi”,  like a bulldog latching onto my ankle—I’m not happy about it but can’t ignore it). If perfect writing does not matter that much to these readers, what does matter is the story, which, of course, is universal. Now, a story “artfully” told can bring a special joy to a reader, but I doubt that many of those 65 million readers of Wattpad have been taught how to critique a story like an English major, yet they know what grabs them, even if it’s a bit rough around the edges.

   There is a huge number of enthusiastic, creative storytellers out there, and the internet is providing them a soapbox. Yes, this increases the competition for readers’ eyes and attention, but I think that also works to the individual writer’s advantage—it’s the same principle that retailers use when siting a new store: put it next to a competitor or several competitors. This concentrates your clientele, which increases visits to your store, and allows a subtle shift in the focus of your advertising towards the quality of your products. This is one aspect of the “Crowdsourcing” in the article’s title.

      And this: Here’s another aspect of crowdsourcing: One of the reasons for the popularity of serials in particular on Wattpad is the collaborative interaction between authors and readers. The people who use Wattpad have grown up interacting with their media. As a social writing/reading site, Wattpad allows writers to put out their work for anyone to read and get near instant feedback from their readers on the same platform. (This is how Anna Todd wrote “After” — no outline, just adjusting the story with each chapter based on what her readers were telling her they liked or didn’t.) It sounds like Amazon publishing without the gatekeeper curating the reviews: there’s no middleman between the writer and the reader. This generation likes that, and it will drive the publishing industry in the future.

   And this: What her readers liked were the same things that concerned them in their own lives: social anxiety and the sometimes brutal immediacy of social media; bad, unsupportive or distracted parents; messy relationships with “thin-skinned, impulsive, and insecure” people; and all the other “petty but momentous growing pains of early adulthood.”  Also hyperrealism, including abuse and explicit sex and other topics that the traditional gatekeepers (parents and publishers) of Young Adult and even New Adult fiction tend to sanitize as “too mature for young audiences”. As Anna says in the article, “I’m not writing about the 1 percent of people who have this fairy-tale life. I’m writing about people like me, who maybe had a rough childhood.” She stands out for being particularly adept at using social media, including Wattpad, not only to connect with her readers but to guide her writing. This does not seem to constrain her creativity; instead, it informs and enriches it. This is a truly “social” author; she’s not a reclusive introverted artist.

So, here we have a platform that allows authors to bypass traditional routes to publishing, yet also may provide a path back into it (as well as into other media). It strikes me as being the next iteration of Indie publishing. 

   Wattpad appeals to readers who are comfortable with interacting on social media and, indeed expect to interact with the story creator. The readers who use Wattpad are intensely interested in how to navigate a fraught period in their own lives and want to find stories about how others manage it, as well as to share their own experiences (in guiding the way a story unfolds, some of the readers may be using the story like a personalized, crowdsourced life advice column).  

   As a success in this brave new world of publishing, Anna Todd stands out as an example of an author that would otherwise not have been able to break through the barriers of traditional publishing or even Indie publishing (she simply did not have the time to produce something on Amazon, but, more importantly, she was afraid the people around her would ridicule her). Wattpad’s direct connection with readers enabled her to open a new door into the process. She uses other social media to engage her fans as well; she uses editors and graphic artists but relishes the freedom to control her own output without having to wait on “a creaky old bureaucracy of an old machine.” And she loves doing her own marketing in this medium in which she is so comfortable and adept. As she puts it: “When I realized that I can invest in my own marketing [through  social media and using the internet to both educate myself and to market my own brand] and do exactly what I think needs to be done—well, then it just feels like: What is the benefit of having a publisher?”

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

You Don’t Have to Write a Book (to be a Writer)

I am very excited to introduce our guest blogger and to share this post with you! Organizing a large writer's group (The BWC is close to 300 members strong) and meeting even more writer's in the community via workshops, retreats, and conferences, there is one thing I know for sure, You Don't Have to Write a Book (to be a Writer.)
Our guest blogger this week is the incredibly talented Dennis M. Lavoie. Dennis is a charter member of the BWC and co-hosts our BWC Writing Workshop. He has become well known for his exceptional short stories and taught many of us the value of flash fiction.
 Happy Reading.

You Don’t Have to Write a Book (to be a Writer)

By Dennis M. Lavoie
     It used to be said that what distinguishes humans from other animals is that we are tool
makers. A more accurate distinction is that humans are story tellers.
     We’ve been telling each other stories ever since we hunkered down around the evening fire to tell about the day’s hunt, where to find the best plants for medicines, make jokes, gossip about the neighbors, speculate how the world was created. It’s how we make sense of the world around us and how we fit into it.
     Making stories is a process of pulling out bits of the chaos of “reality” and then putting them back together to build simplified versions of what happens around us—models of reality, if you will, models built of abstract things called words.
     At this high level of generalization there is little, if any, distinction between fiction and non-fiction, because all the models we build and communicate to our fellows are only selected bits of reality that we mix and match to suit the circumstances. They are all fictions in that sense.
     Some seem to follow predictable patterns, and we believe they reflect reality, while some are recognized (or not) as pure fantasy, but they are all only simplified representations of what we experience of the world. We occasionally are reminded that our views of the world are fictions when something unexpected, usually something traumatic, happens to us and our story doesn’t work for us anymore. (This situation is itself a recurrent theme in literature.)
     One characteristic of most of the stories we tell is that they are short.
     Even the longer ones are chopped up into “digestible” pieces. Your friend doesn’t tell you the story of her relationship troubles for six hours at a stretch; books don’t go on for hundreds of pages without a break. This is because, as recipients of the stories, we have a limited attention span. That’s not a disparaging observation; rather, it is a reflection of our biology.
     Neuroscience—the study of of how the brain works—indicates that learning involves
physical changes in the brain, addition of new neurons, but mostly new connections between existing ones, and formation of new patterns of interconnections. This all takes takes a finite amount of time as well as energy, and the amount of each depends on the type of input and where in the brain most of that input is handled.
     Although it is an oversimplification, we can think of the human brain as operating on two
levels, intuitive and rational. Most of the mass of our brain is the beneficiary of millions of years of evolution in which brain structures evolved for efficiently processing sensory input for the purpose of reacting in novel situations—making life or death decisions. We don’t have to ponder whether that shaking bush hides a possible predator, we are instantly ready to fight or flee; we don’t ponder whether to be wary of an odd-looking stranger, we are immediately on guard.
     As a result of these highly evolved brain structures, we can evaluate situations and make
intuitive decisions in milliseconds. When presented with new experiences, we instantly and
intuitively categorize them (of course, this process occasionally makes mistakes). This sort of activity constitutes the bulk of our mental processes, and we are largely unaware of it. When we believe we are being rational, we are usually just putting into words what our intuitive, primitive brain has already decided on.
     This speed and efficiency is not true for the higher cognitive functions, such as language,
voluntary action, planning, and abstract reasoning, which are mostly done in the newer parts of the brain, the frontal lobes (the part of the brain that gives us a bulbous forehead compared to our nearest cousins the chimpanzees) and cerebral cortex (the intensely folded and dime-thin outermost layer of the brain). This is painfully obvious to us when we try to learn a new language, learn a mathematical theorem, or puzzle out a philosophical argument. This sort of mental activity takes more time. It also takes a large amount of chemical energy in the form of glucose. It’s the reason you feel tired after a bout of heavy thinking or abstract input; the brain is accounts for about 20% of your daily calorie burn.
     All in all, this is probably why we can tolerate intense intellectual activity only for relatively
short periods of time before requiring a “rest” period to “process” the information and to rebuild energy supplies in the brain—think 50-minute algebra class periods.
     I don’t know if this hypothesis has been put to a scientific test, but I’m making the leap here that we as human beings are built for short stories. This is particularly true for written stories because the act of reading involves high order abstraction mental skills—interpreting dark and light spaces on a surface, associating them with words, and linking those words with experiences and concepts.
     But, you object, I just read a book in one long sitting! First, it probably was not a long
book—War and Peace is the cliché that fits here. Second, it probably had a lot of emotional
content—it was probably not a discourse on quantum physics (unless, of course, that lights up the pleasure centers of your brain). Again, input that is emotional and intuitive—i.e., stuff we don’t have to expend much mental energy on because most of our brain is built to deal with it quickly—is easier for us to handle than abstract input.
     So, if short stories are more natural, why do we think that writing a book is the ultimate
literary achievement?
     Here are three possible reasons:
     First, if you’re good at it and popular, you can make a fair amount of money.

     Second, producing a book is a long and laborious exercise and its author should be respected for that reason alone.
     Third, in writing a book—especially fiction, but to even non-fiction works—the author must successfully master a difficult form.
     That form is deceptively simple: beginning, middle, and end. At a more detailed level,
especially in fictional work: there also has to be a plot; there has to be character development and the characters have to change in some significant way; there has to be conflict and resolution of conflict; and there has to be a wrap up. Note that this arc is largely artificial. Real life as chronicled in a book would be a series of “slice of life” sketches; it would not be a novel. As readers of long form fiction, we are not looking for real life. We may be looking for insights to real life, but primarily we are looking for some validation of our innate conviction that there is some order in the world around us.
     In my view, long-form writing is a specialized and rather constrained form of literature. It is demanding and risky: it may take years of effort, and when finally published it may not be
appreciated in your lifetime (e.g., John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces).
     If you have the ambition, if you have an epic story to tell with compelling characters and
situations, and you are willing to meet the demands of the form, more power to you. If you are successful, you will have achieved a difficult goal.
     But it’s not the only literary art form out there, and there is no reason to restrict your creative talents to a single form of story telling.
     Recognize that there is a much larger world of short-form stories, especially if you want to make a living at writing. Current event and personal interest magazine articles, news and
commentary, essays, travel pieces, inspirational, how-to, humor, scripts, poetry, literary pieces. Although they may be constrained by conventions of their own, most of these are not constrained by long-form conventions of the novel. In short fiction, this means you can write anything from plot- or character-driven stories to prose poems that emphasize mood, emotion, and atmosphere to slice-of- life pieces. For that matter, that can apply to creative non-fiction too.
     Since you can turn these short pieces around relatively quickly, you can afford to experiment and push your limits. There’s less time and sweat wasted and less discouragement when you have the inevitable failure; conversely, there’s more elation when you turn out a string of good stories.
     And there has never been such a plethora of outlets for short work. There are still dozens of vibrant print outlets of all forms and genres, and, of course, burgeoning outlets of all types on the internet. Shorts for fiction and non-fiction anthologies are in demand. Writers Digest periodically highlights the advantages of short stories and a good article appeared in the November/December 2014 issue by Anne R. Allen. She listed nine professional reasons to write shorts, including the fact that, word-for- word, short pieces have a higher rate of return on effort than long works for most writers and they can be turned out faster. (I’ve summarized the article at the end of this piece.)
     Finally, many successful authors started out writing shorts, and many write shorts in between their longer publications, often to keep connected to their readership. If you are stuck in your novel, take a busman’s holiday and write a short to reset your creative muscle.
     So, I’m making the argument that you don’t have to write a book to be a writer. There are all sorts of ways to tell a good story. Writing short stories is natural, allows for more growth, and can be just as rewarding—in whatever sense you want to take it—as writing a book.

* * * * *
     Summary of “Short Is the New Long” column by Anne R. Allen in Writers Digest
November/December 2014, page 10.
     “Bite-sized fiction has moved mainstream, and today’s readers are more eager than ever to “read short.” Here’s why writing little stories is paying off in a big way”

  1. Small, portable screens are changing the way we read.
  2. Anthologies are hot. Multi-author anthologies are a great sales tool….
  3. Publication identifies you as a professional.
  4. Networking with short fiction editors can further your career. Editors at small magazines often have connections in the publishing world.
  5. Filmmakers buy rights to short stories.
  6. Online retailers favor authors with more titles.
  7. Short fiction contests can build you bio. Contests are easy to find and enter in the Internet era. (,,
  8. Shorts keep fans engaged and draw new ones. Shorts keep fans interested while they’re waiting for the next book [of your series] and a free story in between is a great marketing tool.
  9. Todays short stories make money and hold their value. Per word, a story can make more money than a novel.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Catching up with the Bayou Writers!!!

Dear Bayou Writers,

I’m very excited to get back to our BWC Blog Posts! There have been so many requests, from members that can’t make each meeting in person and this is a great way to give follow up information about our meetings, speakers and all things concerning writing in our community!

The kick-off to our writing year has been strong! Our first meeting was packed full of useful information to help our members find their writing focus for 2018.

Writing Contracts
Have you heard of our writing contracts? These are contracts that you make with yourself and can be considered a roadmap to help guide you to your writing goals! The contract is made even more awesome if you share it with your writing partner(s).

Writing Partners
Have you heard about our accountability partner program or as we like to call it, writing partners? This is where you and one or more BWC members work on your writing together. Your partner(s) will follow up with you outside of the meetings, either in person, by phone or even by email. Many of our members credit this for helping them finish their writing projects, journals, articles, novels and even helping them get published! Yes, the program is that great!!!
*** It’s not too late for you to fill out a writing contract. If you would like a copy, message me. It is never too late to find a writing partner either! Come to our next meeting and we’ll help you find someone!

New Orleans Writer’s Workshop (NOWW)
Helping each other with our craft is at the top of our wish list as a group and it was only fitting that we had instructors, Allison Alsup and Jessica Kinnison from The New Orleans Writer’s Workshop (NOWW) come in and introduce their upcoming programs and some mini-workshop ideas! They are AWESOME!

Allison gave us a crash lesson offering Strategies for Revision:
1.       Accountability Partners- Chat about the work and beta read for each other to see how the message comes across and potentially works (the BWC loves this, of course.)
2.       Brainstorm- Do you know what your writing (novel, journal, article, poem) is about? Try this exercise: Write the back-cover copy (what would be written) for your work.
3.       Change up the Beginning- Force yourself to try this... it gives you permission to change things up.
4.       Discipline- Be willing to do multiple drafts.
5.       Line edits don’t count as a revision. Revisions must be something fundamental in your work.
6.       Stop being the writer and start being the editor. Your novel (or story) should have a Theme, Characters, Conflict, and Stakes
7.       Work from Hard Copy. Change things up and look at it printed instead of on your computer screen.
8.       Realistic Deadlines. You cannot compare yourself or your work to others. Full-time jobs, Family or other external obligations may keep you from reaching your goal in the short term. The idea is to reach your goal in the right amount of time for you!

Several BWC members have taken writing courses through the Loyola Writing Institute (where many of the NOWW instructors began) and then through NOWW! We love them and I highly endorse their programs. You can get testimonials from some of our members at a meeting but also find out more information about them here: 
***Look for an announcement very soon regarding a North Shore weekend workshop (Saturday and Sunday) on Scene Building in either March or May.  Whoop-Whoop!

Additional topics/presentations for January have been Developing Great Writing Habits, Ways to be Inspired and Getting Motivated; Overcoming Writer’s Block. Internet research (one of my fav.’s) and personal testimonials from fellow writers helped shape this discussion.

Great Writing Habits
1.       Establish a writing schedule and write daily. Fifteen-twenty minutes a day is better than a marathon writing once or twice a month.
2.       Read. This can be the genre you write but also any and all other genres too. It is extremely obvious if a writer is not well-read.
3.       Finish your work. It’s easy to get distracted with new projects but it’s a terrible habit to abandon something because it isn’t shiny and new anymore.
4.       Share your finished work. Find beta-readers or writing partners that can help you improve it.
5.       Know your craft and industry. Workshops, conferences, reading like a writer, writer’s groups can all help you polish your writing as well as understand the business of writing.

5 Ways to Get Inspired
1.       Take Pictures. Walk around your neighborhood or city and take pics. As writers, we are always observing and this will help you switch things up and possibly see them differently.
2.       Travel. You don’t have to go far. Jump in the car and go to the next town over and explore. Getting you out of your comfort zone can help wake up your sense. (This is one of my favorites…I like to go to different coffee shops and pick two or more people out and make up dialogue for them!)
3.       Have a writer date. Being around other artists is always inspirational. It’s one of the reasons the BWC has been so successful! Meet for coffee or tea and talk shop!
4.       Switch up your art. Many of my writer friends are talented musicians, painters, and photographers. Try something new, at the very least it will be fun. You can always invite a writer friend to one of those Cork and Canvas or Painting with a Twist places- two birds one stone!
5.       GO to a reading, a play or even a movie. It’s exciting to see the finished work of an author and can help motivate you and your own projects.

How to Overcome Writer’s Block
1.       Go for a walk
2.       Eliminate distractions
3.       Change your Environment
4.       Read a Book
5.       Freewrite
6.       Listen to music
7.       Brew some coffee
8.       Create a writing routine
9.       Brainstorm ideas in bullet points
10.   Read inspiring quotes to get you started.
***Additional information was used from writers, Melissa Donovan at, Writers Digest at, Jeff Goins at, and the BWC.

Become the Writer You Want to Be in 2018!
I hope this blog has caught you up with the group and that you’re more inspired than ever to write your own book, blog, article, screenplay or poem and perhaps even attend a meeting. It is the single best thing that I have ever done for my writing self (and myself overall) because meeting with a room full of creative writers and talking shop for a couple of hours motivates me more than anything else.
You can come check us out at

Save the dates for our next meetings:
·       Feb. 1st (Write-In)
·       Feb 17th (writing workshop-full)
·       Feb 22nd (Reg. Meeting)
·       March 1st (Reg. Meeting)
·       March 22nd or 29th (Reading Event @ The English Tea Room)

Until then, Happy Writing!


Monday, June 8, 2015

The Rewrite!

“All Writing is Rewriting”
-John Green

“Rewriting is a pain in the…”
-Paul Heingarten

I don’t know about you, but of all the parts of the writing process there are, re-writing is a strong contender to be my least favorite.  The forming of ideas, characters, themes, plot elements and weaving them together… lots of fun.  But after everything it takes to put a story of any length together, isn’t it enough?

Isn’t it… done yet?

When I wrote my first manuscript, I had little to no knowledge of the writing process like I do now.  I was at least several months out from finding the Bayou Writers Club for one.  The school training I’d had for writing of any kind came from one creative writing class in grade school and the writing for TV/Newspaper/Radio in college.  I could write a sentence but the concept of editing was not really something I dealt with much.  Tweaks for news stories, OK.  But when I worked for the school newspaper I relied on others, the copy editors, for more in-depth editing.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve been establishing a method for writing.  I wouldn’t say I’ve embraced it, but I’ve found a way to at least get through it.

Last year, my wife Andrea and I went to Comicpalooza, an annual comic convention in Houston, TX.  There, we saw a presentation from Pamela Fagan Hutchins, an award winning author of several bestselling books (Her website is  This particular presentation dealt with rewriting.

I’ve incorporated much of what Pamela spoke about in her presentation.  Here’s a list of several items I use when I rewrite:
·       Start from the beginning of your manuscript and work your way forward page by page until the end.  Maybe this is redundant or obvious to most of you, but when I was just trying to rewrite something, I was hopping around the pages, trying to catch things.  No.  Front to back.
·       If you add things to your story: characters, plot elements, etc… do you follow through the entire manuscript with them?  Don’t let something major you added for resolving the plot go unexplained until the end like a Deus Ex Machina.
·       Have you met your story objective?  Has the plot been resolved satisfactorily?  Good or bad endings for characters aside, make sure things get wrapped up to some kind of resolution.
·       Does a scene matter?  Does it help move the story along?  If not, remove it.
Those are a few points I look for.  There are more but I think you’ll find as you start to rewrite, you will develop your own method for what you look for and change.  Like anything, practice makes perfect… or just better than before.

Another thing I do on my rewrites is to not try and get it done on a single rewrite.  Again, maybe this is redundant to some of you as well.  But I’ve been a “planner” writer more or less since I’ve started writing novels.  And as a planner, I always have some small feeling in the back of my head that when I’m done writing the story, it’s done.  And when I’m done on a rewrite, it’s done.

The way I got away from that mindset is to do my rewrites in passes.  In other words, when I start on a rewrite, I make up my mind to look for either one thing or a small collection of things in my manuscript.
Here’s how that might look:
·      Pass 1: Add scenes that I’ve come up with for beefing up the story.  Make sure the parts of the story the new scenes might affect are also adjusted so each new scene is now a needed part of the story, not just added fluff.
·      Pass 2: Check the dialogue for all characters.  Make the dialogue less formal.  Break up the lines of dialogue if necessary so each character doesn’t speak a soliloquy each time they say anything.
·      Pass 3: Make sure your characters each have a distinctive voice.  Perhaps you can give one of them a catchphrase they use a lot, or maybe an accent, etc.
I think you get the idea.  Of course, every story is different so I don’t use the exact same list of passes I mentioned each time.  But I think multiple passes is what finally got me to get through the tall (but necessary) task of rewriting my projects.

Happy rewriting!

Paul Heingarten