Make Your Setting Kick Butt

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of writing where setting is just… Well, it’s missing.

You begin a chapter and there are just these talking heads and you’re not quite sure where they actually are.

Chapter One of Book Of Pretend

I grabbed a Coke.

“I am so upset with you,” I said.

“I’m more upset,” he said.

“No way in heck.”

“Seriously.”

 

And the reader is like, “Cool. They have Coke. They are upset. But where are they? Are they floating in the ether? Are they in Newark? I just don’t know.”

So the first rule of creating a kick butt setting for chapters or scenes in your book is:

Actually have a setting.

I know! I know! This seems obvious.

It is not obvious.

Chapter One of Book Of Pretend

I grabbed a Coke out of the mini fridge that John had in his dorm room.

“I am so upset with you,” I said.

“I’m more upset,” he said.

“No way in heck.”

“Seriously.”

Make the Setting Somewhere Cool if you can

A lot of stories have scenes around a dining room table.

There are places in the world that aren’t dining room tables. It’s okay to have a domestic scene in a bathroom, a bedroom, a basement. It’s okay to make the dining room cool. It’s okay to make the dining room a couch.

Chapter One of Book Of Pretend

I grabbed a Coke out of the mini fridge that John kept in the back of his MINI Cooper.

“I am so upset with you,” I said.

“I’m more upset,” he said.

“No way in heck.”

“Seriously.”

Think about Theme and Mood

If your book is about misery make your settings reflect that. If your book is about displacement, do that, too.

 

Chapter One of Book Of Pretend

I grabbed a Coke out of the mini fridge that John kept in the back of his MINI Cooper. It was crammed into the backseat somehow. I have no idea how he even kept it charged. Nothing made sense about it being there, but then again, nothing about John ever made sense.

“I am so upset with you,” I said.

“I’m more upset,” he said.

“No way in heck.”

“Seriously.”

Remember Detail

Depth and intricacy aren’t swear words. The Belles, a newish YA novel does such a fantastic job of having setting become part of and enhance the story. J.K. Rowling? Same thing. Give yourself a moment to really breathe and live in the place that your characters are breathing and living in.

Chapter One of Book Of Pretend

I grabbed a Coke out of the mini fridge that John kept in the back of his MINI Cooper. It was crammed into the backseat somehow. I have no idea how he even kept it charged. Nothing made sense about it being there, but then again, nothing about John ever made sense.

“I am so upset with you,” I said, shutting the door. There were stickers all over it, declaring, “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” or “FREE TIBET,” or “HEGEMONY NOW.” Some of the stickers were peeling off at the edges, like they were trying to escape the actual refrigerator door, but they couldn’t. They were stuck.

“I’m more upset,” he said.

“No way in heck.”

“Seriously.”

 

Study Old Books

The Charles Dickens’ and Brontes of this world were masters at making you live inside the settings. Don’t copy them, but pull out one of those old books where time was spent creating the stage. Roots was a book that always felt real to me. Color Purple, too. The Bluest Eye.

Find a book where you feel like you live in the place and study a paragraph or two and try to determine how the authors make you see that world.

 

Use Your Senses and Your Symbols

Setting isn’t just visual. It’s smell. It’s the feel of the air on your skin. It’s a million things all combined. The symbols and objects that create your place also reflect the story. Think how Twilight was rainy and dark, foreboding with its trees as opposed to Bella’s original sunny south.

Chapter One of Book Of Pretend

I grabbed a Coke out of the mini fridge that John kept in the back of his MINI Cooper and shut it fast. Broccoli smelled rolled into the air, sickening and heavy.

The mini fridge was crammed into the backseat somehow. I have no idea how he even kept it charged. Nothing made sense about it being there, but then again, nothing about John ever made sense.

“I am so upset with you,” I said, shutting the door. There were stickers all over it, declaring, “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” or “FREE TIBET,” or “HEGEMONY NOW.” Some of the stickers were peeling off at the edges, like they were trying to escape the actual refrigerator door, but they couldn’t. They were stuck.

“I’m more upset,” he said.

“No way in heck.” I popped the top of the Coke. The click and fizz of it satisfied me more than this conversation ever could.

“Seriously.” John swallowed hard.

I met his eyes.

He looked away and slammed the door of the MINI shut before leaning across the top of it, hiding his head in his arms.

The rotten broccoli smell somehow got worse. Gagging, I took a swig of the Coke, forcing it down.

Now, go back up and read the first pretend excerpt again. It’s a totally different story, isn’t it? It’s weird because I’m weird, but it’s better.

My Post-40WRITING NEWS

I’ll be at Book Expo America on June 1 at the Lerner booth from 11:30-12.

There’s a free information and inspiration session from  Write! Submit! Support!, a six-month intensive program through the Writing Barn.

It’s a one-day only thing just to hang out and learn about the program. I swear! No weirdness involved at all. More info is here.

TIME STOPPERS THE MIDDLE GRADE SERIES OF AWESOME

Time Stoppers’s third book comes out this summer. It’s been called a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but with heart. It takes place in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. I need to think of awesome ways to promote it because this little book series is the book series of my own middle grade heart. Plus, I wrote it for the Emster. Plus, it is fun.

51YDGwoXfXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_
Time Stoppers Book Two! Out in paperback this August! 

Dogs Are Smarter Than People

And finally, the podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of.

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Why You Should be Vulnerable in a World of Trolls

Last week, I got the first pass proofs of ESCAPE FROM THE BADLANDS, the third book in the TIME STOPPERS series.

I am afraid of pass proofs.

But they are still super cool.

Why am I afraid of them?

Well, they come after the copy edits, so even if you suddenly realize that having your main character fall in love with a bottle of ALL NATURAL SNAPPLE ICED TEA was important to the plot of the book, you can not magically make this happen now. It is too late!!!!

 SnappleIs it ever really too late to make SNAPPLE an important plot choice/love interest? I doubt it.

Yes, Snapple! It is too late.

Why is it too late?

Well, the first pass proofs are really what the book is going to look like on the page. It’s sort of all set and ready to go.

And that’s scary. Your book baby is ready to go off into the world of anonymous reviews and bookstore shelves, and there is nothing you can do now to toughen her up, make her street smart. She will be out there on her own very very soon and you just have to pray she won’t be a train wreck and become the kind of book that the paparazzi take pictures of because she’s always forgetting to wear her underwear when she gets out of cars.

And all of this made me think about vulnerability.

Because writing a blog, a book, a podcast, creating art, any type of true communication and art is an act of expression and it makes you vulnerable. And this world? This world is currently full of people who attack others. Some of those attacks are horrific and visible. Some are hidden.

So, why do it? Why do anything?

Because if you don’t, the trolls win.

Because if you don’t, fear wins.

Because for every troll attacking you, there is someone who needs your story and your voice. That’s why.

This is why you should still be vulnerable despite the evil in this world. Ready?

Vulnerable People are Leaders

People who lead need to connect to others. Vulnerability and authenticity are ways of connection, ways that we break out of our comfort zones and reach for bigger, better things.

Vulnerability Helps Others

Almost every time I blog or post about something that isn’t considered cool, (Having epilepsy, growing up poor, sleeping in a car, being assaulted), people tell me that I’m inspiring. I sure don’t ever feel inspiring. At all. And I have a hard time accepting that compliment, but… I appreciate that kindness because it means that it means those people are getting something positive out of my life or what I’m saying.

Plus, how cool is it that they took the time out of their lives to deliberately say something kind and supportive.

Honestly?

Can there be a bigger gift than hearing that you’ve helped someone else? Somehow? Even though you were just being you.

 

Vulnerability Is Contagious

Being brave and exposing yourself and your truth? It helps others be brave. Sure, it can backfire. When I first posted about my daughter being worried about me going to the Boston Marathon, trolls said my daughter (who is a Lt in the Army) must be a terrorist and have known about it or else why would she be worried about me. Yep… They actually went there.

And that’s the thing. You never know when someone is going to attack you or what for, but you can’t let that fear of evil suppress your voice, your story, your thoughts or your truths.

Silence is oppressive.

But vulnerability? It’s contagious.

Telling your story gives strength to others who haven’t been able to tell theirs yet. Facing your demons helps others to face their own. Isn’t that the kind of infection we want? Instead of a lack of civility and a parade of trolls, how about we work towards authenticity and vulnerability and truth?

A vulnerability contagion…I think that would be pretty cool. So, today’s Wednesday Writing Wisdom is to be vulnerable. No art is any good without it.

Writing tips and help from NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones
Do Good Wednesday!

DO GOOD WEDNESDAY

The Human Utility has a water assistance project in Detroit, Michigan, USA, and other cities around the country.

From its website:

Water companies are turning off the tap in cities across the U.S., forcing low-income families, seniors and single parents to live without basic necessities.

Families without water are forced to go elsewhere to take showers, clean dishes and get a drink. Your donation can help turn the water back on.

You can give money, provide services or partner with them.

WRITING NEWS

Yep, it’s the part of the blog where I talk about my books and projects because I am a writer for a living, which means I need people to review and buy my books or at least spread the word about them.

I’m super good at public image and marketing for nonprofits but I have a much harder time with marketing myself.

CARRIE’S APPEARANCES

I’ll be at Book Expo America in NYC on June 1 at 11:30 – 12 at the Lerner booth signing copies of the Spy Who Played Baseball. A week before that,

I’ll also be in NYC presenting to the Jewish Book Council . Come hang out with me!

I’ll be at Sherman’s Bookstore in Bar Harbor on April 28 from 1-2.

To find out more about my books, there are links in the header. And if you buy one? Thank you so much. Let me know if you want me to send you a bookplate.

PODCAST

The podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can.

 

COOKING WITH A WRITER

I have started a tongue-in-spoon subgroup in my blog all about cooking vegetarian recipes as a writer. It is silly. The recipes still work though. Check it out here.

Black Bean Soup Recipe. Cooking with a Writer
There are white beans in this image. Try to pretend they aren’t there, okay?

THE CLASS AT THE WRITING BARN

The awesome six-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support! is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money. We’ll be having a Zoom class to learn more about it and I’ll share the details as soon as they are official.

Write Submit Support
Look. A typewriter.

FLYING AND ENHANCED – THE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION SERIES

These books are out there in the world thanks to Tor.

What books? Well, cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.

This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking action School Library Journal

Make Your Life and Your Writing Resonate

The best kind of work is the kind that makes you messy (even if you’re a Virgo) inside and out.

And for a lot of writers, especially writers for kids, our job isn’t just about making story; it’s about making a difference somehow in at least one kid’s life. That is a messy business because in order to make a difference, you have to dig deep, to go through a lot of dirt and mud and rock to get to what it is that matters to you and to your story and to your reader and/or life partners.

When I go to schools, I always tell the kids that one of the important steps to becoming the best writers you can be is to live the biggest life you can live. To not risk life or jail time, but to have adventures, to do things that you would never expect yourself doing.

YOUR LIFE IS YOUR STORY. MAKE IT A BIG ONE.

Big stories have conflict, and none of us are really into conflict in our lives, but it’s the conflict that allows our stories to have meaning and resonance.

Big stories have awkward moments and worries. Our characters and our selves feel overwhelmed. We feel like we can’t make it sometimes. That’s part of what makes surviving such a sweet triumph.

Being a writer is about more than craft. It’s about the story of how to be a writer, your story. It’s part of the bigger story of your life.

Being a writer is about more than craft. It's about life and resonance and cohesion.
Writing is life.

 

EVERY LESSON ABOUT WRITING CRAFT IS ACTUALLY A LESSON ABOUT LIFE.

Talking about paying attention to detail in your scene? It’s the same as paying attention to the details in your real life.

Talking about traits of your character and how to make them heroes (or not)? It’s the same as talking about the traits that make you the you that you so beautifully are.

Talking about resolution to your story is the same as talking about resolution to your relationships, to your current conflict, to your own life and death.

I know, right? Mind blown.

In every story we write there needs to be some logic and there needs to be some spirit or resonance.

What makes the logic of the story?

That comes from plot, pacing, character, and theme. You start your story with a vision and then the other elements are honed and refined to express that vision.

The logic is the structure of the story, how it all works together. It’s how your plot isn’t just action, but a movement forward towards an end point – and how that movement forward makes sense and works together with the character, the theme, the pacing.

Events that happen must make the character react and act.

Creating resonance and cohesion in your life and your story. Tips on how to make life better.
Resonate

AND RESONANCE?  WHAT’S RESONANCE?

It’s the story’s value. It’s the universal nature of the story. It’s what makes the reader’s heart and mind go, “A-ha!”

It’s what makes you remember the story. We’ve all met people, read books, watched movies or shows or heard songs and forgotten them, but the ones that resonate? Those are the ones we remember.

Think Hamilton.  Hamilton resonates across so many demographics partially because it’s the story about immigration and triumph and death, about idealism and it’s then set to something that feels more new in musical theater – the style of music, which is juxtaposed to the historical setting. It resonates.

Think about the Nas song War (Birth of a Nation). This song connects Nat Turner to the protests of today and about fighting to make a better U.S. It resonates.

It’s about theme and heart. It’s about authenticity and humanity. That’s what resonates.

SO HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR STORY RESONATE?

Think about what your story is really about on the deepest level.

HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR LIFE RESONATE?

Same thing. Think about what your life is really about on the deepest level.

dogs-are-smarter-than-people_std.original-1

Dog Tip for Life

Get dirty as much as you can. Dirt means you’re living. Dirt is real. Dirt is life.

Getting Messy makes you a better writer. carriejonesbooks.blog
dog tip for life

Writing Tip of the Pod – When you’re writing, don’t be afraid to have messy, uncomfortable things happen to your characters. A story with no conflict is not a story.

Advice about adding resonance and cohesion to your story
Bob? Yuri? Scary?

Random Bonus Picture from Random Thought Time

This is Bob. Or maybe Yuri? He is in our house. Shaun mentions him in the podcast. Bob/Yuri frightens me even though he has no arms.

Here’s a direct link to the podcast feed.

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs
The podcast of awesome

Writing News – Carrie’s

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Book Expo America

Carrie will be signing copies of The Spy Who Played Baseball at Book Expo America on June 1 at 11:30 a.m.

WSSTypeWriter-300x300

THE CLASS AT THE WRITING BARN

The awesome 6-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support!is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money.

PRAISE FOR CARRIE JONES AND WRITE. SUBMIT. SUPPORT:

“Carrie has the fantastic gift as a mentor to give you honest feedback on what needs work in your manuscript without making you question your ability as a writer. She goes through the strengths and weaknesses of your submissions with thought, care and encouragement.”

“Carrie’s feedback is specific, insightful and extremely helpful. She is truly invested in helping each of us move forward to make our manuscripts the best they can be.”

“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”

People are saying super nice things about me, which is so kind of them because helping people on their writing journeys and their craft and supporting them? That’s pretty boss, honestly.

FLYING AND ENHANCED – THE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION SERIES

Cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.

This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking actionSchool Library Journal

Sparty knows all about that. More info about that series and all of Carrie’s books is here.

 

The Dog Takes Over the Blog Because Carrie Has Writer Waiting Syndrome

Everyone, Carrie is not paying attention to anything because she’s in Writer Waiting Mode.

So, I, Gabby the Dog have taken over the blog when I’m not busy barking at nothing. Spoiler Alert: I am almost always busy barking at nothing.

Carrie Jones Books
Gabby’s normal expression when she’s not barking

Let’s talk about Carrie though. She’s in the place called Writer Waiting Mode, which is what happens to writers when they are done typing on the flat thing and wait for someone to respond. That someone might be an agent, an editor, a teacher, a critique partner, or Chris Evans. Who knows? Writers make no sense.

But Carrie’s got the sickness full on.

How to take care of your pathetic writer - some dog tips
Owls are cute

Writer Waiting Mode symptoms include:


1. Panic eyes.
2. Failure to eat or increased appetite. It depends on the writer.
3. Pacing, which leads to callused feet.
4 Constant barely coherent murmuring, “Please let the editor like it. Please let the editor like it. Please let the editor like it.”

So basically this doggy needs some love as does my author. But let’s talk about me.

I would like to announce that normally I look like this:

Carrie Jones Books NYT bestselling author's writing tips and life tips. Plus, dogs.
This is a happy dog

But lately I’ve been looking like this:

Carrie Jones Books NYT bestselling author's writing tips and life tips. Plus, dogs.
I look a little bit like I’ve been doing naughty things, don’t I?

See the difference? My eyes are narrow and I’m hazy and the whole scene is tinted brown? THAT IS BECAUSE CARRIE IS SO OUT OF IT!

There are certain proper care and maintenance steps that you must do to ensure your writer survives this waiting game. They follow below:

  1. Bark at them until they take you outside. Writers need air and exercise. Make sure to put the leash in their hand so you don’t lose them. Writers in this head space tend to wander.
  2. Bark at the refrigerator so that they remember to feed you and themselves.
  3. Bark at the bed so they don’t stay in it all the time.
  4. Bark at them so they remember they are alive.
  5. Cuddle with them. Writers need a lot of love.

So, wish her luck. Wish me luck! I’m going off to go bark at her now.

NYT bestselling kids book Carrie Jones gives writing and life tips.
Dogs work so hard for us

Random Marketing and Book Things Since I am an Author and Need To Make Money.

I KNOW! I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO ADMIT IT. 

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy was all official on March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can order it!

Kirkus Reviewsays:  A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The podcast,DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, has a new podcast that came out Tuesday. All the episodes links are on this page.

This podcast is weird, quirky, and totally authentic. I mean, you can tell we are goofy people just trying to share some writing tips and life tips and we are not sitting in the NPR studio. I mean look at us. We’re total dorks.

And finally, I made a little video for my TIME STOPPERS books.

Writing tips and help from NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones
Look, they made a pull quote!
Writing tips and help from NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones Time Stoppers, Book 2, Quest for the Golden Arrow, middle grade fantasy based in Maine
Look! They made another pull quote.

Time Stoppers’s third book comes out this summer. It’s been called a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but with heart. It takes place in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. I need to think of awesome ways to promote it because this little book series is the book series of my own middle grade heart. Plus, I wrote it for the Emster. Plus, it is fun.

Four Gentle Ways To Raise (Write) A Good Book Like It’s A Dog

My Post-4 copy

Books and dogs have a lot in common. That’s why we have a podcast about dogs, life, and writing, right? Shameless podcast link is right here. Please listen.

Anyways, now that my shameless plug is over I can get to my point, which is that you can apply some of the lessons of training your dog to training your book. Really. Read on.

Find a space to write

Just like training a dog requires some dedicated space if you’re working on agility or sit/stay commands, your book can blossom if you have a dedicated place to write.

This space needs to be what works for you. Kid free? Kid friendly? Music? No music? Cozy? Standing? Surrounded by books? Surrounded by nothing?

Create a space where writing happens. Kindly boot out the old plates, the yelling kids, the  licking dogs if you need to. Or hoard them. There is no one right way to create your writing space.

Here’s the thing: 

Your book and your writing is important. Create a space for it.

More on that: Make the space for the book

I’m not just talking about the mechanics of writing the book. I’m talking about the space for it to breathe. Books can be brats. They need room to grow and breathe. Make sure you take time to step away from the actual physical writing of your book so that inspiration can hit, problem solving can happen.

Sometimes stepping away to give that baby some independence is exactly what it needs to grow.

Even dogs need a little quite time and not constant stimulation. There’s a reason for that. It lets them recharge. You and your book need to recharge, too.

My Post-4 copy 2

Play

When we were kids, writing stories was play. It was fun. Now, a lot of us think of it as work. We think of work and play as two separate things.

They don’t have to be.

Play with your story. Enjoy it.

Dogs learn things and acquire new skills because they feel rewarded or because it’s fun or because bacon is involved. Doing work doesn’t have to be arduous. It’s okay to find joy.   I wouldn’t write novels if I didn’t love writing stories and making up characters. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, which is why I put up with all the horrible parts of it (bad reviews, trolls, stalkers, random pay checks, hoping for publication, the long wait between books).

Every year that goes by where I get to be a writer I think, “Whooo, boy. I am so freaking lucky. This is awesome. I love this.”

I wouldn’t feel that way if I didn’t think of it as fun, as play, and as work.

Be Okay With Your Book Messing Up

A book is like a kid or a dog. It’s not going to always be perfect. You might think it is the most brilliant, amazing, talented child… dog… book in the world, but sometimes it’s going to mess up a bit? That rambling thought? It doesn’t belong there. The subplot? It’s a bit junky.

That doesn’t mean the book is a failure.

That doesn’t mean you are a failure.

It just means that you have a place to tinker with.

Do Good Wednesday!

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Gabby the Dog loves kids. She loves books. And she loves doing good. If you’re like her at all, you’ll love BOOKS BETWEEN KIDS, “a non-profit organization founded in 2012 to serve Houston’s at-risk children by providing them with books to build their own home libraries.”

That’s pretty cool. Check out its website to get involvedBBK-Banner-Book-Counter-2017-1006389-1.

Random Marketing and Book Things

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy was all official on March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can order it!

Kirkus Review says:   A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be in Exeter, New Hampshire, on a panel for the release of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID.

Thursday, March 15, 2018 – 7:00pm
 
Water Street Bookstore
125 Water Street
Exeter, NH 03833
Things We Haven't Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out Cover Image
 

And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, had a new episode yesterday. It’s about dialogue. It’s pretty funny. Actually, it’s super funny. Check it out.

My Post-2 copy

 

 

Four Simple Ways To Build Charismatic Characters and a More Charismatic You

When I was little I tried to hide.

I was this kid who talked like a Muppet. Everyone made fun of me so I didn’t talk at all in first grade. I was known as THE QUIET KID WHO GIVES HER SNACKS AWAY – SO DO NOT BEAT HER UP. This was an effective strategy against bullying, honestly.

The teachers couldn’t figure me out. I wasn’t intellectually challenged, but I never actually said anything. Teachers tend to like kids who raise their hand and talk.

But talking meant people noticing me. If people noticed me, they might make fun of my voice. It was way better (in my six-year-old wisdom) to be nothing. Quiet. Just there. This is not terribly charismatic.

Then, I wrote a haiku in September of second grade. I had all the syllables right (a big requirement). It was all one sentence (another requirement). It wasn’t about Tonka trucks (against the teacher’s rules). It was about nature. I was the only one who did it right, so the teacher, Mrs. Snierson, posted it in big letters on the wall and decided I was gifted. Whew. Did I fool her.

The poem was:

Spring is fun you see
Because flowers grow with rain
And robins come home.

This is how I learned that teachers are important to writers’ egos.

That one poem got me into gifted programs.
That one poem got me noticed.
That one poem put my life on a trajectory that didn’t have to do with silence.

And I used all that time watching people to learn about the kids who had the ‘it’ factor. Charisma. They were kids like Sarah Silverman and Steven Sills and Julie Zito and Andrea Henrichon. These shiny, golden people. I watched what they did and longed so much to be like them. That poem was my first step.

Let’s face it. Not all of us writers are super charismatic. Some of us prefer hiding in a reading nook to going out and talking to actual living people.

That’s not the rule, obviously. There are some super charismatic authors out there.

So, what does that mean when we’re writing characters who are supposed to be charismatic? What even is charisma any way?

Charisma is when you or your character is so darn compelling or attractive that people become devoted to you.

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This dog is charismatic even when flopped down.

I’ve met and interacted with a lot of authors with a lot of big followings and most of them build those massive followings with a lot of social media confidence, and a lot of that confidence that I’ve seen is false. They create an online presence that is full of flaunting and preening. They call their readers cute fan club names even when they only have two readers. And that way works. Being super confident works to build charisma.

But I can’t do that. Why? Because I prefer to be authentically me. And authentically me is sometimes sort of confident, but most of the time I am self deprecating and I doubt. This is totally evidenced in Dogs Are Smarter Than People’s Tuesday podcast where my husband almost convinces me that I am wrong about the ingredients in a white Russian.

Sidenote: My husband is a super confident man even when he’s wrong and I actually appreciate that about him because it makes me feel safe. When do I not appreciate it? Um.. when he’s confident that I’m wrong when I’m actually right.

There are a lot of blogs out there talking about charisma and almost all of them are talking about being confident. So you automatically think that if you aren’t confident, you aren’t charismatic, right?

Wrong.

Those blogs aren’t talking about personal charisma. They are talking about charismatic leadership. Those are two different things.

According to Ronald Riggio, PHD, “Personal charisma is a constellation of complex and sophisticated social and emotional skills. They allow charismatic individuals to affect and influence others at a deep emotional level, to communicate effectively with them, and to make strong interpersonal connections.”

So what is this special constellation of skills? Can’t you just believe you’re awesome and be charismatic?

Not really.

We all know the blowhard who saunters around thinking how awesome they are. We write them into our stories and movies. They are almost always a big, white dude who ends up getting beaten up by the hero at the end of the movie.

So how do we make a charismatic character without making someone who is annoyingly over confident? We make someone likable.

My Post-3 copy

Charismatic people don’t think the world revolves around them.

We’ve all met the people who only talk about themselves. You can be standing in front of them bleeding profusely and they will look at you and say, “Hey, you know I once got this cut that bled like that for like hours. It was a paper cut. Man, that thing bled. You know my mom says I have always been a big bleeder, blah, blah, blah.”

That person is obviously not charismatic. Being into yourself so much to the exclusion of all others no matter what the situation is sort of an anti-charisma.

This goes for characters, too. The character that only thinks about their self when their friend has just lost a hamster, or their zombie girlfriend, or whatever, is an unlikeable and uncharismatic character.

So, how do you fix this? Two quick things: 

  1. Listen to other people when they talk to you. Have your character listen to other characters.
  2. Don’t make a conversation all about you. Don’t make the internal monologue about your character all about your character all the time.

Own Your Space

When you go somewhere, own that somewhere. When your charismatic character enters the wizarding tournament, don’t have him shirk off to the side. Have her swagger onto the court. Have him stride to the field. You can do this, too. You might be a writer, but own your writing space. This is yours. You deserve it.

My Post-3 copy 2

Be Kind

When I go the grocery store, people wave to me. Why? I think it’s because I try to be kind and open. I like to hear about their days and connect with them because they are cool people. I never realized this was a weird thing until one of my friends went with me.

We walked through those sliding front doors, a whole bunch of awesome cashiers waved, smiling, and my friend grabbed my arm and scurried over to produce whispering madly, “Those people love you.”

I said, “They are nice.”

And she said, “Carrie, they don’t love everyone. They love you. They aren’t waving to everyone. I bet some of them even know your name.”

She was totally flabbergasted and I was flabbergasted by her being flabbergasted, but then I realized that my normal isn’t everyone else’s normal. The awesome people at my grocery store don’t think I’m better than anyone else because I’m not. But they might think that I treat them better than most other people.

That is actually sad.

Everyone should treat each other with a bit more kindness and openness, honestly. A charismatic person and character, is comfortable enough with who they are that they can treat others well and want to know their stories and connect with them.

How do you do that? 

  1. Be enthusiastic if other people take the time to try to connect with you. This goes for characters, too.
  2. Be optimistic when you can be optimistic. Lift up other people and their goals instead of trying to drag them down.
  3. Don’t be afraid to smile or laugh when you feel like smiling or laughing.  the

Be Expressive

My Post-4

A charismatic person (and character) isn’t afraid to express her genuine emotions. A lot of time, I tell my students that something emotionally huge just happened for their character, but they aren’t showing that on the page and so the important scene falls flat.

So, they’ll write something like this:

Ezra leaned forward and kissed me. I kissed him back. After a moment, he broke away. 

There is no emotional investment in those three sentences, right? It’s just actions. You know what happened, but you aren’t invested in that scene. There is no charisma in the character right there, right? Compare that to:

Ezra leaned forward like he was going to kiss me. That couldn’t be right. Ezra Jones would never want to kiss me. Swallowing hard, my lips trembled. I almost looked away, but his lips met mine before I actually could.

Ezra Jones’ lips were touching my lips!

And my lips were touching his lips right back. 

 The cat screeched in the other room and we broke away, laughing. My hand fluttered up to my mouth. Ezra Jones had kissed me. Me. 

So, my point here is not about Ezra Jones’ kiss, but about emotion and expressing that on the page or in your own life. We all walk around broken and pieced back together. People are fragile, inside and out. And it’s natural sometimes to try to hold in our emotions.

Charismatic people are genuine people. They let their emotions be out there for the world to see, but they don’t usually make scenes. They are genuine, but they know the impact that their emotions have on other people and they care about that impact, so they do control their emotions when interacting with others in what could be perceived as a potentially negative way.

That ability to care about others? That expressive empathy? That’s charismatic.

So, to recap. How do you make characters charismatic? 

  1. They don’t think the world revolves around them.
  2. They own their space.
  3. They are kind.
  4. They are expressive. 

Random Marketing and Book Things

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy was all official on March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can order it!

Kirkus Review says:  Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.

And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

Booklist says it’s: An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.  

This is lovely of them to say. Also, I can be concise! Most of my friends don’t believe this.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be in Exeter, New Hampshire, on a panel for the release of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID.

Thursday, March 15, 2018 – 7:00pm
 
Water Street Bookstore
125 Water Street
Exeter, NH 03833
Things We Haven't Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out Cover Image
 

And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is still real. I’m still terrified.

My Post-2 copy

There are new podcasts every Tuesday and our handle on the tech gets better as you go along. I promise.

We talk about love, marriage, living in Maine with dogs and also give writing and life tips with linked content back on the blog.

Yesterday’s podcast was about how I can’t have a donkey farm or be Bono, but it’s also about character and blocking and how dogs are smarter than people.

 

 

How To Stay Motivated About Your Story Even When You Want to Cry

Sometimes, writers crash.

It happens to all of us. To some of us it happens all the time. It’s hard to stay motivated about your story when it gets rejected 8,000 times or you publish it and nobody reads it or you are still writing the draft and it feels more like drudgery than song.

And being a writer is weird. A lot of things mess with your head.

Once, one of my books was up for an award and it totally didn’t win.

One of my friends emailed me and he said, “Grrr…. I hate that your book loses anything.”

Which is SO funny because he’s so protective in a happy-good way and also funny because let’s face it: Books lose things all the time.

Not every book gets on the NYT Bestsellers list
Not every book gets a Printz or a National Book Award or a Cybils or a Caldecott or any of those big fancy prizes where you get to wear ball gowns and look all elegant.

But just getting a book published is really cool. And I am so okay with losing contests because I am really super lucky to get books published at all. There are so many stories that are brilliant and life-changing and funny that don’t get that chance. So I am SAVORING IT!

And it’s kind of like getting a significant other….

If you are like me you pine ALL THROUGH EIGHTH GRADE and hope for a boy to somehow eventually like you, and of course it isn’t just any boy it is… um….

But of course he’s like a British pop star who dates models and doesn’t hang out in New Hampshire and even if he did he’d get arrested for dating you because he is like way old.

And you pine…And you hope… And you send out your query (or yourself) to editors and people who aren’t British pop stars and EVENTUALLY someone who is NOT a BRITISH POP STAR (or Super Editor Celebrity) actually says

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Hey Baby Let’s get together.

(Sorry. Check out the guy in the background! Is he a zombie? I think so!)

And you are all YAY!!!!
And you are published/in love and not eaten by the jealousy/the loneliness zombie. And it doesn’t matter that it’s not Super Celebrity Pop Star. It’s your significant other. It’s your editor. And they love your book. How cool is that?

It is AMAZINGLY COOL and you don’t want to spend all your time thinking, “I could have won a Printz” or “I could be dating a British Pop Star.” Instead you’ve got to savor what you have.
So, yeah. I’m okay with losing things. Because I have won already in SO many ways and I will lose again in SO many more. And I’m cool with that. And that’s what I have to remember when I feel stuck with my story or my career or anything.

Here are some quick tips on how to stay motivated about your story.

Dig Deep

I don’t mean dig deep about your story, but about why you are a writer. Who are you doing this for? You. Good. But add someone else. Are you doing this for your mom so she can be proud of you? Are you doing this for kids like you who have never had a story about them before?

Digging deep and finding your motivation to be a writer and to write this specific story helps. It helps a lot.

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Sparty digs deep a lot. He is the most existential of dogs. And his point in being here? It’s to eat bacon.

Make Daily Story Goals

If you commit daily to making a word count goal or a revision goal for your story it helps. Make a goal every single day. Make those goals your own. Don’t let other people tell you to write 1,000 words a day or whatever. This is your story. You get to make the goals. You’re in charge.

Start Early

If you are a write every day kind of person, try to write earlier on in the day before all your daily chores and stress drain away your motivation. A lot of people won’t put their writing first if there is a house to clean, a kid to get to school, another job to work at. But remember, this is a job, too. You’ve got to work at it to be the best writer you can be. So, if it matters to you, write as early as you can. Being productive and hitting your goals actually helps you stay motivated. Weird, right?

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Gabby and I both have a hard time starting early, but we know our days go so much better when we do.

When Writing, Focus On Your Story Not the Other Stuff

If your goal as a writer is to make money you’re not really going to be constantly motivated about your story. If your goal is to be the best writer you can be? To learn everything you can about craft? Yeah, you will probably be more motivated.

Try Not To Succumb to the Negative

It’s really easy for a lot of us to succumb to our negative thoughts. Don’t limit yourself with negative thoughts about how you suck. You don’t suck. Look at you, you’re so motivated to be a good writer, you’re reading this blog. Think about all the ways you’ve made yourself awesome.

You can do this.

You just have to work, to be persistent, and to believe.

Write down those negative thoughts. Do this a few times – not all in the same day. Sometimes by writing them down, we escape from them and realize that we don’t need them holding us back anymore.

Do Good Wednesday!

Lots of time people want to do good, but they don’t have the money to donate to a cause. The thing is that you don’t have to have money to do good. You just have to want to do good.

Here’s an example of a cool skills-based volunteer matching service. Catchafire lets you “give what you are good at.” How cool is that? You should check them out.

My Post-4 copy 3

MY BOOK COMES OUT TOMORROW! 

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1.  I’m still super psyched about it. You can order it. 

Kirkus Review says:  Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.

My Post copy 4

And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

Booklist says it’s: An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.  

This is lovely of them to say.

My Post copy 6

Dogs Are Smarter Than People

And yesterday, I posted a new podcast about self doubt and how Shaun can make me believe almost anything because he is so confident about even the ingredients of a cocktail he’s never had.

There are new podcasts every Tuesday and our handle on the tech gets better as you go along. I promise.

We talk about love, marriage, living in Maine with dogs and also give writing and life tips with linked content back on the blog. It’s um – cough – different. Sort of like us.

My Post-2 copy
Dogs rule. Or they should. Please subscribe and give us a good review. It’s a great act of kindness.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Things To Do When You Are Stuck As A Writer

 

A long time ago, I had to write the NEED sequel, CAPTIVATE, on deadline and I was pretty terrified the entire time. I knew I had to get it done but I was full of doubts the entire time. So much doubt.

need-large-202x300

And when I finally turned it in, I was still terrified and stuck.

Is there a phobia name for FEAR YOUR EDITOR WILL SCREAM THAT YOU STINK AND RETROACTIVELY PULL ALL YOUR BOOKS FROM THE SHELVES BECAUSE YOUR SEQUEL IS REALLY JUST THAT BAD?

There should be.

Maybe we should just make a list of writer phobias. But anyway, that time really made me think a lot about what makes me feel stuck and how I will possibly do anything in the world to avoid that feeling. This is what I’ve learned.

So here is my:

Five Things To Do When You Are Stuck As A Writer

KILL YOUR INTERNAL EDITOR

With my students, I talk a lot about how there are these internal critics or editors inside our heads, and this critic basically tells us everything that we could do wrong, all the ways we can fail, all the ways we might suck.

And it tells it to us with authority. A lot of authority.

Mine basically is John Wayne. He’s always squinting at me and telling me how much I fail. This voice? It’s a strong voice, but it’s full of lies. And when we listen to it too much, we get stuck. We can’t write our story. We can’t live our life, because that voice is so strong in our head telling us how much we fail.

So how do you fight that?

I imagine an internal cheerleader. Mine is – cough – Grover, the Muppet from Sesame Street. Every time my inner critic derides me, Grover counterbalances it.

My Post-4 copy

Like today, inner critic said, “The circulation librarian can never remember your last name even though you live in a tiny town and she hates you because you are stupid.”

And Grover was like, “You aren’t stupid, Carrie! Your IQ is actually high. Remember you got it tested?”

It’s good to fight your inner critic with facts when you have them.

With writing, it’s more like:

Inner Critic John Wayne, “Dear god, little missy. Why would you possibly try to write a time travel story? Stick to your little pixie books.”

Grover the Awesome Inner Cheerleader would say, “Do not listen to him, Cawwie. He thought writing about pixies was a terrible idea, too! He thinks everything is terrible.”

Don’t let your doubt stop you from writing. Just bundle up and do it.

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THINK ABOUT WHY YOU ARE WRITING THE STORY YOU ARE WRITING

If you are writing a nonfiction book about the history of guinea pigs in North America and you don’t actually care about guinea pigs in North America? Well, yeah, you’re going to probably get stuck.

Ask yourself:

What books do you love? 

What stories make you happy?

Write that kind of story. To heck with the guinea pigs. 

My Post-3

DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE

Sometimes, when writers are stuck, it’s because we’ve been sitting too long and focused on our story. Our mind is giving us a hint that we actually are not cats and we need to move.

So, I clean something when I am vaguely stuck. I think of it as a sign that my subconscious is giving me that if I sit at the laptop any longer, I will turn to salt.

When you step away, you give yourself space to grow and move. When you step away, you give yourself some space and your story some space to percolate.

LOOK AT WHAT YOU HAVE DONE AND TAKE STOCK OF YOUR GOALS

Sometimes (cough – all the time) I feel like I’m not getting anything accomplished or a lot of my students feel like writing an entire novel is too huge a goal.

So, what I do is I set small incremental goals. If a story feels stuck, I tell myself to write 250 words four times a day to make a 1,000 word-count for the day. I also write the starting number of my word count and mark it off in 250-word increments as I go along. This helps make me realize that:

  1. I am writing
  2. I am not really as stuck as I thought.
  3. Makes the writing feel really manageable.
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This is seriously what I do. It helps. 250-word increments on top. Day totals on bottom.

TRY WRITING SOMETHING DIFFERENT

I know! I know! All the writing advice people tell you to stick to your story. Don’t ever give up on your story. They say, “you will never get a book done if you don’t do the following things:”

  1. Write one book at a time.
  2. Write one book until it’s done.

That’s crap, honestly. Sorry for my language, but it’s just not true. Yes, there are people who will hop from project to project and in 20 years never finish a story. But whatever. Those people are rare. They are even more rare when it comes to people who want to be published. Everyone knows that to get a novel published, you have to write an entire story. That ‘write one book until it’s done’ edict irritates me. A lot.

My Post-4 copy 2

Here’s the truth: 

  1. You can work on as many projects as your brain can handle.
  2. You can put down a story that you are working on and finish it years later when you are ready.

But the biggest truth is this: 

There is no one way to be a writer. There is no one process that will always work for you or for everyone. Part of the adventure is finding things that work, triumphing in the moments when you stop being stuck.

Let’s say you’re reading this and you aren’t an author. How does this work for you as a non writing person who feels stuck in their life?

It’s like this: 

  1. There is no one way to succeed, no one path. If you feel stuck, try something else.
  2. If you hate everything in your life, try to remember something you once loved. Do that again.
  3. Be proud of the things you’ve done and make small goals. Reward yourself for forward motion – any forward motion.
  4. Simplify and organize your life. Press pause with intention. If you feel stuck, organize your thoughts, your desk, your kitchen, your closet. Getting rid of the clutter can help you understand what you need to do to move forward.
  5. Don’t fill yourself with negative thoughts if you can help it. Sometimes we can’t, honestly. But every time that inner critic berates you, consciously work to counter it with something positive.

When my dog Scotty couldn’t open the door by hitting the bottom of it over and over again with his paw, he didn’t give up. He came and got me to open the door for him. When that didn’t work because I was kneading dough and didn’t want to stop, you know what he did? He grabbed the doorknob in his mouth and turned. I’ve never seen anything like it. But the thing isn’t how awesome he was. The thing is that he found a way to succeed. He tried a new way.

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When Sparty feels sad because it’s raining too hard to take a walk, he will go cuddle up with a stuffed animal. He finds something else he loves to make him feel less stuck.

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We can learn a lot from dogs.

 

Random Marketing and Book Things

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m still super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

Kirkus Review says:  Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.

And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

Booklist says it’s: An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.  

This is lovely of them to say.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be in Exeter, New Hampshire, on a panel for the release of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID.

Thursday, March 15, 2018 – 7:00pm
 
Water Street Bookstore
125 Water Street
Exeter, NH 03833
Things We Haven't Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out Cover Image

And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is still real. I’m still terrified.

My Post-2 copy

There are new podcasts every Tuesday and our handle on the tech gets better as you go along. I promise.

We talk about love, marriage, living in Maine with dogs and also give writing and life tips with linked content back on the blog. It’s um – cough – different.

 

Top Five Ways To Channel Your Inner Cat and Get What You Want. 

So, a lot of times when I’m talking to other writers, they tell me that they are full of fear.

I’ve been a firefighter and a dispatcher and a gymnastics instructor and I’ve got to tell you that on a really fundamental life level, writing isn’t as scary as those things. You don’t usually die from typing. I mean, someone could put poison on the keyboard, but that’s pretty rare.

But the thing is that writing is scary because it makes you vulnerable. Communicating is an act of openness. Art is an act of sharing. The potential rejection and judgement that comes from that? It can be scary.

But we want it anyways, us writers. We want it so badly. We want to be published. We want to share our stories.

And that takes an act of bravery, of fierceness.

All of life takes that, really.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the world what you want.

So, I’ve solicited Marsie to help us with the Top Five Ways To Channel Your Inner Cat and Get What You Want In Your Writing Career and Regular Life.

Whew. That was long.

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  1. Tell People You Want Something – It feels pretty alpha, but it’s true. If you want people to pick you up and place you near your cat food, you have to meow at them. Marsie is an expert in this. She has me trained. You can do this, too. Ask people to like your blog, to subscribe, to share. Ask people to buy or read or talk about your book. Some people like to help you. Those people are good people.
  2. Don’t Apologize – Cats do not say sorry for their wants. Neither should you. Full disclaimer: I have no idea how to do this. Sorry. SEE! I just did it!
  3. When People Give You Things Be Cool With It – Does the cat turn down the cat nip? No. The cat does not. Why? Because she knows she deserve to get what she wants. You do too. You deserve good things. You deserve blog readers, book readers, gentle pats on the head. You’ve worked for it.
  4. Don’t Give Up – If you don’t give Marsie food when she first meows at you, does she give up? No. No she doesn’t. Cats ask and ask and ask and demand for what they want. So should you. Keep working on your story, your life, your goal. Don’t give up because someone doesn’t hear you meowing. Make yourself heard. Meow loud.
  5. Meow Loud – Really. Writers and a lot of us introverts and those of who have been oppressed or traumatized we aren’t seen. It’s okay to claim your space. Seriously. Meow loud.

For me? The hard asks are these right now: 

  1. Could you please LIKE and SUBSCRIBE to my blog and podcast?
  2. Could you spread the word about them if you get the chance?
  3. Could you leave positive reviews if you’ve liked my books?

That’s about it. It’s easy to make this author happy.

APPEARANCES

I’ll be hanging out at the launch of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID on March 15th and having  a panel discussion with editor Erin Moulton, Aaluk Edwardson and Ella Andrews at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH. 7pm!

“How to describe the feeling of not being believed? It is the feeling of disappearing.” -Stephanie Oakes

PODCAST AND BOOK NEWS!

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

In my big writing news, the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is live!

My Post

LIVE!

Please go leave a comment, or a review, and pretend to listen, because I’ve been freaking out about this so hard. It’s on iTunes and Stitcher and Castos at the moment and the RSS feed is also here. The feed has bonus material and free things. It’ll be on GooglePlay if I can ever get the screen to validate to not be just a big webpage of blankness.