Pretzel Power and Author Events: 5 Dumb Things

You want a pretzel? We’ve got a pretzel.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Bavarian Inn Lodge “Big Twist”, which powered me through an entire whirlwind of signing books, fandom, and fellowship with other authors. Located in gorgeous Frankenmuth, Michigan ( my new favorite town in America), it’s a magnificent Grand Dame of a resort that I will be going back to– and soon.

The event? Once Upon a Book. The host and organizer was Stacey Rourke (buy her books, she can really write), and it was more than just a book signing. It was, as usual, a learning experience. Fellow authors, and young authors– please take note.

  1. Thinking of attending an author event? Look at the organizer. If they write, look at their books. Are they crisp, attractive, professional? Is it a dalliance? Is it their life? They might treat the event like their books, and you can use this information to help you determine where– and with whom– you want to sign books.
  2. Is the venue superior? Remember, readers love books as much (or more) as we do. They want to be comfortable, engaged in fun, and treated well. If you wouldn’t stay/eat/visit the venue, why should your reader?
  3. Look at the other authors signing. Are they professionals? Are they serious? Are they committed to writing great books? Is the event a chance for them to be away from their family for a vacation, or is it an opportunity to both have fun and meet readers in a superb setting? I met an author I’ve admired for years, and I told her so– because people who are doing things the right way should know that they’re being seen. (Thanks Mary!)
  4. If there are authors attending that you admire, plan on introducing yourself. I’m an extrovert; this is easy for me, but even if you’re shy, watch your favorite authors and take notes. How do they conduct themselves? What are their public strengths? What would you do differently? Why do they impress you, and if so, can you adjust your own career goals and improve?
  5. What are the readers saying? This is a tidal wave of honest criticism that you must process. Listen to them. See what they’re reading. See who they come to meet. Ask them questions about books, without pressuring them to buy yours. If you’re forgetful, take notes. Every author event has an area where serious readers can be found reading the books they purchased moments ago. This is your goal. You want your books in their hands as they read and get lost in your worlds.

Also, wear pants. Trust me on this one.

Now, to quote my friend Lawrence, what are you going to do about it?

 

Cheers,

Terry

 

Dealing With Bad Reviews: 5 Dumb Things

TL;DR Don’t.

Now for the longer version, and a few specific examples of who and what tribulations await you, the writer.

  1. The Hater.  They’re out there, and in another life, you’ve personally kicked their puppy. They’re going to get every ounce they can out of a punitive review, and by all that’s holy, no one will wonder where they stand by the end of it.  Example– from one of my actual reviews– I have to say this was singlehandedly the worst story I’ve EVER read (and I read quite extensively). Ouch. How, you might ask, do I deal with this? Simple– you don’t. Ever. It’s a no win situation to engage someone who has an extensive desire to write bad things about what you do. It might irk you, but it’s not personal. It’s the Internet.
  2. The Frustrated Writer. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how they view your work. Simply stated, they take time to write a review that is clever, sometimes mean, thorough, and often scattered with personal attacks. These are, for me, the most troubling, because so much of me goes into my stories. In effect, they attack your history, which can evoke a powerful reaction. Example– I haven’t seen such blatant yet backhanded anti-Semitism in a very long time. In this case, the reviewer refers to a character changing their name to be a YouTube star, which is common in the entertainment industry and– here’s the kicker– what my Grandfather did for his music career. He was a big band leader in the 1930s, prior to going off to fight Nazis. With a last name like Grabowski, he chose Gray for his performer name and we’ve used it as a family tradition for restaurant reservations ever since. In essence, the reviewer made an incorrect assumption and branded a fun tradition in my family as something sinister. What did I do? Nothing. And that is, once again, the right move.
  3. The Crusader. Oy vey. These are among the most difficult to deal with because they have an agenda prior to even reading the sentence of your book. They’re taking a square peg and hammering it into a round hole and damn the consequences. Using magic? You hate Pagans. A man makes a decision? Misogyny. Not enough Lithuanian characters? You must hate Lithuania. You get the picture. Example–Terry Maggert manages to subtly insult every single practicing Pagan in the world and maybe some atheists and other religions as well. This is radioactive. Back away, forget it ever happened, and keep writing your novels. I’ve written stories about the Pope being a vampire and zombie sex, but reactions like that one are best ignored. This also speaks to the issue of censorship. I’m against it. Period. I can’t allow exterior forces to shape a narrative in a fictional place. This is my policy, and as I tell people at conferences, “Your world, your rules.”
  4. The Scholar. *Heavy Sigh* Some people could take the fun out of a naked demolition derby, and they will invariably show up in your reviews. They’re experts on virtually any topic you choose to write about, and they’re going to let you know. They will chide you for perceived errors, and in some cases even reach out to you personally to do so (I’ve had it happen at signings). I write fantasy and science fiction. Therefore, I operate on the principle espoused by Mark Twain, “Get your facts straight, then you can distort them as you please.” This ties in to #3, but also stand on its own as a cautionary tale about the immediacy of “expert opinion”. Example–The Adirondacks were named by the Mohawk, not the Huron, so Maggert doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Setting aside the concept that original cultures moved around, this is a shining example of The Scholar. They’re angry, they don’t like your book, and they’re going to make it a personal attack based on their perception and bias about your intellect. If they paid for the book, sally forth, I say. If they got it for free, well, you should be warned that NetGalley is where dreams go to die (more on that at a later date).
  5. The Soul of Brevity. Often cross-pollinates with the Compulsive Cusser,, these reviews can be as short as two words, leaving no doubt as to the position they’re taking about your book. I actually like these, because more often than not, they strike me as honest. Example- Totally sucked. Attaboy. That’s at least honest, and it leavens the other windy reviews. There are varieties in which the reviewer channels a soldier or stable hand’s language, but that’s okay too. If nothing else, it pumps up your total and gives you data about who is– and isn’t– reading your books.

The common theme here is this: there is no scenario in which engaging a bad review can end well. In point of fact, I’ve personally watched two NYT best-selling authors nuke their career by clapping back at bad reviews. If they can’t withstand that kind of pushback, then I know I can’t. *

At least, not until I have my island filled with giraffes and rocket launchers.

See you in Frankenmuth, Michigan this weekend. I’ll be the guy eating. All the time.

Cheers,

Terry

*I can, however, have someone I dislike die a horrible death in my next novel. I’ve done this four times. True story. Be careful, change their name. 🙂

 

“That’s SO funny” means it isn’t. 5 Dumb Things about writing.

I’ve always said that making people laugh is one of the hardest things to do. Writing books with humor is a challenge to even the most nimble authors, and making a character who is genuinely funny even more difficult. I reference the people in my books, who, be they witch, vampire, asshole at the bank, or good hearted truck driver, are all real people to me when I write them.

.

Now, let’s break that down– genuinely funny— as it contains two of the most important parts of your main character.

  1. Genuine. I have a single goal when I create a character, and that is for the reader to think, “I know this person.” I want my readers convinced that the character is someone they might meet the next time they leave the house. That’s critical.
  2. Three Dimensional People. I use this term to describe the characters because they should exist in every plane; you should feel their personalities, their voices, and the background of their lives. All of these make them have a weight on the pages. Don’t skimp on background. Don’t use background instead of dialogue. Here’s why.
  3. Dialogue Is Good Voyeurism.  I’m not talking about watching your neighbor through their window, you dirty little critter, although if they’re leaving the curtains open while they dance naked to Bon Jovi and you have a box of wine and nothing to do on a Friday night hey who’s fault is it anyway I mean– sorry. I meant to say, dialogue– good dialogue– is the single best method to get inside the head of your characters. For readers, one page of dialogue is equivalent to an entire chapter of exposition, because it tells you why they act as well as how they will act in the future. This is how we bring readers with us to the last page. They must burn for the Great Reveal in which all becomes clear.
  4. Real People Are Hilarious.  Don’t think this is true? Go to the returns desk at any major retail store on the planet. Then wait. Within fifteen minutes you will see: Thieves. Liars. People with sweaty ‘bra money’. Flimsy excuses. Glorious expressions from the employees. Anger. Resolution. You might even see an adult in a onesie, given the state of our planet. It’s all there, and it’s free. My point is: real life is a fountain of hilarity, if you observe the right places. If you want unlimited rage, go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you want funny, go everywhere else. Then– write it down.
  5. Read Aloud. Let me repeat this: read. your dialogue. out loud. You should laugh, or cringe, or feel. . . something. What you should not feel is nothing. If that’s the case, the dialogue is flat and it needs to die. Start over, keeping the best sentence you have, then ask yourself. What would your character do if they were at the returns desk at Walmart? It’s a great start, and you might surprise yourself by learning more about your own characters.

I know Carlie, Ring, Saavin, French and Wulfric inside and out because to me, they are real. I can hear their voices, see their walk, and imagine how they might deal with an overcooked steak  (steak cannot be undercooked, fight me!) or  flat tire. You know, life. This is why I’m able to make Carlie more than a Quirky Girl Doing Cute Things.

You know what to do. Keep your eyes and ears open, take a few notes, and write people who you every day. But, you know, with dragons and swords and stuff. That’s what I do.

I’ll be in Frankenmuth, Michigan for Once Upon a Book (Aug 11-12). They claim to have the World’s Best Chicken Dinner. My body is ready.

Cheers,

Terry

Why You Should(n’t) Use A Pen Name: 5 Dumb Things

My name is actually Terry Maggert, and I made a conscious decision (a rare event, but still) to use that as my pen name. If you write, you might be faced with a similar decision as more people read your books, and I’ve assembled what I hope to be compelling reasons for the type of name you use when creating a brand. For me, even my brand has a brand. See?

  1. Necessity made you do it.  If you’re a youth minister who writes giraffe-based BDSM erotica, you may consider a pen name. (Note: I have dibs on Lance Goodthrust, and if you think I’m kidding, just watch me). First: congrats on finding your niche, you maniac, and secondly, your choice of a pen name is a defensive movement designed to protect your identity. Which brings me to my second point.
  2. There is no privacy. Occasionally, I meet some adorable writer who thinks that their life isn’t an open book. News flash– our lives are beyond open; they’re a commodity that’s  being sold. Make certain that you create two entirely different identities for your brand and your life if the two aren’t congruent. This goes down to the detail of social media (especially social media), because that’s where you’re going to build the most important part of your growth. Which brings me to my third point.
  3. Don’t Get Cute or Witty with Names. I refer to the social media handles you choose. I use Terry Maggert everywhere, and I do so despite having titles that range from Young Adult Fantasy to Zombie Erotica. (Seriously. It’s a product of my childhood. Leave me be.) People who like my books can always find me. You know who can’t find you? People looking for your name instead of Wordcrusher or PirateWench69 on twitter and Instagram. If you don’t use your real name, then you must build a brand name so that people can find you. Otherwise, you’re creating a barrier between you and your readers.
  4. Pen Names  Can Infer Genre. There’s an expectation within genre fans that their favorite authors, if choosing a pen name, will pick something that dovetails with the style of books they write. If you’re a romance author (and statistically, you might be), then Selenia D’Argent makes a lot more sense than Bill Shotzenburger, who might be a lovely person but has a name that belongs to a guy who manages a tire store. Like buying bananas, choose wisely when picking your name.
  5. Pick A New Variation. Look, we all want the money that big name authors have, but selecting a pen name that’s close to theirs isn’t just poor branding, it might anger fans. You know- those people who stand outside a book store at midnight because some author just released a playlist of things their characters did while suffering from the flu? Yeah, those people. They’re rabid, they’re loyal, and they will absolutely brand you a fraud if you try to rip off their beloved author by name-crowding.

That’s a general guideline and there are many good reasons for using a pen name (organization being one), but just as many reasons to be yourself. Remember– you are the brand, as much as your books, and you must protect that identity every day. Across the spectrum of social media and other interactions, your name will be with you when you break out.

So, pick a good one, or go with the one you’ve had since the start. It’s working so far, right?

Terry

Find Your Tribe.

Your tribe is the people outside your family who become family. That’s it. It can be simple to find them, or it can take years. For me, it took until I started writing as a serious pursuit, unlocking the years of memories about books, movies, comics, and art. All of these things fire my imagination like the inside of a star. It’s relentless and compelling and there is unalloyed joy in sharing it with people who not only like the things you like, but they get you.

So, back to back I’ve had two weekends with My Tribe. The first was Utopiacon, where fiction writers I know– and did not know– mingled with fans over three days of celebrating books. It’s a powerful sensation to realize that there are other humans who feel the same giddiness over books. Their imaginations share DNA with mine, and the overlapping areas of our fandoms are where we find common ground and bond (likely for life).

Then came LibertyCon. And this. . .headgear.

Your tribe foments creativity and laughter and thought. Your tribe makes you want to be better at what you do, and causes unabashed admiration for others who share your pursuit. It’s loud and grand and caring, and every minute of it flies by in a whirl of color and fun.

Something else happens, too. I’ve written five thousand words since coming home from the event, no small feat given my lack of sleep. Why is this? Simple. Your tribe stokes the boilers and makes creativity readily on tap. It’s a side effect of magical purpose, leaving you exhilarated and wide-eyed with the prospects of the coming days, eager to create and share.

I waited a long time to find my tribe, only to find that they were here all along. It’s up to you to find yours, but that’s the simplest part: find out where you can be weird, and revel in it.

Cheers for now. Gotta write. Maybe sleep. Mostly, write.

Terry

New Release Day: Moonborn

Moonborn is here. It’s in Kindle Unlimited and Amazon. I’m proud of this one, and the early reviews are excellent. I’ve already had a few readers pick out some DEEPLY hidden Easter Eggs (y’all are smart) and it’s been a fantastic week on twitter and across my social media in general.

Get yours here: Moonborn for Kindle

Tonight, I set up at Utopiacon in Nashville, where I’ll be immersed in All Things Bookish for the next four days. I’m stoked. So many writers. So many readers. So many people giving away candy, and not the kind you get in creepy vans (writers love chocolate. and booze. and coffee.)

Blogger friends– come by for your gift. You make my job easier, and I’m thankful.

If you’re around the area, stop by- there are some seriously talented people at the event. I’ll have book candles, books, bookmarks, and as a special treat, I’ll be wearing pants.

You’re welcome, World.

 

The most important full moon of my life.

It’s tonight. Here’s why: 336.

That’s the number of full moons I can expect to see if I live to be the average age for an American male. I run, don’t smoke, and I’m happy, so perhaps my lifespan will be extended. But based on the science and betting averages, I’m looking at 336 more.

I didn’t think of this until yesterday, when I did a little math and came to this rather shocking conclusion. I think that ninety percent of my life is convincing myself I’m not concerned with aging, but I am. It feels like these thoughts have stolen into my writing– two years ago, I wrote this line, and it means a lot to me now.

I’ve lived through 576 full moons. That seems like a lot, until I realize it’s gone by in a blink. My son is nine. I’ve been married for ten years. I have old friends, getting older, and new friends who are younger. We speak of things they can’t have seen, but that are real to me. My stories are a Venn diagram of their life and mine, a common ground made real by shared words over coffee and cheeseburgers.

336 more. I’m not sad– I’m not even really counting. But moonlight has a pressure, however soft, and I feel it.

Why I Write, Summed Up In A Picture.

I love writing and I love pie. Given a choice between the two, I’m going for a third option:

My book friends.

Today, at the Louisville Author Event, my friend Cindy Calloway’s husband was kind enough to bake a pie, which Cindy brought me. Pecan. Home made. (delicious, by the way)

Background: Three years ago at my first signing, in Knoxville, TN, Cindy was a volunteer. She was fun, professional, passionate about books, and has turned into a wonderful friend.

Cindy and my other book friends are the reason I write. They’re readers, fans, friends, and allies. They show up. They support writers. They READ, a lot. They’re the best thing to ever happen to someone who decided to write a book at the age of 43, fell in love with writing, and sees no end in sight.

Without further ado, a few names of friends who were here today, and other days. I’ll update again and again as I naturally remember more people, but this is just a start.

Cindy

Lorie

Christine

Mary

James

Kenneth

Jen

Nova

Wren

Tasha

Kelly

Melissa

Nancy

Brad

Tim

Karen

Lile

Amy

Patricia

Grace

Tracy

Jonny

Kayte

Katy

Katie

Kelly

Cat

Net

Rebecca

Jim

Dan

Ronnie

Jo

That’s a representation of this week. I have an embarrassment of riches in friends, and I am incredibly thankful.

Cheers,

Terry

 

When books make you cry.

It can take seconds, but books have an emotional impact well beyond their weight. I get up, walk from the living room, see a hardback version of a favorite book— I’ve left it out from sorting my shelf. 

It’s filled with poems about a war (doesn’t matter which one, the truths are all the same, merely different uniforms). I flip it open, read. I sit down. I read. I think of the losses, and what the author was feeling. I’m not sure I can know, but I can try. I think of family funerals, and rain. I think of the chill of a grave and the life left over, forced to live in a place not of my own choosing where there’s enough pain that I am compelled to write the poem I hold in my hands. The book creaks as I close it, and I notice that there’s glue on the back from an old sticker.

The book has traveled, just like me. The poem is one year older than me. The pain is raw as the day it was written. I don’t know the author. Should I go type my own words now, freshly shorn by the ragged edge of a single page– the scent of someone else’s blood funneled into my own narrative? It feels like theft, kind of, but then writers are emotional vampires, building stories from borrowed hurt and joy.

I wonder if the author is still alive, and then decide I don’t want to know. They are alive to me, as certainly as if they were standing next to me, reading their poem and watching from the corner of their eye, just to make sure I’m listening.

“What are we watching?” I ask my son, averting my eyes. He’s nine, and I’m not sure I can explain how second hand pain works. Not at this age, and not yet. Maybe someday he will read something I’ve written and ask how someone like me could write something so bleak, and then we can discuss what it means to be an adult, but not right now. I look at the television and think of muddy fields and missing sons, and who wrote it down so that I could be thankful for the room around me, free of rain and fear.

Book Candles. Editing. Fun.

Write a book. Now, go back and re-read the book  few years later. Edit your book while swilling coffee, ordering book candles, and bathing in the horror that you actually wrote that and thought, “Damn. This is art.”

This is my current place in life. I finished a novel last week (Moonborn) and then quickly wrote 8,000 words in Halfway Drowned. Then, in a crisis of conscience, I decided to begin a project that has haunted me like my fashion decisions from the 1980s. I began to revise my first novel, The Forest Bull, and to call it a humbling experience isn’t really accurate.

It’s more like . . .shamespiration.

By the third paragraph, I winced. By the fourth page, I considered deleting the book entirely. The fact is writing is a muscle. It gets stronger with use, and despite the clarity of our ideas, a lot gets lost in translation from mind to paper. I’m twenty-six chapters into this self-flagellation, and the results are drastic. Sometimes, I cut a sentence. Or two. I add a detail here, subtract a clunky phrase there, and a different book begins taking shape.

It’s clearer, smoother. I think part of my first book is that I tried to be mysterious and ended up being an idiot. You’ve got to give readers a clear path. I didn’t. I was. . .sort of clear. I’m thankful that the 2017 version of me is willing to change what could be a killer book with my favorite villain.

I’m keeping a running count of how many words are deleted, and what I add. I think, based on the first half of the revision, it might be about even. Sometimes,  less is more. In this case, better is more, and in honor of my newfound commitment to these characters, we’re issuing a new paperback version. Same art, new font, and smaller. Handy for carrying with, using as a weapon, or displaying on your book shelf.

The art is *really* nice. Amalia hit a home run four years ago, and I still love the way Elizabeth looks coming out of the forest, dripping evil and, umm, evil.

Okay, back to it, but not before we discuss BOOK CANDLES.

I’ve ordered custom book candles for all of my signings this year. They smell like waffles, have the label of the Hawthorn Diner, and the size is “adorable”. I think they’ll be five bucks each. More to come once they’re here– I’ll post pictures and you can imagine the wonder of waffles as you read.

Cheers for now!