Category Archives: #amlearning

NEXT BIRTHDAY: BRAZIL

It’s time for my annual State of the Birthday post where I talk about what’s ahead in my next year. The short answer: Brazil.

Now for the why…

There are a few good reasons for us to relocate to Brazil. The idea to move took root as I was researching for Tortured Willows in August of 2021.

I was specifically trying to find information on the shamanistic practices of the yuta. I could locate no practicing yuta in the United States, but there is a strong community of Shimanchu in Brazil—including yuta.

The stars began to align. My daughter had already moved to Brazil for different reasons and loves it. I now have an adorable grand daughter there. The Brazilian economy is kind to Americans. Ryan (my Australian husband) and I have always wanted to live in a country we could mutually discover together. We both work online. It began to be an obvious choice.

… and the who and the when.

We took a trip to Brazil in September to see how we liked it. It’s not easy to learn a new language and culture but we loved it. The people, the food, the quality of life… we decided to take the plunge and move. We’ve been liquidating everything we own to pack our lives into a few suitcases. We’ve rented the house out. I’m parting with books by the box. Ryan, my son and I (+three dogs) will be flying out of the country on December 28.

And speaking of books… I’ll be doing an online auction soon for some of my vintage, signed and rare books. I’ll have signed books from all sorts: Neil Gaiman, Jack Ketchum, Jonathan Maberry, R.L. Stine… vintage books from Salvador Dali, Alfred Hitchcock, Weird Tales… and they will all be up for grabs. Some of my personal things will be up for grabs as well, including my vintage newspaper box and other loves.

I’ll be passing these treasures on to new homes and raising money for this move. It’s hard to part with most of these so I keep telling myself they are going to a new home. I’ll be announcing that on my social media in the next few days.

There’s a lot more news than this… big changes just ahead… but I’ll be posting.

And THANK YOU for all the amazing birthday wishes across all my socials, in my emails, sent as texts… I am shocked that I know so many amazing and wonderful people. It’s been a good birthday.

This is 54.

WHAT IS BRANDING, WHY WE WANT IT & HOW WE DO IT

You can write the best book on the planet but if no one hears about it, no one will read it. That’s logic, but we all know creatives that refuse to market themselves and then complain when they have no sales. Like life, creativity will return what you put in to it.

What exactly is branding? The official definition: the promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design. Branding helps us sell something. What are we selling as authors—books or ourselves? As writers, we are the product we are selling.

My Top 5 core principles of brand marketing:

  • Manage yourself, not your products. No Facebook page for your books. If you are a prolific writer no one will be able to keep up with all that, including you.
  • Don’t put “author” in your name social media. Reading John Doe, author only tells me you are brand new. Just like with writing, show, don’t tell. Stop telling people you are a writer and show them by doing writer things.
  • And while we are on this, the word “writer” is a little outdated. We are content creators. Books are one aspect of that content. We turn our books into movies and games and every word we produce becomes content. At the center of everything is a person creating it all with words.
  • Because you are the product, your books should match you. Let your books be aspects of who you are, not the other way around.
  • The most important part of branding: be authentic.

3 reasons to brand:

  • Branding builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. People have to see a name 3x before they recognize it. Recognition is getting over that awkward first date phase.
  • Branding is language. Based on the colors, fonts and imagery you choose, you can communicate who you are and all the things your readers can expect from you at a glance.
  • Branding is efficient. It’s like an elevator speech for the eyes. At a glance someone can tell if they want to know you more. This saves you both time. You can try to sell horror to romance readers, but why not sell it to the horror readers?

3 tools for your branding toolkit:

HEADING BACK HOME

I’m back from Appleton, Wisconsin this week at Writer’s Police Academy hoping to experience tasering, cuddle with K-9 Units and learn how to escape handcuffs. I’m also happy to just learn about police business from a more accurate POV. I’ll be sharing what I find out!

Also, to celebrate a decade of writing/publishing fiction, END OF MAE, my first book ever published, will be free from June 1-5 and I’ll have a paperback giveaway this week. I’ll ship worldwide. Find End of Mae here: https://amzn.to/3t8yc0W

WRITER’S POLICE ACADEMY | DAY 3

I’m in Appleton, Wisconsin this week at Writer’s Police Academy hoping to experience tasering, cuddle with K-9 Units and learn how to escape handcuffs. I’m also happy to just learn about police business from a more accurate POV. I’ll be sharing what I find out!

Also, to celebrate a decade of writing/publishing fiction, END OF MAE, my first book ever published, will be free from June 1-5 and I’ll have a paperback giveaway this week. I’ll ship worldwide. Find End of Mae here: https://amzn.to/3t8yc0W

WRITER’S POLICE ACADEMY DAY 2

I’m in Appleton, Wisconsin this week at Writer’s Police Academy hoping to experience tasering, cuddle with K-9 Units and learn how to escape handcuffs. I’m also happy to just learn about police business from a more accurate POV. I’ll be sharing what I find out!

Also, to celebrate a decade of writing/publishing fiction, END OF MAE, my first book ever published, will be free from June 1-5 and I’ll have a paperback giveaway this week. I’ll ship worldwide. Find End of Mae here: https://amzn.to/3t8yc0W

WRITER’S POLICE ACADEMY DAY 1

I’m in Appleton, Wisconsin this week at Writer’s Police Academy hoping to experience tasering, cuddle with K-9 Units and learn how to escape handcuffs. I’m also happy to just learn about police business from a more accurate POV. I’ll be sharing what I find out!

HEADING TO WISCONSIN

I’m flying to Appleton, Wisconsin this week at Writer’s Police Academy hoping to experience tasering, cuddle with K-9 Units and learn how to escape handcuffs. I’m also happy to just learn about police business from a more accurate POV. I’ll be sharing what I find out!

Also, to celebrate a decade of writing/publishing fiction, END OF MAE, my first book ever published, will be free from June 1-5 and I’ll have a paperback giveaway this week. I’lllship worldwide. Find End of Mae here: https://amzn.to/3t8yc0W

YOU ARE THE SECRET PLOT TWIST

According to polls, more than 80 percent of Americans say they would like to be an author. In 2013, Forbes reported there were “somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone” and they estimate more than half were self published. 

That was in the early days of the self publishing boom and those numbers have only gone up since. It’s clear, there is no shortage of stories in the world and, as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun.

This is some heavy information for any author to digest. The weight of it hit me a few years ago during the pandemic. I had a part-time job at one of the largest libraries in Kansas City. We were closed to the public but still in operation thanks to a drive-thru window. Outside the line never stopped as people looked to books for comfort and information. Inside was quiet and dark… a lovely, book lined mausoleum.

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

During one of my breaks I prowled the dark and deserted shelves, relishing the solitude. The shelves stretched into the shadows. So many books, I thought. Who am I to add even one more? It was humbling to see thousands of authors lined up on the shelves, the majority of them highly successful. Why did my stories belong among them? 

It’s enough to make an author put down the pen. The realization wasn’t enough to make me quit but it did prompt some solid pondering. Lucky for me, I was pre-armed with some keen insight from my friend and mentor Bryan Thao Worra. Early in my fiction career Bryan had looked over my work. He had one question: where was the me in my stories?

At the time, I was writing classic horror with gothic themes. My work didn’t stand out and I didn’t know why. I’d bump up the horror and graphic elements… but they were still well edited yawns. Bryan pointed out that I was part Asian and I love tech science. Why didn’t I ever use that in my work? The stories I’d written so far could have been written by anyone. Where were the stories that could only be written by me?

YOU MAKE YOUR STORY UNIQUE

To date, that was the best advice I ever got as a writer. My stories were all what I thought readers wanted because I’d read these types of stories hundreds of times. That should have been my clue not to write them. We’ve all read those stories hundreds of times. Why kill another tree for old news?

I’d done a good job keeping my personal quirks out of my work and had created perfectly bland stories. My fiction was just rehashed regurgitations of what I had read before—literary Frankensteins.

Around that time I had an opportunity to submit a story. It was a perfect opportunity to try what Bryan suggested. I had to rush after another deadline, but I managed to come up with an odd tale about being a blended race, generational envy, and the cost of authenticity. Turns out, Bryan’s advice was spot on. “Vanilla Rice” was my first professional fiction sale, my breakout story and has been printed three times since. 

Every book it appeared in has won or been nominated for high level awards including the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson and the Alberta Book Publishing Award for Best Speculative Fiction of the Year. Since the success of that story I look at every story I write through my own perspective… and I’ve published every story since. Even the rewrites of my old, bland regurgitations have found love when I added the authentic me.

This is what kept me writing that day when I stood alone in a dark library and realized how many excellent stories already existed in the world. Yes, there are “somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone” but there is only one me—and this is great news for all of us. Anyone can write a story. Anyone can write a pretty good story and many, many authors do. What they can’t write is your good story. Only you have the qualifications to write that. 

REAL WORLD EXAMPLES

Here are two examples of how adding my personal quirks made better stories:

Case Study 1: I was asked to write a Christmas story for children. I’m not a fan of the frenetic hustle of Christmas so I imagined what my happy holiday would look like. I would be alone on a mountain with no electricity. In fact, a year of that sounded nice—and there would be spiders because I like them better than Christmas. The Christmas Spiders, a revamp of an old Eastern European folktale, is now my secret, best selling Christmas book.

Case Study 2: I took an older story I had about a male janitor with a chance for revenge and rewrote it adding in my personal experiences. I was once a janitor so I changed the protagonist to a middle aged woman suffering from an insufferable, sexist boss… just like my real life boss at that time. The entire story changed and became much better. It’s now called “Just Us League” and it’s published in Giving the Devil His Due. Anyone can tell the story of a male janitor with a chance for revenge. Only I could tell “Just Us League.”

YOUR TAKEAWAY TASK

Make a list of things you love and then take a look at your body of work. Can you see where you can add in your personal authenticity to create a story only you can tell? Don’t just relate details of your life unless you’re writing a memoir. Just lend personal elements of yourself to your worlds and characters. What parts of your personal experience could add depth to your work? 

Here’s your assignment. Take any common trope and add one of your hobbies. A vampire that loves knitting? A werewolf that rescues dogs? A zombie who enjoys cooking? I would read any of these. The real, authentic you makes everything better. Feel free to share in the comments.

This is part of my series on BUILDING STORY, available online for free here. The ebook is available on Amazon here. Thank you for being here.

MERRY ALLIDAYS AND A HAPPY NEXT YEAR!

I know, technically Allidays is celebrated the second Saturday of August, but it feels like an adaptable holiday so I’m claiming it. I aim to celebrate everyday of 2022—all days as holidays: Allidays. And now for the last post of a crazy year…

I’m still not sure what to think of 2021. I’m not sure I have any idea what to expect in this next year… but I think it will be better. The last two years taught me that I need to appreciate my moments, not rush through them on hyper-autopilot.

I think I’ve mentioned that my 26-year-old neighbor passed away unexpectedly last November. He was healthy and strong. The night before he died I heard him carousing with friends in the back yard. The next day I watched his body being wheeled into a coroner’s van. What did he regret leaving behind, I wondered… and what would I? That’s when I realized most of what I do is just clutter without much value.

I’ve had this blog going for over a decade and from the beginning my goal has always been to post everyday for no good reason—until recently. The beginning of the end starts with my post in early December, BUSY VERSUS PRODUCTIVE? GUILTY AS CHARGED. That was the end of the daily blog goal.

It turned out to be an effective change. When I wasn’t occupied brainstorming everyday about what to post, I could take time to think. I decided not to waste blog space with boring personal news which can be covered with a small news FYI on the front page.

I thought a lot about what I really wanted to share and what I read myself. Usually it’s about how to create a better story. That’s why I like working as a mentor. That’s why I like coaching and editing. Whether I wrote it or you wrote it… when it comes out excellent it’s a thrill for everyone including the readers. So that’s what I decided to write about—what I’ve learned about creating stories.

Giving myself a week to think about one idea instead of a day to think of a dozen had a positive effect. I divided that one idea into many parts. Because I can focus on the one idea, it became the topic of my next column in the Horror Writer Association newsletter and it found its way into the presentation I gave the Woodneath Writers last Monday. Less work and stress… more work done better. Epiphany!

When I worked at the Bay Beacon newspaper I was asked by a co-worker once what I do for fun. I answered without thinking: “Oh, I work.” He clarified that he meant what do I do after work. I told him nothing. When I left work at the newspaper I went home to work on my own writing. He gave me a look like I was crazy. I get it now, Mac. I was crazy.

So I end the year in a quiet and relaxed mood. I’m planning not-work things like pottery and exercise. I’d like to live forever, but if that doesn’t work out I’d like to at least leave on my own terms. I want people to remember me as someone who did great things as opposed to a lot of things. I want to savor my minutes.

So wherever you are at this moment, and whatever you celebrate… I wish you all good things. May your minutes be long and full. May your hours be rich and your days vital. May we all have a good new year.

And I’ll be back tomorr… next week. I mean year.😉

REVIEW: SPIRIT KEEPERS TAROT PLUS

As promised, I share my thoughts (aka gushing praise) for not only Benebell Wen’s limited release of the SKT deck, but also a number of her books and how they have impacted my craft studies over the past year. If you want to know more about esoterica, you can find a treasure trove of well written, excellently documented info at benebellwen.com.