Friday, October 12, 2012

Author Interview--Lori Pollard-Johnson

Hello folks,

Welcome to another author interview. This week we have Lori Pollard-Johnson. As always—take it away, interviewee.

-What book and/or experience made you want to be a writer?

My need to write stems from my need to be heard. I learn through metaphor, and find myself understood when I liken my thought to appropriate metaphor in another's life. I use it in my teaching as well as in my personal life; it's a natural carryover to use it in creating stories.

-What genre(s) do you write?

I write children's, YA and adult cozy mysteries in fiction, but I also have a slew of short fiction and nonfiction in print (over 100 pieces). I don't think of myself as a "type" of writer; I'm just a writer. I write about things that are of interest to me. In my nonfiction, I've written about everything from karate to vegetarian cuisine, parenting to travel.

-Current projects?

Currently, I'm working on a cozy adult mystery, tentatively entitled "Corpse in the Craftsman Cutie." It's about two newly divorced women who are attempting to flip a house in a dead market while juggling kids and exes. On the first day of renovations, however, they discover a corpse in the closet of the flip that threatens to derail their plans, as well as their financial stability. Of course, there's a cute cop involved, and at the heart of the story is a true friendship between the women. I love the characters, their spirit and how they go about solving their problems.

-What’s your favorite book/genre to read? favorite piece of writing. That's a toughie. I really love the book "The Ladies of Missalonghi" by Colleen McCullough (of Thorn Birds fame). It has a surprise ending I hadn't predicted. I re-read that book about once a year. I start every day with a poem, however. Some of my favorites are "Beauty" by Tony Hoagland, "Hazel Tells Laverne" by Katharyn Machan, and "God Says Yes to Me" by Kaylin Haught. Love, love, love poetry!

Want more from Lori? Says she….

People can find me and two of my books on Facebook. All four of my books (Toxic Torte--adult cozy mystery; The Lie--YA; The Truth Test--mid-grade children's; and Recipe for a Rebel--mid-grade children's) can be found on Amazon. Toxic Torte and The Lie are available as ebooks (on several venues/platforms) as well as in paperback, and The Truth Test and Recipe for a Rebel are available in paperback and hard cover. The children's books are also on accelerated reader and there are teacher resource books for novel studies.

Toxic Torte
The Lie
The Truth Test
Recipe for a Rebel

The two children's books are also available direct from Perfection Learning Corporation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cognitive Distortions: Dealing with Rejection Part 2

Welcome back,

Last week I started a 2-part series on cognitive distortions and how to apply them to the rejection process. Check out last Wednesday’s post for the first eight cognitive distortions. This week is the last seven.

Before I begin—a jump-starter. Cognitive distortions are automatic thoughts that seep into our minds and work to reinforce negative thought patterns. Distortions are not based on fact but rather expectations of negative outcomes. The fifteen cognitive distortions were developed by Aaron Beck and later popularized by David Burns.

Here we go with the second half.

9. Blaming – Blaming is the process by which we place responsibility for our pain on others or place the responsibility for all problems on ourselves.

“It’s all that stupid agent’s fault that the writing that I forgot to proofread got rejected.” “My agent proofread, but there were still spelling mistakes. I should have noticed. It’s all my fault.”

In either case, not helpful. As my mother tells me when I become unreasonable “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and fix the problem.” If you forgot to proofread, own it and proofread next time. It happens. Similarly, if your agent missed something, I’m only guessing here, but I assume your agent is human. And so are you. It happens.

Solution - Stop placing/taking the blame, fix the problem, and get the writing back out there.

10. Shoulds – Shoulds is when we develop a list of rules by which everyone (including ourselves) must behave—no exceptions.

“The publisher is supposed to take work that is well-written and in the genre they are looking for. That’s what I would do. My work fit the mold, but it got rejected.”

Sometimes it’s just not what they are looking for. Don’t take it personally. Also, don’t call up the publisher/lit mag/whoever and rant about how your work was what they were looking for. Don’t send them an e-mail doing this either. It will only make you feel guilty later, and guilt is not a healthy emotion.

Solution – Remember that rules are meant to be broken. Be open to the possibility that you would make decisions outside the expected mold if you had the power to do so.

11. Emotional Reasoning – Emotional reasoning takes place when we fall into the trap of thinking that how we feel is how we are.

“I feel like a bad writer. Therefore, I am a bad writer.”

Aside from “emotional reasoning” being an oxymoron, it makes no sense to think this way. Emotions fade and change over time. You may feel like a bad writer one minute but not the next. That in mind, try and sit there and tell yourself you’re a bad writer. You can’t because the feeling doesn’t last. Once the disappointment of the rejection letter passes, it’s back to the drawing board…Microsoft Word.

Solution – Remember that emotions are not logical and that they are temporary. (If deep negative emotions persist for several months, seek help. I’m not being funny. That is more than a cognitive distortion.)

12. Fallacy of Change – The Fallacy of change is when we expect people to change if we bug them enough.

“That publisher/agent will accept my writing if I just keep insisting that it’s good.”

If you are concerned about your writing, grab a critique partner. Otherwise, your writing might not be right for that publisher/agent. And no amount of badgering, insisting, bragging, begging, or coercing is going to change their minds. In fact, you’ll probably just irritate them to the point where they’ll ask you to go away.

Solution – “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Corny, yes, but it’s true. If the first publisher/agent doesn’t work out, move to the next one. Don’t continue to bother the old one. The next one could be the one.

13. Global Labeling – Global labeling occurs when we brand a person/situation negatively after one or two experiences.

“(Insert publisher/agent/whatever here) rejected my novel. They’re uncultured, unknowledgeable, deprived idiots.”

Um, down, girl. They might take your next piece. They might take your next ten pieces. They may have taken your best friend’s piece. They rejected one thing from you. It wasn’t what they were looking for. They’re not a terrible person/organization. Not surprisingly, global labeling is also referred to as “mislabeling.”

Solution – Deep breaths. It’s one rejection, and the person who did the rejecting isn’t evil.

14. Always Being Right – This is characterized by the constant feeling that we must prove ourselves correct.

“Listen, this manuscript is amazing. It is. Blood, sweat, and tears went into it, and it’s the best manuscript you could ever hope to publish.”

Bit of advice, don’t let this be you. Don’t be the person who makes that phone call/sends that e-mail. Publishers have a myriad of reasons for rejecting a manuscript. They also reject a ton every day. Don’t give them hell for it. They’re only doing their job. Move on to the next one.

Solution – This is going to sound harsh, I apologize, but as you read it, realize that someone said this to me once. It was a tough thing to hear, but I’m still in one piece.

You’re not always right. And the sooner you realize it, the better off you’ll be.

I know. It sounds mean, but I promise it’s not. It’s good, sound advice that’s helped me on more than one occasion.

15. Heaven's Reward Fallacy – Heaven’s reward fallacy is the expectation that our sacrifice will pay off.

“I’ve put ten years into this manuscript. Ten years of blood, sweat, and tears. It better get published, and if it doesn’t….”

K, enough with the blood, sweat, and tears. Tears, I’ll believe. Sweat—you're typing or scribbling furiously in a notebook. Unless you have some kind of gland disorder, I doubt sweat was a factor, and don’t even get me started on the unlikelihood of the Voodoo rituals.

Also, quantity doesn’t make quality. Let someone other than an agent or publisher look at the ten-year manuscript before you submit it. Four eyes are better than two. And even at that, don’t be bitter if it gets rejected. You’re one of hundreds—possibly thousands—being rejected today. Move on to the next one.

Solution – Remember that success is not imminent just because long hours of work were put in. Substitute the long time for less time with more fruitful results. Also remember that rejection happens to everyone.

There you have it—15 Cognitive Distortions. They can be debilitating, but now that you’re aware of them, you can avoid them when they come to call. If I had to boil it down into a “final points” section for maximum effectiveness, I’d say the following:

Remember that it’s not just you. Remember that everyone gets rejected. Keep trying. Keep submitting. If trouble persists, find people to read your work. But DO NOT GIVE UP!!!

Wednesday Word Tally

Character: Hanson Gravel
Hanson is a warlock. For my purposes, warlocks are not evil. They are simply wizards who have gifts in combat magic. Hanson works for MIA as part of the field team and in a combative role when the occasion arises. He does his job very well in both cases. He’s tall, light-haired, and handsome. Oh and a womanizer—to quote Vern—“of the worst, or possibly best, type.” Don’t let this color your judgment too much. Hanson’s really not a bad guy, and he’d probably be offended if you thought he was.

DayStart CountWrittenFinal Count

Total Words Written: 10,659
Average Words Per Day: 1523
Words Remaining: 24,098

First week where I had a day where I didn’t make my daily goal of 531. Considering I was moving that day—and that the rest of the week more than made up for it—I’ll let it slide. ;)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fiction and Theatre: POV and Breaking the Fourth Wall

Good Monday,

NOTE: New addition to Media Mondays! See below.

On with the show.

For class this week, I had to read “Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti” by Geneveive Valentine. It was like pulling teeth for me. The book alternates between several POV characters, which wasn’t a big deal, and among those it goes between first and third person—also not a big deal. What made this story tough for me was the way it unfolded.

Before enrolling in Seton Hill, I was one of those writers who kept everything in suspense forever because readers love suspense, right? Right, but everything in moderation. I learned that you have to give your readers something. If you don’t, they get upset. That was my experience with “Mechanique.” I felt either like I was being pushed aside or given information as if from a text book. Many chapters began “This is what happens/this is what (character) thinks/this is how (character) feels.” *Whimper*

Valentine made use of another unorthodox fiction choice—second person. Normally I’d cringe openly at encountering second person in fiction, but, oddly enough, the chapters written that way were the only time I ever felt like I was really in the story. And so I will focus on POV today with media examples.

To illustrate my point, I will now dive a bit into my past. I did a lot of community and school theatre in high school and college (intend to get back to it but haven’t had a chance). In theatre, we have a term—“breaking the fourth wall.” The idea in theatre is that the stage is a room (even if the play’s action is outside). We (the audience) are able to watch these people in their everyday lives because one of the room’s walls has been made see-through. It is understood, however, that the wall is still there. The characters are simply on the other side of it.

Sometimes, the “fourth wall” is blasted through. Any play with a narrator breaks the fourth wall. The narrator speaks to the audience. Last week in my class post, I brought up first vs. third person. While this doesn’t immediately seem related, I’d argue that there are two types of “breaking the fourth wall.”

The first type is when someone outside of the play’s action talks to the audience—a narrator. Several musicals as well as the well-known “Our Town” make use of this. The narrator tells a story that comes to life before your eyes. This is like third person—theatre has long been considered its own form of voyeurism anyway. But the narrator is there to give information and extra story detail, much like the narrator in third person.

The musical “Into the Woods” makes use of a narrator for most of the show. In Act II, however, the narrator becomes a character in the story. He is blamed and brought into the conflict by the characters, who are bitter and resentful of the negative turns their lives have taken. The narrator is killed and the characters are left to bumble along, not knowing how the story ends. Thus the transition from third to first person is made. The narrator in first person is part of the action. In “Into the Woods” each character becomes their own narrator once the appointed one is dispatched with. Little George is his own narrator in “Mechanique.” If his passages were in first person present tense, he would be like the characters from “Into the Woods,” unaware of the direction of the story. As it is in first person past, he knows where things are going and even often alludes to that fact—saying that he was still young or hadn’t woken up yet. So instead of not knowing, he is implying that he does know but keeping the reader/audience in the dark to the point where, sometimes, it seems as if he doesn’t know.

Tangent—I found this particularly irritating, especially when he would drop the “I was still young” or the “I hadn’t woken up yet” lines. It’s like saying “There’s something coming, which you know because you are reading this fiction novel and something is always coming at the end of a fiction novel, but I’m going to remind you every so often because I can and because I have to keep reinforcing that I didn’t get it right away either. Don’t feel bad.” Grr…either say something important or don’t say anything.

K, back.

Second person—normally, I’d say it doesn’t work in fiction, but it was what kept me reading “Mechanique.” Another Broadway musical “Seussical” (a compellation of Dr. Seuss stories) makes use of second person in its opening number. The Cat in the Hat takes the stage and proceeds to sing “Oh the thinks you can think if you’re willing to try. Think invisible ink or a gink with a stink or a stair to the sky.” He’s quite clearly telling the audience what to think (imagine), but no one cares because the story is so colorful and the music is so fun. The same concept needs to apply to non-interactive second person fiction. For it to work the story needs to be so fun, so otherwise engaging, that the reader doesn’t care that it’s in second person.

As I said, it was the second person sections that kept me reading but not because the story was so entrancing. I just enjoyed the sense of interaction the second person sections gave me. “You go over here. You do this. You see this. You feel this way.” While similar to “This character feels/knows/understands this way,” there is a difference. In second person, I’m being told what’s around me but also being generalized. It’s as if “you” refers to a group of people—anyone in my position. It’s like interactive fiction. “You walk into the room. There is a jeweled box in the center of the floor. What do you do?” Incidentally, never open the jeweled box, but it’s that same idea. The “you” is universal. Thus, I’m not offended or put out by being told what to think/pay attention to.

Writer’s Lockbox

I felt as if I was getting away from the blog’s title. I needed something to make it fit. So I am adding “Writer’s Lockbox” to my Media Mondays. Carpenters have toolboxes. Writers now have lockboxes. What can be taken away to apply to our own writing from the media that I examine each week?


-Don’t get so caught up in suspense that you forget that your reader is trying to stay engaged in the story.

-Don’t use second person unless the story is engaging enough to warrant it. You don’t want your readers thinking what I was thinking: “When is the next second person section so I can feel part of the story again?” That’s bad.

-Don’t textbookify your information. “This is what happens when” sounds like something I had to read for chemistry class. “This is what happens when you mix oil and water.” I hated chemistry class.

See you out of the box,