Monday, June 25, 2012

Taking risks, in life and in writing

It all started in college. I was an undecided major, and went through a couple of changes in major (as well as a few changes in minors). I blame my interest in so many different areas. My husband calls it "hobby ADHD."

Even after I graduated with my Bachelors, I thought I knew what I wanted to do and spent the next four to five years getting my doctorate in clinical psychology. I was going to be a therapist.  During the fifth year, I tried something different, something I never considered before (because of my unease in speaking in front of people): teaching. And I loved it! I switched majors and ended up getting my doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Fast forward eight years, and I'm thinking of a career change again. Maybe it is hobby ADHD. This time, it’s not even in the same general area, but it is related to my eventual minor in college. However, this move may mean going back to school for another degree. The government doesn't really want their money back, do they? 

The thing that's holding me back is fear. Many of us are afraid of change, because it includes unknown factors and we're not comfortable with the unknown. Even if our current lives suck for one reason or another, we're not always willing to change it because we'd rather deal with known expectations than take a risk. In my personal experience, risks I've taken have worked out, but every time I'm faced with the option to try something new, I freeze up again.

Fear is a common motivator we don't acknowledge all the time. When I ask my students what motivates them, a lot of them will answer "family." But you know what? I suggest it's not their family that motivates them, but fear. Fear of disappointing someone. Fear of losing someone (in the case of not having the income needed to support a family). This fear is what drives them to come to class and turn in their work. 

Writers talk about fear, and there's a great video of Elizabeth Gilbert, where she talks about fear in writing. 

The trick is to go on, despite your fear. Take a deep breath, put on your big girl panties, and just do it. What's the worst that can happen? You fail?

Well, there is that.

But I'm also one of those people that has no regrets. Even my mistakes were learning experiences. I believe they happen for a reason, and sometimes that reason is simply to make me who I am today. I like me.

Writing a story when I knew absolutely nothing about creative writing was a risk. Letting other people read my writing is a risk. Sending my work out to agents and editors is a risk. Going to conferences alone is a risk. Talking to other authors, editors, and agents at said conferences is a risk. Letting characters talk me into writing stories outside my normal genre is a risk. But you know what? I've done them all with pleasant consequences. I've met some fantastic people, made lifelong friendships, and actually enjoyed  doing all these things. If I had the funds, I'd attend every conference physically possible. The writing risks I've taken by listening to random characters became some of my better work. I've stretched my creative process by stepping outside my comfort zone.

I urge you to do the same. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to research Graphic Design schools. *grin*

When have you taken risks? How'd they turn out?

Monday, June 18, 2012

What Makes a Good Beach Read?

My family and I are prepping for a week at the beach.  Of course, we are making the usual packing lists--clothing, beach toys, golf clubs, lots and lots of sunscreen--you know, all the essentials.  But the most important list for me is the list of beach reads I've been so excited to finally crack open.

Life is busy most days.  The day job gives me a little extra time off in the summer, but inevitably we fill it up with activities.  Of course, I've also dubbed this the "Summer I Publish My YA," so I've been working on that non-stop.  Yet, this vacation will not be a working one.  Instead, I'm ready to load up on some of the books in my mountainous TBR pile. That means narrowing the list down to about five books, at the most.  Impossible, right?

The good news is I have e-readers.  I own both a Nook and a Kindle (it's probably a sin, but there ya go.)  So, gone are the days of juggling three books down to the beach, only to cart them back up.  Now, I'm a little more careful about water and sand than I used to be, but believe me, the accessibility to a number of books at once makes a difference. Yet, that doesn't solve my original problem of what to read.

Well, I've worked out FIVE characteristics to help me choose the best possible books for vacation.  Here they are:

1.  It Must Be Entertaining

Of course, this is subjective, but for me, I like a book with a little action, a little romance, and a fast pace.  I like to be pulled so into a book that when I finally look up from the pages (or screen), I'm a little disoriented by my surroundings.  It should be as much of an escape from reality as the vacation is.  And even when I'm off doing other fun beach stuff, I'm still thinking about getting back to my book.  Usually, I can tell by the blurb, the first few pages, and my experience with the author's previous books whether I'll enjoy this one or not.  That's always a good place to begin.

2.  It Must Be Light

I enjoy deep thoughts as much as the next gal.  Sure, there are times when a real tear-jerker is cathartic and meaningful, but when I'm on the beach, I don't want to be attempting to solve the world's problems or blubbering like a leaky faucet.  I want something that will bring me just to the edge of emotional, but won't drop me over the cliff of despair, if you know what I mean.  I want to laugh, cheer, maybe feel a slight edge of anxiety for the characters, but I want to know that in the end, all will be well.

3.  It Must Be Proven

As previously mentioned, I usually stick with authors I've already read and enjoyed for beach reads.  I have occasionally been disappointed by a beloved author who misses the mark (for me), but I'm usually easy to please, and will always come back for more from an author I like.  The only other way a book can be proven for me is if it comes highly recommended from a friend I'm confident has a similar love of books as me.  If he or she has bookshelves spilling over, four e-readers (okay, I was holding out on you.  It really is sinful, I know), and a book in his or her hand every time I see 'em, then I will take their word for it I should read the recommendation.

4.  It Must Be Something I Can Put Down If I Have To

As much as I love books (okay, it borders on obsession, people), I'm realistic enough to realize I will be expected to participate in the "FAMILY" vacation.  There will be games of catch, sandcastles to build, waves to jump, and other various fun times to be had.  Though I want a read that will be entertaining enough to draw me back again, I also want it to be something I can set aside but still jump back into without rehashing all the story information before I go on to the next chapter.  This is not the time to prove to the world that I really can "make it all the way through War and Peace" in one sitting.  Revisit number 2 for clarification, if needed.

5.  It Must Be a Quick Read

I'm all for educating oneself through books.  The importance of constant learning should never be underestimated.  However, on the beach, I don't want a dictionary at my side, and I don't want to have to do an internet search to decipher all the symbolic references and allusions to history, art, and other literature.  I do that enough in the day job.  In other words, a beach read should be one I can flip through without brain pain caused by the effort of comprehending the story.  It should have a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter, and pacing  that is quick throughout the rest of the book.  Speed is good for some things (racetrack, boring lectures, the DMV line) and not so much for others (awesome music concerts, engrossing television, the bedroom), but on the beach, I need a quick read because, let's face it, I got at least four more waiting their turn--and not too patiently I might add.

These are my five characteristics for choosing a list of books for the beach.  Did I miss any?  What books would you recommend as great beach reads?

I got to get back to packing now.  Thank goodness for the e-reader.  Gone are the days of packing an extra bag just for books (okay, you got me, two bags).  Now I just sneak a few more paperbacks in the toiletry bag and the kids' entertainment bag.  Did I mention my obsession with books?

Happy Reading and Writing,

Cherie Marks

My flash fiction piece, "Mercy" can be downloaded for free at SmashwordsKobo, or Barnes and Noble.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012


There are several favorite writers of mine that switched genres in the middle of their careers. They went from writing historical romances to writing thrillers or mysteries, leaving me scratching my head and wondering how they could go from one to the other, since they were so different, not to mention leaving me heart broken when they stopped writing romance. I’d been writing romance for years and never had the urge to write in another genre and just didn’t understand.
When I returned to the world of writing, after being absent for several years, I was surprised by how the romance genre had taken on a life of its own, breaking into so many sub-genres that it boggled the mind (my mind). 
Two years ago, while watching documentaries one night, I was inspired by two stories: one about a little girl who was sixteen, but had the physical appearance of a four year old, and the other about children of serial killers. Although sad stories, my mind started asking what if questions, and low and behold, two new stories were born. Much to my surprise, one is shaping out to be a thriller, and the other a medical suspense. Both have strong elements of romance, so far, but more importantly, helped me understand why writers chose to write in other genres. It’s not so much a conscious choice (although I’m certain some writers made that choice), but the stories or characters that reveal themselves and writers can’t and shouldn’t ignore them. After all, it could be the one that gets us published, our names on the map, or the next best seller, so how can we resist?
How open are you to writing in other genres? Are there stories or characters that moved you into a genre or sub-genre you never thought you’d find yourself?