Social Media Primer

When my editor called me in August, 2013, with the good news that Kensington wanted to publish my first novel, one of the things he told me was that I should have a presence on Facebook as a writer. It would allow readers to find me online easily and also allow them to interact with me and with each other. So I got a Facebook author page. The publisher also wanted me to be accessible to readers not on Facebook, so I started my blog, got myself a website, and signed up for Twitter, too.

I’m supposed to update the status of my author Facebook page at least once a day, but frankly, sometimes I find that a little forced. Even boring. And I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. For any of you who may be unfamiliar with Facebook, it is common for authors to dedicate a Facebook/social media page to news about their work, their author events, their publicity, etc. And it’s important to keep it updated so people know what an author is currently working on or promoting.

I like to use my author Facebook page to introduce readers to the places I write about. It’s common for a reader to find pictures of Boldt Castle, Singer Castle, the Thousand Islands, and other upstate New York locales on my author page. As I move into 2015 with a book out in April, I’ll be posting photos of South Carolina, the Lowcountry, and Charleston more frequently, since that area of the U.S. is the setting for my new book, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor.

I also like to post funny things I find online that might be of interest to readers, such as grammar puns, literary cartoons, and jokes about books.

I try to limit bald-faced promotion on Facebook and Twitter to one day a week, usually on Tuesdays, when I invite people to have a look at my blog post for the week. As a release date gets closer, I do have to do more outright promotion, so those posts become more frequent. The same is true for this blog. As you know, I often mention my books in my blog posts, but it’s almost always in connection with another point I’m trying to make. And as the release date nears, I point my blog readers to the places online where my new book is being featured. You are free to check out those sites, or you don’t have to. It’s completely up to you.

If readers aren’t on Facebook (and believe me, there are plenty of reasons not to be part of Facebook) or Twitter or they don’t follow my blog, they can always go to my website, where they can send me an email to contact me. They can also read more in-depth about my books and find music and wines that I suggest for a nice evening of reading.

Here are the links to the places you can find me online:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/amreadeauthor
Website: http://www.amymreade.com
Twitter: @readeandwrite

Are there things you’d like to see on my author page, my blog, my website, or in my tweets? I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts with me.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. If you’ve read Secrets of Hallstead House, would you consider leaving a review on Amazon, bn.com, or Goodreads? I never realized until I wrote my first book how important it is for readers to leave book reviews on these sites. Reviews help drive traffic to authors and businesses, and the reviews are very much appreciated. Thanks!

Location, Location, Location!

I have a friend who has lived in Indiana most of his life, except for going to college in Texas and working for a brief time in Washington, DC. He said to me recently that even though he only spent a few years in Texas, that state feels like home to him. I’m sure there are Texans wondering why everyone doesn’t feel that way.

I understand how he feels. A place can exert a powerful pull on a person, even if the person hasn’t spent much time there. Maybe it can happen even if the person hasn’t spent any time there.

That’s why book settings are so important. Could Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier take place anywhere but the Cornish coast of England? Could The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner take place anywhere but Mississippi? The setting of a story is often its most essential element; in other words, there are stories that simply wouldn’t make sense if they were set somewhere else. IfRebecca took place in Paris, the story wouldn’t have the same heavy atmosphere and spookiness that it has in Cornwall. If The Sound and the Fury were set in small-town Vermont, what would be the source of Quentin’s cultural angst?

Secrets of Hallstead House is set in the Thousand Islands, one of those places that has a strong pull for those who have spent any time there. I don’t know of a single person who has been to the Thousand Islands who didn’t want to return. Could my story be set somewhere else? Not as far as I’m concerned. The St. Lawrence River and Hallstead Island are characters in the story just as much as any of the humans are.

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The same is true with The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, my story set near Charleston, South Carolina. That’s another place that stays with a person. Have you ever been to Charleston? It’s inhabitants are passionate about their city, much more so than lots of other cities. And I can see why–it’s a beautiful city with a rich history and culture all its own. It’s like no other city in the South.

I am lucky enough to live in a place which has that pull, a place that people return to year after year (particularly in the summertime). When I first moved here, I was amazed at the number of kids who went away to college and wanted nothing more than to return to their hometown to find work upon graduation. Their happy memories of many seasons spent at the beach, of surf and sand, of the boardwalk and sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean are strong enough to make those people want to return.

So in that same vein, my third story, as yet unnamed but tentatively entitled Hanging Jade Hale, (pronounced “hah-lay”), is set on the Big Island of Hawaii. I know of exactly two people who have been to Hawaii and didn’t absolutely love it. It’s a place where people experience a kind of magic that is only found there, a magic that comes from the ocean and the mountains and the trade winds and the knowledge that Hawaii is alone in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. A story set there can’t take place anywhere else in the world, and that makes its setting special.

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Is there a place that calls you back, even if you’ve never been there? I’d love to hear about it!

Until next week,

Amy

The Genesis of an Idea

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of speaking at Career Day for one of my kids. The students who signed up to hear my author spiel were quiet, respectful, and asked some thoughtful questions. The question I received the most was “Where do you get your ideas?”

There are as many places to find ideas for stories as there are writers who write those stories.

This is what I told the kids: I start with my setting. I find that once I decide where my story is going to take place, the ideas flow from that. My first novel takes place in the Thousand Islands; as you might imagine, there are parts of my story that could only take place on an island in the middle of a river. My second novel takes place near Charleston, South Carolina, so a plantation great house has an important role in the story. Not every writer starts with a setting, of course. Some get an idea and the setting grows out of it.

One thing I told the kids on Career Day was that some writers get ideas from reading the obituaries. They read the obits and imagine things that may have happened during the lives of the people who have just passed, whether it was someone who survived the Holocaust or someone who emigrated from Italy as a teenager or someone who spent his or her life as a singer/songwriter. The obituaries are fertile ground for vivid imaginations.

Where else do writers get their ideas? How about newspaper articles? Some writers get ideas from reading the headlines and making up their own backstories. Some read regular columns and make up corruption and intrigue that amp up the excitement. Others use stories from their own jobs; there are more than a few ex-lawyers who use real legal cases in their books. The same is true with doctors and almost any other profession you can imagine.

Ever heard of the book Cape May Court House: A Death in the Night? It’s a book by Lawrence Schiller, an investigative journalist who studied a real case from Cape May Court House, New Jersey (not far from where I live), involving a husband, a wife, their daughter, and a tragic event. Though Schiller stuck very close to the original story, there are lots of real crimes that get fictionalized by authors who are looking for a realistic story line.

The last thing I told the kids was this: ask “what if?” every chance you get. You’re driving by an abandoned house. What if a murder took place there? What if the most recent owner was a recluse? Or you see a father strike his child at a grocery store. What if that father was stressed out because his wife just left him? What if that man wasn’t the child’s father? Maybe you see two people talking on a park bench. What if they’re undercover agents? What if it’s a clandestine meeting? The possibilities are endless.

So think of a place you’d love to set a story. Read newspapers and Internet news stories and the obituaries. Ask “what if?” every once in a while. You’ll stimulate your own imagination and you might just think of something fantastic.

Where do you get your ideas? I’d love to know.

Until next week,

Amy

Who’s Your Muse?

Do you have a muse? Do you know what a muse is? I had heard the term bandied about, but never really understood it’s meaning.

So I looked it up.

The word “muse” comes from the nine mythological goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences. There was a goddess for lyre playing, epic poetry, comedy, history, and astronomy, among others.

So what is a muse in modern parlance? I guess you’d define it as the source of creative inspiration, and it’s usually a person.

I have always read about authors and songwriters and artists and their muses. For F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was his wife Zelda. For John Lennon, it was Yoko Ono. For Alfred Stieglitz, it was Georgia O’Keefe.

As I thought about muses throughout history and the artists and writers they inspired, I got thinking…who’s my muse?

And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that I don’t have one. There is no one person who inspires my writing. And I consider this a good thing. I noticed while I was reading about historical muses that the relationships between them and their respective artists were often toxic and depressing. They frequently seemed unhappy and lost. And I don’t want to cause the people around me to feel any of those things.

I am inspired by places and by nature. I love to read about people and locales all around the world, and so I suppose it’s natural that I would choose to write about those same things. I want to inspire people to visit the places in my stories. My first book takes place in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York, and if I can get my readers to want to know more about the Thousand Islands, then I’m happy. My second book is set in South Carolina, near Charleston, and I hope I’m able to describe it well enough that readers will be able to share the experience of being there. My third book will be set in Hawaii. The islands are a feast for the senses, and I want to share that with the people who read the book.

I’d love to set a story in New York City (where I used to live) or in South Jersey (where I live now). I’d love to set a story in San Francisco (where I’ve visited) or England (where I’ve never been) or in Scotland (also, where I’ve never been). When I visit someplace new, I take lots of pictures and maybe even some notes about interesting things and people I see. I keep maps of the places I’ve been, because they can be helpful in setting a story.

I get inspired by people, too, but I could not refer to any of them as my muse. The inspiration these people provide is not creative, but motivational.

Do you have a muse? Or are you inspired by something else? I’d love to hear about it.

Until next week,

Amy

What’s Your Favorite Descriptive Word?

As I write this, the Mid-Atlantic (and particularly my neck of the woods, in Southern New Jersey) is preparing for a foot of snow. When I went to the grocery store this morning to return my movie (“Captain Phillips,” which I highly recommend) to Redbox, I couldn’t find a place to park. I didn’t go into the grocery store, but if I had, I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to find milk, bread, toilet paper, or fresh fruit.

My daughter and I took our dog, Orly, for a walk earlier this afternoon because the dog may be home-bound for the next couple of days. It was already raining when we left the house. We walked in the woods near our neighborhood. The woods are my favorite place to walk Orly; it is quiet and peaceful there, and I love going when it’s raining or snowing because I love to hear the raindrops- and even the snowflakes- falling on the trees and the pine needles underfoot. And when it’s wet outside, that’s when the woods smell the best.

Days like this remind me of the importance of descriptive words in writing. When I’m writing, I sometimes forget that a story is more than plot. It’s also feeling. It’s also lots of other things, but I’m going to talk about feeling in this post. In the rush to get words down on paper (or on a computer screen) it’s easy to hurry past the words that help a reader feel what’s going on in the story. A reader’s reaction to a particular book is not just about the action in the story. It’s about the five senses, too. It’s important for writers to remember to involve at least one or more of the senses in a given scene…seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching.

What does the air feel like? Is it moist? Dry? What does the ocean look like? Is it frigid? Warm like bathwater? Is it cyan or gray, like the color of slate? Is a particular food sour and puckery? Buttery? What does the air smell like in the summer? Freshly-cut grass? Hot asphalt? And what does it sound like when snow falls in the woods? I would describe it as an almost-silent “shush.”

Ernest Hemingway was a master at using words beautifully and descriptively, even when he was describing something that wasn’t beautiful. He described a rhino as a “dangerous practical joke let loose by nature.” And this is how he began a piece for The Toronto Daily Star in 1922: “We were sitting in the cheapest of all the cheap restaurants that cheapen that very cheap and noisy street, the Rue des Petits Champs in Paris.” You probably wouldn’t read a sentence like that in a newspaper in 2014, but his description has a wonderful quality that allows the reader to imagine exactly what the Rue des Petits Champs looks like.

In my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, the story is set on one of the Thousand Islands in the Saint Lawrence River. That setting is rich with opportunities for description, and my hope is that people will read my book and want to visit that area of New York to see its beauty for themselves. My second novel, with a working title of Low Country Twilight, is set on a plantation outside Charleston, South Carolina. That’s another place that lends itself to lavish indoor and outdoor settings. Will it inspire people to visit and learn about the history of the area? I hope so. And my third novel, as yet unwritten and untitled, will be set in Hawaii, a place with a name that conjures up lush tropical scenes and settings. I don’t really think anyone needs a novel to inspire them to want to visit Hawaii, but the very existence of Hawaii inspired me to write a novel about it.

I’d like to hear your favorite descriptive word. Mine is “capacious.” It practically makes fun of itself.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. The school district just called a snow day for tomorrow. Maybe I should write that novel about Hawaii right now.

Orly (2)

Orly, the snow lover