Kathryn Lilley

Reader Friday: Your Best and Worst Moments as a Writer?

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Feb 062015

Note: The Kill Zone will be moving to a new site and a brand new look on Monday, February 9th! On Monday, visitors to this location will automatically redirect visitors to the new site. Stay tuned!

Describe your proudest moment so far as a writer. On the flip side, are there any moments you’d prefer not to remember?

Creating A Poetic “Selfie” From 40 Characters

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Feb 032015

Attention all budding poets: A new site lets you to turn you  tweets into poetry, or something like it.  Poetweet skims through your history of tweets, and then converts the results into verse.  (You choose whether you want your poem to appear as a Sonnet or other format.)

When I ran my Twitter ID through the engine, Poetweet created a ditty called “A Writer”. The resulting verse seems odd, but somehow perfect. (Disclosure: I rearranged a couple of lines to enhance the logical ‘flow’).

“A Writer”
by Kathryn Lilley

Putting On Your Writing Face
Getting It Done
Just One More Chapter
The Gag Order Rules
Where Have All the Commas Gone?
Are We Daft?
Where Do We Go To Get the Vaccine?
Sit Down And Write the Darn Outline
Lessons from 2014
Playing A Trick On Your Mind
‘Make it new’
Performing Amazing Grace

If you haven’t tried the tool yet, give it a try. Then, please share a stanza from your “ode”. The wackier, the better!

How I Discovered A Cozy Voice

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Jan 202015

Those of you who have been hanging around this blog for a while may know that I became a fiction writer somewhat by accident. Back in the 90’s, I started writing Nancy Drew mysteries when a college buddy-turned-editor invited me to submit a story proposal for the series. When my editor friend moved on in her career, I stopped writing. I remember having vague notions back then about trying to write a manuscript on my own, but the idea seemed too intimidating. Without my editor friend as a Spirit Guide, I was at sea.  

In 2003, I got RIF’ed from my job as a corporate writer. In retrospect, being laid off was the best thing that could have happened. With the blessing of a supportive spouse, I used my copious spare time to write the manuscript I’d been dreaming about. 

I had a main character in mind for my story and a rough outline, but I struggled to find a “voice.” Writing in the Nancy Drew voice had been relatively easy, because Nancy already had a voice. My first attempts at finding my own voice failed miserably. Everything I produced sounded dry and flat, like it had been written by the journalist I once was. My main character came across as angry and slightly bitter. Completely unappealing.

For inspiration I started binge reading mysteries. Like Ariel’s song in The Little Mermaid, I hoped to hear a voice that would rescue me from the sea. One day I pulled a mass market mystery off the shelf and started skimming. This book sounded different, I discovered. It sounded funny. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just discovered the world of cozy mysteries and “chick lit”.

I can write like that, I remember thinking. From that moment on, writing in a brand new voice flowed smoothly. My character Kate became a little bit like Nancy Drew, if Nancy had gained weight and developed a potty mouth.

Nowadays I still struggle to find the right voice for any new project.       The first time I tried to write something darker than a cozy mystery, I floundered around again in search of a new “sound” for the narrator.

I wonder if developing or changing voices is as much of a challenge for other writers as it is for me. Please share your experience in the Comments.

Reader Friday: Which Conferences Are You Attending This Year?

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Apr 042014

Have you made your plans for attending  writing conferences or retreats this year?Which ones will you be going to (or already completed)? What are you most looking forward to about them this year?

Putting On Your Writing Face

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Apr 012014

Did everyone catch the Internet meme started in the wake of the Oscars by author Laura Lippman? Following the widespread criticism of octogenarian actress Kim Novak’s appearance during the awards ceremony, Lippman posted a picture of herself without makeup, lighting, or filtering, along with a hashtag, #itsokkimnovak (Which translates to “Its okay, Kim Novak.” I must admit that at first I misread the hashtag to read “It’s so Kim Novak,” which would have sounded a tad less supportive. My bad.)

Within days, everyone I knew on Facebook was jumping on board the auteur tout naturel idea. Someone assembled a montage of the pictures set to music. I’ll post it if I can. Or you can scroll back through my FB timeline or Laura’s to view it.

It was inspiring, even heartwarming to see a collection of authors put their morning faces forward. Not that we’re the ultimate test case. As a species, we writers don’t tend to be a glamorous bunch. (Your average writer’s conference resembles a scene from The Invasion Of the Extremely Nice People Wearing Comfort Shoes.)

I was a few days late catching up with the trend, but I took a deep breath and posted my photo, seen here. (In response, I got several helpful replies suggesting make-up tips, mostly from Mary Kay and Avon reps. Thanks for that, ladies).

The experience made me question how I approach posting pictures in public. I’m a severe critic of my own photos, even those kept in house. My husband has to snatch the camera or phone away to keep me from deleting 90 per cent of the ones we take during vacations.

My last official author’s photo was taken in 2007. I need have another one ready by the end of this year. Last time around, I remember that the photographer kept telling the makeup artist to “vamp it up some more”. Next time, I may take a page from Laura’s book and go unadorned.

But now I’m taking another look at my #itsokkimnovak photo. I may have to reconsider. I much prefer the girlified look I had in a recent profile in LA Beat Magazine.

Did you all post sans makeup, unfiltered photos online after the Kim Novak thing? Did you learn anything from it? Feel free to post a link to a picture of the “real you” in the Comments!

Breaking News! 2014 WD Award for TKZ

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Mar 272014

Hey Gang,

Just jumping in to announce that TKZ has once again been named a top 101 website for writers by Writer’s Digest. Congratulations to all our bloggers and readers–we all work together to make TKZ required reading for the writerly set!

A Mindset Stuck in the Past

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Mar 042014

There’s a tradition on social media called “Throwback Thursday”, in which people post pictures of themselves from the past. I was reminded of Throwback Thursday yesterday when I read an article in The Guardian, a British newspaper.

In “From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life?“, editor Robert McCrum interviews authors who find themselves struggling to adapt to an era of reduced advances from publishers. The article suggests that the mid-list writer is an endangered species. Read the article, and then come back.

I was astonished by the defeatist mindset of the authors who were interviewed in the article. They seemed to assume that if they were no longer getting livable advances from publishers, the game was over. Say what? Has no one in Britain heard of indie publishing? Indie publishing wasn’t even mentioned in the article (one reader did describe indie alternatives in the Comments, which sounded a bit like Sir Walter Raleigh  bringing news of the potato and other New World wonders back in 1589.) Other commenters then proceeded to confuse the indie industry with vanity publishing.

Most of all, the article mourns the passing of a more “genteel” era in publishing:

Publishers were toffs, booksellers trade and printers the artisan champions of liberty. Like the class system, we thought, nothing would change. The most urgent deadline was lunch. How wrong we were. 

Indeed. When it comes to adapting to a changed publishing model, I think American writers are ahead of the curve. People on this side of the pond are used to changing the way they work. Many former mid-list writers have  reinvented themselves as their own author brands. (And in so doing, have been astonished to discover that they’re making more money than they did under the old system.) Other writers are content to remain in the legacy publishing fold, or they become “hybrids” who do both legacy and indie work. It’s a matter of finding your own comfort level.

But judging by the Guardian article, one has to conclude that British writers are stuck in the Grief stage about the changed publishing world. 

It’s not helpful to remain mired in the past. Maybe we should send our British friends some copies of WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?

Jan 212014

“Every one of us needs a purpose that’s big enough to call forth the gifts and abilities within us.”
           — Richard J. Leider, Life Skills

Do you live your life “on purpose”? Do you know what that purpose is?

That unsettling question was posed to an audience of about 200 people at a workshop I recently attended.

Many of us don’t think too much about the real purpose of our lives, said the workshop’s leader, a vivacious woman named Kathleen Terry We know what we like to do, what we’re good at, and what we have to do. But if we can discover a purpose behind all those activities, according to Terry, we can develop a richness of spirit and add meaning to our lives.

Terry gave us an actual formula for finding one’s purpose:

G + P + V = Purpose

This is how she explained the equation:

“You heed your purpose when you offer your Gifts in service to something you are Passionate about in an environment that is consistent with your core Values.”

Next, we set about drafting a Purpose Statement. To identify our Gifts, we were each given a stack of activity cards. We had to sort the activity cards into three piles, with each pile representing our preferences: 
1) Activities we Love to Do 
2) Activities We’re Not Sure About
3) Activities we Definitely Don’t Like to do.

From the “Love to Do” pile, we had to select our top five favorite activities, then designate one activity as the most important of all.

My Number One activity card turned out to be “Writing Things.” My four runner-up cards were “Researching Things,” “Discovering Resources,” “Analyzing Information,” and “Putting the Pieces Together.” 

All my activity cards–a.k.a., my “gifts”–identified me as a writer. No big surprise there. At least it was obvious what I like to do.

But I still lacked a purpose. How am I meant to use the  writing in the service of a greater purpose in life? Is that purpose merely to entertain and sell books? (That doesn’t sound very noble.) Is my purpose to inspire others to develop their own creativity? Perhaps I could volunteer as a blogger or writer on behalf of a cause I’m passionate about, such as Monarch habitat preservation.

We weren’t expected to finalize our purpose statement in the two hours of the workshop, I was relieved to learn. It turns out, sometimes it takes people years to discover their life’s purpose.

But I’m glad to be thinking in this general direction. And if you ever have a chance to take a “Finding Your Purpose” workshop, I highly recommend it. 

What about you? Have you given your life’s purpose much thought? Is your writing an element of a higher purpose?

Where Have All the Commas Gone?

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Jan 072014

It’s cranky of me to kick off 2014 with a gripe, I know, but what the heck is going on with commas? They seem to be disappearing from the published word. According to the National Geographic’s style manual, “the modern trend is to use fewer commas than we were taught in school.”

Well, I don’t like that trend. The last couple of books I read were penned by authors who appeared to have an almost complete aversion to commas. These writers didn’t merely avoid using the debatable Oxford comma; they seemed to shun commas altogether.

For example, currently I’m reading a book about a major sailing race. The writer seems to be trying to conjure the effect of sailing into hurricane-force winds by her near-total omission of commas.

Here’s a random sentence from the book:

The wind had built continuously with gusts now approaching forty-five knots (about fifty-two miles per hour) and the sky had grown darker.

There’s nothing technically wrong with that sentence, I realize. But my reader’s eye (or should that be “ear”?) was exhausted and needed to take a break before it plunged into “and the sky had grown darker.”

Admittedly, as a writer, I overuse commas. (See?) I inject them into my manuscripts during the first draft stage as a stylistic device. I use them as visual indicators of where I want the reader to pause for breath. One of my final editing chores always involves going back through a draft to remove all traces of my over-exuberant fondness for  commas. (Ditto goes for my overuse of em dashes as well–I am a veritable Queen of Em Dashes. See our discussion in the Comments).

But, dang it all–as a reader, I like to see commas. I even resent writers who want to rush me through their comma-less paragraphs.

Has anyone else noticed the gradual decrease in the use of commas in popular literature? If so, are they destined to go the way of the semicolon in prose, do you think? As a writer, are you trying to use them less frequently these days? Or are you a recovering  over-user of commas, like me?

Reader Friday: Creating A Literary Monster

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Dec 202013

In 1816, during an unusually cold season caused by volcanic eruptions and circulating ash,  19-year-old Mary Shelley wrote a story about a monster as she and some friends struggled to stay warm. FRANKENSTEIN was born.

If you were to create a literary monster sprung from our own modern era of extreme and changing weather patterns, what would that monster be called? Can you describe it? (Be advised though, that SHARKNADO is already in the lexicon!) :)