j. leigh bailey

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Self-Doubt, Contests, & Validation

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on May 17, 2017 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (1)

Call it insecurity or imposter syndrome, whatever, but sometimes it’s a huge part of an author’s psyche. We create something that we think is brilliant one minute, and the next minute we’re sure it’s the tritest piece of cliché-filled junk ever to be written. And even when we get a little validation (book deal! 5-star review! etc.) we think it’s a fluke or that someone made a mistake. Because, of course, for every 5-star review, there’s a 2-star review. For everyone who says the book is genius, there’s someone who thinks it’s been done a million times. We read a book that is so brilliant, we are tempted to sit in the corner sucking our thumbs because we will never, ever, ever be able to create a book so amazing, so why bother wasting our time. Then we read a book—an award-winning, best-selling book—and want to tear our hair out because we don’t understand WHY… why that book that had X problems or broke Y rules made it when our book, which does not have X problems or break Y rules, floats in obscurity.

 

We are especially prone to this need for validation when we’re a little newer to the game. 

 

It’s easy to get discouraged sometimes.

 

The last few weeks have gone a long way to alleviate some my self-doubt. Oh, it’s still there, lurking in my subconscious, but a little less front-of-mind.

 

I entered GUYLINER in a handful of RWA contests for published books and it is a finalist in all three of them:

* WisRWA Write Touch contest for Young Adult
*  Desert Rose Golden Quill contest for Young Adult
* YARWA Athena contest for Young Adult Contemporary

 

Yes, GUYLINER is a finalist in ALL THREE! I’m giddy.

 

I wish I were the type of person who didn’t need anyone else’s opinion to justify or validate what I write. Yes, I would write anyway—it’s part of who I am. But when sales are relatively low, or someone posts a bad review (yes, I KNOW I need to stay off of Goodreads…I know), it’s hard to maintain the discipline and focus to keep working. But then there are these moments that remind me that my words and my characters are not a waste of space, and it keeps me trudging along. It doesn’t matter if don’t “win” these contests…just being selected from a larger pool of entries, is validation enough.

 

Please note: I DO NOT THINK you have to be a contest finalist/winner or best-seller or get the world’s largest book deal to be considered a success, or to feel like what you are doing is worthwhile. My need for reassurance and validation is a weakness on my part, and in no way should color anyone’s perception of their own career.

  

  



 

 

My Fellow Delegates--How Model UN Made Me a Better Writer

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on May 31, 2014 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

  

In college, while attending the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, I was a member of one of our campus’s most prestigious organizations—the Model United Nations team. It may not sound prestigious, but at the time we had the longest consecutive “Best Delegation” streak for the National Model United Nations Conference. I’m pretty sure the team still does, more than 15 years later.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Model United Nations (MUN) is a competition in which students represent the different countries that are members of the United Nations and try and solve the world’s problems through negotiation, resolution writing and speaking.

 

I owe a lot of who I am now to that organization.

 

My social skills (limited though they are).

 

My critical thinking skills.

 

My research skills.

 

My public speaking skills (rusty though they are).

 

My teamwork and leadership skills.

 

And even my writing skills.

 

Granted, I had some talent with writing long before I went to college. And the writing I did in college was a lot different than fiction writing, but I was able to hone some of those skills. Model UN taught me:

 

  1. The importance of word choice—different words, though synonymous, have different connotations. Which word you use in a given scenario changes the whole feel and purpose of a document.
  2. The importance of word placement—when listing ideas or goal, for example, people tend to list their first priority first and work back. It’s a subtle cue in conversation—or writing—that the first idea broached is the most important to that person.
  3. Point of View (Characterization/Voice)—In MUN you represent a country, and it’s not usually the United States. You must compete as that country, representing their interests—not your own. It’s the same for fiction writing—you write from your characters’ point of views, not necessarily your own.

 

I find the correlation between Model UN and writing, especially as regards point of view and characterization, fascinating. Now, when I say point of view, I guess you could say it lends itself more to voice and character than actual perspective. I mean, I’m not breaking MUN resolutions into first or third person. But each nation’s history, politics, economic factors, etc. play a role in how they view the world and the words and ideas they present.

 

There are almost 200 independent countries in the world and none of them have exactly the same history. There are common themes, sure. Colonization, civil war, poverty, industrialization, democracy, theocracy, etc. Each country is unique—just like people.

 

 

In MUN, your speeches, resolutions and negotiations all must be done based on your country’s world view and priorities. You know that phrase, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter? That’s character development and voice in one catchy phrase.

 

A character (country) is defined by their past (history), present situation (current politics, economics, issues, etc.), has goals (objectives) they need to reach. They run into conflict (current politics, economics, issues, etc.) that get in the way of their goals (policies, ideals). If these goals (objectives) are not met, there are consequences (war, protests, debt).

 

The analogy can go further, too. Just like in fiction, there are secondary characters (allies, opposition) with whom our main characters build a relationship (support, conflict) that influence the outcome of a character’s (country’s) goals (objectives).

 

There are even antagonists—those characters (country’s) whose goals (objectives) are in complete opposition of our characters (countries) and get in the way.

 

There are romances—when one character (country) develops a relationship (alliance, business interests, trade agreements) with other characters (countries) and both characters’ (countries’) lives are made better.

 

Seriously, I could go on... think of the different genres of fiction...there is an international, state-level parallel. I told you, fascinating!

 

But I’m digressing... sorry.

 

So, yeah, my MUN days were some of the best of my life. And the reason I’m suddenly waxing poetic about my college activities?

 

Saturday is the 30 year anniversary of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Model United Nations Team. No, I wasn’t a member 30 years ago. I fell somewhere in the middle. So, anyway, I’ll be driving up to good ol’ Oshkosh, WI tomorrow. There are a couple of pretty impressive people who will be there...a State Congresswoman, a former CIA operative, a soldier or two ...

 

What groups or experiences had a big influence on your life? 

 

 

Jennifer--A Rose By Any Other Name...

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on November 1, 2013 at 5:55 AM Comments comments (0)

I've gone by a number of names in my life.

 

No, I'm not an international spy (wouldn't that be cool, though?). And I'm not in the witness protection program (I wouldn't admit it if I were). I've just got one of those names.

 

My name is Jennifer. Yes, Jennifer. My mother told me that she named me Jennifer because she didn't know of any/many other Jennifers. There were four Jennifers in my kindergarten class. Gee, thanks Mom!

 

As a kid, I was know mostly as JENNI. Notice the spelling. Yes, that's Jenni with an I. As I told many people throughout my life, there is no Y in Jennifer, therefore my name is not JennY.

 

Story has it that when we were little, my brother couldn't say Jennifer. What he could say was Jeff-fer-fer, which was quickly shortened to Fer-Fer. My two aunts were the one's who mostly called me this. Of course, it was then changed again. After a while it was Fer-Fer Butt. My aunts have somehow managed to convince my nieces that they should call me Fer-Fer Butt, too. So the name lives on.

 

In college, I decided not to go by Jenni. Because I knew that in their heads, people were spelling Jenni wrong. So I started to go by Jen. Most of my friends called me Jen, but there were a couple who called me Jen-Jen. In some of the different organizations I belonged to I became known as JenBailey (yes, like one word).

 

One of my friends decided that Jen, Jen-Jen and JenBailey were not enough. She calls me Jannae. I will say it's pretty much only her that does that.

 

 

In the workplace, I call myself Jennifer. It's not very unique, but it's less likely to be spelled wrong (even internally). Now, before you say anything, yes, there are several spellings for Jennifer, but on the whole, people generally assume the traditional spelling.

 

And now you'll see I also go by another name This is my writing name, or psydonym. Yes, my "professional" author name is J. Leigh Bailey. It's not a big leap from Jennifer to J. Leigh, but I decided I wanted to distance myself a ltitle bit from my "real" name, but have it still be recognizable to my family and friends. Still be "me" so to speak.

 

Someone should have warned me before I started getting published that J. Leigh Bailey rhymes. Like jelly belly... jaylee baylee... yikes! In my head, there is a more destinctive pause between J. and Leigh. So it's J. [pause] Leigh Bailey...

 

 

 

 

 

First Impressions

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on July 24, 2013 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

It's amazing what a difference a first impression can make. Good or bad, it's usually lasting.

 

I moved to Illinois when I got a promotion and a transfer at work. and, let me tell you, Chicagoland is a lot different than rural Wisconsin. Acclimating to ta new state, new people, bad traffic and a new job all at once was a little tough. Exciting, absolutely, but still tough.

 

About two weeks into my new job one of our customers made me cry. For the record, Folgers commercials, a happy ending in a book and cruelty to animals make me cry.  People at work do not make me cry.  I must have been particularly emotional that day, but when the customer started yelling at me and telling me I should be ashamed of myself I handled the call professionally and broke into tears the minute I hung up the phone.

 

My boss happened to be walking by. When he asked, I told him what happened. Within minutes he had the customer on the phone--a very prominent woman in our industry--and told her in no uncertain terms that he wouldn't allow anyone to treat one of his employees that way.

 

It may be a relatively small thing, but as my first real interaction with my boss, it set the tone for my relationship with him.  I will put up with a lot from him because, in that one moment, he earned my respect and became my hero.

          

There's no real writerly message in this post, or a political rant. Mostly, it's just a reminder that little things make a big difference. Random acts of kindness, a smile at a cash register, a simple compliement to the bitch in the office, it really can make things better. And, as first impressions have such an impact, it's important to try your darnedest to make the best one you can.

 

Hey, maybe it is like writing... first impressions = opening scenes.... first impressions = conferences... make whatever ties you like.

 

What first impressions have had big impact on your life, good or bad?


  

  

  

  


I Hear Voices...

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on June 3, 2013 at 7:50 AM Comments comments (2)

It's not a secret to anyone who knows me that I really enjoy audio books. I almost never listen to the radio anymore, and I hate listening to the news. Audio books are a great way to keep my mind occupied while doing chores, stuck in traffic or playing endless games of Solitaire. Like anything, some narrators are better than others.

   

Some of my favorite narrators are:

 

 

 

  • Jim Dale, who narrates the American version of the Harry Potter series. He is outstanding.  He has a tremendous range of voices and accents that truly bring the characters to life.

 

 

 

  • Robert Inglis, who narrates the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books. The rhythm and poetry inherent in Tolkien's comes out when Mr. Inglis narrates. He makes the old-fashioned language and syntax easy to understand. He is incredible.

 

  

 

  • Lorelei King, who narrates the Mercy Thompson and Charley Davidson  series. I think what I like about her, ouside of the excellent narrator's voice, is that she gets the subtlety and humor in these stories. I don't know how else to explain it, but she reads the books the way they sound in my head.

 

There are some people I wish would narrate books. For example, I'm pretty sure I could sit and listen to Mike Rowe or Benedict Cumberbatch narrate the phone book. They don't have to do voices or bring characters or settings to life, they just need to talk. Both of these gentlemen have deep, rich voices (think the most luxurious dark chocolate) that make my toes curl and my insides quiver. I get goose-bumps just thinking about them.

 

  

 

*Sigh*

 

Are there any voices that just do it for you? That you could listen to forever?

 

 

 

 

What the Reviewers Say... Nachos on Saturday

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on April 12, 2013 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I'd like to think I'm above people's opinions of me and my work. I know, I know, I can't please everyone everytime. But still, ever since Snow on the Roof was released in February, I've been scouring the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for any mention of me and "Nachos on Saturday."

 

My story isn't among those that are cited as people's favorites in multiple reviews, and when it is mentioned it's in a casual, drive-by sort of way, though positive on the whole.

 

These are the reviews that menion "Nachos on Saturday" and what they said about my story:

 

Review by Natalija, Goodreads. "Nachos on Saturday by J. Leigh Bailey - 4 stars Wonderful opposites attract story."

 

Review by Sunne's Review, Goodreads. "Nachos on Saturday by J. Leigh Bailey. Sweet comfort story, well written - 4 stars."

 

Review by Barb ~rede-2-read~'s Review, Goodreads. "I also enjoyed reading "Nachos on Saturday", "Hunting Season", "Loving Again", "The Way to a Fisherman's Heart", and "Queening Out". All were well written  romantic stories, some very poignant and heartwarming."

 

 

Review by Nova's Review, Goodreads. "Nachos on Saturday by J. Leigh Bailey --2.5 stars: Eating some nachos, sex and wallowing in self-pity."

 

(Personal note: This was the worst rating of any of the 15 stories in the anthology. OUCH!)

 

Review by Tina's Review, Goodreads. ""Nachos on Saturday Copyright (c) 2013 by J. Leigh Bailey" Four-stars: Very sweet romance. On 43-year old Duncan's birthday, he had a plate of nachos while watching Firefly with 36-year old Felix. Duncan thinks he is boring and he thinks Felix is too bright and exciting to be interested in him. Cute happy for now. First read by this author and I plan to look for other work from her. Really enjoyed this and it felt complete even though it was wicked short."

 

 (Personal note: YEAH! I particularly like the part about looking for other work from me. ;-) )

   

On Amazon: "Hunting Season with the oblivious romance writer was fun, and Nachos on Saturday had a nice food metaphor."

 

I've written enough reviews to know that these don't really amount to much. There were a few other stories in the anthology that were mentioned much more and in greater detail, expanding upon how awesome and heart-warming they were. Deservedly so. But it's kind of neat to know that someone read something I wrote, even just a short story, and took the time to write a review or even a word of two. Even if they weren't all "glowing."

 

 

From Out of Grandma's Bag

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on December 21, 2012 at 7:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Last year my grandma visited for a while.  With her she brought a packet of pictures, newspaper articles and other things she thought we might enjoy. One of the things she gave me was a single piece of wide-ruled spiral notebook paper with my own 13 year old handwriting. Strangely enough, my handwriting was better 20 years ago than it is today.

 

Anyway, this piece of paper was apparently the beginning of chapter one of a novel I decided to try. I have no memory of writing this. But, since it is absolutely my writing, I thought I'd share (with some random commentary along the way) what my 13 year old mind came up with.

 

The mans hand (this was, apparently, prior to my rabid support for the apostrophe protection movement) moved up my arm. I tried to repress a shudder of revulsion. I thought to myself, It's only a job, a job I love. I don't have to like him. "For you I lower my price. Three hundred." (I should point out that before my grandma gave it to me, she gave it to my mother who started to read it out loud. I had a moment's panic that maybe I had written something inappropriate for my age. All 13 year olds write about being prostitutes, right?)

     

I tensed my muscles in caution. I had to be prepared for an attack. "Sorry L.C., but I'm afraid I'm gonna hafta (I love that I spelled the dialect out phonetically) arrest you." I flipped out my badge. He turned to run but two big men stopped his escape. The two men were fellow police officers.

  

The youngest one came back and almost laughed at the way I looked. The black silky wig, black leather mini-skirt and a too tight tank top (working the alliteration!) was not me. At least not the normal me. I laughed. "Max, you should be used to me by now. We've only been working together for about two and a half years."

  

"Sometimes I wonder who the real you is. Are you a red head? What color is your hair. (Apparently this was not a question???) Black? Red? Blond? White? Green with a pink spike?"

  

I laughed. (For the second time in this scene. Maybe I need to chuckle more, or giggle, or snort...) "I have to go fill out a report at the station." (As you can see, 13 year old me was well versed in proper police procedure.)

                           

In all actuality (yes, spelling was never my forte) I have brown eyes, brown hair and a forgetable (still can't spell) face. That didn't bother me very much because it was perfect for my job. I'm an undercover detective. I wear wigs and colored contact lenses so nobody could recognize me. The only distinct feature about me was my hight (again, not a speller!). Sooner or later someone might figure out that the different six foot tall women they knew was one person.

        

And that's all she (me) wrote on that epic masterpiece.

      

I'd like to point out a couple of things that struck me as I read this. First, nowhere in all the dialogue (and there was so much of it, too!) did I use the word said. I guess some stuff is just instinct. :p Of course, later in life when I started taking writing more seriously I started to use all the fantabulous dialogue tags that the experts warn against. It just proves that true genius cannot be taught.

   

Also, note the simple, blunt statements and the staccato sentence structure. I guess maybe I have a natural knack for the detective story/crime drama. It can't possibly be that I was unaware of the myriad stylistic choices that could be used to create tone and atmosphere. Hard-boiled, just like an egg. I knew that. Yep.

Chatting with Family--Story Telling vs. Writing

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on December 14, 2012 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I've come to the conclusion that I did not go to the same high school or experience the same things as a child that my brothers did. I did, of course, but when I listen to them tell stories from the past I often ask myself "where was I when this was happening?" Despite the fact that I attended the same high school at the same time as my siblings (there were five of us and we each graduated one after the other, boom, boom, boom) they'll share a story that presumably took place during that time frame and while the others are nodding and chuckling knowingly, I'm flabberghasted that such a thing happened and I was totally oblivious.

  

I've decided, and some of my relatives concur, that I spent all of my time either with my head in the clouds or my nose in a book. So yes, I was oblivious to all of the exciting things that I could have been keeping track of for future use in the fantabulous novel I will someday write. Seriously, the time my brother and his friends locked their teacher in his office and glued his phone down so he couldn't call out and no one let him out for over 3 hours, even though two more classes showed up? How much fun is that? But I had no idea.

  

 I come from a long line of story tellers. In fact, I could sit for hours and listen to my brother, my father, my aunt, my grandfather, any of them, tell a story. They had a way of making the most mundane things seem fun and exciting. When I try and tell the story to someone else, they just look at me like "why are you telling me this?" They don't see the humor. And it's all in how it is presented. When they tell it, laughter to the point of tears ensues. When I try and tell a story, it falls flat.

  

However, none of them could actually write their stories out and get even the smallest ratio of the same reaction. I can WRITE a story. They can TELL a story, and it's the presentation that sells it--the quirky facial expressions, the hand gestures, the empahsis on a particular word.

  

Now, I've heard it said, many times, but most recently in an interview with literary agent Donald Maass, that the best way to put the fire in fiction (which happens to be the title of one of his how-to book for writers) authors should focus less on writing to sell in the current "hot" trend, and focus on being good story tellers.

 

But what does that mean, exactly?

 

I've wondered and worried about this for a while. It wasn't until I started to analyze why it was that my family members had the great stories but I was the one who considered herself to be a writer (and in a very real sense a story teller). What was the difference in our approaches?

 

In the end it comes down to three things, as far as I can tell.

 

1. Details--it was the little things that make my relatives' stories so engrossing. The gestures, the quirks, the empahsises, the word choices. The knowing which details to include for the most effect. While I'll never be the story presenter that they are, I can still incorporate these same things into my writing.

 

2. Passion--when my brother tells a story he's fully involved in it, the excitement of what he's relating. He's completely engrossed in the story he's telling, which draws the audience right in. If I, as a writer, can't get completely caught up in my story, how could I expect my audience to get caught up in it?

 

3. Conviction--When my aunt or dad or whoever, tells a story, they believe 100% in what they're saying. Even if they're pulling the "facts" out of thin air, they are convinced, and convincing, that everything happened the way that they are telling it. They don't second guess anything. They don't hem and haw about the details. So, as a writer, believing, absolutely, in what you are writing, will help your audience believe.

  

How do you define the difference between writing a story and being a story teller?

Good News!

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on December 12, 2012 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (0)

This last week has been an awesome week of good news.

 

First, a short story I wrote in August, called "Nachos on Saturday" has been accepted for publication in an anthology by the fantastic folks at Dreamspinner Press. I'm psyched!  It's even a paid gig, and I got a check in the mail already.

 

The anthology--called Snow on the Roof--will be released on February 11, 2013.  I'll post more about it as it gets closer.

 

My second bit of good news--a couple of months ago, I found out I'd finalled in an RWA chapter's contest. The very same contest that led to an introduction with my agent!  Well, last night I found out that I was ranked 1st in the Young Adult category. So stinkin' cool. 

  

It's like validation that I'm actually a writer, and people like what I write. What else could an author hope for (asside from mega-bucks and international stardom, of course)? 

 

And, to make my week even better, I'm going to see the Hobbit on Saturday.  Yep, I'm flying high this week.

  

Who else has good news?

 

Writing Workshops for Teens--I'm a Presenter!

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on December 6, 2012 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

In April--yes, I know, that's like four and a half months away, but I've got to start planning for it now--I'll be participating in the Big 12 Teen Lit Fest in Rochelle, IL. In addition to helping judge the descriptive writing contest, I'll be presenting two break-out session workshops.

These are the two presentation/activities I'm thinking of doing:

Song Title Short Stories

  

As a group, take suggestions for:

5 song titles

5 music artists/bands

5 cities

5 favorite characters from books

5 book titles

  

Have participants write a scene incorporating as many of these titles/names, etc. as they can, in a way that makes sense (it needs to be a logical story).

  

Have participants read their entry out loud. The top five/ten people who are able to incorporate the most suggestions will win prizes.

  

Show vs. Tell Competition

  

After a brief explanation of what show and tell means, have the students break into teams of 4 or 5

  

As a way to illustrate the oft-cited “rule” of writing “Show, don’t tell” provide a list of “telling statements” and have the teams make a list of 3 different ways to “show” the same things.

  

Give an example:

  

--She waited impatiently for the bus.

  

--She checked her watch every ten seconds and glared at the empty bus stop.

--“Come on, come on,” she said, tapping her foot as she peered down the street, hoping for some sign of the tardy bus.

--“The bus is late again,” she muttered as she read the bus scheduled for the tenth time.

  

Rules: No Adverbs 

  

Read the answers aloud. If any other team has the same example (judgment made by presenter if in debate) neither team gets credit for the item. If the example breaks the “adverb” rule, the answer is disqualified. The team with the most unique phrases at the end of the game wins prizes.

  

I'm looking for some real input here. Do these activities seem both fun and educational/interesting for a group of teenagers interested in writing? 

 

Do you have any other suggestions for break-out sessions?

  

Thanks!