Thursday, August 28, 2008

My first cover from the Wild Rose Press!


What a great way to start the day! This was in my mailbox this morning. Nicola Martinez did an outstanding job, don't you think?

No release date yet, but soon.

Here’s the blurb for Seventh Heaven:

Lilah owns the New Hope Record and Crafts Shop with her friend, Val. Selling their handmade jewelry and pottery to tourists in their Delaware River town keeps them independent and free spirited. Lilah’s only hangup is James, who bartends down the street. She’s crazy about him, but lately he’s been cold and distant. Turns out he has reason to be down--he’s had his ticket punched for Vietnam. When Lilah makes him a lucky leather-string choker using a silver ankh--the Egyptian symbol of eternity--James is skeptical, but begins to warm to her again. Can Lilah show him that her love is all the luck he needs?

And an excerpt:

Candles light the bar, daisies and daylilies fill a vase at its center. Bob Dylan moans that the answer is blowin’ in the wind.
James walks out of the kitchen. When he sees her, he takes long strides toward her. “Hey, right on time.”
Her voice seems stuck in her dream-filled head. “Well, yeah, I didn’t want to jinx my lucky number.”
He lays his hand on her back, and its warmth seeps through her white cotton blouse. “Come on in.”
She wants to tell him how wonderful the flowers are, how romantic the candles are. How time feels like the river, static, but slipping away too fast. “This looks great.”
“The old guy downstairs loves to garden. He gave me the flowers.” He steps behind the counter. “Are you hungry?”
“No, not at all.” Her stomach is knotted so tight, no food would fit.
“Thirsty?”
She sits on the stool. “Absolutely.”
His muscles ripple as he mixes the alcohol. Cologne scents the air, cologne he wasn’t wearing earlier.
“Another slow night,” she says. The bar is empty except for her and James.
“All week. Very unusual.”
The tang of the drink seeps into her. “Not that I mind.”
“I’m kind of glad.” He leans toward her, and time seems to reverse a few weeks, a river reversing its flow.
Jimi Hendrix croons about the wind crying Mary, his voice a richly toned instrument, as electric as his guitar.
She smiles. “I like the music.”
“Hendrix is always a crowd pleaser.” He watches her mouth as her lips curl around the salty rim.
She sets the drink on the bar. “Let’s hope the crowds stay home for this one.”
He holds out his hand. “Come on.”
She takes it, though she doesn’t understand. Separated by the counter, they walk hand-in-hand to the end of the bar, where he pulls her close. It feels like whooshing up a mountain, like flying. When he moves her across the floor, she’s drifting on air currents high above the earth.
Candlelight reflects in his dark eyes, making them sparkle. He tightens his embrace and they move together like water over a rock. He leans his cheek against hers, and his breath warms her skin.
The song ends. He groans into her shoulder, his hands running slowly across her back. He leans away to look at her. “Want to go for a ride?”
“On your Harley? Hell, yes.”
He laughs, the first real smile he’s shown her in weeks. “Let’s go then.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Everybody now: Get up, stand up...

Today I happened across Poets & Writers’ article, Get Up, Stand Up for Your Writing. Though it provides no citations to back it up, it states: Sitting down to write can lead to a decline in mental acumen (to which I add, and physical fitness). Maybe it’s just a well-known fact, although I remember reading somewhere that thinking burns calories. Don’t quote me on that.

At left is an example of how not to sit.

So, I trolled the Web for resources because lately, I’ve been feeling a bit of the writer’s spread myself. While this might look funny, I’ve actually used my exercise ball at my computer and could feel the difference in my legs.

Web MD has two pages dedicated to desk exercises: 60-second Olympics and Stretching Exercises at your Desk.

A Guide to Desk Yoga says its exercises are designed prevent carpal tunnel and repetitive stress injuries.

About.com has three pages for deskercize: office exercise and desk exercise and isometric exercises (and you don't have to be an entrepreneur to do them!)

WikiHow shows you How to exercise while sitting at your computer and UC Living Well’s Deskercise is broken down by body part. And who could resist being a FitSugar?

For those of you who like visual cues, check out Desk Therapy’s video or fit4real.ca’s 3-minute desk exercises on YouTube or CVS Health Rerources Desk Exercises. Or print out this chart and post it by your desk or this chart

I don’t recommend this one, though.

The old advice to “apply butt to chair” might be adapted to “apply fingers to keyboard,” but either way, it’s how stories are written (whether or not you begin with pen and paper).

And now I can’t get Bob Marley out of my head. (sigh) Everybody sing along!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The query letters and synopsis: The virtual foot in the door

Advice abounds about these two topics. The way you craft your query letter and synopsis can make or break your chances of getting your virtual foot in the door of an agent, editor or publisher’s office.

The best advice for a query letter is: be professional. And if you can throw in a line or two showing you’ve done your research about the agent/editor/publisher you’re querying, all the better. For instance, let them know which of their established writers your stories complement. Never be generic – tailor each to the specific a/e/p you’re targeting.

Because different agents/editors/publishers may vary in their submission requirements, always be sure to check their specific guidelines. Some might allow a 3-5 page synopsis, while others simply want a one-pager.

A few criteria usually remain the same (but again, always check the specific guidelines):

1) Capitalize each main character’s name the first time you use it.

2) Double-space.

3) Hit the main plot points, and DON’T leave out the ending – a/e/p’s don’t like “cutesy” synopses that make them guess what happens at the end. Even if you’re writing a thriller or mystery, state the outcome.

4) Use present tense, no matter the tense of your story

5) Match the tone of your synopsis to your story (i.e., if the story’s a comedy, make the synopsis funny, and vice versa).

6) Use dialogue sparingly.

Susan Kouguell provides do’s and don’ts for both queries and synopses in Writing Successful Query Letters.

Hillari Bell’s Writing the Dreaded Synopsis breaks it down into five major plot points, following Pam McCutcheon’s Writing the Ficiton Synopsis: A Step by Step Approach workshop and book.

Nathan Bransford, a literary agent for Curtis Brown, Ltd. Disappointed me with his How to Write a Synopsis blog entry, which aimed for cute over content.

The Editor’s Blog at the Guide to Literary Agents site, however, incluced this useful post with concise tips: Crafting a Novel Synopsis http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/Crafting+A+Novel+Synopsis.aspx

Charlotte Dillon's site had tons of links! I didn’t check them all, though I noticed after I Googled it, that many sites just copied and pasted someone else’s content onto their own site/blog. Tsk tsk!

Vivian Beck breaks her instruction down into 5 Steps to Writing a Synopsis – short and sweet.

Although Vicki M. Taylor goes somewhat overboard in Overcoming the Fear of Writing a Synopsis, it did have some helpful points, especially toward the end, where she targets romance writers.

Sheila Kelly’s Workshop: Writing the Novel Synopsis covers the formatting of a synopsis, though a bit outdated (does anyone own a dot-matrix printer these days?) And if it’s a one-pager, some of her points are moot.

Dee-Ann Latona LeBlanc’s Writing a Synopsis from the Ground Up provides good advice – the single sentence synopsis is particularly useful if you have a chance to sit down with an agent or editor for the high-pressure 10 minute visit during a writer’s conference. S/he is likely to ask: tell me in one sentence what your novel is about. D’oh! Pump up the enthusiasm and confidence, whether you feel it or not, and let it fly.

Elizabeth Lyon's Sell Your Novel Tool Kit cover touts the book as "Everything you need to know about queries, synopses, marketing and breaking in." It's one of many good tools for writers.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Get organized

Ever heard the saying, organization is the key to success? Well, for a writer, maybe it’s more like the key to sanity, but retaining your sanity is a key element in attaining success, I’m sure. To achieve that state of zen in which your brain stops nagging you to do a million other things that would remove your fingers from the keyboard, start by following Sue Kay’s advice in her article, Declutter your Desk and Free up Your Creativity.

That takes care of the obvious mess. The less obvious mess is the one inside your computer, and inside your file drawer. First, let Shirley Jump guide you through Organizing your Writing – everything from ideas to research to submissions and beyond.

Once you’re more outwardly organized, you will gain the confidence to take on more writing projects. Sharon Schnupp Kuepfer’s How I’m Writing Six Books at One Time article provides tips on using “at a glance” book charts and color-coded files.

Follow Kim Kay’s advice on keeping a project file so you don’t fall into a redundant ditch with your prose. The Novelist's Bible: Creating a Project File shows you how to track every detail of novel writing.

If you’re a Microsoft Word user, you may find Monica Burns’ Microsoft Word: Use it to Your Advantage helpful. She provides everything from a word count spreadsheet to macros for highlighting repetitive words and for creating advanced reader copies. The menu at top left contains other options for editing and formatting.

Now you’re ready to tackle those six novels!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Food for thought



Some say the devil's in the details. I say this photo proves the opposite.
If the universe can put a happy face in my garden pepper, then a higher power is certainly in control of the details. I'm not the driver, I'm just along for the ride.

After a harrowing year, I take this as a sign that everything's going to be all right.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What a character!

Writers know it’s important to take their readers on a journey – whether literal or metaphorical – and follow the standard story arc. It’s all about the story, but without interesting characters, you could have a Booker-worthy story line and end up with a ho-hum story if the character’s a two-dimensional bore.

Not to fear, there are plenty of resources out there. Writer’s Write’s Web Resources for Developing Characters provides links to everything from psychological tests to take from your character’s point of view to genealogy and baby name sites. Under the “Other Resources” subhead are links to specific professional resources such as WebMD, Experts Links and HowToWEb.com.

As Lee Masterson advises in the article, Creating Memorable Characters, your characters should be original. To expand on the fourth point of POV, also check out Marg Gilks’ Establishing the Right Point of View article. While some authors can get away with head-hopping, it can confuse readers. It’s always good to experiment, and I’m all for rule-breaking if it’s done well. But first, as they say, before you can break the rules, you gotta learn ‘em. Marg gives some good examples of how-to books to guide novices in POV, which can be tricky.

I include James Bonnet’s article, Great Characters – Their Best Kept Secret as a point of discussion. I tend to disagree with his point that your protagonist should be the “quintessential” example of a character type. Readers like characters they can identify with, root for and cheer on when the going gets rough (which it does, in most good stories). To me, a complex character is preferable. One who has a touch of hero and villain. Sometimes the journey is internal, and can be every bit as dramatic as the outward journey as say, The Lord of the Rings.

On an unrelated tangent, I'm including a photo of Chairman Maiow, my cat, just to dress up the post a bit.

Happy writing!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Read my latest short story online



Dark Sky Magazine published my story, Hotline to Hell (written in my other pen name). Hope you enjoy!

Friday, August 15, 2008

A new take on an illegal concept

An email loop alerted writers of e-books to a “sharing” site on the Web. Readers ask for a copy of an e-book and some other kind reader uploads the PDF to the site for sharing. Isn’t that nice!
Well, no, actually. Not for the author. Or the publisher. Or other readers.
Considering the cost of an e-book is substantially less than a print book, this is not an act of random kindness, but an act of piracy. It cheats the author who spends many hours perfecting each paragraph and depends on the royalties provided by the e-publisher (who rightfully keeps a chunk to cover the costs of several rounds of editing and cover art and production and e-storage and a myriad of other associated costs, so the author’s already down in payments). There are no advances in e-publishing, so it’s a per-download royalty.
The economy’s bad, but to stoop this low hurts the author, the publisher and yes, the reader, who will miss all those authors put out of their writing careers by illegal file sharing.
Such sharing prompts publishers to take a harsher stand. eHarlequin already encrypts its downloads so they cannot be copied more than twice. If illegal sharing continues, it will only a matter of time before all e-publisher are forced to follow suit. This, you might well imagine, will increase the cost of production which will then increase the cost to readers.
And no, it’s not comparable to song file sharing. It isn’t as if you’re going to take the e-book into your car for the work commute (impossible anyway, unless it’s also an audio book). It isn’t as if reading a chapter will encourage you to buy the e-book. So giving away an e-book will not widen the circle of readers, despite Radiohead’s success in music by giving away their album at first, then selling it.
Unless the e-story was available for free online and is no longer archived, please don’t participate in e-book sharing. The publishing world is tough enough for authors.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Character, Plot and Dialogue

Sol Stein, who acted as editor for James Baldwin, Elia Kazan, Jack Higgins, Jacques Barzun, David Frost, Budd Schulberg, Dylan Thomas and Lionel Trilling, provides some good insights in his article, Six Points About Character, Plot, and Dialogue You Wish You'd Have Known Yesterday.
I wish I had a great editor like him for my stories! According to Sol, the editor’s job is to “help the writer realize the writer’s intentions” because “writers are wrong.” In some cases, this is true. Some of my stories have a great premise, but for some nebulous reason I can’t quite pinpoint myself, they don’t work. Sometimes a critique partners can pinpoint it, but a great editor would nail it for me. Maybe I should send Sol those stories…
Pay heed to his contention that “characters make your story” (a book you don’t have to read, he says, because the title says it all). Publishers tout thousands of books on writing and story arc and narrative design. Yes, it’s all about the story, but if a story’s characters are weak, who will care about them? It’s imperative for a writer to know his characters inside and out. Like an actor preparing for a role, a writer should do his/her homework beforehand, so that when s/he sits down to write, s/he can easily step into that character’s skin. Inspiration for Writers’ web site provides a chart to help flesh out each one.
I tend to disagree with Sol’s fifth point about conflict. I lean toward the 188+ Hero’s Journey folks’ view that “A pervasive myth argues that the essence of story is conflict. This is extremely misleading. The essence of all successful stories and Hollywood blockbusters is Journey, Transformation, Detachment and Attachment.” They cite The Godfather, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Lord of the Rings and other successful movies as examples. This idea goes back to character development. If a character undertakes a journey and is transformed, the reader goes along for the ride. The more a reader is invested in a story, the harder it will be for the reader to stop reading it.
Conflict can achieve this, too, but some conflict tends to be on the surface, whereas a character’s transformation, if done well, completely engages a reader. On the other hand, conflict can be internal as well as external, as explained in Caro Clarke’s article. According to Jess Lebow, conflict should be taken to the max.
Depending on whether your story is mystery, literary, scifi or romance (or any of the many subgenres), the genre itself may lend itself to conflict. Good advice is to read as many novels or stories in that genre as possible by writers you admire. Study the story structure. And, as always, keep writing.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Writer beware!

If you're looking online for freelance writing gigs, heed the warning of Angela Hoy:
http://www.writersweekly.com/this_weeks_article/004832_07302008.html