Thursday, January 29, 2009

Organize your story information

Wow, there is nothing better than receiving a story contract! Until you have to fill out the forms, and can’t remember what description you’d written for the hero and heroine of this particular story. Or the key elements. Or even the setting, because now you’re ten stories past when you’d written this story, and your cast of characters are all milling around the great cavern of your imagination, in no particular order, and are not in an obliging mood to come rushing back when you call them. Yes, they’re worse than children sometimes.
This is what happened to me yesterday. I had to reread my own story to re-learn all of the above, to immerse myself in it again to get a feel for it so I could write a decent blurb. Not that I’m complaining. I like this story a lot, so it was like revisiting old friends.
Still – I’m a bit pressed for time these days, and it was time I should not have had to spend re-doing what I should have already done. I’ve learned since that story to be a little better organized. Now when I write a story, I keep a Spec Sheet. Specifications, just like a contractor or architect (although I like what I build better).
You might find it helpful, too, so I’ll share my list of items here. Depending on the story, you might need more or less than these.
1. Setting: If set in an actual place and definite time, note that; if not, describe the invented setting. Also include the season and year, if relevant.
2. Heroine: List her age, detailed physical description (hair color, length and texture, height and build, typical attire), a line or two of background. Beneath, list her family members and the relation of each to her. Sometimes, I have a definite actress in mind and simply jot her name.
3. Hero: Same as above.
4. Minor characters: Same as above, but group by setting and relevance (if s/he only appears in a certain place, note that beside his/her name) and list in order of importance. Best friends of a hero/ine rank higher than someone who appears only a few times.
5. Special objects: Any item, including animals, mentioned repeatedly or which play a special role in your story.
6. Other: To repeat what I said above, for some stories, much more detailed information is needed to guide you. For instance, the historical romance I’m *almost* finished writing required a great deal of research, and I had to organize it somehow. I have a map of the city and listed key streets, and what businesses or residences were located on each. A hurricane had wiped out part of the city several years earlier, so I noted that. Newspapers figured into the story, so I listed the newspapers available at that time. Any specific information I used about the setting, I made note of so I could refer back to it.
7. Blurb: The text describing the story at a high level, not detailed description. (Think of the blurbs that appear on book jackets.) Blurbs can be more difficult to write than the dreaded synopsis, but best to do it now while the story’s vivid in your head. Usually limited to about 200 words or less.
8. Excerpt: Select a few paragraphs, usually 200-350 words, that exemplify the theme, if possible, or at least provide a glimpse into a telling scene.
9. Cover art ideas: Think positive. Your story’s about to be published. What do you want the cover to portray?
A Spec Sheet might sound like a simple idea, but believe me, it comes in handy when you need it. The Spec Sheet is different than the Background document, into which I cut and paste articles and information found during research. Keeping a separate folder on your PC with all relevant information in each folder per story is a huge timesaver.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Eternal Press to release my novella!

Good news arrived in my email this morning! Eternal Press sent a contract for Soul 4 Sale, my urban fantasy adventure novella with romantic elements. (Pardon me while I do a happy dance – again.) Let the edits commence!

Here’s the unofficial blurb and excerpt:

Blurb: When Madelyn sells her soul on UBuy, she’s not ready for the hell that’s unleashed. All she really wants is to make a success of her art. But the gorgeous stranger who buys her soul for $666 asks her to perform a few tasks. Tests of her true worth, Madelyn thinks, as each brings her – and her cat Brutus – into greater danger. And closer to the frightening shadowy figure stalking her. On All Hallows Eve, her final test will open the gates of hell. Or is it heaven?

Excerpt: At the coffee shop, Madelyn waits at a table by the window and scans the Evening Gazette. The news is always the same. Until she reaches page six, where a blurb describes a disturbance the night before in her neighborhood. Telephone reception was lost. Television signals were scrambled. Residents reported strange noises, though no one saw anything out of the ordinary.
No one but Madelyn.
The guy in all black comes through the door. Her breath is caught in her chest. As he holds her gaze, his dark eyes sparkle like black diamonds. Her heart pounds as he walks to her table and sits down across from her.
“It’s you.” But she’d known it would be.
His expression is warm and inviting as he looks her over. “I wanted to be sure that, with such a low starting bid, your soul isn’t tarnished.” He speaks to her as if she’s an old friend.
“I feel like it is.” She proceeds to spill her guts to him. Even as she thinks she should be embarrassed to be doing so, it makes her feel lighter, like unburdening herself opens up space inside her, previously made heavy with bad thoughts, unfulfilled hopes, despair and gloom. Now it’s kind of airy, little particles sparking in the light as they float by.
His gaze penetrates her to the core. “So you think fifty dollars is all it’s worth? Your soul – the essence of your being?”
She couldn’t feel more exposed if an x-ray of her insides were hanging in the window beside them. “It started out as a joke. I thought people would read it and laugh. I wasn’t expecting anyone to place a bid. I wasn’t expecting…” she gulps, “…you.” Her intellect recognizes the idiocy of her situation. And stupidity. What a mess she’s made.
He leans in, his voice low, his smile like a crocodile about to snap her up. His breath is like a heat wave across her face and neck. “Didn’t your mother warn you not to wish your life away?” It seems less a question than a reminder.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Value of author web sites

The New York Times had a great article today about the value of author web sites. Still an unquantifiable factor in consumer book purchases, but the general consensus is that really well-constructed sites boost sales.
I take issue with the writer's belittling of some book trailers. Not all authors have the resources backing authors such as Dan Brown or other bestsellers, and must themselves collect the photos, the music and whatever else to put together a promotional trailer. I've done a few and found it lots of fun, though I doubt mine will win any awards. Perhaps when I'm a bestseller, too, I can afford to hire a top-notch firm to produce my book trailers. Until then, us little guys have to schlep our own trailers together.
Thomas Nelson Publishers President/Ceo Michael Hyatt’s blog post illustrates why flashy sites with little actual content don’t necessarily translate to sales. In response to a commenter’s question as to why an online presence is needed at all, Hyatt expanded his post.
To sum it up, it all comes down to marketing. His followup post provides helpful tips for building an author brand online.
Tiffany Coulter counseled writers to first look into establishing a web presence. Then look ahead into what multiple sites you might need in the future.
Harper Studio weighs in, and includes a list of five authors whose web sites get it right.
Linda Formichelli’s Anatomy of a Writer’s Web Site provides many good resources for those ready to make their own site, as well as list of suggested standard content.
My guess is that the true value of a web site remains unquantifiable because it’s a small part of the whole; marketing-savvy authors won’t rely on any one factor such as a web site, but will look for any and all available means to get the word out. Even after the author’s reached the highest pinnacle. For instance, NPR published audio excerpts of Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. Her name alone sells books because she has an established brand, beyond her web site.
Still, a good web site can't hurt. Maybe one day I'll make one, too.
For your viewing pleasure or jeering, here is my first attempt at a trailer, made for Cinderella Dreams (are tough to shake), my free read with The Wild Rose Press.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ponderously pondering

To continue the discussion in the previous post, still pondering the whole blogging a novel concept. Layered upon that, also pondering whether the lack of a response means the general consensus is that no one cares? No one would bother reading? You might read it if it were catchy and well written?
Would it be so different than say, chapters published serially in a magazine or newspaper? When the New York Times published Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road serially, I was one of the first to print out each new chapter. (I’m almost certain, though, Michael Chabon had already signed a publishing contract. AFTER he’d won the Pulitzer. He’s probably not a good example.)
The biggest drawback, to me, is the lack of an editor. An objective third person who can point out flaws. I’m usually my worst critic, but I also usually have another set of eyes (three sets, actually) read my work before I go back over it about five times to polish it, THEN send it out. And then an editor will always have suggestions on how to improve it, or point out consistency issues or logistical problems. Writing on the fly is fun, and riffing off someone else’s work can lead in unexpected directions. Dave Barry and others have found success in such a method. (Just thinkin’ on paper here, bear with me.)
Seeing the success of other authors with cell phone novels and Twitter stories, I’m backing off my previous assertion that blogs are not the new books. A good story is a good story no matter where it appears. And it would appear on a separate site, dedicated to the story.
So. Still pondering… If you’re inclined, please leave me a comment, share your thoughts. I know you have them!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Blogging a novel?

The New Yorker today posted an article, “I Heart Novels” that completely surprised me. I’d never heard of cell phone novels, but apparently in Japan, the genre has existed for awhile. Long enough for four cell phone novels to be listed as top literary bestsellers. In 2007, nonetheless, so I guess I’m way behind the curve.
In a previous post, I doubted whether blogs could be called books. Now I’m wondering, and would like to know your thoughts on the subject. Specifically, would you be interested in reading a story posted in a series of blogs? (I don’t have enough cell phone minutes to accommodate my inept texting skills.) Seriously – please leave a comment. Your response will help me determine whether to accept a friend’s proposal to blog a novel. If you’re open to the idea, would you prefer one genre over another? Any other suggestions?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Release date for Going with Gravity!

My editor Cindy Davis emailed to say The Wild Rose Press will release Going with Gravity on July 15. Woooo hoooo! I'm excited. This is my first release in Wild Rose's Champagne, or contemporary line.
Here's the blurb and excerpt again:

Publicist Allison Morris plans her own life – what’s left of it – around the life of her boss Michelle McCarter, the ex-wife of a famous rock star. When Michelle needs emergency public relations patchwork in Hawaii pronto, Allison arranges a flight to the dream destination. At the airport, she meets Wes Hamilton, a six-foot-three sun-bleached blond whose blue eyes and dazzling smile rekindle her fizzled-out sizzle. A world-renowned surfer, Wes captivates her with his charm and wit, though his easy fame and on-the-edge lifestyle are the polar opposite of her own. When their jet loses its fuselage in mid-air, she takes advantage of what she thinks are her last minutes alive with Wes. The plane lands safely. Wes takes care of her when her carefully constructed life begins to unravel. When Michelle accuses Allison of using Wes to gain fame for herself, Allison’s world falls apart in an explosive confrontation. Wes is waiting with open arms when she has nowhere else to go, but can Allison learn to stop planning and go with gravity?

Allison pulled her portfolio from her laptop case and set it on her lap, afraid to open it. As soon as the articles had arrived on her fax machine, she’d shoved them into her bag, then hopped in the shower. Delay tactics only worked for so long. The moment of truth had arrived. She opened it and thumbed through. Eleven pages. Eleven. And these were only the newspaper articles from the past two days. TV and online news sites surely covered more. And then there’d be the inevitable blogger. Uncontrollable, overly opinionated and accountable to no one, they were the worst.
Michelle had arrived on Oahu with a bang, and then had the audacity to blame Allison for not doing her job to quell the media. She held up one photo of a topless Michelle prancing in the surf, laughing. Rumors and innuendo could be stopped with logic and tact, but to downplay this photo, she’d need a good explanation. When Michelle’s logic and tact failed her so obviously, Allison had to wonder about her mental state.
A hulking figure filled the aisle, stowing his bag in the overhead compartment.
Those shorts. That shirt.
It was him.
He checked his ticket, looked at her and smiled. His blond hair fell across his forehead as he sat next to her, his shoulder bumping hers. “Hello again.”
For two years, she’d rubbed elbows with stars of all magnitudes without so much as a blink, and fended off paparazzi following the wife of megastar James McCarter.
With two words, she’d been reduced to the rank of dreamy-eyed teeny bopper.
He smiled, raised an eyebrow.
She realized, then, she hadn’t responded. And her mouth hung open.
Make that drooling dreamy-eyed teeny bopper.
She flashed a smile. Think. Damage control is your business. Put it to good use for once.
“Hi.” Oh, yes. Very witty. What a deft deflection of his charm.
She turned back to her articles, but sensed the weight of his stare.
He frowned at her reading material. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to read over your shoulder. I take it you’re a closet fan of the poor little rich girl?”
“In the same way I’m a closet fan of train wrecks, I suppose. I guess you’re not a fan.”
“Of hers?” He chuckled. “God, no. She’s awful. Her publicist should be shot.”
Shot. Of course. Working fifty-five to sixty-five hours a week wasn’t enough to keep the spin spinning fast enough for the rest of the world. The one guy who’d interested her in the past two and a half years thought she made a good candidate for execution. Her life was in such a rut, she’d need mountain climbing gear to get out.
“If you’re a fan, I didn’t mean to offend.” Sincerity had wiped the smile from his face.
“Actually, I’m..” She turned and smiled, “…her publicist.”

Maya Angelou advises: "The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart." A good goal for any writer.

Friday, January 16, 2009

And.... action!

Not all of us are lucky enough to be zapped with story lightning, that rare flash that occurs when we least expect it (and is probably least convenient, like when we’re sleeping or in the shower). Oh, I’ve been struck with it (both in the middle of the night and while in the shower). In extremely rare cases, the story flowed from head to paper almost fully formed. What a buzz!
Extremely rare being the operative words. In most cases, writers must decide where to begin. Lately I’ve become more conscious of other writers’ opening lines. Not all of us can make the impact of “Call me Ishmael” in our first sentence. Aim for an opener that will illustrate the theme of your story or establishes the character of your protagonist. If you can incorporate an open question to hook your reader, or a hint of the conflict, all the better.
Brandi Reissenweber warns in The Art of the Start not to overdo it. Don’t bedazzle your reader with an over-the-top first line if the rest of your story doesn’t follow with greater intensity or emotion or action, lest you disappoint him or her.
Be sure to sprinkle in setting details to ground your reader in the scene. No one likes to begin a story feeling lost in empty space, with two disembodied talking heads providing dialogue. Give them a visual. Be the director of your story – once you yourself have a vivid enough image to command: Action!
Susan Breen advises writers to rewrite The Opening Paragraph several times before deciding which works best. Not only for your readers – for yourself as well. If the first few lines don’t excite you enough to keep writing, they certainly won’t inspire anyone to keep reading. As much as a story is about the interplay between author and reader, it’s equally about the excitement that comes after writing something really great. You must feed your addiction to that high before you can give your reader a buzz, too.

Monday, January 12, 2009

To swear or not to swear…

...that is today’s question. Or rather, should your characters? Before you answer, consider a few things.
First, does profanity add anything to the story? More pointedly, if your character didn’t drop the F bomb or similar expletives, at least once in awhile, would it detract from his/her true voice? Ginny Wiehardt cautions in Top 10 Tips for Writing Dialogue not to overuse slang or profanity (see #8). I tend to differ (though not always) about profanity. I agree that sometimes a character can be just as menacing or evil without it. On the other hand, it certainly can convey an important aspect of the character’s nature. For instance: if expletives fall from his/her tongue at every juncture, wouldn’t that imply s/he grew up in an environment where such language was commonplace? Alternately, if s/he avoids profanity, wouldn’t it imply a higher social standing, and if s/he were the villain in the piece, an ultimate fall from grace?
The second consideration should be your target audience. YA fiction has come a long way since my days as a young adult, and apparently some profanity is allowed, if deemed important. Helium has nine posts for your perusal. Obviously, many more despicable character traits could shock a YA reader worse than profanity, though I’m of the mind that the use of “colorful language” should be justifiable.
As so wisely stated by WiseGeek, language is a tool with which people express feelings. As a writer, you must judge whether profanity is the best tool to convey your character’s emotions.
Writing and reading it are two separate things. Sometimes reading it can feel like a smack. If it’s your intention to smack your readers’ psyches, then it’s probably a useful tool. Or if your intention is to convey a realistic situation in which two characters let their emotions carry them away in the heat of the moment, it’s also a useful tool. Recently, while editing Going with Gravity (to be released sometime this year from The Wild Rose Press), I smacked my own psyche when I read what I’d written: my H/H both dropped the F-bomb. I paused to consider whether I should replace it, or take it out entirely. One of the instances was a kind of play on words, the other was during an argument. I left them in. To me, real people are flawed, and I like them that way. Perfect is boring. But that’s for another post.
Despite my decision, I still am on the fence about the issue. As someone once pointed out, the Artist-formerly-known-as-Prince never used one word of profanity in his songs, yet some are downright dirty (case in point: Little Red Corvette is NOT about a car).
What do you think? Is it better to be clever and write around profanity? Have your characters only curse in a foreign language (as my sisters and I loved to do when we learned French in high school)? Or do you agree it depends entirely on the story and its audience?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hangin' with Antonio Banderas

Visit Miss Make A Movie to learn about the film Antonio Banderas gave its American debut in Carlisle, PA.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Transmogrification of stories

In a kind of literary Darwinism, stories are evolving as publishing continues to evolve, further driven by emerging technological advances.
GalleyCat advised that ebook retailer Fictionwise partnered with Lexcycle to bring ebooks to iPhone, a “game-changing” move, according to Lexcycle.
It followed up with a post-Christmas post that iPhones will be a huge player in the digital book market, especially as more developers such as Scrollmotion enter the game.
iPhone apps are definitely suited for books such as Vestal Review’s planned anthology, "Short on Sugar, High on Honey. Bittersweet Love Stories." As described in their call for submissions, “All stories are between seven words (lucky number) and thirteen (bad luck).” Also according to Vestal, the idea for the anthology came on the heels of the “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs" anthology, which Amazon rank 532 as of 4/1/08.
Great stuff to fill down time during commutes, or standing in line at the store.
GalleyCat also noted authors on Twitter broke ground in 2006 with six-word stories, followed up by Wired Magazine’s six-word scifi contest. Eileen Gunn’s made me smile, as did Alan Moore’s and Charles Stross. And Margaret Atwood’s made me laugh, but she is a master of words – and having read most of her other work, filling in the blanks is devious fun. Okay, they were all great, but can blurbs truly be called stories? Flash fiction condensed to its essence, and the reader’s imagination must fill in the blanks. But can that kind of writing stay with you like a good story?
The shorter the story, the bigger the challenge. Flash fiction is extremely difficult to do well, for me, at least. Trimming a story to its minimal core can reveal its truth if the cuts are executed with the precision of a surgeon’s knife. If hacked away with less care, a bloody mess may result. But that’s true for stories of any length. No matter what the technological innovation, stories will never be extinct.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The publishing evolution continues

I have to admit: when I first signed a contract with the Wild Rose Press and it required me to begin a blog to promote my stories, I wasn’t much in favor of the idea. Having worked in the news industry and in government, bloggers annoyed me. Some bloggers tried to pass themselves off as reporters – though they had no journalism training whatsoever. I’d seen some blogs that were complete ramblings, no better than mental excrement. Then I did a little research, and found some very instructive blogs. Some were very artistic. Some were both. It gave me a new perspective, and changed my mind.
But my mind hasn’t been changed enough to agree that blogs are the new books (based on Why buy the cow? 27 popular websites that became books). My opinion: No, blogs are not the new books and will never take the place of books. There is a reason for editors. Hence, the coffee-table book versions of the blogs - which I’m guessing are greatly enhanced versions of the blogs. Critiqued and edited, and evolved from the stream-of-consciousness post.
In his article, Does Free Pay? , Chris Anderson predicts the principle of freeconomics will rule, and that people should give away their books. But I noticed Amazon lists the pre-order price of his book on this principle at $17.81. Hmm. Anderson says he’ll make his book available by any means possible but doesn’t specify it will be available gratis, so technically, I guess it’s not false advertising.
Bob Sacks writes It’s a Digital World Now. I partly agree, but e-publishing’s just gotten started. As Sony’s eReader and Amazon’s Kindle become more widespread, e-publishing will one day rival print, but I doubt it will overtake it. I’m all in favor of e-publishing. I love the versatility of the submission guidelines – with no layout restrictions, the word count can range from 7,500 on up at The Wild Rose Press, and above 65,000, novels are in print, too. Other e-pubs accept shorter pieces, such as Shadowfire Press, which will publish my Halloween short in October 2009.
E-publishing’s drawbacks are few, which is not to say insubstantial. For instance, e-pubbed romance authors are barred from certain awards. Which makes absolutely zero sense, as it’s not about the format of the story, but the writing. Second, I admit I long to hold a print copy of my story in my hand. Pass it around to others. Hard copies prevent piracy, though hard copies can be resold, too, sometimes for as little as a few pennies. (I’ve bought used books at that price, I admit.)
And if, as one author posits, reviewers such as the NY Times are biased against mass market books, will they even deem e-pubs worth a look? Doubtful. Yet, even as the Grey Lady herself had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the digital realm and now has an amazing array of interactive online features, I believe the NY Times reviewers will eventually see the e-publishing light. If e-pubbed authors are ineligible for traditional print awards, new awards will become available, and already have: The EPPYs, the Coveys (for book covers) , and I’m sure there are others.
E-publishing will evolve, but don’t sound the death knell for print just yet.