Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Year’s wishes

Three days and counting. On New Year’s Eve, I intend to have a huge bonfire and ceremoniously burn each page of the 2008 calendar, sending the ashes to the high heavens and beyond, where it can never be seen or heard from again.
For a visual, imagine the giant foot coming from the sky in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus opening. But picture my family beneath the foot. That was our year. Suffice it to say I’m ready for a new year.
But really, other than changing calendars and filing a new tax form, what’s so great about a new year? What is it, really, that excites people? Granted, it’s human nature to be drawn to anything new and shiny. And there’s always the traditional resolutions, those things that we meant to do last year but somehow weren’t disciplined enough to do, or didn’t have time for. But ah, here comes a new year! A clean slate. New possibilities. An opportunity to take stock of what’s most important to you, and refocus your goals.
I like the Stoic-Based Suggestions for a New Year’s Resolution. They’re vague enough to be doable, and high-minded enough to be respectable.
My personal list is simple: not to lose my soul. I had, during the two years prior to this year. I worked at a great job with amazing people, but it left no time or energy for writing. I wrote nothing for myself. Zero novels. Nada stories. I felt soulless and empty, as if my very purpose for being had been stripped away. I felt abandoned by my muse. I didn’t even have any new ideas for stories, which was very unusual – normally I have notebooks full of story blurbs and snapshots and one-liners that I distinctly hear in my head. When my family’s luck plunged early this year, I turned back to writing like it was the only thing that could save my life. I wrote every day, all day, as if it were my job. Certainly it saved my sanity. I’m never going to sacrifice my muse again.
But I don’t want to write only for myself. Sure, I love to play with words, string them together so perfectly they sparkle more brightly than a diamond necklace. But I need to know my writing means something to other people, too. That it touches them in a profound way, maybe makes them think about something they might not have, or at least makes them realize that someone else feels the same way s/he has.
I would add to my personal list: A good year for my family, and to have three novels published. Or four, if I finally finish revisions on the last one. Because I need to be able to provide for my family, too, after all.
As T.S. Eliot said, “For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
Whatever your wishes for the coming year, I wish you all that your heart desires. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas to All

Peace, joy and a cool Yule.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New short story now at Cezanne’s Carrot

Yay! My short story, Crystallized, is now online at Cezanne’s Carrot. This story is one of my favorites, not only because it pokes fun at those horrendous blow-up decoration thingies (with a really sharp stick!) but because it follows the protagonist's journey of finding herself. Yes, she has to completely transform herself in order to do so, but once done, she finds peace and acceptance, not only within herself, but in her new world.
I hope you enjoy Crystallized. Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I Won an ARC of At Grave's End!

Woo hoo! I won an Advanced Reader Copy of Jeaniene Frost's At Grave's End from Bitten by Books! I can't wait to read it - I love urban fantasy. This is book 3 in the Night Huntress series, preceded by Halfway to the Grave and One Foot in the Grave.
Bitten by Books ran a 15 Naughty Nights of Christmas contest with great giveaways. You can still enter through Monday, Dec. 22 for a chance to win, too. If you missed this contest, don't fret - more great contests will follow. BBB is one of my favorite blogs. You can also sign up at the Blood Bank.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Link I Hope You Will Share

Bitten by Books posted a great article by Charlotte Boyette-Compo on e-piracy - it's one link I hope you'll pass on to others.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Now that NaNoWriMo’s over...

November was an intense month. Not only did I participate in NaNoWriMo, I managed to achieve the goal and complete revisions on two other stories, too. Now it’s midway into December, and what have I accomplished? Well, I did go back to a novel I’d completed in September, and reread it with fresh eyes and made some revisions, although I’m still not completely satisfied with it. And I’m going to revisit the 50k+ I wrote for the NaNoWriMo story, because it needs it. Badly.
But these past few weeks feel wasted, especially after having proved to myself that I could achieve a good head start on a novel. Organization was never my strong suit, but now it’s painfully obvious that if I can become more disciplined, the discipline will translate into productivity. Participating in NaNoWriMo was a good experience, but the fact is, any month can be as productive. Perhaps moreso, because November, frankly, has Thanksgiving and too many other distractions. I suppose one can make excuses for any month.
So the subhead of this post is: No more excuses. Stop the mental whining and just do it. Slam those words onto the page. Rework them later.
First, though, set some ground rules.
1. Do some prep work. Think about the story you want to write. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, have at least a basic idea of the entire story. If possible, write an outline (you don’t necessarily have to stick to it – stories will veer off into interesting tangents, if you’re lucky).
2. Set a goal. If you want to complete a novel in one month, set the deadline. Mark it on your calendar. Stick to it.
3. Get organized. Complete as much research as possible before you begin writing. If you find you need to revisit a certain section, insert a marker in that section of text so you can easily find it later. For my NaNoWriMo story, I used brackets and placed questions inside. And yes, I counted that toward my word count, since later, the count will only go up from there after I write the real text.
4. Get to know your characters – and not just their physical attributes, but their personalities. What do they want? What motivates them? What are their obstacles? Assemble your cast of characters as completely as you can.
5. Set your own personal goal. November may have come and gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go for 50k on your own schedule. Make your goal realistic. If 75k is doable, go for it. Just slam those words on the page, and edit later.
6. Once you reached your goal, set the manuscript aside for a few weeks. Work on something else. Then, like me, you can go back to your story with a fresh perspective. A little distance is a good thing. While writing, authors can get a little too immersed in their stories, or their characters, and not see flaws or gaps that might be obvious to a first-time reader.
7. When you get a good first draft, hand it off to a critique partner. I have three critique partners, and each one finds something different within my stories, just as each reader will bring his/her own frame of reference to each story.
Because really, I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo for the little blog sticker (though it does make me proud to be able to post it, I admit). My real goal was to finally commit to a story that I’d had in mind for five years – yes, five long years. Why did it take me so long to get it on paper, finally? I wasn’t organized.
I’m spending the rest of December revising my NaNoWriMo story. Hopefully I can complete that by the new year, and then – come January, I begin a new novel. A new adventure. A new journey. As Rudyard Kipling said, Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
I intend to be plenty high next year.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Books are great gifts - buy some this Christmas!

In the wake of the publishing industry’s Black Wednesday, execs at Thomas Nelson and literary agent Janet Reid are among those keeping their candles of hope lit for better days.
Mine is lit, too. I’m counting on the industry not tanking, just when I have a great urban fantasy that could be a bestseller, if such a thing exists any more. But how to prove it won’t be one of the dreaded middle marked for early death? Publishing is such a subjective business as it is, based on the yay or nay of a mere few. Even they could not have predicted the success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, I bet.
According to Richard Curtis, trade book publishing has been hurting for more than ten years, and returnables are to blame. As an author who has basically worked for nothing this past year, I can’t condone holding back advances to an author, who depends on an income to survive. I have no experience in this arena – yet – so have no first-hand frame of reference in the print world. I wish I had a helpful suggestion to keep the industry afloat, believe me. I’ve had contracts for epubs, but again, none have yet seen release, so I’m woefully inexperienced in all arenas. According to TeleRead, ebooks have seen gains where print pubs have seen declines. Writer’s Digest’s article E-books: Take 2 concurs. Good news for authors, though I still want to know the feel of my own printed book in my hands. Not to mention the fact that e-piracy is a huge issue that begs to be resolved (by me and most e-pubbed authors).
My experience with The Wild Rose Press is similar to that of Candace Morehouse, who lists The Top 10 Benefits of E-Publishing. The editors have been tough yet caring, the cover artists outstanding, and the standards of quality are high – maybe tougher than print. Wild Rose authors are award winning, and five are currently EPPIE finalists.
No matter what the format, books will endure. To help the effort, Jon Stewart is promoting the Association of American Publishers’ campaign, Books Are Great Gifts.
I couldn’t agree more. Why not fill those stockings with books this year? While you're at it, buy a few for yourself. You know you want to.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What's on your wish list this year?

Visit Miss Make A Movie for my somewhat fantastical second childhood wish list.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wrapping Up POV

So you have a story idea, and have a basic idea of how it should progress. Great. But whose story is it, really? Which point of view (POV) will best bring the reader into the scope of conflict? While first person brings readers into parallel view with the protagonist, the same can be accomplished, as Steve Almond writes in Fiction: Point of View, using the perspective of close third. Almond posits that POV is not nearly as important as the “emotional posture the author has taken toward his characters.”
Ginny Wiehardt suggests in How to Choose a Point of View that falling into the habit of using first person POV may skew your own perspective on the story. Writing as the protagonist may limit your ability to tell the story dispassionately, she states.
She also brings up an interesting POV – the unreliable narrator. If done well, the reader will be enriched by the POV of a character unwilling to admit the truth to him/herself, and by the experience of reaching that realization. If done poorly, however, the reader will feel cheated.
If you’re uncertain which POV to use, Ms. Wiehardt provides a writing exercise for third person.
As Randy Ingermanson says in his Advanced Fiction Writing eZine, POV creates an emotive context for your reader.
Margaret Atwood says: “A word after a word/after a word is power.” Randy takes this a step further by saying, “If you can write a great scene, over and over again, then you can write a pretty good novel.” Writing from the viewpoint of the character with whom the reader will best identify is the first step in the process.
As I said before, POV is a very complex issue, but I caution against overanalyzing it. I have always been a great believer in the “go with your gut” approach. You, as the writer, have the best insight into your story. You know what you want your story to say to the reader, what you want your reader to come away with after having read your story. Write that story, as you want to tell it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Keep It Clean (Your POV, That Is)

After you finish the first draft and begin revising to clean up your adjectives, be sure to clean up your POV, too. Too often, writers muddy up the POV waters by adding layers of perspective. Kristen Johnson Ingram explains in The Intruder.
This article was especially helpful within my critique group, and now we all use it as shorthand to point out the extra layer that the author should shave away. “Intruder!” we scribble next to the offensive words. An “intruder” positions the reader behind the protagonist, rather than in the protag’s head. Not so confusing when you analyze it, and Ms. Ingram provides helpful examples. Phrases such as “she could see” or “he noticed” and even “I remember” add that additional layer that keeps your readers an additional layer from the point of view. Instead, describe the scene from the protagonist’s perspective, rather than having the reader watch the protagonist from a distance.
Revision's all about cutting to the bone of your story, making every word count so your story keeps moving forward. Keeping your POV clean helps.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Short Story's Online!

The Battered Suitcase published my short, All is Calm, All is Bright today!
I actually wrote this years ago, and submitted it to the Pennwriters 2005 annual contest. It was awarded second place.
T.C. Boyle, one of my favorite authors, said: Each of us must create art in order to address the central questions of human existence—for our own sanity, and, we hope, for the sanity of our readers.
'Nuff said.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blahhhhg Rating

Ha! My blog was rated "Junior High School."
At least I've gotten past the "dumb-it-down" stage of sixth grade, I guess.
So what's yours rated?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NaNoWriMo Goal Achieved!

Whew! Yesterday, I was sidetracked from writing by the usual real-life interruptions – grocery shopping and other Thanksgiving Day preparations – so got back to my computer pretty late. I was so close to 50k, I could taste it as vividly as I knew the tang of the cranberry sauce would be. So when I finally got back to writing, I couldn’t stop until I’d surpassed the NaNoWriMo goal.
But reaching the NaNoWriMo goal is one small part of the entire project. Much writing, research and ever-important revision awaits me before I can truly feel I’ve finished (if I ever can reach that point – whenever I re-read a story, I always find something to change).
When I finish the first draft and turn to revision, POV will be an ever-present consideration. As I mentioned, this is the first time I’ve used head-hopping in the style of the romance genre, so it must be done in a concise manner. Speaking from only one character’s perspective might seem an easy thing to accomplish, but in fact, in any given novel in which there’s a hero and a heroine, not two perspective exist, but three. The third is the author herself. If you’ve ever been reading a novel and been totally engrossed in the story until you came across a statement that seemed to come from neither the hero or heroine, or anyone else in the story, well, that’s a case of authorial intrusion. The writer inserted herself into the story as narrator, and unless it’s done exceptionally well, it’s often not a welcome experience for the reader.
The Short Story Writing site provides examples of authorial intrusion. More succinctly, Rob Parnell describe authorial intrusion as the writer including a personal opinion about a character, situation or scene, or anything else your characters themselves could not be aware of.
Some authors intentionally incorporate authorial intrusion. The Great Gatsy is an example.
Anne M. Marble’s Headhopping, Authorial Intrusion, and Shocked Expressions explains very clearly the POV problems that trip up many a writer. Under the Shocked Expressions subhead, it’s important to note that no character can describe the expression on his or her own face (and conveniently placing the character in front of a mirror is not cool).
Although I’ll be busy revising for quite awhile, it feels great to have achieved the goal.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Cover Art for Going with Gravity

Wow - Nicola Martinez is an amazing cover artist! She sent me the cover art today for Going with Gravity, my "Miniature Rose" for the Champagne (contemporary) line of The Wild Rose Press.
Isn't it cool?

Here again is the story blurb:
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?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Finding the Right Mix of POV and Tense

As Dominic Preziosi points out in Point of View and Tense: The Right Combination, the success of your story could depend on which perspective you tell it and whether told in present or past tense. As Mr. Preziosi indicates, your story will dictate which combo works best. Take your story on a test run and experiment with various types to know which will give your story the best feel.
Recently, I submitted a story to a publisher and received a rejection (though frankly, I think they only read the synopsis, not the story, but that’s a moot argument at this point. I’ve moved on. Really.) Part of the rejection said: “note that stories written in third person present tense tend to distance the reader from the action and we never accept them.”
Hmm. This made me pause.
Reading is a completely subjective experience, different for every reader. In fact, I disagree. I like the immediacy of present tense, and, like Alexander Steele, think the use of first person is a bit overdone.
First person seems more of a risk – what if your reader doesn’t readily identify with the protagonist, who is speaking as “I”?
And frankly, following a story in the past sense makes less sense than present tense. Consider it for a moment – you’re supposed to be engaged in the action with the hero/ine, yet it’s already happened. Readers are conditioned to expect, in general, third person past tense, or first person present.
But I’m curious what you think – does reading a story in third person present tense bother you? For example, my story to be released by the Wild Rose Press in March 2009 uses just that combo. Because it's set in the 1960s, I wanted to give it a more immediate feel by using present tense. Following is an excerpt from Seventh Heaven:
James stands in the open doorway. The choker gleams from his neck. “I came by to say thanks.”
“I didn’t know it was you.”
He closes the door. “So. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. It looks good. It’s an…”
“An ankh. I know.”
“The Egyptian symbol of eternity.” She doesn’t know what to do with her hands, and her breath is jagged. “Sorry. I mean, Ben told us. It really stinks.”
He runs a finger across a glazed jug. “Bad timing.”
She clasps her hands in front of her. “I guess it’s never a good time…”
He glances up, stifles a smile. “I mean, I wish we had more time.”
The air thins, seems rarified. “Me, too.”
He takes a step closer.
She folds her arms. “I hope you’ll write me, if you get a chance.”
The floor needs sweeping. And needs to be smaller. Or his steps need to be more expansive. “Sure, I’ll keep you up on the local gossip. Send you goodie packages.”
His eyes lock on hers. “That’d be nice.”
“We’re going to miss you around here.”
“You will?”
With his last step, he is so close, her skin tingles with his heat. “No one can make a margarita like you.”
He fingers her hair, tucks a strand behind her shoulder. “Come back tonight, I’ll make you all the margaritas you can drink.”
In her head she is already there, sipping at a wide-rimmed glass, serenaded by Dylan in the background, James waiting and watching, attending to her alone. “That sounds nice.”
“See you about seven, then?”
“Seven it is.” Seven, her lucky number.

So now I’m curious. Does it work for you? If not, why not? Should I have told the story from the first person perspective?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

NaNoWriMo, Day 22, Beginning of Week 4

At 40,438 words, I am struggling toward 50k. To put me to shame for my hand-wringing and whining, I found this feature article on the NaNoWriMo site. And I thought 50,000 was tough. This lady not only aimed to complete three 50k novels, but exceeded the goal at 183k. Not only that, but she is one of the successful participants whose 2006 novel will be published this year. Congrats, Anna! And all hail, NaNoWriMo goddess!
So – one week left. I’m actually kind of proud I managed to get even that many words done this week. Suffice it to say it was a week of strange and somewhat frightening occurrences. Blogging took a back seat to keeping the wood stove going during the daylong power outage (with the power line laying across my driveway), and writing when the power came back on. In addition to filling out contracts for the two stories accepted this week, I was also asked to complete revisions on another story for The Wild Rose Press before they would consider it.
Such is the writing life. I love it!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Head Hopping Pros and Cons

A topic I wanted to tackle this week was point of view, known in the writing culture as POV. I was never a great fan of head-hopping. I much prefer deep POV, although I've heard others express intense dislike for it. To me, it allows you to be completely immersed in what the protagonist experiences - an intense way of engaging a reader.
In certain instances, I like climbing inside various characters’ heads if the author doesn’t yank me there without warning. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is a great example of POV switches executed in a clearcut manner.
My NaNoWriMo story is an historical romance set in Key West, an island with a truly fascinating history (more on that later). Head-hopping is very much a staple of the romance genre. While it’s not my first attempt at writing from various characters’ views, this story marks my first attempt in the romance style of POV switching. I’m very aware of how jarring it can be to be jerked unexpectedly from one character’s thoughts to another, so am very careful to keep the various sections to one POV only.
The upside of head-hopping is, obviously, a reader can then better empathize with both the male and female protagonist. Seeing both sides of the conflict is a way for the reader to see the proverbial train crash before it happens, and hopefully make it a better reading experience.
Point of view is a complex issue, so I’ll continue with more on the subject in the coming weeks. For anyone unfamiliar with its complexity, check out New York University’s overview of the various POV choices.
Oh, and some good news also arrived this week: The Battered Suitcase will publish my short story, All is Calm, All is Bright, next month.
The Wild Rose Press also accepted Going with Gravity in their Champagne (contemporary) line. Look for it in mid to late 2009. The unofficial story blurb and excerpt are below.

Going with Gravity
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.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I Heart Your Blog Award

Yesterday, I received notice that MissMakeAMovie nominated me for the I heart your blog award. Thanks, MissMakeAMovie! And the feeling’s mutual, and not just because I blog there, too. Its writers are thought-provoking and fun, and provide insight to cultures across the globe. If you haven’t yet visited, you shouldn’t miss another day!
When MissMakeAMovie was nominated, it asked for nominations, so I threw my blog site into the ring for consideration. Because my blog has received this honor, I must now, according to the rules, spread the love by:
1) Adding the award logo to my blog
2) Linking back to the blog who awarded it
3) Nominating at least 7 other blogs
4) Adding links to those blogs on your blog
5) Leaving a message for your nominees on their blogs
Selecting only seven proved very difficult, so I’ve nominated nine. The following are in alphabetical order, because it’s too difficult to rank by preference.
Bitten by Books – Reviews and interviews with authors of all types of paranormal fiction, urban fantasy and horror. Plenty of giveaway goodies!
Babes in Bookland – Seven authors sharing their inspirations and insights on the writing life.
Bookbabie - A soulful blog with inspiring art and prose.
Cactus Rose Blog - Authors of the Cactus Rose Line of the Wild Rose Press. Fun and informative – who knew cowboys never cursed?
Diary of an Adult Runaway - “Take Life with a grain of salt, a slice of lime, and a shot of tequila!” My kind of writer!
Pink Fuzzy Slippers - A group of romance and mystery writers blogging in a woman's magazine style
Riding with the Top Down - “Cruise the cyber highway with nine chicks who rock ‘n write!”
Three Wicked Writers - “Something wicked this way comes” – wicked funny, wicked good!
Writing Career Coach - “Because even the best player needs a coach” I couldn’t agree more. Always room for improvement.
Thanks again, MissMakeAMovie! And thanks to those who’ve lent support to my blog. In the few short months I’ve been at this, it’s been an enriching experience for me, and hopefully for readers as well.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

NaNoWriMo, Day 15, Start of Week 3

Yikes, it’s already November 15. The halfway mark to NaNoWriMo’s end, as others have blogged about.
I poked around the NaNoWriMo site a bit today (yes, I goofed off instead of actually writing). I was amazed at how many students contributed to the Most embarrassing moments page. It’s exciting to see how many young writers are out there, even if they’re not concentrating on their classes, but writing in class instead.
Tonight is NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously. I can’t do write-ins. They don’t work for me, so my time would be wasted. I completely lose track of my thoughts in public, and the sight of other writers sitting all around me, their pens moving furiously across the page would completely intimidate me. I need my space.
Who has time to blog at the NaNoWriMo site? Not me. Some interesting posts here, though.
So, how am I doing, you may well ask. Not as well as I’d like. Yesterday, I wrapped up at 24,360 words, not quite halfway to the goal of 50k. I need to fast-forward my word count beyond Thanksgiving, because I know the turkey’s tryptophan will trip me up. Not to mention the cooking and cleanup.
Can I do it? Is it possible? Stay tuned, folks, and find out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades!

Visit Miss Make A Movie for my take on the 2008 General Election.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More on Marketing

In these days of smaller budgets, both corporate and household, publishers will increase pressure on authors to market their books to drive up sales. The holidays are an opportunity to do just that. As American Booksellers Association says, books make great affordable gifts. With increased potential for sales comes increased competition, making marketing even trickier.
Brenda Lyons provides some great ideas for creating a “spider web effect” in capturing readers, based on an author’s comfort zone and budget. Any author can use her list of 28 methods, though some are more cost-prohibitive than others, such as purchasing ads. I don’t necessarily agree with her idea of strategically placing promo items such as pens in public places – the person who picks up the free pen may not be a reader, or if s/he is, may not like the genre.
For those authors on a zero budget, the strategies that cost only time are imperative. Build a presence on Facebook, Ning or other social networking site. Joe Pulizzi’s Using Social Media to Launch your Book suggests setting up your networks long before the book launch. Content is all-important. Involve potential readers in the process.
BookEnds LLC Literary Agency asked authors for their over-the-top marketing strategies and posted ideas on their blog. While some are predictable (i.e., MySpace pages), others are inventive, such as the author whose characters blog, or the mystery writer who holds “How to Plot a Murder” talks.
Infuse a little fun into your marketing efforts, and it won’t feel so much like drudgery. Then you can get back to what you really love – writing.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

NaNoWriMo – Day 8, Week 2

I came across another blog about NaNoWriMo the other day, seeking others’ opinions on whether it was a worthwhile endeavor or not. Some of the responses surprised me.
While some recognize it's an exercise in writing to stimulate their creative juices, others look down their noses at it. They insinuate that no one could possibly write a novel in a month, and anything written in that time must be garbage.
They obviously didn’t read the NaNoWriMo mission statement. Yes, the goal is to write nonstop, if possible, from November 1 through November 30. Yes, you will have some trashy parts you’ll need to cut. Hey, that’s what revision is all about.
Who writes a bestseller the first time through? Tom Robbins reportedly goes over and over and over and over each sentence meticulously until he’s satisfied it’s exactly the wording he wants. (Definitely not a NaNo-er.) All stories have to be edited. But, as author Jodi Picoult said, you can always edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page. As a bestselling novelist, she should know.
And in fact, some of the books begun during NaNoWriMo have gone on to be published. It isn’t the fact that I’m participating in it that makes the difference, it’s the fact that I’m sitting down every day and making an effort to write. One of my favorite quotes is from author Barbara Kingsolver, who said: "Chain that muse to the desk and get the job done!" A credo echoed by Robert Ringer: “What separates professional writers from amateurs is that they take action and start putting words on the computer regardless of whether or not they are motivated. In my experience, after I force myself to start writing, a seamless transition takes place and I become motivated."
My current word count? As of yesterday, 12,485. Getting there! A feat, considering I switched stories after three days (I found the research I thought I’d lost! Woo hoo!)
As Ray Bradbury so aptly said: "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down."
So if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, and someone pooh-poohs your efforts, tell them to take a flying leap!
Happy writing!

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Flash Piece Online Today!

A Long Story Short released my flash fiction piece today - check out "A Seasonal Affair" and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pants(er) on Fire

In November, for many writers, meticulous plotting methods go out the window. It’s pantser all the way, if you’re a NaNoWriMo participant. The idea is to sit and write, write, write. Don’t let the words flow – let them gush (my word count is now 7747). No stopping to correct misspellings or consider, hmm, was that the right word choice? If in doubt, bold or highlight a suspect word or phrase so you can find it later. In December, after you’ve surpassed the 50k goal and are ready to revise.
Last month, I did a basic outline of where I thought I wanted my story to go. Not the same as plotting, which doesn’t allow much leeway if your characters decide to shanghai your story across a wild tangent you’d never have thought of until you were in the moment. For that very reason, I’m not a big believer in plotting.
But how, exactly, is plot defined?
In the article What is Plot, Anyway?, James Scott Bell defines plot as something that will take shape within a manuscript, with or without planning. Either way, the plot must move readers through the story. Bell provides an overview of his LOCK plotting system: Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout.
Okay, but what, exactly, does plotting entail?
Linda Cowgill’s Plotting Along breaks plotting down into three basic steps: Arrangement of Events, Causality and Conflict - all of which lead to an emotional payoff for the reader.
According to Martha Alderson, Goals Define the Plot. Use both short-term and long-term goals to ground your readers along your protagonist’s journey.
Noah Lukeman, author of bestsellers such as The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens, provides a set of exercises in 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life to help you define your character, and thus determine which circumstances will provide the most impact for a reader based on that character’s weaknesses.
Once you have plotting down, David Freeman suggests Adding Emotional Depth to a Plot Via a Subplot. Using American Beauty as an example, he describes how having a subplot parallel to the main plot can add emotional depth to a story.
If you're not into charting out your plot in the Snowflake Method, (I don't have enough left brain to even comprehend it), try something more flexible: the index card system. This method at least allows you to shuffle the cards as needed when your characters take an unscheduled left turn.
If you're like me, however, and think plotting is akin to John Lennon's description of life - Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans - then start with a roughed-out story idea and just write.
If you need some guidance about pantsing it, check out Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! Chris, btw, happens to be the NaNoWriMo organizer.
Happy writing!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

NaNoWriMo, Day 1

It's November 1 - day 1 of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. How did I do my first day? Not too bad. The daily goal is roughly 1700 words, and I surpassed that with 2606.
I'd hoped for more, but had a setback when I couldn't find my background research on the story I'd hoped to write. I'll have to look for it again later. Because I have several story ideas queued up, I fell back on the next in line. Apparently every other NaNoWriMo participant tried to log onto the site at the same time I did. It crashed, and I couldn't upload my word count there, so I'll have to try again tomorrow.
And speaking of falling back, don't forget to turn those clocks back an hour tonight!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

My favorite holiday, after Christmas. If the amount of decorations in stores and catalogs is an indication, it’s many others’ favorite as well. In an earlier blog, I’d mentioned I was finishing off a Halloween story inspired by a catalog description. A few days ago, I received word that Shadowfire Press wanted it! So the contracts for the story, called Reflections, are going out today. Yippee! Because it’s a Halloween story, though, it won’t go online until Oct. 2, 2009. But I have little control over a muse who strikes me late with the inspiration wand, and I’m happy with the story, so I’m not complaining.
I’m always fascinated with the origin of holidays. According to NPR’s Writer’s Almanac, Halloween began about 2,000 years ago with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. For the Celts, the new year began on November 1st, and October 31st was their new year’s eve. On that night, “the division between the world of the living and the world of the dead dissolved, and the dead could come to earth again.” Oh, yeah – I used that.
“The druids built huge bonfires, and regular people put out their own fires in their homes and crowded together around these fires, where they burned sacrifices for the gods, told each other's fortunes, and dressed in costumes — usually animal skins and heads.” Rather crude costumes, but for the times, apropos.
Recognizing its growing popularity, the pope in the ninth century decided he wanted part of the action, “so he just moved the holiday called All Saints' Day from May 13 to November 1. All Saints' Day was a time for Christians to honor all the saints and martyrs of their religion. The term for All Saints' Day in Middle English was Alholowmesse, or All-hallowmass. This became All-hallows, and so the night before was referred to as All-hallows Eve, and finally, Halloween.”
So when you light your pumpkins tonight, be on the lookout for an all-too-realistic ghost costume. Bwahahaha!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Meeting Readers’ Expectations

While “writing to the market” is generally a bad idea, as I said in my earlier post, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take into consideration what your readers expect from a story.
Laura Yeager’s What Fiction Readers Want lists a wide array of reasons a reader will pick up a book. Although some are dependent on the selected genre, any number of these could cause a reader to put a story down before giving it its full due. For instance, the Happily Ever After (HEA) is a must in romance, but not in literary stories.
The flip side of that is: What do you want readers to take away from your story? Identifying this idea can help you identify your story’s theme. Plotter or pantser, you can take it from there. As Linda Seger advises, Push Boundaries and Make no Excuses as you write. Make your reader’s experience a vivid one by packing your story with emotion. Bring your reader inside your protagonist so s/he can feel every emotion as it takes place on the page, bringing the story to vibrant life. Again, the notion of visualization comes into play. Use your writer’s imagination to play your story in your head, as if in a movie theater. Just don’t forget to note all the details as they play out, to share the experience as fully as possible with readers. Give them a satisfying experience, and they’ll come back for more.
Happy writing!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Finding Success in Writing

From the dearth of how-to articles and books on writing, it would appear some writers have identified the Holy Grail of writing: how to find success. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against how-to books. My shelves are packed with them. But they will not do the grueling work of writing your story – only you can do that.
James Bonnet’s The Real Key to a Writer’s Success pinpoints several key factors in attaining success as a writer: a special knowledge, a serious commitment, dedication, a thick skin, and lots of hard work. The first can be overcome with research, which I love to do. Research can take as much time as actual writing, and is key to including authenticating details in your story. The rest require self-discipline.
Before all of that must come a great love of story. Carole Lee Dean states, in Your Mind is the Key to Your Success, that believing in oneself is critical. Not just believing, but visualizing your success after the fact. The old Field of Dreams theory, but instead of making one baseball field on which others gather to play, you have the ability to create endless worlds for readers to visit.
In order to get to that place in your mind where you are secure in dreaming your own success into being, you must first know yourself. Sound silly? Not really. As Howard M. Gluss says in The Writer's True Self and Success, “What you want out of life will, in return, create and nurture your sense of self.” He’s provided several sets of questions to help you delve deeper into what your true goals are, and strengthen your resolve in the face of the ever-elusive “success.” As many a writer can tell you, having success with one book doesn’t ensure success forever. In fact, publishers can be tougher on second-time novelists if the first book’s sales underperform.
While some writers may find limited success in “writing to the market,” the better tack is to write the story only you can write.
Michael Lent shares his story of overcoming personal obstacles in Be the Writer You Want to Be Now. Although his article is aimed at screenwriters, the main thrust – believing in yourself – rings true with any writer. Read Marilyn Beker’s Dare to Dream – Write Anyway! if you need more of a pep talk.
Don’t allow yourself to be led by dreams of success. Write for the love of story, as only you can tell it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Value of A Good Rejection

This week, after waiting months (and months) for what I thought was a sure acceptance, I received the dreaded soul-crushing rejection. Sorry, not right for us, it said. Your story had some of what we were looking for, but lacked in others.
I was devastated. I had been so sure I’d nailed it, with good characters, an original and interesting premise, and the right mix of suspense and sex. Or so I thought. But what was the problem? Did they not like the premise? What, exactly, was lacking?
In the interest of bettering my writing, I ran the risk of asking the editors. After I hit Send, dread filled me. The editors would hate me for pestering them. I would be blacklisted. Most certainly, I would be ignored.
To my surprise, the email was passed on to the reviewing editor, who took the time to explain specific problems. Her comments were enough to give me hope. My writing wasn’t total crap after all. I missed a few key elements, which, for this story, I have to decide whether I’m willing to change or not. But moving forward, I feel better armed with knowledge of specific points I need to aim for.
Most importantly, I was heartened by her last sentence: Good luck, and I look forward to future submissions!
I know most editors are overwhelmed with submissions and don’t have the time to critique every one, but even a few helpful hints make all the difference between leaving a writer dismayed, or arming him or her with suggestions to improve. I’m grateful this editor took the time to respond. I have work to do!
Happy writing!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hooking an Agent

So far in my writing career, I haven’t felt the need for an agent, although at some future point, I suppose one will become a necessity. I’m in no rush. I want to be sure if I enter into such a relationship, it will be worth it. Any writer who produces the best story s/he can deserves someone who will work hard to get his or her work in the best possible market.
As in Dennis Palumbo’s article, Three Hard Truths About Agents, jokes about agents abound. Like all good comedy, some are rooted in truth. As Palumbo points out, first and foremost, it’s a business. You’re both in it for the money, honestly. But like any good relationship, it needs to be based on trust and honesty, in addition to a sincere liking – or at least respect – for the other person.
With that in mind, Marisa D’Vari advises us on How to Get an Agent. The easy answer? Write a great story! Avoid the slush pile by first reading Chuck Sambuchino’s article, What Agents Hate. He compiles the dislikes of noted agents with regard to prologues, description, voice and point of view, action, clich├ęs and false beginnings, and character and backstory.
As always, research any agent before approaching him/her. Be sure s/he is worth spending the time in preparing a query. After verifying the agent is reputable, genre is next important. Don’t submit to an agent who doesn’t handle your type of story. Find out from the guidelines whether the agent prefers a query letter alone, a query letter and 10 pages, a query letter and the first three chapters. Don’t assume that, because your work is so special, s/he will surely want to read the entire manuscript.
Think you’re ready to send your stuff out there? First, read Chuck Sambuchino’s 10 Tips for Querying an Agent. Then read through Sambuchino’s list of 28 Agents Who Want Your Work.
And don’t be discouraged if you get a rejection. Maybe the agent already has a full stable of authors. Maybe (gasp) s/he didn’t thoroughly read your submission. It’s a purely subjective process, as Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul outlines:
- Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: Rejected by 18 publishers until Macmillan picked it up. Went on to sell 7 million copies.
- Louis L’Amour received 350 rejections before making his first sale. Went on to write more than 100 bestselling novels.
- Mary Higgins Clark received 40 rejections before his first sale. More than 30 million copies of her books are now in print.
- John Grisham was rejected by 15 publishers and 30 agents for his first novel, A Time to Kill. More than 60 million copies of his novels are in print.
And the list goes on. So don’t take rejection to heart. Keep searching for the right agent for you.
Oh, and if you hadn't noticed, I beefed up my Blog List. It includes several from agents as well as other authors, so check it out!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Getting Motivated for NaNoWriMo

In preparing for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been busy trying to finish up a lot of loose ends. First, a Halloween tale inspired by the photo of a crystal ball and its description in a catalog. (I love those kind of ideas that pop up from an unexpected place.) Next, revisions on a story I’d submitted to The Wild Rose Press. As painful as revising can be, it always strengthens the story.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be researching for the story I plan to write – an historical romance. Although I won’t begin any writing of the actual story until November 1, I’m going to prepare a rough outline of where I’d like it to go. So it can be within the correct context, I need to learn as much as I can about mannerisms and customs of life in the 1800s. And what it was like on a tall ship (no, it’s not another pirate story – it’s much more exciting!).
I ran across a site named as one of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2006, 2007 and 2008. If I thought NaNoWriMo was daunting, the premise of this site is four times worse: to write a Book In A Week. Its motto is BIC HOK TAM: butt in chair, hands on keyboard, typing away madly. I can only imagine. The description says that while the group’s main purpose is to write, authors can also exchange writing-related information online. The other difference is that, while NaNoWriMo’s donations are voluntary, Book In A Week requires new members to pony up a three-dollar “donation” through PenPal.
So, if you’re looking to get motivated, shoot for 50k through NaNoWriMo. If you need more pressure to produce, check out Book In A Week. If you’re feeling especially manic, try their Mad 10,000 Challenge, a group aiming for 10,000 words in five hours.
Happy writing!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Do you believe in cursed movies?

Visit Miss Make A Movie, if you dare - bwahahahaha! *cough*

Saturday, October 11, 2008

From Zero to Novel in One Month

Writers, start revving those keyboards now. November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, just a few weeks away. The month to write by the seat of your pants starting November 1 and not stop until the end of the day on November 30 (yes, it’s a Sunday, that’s beside the point). To participate, just set your brain to stream-of-consciousness mode, place your fingers on your keyboard (I sometimes like a paper first draft, but not this month) and write. Silence the inner critic and save the editing for later. The objective of this month is to get as much down in your first draft as possible, like a monthlong timed writing session. As the NaNoWriMo site cautions: “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing.”
Why is it a good thing? Because writing without over-planning can unlock some new story lines you might not have anticipated. Because in truth, all first drafts suck – the real story comes out in revision. So plan on using December to revise. After a short break, of course, to lend perspective. And to allow you time to recover from the post-NaNoWriMo party.
According to the NaNoWriMo site, 101,510 writers participated in 2007, with 15,333 “winners,” or writers who uploaded at least 50K to the site for verification.
But the goal is not to “win” (although they do send a certificate and Web badge). The writer’s goal is much more personal. At the end of the month, you’ll have enough words toward a good start of a novel, if not a full 50,000-word draft. (What publishers are looking for 50k novel, I wonder?) And even if you only end up with half that, it’s still a good start. It’s 25,000 words you didn’t have down before. When you break it down by day, it seems much less daunting. To reach 50,000, you need only write 1667 words a day for 30 days. Less than 2k a day! Hey, that’s not so scary.
In past years, I had many excuses not to participate – my kids were too needy, my job sucked between 40-60 hours a week from my life, I had no story ideas. This year, my kids are old enough to fend for themselves (in theory, at least), I count myself among the nation’s jobless, and my only remaining problem is: which story idea do I choose? So 2008 will be my first year.
Or, if you’d rather perfect the fine art of procrastination, check out Leigh Michaels’ article, The Top 11 Ways Not to Write Your Book.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stephen King's publishing innovation

I am continually fascinated by the ongoing evolution of publishing. In the latest innovation, Stephen King's collection of short stories, "N" is available in "mobisodes" - mobile episodes of a story series available on iTunes and Borders. King describes it as a hybrid between an animated feature and a comic book. The 25 two-minute mobisodes are clustered with King's interview on the Borders site. To me, it seems like graphic lit narrated and packaged in an electronic format. But it's an interesting milestone in publishing, as it's never been done before. Just one of the many tangents into which the world of publishing has veered. Which direction next?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The value of authenticating details

This morning, I received the final galleys for my “Rosette” story, Seventh Heaven. I’m still waiting to hear when The Wild Rose Press will release it.
As it is set in my hometown of Lambertville, New Jersey, and New Hope, Pennsylvania, proofing it brought back many memories.
Several story details originated with my family. My oldest brother Joe (aka Boo) is a Vietnam vet who told us the story about the young Vietnamese boy throwing a grenade into the back of a truck, so that, in fact, was the catalyst for this story. My sister Claudia used to wear a flag T-shirt. When I was a teenager, one of my favorite things to do was walk across the bridge linking the twin towns to New Hope with my good friends Nora, Winnie and Mary Louise, and browse through the many shops, especially the record store near the bridge. Like Lambertville, New Hope is famous for its cultural diversity, including the Bucks County Playhouse, where my sisters Claudia and Annette to this day usher at plays. Fran’s Pub was a favorite hangout of my husband Gary’s in the seventies and hence earns a special place in the story.
While growing up, I vividly recall hearing musicians perform at The Music Circus. My mother once brought me to see Robert Goulet, but I was a young teen at the time and sadly, unappreciative of her gesture, as I would much rather have seen The Young Rascals, or even Chicago – I remember hearing their brass section clearly through the woods. The Music Circus drew many famous musicians and performers. As in my story, Judy Collins was there in 1967. And no story about the Sixties would be complete without musical references – Dylan, Hendrix, Donovan and especially the Beatles were such a deep-rooted part of my youth, they provide the soundtrack to my adolescence.
I had done loads of research on the Sixties era for one of my novels, so this story was one of those that came together in my head fully formed. Among other things, a Time-Life book titled The Turbulent Years: The 60s provided specific details I could not have accurately remembered, having been born just before that decade began. I remembered the buttons, but would have probably spelled the Hippy Power button as hippie, the more popular spelling.
So, as you have gathered, authenticating details can bring a story alive, as Dave Koch writes in his article, Authenticating Details. Write with as much specificity as possible. Avoid generic terms – instead of “hat,” write “bowler” or “Stetson.” Add background music. Describe the scents in the scene. Bring your readers into the experience of the story, and hopefully, leave them wanting more.

Here again is the story blurb:
Lilah owns the New Hope Record and Crafts Shop with her friend, Val. Independent and free-spirited, they sell their handmade jewelry and pottery to tourists in their Delaware River town. 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. Lilah makes him a lucky leather-string choker using a silver ankh--the Egyptian symbol of eternity. James is skeptical about its lucky charms, but warms to her again. For seven months, James is in Vietnam. He comes home changed, in more ways than one. Can Lilah show him that her love is all the luck he needs?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Beware the Scammers

In this season of all things scary, nothing is more frightening, to a writer, than a scammer. Oh, it’s so tempting, I know, to shell out a few bucks just to have a copy of your story in hand.
Don’t do it.
The best defense against scammers is, as in everything, knowledge. Do a little research. Find out if that offer that’s too good to be true is, yup, dammit, too good to be true.
Probably the best known site is Preditors and Editors, where writers share their bad experiences on agents, editors and publishers.
Contests can be a great way to catch the eye of an agent or editor. If, in fact, they are legitimate. While you never never never want to pay any money to an agent to represent you, contests charging fees aren’t necessarily scams. In order to run a contest, some funding is necessary. If the fee isn’t greater than about $20 (and that’s fairly high), it’s probably legit, but, as always, best to check first, such as on Poets and Writers’ list of legitimate contests.
On the Elite Skills site, use the links at left to find info on known scammers and report your own scam story.
Scammers also target freelance writers, as evidenced on Freelance Daily and Light Keeper. Light Keeper’s site includes Dave Barry’s typically ironic response to a query by the National Library of Poetry (aka the International Library of Poetry), known for its scams.
Also for poets, Wind Publications provides a list of the Worst Poetry Contests.
Science and Fantasy Writers of America’s comprehensive site covers agents, writers services, independent editors, contests, POD services/publishers, and don’t forget to check the Whom Not to Query heading for the “Thumbs Down” Agents and Publishers. includes up-to-date information.
If the agent or publisher isn’t on the Known List of Scammers, but gives you a sickly feeling in your gut, then Marcia Yudkin advises on how “You, Too, Can Sniff Out Scams!”, and she provides two more links. Thanks, Marcia. We writers need to stick together.
Lor Sjoberg provides more advice in Wired's article, How to Get Published and Avoid Alien Bloodsuckers. Seems appropriate for the season.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Banned Books Week’s 27th Anniversary

Just coming off a marathon 60K-word work in progress (WIP) that is now happily circulating in Critiqueland, I’m a little late coming to this subject of Banned Books Week . It’s astounding that in this new millennium, people (some of whom are, frighteningly enough! running for vice president here in the good old US of A) can presume to tell others what they should and should not read. That civilization could have made such progress in science and not in education completely floors me.
I can only hope that one day, my writing will be at the level to challenge people to question themselves, make them pause, shake up their world a little and perhaps even turn their thoughts to subjects they might not otherwise consider. In the meanwhile, I pay homage to the authors that made the Top 10 list in 2007:
1. Robert Cormier
2. Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
3. Mark Twain
4. Toni Morrison
5. Philip Pullman
6. Kevin Henkes
7. Lois Lowry
8. Chris Crutcher
9. Lauren Myracle
10. Joann Sfar

Of the more than 400 books challenged in 2007, The American Library Association noted that the 10 most challenged books were:
1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell. Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
2. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier. Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence
3. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes. Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language
4. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. Reasons: Religious Viewpoint
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Reasons: Racism
6. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language
7. TTYL, by Lauren Myracle. Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. Reasons: Sexually Explicit
9. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris. Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit
10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

The most striking thread among this list is that, with the exception of two, all are children’s or YA books. Presumably, then, the challengers to these books are parents. If parents don’t allow their children the opportunity to expand their minds through reading, how do they expect their little darlings to take on the challenges of the world upon adulthood? Teach your kid to think on his/her feet. Think for himself. Empathize with those in difficult situations. And stand back and watch the world become a better place, one based on understanding and mutual respect rather than fear and bigotry. Do your kids a favor – instead of buying them violent video games, buy them books.
According to The Onion, parents should have much worse fears than books (and although it's written as ironical fiction, don't believe for a second that it is).
Of that list, the most ironic reason, to me, was religious viewpoint. Hmm. Isn't that why our ancestors came to America? To escape those who would force an unwanted religion upon them?
Thankfully, book stores and librarians comprise the first line of defense, and are superheroes in defending authors’ works. By making others aware of these challenges, they are challenging the challengers. Awareness is key to understanding. If only the closed-minded people who oppose these books would recognize that.
Support your right to read. While I certainly can’t say it’s a cause for celebration, it is vital to acknowledge Banned Books Week. So acknowledge this important week today, and every day, and open your mind to new experiences. Read.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Building a Character from the Inside Out

Did you ever watch the Bravo series, Inside the Actor’s Studio? Before the major network bought the station and ruined it, that is? I used to love to listen to actors describe how they built their characters from the inside out, getting to know every little quirk and nuance, building a complex backstory so they could throw it all away once they stepped inside that character’s skin. In this way, the actor knew instinctively how that character would react in any given situation and would, in effect, become the character.
That’s the most effective way to write from a character’s point of view. Build your character’s history, know the habits and traits and make up the person inside, the quirks that set the character apart from the norm. Then step inside that character’s skin and write.
A workshop at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Conference a few years ago, a session leader advised attendees to close our eyes, sit in a darkened room, if necessary, to get into the moment with the character. Visualize the scene in every detail. Have your protagonist enter the room and voila, a scene emerges. A jumping-off point.
Bestselling author Noah Lukeman (The First Five Pages, The Plot Thickens) provides a few more exercises in his article, Characterization – The Inner Life. To make your character authentic, you must know not only who s/he is, but how s/he would react in any given situation. The true character of the person as exhibited by his/her actions. And thoughts, because for the reader to be invested in your story – truly engaged – the reader must know the character’s feelings.
Presenting the protagonist’s character to the reader is another matter. Brandi Reissenweber’s article, Character Filters, explains that focusing on a particular aspect of that character will help move along the story, and deepen your reader’s understanding of him/her. As she cautions, though, don’t make it the entire perspective, or else you’ll end up with a protagonist who comes across as one-sided, or worse.
Life is complex. Make your characters the same. Dig deep, and it will pay off for your readers. And yourself as a writer.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My first reader review!

I found this on the Wild Rose Press site today - how exciting!

Cinderella Dreams [Rose Petal]

Cinderella Dreams is a sweet, emotional story that held my attention the whole way through, and made me smile several times. I love the characters, especially the hero, who drew me in from the first moment he appeared.
Wendy Davy

Wow, thanks, Wendy! It was a fun story to write.

September is Vintage Rose month at the Wild Rose site. Cinderella Dreams (are tough to shake) is a free read - go on over and download yours now! Other Vintage Rose titles are discounted ten percent in September, too. What a great way to get acquainted with some of the other great Wild Rose authors!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The future of book publishing

In 2006, Forbes magazine predicted the death of books, to paraphrase Mark Twain, was greatly exaggerated. According to its research, people were reading more, not less.
This bears out in 2008 as well. But in what format will they survive?
In June, Publishers Weekly reported that electronic stories have boosted readership and sales. It specifically mentioned Wild Rose Press, where I have several stories due out soon, as having more success rather than less.
Apparently New York Magazine thinks the bell is already tolling for traditional publishing, as it describes in its article, The End.
But is e-publishing a good deal for authors? An article in Conde Nast’s Portfolio called Engineering the Risk out of Book Publishing explains the idea behind HarperCollins’ new unit, HarperStudio. Not having had a book published (yet!), I have no frame of reference so can’t render any personal pearls of wisdom, but merely pass on what others have said. For instance, author L.J. Sellers sees it as a positive move. Her blog even caught the attention of a HarperCollins exec, who rebutted another’s comment that the move would cheat authors, saying HarperStudios still allows up to $100,000 in advances and pays fifty percent of the net profits.
Delivery systems such as Sony’s E-Reader and Amazon’s Kindle have made e-books portable, further boosting their appeal. And not just for erotica, as Publishers Weekly seems to think.
It certainly seems as if e-books will be a serious competitor, if not overtake, traditional publishing. The Telegraph UK’s 2007 article, Electronic books the future of publishing, states that the Booker Prize Foundation intended to release ebook versions of the shortlisted book titles, though it laments that (as of Oct. 2007) ebook readers had not yet become available in the UK.
In Galleycat’s blog, author Bill Tancer has some intriguing ideas about what data culled from the Internet might reveal to publishers (watch the video).
I’m no expert, but I think nothing can be ruled out, at this point. If readers want more interactive content, as Tancer says, then there are many more avenues for publishers – and authors – to pursue. Some of which are already done today, such as books being remade into video games. So who knows where it will all end up? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Delicate Art of Writing A Critique

Listening to a critique of your writing can be hard. If it’s particularly hard-hitting, you might be tempted to lash back at the critiquer. Maybe you're considering buying a voodoo doll and taking pleasure in imagining the excruciating pain each needle causes as you insert it into your critiquer-victim.
Stop right there. You’re only harming yourself. It’s rare that a critiquer will aim his or her opinion at you personally. If s/he does, then by all means, disregard it. It has no relevance to your writing, and that is the objective, always: to improve your story.
And you know how difficult it can be, sometimes, to present your view of a story in a way that won’t offend. Especially if that story isn’t well thought out. Temper your constructive criticism with a generous dose of tact.
If you need guidance on how to write a critique that will provide the best possible constructive criticism, check out E-How’s article on How to Critique in Fiction Writing Workshops.
I follow these steps myself. Line editing is helpful for catching errors in grammar, pointing out word choices that perhaps don’t quite work, or typos. The overall critique is helpful for analyzing characters (are they two-dimensional stereotypes, or fleshed-out and believable?), story arc (does enough conflict occur? Is the protagonist’s journey realistic – whether the story is literary or fantasy or romance, this is a must.), point of view (if there’s head-hopping, is it intentional, and well done?), setting (do you feel as if you’re floating in outer space with these characters, or grounded in a place with authentic details?). It’s where you can point out logistical holes in the story – anything that makes you ask, wait a minute, how did the protagonist manage to do that? A plot point that doesn’t quite make sense.
Avoid vague general statements such as “I don’t like it.” Perhaps you didn’t, and maybe that was a completely personal take. It’s not helpful to the author, because maybe for every person that doesn’t like the story, twenty others do. What the author needs to hear are specific reasons. Legitimate reasons, based on established ideals relating to story structure, character development, and so on.
If you need further help, look to published critiques by recognized authors such as Isaac Asimov’s Cosmic Critiques: How and Why Ten Science Fiction Stories Work.
Even if you’re not a scifi writer, the method of breaking down a story into its various elements is universal. Learning the steps of writing a great story will also help you recognize the critical elements necessary to any story. An excellent guide to story structure is Madison Smartt Bell’s Narrative Design, which provides stories, and then analyzes each by plot, character, tone, dialogue, imagery and description, point of view, design and more. The more in-depth your own writing is, the better you will recognize what’s lacking in others’.
Happy writing!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Keep It Unreal; Value of Critiques

In the various critique groups and workshops I’ve taken this past decade or so, one of the biggest pitfalls for writers seemed to be basing a story on an actual event. Oftentimes, translating the event into fiction fell flat, for whatever reason: perhaps the author saw it too clearly in her head and didn’t convey enough detail. Perhaps being too close to an event doesn’t give a writer enough perspective on it to fully describe it for a reader. Despite arguments of, “but it really happened!,” many times the story just didn’t work.
Gotham Writers’ Workshop instructor Susan Breen’s article, Turning Real Life Into Fiction, provides some helpful advice for altering fact into believable fiction.
Still, using actual events – and real people – can jeopardize relationships if those people are not particularly keen on exposing either the event or themselves. First, using a real person can muddy the waters when you compile a list of personality traits, as described in my earlier post. If that person can identify himself or herself in your story, and you’ve added some other qualities s/he doesn’t care for, then it can backfire in your personal life.
I avoid using anyone I know in my writing, whether a relative or close friend or even an acquaintance. What is helpful is noting particular personality quirks or traits that cannot be traced to one person alone, but will work in your story.
Using real life elements can also reflect poorly on you as a writer, if not done well. In one workshop I attended, another woman’s story centered on a critique group in which that woman’s writing was not well received. In this “fiction,” the woman left a bag full of dog poop on the critiquer’s home doorstep. Well! You can be sure I was especially careful with my wording of her story critiques!
And that’s a shame, to close yourself off to honest opinions intended to help you better your story. Critiques can be tough to listen to, but if you can’t be open to the opinions of your writing partners, how will you be able to take it from an editor? Check your emotion at the door and take the advice as it’s offered. Or not – that’s the beauty of critiques. Sometimes others give you good advice, sometimes it’s not in line with what you had in mind for your story. But the fact that another person didn’t understand something in your story should throw up a red flag.
If you don’t want to hear – or give – critiques face-to-face, try an online group, such as Zoetrope, or Critique Circle or The Internet Writing Workshop. Google critiques, writing and you’ll find plenty.
So keep writing. But never make it personal. And keeping it unreal will help your fictional characters to come alive on the page.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Also appearing at...

I'm also blogging today at Miss Make a Movie - come on over and join the fun!

My free read is up!

My free read, Cinderella Dreams (are tough to shake) is now online at The Wild Rose Press! Check out the book trailer below, then head on over to to download your free copy!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My second cover from The Wild Rose Press!

Funny how getting something good in your email can brighten up a dreary day. This morning I received the cover art for my story, The Duende and the Muse, to be released by The Wild Rose Press.

Another outstanding cover art work by Nicola Martinez! Thanks so much, Nicola!

This story's one of my favorites, since it's about a frustrated writer. But the main characters are Melinda the Muse, who's also frustrated with the writer, and Devon, a duende, or demon muse.

Here is the story blurb:
Melinda the Muse's student isn't writing much these days. When Devon the duende shows up, is he there to steal her student, or her heart?

And here is a sneak preview:
Melinda is startled when she notices a dark figure leaning against a booth across the aisle. He stands out like a charcoal etching against the background of clouds – harsh outlines, jagged features. Menacing yet compelling. He smiles, and lightning flashes from his dazzling white teeth, zinging through her.
She’s never seen a muse like him, but he must be one – otherwise he wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t be stepping toward her with the intensity of a jaguar, a laserlight in his eye, teeth bared in a hungry smile.
This guy looks like a Vanity Fair ad – layered hair mussed just so, sandals with a jacket and jeans that fit really well. She runs her hand across her belly to quell the tiny pinpricks. She’s been so busy with work lately, she hasn’t met anyone new.
“Who’s that?” Her wings can’t beat fast enough to cool the heat rising from deep inside her.
Calliope turns to Euterpe. “Oh my. How did he get in here?”
Euterpe squints in his direction, then furrows her brow. “A duende. They’ll let anyone in these days.”
That explains it. Melinda’s heard of them -- said to be a combination of charm, magic, inspiration, fire, magnetism – and demon. Muses were warned at an early age not to take up with duendes. Tales of muse-duende liaisons were fraught with disaster and downfall – for the muse. Duendes managed to carry on unscathed, though their methods of inspiration could be deadly for their students.
The thought vanishes quicker than a flicker of sunlight on water as he moves toward her and says hello in a voice whose timbre resounds within her.
“Hi.” She stares, entranced by his dark beauty.
His smile envelops her. “I’m Devon.”
She extends her hand. “I’m Melinda. So nice to meet you.” Fire sparks in her fingers as he takes her hand in his, then leans to kiss it.
A tingling crawls up her arms and neck and into her head, where it scrambles her thoughts.
His gaze lingers on her lips, and they quiver open like a rosebud blooming in sunlight.
His voice is like a hot wind in the desert. “The pleasure’s all mine.”
Oh, she doubts it. “Are you here for the entire weekend?”
His glittering black eyes wander across her body, sending a shiver of molten heat to her core.
Oh, she’s in trouble. Deep trouble.
A smile flickers on his lips. “Now I wish I were. I have other business, unfortunately.”
Her voice wilts like a thirsty flower. “I’m sorry to hear that.” She clears her throat. “You know, because the sessions look so enticing this year.”
“Yes, enticing.” He leans closer, close enough to kiss her. The center of his eyes swirl like a gathering storm.
“Melinda,” Euterpe croaks. “The first session is beginning. You should get a good seat.”
Melinda’s more stern than she intends. “I’ll be right there.”
Devon backs away, one bare foot at a time. “Enjoy MuseFest. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Yes, yes, please, Zeus.
“Maybe.” She follows Calliope and Euterpe to the tented area where signs blink the schedule and announcements.
He’s still watching her. She can tell by the heat traveling up her thighs.
When it fades, she glances back. He’s gone.
The cloud feels so much emptier, though muses teem through the air.