Friday, July 31, 2009


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One of the perks of being an author is being invited to speak to different groups and organizations. At a book signing in Troy, Michigan, I met a counselor from a Detroit area high school. We talked and Edie invited me to the book discussion group at Catherine Ferguson High School. I'm always eager to meet kids and spend time in the chaotic environment of a classroom, so I agreed.

Several weeks later, I strolled up to the front door of the school with the cries of small children echoing in my ears. Cool, the school must have an on-site day care center, I thought. I entered the building, sidestepping a toddler being pulled in a wagon, and searched for the main office. After I introduced myself, a young lady escorted me to the library.

The library was a hub of activity. Students and teachers raced around decorating a table and preparing food. Edie introduced me to Jasmine, one of the students, and instructed her to take me out to the farm while they completed their preparations. Farm? The front of the building looked like that of any other school. I followed Jasmine, expecting to see a few rows of tomato plants and an animal or two. I was completely unprepared for what I found. As we exited the school through the back door, I saw ducks and swans swimming in a pond. Around a corner, pigs, chickens, and goats milled around a red barn. Jasmine proudly told me that the girls at the school had built the barn themselves.

Jasmine and I took a leisurely stroll around the farm. She pointed out the different fruits and vegetables, explaining how the animals and farm were cared for by the students during the school year and by hired staff all summer. All of the fruits and vegetables are sold at Detroit's Eastern Market during the summer to supplement the cost of summer programs for the students. We turned another corner and I came face-to-face with two horses. I was floored.

We returned to the library and I learned that all of the two hundred young ladies at the high school had struggled to finish their education. Pregnancy, lack of family, and other personal issues interfered with many of the students' roads to educational success.

After the students told me about themselves, I shared info about myself and my books. We talked about my latest release, The Way You Aren't, and discussed the students' interest and/or lack of interest in writing. I had the best time and I was proud to meet and learn more about these special students and this unique school.

Weeks later I thumbed through Oprah's O magazine and found an article featuring the school, its philosophy, and students.

I feel very proud to have met those young ladies. I remember the time I spent with them with great pleasure.

So remember, being a writer involves so much more than putting words to paper. Public appearances, book signings, and workshops make up a large part of your role.

Let me know what you think about this story and more. I love receiving e-mail and hearing from readers as well as other writers. You can reach me at

So please, don't be a stranger.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Guest author Carleen Brice: When to Heed the Devil

Carleen Brice’s debut novel, Orange Mint and Honey, was an Essence “Recommended Read” and a Target “Bookmarked Breakout Book.” For this book, she won the 2009 First Novelist Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and the 2008 Break Out Author Award at the African American Literary Awards Show. Orange Mint and Honey was optioned by Lifetime Movie Network. Her second novel, Children of the Waters (One World/Ballantine), a book about race, love and family, just came out at the end of June. Booklist Online called it “a compelling read, difficult to put down.” Essence says, “Brice has a new hit.”

All writers hear voices.

The voice that tells you you’re no good as a writer and you’ll never be any good is not the devil. It’s your mother, your father or your ex. You know it’s not the devil because you can easily vanquish this voice. If you write every day, your mother, your father or your ex will one day say, “hmm,” and start in on how you need a haircut or point out how many calories are in the muffin you just ate. No, the devil is slicker than that. And he’s not out to hurt your feelings. He wants to confuse you because confusion will keep you from achieving your goal. So the devil says things like “hey, that’s good, but you know what would be better?” After you’re halfway through your story, the devil tells you to try third person instead of first, and to rename all your characters after Greek gods and goddesses because the symbolism will heighten the drama.

This is going to shock you, but I’m here to say: listen to the devil. Remember, he’s a fallen angel. He’s been to heaven and he’s seen things. People in workshops and writing teachers are tools of the devil. Through them, the devil might tell you that your story doesn’t really start cooking until page 189 and that it’s really dumb to name your hero and heroine Charles and Diana, or, that while your characters are all very interesting and the settings are all very vivid, nobody ever does anything and nothing ever happens.

Now, God’s voice will surprise you. All She will say is “baby, knock your bad self out. Can’t wait to read it, but right now I gotta go.” (God wrote the rules of grammar so She can break them). God has important things to deal with: trouble in the Middle East, famine and war in Africa, sickness and fear all over the world, and on any given day at least 5 million American women are having a bad hair day.

Also, God has complete and total faith in your abilities. God doesn’t sweat the particulars. Doesn’t need to see draft after draft after draft. Lord knows: you can figure it out. You’ll be just fine. You won’t hear the voice of God again for a while.

So, listen to the devil with an open mind, but then kick the devil to the curb. Sprinkle holy water, burn sage, light a candle, say a prayer. Do whatever you have to do to get on the good foot and say I rebuke thee Satan. And listen to yourself. Throw out half of what you learn in classes and on blogs such as this. Ignore this advice even, if it doesn’t work for you. (Or if the devil told you not to let anyone read your stuff, get a reader fast. Then throw out half of what he or she tells you). Make choices and stick with them. Finish.

Once you’ve sent the poem, essay, short story, play or novel for publication (whether it’s published or not), that’s when God will speak again. God, who taught Shakespeare the beauty of a plain line, will simply say “Told ya.”—Carleen Brice

Carleen's website: You can read an excerpt of Children of the Waters on the site.
Her blogs: and

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Character influence

“From SKB with love” part of the Holiday Brides Anthology, is set in the Caribbean island of St. Kitts affectionately known as SKB or Sugar City. It is a beautiful little island with 68 square miles of golden, grey, and even black sand beaches, beautiful mountain ranges neatly arranged in the center of the island, tropical rain forests, green sugar cane waving in the warm tropical breeze, exotic fruits, delicious cuisine, and friendly laid back people. But that country is more to me than just an exotic location. It is the country of my birth … the country where I was raised and came of age until I left in my early twenties.
So of course with writing that book came nostalgia… nostalgia for the food, the scenery, the laid back life style, the people. With nostalgia came something else: colorful characters from my past. It was only after editing that I realized how much the people that I grew up around influenced the characters of the local Kittitians in the book. Some were composites of different characters. Some were greatly influenced by relatives and others just reflected the generic “Kittitian” stereotype.

While editing I also spotted another issue. The story was told from the perspective of a visiting tourist who fell in love with a local. But here I was seeing everything through the eyes of a nostalgic Kittitian. It took a little prodding for me to distance myself from my nostalgia and see the country with fresh eyes, that of a person seeing it for the first time. It made me realize that writers, whether of fiction or non-fiction, real world or alternate universe, do not write in a vacuum. We are influenced by our past, our present and even our future dreams. We are influenced by the people we come in contact with daily.

Maybe the biggest influences on fiction writers are the people we came in contact with while still in our formative years. I recently saw a final jeopardy question about a woman author who “As a child, she liked to play witches & wizards with her friends Ian & Vikki Potter.” The answer of course was J.K. Rowling, author of the phenomenal Harry Potter series. It reminded me once again how people from our youths influence the characters in our novels.

In my novel "A Marriage of Convenience" that's being released this week, the herione finds herself an arranged marriage with a Ghanaian scientist, Kwabena Opoku. Kwabena's character is highly influenced by a Ghanaian student I met while visiting my husband (then my fiance) in college. That's because his ambition, his demeanor, his whole larger-than-life personality made an impact on me. I am certain if you authors examine the characters in your novels you would find at least one that even vaguely resembles somebody or is a composite of people from your past and present lives, especially if they've made an impact on you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Greetings from Malaysia!

It's always difficult coming in on the end of such a strong line-up of writers. They've set such a high standard and you wonder if you're capable of sustaining that. I suppose only time will tell.

So, I'm back home in Malaysia after wandering a few continents for the past couple of decades. And it's been, and continues to be, relatively difficult. There's an old adage -- you can never go back. And it's true. If you've ever left your hometown, then you'll start to pick up little quirks of thought, emotion or action that are foreign to the person you used to be. You'll change. And, when you go back, (depending, of course, on how long you've been away) you'll realise that those changes are enough to perhaps permanently set you apart from your original community. As it has done for me.

Maybe that's why I'm so comfortable writing about aliens and otherwordly landscapes. Because, no matter where I am, I feel like an alien myself. It can be due to the colour of my skin, or the accent in my voice. Home in Malaysia, it's definitely a different way of thinking, including a faster, more abrupt (impatient) way of talking. The locals can tell the minute I open my mouth that I don't really come from around here. Not recently, at any rate.

But what's interesting is also the flip side. I've visited and lived in a variety of countries and had to battle the strange new way of doing things, from examining the labels on unfamiliar-looking groceries (and, believe me, no matter how similar the country to the one you've just come from, there are always going to be several items that completely stump your ability to comprehend), to grappling with a new set of annoying banks, to negotiating the local post office protocols. The language is different -- even if it's English! -- the terrain is different, the smell is different. Yet, the one thing that remains the same are the people themselves.

We all have the same basic dreams, the same wishes for our children, the same hopes for our societies. It's been like this for millennia too because, in reading letters and memoirs from centuries ago, I find a commonality that's startling and, sometimes, depressing. (Haven't we moved beyond [fill in your own pet peeve] yet?) The affirmation part of the equation, though, is what I find so compelling about writing romance. Our humanity is universal, and that is exactly what I feel I'm trying to plug into whenever I sit down and attempt to pen a story.

So, for an alien peering through many windows and -- beyond the surface differences -- seeing the same things, I suppose writing something like science-fiction romance is a natural choice. At least, that's the way I look at it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Micromanaging, overediting and knowing when to stop

When this blog first went live a few weeks ago I watched over it like a fussy mama. As co-coordinator, I wanted everything to be purrrrfect. I checked the list of posts already written and scheduled, and noticed that one author had not pre-scheduled his first post. No problem, I told myself. People have different approaches: some will prepare weeks ahead while others will create and post at the very moment they're supposed to go live...

But there I was anyway, minutes to midnight, just before my friend's post was to appear, and there was no sign of his article in the lineup. Sheesh, I wondered. Maybe he forgot, it being a holiday weekend and all. I trotted over to Amazon, did some window shopping, then returned to the blog and checked the list of posts again. Nothing. I shot off an apologetic e-mail to the guy, something along the lines of: Sorry to be a nuisance - but did you forget today's your day to post? Then I clicked over to check the blog once more before I went to bed - and there it was! My friend's post! Right on time, too.

Needless to say, I felt like an idiot. I don't like anyone looking over my shoulder, sniffing at my heels, or whatever analogy there might be for just being ANNOYING! So why was I doing that to other people? Couldn't I have waited at least until the next morning before I started firing off nagging e-mails?

I made a resolution that night: Don't be a bloody pest. Leave grown people alone to do what they have to.

This obsessiveness carries over to my writing, sad to say. I know writers who never rewrite, who edit as they go, submit their product when they get to the end and then move on to the next project. I'm at the other end of the spectrum: when I get to 'The End' my work is just beginning. If I re-read my manuscript 50 times I find things to change each of those times. I delete, add, modify, shift around, rename, reword, rephrase, restore to the original, shift back again and generally edit until I reach a point where I have to say: Hands off. Leave it alone. Didn't you hear me? Step away from that @#$%*! manuscript!

Overediting is a real danger to writers, just like micromanaging is to organizers. You run the risk of running past the point where your nit-picking is beneficial and you begin doing real damage. Instead of growing stronger, the work grows weaker as you focus more and more on minutiae and begin to lose sight of the big picture. Recognizing that point is vital, and truly difficult for micromanaging, perfectionist, anal-retentive writers - like me.

Liane Spicer

Friday, July 24, 2009

Picking Point of View

Picking Point of View
By Terence Taylor

The subject of diversity in writing came up in a discussion among friends and the question arose -- who can write what? Can men write real female characters? Can a woman writer really claim to know a man’s perspective? Can whites write about blacks or other minorities with honesty and vice versa? I understand that this, along with what’s called “multiculturalism,” has become a hot-button topic in some circles, though it’s one I dealt with often during my life as a black writer in television.

My second novel, BLOOD PRESSURE, coming out next year, has a white female character who is writing a book about Zora Neale Hurston confronted with that issue:

“The book’s about love and the creative process, how alike they are, how one can feed the other, but also kill it. It’s about art and life, but also about death, of a relationship and a dream. It’s from her point of view, because you need to see events through her eyes to understand them.”

“I heard that you’re working on a third draft -- do you think your problems have anything to do with being white and trying to get into the head of a black woman? Especially one of a different era?”

Her interrogator was a young black woman in jeans and a dashiki, a clipboard filled with notes in her hand. She’d obviously come prepared, probably as part of some college paper she was writing or a magazine article. Lori had fielded that question since she began the book, started it by asking herself the same thing.

“I wish it was that simple. If writers had to be limited to characters who are the same gender, race, age or anything else as themselves, we’d lose a lot of popular literature starting with several of Zora’s own novels written from a male or a white perspective.”

Her answer was so well honed, repeated time and again, in person and print that she wondered why anyone who’d done their homework would ask the question. Surely her reply had made it through the grapevine by now.

”No, my problem’s less with Zora, more with love. I’m having a crisis of faith in love, as I think she may have had at that point in her life. Zora found her way through it, I’m just having trouble following her lead.”

“To a new romance?” There was laughter.

“To a new book, but I think you do have to feel passion to write about it. How does the Cher song go? Do You Believe in Life After Love? I’m not sure I know. When I do, maybe I’ll understand Zora better...”

I’m with Lori, which I’m sure comes as no surprise. I say if we can only write from what we are, a lot of straight white males in Hollywood who've been writing black sitcoms and soap operas are going to be out of a job come Monday. Writers learn from research or experience, and either can be acquired by anyone. I’ve never been a thousand-year-old Moorish vampire, yet my agent and editor have convinced me that I’ve created a plausible one in my first novel, BITE MARKS: A Vampire Testament.

My only complaint has ever been the generally held belief in Hollywood that straight white men can write anything for or about anyone, while minorities are almost always channeled into writing what we are, as if we couldn't possibly understand the minds of anyone but ourselves. In the early nineties I often gauged whether or not I wanted a job by how soon I was asked, "Can you write rap?" -- as if only a black writer could hold the secret to that magical rhythm, like a cereal box leprechaun protecting his Lucky Charms...

I spent most of my early life on Air Force bases and Catholic schools, in France or the South. As a black man raised in a mostly white middle class world, like our president, I grew up with and around white people, only occasionally others, and took them all for granted. It was wonderfully demystifying. My parents maintained a sense of identity in us, in that I always knew there was more difference between us than just skin color, and that we had a history of our own, even if it wasn't always defined.

As I left that limited world to live in black suburbs in Ohio and Queens, most of the adjustment I had to make wasn't racial as much as across class lines, struggling to understand shifting value systems as I moved from suburban middle class to urban working class neighborhoods.

I had to learn, not to be black, but that were many ways to "be black" and that I was one of many black kids like me, not from “the 'hood,” whose parents had been raised to leave home and to rise as high as they could. Over the course of her adult life, my mother completed her college degree and taught, my father left the military at the rank of major after 20 years to complete college, get his MBA degree at Columbia, and go on to a successful business career. I worked in television after graduating college, and again found myself "surrounded by white people" at work in seventies and eighties New York, but with a difference -- this time there were others as well.

I’d grown tired of having blacks and whites at home and my high school in Queens tell me I wasn't “really” black because I was "articulate" and liked rock and roll. In the work world of my first job, on a “multicultural” kids’ TV show called ”Vegetable Soup,” I met actors, writers, and producers of all races who were also considered outsiders, people who let me be who I was -- once I’d figured out who that was. I became increasingly aware of the way the world worked and politicized, grew my hair into African twists through the eighties to make it clear who I was when I walked in the room, no matter what I sounded like.

There was the occasional black friend or co-worker who'd grown up in all black neighborhoods in New York who had more difficulty with being in a "white" world than I did, and whites who "didn’t know" how to talk to me. I found that black people who’d never spent time around white people had the same misconceptions as white people who'd never spent time with blacks. Both viewed each other with either extreme suspicion or attraction, and each imbued the other with a kind of magical mystique, whether positive or negative.

Because of my upbringing, I feel that I see the positive and negative in all members of any race, and bring that to my writing. Because of the work I did in kids' TV, I’m extremely conscious of the power of images, and try to stay aware of what I’m saying as I build and balance characters. If a writer’s depicting a fully realized world with a wide range of characters, he or she shouldn’t be judged on any one character as their idea of a particular race, gender or other group.

The characters in my first and second novels are of many races, genders and inclinations, good and bad, as is the population of the city I live in. I tried my best not to represent them as what they are, but who they are, which I think is the ultimate responsibility of any writer. In the best writing, I don't think characters should “transcend” race (a condescending phrase in common use, more than a little patriarchal, as if it should be a compliment to tell me, "You're not like them...") but that their character, personality and actions should be made more important or memorable than their race.

In suspense, I don't think of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter as representing whites, though I know he is white. In horror, I don't think of Clive Barker's Daniel Robitaille in Candyman as a bad black man, though his race is essential to his story. Both are fearsome figures, who happen to be white or black, neither personifies his race. Their ethnic identity isn’t ignored, but who they are as individuals, as well-drawn characters, is the thing we remember.

If a writer does a good job of fully representing an individual of any race they've done a great job. If they create a shallow stereotype, positive or negative, (one more black computer kid genius in a wheelchair, or wise beyond her years teen hooker with a sassy street attitude and I will puke) they should not write about those people. They don't know them.

Ultimately, writers can always fool themselves into thinking that they’re doing a better job than they are. In that case, your readers will tell you if you’ve failed. I'm not talking knee-jerk censorship over a “controversial” character from someone who’s never read the book, but signed the petition to ban it, I'm talking about sincere critique.

I can only hope that when they do, we can listen, and do better the next time.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The writer's office: get it on the cheap

When I decided to seriously try my hand at fiction, I had been making my living for years as a freelance medical writer and editor and had an office fully stocked with goodies—fax machine, copy machine, a couple dozen dictionaries, a bookcase full of supplies, even a transcription machine.

Luckily—given the yearly earnings of a fiction writer just starting out—no such stockpile is needed to get started in fiction. In fact, if you already have a computer with Internet access and a telephone, you can outfit your office for less than $500. I did so myself, in fact, after Hurricane Katrina displaced me for a few months and I created a bare-bones office to keep working.

Here's what I recommend if space or finances limit you to the minimum:

•a light-business-duty multifunction machine that prints, copies, scans, and faxes ($100–$200). A multifunction machine doesn't need to cost much more than a printer, and they are often on sale at office supply stores.

•a telephone answering machine ($20–$30) or a voice-mail system. You don't want to miss any calls from editors while you're at the post office mailing submissions.

•a sturdy card table ($50–100). You can use it as a computer table, a desk, or a surface to put your printer and dictionary on.

•a hardcopy dictionary that comes with a CD-ROM for your computer ($75–$100).

•a thesaurus. My favorite is Rodale's The Synonym Finder, which retails in paperback for $17.

•a spiral-bound month-by-month calendar (<$15). All your contest and anthology deadlines and story deadlines can go in here and be in one place. You can also check off the days you write. Most such calendars have note space where you can log your business phone calls, submissions, or other information you need to keep a record of. •basic office supplies ($100–$150). For myself, this would include a black-ink Pilot Dr. Grip gel pen, pen refills, a box of #1 pencils, bright white printing paper, 8-1/2 x 11 pads, colored small paperclips, colored large paperclips, binder clips, file folders, tape, scissors, Post-Its, #10 business envelopes, stamps, and back-up ink cartridges. (Substitute your own favorites here.)

•a ledger (<$20). For tax purposes, you need to track your business expenses and earnings. Tossing receipts and check stubs into a grocery bag is not considered good accounting practice. •a back--up system (price ranges widely). Losing a story or book you put many hours into can be devastating. Back up your files at least once a day, and you'll never lose more than a day's work. Some cheap ways to back up are onto CDs, a Zip disk, or a flash drive.

And some extras that are really nice to have if you have the money and space:

•a desk, preferably big with drawers.

•an ergonomic chair so you can work comfortably for long hours.

•a high-speed Internet connection.

•a bookcase (various prices).

•a file cabinet.

•a hard-disk back-up and/or off-site storage (various prices).

Something I learned from my own experiences after Hurricane Katrina: Ask friends and relatives for castoffs from their own home office. Many people have office supplies they no longer want or need, perhaps even an old printer or desk sitting around, and are glad to get rid of them and free up some space.

Other places to get things cheap for your office are eBay; second-hand stores; garage sales and estate sales in upscale neighborhood; and stores that sell new but dented, scratched, or otherwise damaged merchandise at big discounts.


I'll be posting again at Novel Spaces on August 7. Find out then what a nonfiction writer needs to unlearn when expanding into fiction.

Shauna Roberts

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Murphy's Law

They say if I can happen, it will. I always find it interesting that just when we're under the greatest amount of pressure, or in a situation that requires the most intense focus and relief, something goes wrong. This weekend after traveling to four cities in eleven days, I was finally home at my computer, ready, willing and able to complete edits on a story due yesterday, July 20th. Then, suddenly, Microsoft Word did not want to cooperate. I was working on my desktop, and Word simply would not open. I think in one instance the word, "corrupt" came up. Inhale - exhale - inhale, well, you get the picture.

So, I took the file from my desktop, loaded it onto a flash drive, and starting working on my trusty laptop. After about an hour, Word froze up there, too! What? By then it was very early on Sunday morning and I still had a couple of full days work ahead of me. I restarted, kept working, made sure to continually save my work, and again, it froze. This time when I restarted, the message was, "not responding." I took an even deeper breath, decided to uninstall and reinstall Word on my desktop . . . and stayed positive, or let's say I stayed semi-positive. However, the reinstalled version would not take. I spent a couple of hours trying that, and even more time trying to restore my laptop, or set it back to the factory settings so I could reinstall Word there, too.

By that evening, after realizing I'd had my desktop since about 2002, I remembered that this old Compaq had hung in there with me through many books, even though it was moving slower than before. I won't call it a fossil behind its back, because I hadn't had a problem with it until then, but it should not have been a computer fit for an author. And, it had not failed me before, up until then. And so, I headed to Walmart and got a great deal on a new Dell, and I mean GREAT deal - the monitor is great and way bigger, it's faster, the specs are way more than sufficient, it has all the bells and whistles - and the bottom line is, I friggin' deserve it.

Surely the frustration of meeting my deadline contributed to the fact that this seemed to be some sort of unlawful conspiracy against me. After all, if it can go wrong, it will, right? But, I worked hard at staying mentally kind to myself, and to the situation (I'm older and wiser now, thank God), and I rode it through. Actually, I finished my edits just this morning, only one day behind schedule. I have a new computer, and of course - you know that once I brought the new computer into my home, the laptop started working just fine.

Bottom line is, be prepared. Focus on the resolution, meaning a plan B, not the inconvenience. And know that sometimes, that's just how it goes. After all, life is not so much about what happens to us, but about how we react to it. Write on!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Guest editor: Writer’s Block: What to do when you get stuck

Monica Harris is something of a legend. As Senior Editor at Kensington Publishing, she initiated and edited Arabesque, the first African American romance series by a major publisher. There she also edited historical romances, mysteries, women’s mainstream novels and non-fiction. Harris has won a number of important honors, including Waldenbooks Special Achievement Award, New York Chapter of NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2003 Emma Trailblazers’ Award, and is listed in the Who’s Who of African Americans and the Cambridge Who's Who. She now consults with several publishers featuring romance, self-help, commercial women's fiction and Christian fiction.

It happens to every writer, the experienced and the newcomer, those at the beginning of their story or at the end . . . the ideas that were once bursting in your head have faded. It’s only after you’ve stared at your blank page for several unproductive minutes when you realize you have nothing to give. Instead, you have writer’s block.

What to do?

The first thing is to separate yourself physically from the writing and relax. Stand and take a deep breath for five seconds. Then take another breath. Stretch, walk away and take a drink of water. Attempt to clear your head from your writing; the intention is to allow new thoughts to come naturally. You can listen to music, take a walk outside, call a friend, or get a mani-pedi. Give yourself a break but only a break - not a four-day relief. You do want to get back to your writing only with a fresher outlook.

You go back to the computer and still feel uninspired?

Let your imagination roam. Talk out your troubles aloud. When writing fiction, put your voice to your characters and see what they would say to each other. Record the words and play them back. Fool around with your plot and characters; what you brainstorm isn’t written in stone. If your characters are silent? Talk to a fellow writer or someone who is sympathetic to your issue. Bounce ideas off that person even if you think they are silly. The act of hearing your characters’ voice rather than writing them on the page can give you a different perspective.

Now you’re determined; you’re at the computer and you’re staying. Unfortunately, the words are still hard to come by.

Write anything for ten minutes. Just let the words come – whether they make sense or not. Break your writing task into parts, such as write only five pages or for only one half of an hour. You can break up your writing into short periods when you can reward yourself with chocolate or a chore. Once you’ve accomplished your task, then put the work away. You’re done. Look at it tomorrow to see if it’s work you want to keep or toss.

Most of all, keep positive. It happens to everyone and everyone comes out a more experienced writer.

—Monica Harris

Sunday, July 19, 2009

W(h)ine and Cheese

First comes the whine: “Please let me s-e-l-l another book. I want a contract soooo bad.”

Next comes the cheese(y) grin: “Hot damn, I sold!”

Then my editor utters the word DEADLINE and reality sets in.

No summer vacation.

Thanksgiving dinner is a Lean Cuisine.

The bags under my computer-weary eyes have me looking like a Halloween ghoul.

And the whining begins all over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a writer. But television, movies, picnics, fireworks and snowball fights seem all the more appealing when I’m locked away in my writing cave.

To keep from alienating everyone within earshot with my wails of p-o-o-o-o-o-r m-e-e-e-e-e, I like to whip out an index card and jot the reasons why I write.

They don’t have to be realistic:
This book is going to be so popular, A-list actors will beg to star in the movie version.

Or even nice:
I’ll show that _____ of a teacher who didn’t pick me to be a special creative writing class at my elementary school.

Or even about me:
This book is for my Dad, who went over her head to the principal and got me in that class.

They just have to be things that are important enough to send me to my computer every day.

Now it’s your turn. Don’t leave me hanging, ya’ll. What drives you to write?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Media Tie-In Writing, part 2

When I applied to the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at UNC-Wilmington, I took along some of my published work to illustrate that I am a professional writer. The interviewer glanced briefly at my Star Trek and Doctor Who and MechWarrior titles, then suggested I might want to try a few undergraduate writing courses first to discover whether I was really ready to write seriously.

The prejudice against media tie-in writing is particularly virulent in the halls of academia -- but they tend to view any fiction that sells to a commercial market with suspicion, if not alarm. However it can be found almost anywhere writers and critics congregate. Media tie-in writing is write-for-hire. You are writing a story set in a universe designed -- and owned -- by someone else. Where a writer of original fiction is completely self-directed, a media tie-in writer is part of an ensemble. One is a soloist, the other first chair with the Philharmonic. Different disciplines applied to the same art.

It's a different sort of business as well. In original fiction, you write a story and then you sell it. In media tie-in writing, you sell a story and then you write it. You must first pitch your novel idea to the editor. A pitch is one or two sentences that capture the high concept of the story. If the editor likes the pitch, she asks for a proposal (though some call it a treatment), which is a summary laying out the bones of how you intend to tell the tale. Some editors like short proposals, one to three thousand words, while others like something more in depth. The editor then takes the proposal to the licensors, the owners of the intellectual property, and if they like it, you get the go-ahead to write.
(At this point the process is similar to screenwriting. In an article about "Sister Act" appearing in this week's New Yorker, Paul Rudnick tells us "I wrote a treatment, which is a studio term for: Summarize the story in less than two pages so that an executive assistant can boil it down to one paragraph on a Post-It.")
With the go-ahead comes a contract, usually one-third on signing, one third on delivery and one third on final acceptance of the revised ms. Typical deadline for a full-length novel is 120 days.

Breaking into media tie-in writing requires research and persistence. You have to know who to send your pitches to, for one thing, and you have to know the market well enough to be able to deliver what they are looking for. Case in point: I have been pitching to Black Library for three years. A few of my projects have gotten to the proposal stage, but nothing has connected. As one editor put it, I'm too damn cheerful. Of the dozens of Doctor Who short story pitches I sent to Big Finish, only one connected ("The secret of the golem is slime mold and cockroaches. The Fifth Doctor and Turlough must solve a mystery and confront an enemy hundreds of kilometers beneath Prague to save the city from annihilation.") and before that one was approved, I had to change the companion.

Novels are not handed out to unproven writers, of course; you need to establish a track record. Which means any short fiction market related to the IP you're interested in is the place to start. With short fiction there is almost never a proposal, with the project going straight from pitch to story. A few markets take unsolicited stories. (Which ones? That's where the research comes in.) Do not start with fanfic. There are some excellent fanfic writers out there, but fanfic borders on copyright infringement and you do not want to be mistaken for a pirate.

Finally, you have to understand that nothing you write for an intellectual property you do not own is yours. You write the words, you sell them, you have no rights to the story. I had to get the IP owner's permission to post one of my BattleTech short stories in my Live Journal. (Link to story: "What I Remember Most")

If you're unbothered by not owning the words you write and think you'd enjoy the challenge of creating something that is both uniquely yours and part of a greater work, you may want to look into media tie-in writing. I've loved it for nearly a decade. It sure beats writing seriously.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Joy of Like-minded People

Even though I'm here at Novel Spaces today, I'm not here here. I'm currently in Washington, D.C. attending the Romance Writers of America's annual conference, and no doubt having a fabulous time. I joined RWA back in 2002, and braved my first plane ride alone to attend their national conference in Denver that summer. I've been back every year since. At first, it was the great workshops that drew me in. I'm somewhat obsessed with learning the writing craft. But after a couple of years, it was the atmosphere and the people that kept me coming back. I belonged there because I was with people who think, speak, imagine, and dream the way that I do.

Writers are unique in their way of thinking. We not only accept that there are voices in our heads, we encourage those voices to speak louder, then take what they're saying and develop it into stories. And while people who are not writers may enjoy reading those stories we've created, they don't necessarily want to hear about how it's done. I've seen enough eyes gloss over to know that any talk about the writing craft is not welcome at family functions.

But when I'm at places like the RWA National Conference, or even virtual places, like Novel Spaces, I don't have to worry about putting anyone to sleep. When you're around like-minded people, they're eager to hear about the struggle you had getting that last scene to work, or the joy you felt when you received cool fan mail.

We've all heard that writing is a solitary occupation. Often times, authors are left with only those voices in their heads to talk to. That's why writers should take every opportunity available to converse with like-minded people. Not only will they share in both your ups and your downs, they will understand them. That's something no one else can give you but a fellow writer.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Words are where you find them

My daughter says she wants to be a singer and write songs when she grows up. Though her brother laughs and rolls his eyes every time she mentions her dream, I’ve taken due diligence to not discourage her. She knows how to log onto her computer, type in her lyrics and save each document. She also keeps a notebook, well, a lot of pieces of paper stapled together with her “BEST” songs. And she sings a selection of them to me every day.

While we were watching the Michael Jackson tributes a few weeks ago, she kept me up hours past my designated bed time as she studied his dance moves and jotted in her notebooks. She kept saying, “He’s giving me so many ideas!”

That’s the thing about inspiration. I’ve found ideas lurking in my daughter’s nightmares, my own dreams, reality TV, past jobs, bad memories, song titles and wishes. But most of my plot basics come from plain old life.

My University of Missouri-Columbia journalism degree consists of mostly liberal arts courses. The philosophy was that we needed a broad-based education in order to be effective reporters. There were, of course, the media-specific and technical classes that made Mizzou’s degree what it was, but we spent a lot of time learning a little bit about everything. Considering that I quickly veered from the news career path, that training has been most beneficial to me as a novelist.

Aside from reading, I’ve found observation to be my best writing teacher. So if you spend inordinate amounts of time simply trying to generate ideas to plot around, perhaps you should spend a day in the park, on the subway or walking city streets or country roads.

Living a varied life can help as well. I keep my friends entertained with the true stories of my every day existence. But being the escapist that I am, I tend to write the opposite of my reality. The point here is that if your inspiration falters, change your scenery. Extraordinary story ideas are woven into the fabric of ordinary moments. The universe is bursting with ideas waiting to be plucked by you.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Novel Spaces disclaimer

Because we are a diverse group, varied thoughts will be posted at We hope that you find our insights useful, entertaining and enlightening. If you’re a fellow author or aspiring writer, we’d love it if you can find tidbits that help better your skills. If you’re a reader, maybe you’ll learn a little more about what makes us who we are and why we write what we do.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Help When You Need It

I am a writer, author, contemporary romance author, whatever title you choose to give me. I create stories that end up as published works. Writing did not start out as my career goal. I came by this profession by accident, not design. I never planned to write, but here I am. Since writing possessed my soul, I've written nine romance novels and hope to write many more.

To any aspiring author I'd like to say cherish your writing friends, your critique members, and the people in your immediate writing circle. They are your support group, advisers, and confidantes. When you get that rejection letter from an agent or editor, they are the people you will call for comfort and encouragement. After you receive the call from an editor who wants to buy your book, they'll celebrate with you and understand your accomplishment more than anyone else. Your writing friends will tell you the truth, whereas your family will not because they don't want to hurt your feelings. There will be times when the comments you receive from your writing friends will be gentle, but honest. Other days their comments may be far too painful to accept. Step away from the work. Give yourself a day or two to think about their suggestions. The wisdom of their remarks will become clear to you. You'll admit they were right and revamp your writing incorporating their comments. In most cases your prose will become clearer, crisper, and stronger.

Cultivating a strong, caring writing environment is essential. Surround yourself with supportive people.

I always welcome feedback, so shoot me an e-mail at Let me know your thoughts on this topic or others. Take a moment and visit my website, and read an excerpt from my October release, I Can Make You Love Me.

Remember, don't be a stranger.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Balancing Act

Recently while doing a video interview for to promote my novel, "A Marriage of Convenience", the interviewer asked, “With a full time job and a growing family, where do you find time to write?”

Off-handedly I joked, “Sometime between midnight and six am.”

Since then I have thought long and hard about how my perception of an author has changed over the years. As a child, I perceived all authors as wealthy individuals sitting by pool sides tapping away at their typewriters (yes, it’s been that long) while their maids served them drinks. Of course at that time I mostly read well known prolific authors like Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew books) and Enid Blyton.

I remember when I was about nine years old telling my mother I wanted to become an author. She smiled at me and said, “That’s good.” Then in her subtle manner of manipulation she proceeded to tell me a story of a local author who was trying desperately to sell his books on the street. He was poor and hungry and often had to resort to pan handling.

Needless to say I pursued a different career in a stable, more predictable field, my perception of an author now one of the starving artist. However, the dream of being an author was never far from my mind. Now that I have decided to explore that avenue and live my dream, I realize there are many novelists who are very much like me. Yes there are the prolific well known ones who can catapult a new author to fame with just a blurb; and there are the starving authors who anxiously hope that a publisher accepts his manuscripts while the bills mount. But for many authors we juggle a full time job, a family, and a writing career. It’s a balancing act. Where do we find the time between working eight plus hours a day and taking care of those we love to write?

For me, the writing begins long before I even sit in front of the computer. My stories play out mentally (sometimes verbatim) while commuting to work, preparing meals, even taking showers. It doesn’t mean that I don’t go blank when I sit in front of the computer wondering why I'm drawing a blank when it was so clear in my head just a few hours ago. Most of my actual penning of the stories occur sometime between my kids’ bedtime and mine. But overall, it is a delicate balance that I have to strike between my job (which I enjoy), my family (which I love and adore) and my writing (which is my passion.)

So for other authors juggling career, family and passion, “When do you find time to write?”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

View from the Caribbean

Maracas Beach, one of my favorite places

Okay, so I live in paradise. I admit it. Can we get past the sun, surf and sand for a moment and look at how location, and this location specifically, impacts on this writer?

When I started the writing gig years ago there were built-in handicaps. Queries were sent by snail mail and the intervals between sending out and getting a response were epochal - if a response were indeed forthcoming. I used to imagine agents looking askance at my stamps, opening the envelope gingerly and thinking: Trinidad? And what are these? International mailing coupons? How... quaint! just before throwing my stuff into the recycle vat. I didn't send out much and I'm eternally grateful to the editors and authors who responded to my neophyte approaches. Debbie Macomber was one. Karen Thomas another.

A breakthrough came when I signed with a local courier company. They provided a US mailing address and, for a reasonable fee, delivered mail to my door. That first company even took my letters and packages and mailed them from within the US. There was a lag, of course, but it was still a huge improvement. The problem was not the courier but the pace at which anything happens in the publishing industry. Months, sometimes many months, would elapse before I got any response from agents and editors.

Four months after I sent out the first round of queries via my courier, I discovered a website that listed agents who accepted e-queries. I sent out a batch and most agents responded, some within days, others within minutes. Not only did they respond, they were lovely and encouraging. That first week I got five requests for submissions, and two months later received an offer of representation. About twenty minutes into our first telephone conversation I pointed out to the agent that she was calling Trinidad. "Oh, that's all right," she responded cheerfully. "We have clients all over the world!" This, dear reader, was my kind of agent.

Over the past few years my location has been of little consequence. Not only do I conduct most of my business over the Internet, but I also discovered a great network of writers and friends across the globe, a network that I can access with a few clicks and keystrokes. I don't even have to put on makeup and leave the house! Right now, I believe, is the best time ever to be a writer stuck on a little rock thousands of miles away from, well, everything.

Liane Spicer

Friday, July 10, 2009

Guest author Bonnie Glover: Men, Fidelity & a Skillet: Back to the Basics

Bonnie Glover is the author of Going Down South (nominated for an NAACP Image Award for an outstanding literary work of fiction earlier this year) and The Middle Sister. Going Down South currently stands at #3 on the Essence Magazine's list of bestsellers (paperback).

I’m writing this blog post because I want to speak to my SISTERS out there, my sisters who are in marriages and/or long term committed relationships. I’ve been thinking about this from the perspective of a woman with 29 years of committed relationship behind her. I am a woman of experience. And a woman of experience can generally ascertain what is needed, make recommendations and resolve issues while juggling a plethora of other projects. Like the song says, I am a woman, W-O-M-A-N. So, what you need, what every woman who chooses to marry or partner with someone in this lifetime needs is: a big a-- skillet!

Okay, before you men start huffing and puffing, let me let you know that I am not talking to YOU. In the relationship arena there is a different arsenal for men. Maybe one day I’ll blog about what you should have at your side but today ain’t the day. And, further, let me say that I in no way advocate violence against anyone but, in the case of a man who is married or in a committed relationship, SISTERS, A SKILLET is a necessary weapon, an ending place for MESS.

In the old days, women used ice picks and went to town. They’d carve up a rival and maybe make a nick or two in their men. Those were dangerous times for quick -tempered women. Or, perhaps they were like Daisy, in my novel GOING DOWN SOUTH (GDS). She tried to beat the living daylights out of her straying man. The first scene in GDS shows Daisy waiting at the top of a flight of stairs with a broom and pouncing on Turk, her husband, for a multitude of sins including: he was coming home way after midnight, he was drunk and he had a history of being with other women.

Daisy had a reason to be angry. But really, in my opinion (and I’m the author), Daisy was a flawed woman. When he’s got history it’s too damn late. It’s all about the initial training. A man is a man and a woman has to lay down the law right from the start and whenever possible use the skillet as a reminder of what will be tolerated and what will be the basis for a total breakdown of connubial bliss.

I know you know about SKILLETS. They are heavy and black, cast-iron. My wrist hurts whenever I have to lift mine, so, I don’t do it often. Displaying a heavy skillet to OUR advantage is artistry. Before you begin your committed relationship, I suggest you invite the intended man to your home for dinner. The SKILLET should be prominently displayed on either the stove or countertop. When he asks to help with dinner or you DIRECT him to help, ask him to hand you the SKILLET. This is how the conversation might proceed:

“Honey, will you hand me that skillet over there?” You ask.

“Of course, sweetheart, darling, love of my life. I’ll be glad to hand you the skillet,” he says.

Grunting from effort, he gives it to you and looks askance because he can’t fathom why you need a skillet. After all, you are making sandwiches for your meal. Curiosity eats at him. He wants to know why you need the item that is just sitting there and not being utilized.

“Darling, dearest, Sweet Pea, what do you need the skillet for?” He has put his arms around you, he is nuzzling your neck, and kissing your ear, the way they do when they are courting you.

You look at him with liquid brown eyes and say, “This SKILLET is very, very important to me. I keep it near me at all times, especially late at night. If I hear a noise, if I think there’s a burglar creeping, I’m gonna swing with all my might and ask questions later. That might have been why my last boy friend and I broke up.” (Notice the “might”).

“What happened?” He has stopped nuzzling. He has stood back and is glancing at the SKILLET with a tinge of fear in his eyes.

You shrug your shoulders. “I really don’t want to talk about it. He’s doing okay now, his rehab is going well. I just didn’t realize he was going to come in so late. If he had just called me…” You trail off and smile in a vague way.

Now one or two things will happen. Your man might hightail it out of there. In which case, he’s not for you, obviously. It also proves he’s not adventuresome and not into torture – two positives or two negatives depending upon your predilections. OR, he’ll stay and be forever wary of the SKILLET. If he does the latter, he’s trainable and worth the effort!

SISTERS, seriously, set your parameters. Let your partner know what you will and will not tolerate. Have your own money so it’s not about having to stay because you are stuck. A man should know there will always be consequences – no one likes to be messed over. Stand firm with pride in who you are and what you represent. Tell him cheating is not an option – be like Governor Sanford’s wife, don’t stand by your man when he’s created a mess that will forever damage your family because he was led by passion instead of love for his family.

And, remember, even a good man needs to see a SKILLET every now and again.

P.S. – Love calls for forgiveness but not for stupidity. Don’t be a rug when you can be a centerpiece.

—Bonnie Glover

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Mother's Attic

I was going to write my first piece about writing spaces and how one carves them out of more than just the physical world. I took a cool photo of my own desk, photoshopped it and started thinking about what I had to say on the subject in free moments while working a production job.

Then my mother died.

So writing about spaces comes later. Instead I’m going to write about my mom and her writing. People often ask writers where they get their ideas, but seldom where they get their ability, the thing that makes them a writer. Over the years, I’ve realized mine largely comes from my mother.

While starting the sad task of emptying her last home with my youngest sister and her two daughters, we found a stack of mom’s old notebooks. One was from her youth, a diary I’d found on one of my frequent forays into my grandmother’s attic in Queens. As the gay son I was the family’s self-appointed archivist, digging through what had been my grandmother’s attic when I was a child, my mother’s by the time I left home after college.

Periodically I’d bring down “treasures” like my grandmother’s crouching black ceramic panther lamp, or the brass hanging lamp my Air Force dad bought for my mom on a mission to Morocco, and get permission to cart them home to my place for “safe-keeping.”

One day I’d found a small black six ring black binder of lined pages filled with my mother’s cursive handwriting. I brought it down to show to her -- she must have explained the entries, I don’t remember -- all I know for sure was that she must have kept it since that day, until her last.

The notebook is divided into sections: quotes, records, poems, art, and “Lit.” The address on the first page is 142 West 140 Street, so it was from 1953, just before she joined the Air Force at 19 and met my father. A search on Google Maps’ street view shows me a building that could be the original remodeled with a glass entrance, or new construction over the old. Either way, the building she knew is long gone, as is the world she knew then.

It’s strange to see the romantic musings of that nineteen-year-old now, already showing the dark moody side I didn’t understand until I was a young adult. I recognize a lot of that Hazel in my own teenage years, and my twenties. More than the troubled teenager who ran away from home, I had known the funny, amusingly cynical woman who became a wife and mother but kept writing all her life.

She also read voraciously, and read aloud to my sister Michelle and I when we were young. When we could read for ourselves she’d take us to the library every Saturday to stock up on books for the week. When we had finished ours we’d read hers, and if we didn’t understand them, we asked her questions, raising our reading levels by years. I grew up in a house filled with books and the love of books I have to this day.

She never really tried to get published -- I’d once found a rejected submission pack in the attic for a children’s story called The Pink Unicorn, along with a few character drawings she’d done. My sister found it again while clearing out the house after my mother moved into assisted living. I read the story to mom and her friend Vern earlier this year at her apartment. I didn’t expect her to remember writing it, Alzheimer’s or no Alzheimer’s, but she enjoyed hearing the story, even if it did seem like it was for the first time. I hadn’t read it myself before I read it aloud, and was struck by how well written it was.

The language, the imagery, even the fantastical subject matter, reminded me of my own work, and had an ease of structure and simple poetry I’ve discovered only in my last ten years of writing. By the last line I was teary-eyed and had to pause before I could finish reading it to them. It was sweet and touching, and for the first time I really thought about my mother’s ever-present notebooks and all the college writing classes she audited after retirement. I realized where my writing talent came from, and why my mother had always supported my storytelling, the side of her she saw in me.

I’m glad that before she died my mother knew my first novel was being published, had seen the galleys and the dedication to her and her mother. Glad she knew that I’d finished the second and was working on a third, that the seed she’d planted was bearing fruit.

In her notebook I found a page where she declared her departure from New York, and her fears, as she made the step that would change her life forever. I also found this tone poem, homage to the city she was leaving behind. It’s youthful work, but speaks to me of a distant time and place when her world was on the verge of change, and reveals something of the mind of the girl who grew into the woman who made me the man I am.

My Gray City
by Hazel

And the rains came
To wash the soot swept city.
But the huge smoke stack belched their thick gray waste out
In angry defiance.

The gray birds of the gray city swoop and arc aimlessly
And below me, the cars continue to speed in their never-ending race for time.
My gray city stands majestically,
Beneath the soft gray sky,
And far off in the horizon a bit of gold shines through with
A promise of the day to come.

I smile at the thought of tomorrows.
While I sit in the window in my gown of satin,
And look over my island,
The island of Manhattan.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Greetings from Southern California!

You'd think being a home-based writer in City A or Town B or County C would be much the same. One still spends all day sitting in front of a computer. Seemingly, only the room changes.

I found out differently when I moved to the desert of Southern California—Riverside, to be exact—from lush and swampy New Orleans almost two years ago. The writing life in the two cities is as different as the climate.

Here is my favorite part of being a writer in Southern California: the view from my home-office window:

Another great thing about Southern California is that we haven't evacuated a single time for hurricanes since we moved here. I don't miss having my work interrupted for days with little warning.

My least favorite part of being a writer here? Definitely the long drives in heavy traffic! My new Romance Writers of America chapter is thirty miles away, and I reach it via a congested fourteen-lane highway. Ditto for my science fiction critique group. Literary events take place and independent bookstores are located primarily in Orange County or Los Angeles, with few in my neck of the desert.

All that time on the road, though, does have a benefit. I've listened to all the sessions on the 2008 RWA conference three-CD set and to several writing-related college courses on CDs while driving.


Thanks for dropping by Novel Spaces! In my next post, on July 23, I'll discuss the writer's office.

Shauna Roberts

Monday, July 6, 2009

"I plan to write a novel!"

It seems the most common sentence I hear from readers is, "I plan to write a novel." And ninety-nine percent of the time it's based on an individual's own personal journey, usually a fictionalized encapsulation of their life story, the novel they've had inside for years - a story they are determined to share with the world. I say . . . go for it. Write about what you know.

There are varying opinions on whether or not every story should be told. Perhaps that's up to an acquiring editor once that book is finished. But personally, I believe every story that moves a writer to finish it deserves to be birthed. Most (not all) first-time novels are semi-autobiographical - stories of self-achievement and experiences of survival, or stories of great tragedy that still haunt us years later.

I am very open about the fact that my first novel, May December Souls, was based in part on my estranged relationship with my father who passed away before I could really come to terms with my feelings about his decision to leave his family. I'm glad I had the discipline and determination to write it because a few women contacted me to say the book encouraged them to call their own absent fathers to make amends. But the father-daughter angle of this book was only a small part of the entire ninety-thousand word story. It's one thing to write about what happens to us personally, it's another to turn your life circumstances into a well-crafted work of fiction. Writing a novel is so much more than telling stories. Writing a novel is absolutely, hard work - but it can be done.

Get your story outlined and get on a writing regimen with a targeted deadline and work hard to achieve your daily writing goals - make some novel space in your life. Create a habit.

As I tell those I meet along the way, read up on what it takes to write a novel, read other novels, and write! It's great that you have a plot, but writing is more than that. Writing a novel is a painstaking yet personally rewarding experience, unlike one could ever imagine, and I do believe you must love the process enough to go into writer's labor and give birth. Don't just talk about it - do it!

Next time, you won't be saying you plan to write a novel, you'll be able to say, "I wrote a novel." And then the true work of raising that novel-child begins!

Do you think every story should be told?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Makeover Story: Deadline Snack Edition

It’s the same old story.

Every deadline, I give in to my whiny inner toddler. The one who decides deadline is the perfect time to throw a full-blown food tantrum.

“But I can’t write without Pringles.”

“My muse wants a @*#! Hershey bar – now!”

But just like the toddler with a tummy full of junk food, I feel awful afterward.

So I’m cleaning up my deadline eating act.

I can hear your skeptical snorts through my MacBook screen. You’ve heard my vows to eat healthy before, but this time it’s for real.

My beloved salty snacks have already been removed from the kitchen cabinets, along with the emergency chocolates hidden in my fridge’s vegetable crisper.
They’ve been replaced with a new healthy stash.

I’m a few weeks into my new deadline lifestyle, and I’d love to be able to tell you how my junk food loving taste buds now crave the good stuff.

Instead, I look at my new good-for-you snacks and frown. Then the toddler in me asks, "Who in the hell does the grocery shopping around here?"

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Media Tie-in Writing, part 1

I remember reading an interview with Angela Lansbury a few decades ago in which she commented on the fact fans frequently told her how much like the "real" Jessica Fletcher she looked. What the fans had seen, of course, were pictures of her on the covers of "Murder, She Wrote" novels. There is no Jessica Fletcher and to my knowledge Angela Lansbury has never written a mystery; those novels were media tie-in.

Media tie-in writing is writing in a universe or intellectual property (IP) owned by someone else. In the minds of most people this means novels and stories based on characters from television series or movies. Mysteries are popular -- Monk novels and novels in every iteration of C.S.I. can be found in any big-box book store -- but far and away the most popular genre is science fiction. (Try getting away from Star Wars.)

Only about one percent of the people who are fans of the shows or movies buy related novels and the net profits from print sales would maybe buy everyone at the office a small latte. However, written fiction provides a way to explore ideas that are not commercial enough to warrant the investment a show requires. Among the many precincts of the Star Trek print universe, for example, are the "DS9 Relaunch," which carries the storylines of "Deep Space Nine" forward from the end of the series; the "Starfleet Corps of Engineers," following the troubleshooters who solve the mysteries and clean up the messes the guys who do all the fighting leave behind; and "Vanguard," novels about life on a frontier space station in the early days of the Federation.

Far greater than movie or TV tie-in fiction, however, is the game fiction market. No, I do not mean novels about the grueling championship badminton circuit. Tabletop games, collectable card games (CCG), role-playing games (RPG), and even video games are often set in complex and interesting universes that can only be -- or best be -- explored through fiction.

There are two levels of fiction when it comes to games. First is the "nonfiction" of the universe-- the whos and whats and hows and whys that give gameplay meaning; the atlas and encyclopedia of whatever realm you're playing. In the industry this in-character nonfiction is called "fluff" and provides the context for competition. The second and larger level of game fiction is the novels and stories set in the universe. Go to the science fiction or fantasy section of a big-box bookstore and look at the series. World of Warcraft, Forgotten Realms, Dungeons and Dragons, BattleTech, Dragon Lance, Warhammer 40,000, and Halo, just to name a few. A wall of novels, each one set in a game universe. And unlike movie or TV media tie-in, game fiction is an important part of the IP. More people read Warhammer 40k novels, for example, than play the game, and many newcomers to the game begin playing because they became fascinated with the universe through the novels.

The world of media tie-in writing can be invisible unless you're looking for it, but it is diverse and growing and worth taking seriously as you develop your own writing career.

My next column will explore the differences between media tie-in writing and "regular" writing.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Author, Friend, or Both? What do fans want?

Let’s face it. We are a very connected world. And getting in touch with your favorite author is a lot easier these days.

I’ll never know if that letter I wrote to July Blume years ago telling her that Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret changed my life was lost in the mail, or if Ms. Blume just never got around to penning a reply. But these days, a quick note to an author is only a few keystrokes and a click of a mouse away. It’s instant access.

But are authors too accessible? And how much contact does a reader reallywant with an author?

I found myself asking that question a few weeks ago when I ran across a lovely write up someone had given my contemporary romance series on her blog. I noticed she was on Facebook and rushed to add her as a friend. Then I stopped. And wondered. Does this person really want to be my “friend”?

Just because she enjoyed my books, it doesn’t automatically mean she wants to share in the boring, sometimes inane updates that usually occupy my Facebook page. I’ll bet a lot of those people who have “friended” me are regretting it now, because unlike some authors, when it comes to sites like Facebook, my writing persona and real me are one in the same. And the real me just isn’t all that interesting.

It causes me to wonder just how much a reader who may have found me online really wants to know about me. Do you care if I went to the gym? Or that I’m watching Pride & Prejudice for the one-hundredth time? Or that revisions are kicking my butt?

My guess is no. I wouldn’t force that on anyone.

With Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and all the other social networking entities out there, the author/reader relationship has ample opportunity to grow. But maybe that should happen only if it’s agreed upon by both parties. I know a lot of readers may think it’s presumptuous to believe their favorite authors would want to be their online friend, but I personally believe authors shouldn’t assume a fan wants to be anymore than just a fan to you.

Tell me what you think?

Readers, do you mind when an author chooses to “friend you” on a social networking site?

Authors, what balance do you try to keep between your “fans” and “friends”?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

One bite at a time

One question authors are often asked is “How did you get your start in publishing?” And if you pose that question to the 11 Novel Space authors here, you’ll get 11 different answers. Whether they’ve always wanted to be writers or stumbled into the profession, there is one constant in every story: you have to start somewhere.

My dad – a man with a quote for every occasion – has often said to me over the years, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That holds true for writing as well.

There are all kinds of formulas for finishing a novel. A favorite of mine is that if you write one page a day, you’ll have 365 pages at the end of the year. That’s about 91,000 words; plenty for most publishers of novel-length fiction. You may even have to trim a few thousand words from your finished product.

I will tell you this: Thinking about a book won’t get it written. Wishing for a breakout story idea won’t improve our craft. Hoping for great sales won’t get you a publisher. Even after you’ve had the good fortune of landing your first contract and getting that first novel on the shelf, the work starts all over again for book #2.

Starting holds true for each paragraph, chapter, short story or novel. It’s something you learn to discipline yourself to do every day. There is no way around it. We all have to do begin.

Got an idea? Fire up your computer (or take your flash drive to the library and use theirs if you don’t have one). No clue how to plot? Join a writing group to hone your skills and learn more about the business of publishing. Whichever way you chose to launch your beginning, just do it. While fame and fortune aren’t promised on this path, if you don’t ever start, you can promise yourself there will never be a book, or sales, or your dream come true.

So get to it already: Uncover your motivation, feed your muse and start eating away at your dream one bite at a time.