Friday, April 30, 2010

Guest author Nuala Ní Chonchúir: The Voice

Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a full-time fiction writer and poet, living in Galway county, Ireland. She has published two collections of short fiction and two poetry collections, and has worked as an arts administrator in theatre and in a writers' centre, as a translator, as a bookseller and also in a university library. Nuala teaches creative writing on a part-time basis, and blogs at Women Rule Writer.

My debut novel You, which has just been published by New Island, is told from the POV of a ten-year-old girl. It is 30 years since I was a ten-year-old but, writing in my character’s voice, I was immersed once again in the rough magic of childhood. The novel shows how seriously children can take the world and the way adults often fail to take their feelings into consideration when big things happen. There are freedoms in childhood that make it – from adulthood – seem appealing, but it can also be a time of confusion and fear for some children, and so it is for my main character.

The book is, essentially, a monologue that charts the summer of 1980 in the un-named narrator’s life in Dublin, Ireland. I wrote the novel in the second person – hence the novel’s title You. It’s a voice which comes very comfortably to me when I write. Some of my most successful short stories are also written in the second person and it’s a POV that worked well for Jay McInerney in Bright Lights, Big City and also Edna O’Brien in A Pagan Place. Though, in their screamingly funny book How Not to Write a Novel, Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman say: “Certain late twentieth-century novelists used the second person singular successfully, notably Italo Calvino in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and Jay McInerney in Bright Lights, Big City. But there it ended...In fact it was named the ‘second person’ when McInerney became the second person to get away with it and it became clear he would also be the last.” Ouch.

Second person is perhaps not as intimate a POV as first person – it deflects away from the narrator a little – but, as both writer and reader, I find it seductive. To my mind it is also a very natural way for an Irish person to tell a story: the narrator is at a small distance but uses the cajoling, close voice of a confidante – a storyteller in the reader’s ear.

There’s no big ‘why?’ in my story; You is a novel about friendship and loyalty and changing your mind about other people. It also explores the way children suffer when the people who love them let them down. The narrator is disdainful of adults; she notes their (many) faults and exposes them when they are wrong, but she is also willing to change her mind about them when she feels supported. The girl is mistrustful because she has been let down continuously: by her Da (he left); her Ma (attempted suicide); and in various ways by her mother’s new boyfriend and her father’s new girlfriend. The narrator is a dreamy, analytical, inward looking child – very internal in her approach to life – but sharp in her own way. She’s sensitive and spiky and craves normality; she just wants to be a little girl, but out of necessity she’s developing beyond her years. The child is more capable than the adults in her life so, when things go drastically wrong, she takes matters into her own hands because, she feels, at least she can trust herself.

If all that sounds a little grim I must quickly add that the book is told with humour as the narrator’s naivety often gets in the way of the truth of the situation.

Like most writers over the year-long period it took to write the novel, I developed a great affection for my main character. She became an extension of my life because I carried her and her voice around in my thoughts always. And even though I know she is not real, I can still think of her as if she is, as if she exists in some parallel place and time. And I suppose she does – each time a reader takes a book into her hands, she warps time and dives into the reality of another place. That the place and events sprung from someone else’s imagination matters little. I just hope that my readers get lost in the ‘you’ and that they are convinced enough by the voice of my novel’s girl-narrator to keep on reading.

One free copy of You is available to readers of Novel Spaces. Just leave a comment in the box and mention that you would like to be entered in the draw for the book.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Wednesday, April 28, 2010



    This October my latest book, You're All I Need will be released. It shares some of the characters from my two previous novels, The Way You Aren't and I Can Make You Love Me. If you want to catch up on the lives of Krista and Brennan, Julie and Steve and Wynn and Adam, check out You're All I Need.

About a month ago, my editor snail mailed me a color photo copy of the cover for You're All I Need. At first, I kept thinking, Boy, is that a lot of yellow. When I received the actually cover flats, I realized that I really liked what the editor had done and that it wasn't as much yellow as I previously thought. Studying the cover, it brought back an unpleasant incident following one of my book releases.

In 2005, I sent a proposal to Dafina Books and received an offer for my manuscript, Now Until Forever. It was my first attempt to branch beyond my then publisher, BET. I was very pleased to be working with a new editor and hoping to learn much more about the publishing business. The editor told me that she believed I was a very talent writer, which boosted my fragile confidence. As the process of publishing a book began, the editor sent me a copy of the cover. The art department had designed the cover instead of selecting from the usual stock photos.

    The art work was very good. Now Until Forever had a December 2006 release date and it got reviewed by Harriet Klausner. Apparently, that was a good thing. She gave the book five-stars and spoke very highly of the story. At that time, I thought, I'm on my way.

Whenever I have a new release, I visit Amazon and Barnes and Noble to read the reviews. Yes, I know it sometimes makes my brain hurt, but I do it anyway. Some controversy had developed over the cover for Now Until Forever. Several readers were questioning whether the novel was an interracial romance. One reader had given the book one star, stating that she planned to return the book as soon as she received it from Amazon because I had tricked her by having a questionable cover. She went on to say that she'd never buy another book written by me, because I was more concerned with my bottom line and less involved with writing a good story. She knew all of this about me without glancing beyond the front cover of the book.

I was floored. I'd done none of those things. As a new author at a new publishing house, I had no input into the cover art. I told several of my writing friends about the incident and jokingly stated, that's what happens when you judge a book by its cover instead of reading the back blurb or taking a peek inside. The book gave no reference to an interracial romance. Harriet Klausner's review never mentioned an interracial relationship. The reader made her decision to purchase the book solely on the light complexion of the hero's skin on the cover.

It saddens me to think that readers strike out at authors through media's like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. They write unflattering reviews without knowing the facts. They can cause a lot of damage to an author's reputation and career. Unfortunately, when reviews like this are put on the Internet, they're there forever.

If this reader was as much of an interracial romance fan as she proclaimed in her review, she would have known that those stories always mention the race of the characters in the blurb as part of the hook. I know Dafina did with my latest novel. They made a point of making it clear that the hero was a handsome Frenchman.

What's your opinion? Do reviews influence your decision to buy a book? Do you write reviews? Do you buy your books based on the cover?

I'd love to hear from you. E-mail me at Or add your comments to the Novel Spaces site.

Remember, don't be a stranger.

Lessons From A Budding Entrepreneur

This Easter my now seven year old daughter asked me, “Mommy can I make some lemonade?”

“Sure,” I responded. What harm could come from making lemonade?

As she climbed up on the kitchen counter to retrieve the jug, I heard her mutter excitedly, “Oh boy I can’t wait to be rich!”

I asked, “How can lemonade make you rich?”

“I’m going to have a lemonade stand,” she responded matter- of- factly.

“Oh boy!” was the first thought that came to my head. Immediately her father and I set about to discourage her. The idea of setting out a lemonade stand on Easter Sunday was more than a bit embarrassing to us. We told her nobody sells lemonade in our neighborhood. But she was determined to be the first. We told her it was spring, not summer. She pointed out how hot the day was. We came with what we thought was the trump card, "There are no people out there walking around to buy your lemonade.”

That’s when she presented me her business plan. “I’ll put up a sign and shout “lemonade for sale” and people will get curious and come out of their cars and buy.”

Despite her efforts, the answer was still no. Of course she did what most six year olds would do: she threw a tantrum and went to her room. A few minutes later, she emerged and apologized. She next tried to convince me it would help her in her math knowing I’m a sucker for anything educational.

Finally I reflected on my childhood and the many summers I lived out my career aspirations. I’d had a bank, made a library, had a doctor’s office and kept classes for the younger kids in the neighborhood. My mother never stopped me, though it meant our home was overrun with kids. I finally conceded, convinced that she would not get any sales and would never ask for another stand.

She set up her stand with a little hand written sign with a crayon drawing of a lemon. She even brought the cute factor with her: her two year old sister. I noticed the sun was hot so I went into the garage to fetch a beach umbrella. By the time I returned, there was a line. Within five minutes her lemonade was finished and I had to make more. After she was finished and she packed up, she confided to me, “Selling is hard. I got scared when I had to talk to all those people.”

So what does this anecdote have to do with writing? Well there are several lessons that can be taken away from this budding entrepreneur.

1. Be persistent. Despite our discouragement, she was insistent and she won out in the end

2. Have a business plan. Yes hers was a sign and shouting, but she had a plan. Writing is a business that involves creating the work, selling it to the publisher, and marketing it. We as writers should have a marketing plan.

3. If your strategy isn’t working, change it. In convincing us to let her have the stand, when she realized a tantrum wasn’t working, she used my vulnerability: education benefits, to convince me. Same applies to writing, if your query isn’t getting you in the door, change it. If submitting to agents and publishers are not getting you anywhere, try entering competitions, e-publishing, even self publishing.

4. Market your product: my daughter chose a place of high visibility to get maximum attention, she even used her baby sister to attract attention, then sold her lemonade. In the writing business, there are many conferences, blog tours and even competitions that can be used to market your product.

5. Put aside your fears and be your own advocate. Until my daughter told me that she was afraid of speaking to her customers, I had no idea she was afraid. She sold with such confidence. We as writers often have to get out of our comfort zone and sell our products.

Of course my daughter didn't get rich from selling lemonade, but she lived her dream. Most writers do not get rich from writing either, but being able to publish something we create is fulfilling a dream for many writers, and like my daughter, that dream would never be fulfilled unless we are persistent.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Giveaway: A Pirate's Passion

I didn't plan it this way but the days on which I'm giving away copies of my books happen to coincide with two days when I'm blogging here. And guess what? Today's the first day!

The Romance Studio has a standard feature they call their Book-A-Day Giveaway and my SFR novella, A Pirate's Passion, will be a giveaway on Monday, 26 April.

How do you know if you'll like the book? Well, the story is a reverse Pygmalion, where the woman -- a member of the Republic gentry -- has to teach a pirate the intricate rituals of her class so he can fleece a rich aristocrat of her money. That's the only way she can get away from him, you see. Except, the more time Tera d'Olzon spends with rakish Gil Ahn, the more she finds herself captivated by him. Just to compound matters, poor little rich girl Tera has plans of her own and they distinctly do NOT include a wanted criminal!

As much as I like both leading characters, I have to say that I also feel rather affectionate towards Kotase, Gil's grizzled second-in-command who is like a father-figure to Gil. And I find the formidable Commander Won to be charming under her terrifying exterior, and hope you do too.

There's time for you to read the entire first chapter here, before you enter the draw here. I'll also be collecting email addresses for restarting my newsletter project, so if you'd like to be included in that, tick the box. And best of luck!

* Kaz Augustin is a writer who loves grumpy characters. You can find her website at and she blogs three times a week, more or less, at

WHO was rejected?

Writers endure a lot of punishment. The beatings take many forms, with rejection probably heading the list for the highest degree of pain inflicted. I know writers who are so discouraged and depressed after receiving the first few rejections that they want to give up.

But here's the thing: most successful authors out there have had to endure not only repeated rejection, but also scathing, humiliating, confidence-annihilating dismissals of their worth and their work - the same work which went on to become great successes and sell by the ton-load. We know the names of these authors because they did not curl up into a ball and die in the face of such rejection. We also have the tragic stories, like the one of John Kennedy Toole who received so many rejection letters for A Confederacy Of Dunces that he finally killed himself. His bereaved mother persisted, though, and the novel was eventually published and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

I find it sobering yet also strangely inspiring that every well-known writer, it seems, has publishing horror stories that make ours pale by comparison.

—Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull got rejected 140 times before it was eventually published. That's a lot of "sorry, not for us" letters.

—One of Stephen King's rejections for his (later) bestselling novel, Carrie, read: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

—Ursula K. Le Guin's manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness was described as "endlessly complicated", "hopelessly bogged down", "dry and airless", "lacking in pace", "unreadable", and "a nuisance" - all in one rejection letter. The novel went on to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

—Jeffrey Carver collected rejection slips for 6 years before he finally sold his first short story.

—Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers before finally breaking into print. It went on to win the 1963 Newbury Medal and is in its 69th printing.

—William Golding's Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 publishers, one of whom denounced the future classic as "an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull."

—Tony Hillerman, now famous for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels, was initially told by publishers to "get rid of all that Indian stuff."

—Irving Stone's Lust for Life was rejected 16 times, once with this helpful synopsis: "A long, dull novel about an artist." The book went on to sell over 25 million copies.

—Ray Bradbury has had about a thousand rejections over his 30 year career.

—George Orwell got this gem back with his submission of Animal Farm: "It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA."

John Grisham. Steven King. Jane Austin. Vladimir Nabokov. JK Rowling. They all fought the rejection dragon, and they won. We can do a lot worse than to learn from them. Talent won't cut it; genius won't either, though these don't hurt. It's all about determination and persistence.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Magic is Afoot

I remember an old Buffy Sainte-Marie lyric, “God is alive, magic is afoot, God is afoot, magic is alive...” My last blog covered the laws of magic, this time I speak of magic of a different sort. Rather than the art of making magic, this is about how magic can slip up behind you in everyday life and plant a wet kiss on your cheek.

I like pie.

Almost everyone does, fruit in crust, how can you go wrong? Almost anything is improved by putting it in a crust. In "Titus Andronicus" Shakespeare kills Tamora’s children and has them baked in a pie that’s served to her. She‘s killed right after, so it isn’t clear if the pie was so enjoyable that she never considered what it might be, but even Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett learned that a good crust could cover a multitude of sins, including cannibalism.

When a pie shop opened near me I found myself more excited that I would have expected to be. It was Sunday when I saw it, after closing, and they were closed Mondays. I was so eager to see the sun rise on Tuesday that you would have thought it was Christmas Eve. Despite that, I had a busy day and didn’t get there until late afternoon.

I had a lovely chat with the owner, Emily, who has been cooking and baking in New York for the last ten years. The shop had a homey, otherworldly air, like it had dropped out of another time, with new beams, but old tin wall appliqués that were discovered when they tore out the old sheet rock walls. They had big wooden tables, windows on two sides, and a sense of warmth.

I took my pie home, got busy on the computer and didn’t pull it out of the fridge until the Daily Show was coming on. It was a Chess pie, a southern confection, a light lemony custard in a buttery crust so light it was hard to believe it could hold the filling without floating away. I swooned with the first bite, and immediately regretted every one of the hours until the shop opened that stood between me and more pie.

As I ate I remembered my holy grail of pies. Years and years ago, my mother had visited Pennsylvania Dutch country with my sisters and brought back a Shoo-Fly Pie. It was a succulent mass of molasses and sugar, crispy, smooth, sweet, heaven. I had never seen any on sale in New York, never thought to actually look up the recipe and make my own, so I wandered the land, bereft.

Until now.

I decided I would ask the shop to make me a Shoo-Fly pie. I knew their price, I could afford it this week, and it would be the perfect incentive snack to keep in the fridge to reward writing. The next day I got up, ran through my morning ritual and went to the pie shop. There among the pies listed on the chalk sandwich board in front was Shoo-Fly. I went in and told Emily how much I'd enjoyed the Chess pie and that I’d eaten it at 11 at night, thinking that I had to have her bake me a Shoo-Fly pie, told her the story of my mom and that she’d died last summer. Emily told me that it was exactly then that they were baking the pies, and that the smell of the Shoo-Fly pie had filled the kitchen like never before.

“Probably trying to get in my back window to let me know it was on its way,” I said, and we joked about her late grandmother Elizabeth who’d taught her to bake and my mom, conspiring in heaven.

Did my late mother inspire Emily to put Shoo-Fly pie on the menu that night? Did I pick up the scent or stray thought from her head that put it into mine? Who knows? All I can say for sure is that having them nearby, being able to sit there with my laptop and sip coffee or tea and nibble pie or cookies while I work makes my life a happier place to be and gives me incentive to both write and get back to the gym to burn off the extra calories to earn my pie. Is it a magic pie shop that has me writing and contemplating exercise? It could be. I've found magic in it and will see if it’s for better or worse... I know it was a magical moment that connected me to it, and that it will always have a special place in my heart, and stomach, for giving me a message and a memory from my mom, no matter how fleeting.

And the Shoo-Fly pie? I still ordered one. I have a lot of writing to do, and need a lot of encouragement!

Thanks, mom, and Grandma Elizabeth!

(“Four and Twenty Blackbirds” is on 3rd Avenue and 8th Street, Brooklyn. They are a piece of delight in a weary world. If you drop in, tell ’em Terence sent ya...)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

No More Lonely Booksignings

Back in the 1980s when I worked at Science magazine and often went to scientific trade shows, I noticed a curious phenomenon when I manned the Science booth: Even though sales were forbidden in the exhibit hall, few attendees looked us in the eye. In fact, some stepped around our booth—and other booths—as if we exhibitors were liable to thrust out a hooked cane and yank them in.

Veteran exhibitors told me that people fear getting trapped in a long sales pitch and having to be rude to escape. Over time, I learned some techniques to overcome people's reluctance to approach the booth.

Years later, when I started attending friends' booksignings, I saw customers had the same reluctance to look at the author or walk within arm's reach . . . except when they needed directions to the restroom.

When it came my turn to publish books and do signings, I put into practice the same techniques I used when working trade shows. These techniques can't help draw people into the store, nor can they help people find you when the bookseller puts you in a dark corner. But they do increase your chances of talking to the people who do happen by your signing table.
Arrive early so that you can arrange your table attractively and be relaxed by the start of the signing. Bring a tablecloth that highlights the color of your book cover in case you're given a bare table. Also bring a small easel to display a copy of your book, an attractive bowl filled with wrapped chocolate candies or other give-aways, and (optional) a small tray to keep your bookmarks neat. Also have a sign with the price of your book on it because some people will be too embarrassed to ask.
Smile at each person who walks by and look them in the face.
In a friendly, relaxed voice, offer each person a free bookmark or chocolate.
Some people will stretch an arm toward the table to grab a chocolate and then dart away. If someone approaches, ask them something that has nothing to do with your book: "Are you enjoying the con?" "This is a nice bookstore. Do you shop here often?" "What's the most interesting new book you've found today?" "This is my first time in [name of city]."
After answering your question, some people will thank you for the chocolate and start to turn away. With a smile, thank them for stopping by and ask them to take a bookmark if they haven't already.
After answering your question, other people will linger. Either continue the conversation you're having—some people will buy your book without any pitch if they have fun talking to you—or steer the conversation toward your book: "I'm signing my new book today." "What genres do you read?" "Did you know that civilization started in what is now Iraq?"
Answer the reader's questions about the book, and tell them something interesting about it—perhaps why the setting appealed to you or some surprising fact you learned while researching the book. You and your book will come off as more appealing if you:
  • Continue smiling.
  • Sound enthusiastic.
  • Look at the reader.
  • Nod occasionally as the reader talks.
  • Pay attention to what the reader says and perhaps follow up with a question.
  • Sum up your book in a sentence or two and then answer questions rather than droning on and on.
  • Establish some common ground with the reader—perhaps you went to the same college or lived in the same town or share a favorite author.
If the person decides they're not interested today or says they don't have enough money, smile, thank them for stopping by your table and talking to you, and suggest that they take a bookmark for when they are interested or do have money.

Clearly, the above approach is not a hard sell of your book. Rather, it's a soft sell of you, the professional writer who will publish other books in the future. In my opinion, a hard sell may get you a sale today, but cost you future sales if the person walks away with a bad taste in their mouth.

Personally, I would rather have the person walk away without my book but with a good opinion of Shauna Roberts the "brand" than vice versa. I don't want a purchaser telling ten friends how they got suckered by Shauna Roberts into buying a book they didn't want or couldn't afford. I do want the impression I make at a signing to favorably dispose a reader to stop and look at any book by Shauna Roberts they come across in the future.

What techniques do you use at a booksigning to make a reader comfortable enough to approach you?

Thanks for visiting Novel Spaces today. I'll be blogging here again on May 9, when my topic will be alternate personas and why you might want some.

—Shauna Roberts

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Promote Your Books With Blogs

Recently, my publisher was kind enough to arrange a virtual blog tour, which I believe has dramatically helped my book sales. It has increased the word-of-mouth factor.

Nowadays, so many people have blogs, and in particular, there are avid readers who post book reviews on their blogs. The idea is to provide free copies, in my case it was five (5) per blog site, to the blog followers, in return for the blogger posting the giveaways, and also reviewing the title. Actually, they can offer a giveaway and wriblte a feature on your book, and/or a review.

The following is the link to my blog tour, which was from 4/7-4/14.

There are online articles on how to locate appropriate blogs that would be receptive, on how to approach and pitch your book, and on how to use social media to promote your virtual book tour.

If you've used this promotional avenue before, how did it go? Or, please share your thoughts on whether you plan to use it in the future.

Peace and love!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Redecorating and The Call

In a previous post, I gave you a peek at the writing side of my office.

Now I’m going to tell you about the other side, and how selling my first book changed the space.

BEFORE, this is where I napped between bouts of writing and dreamed of one day becoming a published author.

Comfy, isn’t it?

Then came the big call. Weeks later, it was followed by the even bigger revision letter – four single spaced pages itemizing over fifty changes.

Suddenly, the days of napping in my office were over. I also needed a bigger screen (I only have laptops) for editing and more desk space.

Here’s an AFTER photo of what it’s looked like since I sold. I’ve dubbed it the “editing side”, where I do revisions, print and prepare to give my manuscripts a final send off.

Now tell me how your life (or surroundings) have changed since you sold your first book????

Monday, April 19, 2010

Guest author Sue Guiney: Help! I’m a Rom-com Addict

Sue Guiney is an American who has lived in England for almost twenty years. Tangled Roots, her first novel, is a story about the interconnection of two people's lives, a son and his mother, and the difference between their perceptions of what "really happened." Her poems and short stories have appeared in a variety of literary journals and her first collection of poetry, Dreams of May, has been published by Bluechrome Publishing.

Giveaway alert! Sue is giving away two signed copies, one of Tangled Roots and one of Dreams of May, to lucky readers who correctly answer the questions at the end of this post!

I’ve spent most of the past few days in bed with the flu. I wish I could say that when I’m sick like this, all I ever want to do is take to my bed with a good, long novel, but it’s just not true. And really, what’s the use of lying? So here’s the truth…I find my comfort, physically, psychologically, emotionally, in romantic comedies. I have a secret stash of Meg Ryan videos. Kevin Kline’s performance as the ne'er-do-well Frenchman in French Kiss is one of my all-time favorites. Okay, call me shallow. Call me silly. But at least I’m honest.

So in-between my morning and afternoon naps, I flicked on the TV to see what was showing. The result: Love Happens, with the eternally earnest and girlish Jennifer Aniston playing against and with the almost unbearably adorable Aaron Eckhart. The premise is that an inspirational speaker who helps people move on after bereavements has never actually dealt with his own loss. He encourages people who attend his workshop to “face their fears.” He proclaims that you can indeed make lemonade out of a life full of lemons. In the end, he finds the ability to accept his wife’s death through the understanding of a good woman, the forgiving hug of his father-in-law, and indeed, the release back to nature of his pet bird. Yes, I know…..And I know that I may be stretching the genre here but to me it’s all the same. Boy meets girl. Boy almost loses girl through a variety of events, humourous or otherwise. Boy gets girl after resolution of said events.

Some may call this merely nauseating. Some might say this sort of simplistic psychobabble is actually dangerous. As someone who has had to endure a tragic bereavement of my own, I completely understand the problems involved with making this sort of movie. And yet, I cried throughout the whole thing, laughed when I was supposed to, and felt much better at the end. The two-hours went by in an instant; all flu symptoms blissfully ignored. But as a writer, I have to ask why? How could it be that I am so happily manipulated? How can a film, even a genre of films, make me cheerfully cast off all my critical faculties and fall into every emotional trap the producers set before me? Why am I, a well-educated author of literary novels and poetry, such a rom-com addict?

All my writing stems from character. I go through my life trying to imagine what peoples’ lives are like, how they might respond to circumstances, unusual or not. Even my poetry tends to capture individual moments of emotional truth. I couldn’t write a decent poem about a tree if I tried – and actually, I have. The truths I am always looking for are emotional ones. I suppose they are the only “truths” I really believe in. The whys and hows of human responses are what I write about and, clearly, what I respond to in other peoples’ writings. I want to be manipulated into feeling something. Hell, I long for it. And I’ve come to understand that it is through the use of humour and even sentimentality that feelings are made most real. A teacher once said to me, “You have to earn the pathos, and you do that through humour.” That sort of humour leading to pathos can be not only difficult to accomplish within the wide expanse if a novel, but perhaps also less necessary. But in a poem? A play? Yes, let it be there. A film? For me, this is where it works best.

I know, I may be crucified for saying this. It is much more fashionable to believe that feelings wrought through excess or anger or violence or inscrutability are truer, more deeply felt. But I’m not so sure. Shedding a tear over someone else’s troubles, shallow a portrayal as they may have been given, is still an act of empathy. If one of the most important goals of art is to help us understand the intricacies of the human condition, then who’s to say a film like Love Happens isn’t, actually, art? Or at least a fairly close facsimile thereof…

So I laughed, I cried. I fought through whatever outrage and disgust my rational responses hurled at the screen, and in the end, I felt better. I was even moved to do what all writers hope to do after an emotional experience, namely to write about it. And besides, for two whole hours I didn’t think once about the flu.

Sue Guiney

...And now for the giveaways! The first reader to leave the correct answer to either question in the comment trail wins the book!

For the novel Tangled Roots:
Q. What does the “Arrow of Time” refer to?

For the poetry play Dreams of May:
Q. What Spanish dance is illustrated on the cover?

Sue Guiney's website:
Her blog:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What are you writing about?

Ever read anything about dream analysis, specifically the symbols involved? As in: "If you dream about a three-meter rabbit with the tail of an alligator holding a cigarette in its left hand and speaking with a lisp, it represents your remorse for your hit-and-run involving the old woman or that you regret paying full retail for the mauve espadrilles." I particularly enjoy the ones that take themselves seriously.

The problem with interpreting another person's internal symbolism is it can't be done. Here's a quick experiment: Next time you're near someone you know, read their mind. Or, if you find it easier, project your thoughts into their mind. Next, instead of direct mental contact, speak to them and listen to what they say in response. Which method conveyed the most information most accurately? Spoken language developed cooperatively. Individuals wanted others to understand them and to understand others, so they worked together to build a lingual consensus. Folks started out agreeing this sound combination means that object and developed more and more complex constructions to encompass whatever they wanted to communicate.

Unlike the world around us, there are no other people inside our heads with us. (Go ahead and check; I'll wait.) We don't need to form a symbolic consensus with anyone, which means the language of our thoughts is unique. For example: we agree on the definition of "spider" – say the word and we all know what is meant. But inside our heads we each have our own way of storing the concept of spider. Somewhere in my infancy I decided connecting neuron a-476392 to neuron q-799986 via synapse epsilon 379-squared meant "spider." In your infancy you almost certainly chose something else, with the result that (assuming there was some way to boost signal strength without frying my brain) if I tried to transmit the concept "spider" you might receive "tapioca." Or, more likely, gibberish. This is not a new concept. ESP experiments always involved attempting to transfer a simple visual image because experimenters hoped uncluttered stimuli were universal.

Of course, there are external, cultural symbols that are widely recognized. In some cases the meaning is universal. There is no confusion as to what people is represented by a six-pointed star, for example. Sometimes the symbol is generally agreed on but with variations. (A five-pointed star represents "protection" in many cultures, with local variations on who is protecting whom from what.) Some symbols have diametrically opposed meanings. (The swastika means "life" in much of Asia but "death" in modern Europe.) One of my favorites, the cross in a circle, meant the earth in prehistoric times; is the sun cross to modern neopagans; represents the four seasons to agrarian cultures; the four elements to early alchemists; and to Christians declares faith must be applied to the world if it is to do any good.

The symbols of our cultures are inescapably melded into our perceptions of the world around us. But each of us also carries a lexicon of internal symbols, symbols we may not even recognize are symbols, that give shape and tangibility to our thoughts and feelings. Most people never have any reason to share these internal symbols, but writers have no choice – we use them all the time.

Do not imagine I am backing away from my assertion that writing is a craft. We build a story the way a wood carver builds a chair. It can be beautiful, but to be of any value it must do its job. Just as a chair that tips over will not be used, a story that does not entertain will not be remembered. Or finished. But at some level, every writer is working through her internal imagery as she writes; to a certain extent, all writing is a sort of therapy. And writing can help us sort through our past -- just as our past shapes our fiction. I'm not talking about a snappy bit of dialog built around what you wish you'd said to that bore at the party, or a fantasy about what could have happened if you'd ever gotten up the nerve to approach the object of your adoration in high school. Some writers are known for putting people they don't like in their stories then giving them disgusting traits or a pathetic death; as I recall, Peter Benchly does this to critics. All of that is superficial, and not at all what I'm talking about.

It's no secret I'm an unabashed fan of Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and one of my favorite stories of hers is "June Sixteenth at Anna's." (UPDATE: When I first wrote this column the story wasn't available online. Now it can be purchased as a standalone story at Smashwords for $2.99, or - much better buy - in the $9.99 anthology Recovering Apollo 8 and Other Stories. When you've finished with this column, go read.) The source of this story's power, its ability to affect, is what it's really about. In 2005 Kris described "June Sixteenth" – written, I think, in 2003 – as one of the most difficult stories she'd ever written. She could not get the feel, the tone, the language, where she knew it should be; she kept tearing it apart and starting over from scratch. Her breakthrough came when she realized what she was writing about. This story was her way of working through her feelings about September 11, 2001. There is nothing about 9/11 in the story – no hint of terrorism or horror – but it is built on the internal symbols her mind had developed to deal with the event and its impact on her. Realizing what the story was about didn't make it suddenly easier to tell, but it helped her make a master craftsman's choices in deciding how she shared her heart.

I am not a writer of Kris's caliber, but I do know enough to recognize when a story might be about more than I think it is about. My most recent sale to BattleCorps, "Bad Water," is on the surface the story of a retired patrol boat pilot reactivated to carry out one last mission that requires his unique qualifications. I had the story in the first week, all 15,000 words of it; a straight-up covert ops story that didn't work. I did not immediately recognize the problem – that in telling an adventure story I had missed what I was writing about - I just knew there was a problem. At times like that my process is a variation on my pre-writing mental composting: I set the story aside and think about it without writing for a while before taking a fresh run at telling the tale from scratch.
Over the course of the next week whenever thought about "Bad Water" I found myself distracted by memories of growing up in pre-Disney Florida, my mother's decades-long battle with debilitating illness, and speculation about paths I'd almost followed. (No, I'm not going to get more specific than that.) In other words, I realized what "Bad Water" was really about. Armed with that understanding, I went back and wrote a much stronger 13k story – a story that does not mention Florida or my mother or the path I did not take but draws its strength from all of them.

If you ever find yourself unable to complete a scene or a story; or if your characters go unexpectedly flat and lifeless; or if everything looks right, but in your gut you know it's wrong: stop. It could be a mechanical problem, a story element that doesn't work, or the characters acting out of character, or dialog being stretched to cover a clunky bit of plot business. Or it could be that you haven't taken the time to discover what it is you're really writing about.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Finish Line: Why NOT to sprint for it!

This week I find myself sitting just upon the brink of that one place every writer shoots for...the finish line. Anyone who has ever written a novel understands the sheer, unmitigated joy that comes with typing "The End" on that final page.

Sometimes the joy is found in finally giving those characters you've been engrossed in for several hundred pages their well-deserved happily ever after. Other times, it's from finally being able to rid yourself of this tortuous book that only came in fits and spurts and caused you all kinds of mental anguish.

For me, the joy comes in just knowing that I've once again accomplished something that so many people set out to do, but never complete. But this week, I had to step back and remind myself not to sprint for the finish line. As I went through my writing day, going full-throttle toward reaching my page goals and thinking about the next book I want to write, I realized I wasn't giving my current work-in-progress the attention it deserved. Getting to "The End" shouldn't be my sole focus. Making sure the end is as interesting, satisfying and well written as the beginning and the middle should be what fuels me.

So, instead of sprinting, I've decided to step back and stroll through the meandering roads of my story's ending. Enjoying the characters, the setting, and the flavor I've spent the past several hundred pages creating. I have no doubts the book will be better for it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's a critique group?

When I first started writing, I went to my favorite bookstore and confessed to the clerk in a hesitate voice that I had started writing a romance novel. Her eyebrows rose and then Darlene led me to the section on writing and introduced me to several books about the craft. I went home, eager to find out what was between the covers. In those books, I found Romance Writers of America. I joined the national organization, as well as, the local chapter.

Greater Detroit Romance Writers of American sent me a welcome package with a roster of its members. I went through the list searching for members that I could connect with. I found one writer who lived in Detroit and called her. She was helpful and pleasant and seemed pleased to meet another writer from the area. Before hanging up, she suggested we form a critique group. She knew several local romance writers that might be interested in working with us. I agreed, even offered to host the first meeting.

After saying goodbye, I hung up the phone and announced to my husband, "I'm going to be part of a critique group."

Always encouraging, Gary answered, "That's great! What's a critique group?"

"I don't know," I responded. "But I'm going to find out."

Ten years later I actually know what a writing critique group is. A critique group is made up of writers with a common goal. They are working to improve their writing skills and come together to offer each member help and support. What I learned over the years is family members will offer to read your manuscripts, but they shy away from giving true criticism. A critique member will tell you the truth, whether you want to hear it or not. Believe me there were days that I didn't want to hear it, but my group's comments and suggestions were always helpful.

A critique group can be a wonderful asset or a major burden. I was lucky. My group was a positive force in my writing career. To be honest, I never thought I would get published. So I credit my group with guiding me to that end. We were a dedicated group of writers that met twice a month. Each member was expected to bring a maximum of 10 pages to our meetings. This made the group produce new material for each meeting.

I learned a lot from those ladies. They taught me about goal and motivation. I got help with dialogue, plotting and manuscript preparation and in exchange I provided the sensory elements for their stories.

My critique group members are all published authors now. When we went our separate ways, I can safely say that we all gained valuable information and insights from working together. I still rely on them to give me feedback when I get stuck. I'm happy to say they are my friends, as well as, my writer colleagues.

Writing can be a very lonely business. The friends you make along the way are priceless.

What are your thoughts on the topic. I'd love to hear from you. My email is

Remember, don't be a stranger.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Preditors and Editors

After the release of "A marriage of Convenience", a reader and aspiring author asked me about my experiences with the publishing industry. The answer took me down the very rocky road to my first publication. I have to admit, my biggest obstacle wasn’t the numerous rejections. It was the many scam artists preying on the desires and dreams of those of us desiring to share our passion with the world.

I initially submitted my query to a literary agent, whose name I will not mention. To my surprise, they invited me to submit the manuscript within minutes of receiving the email. I was ecstatic. On my first try, I got to second base! A little voice in my head told me it was too good to be true. But the little red man with the fork on the other shoulder said to ignore that little voice. I submitted the manuscript. The next day I received an email accepting the manuscript and telling me to send money for proofreading and editing fees.

My antennas went up. This was a warning sign I read in my research about the industry. So I decided to investigate that literary agency a little closer. First I did a little experiment. I emailed a garbled query which was nothing but a bunch of words strung together randomly. In no time I received the same form email inviting me to send the entire manuscript. Weird huh? Next, I googled the literary agent. The internet was flooded with complaints about that agency. It was in that investigation I stumbled on a valuable resource for authors and aspiring authors. It was called Preditors and Editors at (This is NOT the same as The site listed literary agents, publishers, legal groups representing people in the literary field. Most importantly the literary agents and publishers were evaluated and many scam artists were flushed out. It was there that I confirmed what I suspected in the first place. The literary agent to which I submitted my manuscript was nothing but a scam, making money off of fees rather than actually finding publishers for the work. Needless to say, I ditched those con- artists. I submitted my work to those agents and publishers listed in Preditors and Editors as legitimate. One of them was Dorchester publishing, and the rest is history.

There are many predators out there who take advantage of aspiring authors. I highly recommend that any author who desires to be published take a look at the preditors and editors website. It is one of the valuable resources I discovered on the road to publication.

What are some of your resources?

Monday, April 12, 2010

New contract!

I've been sitting on this news for months now. Have you heard of Carina Press? It's the new digital-first imprint of Harlequin. Late last year, I submitted the Forlorn Little Novel to them and, to my utter delight, it was accepted for publication. Not only that but I subsequently found out that it's going to be part of Carina Press' launch line in June! Swoon. So now that the contracts have been signed and duly received by all concerned, I figure I can let the cat out of the bag.

The title is IN ENEMY HANDS and it's a hard science-fiction romance. That means that, in addition to the romance, it also delves into astrophysics and pharmacology. My editor says to tell you that the science in it is as much a character as any one of the actual, er, characters. And my, what characters.

  • An astrophysicist who really wants to concentrate on her work and not get involved in politics.
  • A brilliant human computer who is controlled through drugs, only living his life in two-day cycles.
  • An handsome but enigmatic spaceship captain, in command of almost two hundred soldiers in a vessel out on the edge of known space.
  • A xenoanthropologist who must live with the fact that he's turned his back on science in order to keep one man imprisoned in his own mind.

What's binding them together is an experiment that can either bring stars back to life...or extinguish entire solar systems.

I'll be blogging more about IN ENEMY HANDS in the months ahead, but just wanted to share the news with you. It's not even up on my own blog yet!

* Kaz Augustin is a writer who loves keeping her felines in burlap. When friends see her holding a wriggling sack, they know she's about to spring something on them. You can find her website here ( and she blogs three times a week, more or less, here (

Sunday, April 11, 2010

World Literature: Spanish-Caribbean writers

Continuing what has become a series on renowned writers from the Caribbean, we turn the spotlight on three from the Spanish-speaking territories.

I just completed How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez (b.1950), the first novel by a Dominican-American woman to receive widespread acclaim and attention in the United States. The Caribbean references struck a chord, of course, and the Spanish flavours were not entirely exotic to me as Trinidad was a Spanish colony long before it became an English colony and the Spanish influence is everywhere here, from the food to the music, from the surnames and place names to a significant portion of the blood running through my veins.

The book explores issues of migration and assimilation of Caribbean, in this case of Spanish-Caribbean people into the USA - issues of ethnic identity and multiculturalism. But forget the larger issues; it's an entertaining, well-written story of a Dominican family that ran away to the US during the time of the brutal dictator Trujillo, and their struggles to straddle their old culture and their adopted one.

Junot Díaz (b.1968), writer and creative writing professor at MIT, is also Dominican-American, and the immigrant experience is central to his work as well. His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008, along with numerous other literary awards and prizes including the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award for best novel of 2007.

Oscar Wao is next on my reading list, lent to me by my friend and fellow writer Vaughn. Now that I've acquired some background into the Dominican experience via Julia Alvarez, I anticipate enjoying this acclaimed first novel even more.

Before Night Falls: A Memoir by Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas (1943 – 1990) was on the New York Times list of the ten best books of the year in 1993. In 2000 this work was made into a film in which Spanish actor Javier Bardem played Arenas.

Major themes in Arenas' novels are condemnation of the government of Fidel Castro which imprisoned him for his writings and openly gay lifestyle, and criticism of the Catholic Church and US culture and politics.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Magic Tricks

One day I went to get my hair cut in Los Angeles at a little place I’d found on La Cienega, across from a big newsstand. Either I was early or the barber was running late, but I ended up with a few minutes to kill. The only thing near the shop was a porn palace and an occult supply store. At the moment occult supplies seemed more appealing than the two and three-foot rubber latex dildoes on display through the open door, mysteriously standing on end, gently waving welcome as they swayed in the breeze.

The occult shop next door was a small storefront, worn glass-topped counters inside filled with the usual mixture of herbs, bones, fang and claw, silvery athame daggers, ceremonial bells, wall shelves filled with books on Wiccan witchcraft to Satanism, and everything magical in between. Two blonde young women stood at the counter talking to the owner or manager, in their early twenties, looked like out-of-towners rather than true practitioners, enchanted and a little scared by their dip into forbidden waters.

The man behind the counted took full advantage of their wide-eyed wonder to enjoy the attention. He was in his late fifties or early sixties, gray hair and bearded, he looked more like an aging hippie than a mystic sage, but good enough for the girls, who hung on his every word.

“There are five laws of magic,” he said as convincingly as Vincent Price at his best. “To want, to will, to know, to dare...and to keep silent.”

They sighed in awe as he explained what he meant by each. You had to want the result badly enough to act, you had to will it into being, you had to know how to do it, dare to do it and not blab to everyone what you’re doing every step of the way until what you want is a reality.

All in all, the rules of writing.

I’ve always considered writing to be like magic -- a mighty power capable of great transformation, but risky if misused. Other comparisons apply -- more than one witch or writer has been burned at the stake for their work; many have been damned by their peers or society for doing what they believed in. Neither is particularly rewarding, except in rare cases. Both are solitary, except when performed with others, in a coven or writing workshop.

Writing is also filled with obscure rituals and regulations that govern your performance. Are some of the rules of grammar any less mystifying that which night to gather ingredients of a spell? Is the sense of power in mastering their use any less exciting? I remember reading fairy tales as a child, then science fiction and fantasy, and as the words of my favorite tales unlocked mysteries about life and the universe to me in veiled metaphor, I felt no less empowered than the sorcerer’s apprentice opening his master’s book of spells and waving his magic wand.

Years later, I’ve found a whole new magic in writing, more from the perspective of the grizzled mage than apprentice, but with experience comes a whole new appreciation of the power of words and more importantly, of story. I have thought back on that day in L.A. many times over the years, reminded myself of the rules of magic as I hesitate to make the leap into a new book or story, or felt lost on the path once begun.

I reaffirm my purpose, my desire to do the thing, remind myself why I started in the first place, how I started it, and push myself to move forward until the way is smooth again. Complaining perhaps, working out ideas as I go on fellow writers or fiends, but refraining from doing what I did once -- telling the whole story to people before it is written down. Keep silent -- there is one true telling of any tale, and if you don’t capture it in its fullness before you present it to an audience, you risk losing the impetus, the energy to write it all out properly. So make it magic, make it whatever it takes to do it. If ritual helps you to write, do it. I put on soft music, light candles, wear loose comfy clothes and cut off the phone. It works for me to date my muse, for you it may be loud disco and flashing lights.

I recently told an aspiring writer that writing is like having a lover -- you get what you put into the relationship. And that is true of magic as well. Commit to the act, put your heart and soul into it, whether ethereal or aesthetic, or you’ll never make your mark on the world. No one ever accomplished anything by just wishing for it, not even magic.

If I've learned anything by now, it's that both take work, and it’s hard work and only hard work that brings rewards in anything.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Guest author Electa Rome Parks: Truths About Being a Published Author

After successfully self-publishing her debut novels The Ties That Bind and Loose Ends, Electa Rome Parks sold the rights to New American Library, a division of Penguin Group, with whom she signed a three book deal. Diary of a Stalker is her latest release.

It has been a pleasure, an honor and a privilege to be a published author; it is one of the true joys and accomplishments of my life. Not everyone has the opportunity to realize a dream and I feel totally blessed to be in that number. During my tenure as a published author, I’ve discovered certain truths.

1. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Everyone is not going to love or even like your novels. And that’s OKAY.

2. Everyone, their mother and cousins will want to point out any editorial errors they may find within the pages of your books. Everyone’s a critic.

3. You don’t necessarily have to go to college to become a successful writer. I believe there are elements of writing that come naturally, just like breathing.

4. Everyone thinks they can write a book. However, every book in the marketplace isn’t necessarily a good book.

5. Everyone thinks their life story should be a book.

6. Talent will only get you so far. Sometimes it’s all about being in the right place at the right time.

7. The right “handlers”, i.e. agents, editors, PR person, make all the difference in the world.

8. Every novel has some element(s) of truth. Don’t believe the hype.

9. Writing is a business. Sales are the bottom line. No matter how talented you are, if you don’t have the sales, you won’t get the next deal.

10. There is such a synergy when creative minds come together; it’s magic.

11. There is such a sense of freedom and joy in having the ability, from the very core of your soul to express yourself to the world; it’s almost like giving birth.

12. The new “renaissance” authors are making history and creating legacies.

13. Writing is a lonely and hard business to be successful in. Most of us can’t quit our day jobs.

14. Every author should pen at least one book that gives back to the universe in a positive, appealing manner to the masses.

15. You have to have a real love affair with the beauty and power of words in order to stick with it because the industry, like a lover, will take you through ups and downs and sometimes screw you over.

I'm giving away an autographed copy of my new release, Diary of a Stalker, to two lucky readers! Winners will be selected randomly from the comment trail.

Electra's website:
On MySpace:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In the Hallowed Halls

At the end of March, I combined a trip home to Beavercreek, Ohio, with several promotional events for my historical novel Like Mayflies in a Stream, including a visit to my former high school. There I spoke to about 250 students in four creative writing classes, four ninth-grade English classes, and the school book discussion group.

Some students were excited to have me there and asked many questions about writing and publishing; others were bored; others were too cool for school. I gave them all handouts with writing hints. The handouts included my email address, and I urged them all to use me as a resource for their writing and publishing questions.

Speaking to the Beavercreek students was rewarding in many ways. I recommend other writers take the opportunity to visit their alma maters to inspire future writers from their home towns.

The most thrilling moment of my high school visit also saddened me. I asked in one ninth-grade class how many had a drive to write (several hands rose) and then how many had a drive to create. To my surprise, nearly every hand shot up. I thought of the many adults who live a humdrum existence with no creative outlet and wondered, what happened? And will these thirty-some enthusiastic students also dismiss or suppress their creativity as they get older? That moment by itself validated my visit; the students were able to see in the flesh someone from Beavercreek who had followed her dreams and succeeded.

Thanks for stopping by today. Please come back on April 22, when I'll give some hints for having a successful booksigning.

—Shauna Roberts

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Songs Can Move Mountains

Music is my muse at times - when I hear a song, great lyrics and melodies, I envision certain scenes, whether in my private life, or in the lives of my characters. While I cannot listen to music while writing, because my mind will run away on a melodic journey just when I need to focus, when I'm relaxing or taking a road trip, the first thing I do is pick out which CDs to bring along.

For my last few books I've used music as chapter headings. It's so easy to find appropriate titles with messages that fit the scenes, and also, it's plain old fun.

The song used in the final chapter of my current novel is Where Does My Heart Beat Now, by Celine Dion.

What type of music makes your writer-heart beat?

Do you add song titles/lyrics to your stories every now and then?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What An Awful Movie Taught Me About Writing

I like my novels sweet, sexy and oh-so-romantic.

But give me movies full of zombies, killer bees, mobsters, vigilante justice, explosions and plenty of blood-soaked fistfights.

So although the movie CA$H (Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash) was missing hungry zombies and pissed-off bees, it boasted everything else I adore in a film.

The plot? Our hero, Cash is an ex-con seeking revenge on the culprit who raped and killed his wife.

Mr. Phyllis fell asleep in the middle of an early fight scene with fake blood squirting into the air like a Las Vegas fountain grumbling something about picking the next movie.

I’ll admit, the movie had a cheesy, amateurish look and was getting really tedious. Still, there was plenty of popcorn so I suffered through it.

Then came the ending…

Captured by the bad guy, Cash is tied to a chair with broken legs and both hands broken at the wrists – bone sticking out of all of the breaks.

Up until now, this straight-to-DVD flick had been very predictable, but now I was biting my nails. How in the heck was Cash going to get out of this mess!?!?

The bad guy pulls out his gun and gets in our helpless hero’s face. Then suddenly, Cash raises his broken arm and jabs him in the throat with an exposed bone. The villain dies a painful, bloody death.

Wow! What an ending!

It made me forget an hour and a half of mediocrity and search for more movies by this filmmaker.

If you’re still with me, my point is as writers we spend so much time crafting the perfect beginning. We should. After all, it’s what convinces someone who picks up our book at the bookstore to buy.

Yet sometimes our endings can get lost in the rush to type ‘the end’ after writing three-to-four hundred pages.

Watching CA$H taught me I’ll have to go beyond giving readers a satisfying happily-ever-after and make sure to give my books endings that will leave ‘em them desperate for more.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Revisiting Star Trek

Last week I had the pleasure of proofing the print layout of Honor, my 2005 Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers e-book, for the upcoming Out of the Cocoon omnibus. I've developed a bit as a writer in the six years since writing Honor, so it's no surprise I found several things I would do a bit differently today (I'm a bit less fond of telegraphic sentences than I once was.), but as a storyteller I was glad to see the tale still holds up.

I began my career writing with Star Trek; my first sale was "Personal Log," a short story that appeared in Strange New Worlds IV. I once defined myself as a Trek writer and envisioned expanding the Trek universe through novels and stories for decades. As it happened, Honor was my last sale to Pocket Books. There was a change in editors and, though I pitched short stories and novels for a few years, nothing clicked with the new leadership. (And no, there was nothing wrong with the editor's taste – he shepherded some of Star Trek's best fiction into print.) That editor is no longer with Pocket – I don't recognize the name of the editor I'm corresponding with now – and I'd be lying if the idea of pitching for Trek didn't cross my mind. As in: I spent an afternoon and evening with my old Trek reference books and thumbing through novels and anthologies I've collected over the years but hadn't gotten around to reading.

Today I sorted my Trek novels into those I liked and/or looked interesting and/or had been written by friends of mine and filled a 10-ream box with the ones I didn't care for or didn't capture my imagination; I'll be taking those to the Salvation Army store in the morning. I'd love to write for the Vanguard series and I have a half-dozen ideas for TNG and DS9 stories and I really wish the Corps of Engineers were still flying on a regular basis. But …
I'm working to expand my career beyond write for hire. Much as I appreciate the (slightly more) regular income and comfort of contracts going in, I need fewer ties to media tie-in, not more.

One treasure I found among the Trek reference books (and yes, I kept those) was my notebook from a media tie-in writing workshop with Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch back in 2003. If you can find a way to get to the coast of Oregon, these workshops are worth every effort to attend. They have more than paid for themselves in my career – and the careers of a dozen other writers I can name. Though I had published a few (Trek) short stories, I owe my transition from guy hoping to become an author to professional writer to what I learned from Dean and Kris. (And if you can't afford to get to them, as I haven't these last five years, do what I do: Click on those names and read their websites.)

A few of the notes I jotted that week in early August, 2003:

Read the trades (Publishers' Weekly, Romantic Times, Mystery Scene, etc.) cover to cover. 95% of the information will be useless to you; 4% will be eventually useful; 1% will be immediately vital – but you won't recognize it unless you've learned the market. Study the industry, learn the market.

Choose something to master. Cliffhangers. Time shifts. Viewpoint changes. With every book, every story, find a challenge and practice something new. Perfect your technique.

Do not spend the money until after the cheque clears.

Your writing career is a very large brick building. You build it one brick at a time. Every contact you make is a brick. Every piece you write is a brick. Learn your craft; make your foundation as wide and deep as you can. Then place your bricks. What you build is up to you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

How "social" is social networking for you?

Social Networking. The term has become a part of our everyday world, and I doubt it is going anywhere. Seriously, when my mom is on Facebook, something tells me it is here to stay. But for writers, social networking takes on an entirely new dimension. Go to any writing conference and slip into a workshop on marketing or P.R. I'd bet you my next book advance that the term "social networking" will be talked about as a way to broaden your reader base. As writers, we're told that we need to be "accessible" to readers, and platforms such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads, and the like are the perfect place to connect with fans.

But how social should a writer be? Should you assume fans only want to hear about your writing, or do you think they care about what's going on in your everyday life? At my personal blog, I find myself talking more about what's going on in life in general instead of sticking to writing-related topics. For example, the last three weeks (and several weeks to come) have been about my recent trip to China. Although I haven't had many responses, the site statistic show that I've had more visitors tuning in than usual. Would I get the same interests if I was griping about the struggle I just had with the last chapter I wrote?

I've touched upon this before, and continue to struggle with what face I should show on social networking sites. On sites such as Facebook and Twitter, readers get the real me. If they don't want to read about how much I love the TV show GLEE (new season starts on April 13th!), or how I think the new Dark Cherry Mocha at Starbucks is delicious sin in a paper cup, then they really don't want to be my friend.

But something in my gut tells me that readers are okay with seeing the quirky, real side of me. That's the point of social networking, right? To be social. And, to my chagrin, I'm starting to enjoy it more and more.

What are your thoughts on social networking? For the authors out there, do you consider it a burden or have you embraced it? For readers, how much interaction are you looking for when you "friend" or "follow" an author on a social networking site?

Judging A Book By Its Cover

This October my latest book, You're All I Need will be released. It shares some of the characters from my two previous novels. The Way You Aren't and I Can Make You Love Me. If you want to catch up on the lives of Krista and Brennan, Julie and Steve and Wynn and Adam, check out You're All I Need.

About a month ago, my editor snail mailed me a color photo copy of the cover for You're All I Need. At first, I kept thinking, boy is that a lot of yellow. When I received the actually cover flats, I realized that I really liked what the editor had done and that it wasn't as much yellow as I previously thought. Studying the cover, it brought back an unpleasant incident following one of my book releases.

In 2005, I sent a proposal to Dafina Books and received an offer for my manuscript, Now Until Forever. It was my first attempt to branch beyond my then publisher, BET. I was very pleased to be working with a new editor and hoping to learn much more about the publishing business. The editor of publishing a book began, the editor sent me a copy of the cover. The art department had designed the cover instead of selecting from the usual stock photos.

The art work was very good. Now Until Forever had a December 2006 release date and it got reviewed by Harriet Klausner. Apparently, that was a good thing. She gave the book five-stars and spoke very highly of the story. At that time, I thought, I'm on my way.

Whenever I have a new release, I visit Amazon and Barnes and Noble to read the reviews. Yes, I know it sometimes makes my brain hurt, but I do it anyway. Some controversy had developed over the cover for Now Until Forever. Several readers were questioning whether the novel was an interracial romance. One reader gave the book one star, stating she planned to return her copy as soon as it arrived from Amazon because I had tricked her by having a questionable cover. She went on to say that she'd never buy another book written by me, because I was more concerned with my bottom line and less involved with writing a good story. She knew all of this about me without glancing beyond the front cover of the book.

I was floored. I'd done none of those things. As a new author at a new publishing house, I had no input into the cover art. I told several of my writing friends about the incident and jokingly stated, that's what happens when you judge a book by its cover instead of reading the back blurb or taking a peek inside. The book gave no reference to an interracial romance. Harriet Klausner's review never mentioned an interracial relationship. The reader made her decision to purchase the book solely on the light complexion of the hero's skin on the cover.

It saddened me to think that readers strike out at authors through media's like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. They write unflattering reviews without knowing the facts. They can cause a lot of damage to an author's reputation and career. Unfortunately, when reviews like this are put on the Internet, they're available forever.

If this reader was as much of an interracial romance fan as she proclaimed in her review, she would have known that those stories always mention the race of the characters in the blurb as part of the hook. I know Dafina did with my latest novel. They made a point of making it clear that the hero was a handsome Frenchman.

What's your opinion? Do reviews influence your decision to buy a book? Do you write reviews? Do you buy your books based on the cover?

I'd love to hear from you. E-mail me at Or add your comments to the Novel Spaces site.

Remember, don't be a stranger.