Monday, May 31, 2010
At one point, my mother shook her head, folded her arms across her small breasts and stated that I was a jack of all trades, but a master of none. She was right. I changed job whenever the feelings struck me. I had no problem with trying different things. Some were more successful than others. Fifteen years later, I've realized that being a jack of all trades made it easier for me to incorporate interesting skills, details, and information into my books.
For example, in my October release, You're All I Need, the heroine is an administrative assistant for a high powered real estate attorney. For years, I worked at a law firm as a word processing operator, typing legal documents. I used my knowledge of briefs, motions, and legal jargon to bring an authentic level to the novel.
As I put the finishing touches on my work in process, I say to you, use what you've got. Your life experiences bring special color to your stories. Don't be discouraged by well-meaning friends and family that don't understand what being a writer involves. Your readers will gain greater pleasure from the added layers your knowledge brings to your manuscripts.
Please tell me what you think. I'd love to hear from you. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit the comment button below.
Remember, don't be a stranger.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Many of us asked that question long before we had anything published. Some who eventually sold things we wrote still wonder about pieces of work we haven’t sold yet. Often that manuscript is something dear to our hearts.
Early in my writing career, I learned an important lesson about not giving up. I had read in writers’ magazines that a wanna-be author should not put her first work in the mail and then wait for a contract. Make sure you put a SASE in with what you’ve written, and record the date and place you sent it. Then start working on something new. The article said the saddest thing in the world is a writer standing next to her mailbox, waiting for a check to arrive.
I envisioned myself waiting next to my mailbox. It’s black, plain, and across the street. My imagination did not paint a pretty picture of me standing in front of my neighbor’s house.
The piece I was sending out was really special to me. Called Five Left to Love, the essay described my five wonderful children aged five to eleven coping with strength after a major struggle. I studied the excellent source Writer’s Market to find the best place to send my work. A detailed description of a certain magazine made me decide it would be the perfect fit for my story. I sent it out, recorded the date and place, and started on something different, anticipating the editor’s excitement when he read about my tremendous family.
I didn’t wait near the mailbox but must admit I rushed outside each time I spied the mailman, knowing he’d brought me fabulous news. He finally did bring a response. No thanks.
I sulked awhile and felt sorry for myself. For my children. How could that editor say no? Soon I remembered not to sit around and mope, so I sent the piece out again—to Living with Teenagers magazine. I soon heard from an editor there—with a congratulations letter and a check! It wasn’t much, but it was so exciting and with all of my kids, every little bit helped. I was feeling slightly cocky and thinking I should write to that other magazine and tell them “Ha, somebody knew my work was good enough.” (I wouldn’t really do that but must admit I considered it a moment.) I did check back to see where I’d sent the piece first. It was to Living with Teenagers. The same magazine that had turned it down bought it! One editor rejected the piece; another editor at the same place bought it.
The magazine no longer exists, but I certainly appreciated their publishing my story. And I learned so much from that experience. Since then I’ve discovered that most writers have their work rejected many times, so expect it and don’t give up. I know Mary Higgens Clark had her work rejected forty times before she sold her first story. A current popular mystery novelist, K.A. Konrath, wrote nine novels and received over 500 rejections before he sold a book. How many people would have given up? As Louisa May Alcott wrote the classic Little Women, her family was encouraging her to find work as a servant or seamstress instead. Over 100 publishers turned down the Chicken Soup for the Soul books before a wise editor snapped up the first one. Others had said “That’s too nicey-nice,” and “Nobody wants to read a book of short little stories.” Star Wars couldn’t sell for a long time. Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers; the 28th publisher sold over 6 million copies.
So when do you give up on your writing?
Perhaps something you wrote isn’t quite up to par, and you need to work more on it. Or maybe the right editor hasn’t seen it yet.
Recently I sold Deadly Reunion , third book in my humorous Cealie Gunther mystery series. Last week the editor of a popular magazine for writers emailed me, apologizing for the delay, and asked if I would still be willing to write an article for their Breakthrough column. I said I would and then looked back to see when I’d first queried him about writing such an article. It was two years ago, soon after my first book came out.
So give up? Are you kidding? I believe that if you love to write, you keep writing. And you keep submitting your work, sometimes working to improve it. And eventually you sell!!!
Friday, May 28, 2010
I remember watching the movie "The Bodyguard" and it occurred to me that all the things that make a successful bodyguard are the same across genders: skill, instinct, focus. So why not have a female bodyguard for a change? I know they exist. And have the woman guarding a very luscious male body?
Of course it's not gritty reality. After all, no bodyguard worth his or her salt would get involved with a client in the middle of an assignment. But a lot of romances require some suspension of disbelief, so if you're prepared to do that, then I think I have just the book for you.
Guarding His Body was the first contemporary novel I sold and tells the story of Australian martial artist, Helen Collier, and the French body she guards, Yves de Saint Nerin. Yves makes the initial mistake of confusing "Hel" Collier for a grizzly male type nicknamed "Hell". He tests her and she manages to impress him and so he takes her on as his bodyguard.
The action is set in the Australian sub-tropical city of Brisbane. Brisbane is a delightful city and a place I spent a few enjoyable years, so a big hi to any Brisbanites who might be reading this. (I used to live in The Gap, by the way. Great name for a suburb, isn't it?)
The Romance Studio has a digital copy of Guarding His Body as the daily giveaway today. And, as a taste, I have the entire first chapter of the book up at my website. Please feel free to have a read and, if it interests you, sign up for the giveaway. (TRS normally put up the new books around mid-morning.) And good luck.
* Kaz Augustin has trained in several martial arts and even ran her own martial arts school at one stage. Now she is reduced to wrestling between pets while they try to steal each other's food.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
According to Chadbourn, "It’s tough to get a book published. It’s tough when it is published. And it gets tougher." Thankfully, I'd done enough research in advance of being published to have fairly realistic expectations. It alarms me that so many aspiring writers, and acquaintances in general, have a fairy-tale impression of the publishing industry that goes something like this: you toss off a few words - c'mon, anybody can do that! - then get your book published, rake in the cash and live happily ever after, you lucky bastards! Oh, and Oprah looms large in their rosy imaginings.
I saw a video clip on Facebook this week that takes a humorous look at one of the realities new writers face: suppose we gave a book signing and nobody came? Then there are the insulting advances, the absence of real marketing for their books, the years of slogging before royalties begin to show up - if they ever do. The list goes on. My particular challenge at this point, though, is what Chadbourn describes as the immersion of the modern writer in the online world and the reader communities. He wonders whether writers should run in the opposite direction, and this is an issue that hits me right where it hurts. As a matter of fact, within the past months I've cut back severely on posting on my personal blog and disengaged from four online communities, all in an effort to focus on writing once again.
It's a huge bugbear. New writers are now expected to do all their own promotion which entails, apparently, no eating, sleeping, or anything else but being everywhere online all the time. In my experience, the part of me where the words reside goes further and further into retreat the more I immerse myself in the online world. I'm desperately trying to find some kind of balance: just the right amount of online engagement that allows me to return to the writing place and get the job done. Much as I delight in the online fellowship, much as I enjoy learning about the industry and my fellow writers, much as I treasure the feedback from my wonderful readers and the reviewers who have, every one thus far, been extremely complimentary and appreciative - much as I love all that and would never want it to go away, my first job is writing. And we 'new' writers have to do whatever it takes to keep the words flowing.
I'd love to find out how other writers handle this - especially since I'm more and more tempted every day to abandon the world of Google Alerts, Amazon reviews and obsessive e-mail checking, unplug the Internet, and retreat to my writing space indefinitely in order to survive as a creator.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
My first year as a published author continues... ;) Will let you all know how it goes!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The Association of American Publishers reported that e-book sales for the month of March increased significantly - e-book sales jumped 184.8% ($28.5 million) reflecting an increase of 251% for the year. Wow!
Recently I noticed an increase in the number of readers who attend my events or book club meetings asking me to sign "something" for them, in lieu of the fact that they bought the digital version and have nothing for me to sign. Most people show me the e-book icon in their cell phone, or other device, as proof of their purchase. At first I'd sign the back of my business card, but now I'll have a postcard of the cover that I sign just for e-book readers. A few people do end up buying the bound book version just so they can have the autograph.
For years I've heard that "in the future" bound books will be a thing of the past. Though as more technological options come along, i.e. the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, B&N Nook, iPad, etc., it looks as though electronic books are popular enough today, to say the future is now. Or is it?
Have you thought about the future of the publishing business as it relates to the format of your books, and how you might need to adjust? Do you think the future is now?
Monday, May 24, 2010
Death ranks second.
Writers are often called on to speak in public—at booksignings, at conventions, on panels at conferences, in front of groups. Yet we probably are less suited to it than the average person because we are often introverts, preferring the quiet solitude of our office to anywhere else.
My solution to this dilemma has been to create a separate persona that I take out and dust off for public appearances and put away the rest of the time. I let my persona give talks and schmooze at conferences while I stay in the background, watching.
Unlike me, my persona gets a rush being in front of an audience. Unlike me, my persona does not speak in a monotone in public. Unlike me, my persona stays calm when she forgets what she wants to say. She not only can make small talk, she enjoys it!
How did I go about creating my persona? I started with the realization that if actors can pretend to be someone completely different from their real selves, maybe I could too. I read books and attended lectures about public speaking so that I could give my persona a skill set. I studied extroverts to see how my persona should behave.
Separating "me" from my body and its actions and sensations might sound tricky. That art I had already learned in the labs and hospitals I frequent because of my systemic lupus erythematosus and other health problems.
There's just one problem with my persona. I still have to make the phone calls (and talk to live people!), write my talk, choose my outfit, and make travel arrangements myself. She does none of that.
But I'm working on it.
Do you have a separate persona for certain areas of your life? What does your persona do that you yourself can't or won't?
Writing this post, I realized that my persona has no name. Suggestions, anyone? Enter as many as five suggested names for my persona in the comments, along with your email address, by Memorial Day (May 31). The person suggests the name I like best will win a Like Mayflies in a Stream keychain-flashlight and bookmark as well as an Oriental carpet bookmark.
Thanks for dropping by! I'll be blogging at Novel Spaces again on Monday, June 7.
Friday, May 21, 2010
If you’re like most writers, I’m pretty sure I have your attention now. Few of us can resist roaming the aisles of a superstore dedicated to office supplies.
I usually go in for a ream of paper or a printer cartridge, but it isn’t long before an item catches my eye and whispers:
“Buy me, and I’ll make you the best writer in the world…”
A few months ago, I couldn’t resist the lure of this flash memory drive:
Last trip, left me lusting for a pad of GIANT POST-ITS!!!!
Sigh. Deep down, I know good stories don’t come from the office supply store. But that doesn’t keep a huge grin from spreading across my face as I load my haul into the trunk of the car.
Now it’s your turn. Did you score a pack of florescent index cards, flashy pen or perhaps ::gasp:: a cool, little netbook?
What’s on your writing supply wish list?
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
So when I saw the article yesterday, I had to perform a quick interrogation: Did you research your story thoroughly? Could you have done more with the passing point? Would your story have been different if you elaborated on the technicalities of runaway stars?
I came up with a “yes” to all three questions and walked away feeling like I’d managed to do a great justice to Caleb and Ronnie by using the star as a conduit for their undying love. (Really, it’s all very sweet.) It's got me research-ready to use stars in another story.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Griffin's Daughter, the first in her romantic fantasy trilogy, was named the 2008 Ben Franklin Award Winner for Best First Fiction by the Independent Book Publishers Association.
Realizing my dream of becoming a published writer has been one of the best things to ever happen to me. I’ve been a storyteller ever since I could form meaningful sentences, but I’ve been a serious author only since 2001, the year I met Terry Brooks at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Mr. Brooks is one of the top-selling fantasy writers currently working, and has been so for over 30 years. An inspiring panel discussion and a few kind words from him over a signing of one of his Shannara novels started me on my own road to publication. I even dedicated my first novel Griffin’s Daughter to him.
Terry Brooks sells a lot of books and makes a lot of money. He does so because he puts out a good product, but equally as important, he had a lucky break early on. When he wrote his first novel The Sword of Shannara, fantasy as a respectable genre aimed at adult readers was still in its infancy. There were not a lot of choices out there - The Hobbit, LOTR, The Chronicles of Narnia being arguably the most well-known, and two of the aforementioned were actually written for children. The Sword of Shannara was aimed squarely at adult readers hungry for grown-up fantasy, and it became a NY Times bestseller. Yes, it has been accused of being an LOTR clone, and I won’t disagree; however, it was the right book at the right time.
All of this brings me around to my main point: why Terry Brooks and not you or me?
The simple answer, as much as we all hate to acknowledge it, is luck.
Terry Brooks, as well as being a good writer, was also a lucky writer when it counted the most, at the beginning of his career. He came to the notice of the big boss at Del Rey, one of the few publishers of sci-fi/fantasy at the time, who championed him as an author. Many, no, most writers will never get that one big break, no matter how skilled they are, no matter how good a product they put out.
Don’t worry. I promise this essay will not degenerate into a bitter, depressed rant about how great a writer I am and how I should be famous by now, except I could never get a break. Nope. Not gonna happen. I will say though, that it can be frustrating at times, knowing I do have a good product, but because it isn’t at a major publishing house, it reaches only a fraction of the audience out there that would enjoy it. For, as we all know, the goal is not merely to see our words in print. We want readers as well, lots of them, and we all want to make money at this.
Luck favors those who are prepared, like Terry Brooks, so we all need to be ready. How many writers out there lost their one and only chance because they were caught flat-footed?
I sold my first novel Griffin’s Daughter myself, without benefit of an agent, to a very small publisher who has since gone out of business. I wish I’d had an agent, believe me. The book and its two sequels would have had a much better chance of ending up at a major publishing house. Despite the fact that I’ve yet to make a dime on any of my books, I still feel grateful they have all made it into print. I did get a lucky break - a small one, but it did lead to the biggest break so far. I now have an agent and when my latest project is finished, she will shop it to the majors, something a writer without representation is shut out from doing.
My novels, Griffin’s Daughter, Griffin’s Shadow, and Griffin’s Destiny are three parts of a romantic fantasy trilogy, now published by Ridan Publishing, who swooped in and saved them from going out of print when their original publisher went belly-up. Another example of luck favoring the prepared. When I learned I was to be orphaned, I sat on my couch and had a good cry for about twenty minutes, then got up, went to the computer and posted to every social media site I had a presence on that I had lost my publisher and needed a new one. Twenty four hours later, Ridan contacted me and offered me a contract.
I will continue to write even if I never sell another novel. It’s hardwired into me. I’m sure many reading this feel the same way. I hope, though, that there are a few more lucky breaks out there for me. I know I’ll be ready.
For two lucky readers of this blog, I will give away signed copies of the original, out-of-print edition of Griffin’s Daughter. I like to amuse myself with the idea it will be a collector’s item one day - cue the self-deprecating laugh.
Send me an e-mail at email@example.com and I’ll pick two names at random from all names I receive by 6/1/10.
Good Luck and Happy Writing!
—Leslie Ann Moore
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Around the middle of last year, a call went around my UK publisher, Total-E-Bound, that they were putting a Cougar anthology together. That's code for younger men/older women romances. So I had a think and submitted a story and it was accepted at the beginning of the year! My very first anthology!
I had wanted to mix things up a bit and, thankfully, the editor (Liz Delisi) was open to the idea. What idea, you ask? How about the introduction of an Eurasian hero to the mix? There had to be someone who finally went head to head with all those Arab sheiks and Greek tycoons swanning around the place, making virgins tremble. Right? A tall, dark, handsome hero and, if we remember our high-school genetics, we know that a mix of genes often produces excellent stock. Well, mix European and Asian genes together, and you often get delicious skin, dark soulful eyes, chiselled features and high cheekbones.
Enter Adrian Pereira. He's a successful, dynamic man in his thirties, living in Singapore. Bored with the women who are only after him for his money, he meets a woman at a charity masquerade ball and is instantly intrigued.
For her part, Sophie Woodward is English and in her forties (mid- to late- was my thinking), who thinks she's ready to bust out and seduce some hapless stud. One night with Adrian is magic, but what happens when he wants to see her again? Are Sophie's resolutions strong enough to withstand such an assault? Or will she retreat into her outwardly capable shell once more? (If you're interested, you can find the entire first chapter of the story, Singapore Sizzle, here.)
There are five other writers in the anthology and they're all telling the story-behind-the-story at my blog. If you comment on any of this week's posts, you stand the chance of winning a copy of the anthology. Why not go have a read and get the take on five other authors and what was going through their minds when they sat down to write a Cougar love story?
And if you're entering the competition, best of luck! (If you need more encouragement, the anthology got 5 Divas and a Recommended Read from Dark Divas Reviews.)
* Kaz Augustin is a writer who's only a bit of a cradle snatcher. You can find her website at http://www.ksaugustin.com and she blogs three times a week, more or less, at http://blog.ksaugustin.com
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
I'll be succinct here, gentlemen: you're wrong. I wish gender didn't matter. I really do. Good writing is good writing, right? However, fifteen years of Orange Prize awards cannot even begin to correct the centuries of gender imbalance in awarding major literary prizes. That's just my opinion. Dan Powell makes a good case for the other side here. I'm not convinced, though. Feel free to try and change my mind.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Lately I have been wondering... does it make sense - economic sense - to write about the Old West? What is it about the 1870's, for example, that speaks to us in 2010? If I were a sociologist or an anthropologist I might be able to address the question in terms of cultural or social issues. However, I am a writer. So, what’s the attraction for me?
I write about people. I try to create strong characters who are human, with real problems a reader can identify with. You know, the Aristotelian concepts of Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Other(s), and Man vs. Himself. So, why set my stories in the Old West? Specifically in Oregon? Even more specifically in central Oregon’s Willamette Valley?
First, because a “frontier” time and place is full of inherent conflict: the Old (Back East civilization) vs. the New (rough, tough American west); Native Americans vs. encroaching settlers; law and order vs. lawbreakers/badguys/outlaws; individual rights vs. majority rights; fish-out-of-water stories that arise when a character first braves the frontier. And so on. Life in the Old West was interesting, precarious, surprising, rough, and dangerous. And fulfilling.
Second, there’s a fascinating aspect of settings in towns that have been created out of nothing; churches, stores, houses all built by hand; railway tracks laid by the muscle power of burly Italian and tough Chinese crews; horses for transportation; one-room schoolhouses; milk from a cow; butter from a churn.
Third, the clothing fascinates me: eye-catching Stetsons, sombreros, sunbonnets; sheepskin coats; cowboy boots with jingle-bobs; string ties and bolos; tight jeans on lean, well-built men; riding skirts; frilly blouses with lace cuffs; petticoats, bloomers, and corsets; ladies lace-up high-button shoes; long swishy skirts the wind can whip up becomingly. And so on.
Fourth, I am an Oregonian. My great-grandparents (Boessen family), originally from northern Germany and Denmark, settled in central Oregon and raised 8 children. Great-Granddad was a brick mason, and half the chimneys in Coos County were built by him. My grandparents (Banning family) ranched on Oregon land and my Granddad started the first farmer’s coop in Oregon. My parents (Yarnes family) were both Oregonians; Dad was born in Salem, into a Methodist minister’s family; Mom was raised on a ranch in Dixonville (near Roseburg); she cooked for the hired men at 14 and rode bareback until she was 16.
Me? I was born in Oregon City, just south of Portland, during the year my father held his first teaching job, at Gold Beach High School. He was the English teacher, the basketball coach, and the principal. It was a very small school, with a graduating class of 7 students.
I grew up with stories about my Oregon family, handed down through the years at Thanksgiving dinners until they became like country myths: my grandparents’ rather odd courtship (Western Rose); my grandmother’s first teaching job at 16; the time my schoolteacher Dad unintentionally shot a pheasant in his corn patch with Mom’s .22 rifle at a hundred yards; the Depression years when Grandmother fed hundreds of hungry wanderers at her back door; the time when Mama’s brother rubbed bubblegum into her new hairdo; the time when . . .
For me, the Old West, and Oregon, are full of rich memories (and imaginings) of what life had been like for settlers, ranchers, Native Americans, schoolteachers, lawmen, and everyone else who peopled the frontier.
Monday, May 10, 2010
We're all sending prayers and energy until she’s out of the woods, while I figure out when I should be by her side in Denver, and how best I can help. I hate this. If I could wave a magic wand and make it all better I would, but all I can do is what we’re all doing, send her music to listen to and call for word from her brother who’s at her bedside.
The last few times I saw her she told me how much she enjoyed her job, but how she hated the winter weather in Boulder, kept asking herself what she was doing there. Then this happens, she’s in a room of incredibly smart people who get her the attention she needs and once the problem is diagnosed, is transferred to a hospital in nearby Denver that’s doing cutting edge work in that field. What is she doing in Boulder? Evidently saving her life. Go figure.
We can take nothing for granted; yet I feel forces move life around in ways that make me feel we are where we’re meant to be at any given moment. I have to accept that loss can come as easily as gifts, and that the strength I feel in my life now is partly there so I can reach out and help friends around me who need it. As they say on airplanes, place the mask over your own face before attempting to assist others. I breathe deep, remember that we are all made of stars, that I am "part of the Earth" as are we all, and that it is all so much bigger than I am capable of conceiving that trying to figure it all out is pointless.
I know I’m where I wanted to be when I came back to New York, and where I need to be now. I know the people around me are just the most wonderful people to have there, and that we are all struggling as we make our way into the light, finding such gems in the semi-darkness until dawn...and that the light, what we see of it is so beautiful and so loving it makes me cry. It’s a wonderful time we live in, even as it is a terrible time, and once again, Dickens is proven a genius for codifying contradictions...
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
Each time I worry that I don't know what I am doing, after months of agonizing over what the hell is going on, I remember that I got myself this far, so I must be doing something right. Life is short. In this crazy world, I’m lucky enough to have just the sweetest smartest people in the world around me. My friend’s stroke just reminds me to remind all of them how much they mean to me, even if it means a week of sloppy e-mails and blogs like this one.
For all life’s unpredictability, I can’t bring myself to find fear in this event, no matter what happens. She’s already defying the odds, as we knew she would, and we‘re all praying for the best as she continues to recover. I feel about all of this the same way I do about my life. Even looking back at where I’ve been, the things that I’ve had to survive to get where I am, I still know I can’t wait to see what's next. Why?
Damned if I know. Maybe because the more you survive, the more you learn how to survive. Maybe it’s that even though we get used to saying that it's always one step forward and two steps back, I am slowly realizing that maybe, just maybe, they can be dance steps. Maybe we are all moving in step to the beat without knowing it. If she hadn't been where she was, maybe she wouldn't be here now.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Because I care about diabetes research, I urge you to visit author Brenda Novak's auction at http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com/ this May and bid on some items or donate money outright. (Donations are tax deductible according to IRS rules.)
All money raised by the auction goes to The Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, a research institute that focuses on finding a cure for type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes often starts during childhood, and affected people must take insulin shots every day for life. Last year, sale of items donated by authors and others to the auction resulted in nearly $280,000 going to diabetes research.
This year, many items of interest to authors are up for auction—chapter reads by agents and editors; critiques; mentoring sessions; publicity services; writing of your query letter; lunches with agents and editors; copyediting of your manuscript; even writing convention fees.
If you're not an author, there's still plenty of things to intrigue you. You can bid on signed books, ARCs of books that have not been released yet, gift baskets, jewelry, vacations, an iPad, and many other Very Cool Things.
If you visit the auction, please check out my own donation, the Gilgamesh Gift Basket, item 1773940. You might win a copy of Like Mayflies in a Stream and related swag, including jewelry of carnelian and lapis lazuli, two gemstones favored by the ancient Mesopotamians.
Those of you who stopped by today to read my promised post about creating personas for your public appearances, please come back Monday, May 24, when that post will appear. Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you again on the 24th.
Friday, May 7, 2010
You can combine character, plot, setting, motivation, and tension to create compelling scenes that bring your novel to life for your reader. By understanding your authorial choices, character motivation, and scene intentions, you can craft scenes that hook your readers and keep them turning the pages.
The opening scene belongs to your main character. In the first few pages—sometimes even the first few paragraphs—the reader will determine if they are interested enough in your story to continue. And what is the best way to hook a reader? Through compelling characters put in interesting or peculiar situations.
Introduce your character immediately, in the first few sentences. Introduce the "significant situation" or "significance of the moment" at the same time you are introducing the character. We should be able to see a glimpse of your character in the days before the major events of the plot will unfold.
Provide insight-through physical description, dialogue, or indirect speech-into your character's personality, history, and/or motivations.
Fail to meet your reader's expectations; surprise your reader by putting your character in a peculiar situation or having your setting be unusual for the events that will unfold there. (I always say, let your character surprise even you!)
Be sure to pay attention to pace, especially at the beginning of a novel. You should be more concerned with hooking your reader and forwarding the plot than lengthy paragraphs of exposition. Remember: You only have one chance to hook your reader.
End the first scene by leaving your protagonist in an unresolved situation; this will allow you to segue into your next scene. It will also ensure that your reader stays curious.
Remember: The most important sentences in any chapter are the first and the last! Write on!
Thursday, May 6, 2010
My process has been different for every book. However, with both methods I’ve somehow written my way into a corner and found myself stuck.
As a writer you already know there are several stages to being stuck.
STAGE ONE: PANIC – OHMYGOD! I already signed the contract and blew my advance in Nordstrom’s shoe department. If I don’t figure out what comes next, my publisher is going to sue my ass off.
STAGE TWO: WHINE – Cry to anyone who will listen. A writer friend who’s not on deadline is usually a good pick. Whining to a spouse who’s just spent ten hours on his feet at work is a bad pick. Trust me.
STAGE THREE: AVOIDANCE – Make coffee. Take a nap. Toss in a load of laundry. Clean the house. Mow the lawn. Stain the deck. Anything to avoid your WIP.
STAGE FOUR: GET UNSTUCK.
Back is September I shared my favorite method for getting unstuck. Since then I’ve tried two more.
1. Skip ahead to another scene. There’s no rule that says you have to write your scenes in order. Pick out a juicy one that you’ve been itching to write.
2. Open your computer file to your WIP, and just sit there for your allotted writing time. No e-mail. No web surfing. No computer games. No distractions. Usually a solution will pop into your head. It may not be a good one, but just go with it until you can come up with a better one.
Well, don’t hold out on me. Have y’all tried any new methods for getting unstuck?
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
A bad group can be toxic.
Thirty-some years ago I read that all beginning writers should join a writing group. The idea behind the advice is that fellow writers can give you more useful feedback than your family while costing less than a writing course. I of course asked about writers' groups at my favorite book store and was delighted to learn a published author led a group that met there weekly. I went eagerly the first night and introduced myself and listened closely while the published author explained to another member what he needed to do differently with his writing. Other members asked her questions which she answered in very broad and general terms. I handed out copies of my writing sample, I do not remember what it was, and arrived early the next week to hear what she had to say. She said I had to "care about my characters more" and "make them come alive." She had no advice on how to do this. Neither did anyone else in the group, though they all made careful note of what she said. By my third visit I'd noticed that all of her critiques were vague and "feely" with no concrete specifics. I asked the folks at the bookstore to direct me to her published book. They explained they didn't have it because they did not carry vanity press titles. I didn't go back for a fourth meeting.
The next group I found was led by a published poet who could not remember the name of the literary review that had taken two of her poems a decade before. I left shortly after the introductions.
I thought I'd made it with my third group. Everyone seemed enthusiastic about my writing and they all had good things to say about my story and how it made them feel. I felt all warm and fuzzy until I realized – by about the third meeting – that they were enthusiastic about everyone's writing and did not tire of saying good things about each other's work. This was not a writing group – this was a support group for writers; a group of people devoted to validating each other's belief they were a writer. Good feelings, not good critiques, were the objective.
My fourth group sprang from a scriptwriting class I took at the community college. I enjoyed these people and we had good times together – and got some real critiquing done. But I was the most experienced member of the group and I have a teacher's personality: within a few months I was giving instruction and the other members were treating the sessions as an extension of the community college course. We dissolved amicably.
My fifth and last attempt to be part of a live, real-world writing group involved a handful of graduates from the UNCW CFA program. We could not find a room large enough to hold both the egos and the pretentions and quickly went our separate ways.
Of course, much as I prefer reality, it's not the only option. The internet makes all sorts of writing groups possible.
Critters, founded by Dr. Andrew Burt, is an online global critique pool for writers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. To have your work critiqued by others, you first critique the work of others. There's a central library, if you will, of submitted stories, and once you have read and critiqued stories from 'x' number of writers, your story is added to the library for others to download and critique. I have heard this system working very well for some writers. I tried it and discovered I did not like the anonymity; the lack of contact and context. Also the professionalism of both the stories and the critics varied widely. However, it is an effective avenue for getting feedback from other writers.
I have been part of two very different online writing groups. There were six of us in the first group, all at about the same skill and experience level. Each Monday one of us would send a complete short story (7k words max) to the other members. Written critiques, sent only to the writer, were encouraged. Then on Sunday evenings the group would gather in a chat room and discuss the story. This worked well, particularly since mutual respect and professionalism ran high; however our lack of expertise and experience limited the amount of help we could give each other. Some of us still keep in touch and four of the six have gone on to be published writers.
My second online group was another feel-good club. My first and last attempt to give a serious critique was roundly denounced as an unwarranted personal attack. I have no idea where any of those people are today.
Soooo. Having failed at several writers' groups, do I have any thoughts on what makes a good group? I'm tempted to say "nope" and end the column right here, but the truth is as long as I have a pulse I'm going to have opinions. In no particular order:
> Keep it professional. You may end up friends, but you are not in this to find more pals to hang out with. Focus on writing and improving your craftsmanship.
> As much as possible include a variety of skill levels. Keep the spectrum reasonable, but you learn from people a few steps ahead of you and you perfect your skills by teaching them to those a few steps behind.
> How you rotate critiquing and writing is up to you, but rotate. Keep the group small enough and active enough that everyone is involved every time you get together. Nothing kills a participant's enthusiasm quicker than not being allowed to participate. (And nothing burns a participant out quicker than the sense she is doing all the work.)
> Always pay it forward. (Actually, that's not restricted to writing groups. It's a darn good idea no matter what you're doing.)
Whether online or in person, a bad writing group can drain you, mislead you, and beat you up. Learn to spot the danger signs and move on immediately.
But online or in person, a good writing group can invigorate you, steady you, enlighten you, and keep you up and moving forward.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Saturday, May 1, 2010
All of my published works have been titled by songs:
Where Souls Collide, the title of my first novel, was discovered while listening to a song by Kem. In “Heaven,” he sang about a man who’s turned his whole life around for the love of a woman. While writing, with his wonderful voice in the background one night (I’d heard this tune a hundred times), it was as if he paused and cleared his throat before belting out, “in this place where two souls collide.”
Wow, what’d he say? I thought, and replayed the song once more. Bam! (as Emeril might say). After a dozen title changes for that book, I had the one that stuck. The song fit the quest of the hero and heroine and summed up their heart’s pursuits – and the paranormal parallel universe they lived in. Cool.
After that, I was head over heels about Robin Thicke when the assignment for The Holiday Inn anthology rolled around. I tossed around all kinds of magical titles – even dragged my children into the debate. Again, on my way to work, stuck in traffic, I’m listening to Robin ask the question, “When all that you’ve got is doubt, and no one to pull you out, your heart is slowing down, can you believe?”
Again, Bam! Here was a story about a couple faced with the end of a marriage they thought was perfectly fine. Could they overcome the prediction by changing their present even though the future looked so grim? Can You Believe. (Of course, my children grumbled and groaned that I had pulled them from their latest Harry Potter books and Christmas video games for a title that had been right in my face the whole time.)
The title for the Holiday Brides novella, “HeavenSent.com” comes from a Keyshia Cole song of the same title, though throughout the song she says, "sent from heaven." Once I heard the song, I figured I just had to write something that fit those thoughts. Who doesn’t think the love of their life is heaven sent? Okay, well lots of people probably, but for literary sake I needed to believe otherwise. In this instance, when the assignment came along, the title was set, I just had to figure out a story to support the sentiment.
It was the same with my current WIP – now in revision stages – and set for release in January. This set of lyrics has been in my head since I was 10 years old.
Rewind to Elton John’s oversized glasses, outlandish costume days and envision him pounding out “Bennie and the Jets.” Only thing is, I may have seen him on American Bandstand or something, but mostly I heard that song on radio; a really bad transistor radio that made everything sound like static-filled AM even if it was FM. And usually I heard it in a car with my three younger brothers (then aged seven and four (twins) with my mother fussing at us about something over the din.
Despite the chaos, I ferreted out a favorite stanza, which came after the really high pitched part that went (in my head) Candy and Ronnie somethingsomethingsomething so spaced out BENNIE AND THE JETS something oh, the wicked and the wonderful somethingsomething electric boots a mohair suit.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago, I hear Bernie Taupin and Elton John’s song again with a new ear. What a cool book title! And so, my WIP that became The Wicked and The Wonderful, was pitched, sold, and (FINALLY) completed.
So about six months ago, I go online and look up the lyrics for my kids who have no more idea what the heck Elton is singing than I did 30+ years ago. Lo and behold, I discover the line is “Oh, the WEIRD and the wonderful.” Not wicked at all. Hmpf.
All these years. My favorite line. I’ve been singing it totally wrong. Yet, my bad ears spawned a whole realm from the mistake. I’m not changing the title, but I do sing the song correctly now.