Sunday, January 31, 2010

You're All I Need

Recently, I signed onto to see how my latest novel I Can Make You Love Me was doing. I like to do this once in a while to see if there is still any buzz being generated about the book. As I scrolled through the list, I found a new title among my previous released novels.

My next release, You're All I Need was listed. With a sense of awe and pleasure, I clicked on the title and learned the official release date. For me there is a sense of excitement around the release of a new novel. It is a snapshot of what is to come. Although the novel was coverless, someone had purchased a copy.

That wowed me. No cover and limited information and yet someone had bought a copy. It made me feel very proud to be a writer and I want to thank all of my reading audience for their support.

I always welcome comments, email me at

Remember, don't be a stranger.


Friday, January 29, 2010

My Muse

As I read writers’ blogs, it seems writers have one thing in common: a muse. Some people have their cats and dogs; Liane has her copulating geckos (well lizards). I didn’t have a muse. Didn’t even know what that word meant until I began reading Liane's blog. So like any good writer, I decided I needed a muse. I looked high and low to find something that could be defined as my muse, but couldn’t, until a few weeks ago…

My six year old daughter has always loved a camera. She would take pictures with my digital camera or my phone since she was old enough to hold one in her hand. When she was three, I gave her a cute little toy camera that talked. She played with it for a little while and came right back for mine. When she was four, I gave her a toy digital camera that took real photos but the quality was low. She played with it for a little while but came right back for mine. I tried giving her my old broken camera. Again, she played with it for a little while but came back for mine.

At first she would take some weird photos. She would up-skirt a lamp. She would take the sky through some
trees. She would photograph a house because it looked different. She would even place the camera next to her skin to “photograph the blood, under it”. It was only at my nieces’ christening when she was still four years old, that I came to appreciate her love and talent for photography. She begged for the camera, and I being pregnant at the time with my husband part of the ceremony, obliged. When we downloaded the photos, I was astonished at the quality. Of course when we christened her baby sister I happily gave her the camera. Again she did a good job.

So when it came time to have a photograph taken for the back cover of my debut novel who did I turn to? You guessed it right, my daughter, then five years old. So that photo and all these appearing on this blog today were taken by my daughter.
Her love for photography, her determination to use only my best cameras, her constant snapping of photos is an inspiration for me. A few weeks ago while writing, I was stuck. I sat in front of the computer blank. The screen saver kicked in and the photos on the hard drive, most taken by my daughter, flashed by. I found myself just looking them and drifting into my creative mode. Suddenly the scenes were clear to me and the words flowed. That’s when I realized, I do have a muse. It’s my six year old daughter! Now when I write, I have a habit of gazing at some of the photos she takes, especially those nature shots of the sky through the trees. I am so inspired by them they get my creative juices flowing.

A few days ago she became my muse in a totally different way. I was writing in the office (finally ditched the bed) while she was doing homework. She asked what I was working on and I gave her a summary of the story.

“Is that all?” she asked and demanded the details.

As I mentally crafted the story and told it to her, her eyes got big. She was so excited and into it that she started suggesting alternate scenes and ending. It made it so clear in my head that I began to write a more detailed outline, incorporating some of her ideas and fine tuning my own. Then she gave me something that I always had trouble finding for myself: a title for the story. Yes! That’s my muse.

So move over gecko. I’ve found my muse and it’s a living breathing, talking child.

What’s your muse?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guest author Sue Lange: Cooperating in a Cooperative

At one time or another Sue Lange has been one of the following: child, student, potato picker, first chair flautist, librarian, last chair flautist, babysitter, newspaper deliverer, apple picker, form cutter, drama club treasurer, track and field timer, Ponderosa Steak House salad server (before the salad bar days, of course), disco dance instructor and waitress, among other things. Lately she's been writing.

How wonderful! Another successful cooperative effort between authors. Good luck to you in your efforts!

If Novel Spaces is anything like Book View Café, the cooperative I belong to, you all are keeping yourselves busy. There's a lot to do to maintain a group effort, but it's time well spent and a good use of the Internet.

First of all a cooperative requires authors to work together and share information on the business, the craft, and the gossip of the industry. Networking has always been important in publishing, but these days it might be the only thing that's important. Cooperative networking yields results way beyond that found in an online blogging community or a discussion forum. In a cooperative, each member's personal networking efforts are pooled for the sake of the community and the result is an exponentially larger reach.

Another advantage of a cooperative is that the work in developing the web presence is shared. It's hard for little known authors to get noticed, especially since publishers are doing less and less in the way of marketing. Book tours can be expensive and not always effective. Many of us turn to the Web for help. We get ourselves a personal site and voila we have a presence. But a website can be a lot of work to develop, maintain, market, and use to its fullest advantage. Sharing website duties makes all that easier, especially since not all of us are experts at everything. Some folks take to the tech end of things, some are better at the social networking aspect. Most people fall in between the two extremes and everyone does what they can. It all evens out in a successful cooperative venture.

If the site garners attention and a reputation for having interesting content, there are numerous opportunities to expand the cooperative's presence. For instance, team members can collaborate on producing Internet-only content or they can participate together in events such as multi-author chats or theme blog posts. Not only does a cooperative have a close-knit community that can provide authors and content at a drop of a hat, but any opportunities offered to a single member are easily extended to the group.

Going further, the cooperative can make a splash out in the real world. By sharing expenses for PR materials and a table, the group can attend more book conferences or expos and get its name out into places beyond the Internet.

A cooperative can be a seen as a training ground as well. Learning to cooperate in a cooperative is a great practice for bigger partnerships. Each step in your career requires more and deeper relationships with others. You might start out with an agent for a partner. Eventually you'll work with an editor and a publisher. Finally you may one day decided to hire a publicist. Wherever you're at in the process, by joining a cooperative you'll gain experience in working with others. Today's successful author is no longer the genius working in the garret bestowing pithiness on a public that hungers for literary witticism. Nowadays people want their MTV. You can't give it to them unless you know a lot of people between here and the Show. The cooperative experience is one way to hone your partnership skills.

There is no guarantee for success when starting up a cooperative, however. Failure is inevitable if the members don't agree on the direction the group should take. The most important thing is to define the group's goals correctly right at the start. Goals can change, of course, as the group grows, but everyone needs to be on the same page in the beginning. Book View's main reason for existence was to bring our unavailable work to the public. The authors at BVC are all published in the print world and quite a number have been around for a while, which means some of their work has gone out of print. This can be frustrating for an author whose fans demand the earlier books. The Internet, and specifically BVC, offers its members a way to get this work back into the hands of the readers.

Another mission BVC gave itself, was to provide a place for experimentation. Authors come up with a lot of unusual ideas for their creative efforts and publishers can not always accommodate them. But the Internet can. Witness my multimedia extravaganza, The Textile Planet, published last year by BVC. With sound files and links to back story, the book is unpublishable as a print work, but it's perfect for an Internet offering.

Regardless of what Google, Amazon, the IRS, and numerous pro-censorship groups are doing to control its youthful vigor, the Internet is still an untamed entity. We, as authors, have an opportunity at this moment to try all kinds of unmannerly things in this sandbox. Eventually the Internet may evolve into something old and established, staid and reputable (i.e no longer experimental), but right now cooperatives can use it to showcase wild and woolly authorish things. It's a great time to be part of a larger entity.

My hats are off to you Novel Spaces as you discover your cooperative capabilities. There is strength (and marketing opportunities) in numbers. Keep up the good work and don't forget to come visit BVC when you get a chance.

Sue Lange

Bookshelf at BVC
Sue Lange's ebook, Uncategorized, is available at Smashwords

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New short story coming out in May

Writing news? Are you feeling okay, Kaz?

Have you noticed that whenever you've bought a car, you start noticing other similar models on the road? Or if you've bought an item of clothing in a particularly becoming shade, suddenly every billboard or shopfront also contains that particular colour somewhere in the mix?

Well, let's see if you can guess the general outline of my new short story.

Air New Zealand has courted some trouble with its latest ad campaign featuring single middle-aged women as "cougars", hunting down dazed young men. If you want to see the ad and read a bit about it, Melbourne's The Age has a nice write-up.

But that's in the air. Closer to ground zero, Carnival Cruises, in a burst of prudish double standards, has categorically refused to host cougar-themed voyages, even though they were all "smashing success"es. Here for the article.

(Yes, I know, I must be one of the few authors out there that actually expect you to do some background reading before I'll tell you about an upcoming release! Consider it part of my eccentric charm.)

Have you guessed that the story centres around a cougar? If so, go and treat yourself a muffin/latte/pot of tea. Go on, I won't tell anyone. :)

The working title for the story is "Singapore Sizzle". I say "working" because I've had a few change on me recently. This is par for the course and you should never become too wedded to your title. While I do take the time to come up with something I consider to be catchy, yet descriptive, I only ever look at it as a convenient tag to use for filing purposes and, if you're a writer, so should you.

Okay okay, I'm moving on with the details. Sheesh, impatient much? *g*

Onto "Singapore Sizzle", a cougar story.
Sophie is English, divorced, living in Singapore...and bored, Bored, BORED! But is she ready for handsome, exotic, young Adrian Pereira?
We have an older woman with a younger man in a tropical setting but, just to mix things up a bit, the younger man is a Portuguese Eurasian hunk by the name of Adrian Pereira. (Portuguese Eurasians tend to be a little on the conservative side when it comes to naming their kids. There are hardly any Sienna's or Madison's in the bunch, but heaps of Anthony's, Ruth's and all those old-time names.)

Sophie, while bored, is still apprehensive about getting involved in any relationship after her divorce a couple of years ago. And when she finds that the man she tumbled into bed with happens to be -- * gasp * -- younger than her, her insecurities go into overdrive and she flees the scene of the multiple, intimate clinches.

However, Adrian is a lot more savvy than even she realises. He tracks her down and offers her an opportunity for a relationship. We're not talking "happily ever after", more "let's see where this goes", but even this is too much for Sophie's insecurities. Can she take the next step and allow herself to fall in love with an exotic, younger man?

We've all been there, haven't we, and it hasn't necessarily had to be a situation where we're talking about an older woman and younger man. No matter how confident or assertive we think we are, there's always the child inside us, a little vulnerable, a little afraid of committing ourselves in case we get hurt. And, although it's set in Singapore, Sophie's story is our story too, whether it was back in high school or yet to play out in our futures, or both.

The anthology is due for release from Total-E-Bound in May with -- if things run true to form -- each story available as a standalone e-short as well. More news as it comes to hand.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Amazon shenanigans

There are thousands of people, I suspect, who would answer 'Amazon' with no hesitation if you happened to ask the name of their favourite store. I'm one of those thousands. Amazon makes burning my hard-earned money extraordinarily easy, and enjoyable too. So in one sense I'm a big fan of the corporation. But alongside my fandom there is a whole other story, and the more I learn, the more distrust I have for their pronouncements, and their statistics.

We'll rest aside their crazy, secret 'algorithm' for determining sales rank. I've watched the ebb and flow of the stats for my own book over the past year and a half and I have good reason to believe that marketing imperatives cover a lot of sins. It's a lot of fun to watch - for me anyway.

So what's in my cross-hairs today? None other than the vaunted Kindle e-book reader. I have no problem with those who prefer to buy and read their books this way; it's not my thing, but whatever floats your boat, as the saying goes. I have friends who don't read much but are excited over the e-readers. If the Kindle toy gets them to buy more books I'm all for it. From the perspective of the author, sales are sales. My real issue here is the hype about the Kindle and book sales over the Christmas period. My skepticism kicked in from the start, and it was interesting to discover I'm not alone in this. Then there's this fascinating tidbit from Galleycat - that 60 of the Kindle's top 100 'sellers' are free books. I can't make up stuff like this; here's the Kindle bestseller list.

Here's another writer who doesn't buy the hype.
And another skeptic.
What's with us skeptics?

Claim #1: The Kindle e-reader has become the most gifted item in the company's history.
Mysteriously, no sales figures are provided. Give us the numbers, boys, or we won't take you seriously. So you've sold more Kindles than, say, Hanes hi-cut cotton briefs via the gift lists? Um, whatever.

Claim #2: Amazon's customers purchased more Kindle e-books than physical books on Christmas Day - a first for the company.
Say it ain't so! If the claim that hordes of buyers gave the gift of Kindle for Christmas is valid, it's not a stretch to imagine that all or most of those who found a Kindle under the tree on Christmas morning started downloading e-books right away. Those who gave actual dead-tree versions of books would have done their shopping BEFORE the big day. How about you tell us the ratio of physical books to digital books sold in the lead-up to Christmas? How about the period after the holidays? I'd really like to see those figures and make comparisons.

Misleading claims about the size and growth of the e-book sector do a lot to feed the gloom and panic in which the publishing industry is mired right now. Yes, the industry is changing. That's life for you: change, or die. Yes, the e-book sector, and sales of e-readers, are growing. But here's the reality check: e-books sales are currently 3% of total book sales. It's a growing sector, and no one knows how far this trend will go, but my guess is that paper books will be here for a while yet. Amazon, however, knows that hype moves goods. If I'd gambled many millions in developing the Kindle I'd be making these claims too, no matter how far out of shape they stretch reality.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


My home is in chaos.

Two weeks ago I started a renovation, fixing up the walls and laying floors in the Brooklyn loft I have lived in since 1982, sans the ten years I spent in Los Angeles. It’s been a long time in coming, and it’s all thanks to my mother, who left her children the family home to sell and divide the proceeds.

I am sure I will be thrilled when it is all done, but for two weeks I have lived upstairs on an inflatable mattress, with a lot of what I own piled around me, while I watched my home being spackled, sanded, painted and now floored. It has left me floored, and exhausted, even though two friends have done most of the actual labor. While they did the main job, I followed along tweaking a wall here, a touch of paint there, and sorted through the pile of stuff I have sworn for two years that I would go through, sort and winnow down. I’ve thrown out bags of old papers, assorted objects I was sure I could use in an art piece one day, old toys I haven’t looked at in know the drill.

It has been an ordeal as I have gone through the emotions of many of the revelations found there, and joy as I was reminded of other, better times, and found memories I’d almost forgotten. Yesterday flooring went well, the bedroom was completed, but today complications set in, and I fled to Ikea to find an area rug and to Loew’s for venetian the time I returned the crisis had been met, even if the floor had only advanced by a few feet.

It has been Hell, and while the vision of what I will have when it’s done keep me going, it’s not easy. While I have input, and am “in charge” as the client, I am also dealing with people I know and don’t want to treat like worker drones I am ordering about. As I prepare to go to bed on a couch, giving the air mattress to the flooring friend staying over until the job is done, I am reminded of the year I spent on my last novel, and how similar the experience is. You knew I’d get there eventually, didn’t you? Writing is slow progress, day to day, sometimes you see the changes, and sometimes you feel it will never end, but once begun, I always feel committed to completion.

I have put off the novel I went back to after each of the first two, convinced I could finish it before I went back to the Vampire Testaments to work on the third novel in the opening trilogy. I knew that once the construction started, I wouldn’t get much more than re-reading book two and research for three done until I was back in my completed workspace, spick and span and ready for the year ahead. Keeping in mind that I am only days from moving my stuff back downstairs (I have been lucky enough to have the empty space upstairs to use, thanks to my downstairs neighbor and house partner Linda, who owns both) and that every step of the way I have been blessed is all that keeps me going.

Faith. It works in religion, construction and writing. Faith that what you are doing is worth writing, that you are a good writer, that what you began can be finished -- I could pound the analogy home, but the bottom line is that writing takes patience, hard work and belief in yourself and the work. It took me twenty years to get my first novel out, and much of what slowed it down was uncertainty that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t, as it turned out, but I also knew when to listen to those who told me what I might be doing wrong, and learned to do it better, until I did it “right”.

As I wait to go home again, a newly remodelled home beyond anything I might have dreamed possible a few years ago, I also wait to see what the third installment of my vampire epic will be. I know who is in it, what they want, when it is set and where...the materials are all gathered together, and all that’s left is building them into a suitable structure.

It’s exciting, scary, and the potential for failure and success is frighteningly equal. Failure feels disastrous, but pulling it off, standing back to see the work and truly loving the results -- there’s nothing like it. Last night, when the bedroom floor was done, horizontal bamboo, stained a dark rosy brown that set off the dark blue walls and ceiling perfectly (when I turn out the lights, I turn off the lights...) I lay on a pillow where my bed will be, and saw for a moment what the room would be when done. It was the same feeling I have after a satisfying key chapter is completed that lets me see the book I am writing more clearly. In the same way, I can also see what is still needed to -- if not perfect it -- make it better.

So, if you feel like you’re in over your head, that there is no end to your own personal Hell, be of good cheer -- everything ends. Octavia Butler said that God is change in “The Parable of the Sower” and truer words were never spoken. Change is the only constant, and writing and renovation celebrate it equally, with equal rewards if pursued properly.

I’ll let you know how they both went when I am done.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Writers and Reading

Have you ever met a writer who didn’t love to read? I suspect most writers’ desire to write grew in soil made fertile by reading.

Reading continues to nourish writers at all stages of their careers. Reading can spark story ideas, deepen one’s knowledge of people and of the world, improve vocabulary, and provide models of good and bad writing, among many other useful gifts. But how much should a writer read?

One writing teacher I know of recommends that writers read five hours for every hour they write, which would seem a near-impossible goal for most writers. I try to average two work days of fiction writing a week. So I should be reading 80 hours a week? Not going to happen. I couldn’t free up that much time even if I gave up sleeping.

Other people recommend a book a week. That’s 53 books a year—probably manageable for most writers. Even in my craziest, most time-deprived years I read that many . . . but it's not enough to give me the foundation for writing I want.

The answer to the question of “how much should a writer read?” is probably “as much as possible.” That answer suggests a follow-up question: What should a writer read?

Writers who read only for fun build their stories on sand, with no foundation underneath to support it. I suggest that SF/F should also choose reading material that builds knowledge, nurtures creativity, and cultivates wisdom.

To that end, the reading pile of an SF/F writer should contain nonfiction, including books and articles on:

•world history
•cultural anthropology
•animal behavior, especially primatology
•literary criticism of SF/F
•world religions
•science and technology
•the arts—music, painting, dance, etc.
•running a business (because being a writer is a business)
•writing technique

as well as fiction, including:

•classic SF/F novels and short stories (to learn the tropes, to be able to converse knowledgeably with other writers, and to avoid accidentally copying well-known ideas)
•newly published novels by new authors (to see what publishers are currently buying)
•novels in other genres
•novels that are similar to ones they want to write
•bestsellers in their field (to see what readers are buying)
•works by great stylists (to learn new ways of putting words together)
•classic works of literature (to see what lasts)

In my next post at Novel Spaces, on Saturday, February 6, I’ll have more to say on the importance of reading nonfiction. Until then, what do you think of my lists? Are there glaring omissions? Items you disagree with? I'm curious to hear how your lists of suggested reading would differ.

As always, thank you for visiting Novel Spaces today.

—Shauna Roberts

Friday, January 22, 2010

Just One Writing Tip

The other night, I'm in bed tossing and turning, counting sheep at nearly three in the morning, trying my best to fall asleep, when those amazing, fully-alive characters I created from the book I'm wrapping up kept talking to me, one after the other, and I couldn't make them stop. Seems they always try to talk when I'm in the shower, or driving, or when I'm trying to fall asleep. A while back when ideas would come to me - like when a character whispered to me that the murder suicide wasn't really a suicide at all, but that the murderer was still alive - I'd either get up and run into my office to jot them down, or I'd stay in bed, too lazy to move, finding ways to embed it all into my brain so I'd remember it when I woke up, but of course, I didn't.

My one writing tip is for authors to remember to always keep a notepad, post-it, tape recorder, rock, Etch-A-Sketch, something, beside the bed so that these yapping characters we obviously did such a great job bringing to life can tell us what's up, and then we can get our crafty, character-birthing, word-loving selves some sleep. Got it? Get up, flick the switch to the night-light or write in the dark, and make note of it. It's a whole lot easier than driving ourselves crazier than the bug-eyed woman in the above picture the next day, missing out on what could have made your next chapter a whole helluva lot easier. Write on!

Can you pick just one tip for writers? Please share. :-)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writing Lessons from Bootcamp

A few posts back I told y’all about enrolling in Bootcamp Workout classes to research my work-in-progress.

At the time, I figured dropping a few pounds would be the only added benefit of those hellish workouts.

I didn’t expect running outdoors at dawn in 19-degree temps only to come inside and face a barrage of push-ups, sit-ups and weights would also teach me a few lessons about living the writer’s life.

Here’s what I learned:

Gather your gear the night before. Not being a morning kinda gal, I pulled my workout clothes from the closet at night. It made it easier to get myself into gear when the alarm went off at 4:45 am. Now I place everything I need to get going (Alphasmart, notebook, index cards) on the kitchen table before heading to bed. If I’m planning to write in Starbucks or the library, I throw my stuff in a tote and hang it on the door.

You’re not in competition with anyone. I won’t lie. It was kinda demoralizing being the oldest and most out of shape in class. My stronger, fitter, younger classmates left me in the dust. The first days, pride made me damn near kill myself trying to catch them. Then our instructor told me to slow down and instead focus on my breathing and setting my own pace. In other words, focus on your body (writing career) – not anyone else’s.

It’s coooold. I’m sooooore. I’m gonna throw-up. The number one rule of Bootcamp – absolutely no whining. If I can run, sprint, do jumping-jacks sit-ups, push-ups without a single complaint, then I push through a difficult scene without bitching.

So those are the bonus lessons I got from my heroine’s bootcamp experience. Fortunately, my delving into my hero involves chocolate!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ch- ch- ch- Changes

Because I knew I would be writing this column on the third Monday in January, my first thought was to write about race in writing. I figured the flap about Avatar being racist while winning the Golden Globe would be a natural launch point. But the more I thought about it , the more I realized that was a political topic better suited to my own LiveJournal than this convivial writing forum. My second thought was to write the column Farrah wrote -- but she published first. (I've saved what I'd written before I saw her column and herein officially dibs the topic for next year.)

So, for a change of pace, I think I'll write about writing. Or more precisely, rewriting. I have often said I do not rewrite. I am not one of those walk away from the keyboard writers. When I finish with a story I spell check, and mail.

To be sure, if an editor requests a rewrite -- particularly if the rewrite is a condition of sale -- I rewrite if I can. (I can't always. The first of this year I sold two stories, but one of the sales didn't stick. As sometimes happens in media tie-in writing, elements of my story conflicted with established continuity. It was not a major point relative to the intellectual property -- the editor didn't notice until one of the continuity checkers found it -- but it was essential to my story. The story would not work if I changed it and I had to withdraw my ms.)

This year on my Live Journal I've started something new; something that's forcing me to really look at how I write and what I do with words. I'm posting the number of new words I write and keep each day. That "and keep" is important, because I'm discovering that I only keep about a third of the words I write. Prior to this daily record keeping, I would have told you I kept two thirds to three fourths of what I wrote; maybe deleting a sentence or two that doesn't flow well (or flows too prettily and distracts from the tale). Now I'm realizing I throw out paragraphs and pages wholesale.

Today's entry, for example, says merely "500 fiction." The fiction in this case is "Bad Water," a military science fiction story about a retired constable and his fishing boat being pressed into service by a reconnaissance squad. As originally sketched in on my graph paper (see "It's all a Plot") it would have run about 10-12k. Today I was close to the 8k mark when I realized the story was too damn linear. It didn't just need another try/fail cycle or two, it needed a convoluted side trip to save it from predictability. So I deleted 1600 words and hit my protagonist over the head with a piton. Then I spent about twenty minutes alternately staring into space and sketching on my graph paper while I worked out why he'd been hit on the head and what would have to happen to lead most effectively from that point to the denouement. (And, if I'm reading my flow chart right, the final story will clock in at 14-16k. We'll see.)

So what's your process? At what point in the writing do you spot things that need to change? And how do you go about making the changes?

Monday, January 18, 2010

How Far Have We Come?

I had another post written up for today, but when I realized I would be posting on the day designated to celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I decided to scrap that post in exchange for something a little more thought-provoking. As we reflect on the message of that great leader who preached equality, ask yourself this simple question: How far have we come?

This question isn't just for African Americans, but for this entire nation. How far have we truly come in attaining equality for everyone? Sure, "colored" people have made great strides in the decades since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched the streets--must I mention who is in the White House? But, anyone who has read any of my numerous post regarding the shelving of books written by African American authors (you'll see, I didn't say "African American books") know that we still have a long way to go.

As forward-thinking as many would believe we are as a nation, I fear we haven't come as far as we'd like in terms of treating and accepting everyone. Same-sex couples are still fighting for the right to enter into marriage while other people are targeted and profiled simply because of their religion.

As an author of fiction, I feel a bit of pride in the fact that I give people an escape from all the heavy issues that continue to plague us as a nation. Hopefully, I can continue to do so long after we finally attain that promised land Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described so beautifully all those years ago.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Guest author Connie Keenan: Just Another Material Girl

Connie Keenan, who also writes under the pen name of Consuelo Vazquez, is the author of nine published novels and over eighty short stories.She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Bill, and their two teenaged sons, Joey and Brandon. Both boys were just little guys when Suburban Vampires was first created—and told to them as a series-style bedtime story. It’s Connie’s hope that those fun-loving vampires, Dylan and Jesse, will find their place in the hearts of other kids, too . . . and kids at heart!

Life didn’t choose me to become a full-time writer. Naturally, I’m in good company, since a lot of us can say that. Early on, though, that briefly became something of an obsession.

One writing friend actually laid out the blueprint for how I could accomplish my goal. If memory serves me right, I would have to complete (and sell—gulp!) about seven novels per year, plus several non-fiction articles and/or short stories. Handcuffing myself to the PC would probably do the trick, no? One of my kids could always slide my meal trays under the door. Of course, there’d be bumps in the road, meaning our family could rely on my husband’s paycheck. And, hey, maybe he could work two jobs! Oh—and selling our modest little abode would work, too.

That was a plan that certainly has worked for others. There was only one little problem.

Life got in the way. The same life that chooses some of us to have day jobs also amuses itself by throwing us curve balls.

Husbands, like wives, sometimes get laid off from jobs. Over the years we both got our shares of pink slips. Publishers start romance novel lines with the enthusiasm of a Fourth of July celebration and months later those same lines die with nary a pffffft. I know; I had not one but two lines do that. Kids need hockey equipment and braces and money for college. Pipes break, cars break, every blessed thing breaks, but usually just all at once. The vet wants plata, silver, like we Cubans say, and so does the dentist. Here I was, trying to make a living as a writer while staring at a blank page on the MS Word screen, and all I can hear is the O’Jays in my ear singing “For the Love of Money.”

That’s no way to create. Not for me, at least. Besides the fact that there was a loving family and friends beyond the door of my home office, none of whom I’d ever see if all I ever did was write. Life happened outside that door, too. The same life filled with fascinating people, situations, places and experiences, all of which I needed as fodder for stories.

So all these years later I’ve collected a paycheck from day jobs. Like most writers who work, I’ve toted laptops or old-fashioned notebooks and pens to the office with me. I’ve written before work and at lunchtime; in my car; in a Starbucks or tea house within walking distance from my job; at home at night until right around the time the birds come out; on the weekend in between trips to the gym or dinner at my son’s home or after baby-sitting my granddaughter; on vacation, on a beach, while sipping Diet Coke and gazing out at the rolling Atlantic. It hasn’t always been easy finding time to write but I’ve been able to create freely, seeing my work as something other than a means of keeping the wolf from our door.

Here is encouragement to all those writers struggling with day jobs: Stories always have a way of getting told. Cheers for all those full-time writers—and cheers for us, too! Whether you have one hour per day to work with or eight, all it really takes time-wise is consistency. You have to make time for your characters and their world. It may take longer, but you will get to kiss that baby goodbye and shipped or emailed off to your editor. Getting a paycheck from a day job isn’t such a bad deal at all. If anything, that’s a little extra money for the promotional end of writing! (And shhhh, it’ll also come in handy for those God-they’re-cute ankle boots you’ve been lusting after.)

So these days, this clinic clerk by day/writer by night has Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet haunting her in her home office. Only they’re singing, “It’s Five o’Clock Somewhere!”

Connie Keenan

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Step Away From the Keyboard

Some writers outline and plot, others “wing” their stories. Some need silence to create, others rely on music to set a mood, or field trips to develop a scene. Personal styles and craft techniques run the gamut of approaches among authors. Yet, I’ve found one practice common across genre and experience level: stepping away from the story.

I think I happened on the tactic accidentally with my first novel. I’d finished the book and so I set it aside to focus on getting it published. When I started getting feedback on the manuscript, I revisited my story and found myself reading it like it was the first time I’d seen it.

Fresh eyes are a wonderful tool. Now the approach is standard for me. Depending on what I’m writing – a blog, a novella, a short story or full-length book – the time for stepping away varies. But it’s necessary. I don’t think I’ve come across a writer who doesn’t do the same. Distance seems to offer perspective you lose when mired in the creation of your pages.

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s Nightmares & Dreamscapes short story collection. In the back of the book he has a notes section where he shares thoughts on writing with his readers. Being knee deep in a manuscript, one particular insight caught my attention.

He was sharing the process of creating the short story Dolan’s Cadillac, talking about how he hates research (and how critics have pinged him for not doing it thoroughly), how hard he worked on the story to make it factual and accurate, and how at the end, after all this work, he hated it. “Absolutely loathed it,” to be exact. So much so that he threw it into a box of “Bad Old Stuff” that he keeps outside his office.

A few years later, a publisher requested an unpublished short story from King. He resorted to his box of “Bad Old Stuff,” pulled out Dolan’s Cadillac and discovered “once again time had done its work – it read a lot better than I remembered.”

I found his simple statement so reassuring. I haven’t reached his stature on the best selling book lists or on store shelves, but I encounter that same loathing and disenchantment at some point in every piece I’ve written. Stepping away from the keyboard – for a few hours while I’m immersed in creation, or days or weeks at the story’s end – gives wonderful perspective.

After a break, I, too, find that I generally like what I’ve written – even if tweaks, re-writes or scene overhauls are called for. Time away reaffirms my commitment to this craft and strengthens my ability to execute. As a writer, if you’re not currently incorporating the practice into your routine, it’s a technique I highly recommend.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Macomb Book Fair and Writers Conference

Most of you already know that I'm an adult reference librarian for the Mount Clemens Public Library in Michigan. For the past few years, I've coordinated a book fair and writers conference for the library. This year the event will be held on Saturday, February 6th from 10 to 4pm.

We are offering interactive workshops presented by local authors on screenwriting, how to put together a book proposal, writing erotic and many more. The program is free and open to the public.

For more information, visit our website at http:/ or call at 586-469-6200.

If you're in the area, please drop in and see us.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's in a name?

Can an author’s name make or break a novel? I’m not talking about the well known authors whose books we buy based on their reputation and our expectations. I’m talking about a first time or a relatively unknown author. Can the name of an unknown author really determine whether or not people would purchase their book?

I raise this question for a reason. A few weeks ago I saw an online review of my debut novel “A Marriage of Convenience”. It was a very detailed and favorable review. But one paragraph in the review caught my attention. I quote, “Before I began reading, I didn’t have high hopes for the story. The author’s name is Jewel Amethyst and I was just about snobby enough to turn up my nose at this. But she can call her name Ruby Sapphire next time and I’ll give her another read.”

It reminded me of a little discussion I had with my editor when she suggested I use a different name. The impression I got from her was that Jewel Amethyst didn’t sound realistic. In discussing it with one of my friends he confirmed it does sound a little exotic, like a stripper.

Several people have asked me how I came up with the name Jewel Amethyst. Well for starters I didn’t come up with it, it was given to me. There are several stories that I heard about how I got the name. The one I like best is the one told to me by a centenarian friend of my mother when I visited her in my late teens(by the way that lady lived to be 103). She said she visited my mother and saw me as a newborn and I was “Pretty as gold” so she said I should be named Jewel. That’s not exactly the story my mother tells me.

But I digress. The point is, contrary to what the reviewer thinks both Jewel and Amethyst are my given names. The only modification that could categorize Jewel Amethyst as a pseudonym is that I omitted my surname.

It still surprises me though, that the sound of an author’s name could determine whether one picks up a book from the book shelf. For me, most of my purchases are based on author’s reputation or recommendations from friends and family. In the case of an unknown author that comes with no recommendation, I simply read the synopsis or since I purchase most of my books online, I look for the customer reviews.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Never judge a book by the cover.” Can we now extend that to “Never judge a book by the sound of the author’s name”?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A white New Year's

We live in Johor, Malaysia (about one degree north of the equator), not far from the sea. The plus is that we get lovely afternoon and evening breezes redolent of salt. The minus is that everything corrodes pretty quickly. Really. It's frightening.

With the amount of moving air around us, however, what we weren't expecting was to wake up to dense fog on the second of January. And, to be honest, it was magical. The weather here is pretty consistent and, by "pretty consistent", I mean 24 to 31 degrees Celsius, day in and day out, with only the occasional hot day from February to July to remind you that you're on a planet that actually tilts and revolves.

So, on a fog-bound second of January, this was the view of our street:

It looks very primeval, doesn't it? You can almost imagine some dinosaur poking its head out from behind a tree. Every bit of civilisation faded from view and we felt encapsulated in our own private universe. This was the view from our second-storey corridor looking down to our large koi pond:

Those dark-and-light indistinct shapes you see in the background are our back neighbours and, because our little courtyard is actually suspended (about 6 metres above the ground where you see our little pavilion), it truly gave the impression that we were nestled in the clouds. It was as wet as all hell, of course (even more than usual), and the cats hated having to put their delicate little paws on the slick tiles, but still made a nice change from clear and hot.

So you see, you can have a white holiday season in the tropics. It just depends on how you define "white"! ;)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Not another top ten list

'Tis that time again when we share our goals for the new year with everyone else. Sick of reading other people's lists? I'll be merciful - after all I could have subjected you to my Top 1000 resolutions that were made to be broken. Instead, I'll just list my Top three writing goals for 2010:

Goal #1: Write more.
Phyllis' handy timer gave me the idea of setting my cell phone to alarm when I sit down to write. I've begun by setting it for 30 minutes, and it's amazing how fast those half hours fly by! Invariably, I find myself resetting it to give myself more time. People, this works!

Goal #2. Organize.
It's difficult for me to balance the various compartments of my life so that everything gets the attention it deserves. We all juggle a lot of stuff: day job, school, children, spouse or significant other, writing, household chores, correspondence, reading time, dreaming time. If I have a fairly structured schedule for doing each, there's a much greater chance of managing at least some of it than if I had no plan at all, and writing might not get edged out so easily.

3. Limit Internet time.
I have to confess to 'net addiction. I simply can't rationalize any more the hours I spend flitting around on Amazon, for example. It occurred to me recently that a simple move such as unplugging the modem cable from my laptop when I sit down to write makes a whole lot of sense. (There are benefits to not having wireless access in the house.) At the very least, I won't be distracted by the chime of Google Notifier every time an e-mail drops into my inbox. Checking e-mail throughout the day has also got to go. Once in the morning and once at night should be sufficient.

There you have it - three small goals (note that I'm avoiding the word 'resolutions') to revolutionize my writing life in 2010. Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's all a plot

I remember dreading discussions of plot and theme in literature classes. It always seemed plain to me that the plot is what happened in the story and the theme is what the story is about. However every year instructors seemed convinced that I was either missing essential layers of nuanced meaning or was being deliberately lazy. (Most began the term believing the former and ended the term convinced of the latter.) As a student, I never earned more than a "C" in a literature class.

As a writer I've never given a moment's thought to theme.
But as a writer I'm thinking about, and working on, plot all of the time. Because without a plot there is no story. Beautiful sentences, evocative settings, scintillating dialog, compelling characters -- all of these things are wonderful, but if nothing happens it's not a story. If you're a storyteller, you're a plotter.

With plot such an important element, you can be sure many writers spend a great deal of time working out every detail of the plot. One friend of mine, science fiction and mystery writer Ilsa Bick, produces 20,000-word outlines for 100,000-word novels. While not everyone is this meticulous, it is common for writers to thoroughly map out their plot before writing. Political thriller writer Allen Drury developed formal outlines for each of his subplots and main storyline before writing. Stephen King works out summaries of each chapter before he writes. The strength of this approach is the writer is never taken by surprise; never at a loss as to what to do next. One trap of this method is crafting the perfect outline or summary could become an end in itself consuming creative energy. Another potential problem is the writer missing opportunities in the writing process, not exploring options that are not in the outline.

Other writers are plot deniers, and I know several of these. They start with a blank page and begin writing. These writers often describe the writing process as letting the words flow. Many say things like their characters just take over the story and all they did was watch and listen and type what happened. Of course what they're doing is using their subconscious to plot, a process not unlike directed dreaming. The primary problem with this approach is -- as anyone whose ever tried to recount the events in a dream will tell you -- the subconscious is not big on logic. Just as there are holes in your dream there will be holes in your plot. And with this seat of your pants method there is always the danger of writing yourself into a box; or finishing a killer scene and having no idea where to go from there; or starting with a love story that becomes a mystery that ends with a gunfight and a Broadway musical medley. Most authors with collections of half-finished manuscripts began with little or no plot laid out in advance. But there are also successful writers who earn their livings writing this way every day.

Most writers employ elements of both of these extremes. They block the main events of their novel -- where it begins, where it ends, major decision points between the two -- but do not think through the steps between each plot point in much detail. One writer has described this as seeing each major point as a mountain peak above the fog. She knows there's a road connecting the peaks, but the actual path is in the fog. She sets out on the road knowing she will find her way by keeping the peaks in sight, but that she will also discover things she had not anticipated as she goes. She does not worry about how winding the road is as long as she keeps moving toward the next peak.

I call my own method composting, though it's been suggested percolation may be a more accurate metaphor. I think scenes through, sometimes for days before writing. My family is used to me muttering snatches of dialog unrelated to anything happening outside my head, missing turns, mowing the hostas, or calling home from the grocery store to ask what I had been sent to buy. Though I seldom have a detailed outline, I do have key elements thought through and set -- with minimal descriptions jotted in a pocket notebook -- before I ever sit at the keyboard. When I seem to simply sit down and type more often than not I'm writing down the highlights of days of guided daydreaming.

A common tool for keeping track of events while plotting is storyboarding. The writer starts with a stack of index cards, then writes one-sentence descriptions of scenes and key plot elements on each card. Then the cards can be laid out or tacked to a bulletin board. This gives the writer a visual overview of the novel as a whole, allowing her to see where what she is writing at a given moment fits. I have used this method with some success, and found it particularly useful when the flow of Wolf Hunters was not working: I was able to shuffle and rearrange the cards, playing with plot structure until I found a combination that worked. For short fiction I often use graph paper and create a very rough flow chart of events to help me remember sequence and context.

However you do it, and whatever tools you use, if you're going to be a writer you must be a plotter.

How about you? How do you plot your stories? And what tools do you use to help you stay on track and turn that plot into a story?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Reach More Readers by Revamping Your Marketing Techniques

This past Sunday, I was fortunate to be part of an amazing three-and-a-half hour teleconference on ways to reach readers during a time that is perceived to be an industry crisis. It was hosted by the phenomenal Ella Curry, President of EDC Creations Media, which is a marketing, branding, and promotions firm. I'd like to pass along just some of the things that were covered during the phone call:

1) Keep your website updated - do not continue to have the same outdated information year after year. Your website is your control center. Have direct links where readers can buy your books easily, have a place for them to sign-up for your newsletter/mailing list, try to include excerpts and high res book cover images. Make sure you have a link for an electronic press kit.

2) When you attend events, stand up and greet people, be available and professional, make sure you have a sign-in sheet and if you can, pick up business cards - build your email list. Get organized and form your database of readers. Send regular e-blasts that cover more than just the book release.

3) Have a FaceBook page w/photos of events and of yourself, a blog that focuses on a message you're familiar with (blogging is imperative but stay with it - don't abandon it), write articles that relate to the subject matter of your books and what you're passionate about, and allow other authors to be featured on your pages and in your articles as well. Try to focus on your message, not your books.

4) In your writings, challenge readers with unusual settings, stories, current event storylines, etc. Be original.

5) Continue to do signings and events whenever you can and network - pass out bookmarks and talk to people whether they buy your book or not. Also, continue with online book tours and Blogtalk radio.

6) Try to have a real-life video of you talking about yourself (maybe a day in the life or you at home), an informative topic that is your passion, as well as your books. Make sure you're on Goodreads, Shelfari, RedRoom, YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, MySpace, etc. Be willing to be a guest blogger whenever possible. Be visible.

7) Update your Amazon author pages. If you don't have one, make one. Make sure your Amazon book page has a synopsis and bio. Do not include your education on your bio unless it is key to your message/theme or validates your credentials relating to your books.

There's so much more information that I didn't cover. If you'd like the replay link to the conference call, please email me at

For more information on how to accomplish the above and more, you can check out Ella Curry's website at She is a phenomenal talent and beautiful person. Tell her Marissa Monteilh sent ya! =)

If you have any more suggestions, please add. We're all in this together. Let's continue to share information and cheer each other on. Good luck!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

To clean or not to clean?

When I first started freelancing nineteen years ago, one of my freelancing friends told me that I would be more successful as a writer if I viewed everything in terms of billable hours, as lawyers do, and avoid tasks that weren’t “billable.” She gave as an example cleaning one’s office. Cleaning brings in no revenue, can’t lead to future revenue (as writing queries or going to a conference might), and can expand to fill the time available.

As someone who had routinely straightened her office at the end of the day, I thought this was great advice . . . for the first few years. Not cleaning up saved me extra eight hours to ten hours a month, which I could spend making more money or taking off a Saturday.

It is a good idea in moderation. Most writers will take any excuse they can to avoid writing. Straightening up feels like work and eats up a satisfying amount of time, creating a false sense of accomplishment. (In that sense, it’s like writing a blog post.) The result: lots of hours in the office, but not much writing done.

But my office provides many examples of the problems that arise from focusing too much on billable tasks.
  • Every raised surface and most of the floor are covered with papers.
  • The stacks of related papers have gotten so tall that some have fallen on each other and merged.
  • There are so many stacks of paper that I don’t remember what paper is where.
  • To get to the built-in drawers and cabinets in my office requires moving boxes of supplies, promo items, or papers, which encourages leaving even more things on the floor instead.
  • I waste probably an hour a week looking for lost items.
  • My account book for 2009 is blank, and an unsorted pile of receipts several inches tall awaits entering.
Please do as I say and not as I do. Don’t wait to clean your office until the task seems as resistant to solution as the Sphinx’s riddle. Take enough time to file, straighten up, and throw away that you can find what you need when you need it.

A good start may be routinely straightening your office at the end of the day.


Your visit was appreciated. Please stop by again on January 23, when I'll be blogging about how much and what writers should read.

—Shauna Roberts

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Here We Go Again…

It’s nearly a week into the New Year, and my weekly Weight Watchers meeting is packed with newbie’s vowing to really do it this time.

The determined look on their faces reminds me of the resolutions I make in the heat of a book deadline.

I promise my jittery hands I’ll wean myself off coffee and Diet Coke.

I tell my aching back I’ll return to yoga class.

I assure my queasy stomach to never again eat Hershey bars for breakfast or turn to a box of Cheez-it’s for an easy, no-cook dinner.

Finally, I raise my fist to the heavens Scarlett O’Hara style and vow to manage my time better and never, ever get caught in a deadline crunch again.


Once I meet my deadline, my determination dissipates quicker than the crowds will in my WW meeting room.

My resolution?

Just for today, I’ll cut back on coffee, go to yoga class, stay outta the snack cabinet and put in some quality time with my WIP.

And I’ll worry about tomorrow – tomorrow.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Next Release

Recently, I signed on to to check out the sales of my latest novel, I Can Make You Love Me. I do this once in a while to see if there is still a little buzz about the book. As I scrolled through the list, I found a new title among my previous novels.

My next release, You're All I Need was listed. With a sense of awe and pleasure, I clicked on the title and learned the official release date and the number of pages. Looking at this new title, I got a sense of excitement at seeing my name in print and the next book. It's a snapshot of what is to come. Although the novel was coverless, someone had bought a copy.

That wowed me. No cover and very little information and yet someone had purchased the book. It made me feel very proud and humble to be a writer and I wanted to thank all my readers for supporting me and my books.

I always enjoy feedback from readers and writers alike. Don't be a stranger. Email me at


What America's Next Top Model taught me about books

I'll admit it, I'm a fan of America's Next Top Model, and if I happen to run across an all day marathon on VH1, nine times out of ten I'm in front of the television for hours. I've tried to fight it, but I just can't. The show sucks me in every time.

During a recent ANTM junket (it was the one with Jade, the bitchy but beautiful girl I wanted to strangle on every episode), something one of the judges told a contestant struck a chord. She was told she wasn't pretty. Wasn't pretty? But this is America's Next Top Model. And all models are supposed to be pretty? Right?

Apparently, pretty isn't what everyone is looking. Interesting is what the judges wanted from the contestants. Just a pretty face won't get you very far in that competitive industry, and the same goes for publishing.

Some people have a knack for putting together long, flowing sentences that are so lyrical you can hear a harpsichord in the background as you read. But a bunch of well-written sentences strung together without an interesting story behind it will not get you passed an editor assistant's desk. Time and again, usually when judging writing contests, I've run across pieces of work that are filled with beautiful, perfectly written words, but the stories lack substance and have me bored by page two.

There's more to writing than just "pretty" sentences. You must know how to craft a story that pulls readers in and doesn't let them go until the last page. Some people are born with this gift, others have to work for it. But if you want to survive in publishing, it's something you had better master.

That episode of America's Next Top Model reiterated something I've known to be true, but have to remind myself of every now and then. There is room for all kinds of stories and writing styles out there. And what works for one person won't automatically work for another (just check out some of the disparity in reviews of my books). But the underlying core of every good book is an interesting story, whether the writing is "pretty" or not.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Re-visiting a novel’s journey to prepare for the year ahead

I started my writing “career” with a homemade diary in fourth grade. In the years since, I chronicled my crushes, school adventures, joys and disappointments in diaries of one form or another. As a teen, I resorted to plain old three subject notebooks (sans dividers) because there was just too much life to pack into a tiny store-bought diary.

In college and the immediate years afterward, I began using journals; hand-selected with much thought and care to their covers more so than the inside pages. I guess at some point I realized that if the journal was short on pages, I could simply continue in another one. The artwork of their front reflected a specific space in time for me, a mood, a life phase. Occasionally, I go back and re-read them. There are others I avoid. The covers remind me of difficult life passages I don’t care to re-visit.

I journaled with each of my three children’s pregnancies. Those memories are precious. While there was awe, fear, hope and joy with each, the emotions varied with the circumstances surrounding each; first baby, breech baby, the girl. Those I do go back and re-live those beloved beginnings through ultrasound photos, prayers I crafted that were miraculously answered, and due dates (all missed of course).

With my first book being one of those major events in my life, it made perfect sense to chronicle my writing in much the same way I did so many other happenings. The first writing journal is just a 3x5 lined notebook; something I’d buy for my daughter to scribble in. New Year’s seemed a perfect time to step back and enjoy how far I’ve come.

The journey was both insightful and sentimental. I know the pertinent dates to the book’s publication: that I submitted to Dorchester on February6, 2006, the offer came on Oct. 10th and the book was released in August 2007.

What I tend to forget are the hills and valleys in between, like submissions to about 40 agents between October 2005 and January 2006. I decided pretty early on that I would go agent free if I had to because my goal was to get published. It worked for me, but not without all that prior angst.

I forget about the daily word count tally I kept. It’s a practice I still maintain. It’s so cool (or a good kick in the butt when you need it) to look back and watch the pages grow. You can’t always feel that sense of accomplishment when you’re mired in making it happen.

I started my web site in 2005, with Where Souls Collide not only unagented and unpublished, but unfinished as well. Immediately afterward, there’s an entry reminding me to “limit promo to one hour per day. Write!” Is that not the ongoing struggle I continue to face?

There are scribbles of new story ideas, lists of character names, and most importantly, every month there are goals. The to-do’s range from page counts and future submissions to thank you notes and social networking. But the cumulative message of those 120 journal pages is to keep moving forward. Keep trying, keep believing, and one day you’ll get there. And it happened. Not by luck or magic, but hard work on several levels, day after day after sometimes unrewarding day.

I’ll mark this year in the same monthly fashion with goals and entries that note my progress. I look forward to diving into 2010 with the confidence of small and big successes behind me. It’ll be fun a year from now to revisit, remember and re-energize again.

What are your writing goals for the first year of this new decade?

Happy New Year!