Saturday, January 29, 2011


I have to admit, one of my longtime dreams as a writer has been to see one of my novels or short stories adapted to the small or big screen. Perhaps this is every professional writer's dream. This has yet to happen with any of my fiction works, but as my dear mother always tell me, "Hope springs eternal."

I have, however, been able to live vicariously through a number of writer friends who have been so fortunate to see their fiction brought to life on television or motion pictures. Most of them speak of the exhilaration of watching on screen what originated in their heads.

Some, however, have complained about the script and production being totally different from the book. Or the wrong actors cast for the part. Or other issues that kept the experience from being totally satisfying.

It reminds me of another saying that sometimes seem apropos, " Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it."

Then there is that "grass always seem greener on the other side" adage.
I think that as human beings, we are never completely content, whether we make all the professional advances we seek or not. It seems we often expect more of others than ourselves. Or feel that there has to be more to success than this...

I would be less than honest if I said that getting my book adapted to the screen would be everything I could ever want as a writer and promise not to complain too loudly if everything along the process was less than perfect.

What I can say, though, is I hope to get the opportunity to be where some of my writer friends are today in terms of books to movies or TV series, if only to see for myself if the end justifies the means.

In the interim, I will continue to put out print novels and eBooks and wait for my cell phone or e-mail to buzz from some scriptwriter or producer who wants to turn my novel or short story into a visual masterpiece!

What are your thoughts about screenplay adaptation?

Have you ever had a work optioned, adapted, or produced? If so, was it everything you hoped it would be?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Writing Endings

This is my first post for 2011. I planned to begin the post by extending Happy New Year wishes to my co-novelnauts and readers, however, I decided yesterday that since my year has not had a very auspicious start, I will celebrate the Chinese New Year and start 2011 all over again on February 3.

But this post is about endings not beginnings. It was originally written for submission on January 12, so enjoy.

Today my mother-in-law will be laid to rest. It is the essence of an oxymoron; the concept that one so full of inner strength and energy should be forever still. The truth is that until this day, this final step, we still expect at any moment to hear a call from her room, as she reluctantly summoned us to attend to a need that she was unable to fill herself.

I wrote about her death a week before it happened. It felt morbid when I did it but it came to my head and I had to write it. I did not show it to anyone and I never completed the story although I saw the end, her release from pain, very clearly in my mind. I knew that, as powerful as the pen may be, I couldn't hasten her end simply by writing about it, but I still felt a twinge of something like guilt when she passed away somewhat unexpectedly a week later.

The truth is that story endings have always been a bit of a nuisance for me. My joy comes in the creation and the writing, the unfolding of the story with details that are often as much a surprise to me as they will be to the reader. When the characters have resolved all of their conflicts I am ready to move on; I am not interested in the small talk of happily ever afters. A recent reviewer commented that the end of my books seem a bit rushed and she may be right.

Sometimes I say too much, revealing every detail to the reader so that they know my view of the way things happened. I recently read Runaway by Alice Munro. She has a knack for ending her stories with just enough information to keep you guessing about what the story was all about and what happened to her characters next; great fodder for a book club discussion. I like the concept, although I must say that after her fourth short story, I was yearning for a change of pace and a little more closure.

I also recently read Dancing Nude in the Moonlight by Antiguan author and friend, Joanne Hillhouse, which I loved for its clear, lyrical, entertaining depiction of inter-cultural love, but I felt that she too may have struggled a bit with the end and I saw how I would have arranged it a little differently.

Both of these books have encouraged me to take another look at how I write my own story endings and I hope that I can improve upon them and grow.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bitter Dreams

Dreams sometimes come true. Eventually. In1984, while I was in graduate school but spending late nights fiddling around with fiction, a title occurred to me. That title was “Bitter Steel.” At the time I’d written only a few stories and fragments of stories, none very memorable, but I decided—with the irrepressibility of naïve youth—that Bitter Steel would be the title of my first collection of heroic fantasy tales. I even remember that it was late at night while walking across the University of Arkansas campus that the thought came to me.

Fast forward to April of 1993. By that time I’d sold half a dozen stories and had some successful contest entries under my belt. Most of my success had been with heroic fantasy stories, but I was no longer as naïve as I’d been in 1984. I was a long ways from setting the writing world on fire. I’d discovered how tough it is to write publishable stories, and how hard it is to find time to write when you’re also trying to build an academic career. It began to occur to me that I might never have a short story collection published. I printed out all the fantasy stories I had and spiral bound them for myself under the title Bitter Steel.

In 2009, I pitched an idea for a collection of my heroic fantasy tales to Borgo Press, which had published my Talera trilogy. Borgo liked the idea, and in 2010 that collection was published. I could do nothing else but entitle it Bitter Steel.

I went back this week to compare the published Bitter Steel with the spiral bound home version from 1993. I was amazed to find that 9 of the 14 stories from that original collection made it into the published version, although all of them have undergone revision. Four others have also been published, and only one has never been seen by anyone but me. I’m kind of pleased with the life of these tales.

No matter how naïve it may seem, dreaming is important. There were quite a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I thought about giving up on writing. I had novels written but not published, stories selling but only to small markets, a growing list of agents unimpressed with my submissions. People were telling me that the sort of stuff I liked to write was old fashioned and out of style. Progress never seemed better than three steps forward and two back, and sometimes the other way around. But I never could quite forget the dreams I had almost from the first moment I tried to write, dreams that I would find success, that I’d see my name in print. And not just once, but many times. In 1984, I dreamed of Bitter Steel. In 2010, I saw it come true. I’m glad I held on.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Must-have Snack

I was speaking to a group of parents who sought medical care for their young children. Some of them stayed at the Ronald McDonald house and they extolled the great support and the many activities provided at the Ronald McDonald house for kids with special needs. One lady could not stop singing the praises of that establishment, and shared how her four year old son became inspired to volunteer because of what he saw there.

As the discussion progressed, most parents agreed that the only downside to this establishment was the rules. But because of the great environment, they would be happy to give up those freedoms. The rule that presented the most difficulty in compliance was the restriction of food in rooms. One mother then confided that she sneaked diet coke into her room. As she described, it was the one joy that put everything in perspective. I understood completely.

I too have a must-have snack that put everything in perspective. It’s a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats (HBO). Every night after putting the kids to bed and cleaning up the perpetual messes, I sit down in front of the TV with a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats in steaming hot creamy whole milk. Most times, I have no idea what is on the television, and I don’t really care. I am having my me time. I am enjoying spending time in the company of me.

When I dip into that cereal, it’s like all the troubles of the world just dissipate and everything gains perspective. I am transported into a different world where there is clarity of thought and all is well. It doesn’t matter if I accomplished all I set out to do today. It doesn’t matter that the problems will be waiting for me again tomorrow. Because once I have my HBO, everything is at peace.

And then I can write my chapter.

I know I’m not the only one who has that one delight that for a brief moment puts everything in perspective. So what is you must have?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest author Donna Hill: Beyond the Book

Donna Hill began her writing career in 1987. Her first novel was published in 1990. Since that time she has more than 50 novels to her credit. Three of them were adapted for television. She has received numerous awards for her body of work including the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award, The Trailblazer Award, The Emma, and the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award among others. Donna lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Spend My Life With You
, her latest release, is available wherever books are sold.

As a writer, you spend hours, days, weeks and months researching, writing, plotting and planning. You have an idea for a novel that you want to share with readers. You put your heart and soul into it. Often you sacrifice time with family and friends and time for yourself. Finally one day you write, “the end.” The sense of accomplishment (and relief) defies explanation.

If you already have an editor, you turn your precious baby over and pray that it will be treated with care. If you self-published, you have to find and editor, a printer, and a means to distribute your book. Now you can take a breath. Your book is written, your story is told. All of those hours, days and months have paid off. WRONG. The real work has just begun.

Writing the novel is the easy part. Getting it the attention that it deserves is where the real work comes in. Whether you go with a traditional publisher or strike out on your own, marketing and promotion will be the difference between your “masterpiece” being read by hundreds of readers or just your best friends and family.

Even after having been in this business for more than 20 years, for me it never gets easier. With each book the same amount—and sometimes even more—effort and enthusiasm goes into the promotion of the book.

With the book market being so tight and so competitive and continually changing, as an author, if you plan to be successful you have to keep working long after the last page is typed.

If I had my way, I would just write my books and stay in my room. (As quiet as it’s kept, I’m really kind of shy). But I know that if I want to keep being moderately successful at this writing thing, I have to keep doing the work. So I’ve put together a list of things that I have found to be terribly important:
  • Build your contact list. Think of all the people that you know, starting with family and friends. Get email and snail mail addresses when you go to events.
  • Get a good-looking, functional website, easy to navigate. Not one that looks homemade with ads on the side. Wordpress has great templates.
  • Secure your domain name. Domainrooms is a good source and inexpensive.
  • Get business cards. Try Vistaprint. You can get 500 for a few bucks. Keep them simple. Name, contact info (email, website). Getting business cards with a picture of your book is cute but limited. Get cards that will work with the next book you are writing.
  • Join some of the online book clubs. Contribute to the conversations. Don’t just show up when you have a new book, or only post when you want to promote yourself.
  • Set up your Facebook account, Twitter, Shelfari and Blog.
  • Plan to attend literary events. (Pick and choose wisely. You can’t be everywhere)
  • Find out what bookstores are in your area. Make sure that they stock your book. Offer to do a stock signing.
  • Stay in touch with your readers.
  • Tour on a budget! Do virtual tours. They are great ways to be all over without leaving home.
  • Open a Skype account so that you can “visit” book clubs online.
  • Open a account to record readings from your novel to upload to your website.
  • And while you are busy promoting your new baby, get to work on its sister or brother. If you’ve written a great book and promoted it well, your readers are going to want more.
Good luck!

Donna Hill

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The real deal

I'd be appalled by all the misconceptions about the writing life proliferating out there if I hadn't harboured a few myself in the not-too-distant past. As it is, I try to debunk the myths where I meet them but it's a never-ending, thankless job. Some new writers don't want to know the realities: the rosy dream is so much more alluring than the unglamorous grittiness of a writer's life. I've already strained one friendship trying to get the guy to understand that self-publishing and then sitting back and waiting for the royalty cheques to roll in was a fraught path. He thought I was trying to kill his joy and eventually learned - the hard way.

For those who really want to keep it real, here I go again, debunking a few of those myths about the writing life.

Myth 1: There's an ideal time of day to write, the general wisdom being that you do it early in day and get it out of the way.
The Real Deal: The best time to write is whenever you can, and every writer has to work out a routine that suits him best. Doesn't matter when you write, only that you write.

Myth 2: There's an ideal place to write.
The Real Deal: Just like the myth about the ideal time of day, there's no ideal place. Writers are lucky in that we can work anywhere we wish - on the train, in the playground, at work during the lunch break, in bed, in a corner of a noisy cafe, in front of the television with a baby screaming in the background... The writer's retreat in the woods by the lake is nice, I'm sure, but very few books would exist if we all waited for the ideal place to materialize in order to get down to it.

Myth 3: You have to wait for inspiration.
The Real Deal: This one is a major murderer of productivity. If you develop a routine and write every day, or most days, inspiration will know where to find you. If you don't do this, you can waste a lifetime waiting for the muse to strike.

Myth 4: Don't worry about grammar and spelling; the editor will clean it up for you.
The Real Deal: That's not the editor's job, and if your work is littered with errors the sad fact is it will most likely never reach as far as an editor's desk. Not even if it's the greatest story ever told.

Myth 5: Once you're published, it gets easy from there on.
The Real Deal: It gets harder. Don't look at me like that; it does. In addition to the challenges of writing and marketing your stories, you'll have a whole lot more to worry, obsess and stress about: print runs, non-appearance of advance cheques, editorial impasses, agent issues, promotion, signings, bookstore placement, sales figures, sales rankings, reviews, piracy, earning out the advance, late royalty statements, the state of the industry, the second book, the third book, the fifteenth book...

Myth 6: Fiction writers make good money.
The Real Deal: A few (four? five?) fiction writers make serious money. A handful make enough to live on. All the others, 90-something percent of them, even many who find themselves on bestseller lists, cannot live off their earnings from writing. They have regular jobs to make ends meet.

Still want to be a writer? Good for you! You're the real deal - so pull out that pen or keyboard and get started. It's a hard knock life, but we writers won't exchange it for any other.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Life and Other Things Like It

I’m writing this while I sit in a sound mix at WNET/13. My editor’s down the hall building roll-ins to drop into the Pledge breaks we spent the last week editing and getting in shape for export and delivery to the PBS system on Monday. Film and TV production is a weird and interesting life -- I think moving around every two years for most of my Air Force brat childhood prepared me for a transient work life -- going from job to job freelance, being thrown on a plane or train and heading who knows where for a day, a week, or however long it took to get the job done. Then everyone back home to look for the next gig.

Writing is almost the opposite of this. I stay home, in one seat, going to a nearby restaurant or café with my laptop for a change of pace. To do anything for air, I need a production budget; I need a crew to shoot, then an editor and mixer for post-production, even if I pre-edit the pieces myself on my laptop of home computer. All I can have is what the station can afford to make the airdate. You need to learn to negotiate -- if you and the director or editor have a different view of what’s being shot or cut, you have to learn to express yourself in a way that gets it for you -- and you have to be right -- or when problems arise, you get the smirk of someone beside you who told you that wasn’t going to work. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but in the end, if everyone on your team is trying to get the job done, you make your deadline with something that does what you were sent out to accomplish. But you need people, you need facilities -- you need more than yourself.

When I sit down to my keyboard to work on my fiction, I can have anything I’m able to imagine and describe, anywhere, in any time, or even anyone. I’ve written chapters set in the Northern Africa of a thousand years ago, in contemporary New York and 14th century France, populated my novels with fictitious characters and mingled them with my versions of historic figures drawn from my research. There is total, complete freedom, something I don’t have anywhere else in my life. Is it any wonder I love to write? It’s the one place I know I can soar as high as I can take myself.

It isn’t always easy. Easy writing is seldom the best writing you do -- but it’s always a pleasure, albeit occasionally a twisted one, even when I’m wrestling with a story or characters to get them to move in the direction I want them to go. As with a TV crew, sometimes, you win, sometimes you lose -- but if you listen to what’s being said and why, sometimes you find yourself someplace better than you wanted to be in the first place.

For now, my life is still divided between my day job work and my life’s work. I hope one day to be able to sell enough books to life exclusively on earnings from my writing, but that’s a luxury a relative handful of fiction writers on the planet have. In the meantime, I’ve at least found a balance between the two that keeps me both eating and writing, even if not always as much of either as I may sometimes like.

As long as I keep writing, keep making time to write -- no one “finds” it any more than we “find” money -- I will be happy with my lot in life. Writing may not pay my bills by itself yet, but it does fill a need in me that nothing else does as well. A need for adventure, exploration, romance, mystery and occasionally even -- literary else do you think writers get new characters? (If characters in my first novel hadn’t hooked, up, I wouldn’t have half the characters in my second! And that one ends with two more babies on the way...) As long as writing fills my free time with all of that, it will always have a place in my life.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Personal Retreat, Post 2

In my last post, I talked about how I would be accompanying my husband on a trip to Denver. He had business there for three days; I intended to spend most of those days immersed in poetry.

I did go to Denver; I did study poetry and even wrote some; I did eat lots of dark chocolate; I did have a nice break from my usual routine.

It wasn't the total poetry immersion I had imagined, though. A client sent some editing and pages to proof the night before we left. So instead of going to bed early and sleeping late as planned so that I would be well rested, I was to bed late and up early. Even so, we left for the airport late because we waited to make sure all the pages went through the fax machine. To make matters worse, that evening when we got to Denver, several emails from my client awaited me. The last several pages of my fax had arrived blank. I had to have her send me the file in Denver, then search out a printer, get up early to redo the work, and have the hotel fax the pages back to her.

As a result, I lost several hours I had planned to devote to poetry—partly because of the time I spent on the unexpected editing and partly because sleep deprivation led to my falling asleep repeatedly while studying. So much for a weekend free of distractions and interruptions.

That aside, I count the retreat a success. I started with Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry, which explained the basics of poetry simply and in just over 100 pages. As I read, I realized I had learned much of the information in high school but had forgotten it, so this book was a good refresher.

Next I started The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry. (Yes, that Stephen Fry, the British actor who was so great as butler Jeeves in the PBS series "Jeeves and Wooster.") What a fun book! Fry infuses every page with his sense of humor, and his instructions are detailed and clear and his exercises fun. Example: Write two lines about pesky tasks overdue in iambic pentameter with enjambment and at least two caesura. Write a poem about cows in dactylic pentameter.

Looking at my notebook now for the first time since Denver, I see most of what I wrote was awful, too awful even to give you an example of how awful it was. But I was—and am—amazed that I could do it at all. I thought expressing ideas in metered feet would be difficult to learn and take a lot of practice before I could do it. But I actually wrote directions to my house in anapestic hexameter on first try! How cool!

The last full day we were in Denver it snowed heavily. We had large windows and a balcony with a great view of the city. It was a treat to watch the snow blow and swirl and pile up in white mounds that stayed white because few people ventured out on the slick streets. We got to experience that absence of sound that only occurs on rare snowy days. The snow ended up the subject of several of my poem exercises.

Next, I need to finish Fry's book and its exercises and work on writing poems that don't suck. That will come with practice, I assume. My husband has another business trip this spring that I'm going along on, and finishing Fry may be a good project to work on then.

Next time I plan a retreat, I'll do things a little differently. I'll tell people that I'll be completely unavailable during my retreat and on the day before. That should allow me to get a good night's sleep beforehand and not waste limited retreat time on naps and work.

I'll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on February 5. I hope to see you back then.

—Shauna Roberts

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pulled Straight from the Headlines of Life

The reporting of headline news, whether via television, radio, Internet or newspapers, is so very necessary to our society. We must stay updated on what's going on in the world no matter what our preference might be - international, financial, entertainment, etc. I don't think I'm alone in saying that as a writer, there are times when a news story strikes me in a way that I often wonder what would happen if a book was written about that particular topic, or if a scene was added into my story that explored a certain situation, similar to my makeover story, Make Me Hot, or my book about spousal abuse at the hands of a wife, Something He Can Feel. I've written blogs before about how true life is stranger than fiction, and lately, with the headlines just barely three weeks into 2011 alone, I've noticed it even more so.

Whether the topic is Ted Williams, the homeless man with the golden voice (we say all that glitters is not golden, and as my pastor said, all that's golden does not glitter either - we'll see) or gossip news about a politician or T.V. star, or the miracle story ABC calls The Politician and the Astronaut, involving congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (movie coming), or the story of a missing person who lost their memory and returned twenty years later, memory suddenly in tact trying to reconnect, or of a kidnapped baby who decades later sees her baby photo online and finds her birth mom, and the story of a white woman who has twins, one white, one black, and lastly, the woman who's separated from her husband and wins 190-million in the lottery and now he wants "half!" I'm sometimes surprised, but never amazed. Anything can happen. Case in point, years ago I wanted to write a story called The Black House, and here we are with an African American president - just ever thought I'd live to see it.

While authors don't sit around and wait for real life stories to fall into their laps as if we cannot come up with our own scenarios (we are way more creative than that), I'm once again reminded that everything we tend to say could "never" happen, most likely will or has already, and most plots we could come up with as writers, no matter how unlikely or far-fetched readers might think the angle might be, probably happened before, somewhere, and even in the Bible.

We bring our characters to life and take them on a dramatic journey, or should I say, they take us on a dramatic journey, that sometimes amazes even us. Yet and still, whether fiction or reality, our lives are filled with tragedy, illness, divorce, sadness, love, addiction, growth, abuse, setbacks, miracles, stardom, death, birth, lies, fallen heroes, and so on - such is life. It's all to be told, whether on the news or in a book or in a song. Write on, writers. Write on!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More Childhood Writing Lessons

When I was a kid, before we left the house my mom would tuck her favorite spanking belt into her purse.

Her mottos:

Wherever you clown - that’s where we get down.


Wherever you show out – that’s where we work out.

Hey, it was the 60s. Back then, bad kids were OUT. Butt whippings and martinis were IN.

On the other hand, my military officer dad didn’t believe in corporal punishment. He’s never spanked or even raised his voice at us. Mom’s take: “There was no need. By the time he got home from work the asses were already beat.”

How does this help me with writing?

I carry my netbook or iPad in my purse at all times. I whip them out whenever or wherever to sneak in a few words. I no longer wait until I get home or have a long block of time.

I take care of business right there. Just like mom.

On busy days when a long stint at the keyboard isn’t impossible, I find those stolen minutes really add up. And like my dad, I can relax because the writing is already done.

Anybody else try working in 10 or even 5 minute blocks?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Writing Through Adversity

A few days ago, when I looked at my calendar and realized my posting date at Novel Spaces was fast approaching, for the first time in two years I thought about contacting my fellow blog partners and asking for a reprieve.

You see, my family suffered a horrible loss this week, and with the funeral, an unexpected sixteen hours of traveling, and just the overwhelming sadness of having to say goodbye to someone who died way too soon, I just didn't feel up to writing a blog post. But I made a commitment to the Novel Spaces community, and did not want to let anyone down.

As writers, we have to find ways to write, even during difficult times. I experienced this very thing several years ago when I lost my grandfather just two days before Christmas. Even though he had suffered with cancer for years, his death was still hard. And, unfortunately, I happened to be on an extremely tight deadline at the time. I remember having to leave the post-funeral dinner because I had to write.

I have no doubts that my editor would have pushed back my deadline if I'd asked her, just as my fellow Novel Spaces bloggers would have excused me from posting today if I'd explained my situation. But, as a writer, you sometimes have to write through some very dark, trying times. This just happens to be one of mine.

How have you handled working through adversity? This question isn't just for writers, but for everyone. We've all been through unexpected bumps in the road that we've had to fight our way through. Do you try to just push everything out of your mind? Do you use work as an escape? Please share.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Always nice to begin a new year with new hope, dreams, aspirations, and optimism. But this is often tempered by the usual blues that tends to set in during the winter months, where getting motivated to write consistently against the backdrop of gloomy skies and frigid temperatures can be challenging to say the least.

So how does one escape the wintertime blues and stay on track with a demanding schedule of writings? For me, it is leaving the Pacific Northwest winter behind for a couple of weeks in favor of Hawaii, my favorite place to go for a working vacation. Indeed, it was where I started and finished my upcoming Kimani romance, PLEASURE IN HAWAII.

I have spent time on three of the Hawaiian Islands, but far and away, my favorite is Maui. To say that it is magical there would be an understatement. Maui is that rare combination of picturesque, pristine beaches, first-rate accommodations, activities galore, and some of the friendliest people on earth. And did I forget to mention the wonders of the Pacific Ocean from seemingly every vantage point?

One might wonder, how on earth do I find any time in paradise to write, if in fact I do at all? The answer is that, yes, I actually do work some in Maui, as in the aforementioned. Be it while sitting under a palm tree with my laptop and enjoying a cool breeze off the ocean. Or relaxing on my lanai and typing away in between sips of a Mai Tai or Blue Hawaii.

I am even at work mentally, conjuring up plot curves and angles while being totally mesmerized at a luau, with exotic dancers showing off their moves and fire knife skills in tightly choreographed routines. Or when making the not for the timid trip to Hana and back.

Most importantly, I enjoy getting away from my normal habitat every year during these early months to recharge the batteries, take in the closest thing to heaven on earth, and come back refreshed and ready to take o the writing world.

At least till the next winter sets in and the hankering to escape for warmer, greener pastures with incredible scenery captures my fancy.

What do you do to escape the winter writing blues? Any interesting spots around the globe you love as a getaway?

Where would you like to go that you haven't during the winter before returning to the grind?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mystery Walk

I’m walking the gravel roads around my house. Down Mashie Street to Iron, down Iron to Niblick. I turn on Hazard and a mystery grabs my eyes. Across the ditch from me, carefully spread out on the grass, lie two articles of clothing. One is a peach colored sweater, a woman’s outer garment. The other is a woman’s white, turtleneck undershirt. You can see the picture I took.

I don’t know how long they’ve lain here. It’s rained recently and they’re wet, but they’re also out of place. Sometimes people do throw out trash along this road, but these don’t look like trash. They aren’t new but there are no holes in them, no visible stains that might have turned them into waste. I wonder why they’re here; I wonder who so carefully arranged them. And in this modern world I feel a little fear.

A mystery in prose is enjoyable; every book needs puzzles in it, not just those we call mysteries. But this mystery isn’t confined to a book. It lies in the dirt in front of me. Maybe it’s innocent. It probably is. It could be someone playing a joke. But my first thought, ridiculous as it may seem, is “serial killer.” My heart is beating a little faster than normal as I explore the woods behind where the garments lie. I find nothing. Thankfully.

I reported my find to the police. They said they’d check it out. The clothes are still there. I hope it’s a joke. I doubt I’ll ever be sure.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What I learned from watching television

I am an avid television watcher. Television was my companion when I was single and my buddy when my husband works crazy shifts. Long before I typed a line for my first book I watched love stories and soap operas. On more than one occasion the images on the screen rescued me from the boredom of housework and gossiping on the telephone.

When I started writing, I joined a critique group and one of the member's comments involved my lack of description of my characters. Many times the members of my group asked me how did the character feel? How did they move? What expression did they have on their face? At first, I didn't have an answer. I tried to explain how I envisioned them and yet it never transferred to the pages of my manuscript. My lack of description talent greatly hurt the story.

While watching my favorite soap opera, Port Charles, the light bulb finally clicked on for me. As I watched Eve struggle with a painful explanation about a difficult time in her life, I studied her body language and facial expressions. Her pain ripped open my heart. The pain in her voice grabbed me and I silently cried for what she had suffered. I remember thinking, that's what I want my readers to feel.

Honestly, the writers go over the top with soap opera emotion. Fortunately, it made me understand what my critique members were trying to tell me about my writing style. I don't believe television can always help you, but for that day and particular character, it worked.

Some of the shows I now watch are driven by action and less by emotions. I can't say that Dancing with the Stars or the Bachelor will help you round out your characters' emotions. There are programs with emotional depth that can help you express the feelings you want to convey. There is much you can learn from television and its programming.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you. E-mail me at or click on the link below.

Remember, don't be a stranger.


The motivating power of desire

My oldest started taking violin lessons last year. Before she put a foot in the classroom she was bubbling with excitement. She enthusiastically informed everyone she met, that she was signed up for violin lessons.

It took about two lessons for her to lose interest. She didn't like the violin. It was a chore to get her to practice. I had to physically lift her out of the bed and put her in the shower for her to get to her Saturday class on time, and half the times we were late. She would prefer to clean her room, vacuum the carpet, read a book, and clean the toilets, than to practice the violin.

This semester, after much pleading (ok, not that much), I decided not to waste my hard earned money signing her up for another semester of violin.

Then she tells me, “Mommy, since I won’t be doing violin anymore, can you sign me up for piano?”

Quite naturally my response was a resounding, “Hell no!”

Why would I waste my money on piano lessons when she would just tire of it after two lessons? She did that with ballet and tap, she did it with soccer. She had no stick-to-itiveness. So as a concession to her, I bought her a Casio keyboard for Christmas.

She loved it. She got on it and started picking out tunes by ear, figuring them out on her own by trial and error. Since Christmas, there hasn’t been a day when she didn’t practice or try to learn some new song on the piano.

This morning she came to me all excited. She had figured out how to play “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”.

I listened as she plucked out the tune. Then she looked up at my smiling appreciative face and asked, “So Mommy can I have piano lessons now?”

I contemplated her request for a while, then I said no. You see, I realized that my daughter was very much like me. If I desired it, I was motivated to accomplish it. But the moment it became mandatory, it lost all appeal.
As a kid, I loved to see my sister and her friend crochet. I wanted to learn it, but being left-handed made it difficult for them teach me. I asked one of my teachers who had mastered the craft. She too found it difficult to teach a left-hander. Finally while a teenager I took up an instruction book and taught myself to crochet. It was gratifying. I crocheted one doily and that was it. I was no longer interested. The motivator was the desire to teach myself what others failed to teach me.

When I started writing, it was because I loved it. I wanted to share my stories with the world, so I set about publishing them. And I was so motivated, that I couldn’t wait to sit down at my computer and write. But a few months ago, I decided to take the advice of many of my fellow novelnauts and approach my writing as a job. I set myself lofty goals of writing a certain amount each night. If I didn’t make my quota, I felt anxious, even a little down. My writing was becoming exactly like…a job. It was a chore that I had to do and it lost its appeal. I found myself succumbing to every distraction and finally a month went by when I didn’t type a word.

Over the holidays I decided to forget all my quotas, all my expectations and write like I did before being published. Well whaddya know, I advanced more on my WIP that I did for the better part of the year. That’s the power of desire. It is the ultimate motivator.

What is your ultimate motivator?

Friday, January 7, 2011


I told the company I work for that after the 15th December they would not see me until some time in 2011. When I got home from work at 10.30 PM on that last day in office before my month-long vacation, my coffee-fuelled marathon of the last few days behind me, all ends tied up and bonus cheque safely tucked away, I indulged myself with a little ritual just before I snuggled under my covers. No, it wasn't a facial massage, or some yoga, or even a steaming mug of chamomile tea: what I did was ceremoniously set the alarm on my cell phone to the 'off' position. My smile stretched all the way around the house - around the yard, even, maybe around the planet. Yay! Freedom from the tyranny of the clock!

Would I have felt this joy, this appreciation for and anticipation of the carefree days ahead if I lived the life of leisure we all dream about? I doubt it. We must have gone through a period of sustained hard work in order to really enjoy the laid back days. We must experience deep pain in order to fully experience the occasions of ecstasy or quiet joy. We must have the occasional sick days or we take our usual robust health utterly for granted.
Writers understand the yin-yang, the pleasure-pain, the ups and downs of life better than anyone, I suspect. We can never take anything for granted. So, you've written a great book? Wait until you read some of the reviews by people who obviously haven't even read the darned thing. Wait until a few pathetic royalty statements come in. Wait until you realize you're just an expendable cog among many other cogs that make up your publisher's list. You might discover there's no budget for marketing your book. And to top it all off, they want you to deliver Great Book #2 in six months.
These sobering realities are what make our tiniest joys so exquisite. We rejoice when someone writes a terrific review of our book, or lists us among his favourite authors. We're gratified when an editor rejects our work but writes us a kind and encouraging note; when we achieve a word count target; when we manage to finish a first draft even though the baby was sick and our job was terminated; when we're finally ready to submit a completed manuscript.

Wherever we are on the writing/publishing curve, I believe we've all had reason to celebrate the writing year 2010. I've had more good reviews, discovered new friends and fans, and continued writing despite the setbacks that come with publishing, and with life in general. What reasons did you have to celebrate in 2010?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New Hope?

I went to the gym Tuesday and took my first Pilates class in over six months. I’ve been paying for my membership automatically for the last year with one maybe two visits at best. Each month I pay the penalty for being ten to twenty pounds out of shape in cash and aches, pains and other complaints I don’t have when I exercise on a regular basis, no matter how mildly.

Last year was spent moving forward, and now that my home is in order and other affairs settled, I feel like 2011 is the year I advance from a strong foundation. That includes going back to taking care of my body so it can take care of my mind. I am trying to use the lessons that have worked for me in writing, to take my time, do a little each day and reap the benefits over time instead of expecting instant results.

I remind myself of that as I enter the dark space of my new novel, the point at which the burning spontaneity that birthed it wears out and you are left floating halfway across empty space with no idea how you’re getting to the other side. Where the real work lies. I’ve assembled 165 pages of chapters in Scrivener along with chunks of scattered prose I know will connect to others in time, and am getting ready to fill in the blanks. The best analogy I’ve heard for this stage was by my friend Frank who described it as building a wall, except that the bricks are going in randomly, some hanging in space as you figure out what goes in to connect them to the rest.

I’m determined to move forward in mind and body as the New Year begins, to fill in the blanks in my life as well. It’s not a resolution -- I dropped all pretenses of formal vows to improve years ago -- but a new beginning is a new beginning. We’re starting not just a new year but also a new decade, the teens, with all they have to offer still veiled in mists that could mask anything. I’m doing what I always do -- hoping for the best, preparing for the worst. The only thing I learned for sure in the last decade was to live in the now with what’s in front of me today.

So, Thursday it’s back to Pilates again with no expectation of anything more than getting through that class and then many more like it, one at a time, until it’s so natural I don’t even think about it. And back to writing daily and cranking out pages, one at a time, as I finish a novel that’s something new for me, and dear to my heart enough to want to see how it all ends.

I wish you all a Happy New Year and look forward to seeing what’s next.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Personal Retreat

Last February, a friend told me that writing poetry has helped her be a better prose writer. Writing poems has trained her to express her ideas more concisely and vividly. I was intrigued; I'm always looking for new ideas for improving my writing. I've rarely written poetry other than haiku, so I asked her for some recommendations for books on how to write a poem. I immediately ordered the instructional books as well as a book of African-American poetry a different friend had recommended. The books arrived; I put them in a pile separate from my other to-read piles; and . . . . nothing.

More-important writing projects, house repairs, trips, and life in general bumped poetry to the side. I looked at the pile of books longingly each time I walked by, sometimes picking a book up to look inside and smell the paper and ink.

Almost a year later, the pile still awaits. But now it awaits next to my suitcase. My husband will be taking a business trip to Denver this month, and I'm going along. I'll see some friends one day, but otherwise I'll be studying and reading and writing poetry.

And, of course, eating dark chocolate.

It will be like a writing retreat, except by myself. No workers to supervise; no phone calls to answer; no doctor appointments to go to; no meals to cook; no birds squawking next to an empty bird feeder—no distractions at all. I'll even skip exercising; it shouldn't be too harmful to go a few days without. Total poetry immersion.

I went on a personal retreat once before and was astounded how productive I could be when I wasn't being pulled in twenty directions at once. I came home from that retreat refreshed and eager to start writing the novel I had mapped out. I'm excited to try a personal retreat again with a project I've been looking forward to for so long.

Have you ever taken a personal writing retreat? How did you benefit (or why didn't you benefit)?

When I blog again at Novel Spaces on January 21, I'll let you know how my retreat went. In the meantime, I wish you many productive writing days.

—Shauna Roberts

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Great Story, Unique Voice

A friend forwarded an interesting link to an article on a website called Christian Fiction Online Magazine, called "Yes, You Will Be Edited - Part 1" by Ramona Richards. Ms. Richards, a highly renowned literary editor, shared a short post about what editors really look for. She writes that there's no such thing as a perfect book, that editors will look beyond the small typos (though obviously nothing major like lousy grammar or anything that requires deep edits - and please do proofread again and again with fresh eyes, unlike the illustration, stage left). But editors take a lot of important things into account, and then and only then, along with if you've hit their "storytelling sweet spot," will they consider making an offer.

Below is the link if you're interested. In the meantime, as noted in the article, know that writing a great story, which shows our unique voice, is the first step to "editor wooing."

Happy Twenty-Eleven! Write on.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Who's in that Story?

Tukerization is an informal writing term derived from the name of science fiction and mystery writer Wilson Tucker. Tucker had a reputation for using friends, family, and colleagues as minor characters in his stories. The more formally recognized roman à clef is the depiction of a real person as a fictional character.

To a certain extent, all writers do both. Usually characters are built from bits and pieces borrowed from real people. A practice of mixing Uncle Jeff's fondness for bad puns and the grocery store cashier's extensive collection of mismatched earrings with your father-in-law's ridiculous political views to create a minor character who drives your protagonist crazy on a long bus ride causing the bad mood that leads to the argument that triggers a divorce/fistfight/murder/runaway. But sometimes the guy you need to shuffle onstage and make the offhand remark that enables your protagonist to solve the mystery lives next door, literally. A quick sentence about sly eyes and a stutter that rings true can seamlessly save a character who's really a prop from looking like a cardboard cutout.

To be Tuckerized is considered an honor among science fiction fans. Top selling authors have helped charities by auctioning the right to appear in a novel. But more often the inclusion is an in-joke. At one point in Keith DeCandido's novelization of "Resident Evil," the characters find themselves on "Killiany Way" – described as a winding road that leads nowhere. I've used the names of my children, members of my church, even a couple of my fellow novelnauts to round out my cast over the years. Dayton Ward likes to kill people he doesn't like in his stories. I now of one writer who gave the name of his wife's divorce attorney to a disfigured pedophile.

Done correctly, neither a Tuckerization nor a roman à clef will distract a reader from the story. In many cases a roman à clef will not be apparent to the reader until they're reflecting on the story after the fact. Tuckerizations usually escape notice altogether unless the reader knows the people involved. But done badly – and both are done badly far too often – either can throw the reader right out of the story. It can break the trust between reader and writer and cost you your reader's willing suspension of disbelief.

How about you? As a reader have you ever wondered whether the characters in a novel were based on real people? Or have you ever had a writer's roman à clef or Tuckerizations distract you from a story? Or enhance a story?
And as a writer have you ever "borrowed" someone you know – if only just their name – to add verisimilitude to your work?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What’s Your Best Writing Advice?

Back when I was a starry-eyed unpub, I thought published authors possessed magic fairy dust. If only they’d sprinkle it over my manuscript, I would magically join their ranks on the bookstore shelves.

Now if you’re as green a writer as I was, you’re probably thinking, “Where can I get me some of that fairy dust!?!?”

But if you’re published (or very close) you already know there’s no such thing.

Anyhoo, in my clueless newbie days I screwed up the courage to ask a multi-published friend to read over my manuscript.

As a former editor for both True Confessions and Guidepost magazines, and writing her own books for Avalon, Kensington, Awe-Struck, New Concepts and Midnight Showcase, I figured Connie Keenan/Consuelo Vazquez had fairy dust to spare.

However, Connie gave me something better than magic.

“Sure, I’ll read it,” she said, “but it doesn’t matter what I think. The only opinions that count are yours and the editor who buys it.”

I’ve received plenty of awesome writing advice, but that simple statement stands out as the most memorable.

No, I didn’t send my manuscript to Connie. Instead, I went with my own gut. I still do. And so far, I have no regrets.

Sooooo, tell me… what’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

It is quite an honor to be the first author here on Novel Spaces to welcome in 2011. It doesn't matter how the previous year ended; there is always a sense of renewed hope with the start of a new year.

It is my sincere wish that all of our faithful Novel Spaces followers have a year filled with much success, great books to read, and great friends to share them with. I look forward to seeing you all here at Novel Spaces throughout the year.

Have a wonderful, safe New Year's Day!