Thursday, April 28, 2011


As I sit at my desk in the Pacific Northwest with cloudy skies and still on the chilly side in late April, visions of palm trees, sandy beaches, and the mesmerizing beauty of the ocean dance in my head.

My wife and I are avid travelers to Hawaii, loving everything about it from the breathtaking scenery to the mouth watering food to the tropical drinks to the myriad activities to the friendly natives. Definitely the type of place we could easily see as our final destination before the sun sets on our precious time left.

But while we plan for the future and deal with the day to day realities of the present, as a novelist, I am able to take us and my readers to Hawaii through my mind's eye and creative juices. This year, I have two novel's out that take place in Maui, easily our favorite destination among the islands, though the others certainly have their charms.

MURDER IN MAUI: A Leila Kahana Mystery is currently a highly acclaimed bestselling medical mystery eBook that I had fun writing and researching in developing a great plot and travelogue singing the praises of Maui.

And coming out in June is my contemporary romance from Harlequin, PLEASURE IN HAWAII. It allowed me to look at Maui from a different perspective in showing its romance side for any lovers to appreciate. This novel is the first of a Hawaiian series titled, PASSIONS IN PARADISE.

The second book in series, PRIVATE LUAU, takes place in Honolulu and comes out in December. I love Honolulu and other parts of Oahu and enjoyed some firsthand research in exploring its many wonders.

Until my wife and I can one day settle into a nice beachfront property in Hawaii, sipping Mai Tais and admiring the ocean, nice to know we can still dream about paradise and share the dream through my fiction, while getting paid to do so.

If you could live anywhere in the world, with money no object, where would it be?

Where do you call paradise?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's not me, it's you

A few months ago I came across a website of Caribbean prose and poetry. The work was intriguing, the imagery was colourful, deep and full of innuendo; one could read between the lines between the lines. It struck a chord with me because it was the kind of writing that I had read in my high school Caribbean literature classes; this was the type of writing that had been held up to me as good writing. I wanted to belong, and so I laboured, forced some words on to the page, submitted them and held my breath.

Well, let's just say that my name is not among the list of authors in their latest publication. It was a difficult and important lesson for me. After going through all the emotional phases associated with rejection, I realised that my exclusion was not a reflection of my talents as a writer. I am generally a light-hearted person, quick to see the humour in every situation. I am not saying that I can only write one thing, but I am best at writing quick moving prose with witty dialogue. I cannot write what I am not, and when I try, I will be called out as an imposter. My challenge now is to recognise that I can make an important contribution writing what I enjoy!

Tugging at the Old Hearts Strings

I watched a movie recently. It was Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges as a washed-up country music star named “Bad” who is drinking and smoking himself into an early grave as he makes the rounds of dive bars and bowling alleys trying to pick up a few bucks to keep himself in whiskey and cigarettes. He’s not doing it very well. He’s been married and divorced four times and has a 28 year old son he hasn’t seen since the boy was 4. He is in many ways the epitome of a loser. It’s every cliché you’ve ever heard about country music.

“Bad,” who lets us know a couple of times that he’s 57, gets what looks like a last shot at love but blows it because of his drinking. That forces him to clean up his act, and he rediscovers in himself his ability to write songs that touch people. The ending is bittersweet and I won’t spoil it for you, but I thought the acting was quite good and will tell you I enjoyed it.

I have not read the book upon which the movie was based and can’t speak to its originality, but the movie was absolutely predictable at almost every step along the way. I could see every move behind the scenes that was meant to play on the audience’s emotions, to tug on their heartstrings as the saying goes, from the achingly cute kid to the moment when “Bad” lies on his bathroom floor sick after another night of drinking. But despite this, I enjoyed the movie. I knew where they were leading me and I willingly agreed to be led there. I won’t call it a great movie but I didn’t feel like I wasted my time.

I guess I believe there’s a place for heartstrings tugging movies, and books. I didn’t always think that way. I’d say it was because I’m getting older, but that’s pretty cliché in its own right. I know it’s not because I’m getting wiser. I definitely think there’s an element of openness in me these days that I didn’t used to have. I don’t feel as if I need resist the emotional tug of certain kinds of stories. I wonder why I ever did.

How about you? What movie or book have you seen/read that tugged at the old heartstrings? Was it predictable and you liked it anyway? Can you say why?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Passion and Purpose: Rediscovering a hobby

It’s been years since I sewed. Sewing, embroidery, making little crafts was something I did as a child and into my early twenties. But then life got in the way. First there was college, then graduate school, then getting a career off the ground. Now with a day job, writing, a husband and three kids my passion for sewing has taken a back stand.

That changed recently. A few weeks ago my daughter had a craft project to do for a religious class. My husband elected me to do it with her. I was reluctant at first and waited last minute. Finally we were up late the night before the project was due working on it.

I took down my sewing kit, and was hit with a wave of nostalgia. There were all the embroidery thread that I hadn’t touched since college, and remnants of the cloth I used to sew my daughter’s curtains when she was three.
My daughter was excited. She wanted to take out the needles and start sewing. But the project was a simple banner requiring only cutting and pasting fabric. She quickly lost interest. But that sparked an idea. Why don’t I teach her embroidery?

So this weekend, in time for Spring Break, we started an embroidery project. We went to the store and got a few pieces of cotton fabric. I drew a flower and we started working on it. Though the project was my daughter’s, it filled me with a sense of calm contentment. I had forgotten just how fulfilling a hobby can be.

Yes I write novels. That has been my main and all consuming hobby for some time now. But recently, with publishing and promotions and the Dorchester woes, it feels more like a job or a business than a hobby. But to put that needle to the fabric and create something simple yet beautiful is fulfilling. And to see my daughter’s eyes light up… to see her take up the needle and thread without prompting and make those awkward little stitches, that is powerful.

So you know what? I am going to resume my sewing. I’ll start first with small projects that my kid and I can do together and if time permits, graduate to larger projects. It’s a great way to spend time with my kid (purpose) doing something I love to do (passion). It’s a great combination of passion and purpose.

Have you discovered any long forgotten passions recently?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Busman's Holiday

Years ago, I read Dorothy Sayer's delightful mystery series about Lord Peter Wimsey. One book's title confused me, though: Busman's Honeymoon. It turns out that it's a reference to the British expression "busman's holiday," which means to spend one's vacation doing much the same thing one does for a living. A bus driver who takes a bus tour for his vacation, for example, or in Lord Peter's case, a detective who spends his honeymoon solving a murder.

For the past three weeks or so, I've been making piles of items and setting aside clothes to pack for a vacation. I started organizing them and realized that while I was looking forward to fun times and lazy days, my subconscious was planning to work. The pile included a dressy outfit, "signed by" stickers, and bookmarks; as long as I was going to be in town, I had set up a booksigning. Also in the pile were some nonfiction books related to writing or to my next novel. I had included some novels—but all were historicals set in unusual times. I thought reading them would give me a feel of how to unobtrusively add setting and needed background to my own new historical novel.

Once I noticed what had happened, did I replace those work-related books with fun reading? Not at all. Instead, I added some Internet printouts related to the heroine of my next novel, the beginning of a short story I'd like to finish soon, a short story that needs a polish before I send it into the world, and a novel draft I am reading and commenting on for a newbie writer.

So it looks as if I'll be working a lot, but I'm still looking forward to my vacation. Isn't it great to have one's work be so fun that one takes it along for enjoyment on vacation?

How about you? Have any of your vacations turned into busman's holidays?

Thanks for visiting. I'll be blogging again on May 5. See you then!

—Shauna Roberts

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Speaking Tips for Writers

These 10 Speaking Tips for Writers are stright from Writers Market, but I wanted to share. I found it very helpful and hope you do to. Speak on!

1. Make your introduction brief. Like less than 30 seconds. If someone introduces you, skip the introduction completely, because you were just introduced. There's nothing that stalls a presentation or performance more than a two or three minute monologue before getting into the "meat" of things.

2. Use the podium. If there is a podium or table, use it to hold your materials. Sometimes we shake when we read (even if we're not nervous, though especially if we are), and we shake more if we become conscious of our own shaking.

3. Use the microphone. If there's a mic, use it. Sure your voice might carry without one, or you may have to fiddle with it a moment to adjust for your height, but people in the back can hear better when your voice is amplified. Trust me on this.

4. Encourage audience interaction. When performing poetry, this means you can allow an audience to clap if they choose to clap. When giving a presentation, let the audience know whether it's appropriate to ask questions as you present or if you'll have a Q&A after the presentation is complete. Then, make sure there is a Q&A.

5. Act confident. You might be terrified, but try not to let it show on the outside. To accomplish this, stand tall. Speak with conviction. Make eye contact. Most importantly, don't apologize. While you may know when you're making mistakes in front of an audience, many of them are probably unaware.

6. Be organzied. If you're giving a presentation, have talking points ready to go before the presentation. If you're reading poems (or from a fiction/nonfiction book), have your selections planned out before you hit the stage. Organization goes a long way in how the audience perceives you and how you perceive yourself.

7. Slow down. This is an important tip, because many people automatically start talking fast, especially if they know they're on the clock. I try to remember to breathe and pause in appropriate places. Nothing awkward, just long enough to allow my audience to digest what I just said.

8. Make personal, add humor. Sometimes your jokes will not be personal. Sometimes your personal stories will not be humorous. Sometimes the stars will align and both will coincide, and that's when you'll engage your audience the most. While I advise humor and personal anecdotes, make sure they have context in your presentation.

9. Stop before you're asked to leave. There's something to the thought of leaving the audience wanting more. Know your time. Wear a watch. And end a little early (like a minute or two). If the audience feels like the presentation or performance went by fast, they'll attribute it to your great speaking skills.

10. Provide next steps and/or a conclusion. Depending on why you're speaking, you should have some kind of suggestion for your audience. Maybe it's to buy your chapbook or applaud the hosts. Maybe it's to put some of your advice into action immediately. If you're presenting a topic, it's a good idea to sum up all the main points before sending your audience back out into the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What a Medicaid audit taught me about writing.

Medicaid has two functions. One is to provide needed medical services to people who can't afford healthcare. The other is to keep unscrupulous opportunists from profiteering off what's actually a pretty limited pool of funds. (Because in North Carolina healthcare is privatized and the folks providing the care are for-profit corporations who need a positive cash flow if they're going to pay their bills and feed their families.)

Mental health is probably the most difficult field for Medicaid to monitor. Schizophrenia is not like a broken fibula – you can't take before and after x-rays to see how well it's healed. There's no blood test for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; almost all diagnoses depend on subjective – trained and disciplined, but still subjective – interpretations of assessments, family histories, and direct observation. There's a reason this is called a soft science.

Since we can't produce pounds of recovery or inches of stability for objective measure, we have to document everything we're doing. This documentation goes through two sorts of review. Medically, every sixty days licensed clinicians review treatment reports and, if the intervention seems efficacious, authorize another two months of service. Financially, at random intervals – usually with a few weeks' notice –Medicaid auditors pull 10% of an agency's files and go through to confirm the dot over every "i" is precisely centered and every "t" crossed at exactly 90 degrees. Does the Comprehensive Clinical Assessment designate the services being provided? Are the signatures dated in the correct order documenting required sequence in developing the Person Centered Profile? Do all signatures include proper credentials? (Case in point: I am what is known in the industry as a Q. If you think of the mental health system as office computers sharing peripherals, I'm a hub; I don't actually do anything, I just help the parts that do do things talk to each other. A few years ago my official designation changed from "Qualified Mental Health Professional" to "Qualified Professional." If I had followed my signature with "QMHP" instead of "QP" at any time since the change the report or treatment plan would be invalid and my agency would have to pay back any monies received for providing services connected to that document.) Sounds rough – sounds ridiculous, in fact – but remember it took tax accountants to bring down Al Capone. Any fraud or mismanagement is going to show up in the paperwork.

I am a very personal-interaction kinda guy. Unconditional positive regard is my default mode and I'm always interested in finding out how others see the world. For those of you into personality shape classification, I'm a squiggly line. I don't just think outside the box, I sometimes have trouble finding the box. Anyone who's worked with me will tell you I'm good at mental health and absolutely horrid at paperwork. So you can imagine my delight, and the joy of my employers, when word came down a few of my files were being yanked for a Medicaid audit.

For two weeks I went through those files making sure everything was in order. Checking dates and signatures and releases and authorizations – all of the pieces of paper that seem unrelated to helping anyone but which are vital to making sure the people I serve receive the services they need. Everything was there, I do my job, but my stuff-everything-in-the-jacket filing method meant the folders had to be put in order, everything set where it should be for quick reference and easy access. By the time the auditors descended I had taut and shiny files ready for the closest inspection.

As I considered my files – the orderly and freshly polished binders ready to show off everything we'd done and why to best advantage and the equally complete but scruffy expansion folders jammed with randomly arranged forms and correspondence – I thought about writing.

Remember when you were learning the basics of writing, the rules and procedures, and you could think of a dozen famous woks that did not follow those rules? If you ever cited those examples you might have been told that when you knew the rules well enough you'd know when you could break them. I can't speak for you, but I know that from that moment on I looked forward to the day I could break the rules and get away with it. And once I got away with it - the first time I broke some rules and the story sold and my work was praised for being original and unexpected - there was no looking back. I was a writer, original and unexpected; I made my own rules.
Every example of broken rules in great fiction stands out because of the contrast. That moment is memorable because it is surrounded by solid, workmanlike prose that set up the moment and carried the reader to that point. There's no reason not to strive for the unusual, the different, the original way to tell your story. In fact, you should be doing that every time you stare down the blank page. But remember that extraordinary buildings are created through thoughtful use of ordinary stones. Sticking to the basics of writing – putting things where your reader can find them easily, setting events in the order she expects – may feel like you're riding with training wheels, but do it. And don't do it like it's something you have to do, some dues you have to pay, to get to your story. Focus on what you're doing and put in the time and effort to get the basics right.
Because without a firm foundation of comfortable, reliable basics, your moments of transcendence will fail.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Just Keep Writing

My knitting life often echoes my writing life.

I have a pattern (or with writing an outline) in front of me. Still, I’m not quite sure how things are going to turn out.

But like writing I just have to put the time in and keep going.

*Einstein Coat from Sally Melville's The Knitting Experience Book 1: The Knit Stitch, Inspiration & Instruction

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Brain Food

I've turned over a new leaf.

That's right. Gone are the fried foods, tons of sugar, and bad carbohydrates. As I've added healthier grains, fish, and more fresh fruits and vegetables to my diet, I discovered that many of the foods I've been eating are also great "brain" foods--things that help with memory and brain function.

Here are a few:

Sugar! Yes, sugar is good for you. But it's the natural sugar that's found in fruits and such. Natural sugar helps to increase alertness, so eat your fruits!

Fish. Specifically those that are rich in Omega 3. It's a memory booster, and those healthy fats are good for your heart. I'm from the land of fried catfish poboys, so even though I've always been a big fish eater, it wasn't always the healthiest choice. I've added more salmon and ahi tuna to my diet. Here's a tip. After grilling your salmon, drizzle with a bit of natural agave nectar. Spectacular!

Blueberries. I've eaten more blueberries in the past month than I have in my entire life. Studies have shown that blueberries improve learning capacity and motor skills. I'm not sure if that's true or not. I just know that they taste delicious! I add them to everything, from salads, to yogurt, to oatmeal, and my whole wheat, whole grain pancakes.

The next two really make me smile...

Coffee. Coffee is an antioxidant. It also aids in alertness ( brainer here), but also helps reduce mental decline over the years.

Chocolate!!! Seriously, I'm not kidding. I learned that a piece of decadent dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, and also enhances focus and concentration.

Go forth and eat your chocolate. Drink your coffee. Just don't put them together in a sugar-laden, extra-large chocolate mocha drink.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Guest editor Monica Harris: To self publish or not to self publish...

Monica Harris of MHM Editorial Services focuses on improving the talents of writers and providing publishing opportunities for authors. Harris is proud of the many authors she has assisted in becoming bestsellers and her participation in creating profound changes in the publishing industry and the media.

As Senior Editor at Kensington Publishing, she initiated and edited Arabesque, the first African American romance series by a major publisher. There she also edited historical romances, mysteries, women’s mainstream novels and non-fiction. Harris has won a number of important honors, including Waldenbooks Special Achievement Award, New York Chapter of NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2003 Emma Trailblazers’ Award.

To self publish or not to self publish...

That is the question. As every writer now knows, the publishing industry is in flux. What is the “it” genre now? Have vampire love stories seen the end of their run? Are comic memoirs still bestseller material? Is there any space for contemporary Christian stories? What self-help is popular now? What are publishers really looking for? What if I just want to tell a story?

Why do writers write? Because they feel they have something important to say to their readers. Authors have worked long and hard on their books so, of course, they want good reviews and big sales. However, when it seems harder and harder to break into a big publishing house, what‘s a writer to do? Some are now looking toward self-publishing.

Time has proven that major publishing houses are wonderful places to launch, grow and maintain writing a career. This still holds true -- if you find a loyal and large following quickly. Publishing houses can do well what individuals find difficult to do on their own: edit the book, design the book, market and publicize and sell the book. Publishers have reach and influence and can make a new author a bestseller in months.

Self-publishing requires diligence, patience and energy. The self-published author must believe in her book and in her own potential. Fortunately, there are new technologies and services that allow writers to publish with much more ease. Outlets such as Amazon CreateSpace and offer packages that will take the writer from page to print. Publishing professionals (who have either been shuffled out or left to build their own companies) offer services that include editorial, marketing and do-it-yourself public relations. Options such as Print-on-Demand or E-books have eliminated the trouble of having 10,000 books for sale stored in your basement. Social media is an easy and cheap way of promotion. Spend a little money and the hard parts can be given to others who will make sure the book is the best it can be.

I have worked in many aspects of New York City publishing over the years. As an editor, I have often counseled my authors to take advantage of the professionalism that the House can provide; they could concentrate on their writing. Fortunately, I have also spent the last few years helping writers learn more about self-publishing. I have been amazed at how much easier it has become and am happy to refer writers to those who can assist in marketing and PR. The writers who decide to publish on their own end up very savvy about the business and themselves. That’s a priceless education.

I love this industry because I love the stories and experiences people share. Now there are so many ways to do so; there is nothing to stop a dedicated author. I’m excited about the technological possibilities that are on the horizon and the opportunities to create one’s own future. I believe we’re on the cusp of a new age of publishing. I look forward to seeing your next bestseller -- whichever way it comes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Guest author Sue Lange: Turning Your Story Into a Movie

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.

Turning Your Story Into a Movie

Got a story that would make a great movie? Ever wonder how much fun it would be to make that movie yourself? I have the answer to the latter question: not very. In fact let me give you some advice: get the idea right out of your head before you hurt yourself.

Just kidding. Mostly.

I didn't follow my own advice hence the blog post. If you too decide to disregard my well intentioned counsel, you proceed at your own risk and welcome to the world of independent film making. Oh, I'm sorry. You're not going to fool around with the indies; you're going straight to Hollywood! Well good for you, Junior. See you at the Oscars, smirk, smirk.

For those of you with humbler, more realistic aspirations, what follows is a quick how-to on repurposing your story for film. I'm basing this information on one small experience taking my short story, Jump, to the movies. That ought to tell you something about the vastness of my experience. Basically what you'll get here is a glimpse into the glamorous world of instant fame that every short film enjoys (Yes, I'm being sarcastic).

First off, write the script. Obviously. The finished product will little resemble your original story. Why? I could go into great detail about the difference in story telling styles between movies and written text. I could bemoan the time constraints in film and the lack of access to the protagonist's thoughts in a visual medium. I could remind you how absolutely boring it would be to watch a character thinking something (like they do in books) instead of doing something (like they do in movies), but that's all pretty unimportant. What is important is money. The real reason you'll be changing settings, dialogue, number of characters, and time of day is because you are writing for the indies and money is something that defines the indie film maker. Defines, as in, there isn't any.

So when writing for the independent film, you need a simple story with two or three characters only, no special sets or props, no special lighting or sound equipment. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is not just good storytelling it's the only way a first-time indie filmmaker can get their dang movie made.

For example, a good fifth of Jump, the story, takes place on the F train as it travels from Midtown out to Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn. The scene comes with beautiful visual details of the subway world complete with snappy commuter patter. I had no desire to deal with the NYC transit authority or have my cast and crew travel to New York. So for the movie, that section of the story turned into a short conversation amongst friends at a bus stop in Reading, PA.

Further on, the atmospheric setting for the big meeting between the suicidal Young Man and his savior, Wendt, complete with ripped out T-Bird seat inside a chain-linked fence in the yard next to an abandoned pickle factory at twilight, was also too expensive and specific for the locales available to us. That scene was shot on a futon in a corner of an old aluminum warehouse where time of day didn't matter and ambient sound could be controlled. The discussion on the fire escape moved to the inside stairwell. There was no crawling through broken windows or stepping on shattered glass that was a big part of making the original story visceral.

All the interesting details in the walk through eight lanes of high-speed highway traffic, the view of Brooklyn from a rooftop, the internal monologue as the protagonist strolled through the Red Hook projects, were deleted completely.

What I was left with was the bare bones of the story. And then it finally became affordable.

Once you do the hard part of paring down your story to script level, it's time to figure out who can accurately portray your characters. Depending on how complicated your script is, you'll need a bunch of other people to fill those roles. Hopefully those other people are your friends so they'll work cheap. The one problem with using cheap actors (unpaid in my case) is that there's no incentive for them to show up. I've worked on enough collaborations to know how easy it is to derail a project because one of the principals eventually gets a better offer. To circumvent problems of that sort, I also starred in the movie. I didn't want to, but early on the actress we had cast in the main role bowed out. Thankfully it was when we were just starting rehearsals. Instead of casting someone else, I just went ahead and did it myself. I like performance and have a lot of experience so it wasn't that big of a deal for me to do it. I'm not crazy about performing my own material, but it was the easiest way to get the movie made. Next time things will be different. Or so they always say.

So your script is written, you've found some cheap actors. What's next is way too complicated for a short blog post. The best thing to do at this stage is find somebody that knows how to make a movie and have them guide you. If you live in a town where films are not regularly made, that can be difficult. The next best thing is to read as much as you can on the process. Find a book. Or a hundred books. I started with Jason Tomaric's The Power Filmmaking Kit. There are plenty others out there.

It is a lot of fun to make a movie as long as you don't try to do something that is too complicated with a lot of scenes and difficult effects or locations. Do a small story. Something that can take place in your kitchen.

Did I make a great movie? Dunno. I will say it was fun to make. And we had a great lunch after the shooting was done. Does it ever get better than that? I invite anyone interested in judging my talent as a movie maker to see for her or himself. The film will be screened at Philadelphia's Urban/Suburban festival on June 25th.

Good luck with your own project! You'll need a whole new set of skills, but if you're a reasonably organized person and can get along with a lot of people, making a movie out of your story might just be an avenue to get your writing noticed.

Check out the trailer for Jump here. Come visit my website at

Sue Lange

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


After writing fiction entirely for adults for years, I recently turned my talents to writing for teenagers with several successful eBooks, HER TEEN DREAM, GHOST GIRL IN SHADOW BAY, and DANGER IN TIME (the latter two are in print as well).

I was asked in a radio interview last week by the host, an author herself, how have I been able to so effectively get into the heads of teenagers?

I responded, the same way I am effectively able to get into the heads of my adult characters. That may be oversimplifying it a bit, but in general I believe that any good writer should be able to take on any character's point of view, if you do your homework and have a grasp on the persons you are writing about.

In the case of teen fiction, I will admit that it's not as easy as going from one adult novel to another. Being used to writing for and about grownups, it has been somewhat challenging to take on the teenage characters and readership. But I was up for the challenge and found the perfect source for honing in on today's teenagers, their language, feelings, issues, etc.

That source happened to be my teenage nieces and nephews, who were thrilled to be able to lend their uncle a helping hand on getting it right. That included critiquing my teen novels and steering me in right direction , whenever necessary.

But I did not rely solely on my nephews and nieces. My wife was also a big help in recalling her own teen years in giving me advice about the female characters. I used my own memories of the turbulent and exciting teen years as well to craft my young adult fiction.

Being observant when out and about, watching teenage television series, and even reading some of today's hottest authors of teen fiction gave me added perspective on writing for this age group.

Happily, this journey has not only broadened my fan base, but allowed me to get the creative juices flowing in a different direction while tapping into the wide ranging talents I have stored in me. As a result, I now consider myself a young adult novelist to go with author of adult fiction, limited only by the power of my imagination and willingness to go the extra mile as a writer.

Do you write for teenagers and adults? If so, what have been your challenges in differentiating the two?

Which population do you enjoy writing for the most?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It is said that you go to East Africa for the animals and to West Africa for the people. Well, my recent trip to Tanzania did not support that premise at all. Yes, the safari was wonderful, the views on the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro were breathtaking and the close encounters with animals were exciting. But as a writer, I was most intrigued and impacted by the characters that we encountered along the way.

For example, we met Mohammed, a dead ringer for Morgan Freeman, who guided us carefully through the streets of Zanzibar, warning us vociferously against visiting any place that he considered potentially corrupt (often because they sold cigarettes or alcohol).

Then there was a lady whose name I did not get but who spoke with equal and effervescent excitement about every topic from the weather to the fun we would have on our upcoming safari.

And the so-pleasant but comically incompetent waitress who managed to do everything wrong as she served us our dinner at one of the lodges on the Serengeti.

When I meet these people, I create a background for them, why are they where they are, why do they act the way they do, what life experiences have molded them. Perhaps the manager has been trying to fire this waitress for months, but she charms him so sweetly whenever he calls her to be sanctioned that he cannot bring himself to fire her.

It would have been easy for me to sit here at my computer and research the locations that we visited. I may even have been able to conjure up the emotions I experienced when I saw them in person. But to recreate these characters realistically, requires a much more practical approach.

How do you create your most realistic characters? Are they complete figments of your imagination or were they triggered by someone that crossed your path?

Monday, April 11, 2011

There is no Spoon

At one point in The Matrix, Neo is told not to try and “bend the spoon,” which would be impossible, but to remember that “there is no spoon.” I have such a relationship with my Amazon sales numbers. But, unlike Neo, I have a hard time remembering the “no spoon” part.

For a while, I kept a daily written record of what my numbers were on all my books. At first I even checked those numbers twice a day, at morning and night. (In case you are unaware, I have some OCD tendencies when it comes to writing and reading.) Even I got tired of that after a while, and I also realized it was far more likely to depress than to uplift or motivate me. I filed those records and told myself I wasn’t going to write my numbers down anymore. I’ve kept to that, although I still check them pretty regularly, at least for my new stuff.

And I have to admit, I also compare my numbers against those of other writers. I wonder what I’m doing wrong when my numbers fall well below those of other authors at comparatively the same level of experience, or lesser experience. I wonder what they are doing right. And at times, to my chagrin, I feel a touch of despair. For example, I read the other day that the Harry Potter books are expected to sell “millions” in ebooks. I honestly do not begrudge J. K. Rowling her success. I loved those books and want her to succeed. But I can’t help feeling that it would be nice to cut off a little slice of that pie myself. I suppose I can’t help feeling that I deserve a little slice of that pie, or some pie.

I get irritated with myself for feeling this way, and even for making the comparisons in the first place. Yet, I do it. And even if I’m good for a week or two I find myself at some point having a look, making some comparisons that I’d be better off not making.

You can call me a whiner and I will wince because I suspect you might be right. You can tell me I’m silly and I’ll agree with you absolutely. But if you tell me just not to do it, well, that advice will only take me so far. I know some other writers who are much like me. I also know some who tell me they are not, although at times I must admit to doubting them.

Maybe the point of this is that I seem to need reassurance that my stuff is worthwhile, and sales provide one objective number to support that I am. But the very fact of this begs the question. Why? I don’t need that kind of reassurance constantly in my day job. I don’t need someone to tell me every day that I’m a good teacher. So why in writing? Is it because writing is such an intensely personal thing? I do find emotional satisfaction in doing a good job teaching, but it’s not as powerful as the emotional satisfaction I get from completing a story and realizing I’ve come close to capturing what I intended for the tale. And its not as intense as when I know my book is being read, and that at least some of those reading it are truly enjoying it. There’s nothing quite like that feeling.

And so, I watch the numbers. And I try to bend them higher. And I keep telling myself there “are no numbers.” But I seldom listen.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Kids Say The Darndest Things

Do you remember Bill Cosby’s 1998 -2000 show, “Kids Say the Darndest things?” I remember watching a few episodes and being underwhelmed. My analysis ranged from cute to tame to downright lame. Of course that was before I had kids of my own and listened to them articulate their explanations and observations.

So fast forward thirteen years, throw in a few books and a few kids, and what do you get? Some of the weird things my kids say appearing in my books.

When my oldest was five she had a massive crush on a little cute kid in her kindergarten class. She said to me one evening, “Mommy, I’m gonna marry MJ when I’m twenty and we’ll have lots of kids.”

“So how many kids do you want?” I asked.

Twenty being the biggest number she could perceive she announced, “We’ll have twenty kids.”

A year later I wrote the novella, “From SKB with Love,” part of the “Holiday Brides” anthology. The lead character is young widow still grieving her beloved MJ when she is whisked away to the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts and finds love with a hot, handsome, talented local. She had known MJ since pre-K and had told her mother in matter-of-fact terms, “MJ and I are going to get married when we’re twenty and have lots of kids.”

Yes kids say the darndest things and they end up right in my books!

My two year old is very timid. She is afraid of bubbles, bugs, dust, and even hairs in the bath tub. If she sees a hair, she screams and jumps out soaking wet until I remove the hair. A few days ago I was washing her hair. You can imagine what happened when she saw the strands of her hair land in the bathtub.

Seeing the commotion my oldest began to tease her calling her a scaredy cat. While dressing her I said to her, “Sweetie, you’re gonna be a brave big, girl and not a scaredy cat, ok. What do you say to that?”

She looked at her sister, then back at me and said, “Doggies say woof woof, scaredy cats say meow. Meow!”

I laughed until water came from my eyes. In my WIP the lead character is a single mother with a two year old just coming into her own. You can guess where my daughter’s words end up: coming out of the mouth of my two year old character!

Yes kids say the darndest things and they end up right in my books!

What things from your life, whether it being sayings, or scenes, or characters end up in your books?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Week of Firsts

I've been wondering when my charmed publishing life of the last two and a half years would come to an end. The truth is I'd never seen a bad review of my novel, just lots of 4 and 5 star ratings, a preponderance of fulsome praise and the occasional 3 star. I've listened to my fellow authors commiserate about having their books trashed and each time I wondered when my turn would come. Last week it did with the discovery of a 1 star rating and a simple averral that the book was trash. There was nothing else to indicate that the reviewer had even read the story.

My initiation is now complete. I can commiserate with the best of 'em.

And the firsts just kept on coming. I stumbled across my novel on one of those document sharing sites, the ones that seek to 'liberate' and 'democratize' the written word - the written word stolen from someone else, that is. Not only was it sitting there with a whole web page to itself, but it was being sold for $5.99 a pop. Don't know how long it had been gracing the site but it had scored 126 pops when I discovered it. Sweet.

That was bad enough, but it gets worse. On the page there was a comprehensive - and I mean comprehensive - 'preview' of the book. I scrolled down the pages in horror - down, down, down... and I abruptly left the site. I couldn't deal with it.

If you haven't seen your story, your words, the result of years of work just sitting there on the web being sold or shared illegally, you can't imagine how wrenching this discovery can be. I knew the day would come. I didn't know it would feel like that.

I wrote my very first DMCA takedown letter. My agent's legal department also sent one. The web page was removed the very next day.

Just like I knew it was only a matter of time before some 'reviewer' trashed the novel, I know it won't be long before I discover other sites where people are stealing my work in the full public glare of the Internet. That DMCA letter was the first of many in the cards for me. Not only do authors in the brave new digital world have to write, promote and everything else, we also have to hunt pirates and chop off their heads only to have them, Hydra-style, grow ten more for each one we take down.

So - have you scored any firsts lately?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Leaving One's Mark

Sunday morning started typically. I got up and went right to my office to look at my email and Facebook to see whether there were any urgent messages or news. Facebook alerted me that a high school classmate had a birthday that day, so I went to his FB page intending to wish him a happy birthday.

But someone had posted an announcement on my friend's page that he had died suddenly from acute pancreatitis. I was shocked. Then I thought, no, no, this must be an extremely tasteless April's Fool prank. I sent a message to his son to confirm that it was a joke; he replied the announcement was true.

According to actuarial tables, my friend should have lived another twenty-five years. But Fortuna spun her wheel and he received a different fate.

One sometimes hears the saying "Live every day as if it were your last." It's not particularly practical advice; if I followed it, I would never do laundry or floss my teeth or pay the mortgage, and we'd end up stinky and homeless, and I'd be toothless to boot. The Western style of life requires people to plan their days and weeks as if they'll be around for a while.

My friend wasn't a writer, but his sudden death made me wonder, how should a writer should spend each day so that she leaves behind a good legacy?

I have no answer to the question. If I knew I would die within the next year, I would stop exercising and otherwise caring for my long-term health and instead burn the candle on both ends to get a lot of words written. If I knew I would live another forty years, I would continue taking good care of my health and pace myself so that I didn't work so hard I burned out.

Not knowing, I stumble along, never quite sure whether I'm writing enough or exercising enough or experiencing the world enough or visiting my family enough. If I die soon, my legacy will be small to nothing and I'll regret (if regret is in fact possible after death) not having worked longer days and pushed myself harder. If I live a long time, I may wish at the end that I had spared more time for other pursuits.

How do you reconcile planning your writing career and legacy when you lack the most crucial piece of data, your lifespan? Do you agree with me that you would make different choices if you had only a year to live than if you had decades before you?

I'll be posting again at Novel Spaces on April 21. Please stop by again then.
—Shauna Roberts

Monday, April 4, 2011

A New Digital Experience - Social Reading A Chapter At A Time

I'm thrilled that today, 4/4, is my day to post on Novel Spaces, because it's perfect timing in terms of announcing the launch of a groundbreaking, innovation site that introduces readers to a whole new world of interactive, digital reading. It's called A Chapter A, an idea conceived by bestselling author Victoria Christopher Murray.

The site goes live TODAY at 12-noon, EST, so log on to and experience the brand new community of sixteen top-selling authors, with more authors to be added soon, as well as my 6/1/11 contribution called Turnabout Is Fair Play.

The length of the authors's works will vary - one author is doing short-stories based on hip-hop songs, so each month, she will have a different story. Two authors are doing the first "soap operas" on paper...serials that will not end - and there will be everything in-between.

Each month, you can purchase any chapter from any author for .99 cents. Now, we're calling it "a chapter," but trust, these are not short chapters that are in full-length books. These chapters are far more extensive. We promise you, you will get more than your money's worth. There will be "Preferred Readers" packages where you will receive "benefits for membership." For example, if you purchase 5 authors for $4.95 per month, you will have a certain level of access to the authors. If you purchase 10 authors for $9.99 per month, you will have another level of access, plus be entered into a quarterly contest where winners will receive anything from gift cards, to e-readers...and maybe even a visit from an author.

Log on to for more information.

As writers, this type of innovative, digital social reading option could be revolutionary. We're all seeking new ways to reach more readers and gain greater exposure for our works. I ask each of you to support Victoria's new venture, and spread the word about A Chapter A - all authors, all the time!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Old Dog, New Trick

The main character of my current WIP bakes the most scrumptious desserts.

Dessert at my house is usually a Snickers bar, so I recently spent five hours in Classic Cakes class for a crash course in baking.

Voila! A five-flavor pound cake homemade by yours truly:

Learned anything new for your character’s sake? If so, tell me about it!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Authors Fighting Back

The subject of Dorchester Publishing has been visited before on Novel Spaces. Several of the authors who blog here, myself included, have published books through Dorchester, and I'm sure my fellow writers have followed this story closely. For those who haven't, I wanted to share a few tidbits about the recent uprising between Dorchester Publishing and writers who are starting to fight back.

The latest battle began when horror writer Brian Keene outed Dorchester for selling ebook copies of books they no longer owned the rights to. Keep in mind that romance author Jana DeLeon reported the same thing back in the Fall when she went public on the popular Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. It resulted in the company quickly taking action after ignoring numerous communications from Jana and her agent. Unfortunately, it appears that versions of Jana's books are now appearing via mobile phone apps.

Fed up with the company's shenanigans, Brian Keene called for readers to boycott. The movement gained traction on Twitter under the hastash #BoycottDorchester and prompted someone to create a Facebook page. Since Brian's blog post last week, dozens of authors have joined in the boycott, along with hundreds of fans.

The saga continues, with Dorchester Publishing maintaining that they are going to do right by their authors, but it remains to be seen.

If you are up for some interesting reading, check out this comprehensive timeline of all that has happened with the company over the past few years.

As a Dorchester author, I can only hope the company will step up to the plate and fulfill that promise to do right by their authors. Some of the stories I've heard from fellow writers are more horrifying than any of the fabulous stories found in Dorchester's once popular Horror line.