Sunday, June 29, 2014

Guest author Elizabeth J. Kolodziej: Panster Writer: Fixing the Blockage

Elizabeth J. Kolodziej is a novelist and a lover of gadgets, writing, mysteries, and an avid reader. Her paranormal romance, The Last Witch Series, is coming up on its fourth book, Demonic Charms, and there is more on the way! With a bachelor’s degree in Fiction Writing from George Mason University and her ongoing learning of the art of writing, Elizabeth believes she can truly help others master their own art and love of writing. With the support of her family, friends, dog (Sherlock) and cat (Ahmeemotep) she is more than happy to give her readers exactly what they want in her books...adventure. Find Elizabeth on Twitter and Facebook.

I am going to write a quick and easy way to hopefully help you fix your writing block. This will work for panster writers over plotter writers though, which I am more of. 

Sometimes we get caught up in the moment of the story. It hits us like a tons of bricks (cliché but so what) and we just WRITE. We have to. The story has come and we must answer the muse. But sometimes that can be our downfall. We can spend a month writing the first half of the story and suddenly forget what it is all about. This happened to me while writing Dealing Death. And since I am a panster I have forgotten where the story needs to go.

What is an easy and fast way to fix this problem?

Write a blurb!

Blurbs are short synopses of your work that should explain in a few sentences (or two paragraphs) what the story is about and what the questions of the story are.

Take for instance my story of Little Red Riding Hood. I needed to know what type of character Red was going to be. For my horror slash Steampunk take on this story I wanted to make Red different from the normal everyday version of her sweet, innocent self. So I put a short paragraph about how she is changed and why she isn’t so sweet anymore.

I also wanted to give the grandmother a bigger role. So I went on to add a little bit about her role in the story to the blurb.

Finally comes the question: Who are the protagonist and antagonist? What is stopping the hero from completing whatever job he or she is setting out to do? What are the two possible outcomes of this story you are creating? Because...normally...there are two ways a story can end for certain.

Once you have flushed out and examined your characters PLUS asked the hard questions about the story, usually you will come back to what it is your story is about and what you aimed to do with it.

I hope this helps you out as much has it as helped me. :wink:

Let me know what your thoughts and opinions are. Do you do something similar? Does this help you at ALL???

Hearts and Fangs,
Liz ^_^

Vampyre Kisses:
Gravely Inanimated:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Power of the Narrative

Have you created audio versions of your books?

I recently drove to New York for a Caribbean Book Fest. I love driving, and I was looking forward to being in the New Jersey/New York area, but somehow I was dreading that drive. For reasons that I will not state here ... I planned to stick close to the speed limit and each time I considered the four hour drive it seemed to stretch out towards an unreachable horizon.

At the last minute I had a brilliant idea. Already en route, I swung by the library and picked up three audio books. My children were with me, so I had to pick something suitable for everyone. There were groans from my son, primarily because, although it was a fantasy it was one with dragons and princesses. He put on his headphones and settled down to sleep. There were groans from my daughter, I suspect just because it was my idea and groaning seemed to be the right thing to do.

But there is something about listening to a (well-read and well-written) story that forces you to pay attention. You can't skip over the descriptions or look ahead to see what happens. You have to absorb the novel as it unfolds. About an hour into the drive the phone rang and the story paused. Both children protested. They had been listening, and attentively. When we arrived at our destination we sat in the car for a while to hear the end of the chapter.

On the negative side, my son commented that he did not like it because the voices that the narrator used were so different from the ones he would have created in his head, but this may have been primarily because the narrator was female. But the pros of listening to an audio book are many, for both children and adults and so, a possible good medium to use to target an increasingly mobile audience.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Trending Younger

My first two novels, written under Jewel Amethyst, were romances “A Marriage of Convenience” and a novella in “Holiday Brides” anthology written for a purely adult audience.  A year ago I published “Indiscretion” in the Kindles Worlds, “Pretty Little Liars” Universe.  That was a young adult mystery aimed for teens and above.  This year, in collaboration with my eleven year old protégé and coauthor Lynelle A. Martin, and an author/publisher who happens to be a novelnaught, Carol Ottley-Mitchell, I’m about to release my first children’s book, “Zapped: Danger in the cell.”

It seems like I keep trending younger with each passing year.  How did I get to that?

For one, this children’s book has been years in the making.  It first began with a conversation with my daughter when she was but six years old.  My romance had just been released and she asked if she could read it. I told her she was too young.  She then asked if she could write a book with me.  I told her she can’t write the kinds of books I write.  Then she said, “Well if you write a children’s book, then I could write it with you.”

I thought about it for a long while, but it didn’t come into fruition until she was about eight years old.  She was home bored in the summer.  I was trying to encourage her to read as well as excite her with the type of science I’m passionate about.  So as a summer project we decided to write a book about little kids who were shrunk and zapped into a cell.

Fast forward to this year, and what was a summer project has become the first in a series of children’s books by Jewel A. Daniel and Lynelle A. Martin, published by Caribbean Reads and set for release in July, 2014.  Below is the official announcement.

New middle-grade book available in July

Looking for something to keep your middle-grade children’s brain active this summer? Check out “Zapped! Danger in the Cell”.

When  a mysterious machine shrinks Sonya, Lynelle, and Giselle to microscopic proportions they become so small that they slip through the walls of a cell and the three girls find themselves caught up in a roller coaster of an adventure that has them running for their lives.

Do they ever escape?

Pre-Order Zapped! to find out!

Zapped! is the first book in the Small Worlds series written by Jewel Daniel and Lynelle Martin. The book is being published by CaribbeanReads and is illustrated by Ann-Cathrine Loo. It is aimed at middle-grade readers and will be available in July.

St. Kitts born Jewel is a cell biologist, author and educator who combines her love for science and books to teach kids about the exciting microscopic world of the cell. She already has three publications under the pen name Jewel Amethyst, A Marriage of Convenience, Holiday Brides, and Pretty Little Liars: Indiscretion. Zapped is her first children’s novel.

Lynelle is the star of this show. She is a rising middle school student with an avid interest in science and adventure. Zapped is her debut novel, but she has already written the sequel and plans to work on book 3 this summer.

Visit our Order page to reserve your copy of Zapped! for $6.99. Shipping charges may apply for non-US customers.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The trouble with my Kindle library

Piles and piles of books
I don't have a Kindle, but I've been downloading e-books to the app at a much faster rate than I can read
them. I still buy the occasional hard copy—ill-advised since I ran out of shelf space years ago and the bookcase I bought last year filled up instantly with the piles that were sitting on bed, chairs and desk—but most of my book purchases over the last five years have been of the digital variety.

Since I plan to put a dent in my TBR backlog this summer, I decided to 'get organized' (always a dangerous undertaking for me) by dividing the Kindle titles into categories. The result was as follows:

1: Books by writers I know. (scores, maybe hundreds)
2: Classics to be read or re-read. (scores)
3: Books on eating, cooking and generally living more healthfully. (a handful)
4: Books on e-publishing (a few)
5: Novels, biographies and memoirs NOT by authors I know. (a few)
6: Miscellaneous titles, like the experimental baby books for my granddaughter. (a few)

The problem with my Kindle library became clear: apparently, I own scores, possibly hundreds, of books that I bought or downloaded free simply to support authors I know. I have little or no interest in reading maybe 95% of these books, so what do I do with them? I have to wade through these to get to those that I actually plan to read. I'd like to delete the unwanted books but feel guilty about this although I know I'll never get around to reading, for example, love stories that pair humans with vampires, dragons, tigers or wolves, those that are gruesome, weird and humorless (I can read gruesome and weird if there's humor involved), and those by authors I've sampled whose writing doesn't grab me for one reason or another.

The other categories are fine: I'm picking my way through the Fanons, Alighieris, and Flauberts that I've been wanting to read, like, forever; I've started on the books by authors I know that I do want to read, such as Jamaica Dreaming by Eugenia O'Neal that I read in its entirety yesterday, and William Doonan's Mediterranean Grave; don't plan on reading any more books on e-publishing for a while; and I'll schedule the 'healthful living' books for maybe every other month. But that first category is headache-inducing.

Do you buy/download lots of books you don't plan to read just to support authors you know? What on earth do you do with them?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Master and Commander of Fine Arts! (Now what?)

As some of you know, I've just completed my MFA program in creative writing at National University. Many – actually, pretty much all – of my friends who are professional writers tried to talk me out of going for my degree. For the most part their arguments were variations on the same theme: I was tying up a lot of my writing time and creative energy for two years – not to mention going some $40,000 in debt – earning a piece of paper that wouldn't help my writing career at all. Everything they said was true.

However, in addition to being a writer, I want to teach creative writing at the university level. And to do that I need a terminal degree – a master of fine arts degree – in creative writing. I've been a teacher since the 1980s – first in public schools, then in community support services. It's what I was doing while writing part-time to establish my career as a writer; it's the career I left to become a full-time freelance writer three years ago this month. Teaching is in my nature. This is not to say professional writers are opposed to learning about writing. Far from it.

A writer's education is a continuous, lifelong process. However, workshops for professional writers differ substantially from creative writing classes. Many workshops for working writers focus on mastering specific skills, often in the context of applying those skills to a particular genre. In some of the better ones the student writers read everyone else's work, then listen as a professional editor – or writer proficient enough in the target skill to conduct the workshop – explains what is and/or is not effective in each story. In way too many academic settings each student submits a short work, then "sits in the bubble" – forbidden to respond to anything her classmates say – while her peers talk about what they think of the piece. Among professionals, peer review has many benefits; when the peers are equally inexperienced newcomers to the craft, the utility of the exercise is questionable. (In Reading Like a Writer, which I highly recommend, Francine Prose imagines Franz Kafka being required to sit helplessly and listen to writing students opine they don't really 'get' the whole turning-into-a-giant-bug thing in Metamorphosis and suggest he spend more time exploring Gregor's childhood and relationship with his family before he became a bug so he'd be more accessible to the reader.) I'll talk more about the structure of an effective peer-based class and/or workshop in a future column.

The difference between a Creative Writing program's approach and the English Department's approach to studying the written word is completely different. As a broad generality, I'd suggest that if your goal is to be a professional writer, avoid taking any English courses on writing. (And I think it was the English Department approach my friends were warning me against.) An example to illustrate why I feel that way: In MCW-635, Young Adult Lit, the class read, discussed and analyzed Anne of Green Gables, The Outsiders, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Hunger Games, Speak, and American-Born Chinese. We looked at the writer's purpose, both as evident in the text and in the writer's statements about the work, her techniques and choices, why what worked worked, and how we as writers might employ those techniques in our own work.

In ENG-600, Literary Theory, we didn't read a thing in the original. We read what scholars of literary criticism had written about different works, which may or may not include quotes of the work in question. A dissenting opinion by a scholar of a different school of criticism was always provided. The class then discussed whether the arguments presented fit the letter of the critical theory each represented. If anyone had the temerity – as I did – to point out that theories were completely irrelevant and often directly contradicted what the writer had said about her work, it would be explained from on high that nothing the writer had to say about the work was relevant because the writer was by definition too close to the work – and almost certainly untrained in literary theory – and therefore unqualified to comment. (Fearing I'd fallen into a bad class, I reached out to a friend of mine who has a doctorate in English. He confirmed my experience was fairly typical and gave me pointers on the art of searching the internet for scholarly citations that support your opinion.)

 Did I as a writer learn anything about writing from the creative writing classes? Yes, of course. I'd have to be pretty dense not to. I worked with some very talented writers and instructors. Did I learn $40,000 worth? Depends on what I do with what I learned. Would I recommend earning an MFA in creative writing? Only if you intend, as I do, to teach. Colleges and universities require the academic qualifications of even their adjunct instructors to be documented by a regionally accredited institution of higher education. If your intention, however, is to broaden and deepen your skill set as a writer there are many professional workshops and programs that will teach you as much or more at less cost.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tell Us What You Want...What You Really, Really Want.

Aloha, Novel Spaces readers! Happy Father’s Day to those of who you’ve undertaken the challenge of being a daddy. If you’re like me, your kids are bringing you poached eggs, Belgian waffles and orange juice on a tray as you read the Sunday paper from the comfort of your bed, your favorite recliner, or maybe that hammock in the back yard.

(Well, all of that’s going on in my head, anyway.)

There likely are at least some of you who may not be aware that every June or so, the core groups of Novel Spaces bloggers take a moment and see what’s what with everyone, how individual schedules are working out, who might want to take a break or if anyone has suggestions for adding a new member to the team. Something else we do is toss around ideas for bringing new things to the blog, for our own amusement as well as attempting to make sure that the time you spend here continues to be worthwhile and perhaps even entertaining on occasion.

With that in mind, we’re lining up a couple of new recurring features for the blog. For example, every month we’ll have at least one post that covers a different aspect of writing or publishing, and each of the core group will offer their own insights, great memories, war stories, cautionary tales, and so on.
This leads me to one of our other ideas: Engaging YOU, the reader, more.

Can we talk? What do you want to read about? What advice are you seeking? What haven’t we covered that could stand a bit more attention? Maybe we should institute a recurring feature to promote your work, or just give you a place to introduce yourself and tell us what you’re writing. We’re looking for suggestions from you, which we can turn into new topics for what we hope will generate spirited discussion. Heck, maybe you want to write a piece for the blog yourself, and it’s just that none of us have been smart enough to ask you until now. Well, consider yourselves asked! This is your blog, too, and we want to hear from you.

(Apologies for the horrific rhyme just then. It happened before I could stop it.)

Feel free to make your suggestions right here in the comments or, if you’re shy, you can write to Liane or Kevin via the blog’s Contact Page. Or, just e-Mail me at

No idea is too crazy, and even if it is, one of us is more than happy to guide you back to the light in the unlikely event you unleash the crazy.

We're saddling Kevin with that job, actually.

So, with that in mind, what would you like to see here? Talk to us. We’re listening!

Friday, June 13, 2014

How To Find A New Publisher

First, let me warn anyone new to the book biz: nothing is set in stone. Aside from the Ten Commandments, that is.

Embedded in a writer's mind is the idea that once the tough struggle of finding a house to publish your life's work with, all the hard times are over. I know for a fact that's never been the case. As publishing got more and more competitive, the big houses kept upping the ante on authors, demanding higher sales and dumping them from contracts if they fell behind. In the late 80's many of my mid-list friends found themselves in limbo with a series in place but now homeless.

The ground response was three-fold: small publishing outfits popped up, Publish America and I Universe took hold and authors created their own publishing houses to get their works out there. Many ventures failed and, well, we pretty much know what happened to PA and IU. Nada.

I think the best tactic these days is having a contingency plan. Assume nothing good will last forever. I advise against authors holding on to their manuscripts waiting for that “sure thing.” In this industry, there is no sure thing. The smartest move a writer can make is to get their work out there as soon as possible. All this rewriting toward perfection—newsflash: perfection is an illusion. What does exist is a competition that won't wait. My mantra is “You can't market what doesn't exist.” You don't exist until you have something out there to market to readers. Understand that this industry moves at breakneck speed and use that to your advantage. Nobody is going to ding you for a mediocre book. Create a nom de plume for your next work.

Here's three reasons you may need to search for a new publisher:

Scenario #1: Money issues. Unless the publisher is independently rich, there are always going to be money issues. Love of the written word does not put food on the table or pay the rent. Many small houses operate from actual small houses. This is possible with today's technology and the publisher's ability to handle a computer. Publish on Demand (POD) and email have changed the industry. No more costly offices and staff or warehouses for book stock. But, this also means the publisher can fold unexpectedly at any time.

Scenario #2: Health. When a small publishing outfit is run by one or two people, health can be an issue. If the publisher gets sick, books go unpublished. If the publisher dies, the house ceases to exist. So do contracts.

Scenario #3: Personal conflict. Sometimes you aren't going to see eye-to-eye with a publisher. Maybe it's over the delay in royalties. Possibly the quality of your latest novel. Or, you just get on each other's nerves.

So, how do you find a new publishing house?

First, brush off all your contacts. You should have been storing them up for just this moment. You know others who are published, find out about their house. Ask for a recommendation. Ask nicely.

Second, scout around for small houses you've never heard of. Don't bother with Writers' Digest because once they list a house, everyone dashes over there. Keep an eye out for outfits just starting up and hungry to build a stable. They're all over the Internet. Try Predators and Editors. You've published before, you have a track record. You may be the big fish they're looking for.

Third, go on Amazon and find a novel close to what you publish. See who the publisher is. I'm not talking about bestsellers and, if that's what you think you've written, you aren't looking for a new home. No, explore the book catalog and see how many books in your genre are listed.

Fourth, cold call (email) some of the authors and ask (nicely) if they are happy with their publisher. Don't do this on group lists, very bad form and you'll get some nasty responses. Most authors will be honest with their replies. If they hedge, take a pass.

Fifth, roll the dice. You've done your homework but, like I said in the opening paragraph, nothing is set in stone.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

WORD! A Caribbean Thing

Book Display at WORD!
It seems that every day we recognise something, children, women, Mother Earth, technology, oceans, and so on. It turns out that someone or group has designated June as Caribbean Heritage month, and as a result, there have been a number of literary events marking this. Foreigners tend to associate the Caribbean with sun, sea, sand, reggae, and soca, but West Indians are prolific writers, one of the most celebrated being nobel prize winning Derek Walcott, OBE OCC.

This weekend I attended WORD! A Caribbean Book Fest, a small literary fest held at the Medgar Evers College at CUNY, It got off to a rocky start with the organisers shuffling the schedule to cover for people who showed up late or not at all. I sat on a panel with Jamaican children's author Kellie Magnus, a representative from the publishing house Akashic, and one other author. The attendance was sparse when the panel finally started, but by the end, the room, was packed, standing room only although chairs were added. The attendees of this panel were primarily writers, as eager to get tips on publishing and marketing as we were to impart them.

The event brought one thing home to me. I really need to get out more. Whether I am wearing my writer's hat or I am performing one of my many other jobs, I work from home, my social interactions primarily via the Internet. I enjoyed meeting other authors and listening to them read their work and talk about their craft. The evening ended with extraordinary poetry performances, new poets and established ones such as Adisa Andwele of Barbados. I left the event with my literary quiver fully armed with new acquaintances, encouragement, ideas, and a determination to be more visible in the world of Caribbean literature.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Guest Author: Alexis J. - Just a Girl Who Loves to Write

Today's blog post is short, as I'm enjoying my summer, spending priceless hours with a special, gifted, amazing young author named Alexis J., who just happens to be my granddaughter! By the way, she wrote her first book when she was only 3. It was called, My Purse. How cute! Anyway, she just showed me a little piece that she wrote on her iPod, and I thought I'd share. She inspires me, reminds me, moves me, and serves as constant evidence that when God decides to instill passion in our spirits, nothing can bridle it - no matter what age we are. Do what you love, and your works shall be done. Enjoy! 

"Just a girl who loves to write
Exploring the world's my soul
I've got a really long bucket list
But that's the curse you get when it's told
That writing gives me passion
An outlet to get away
I'm sorry that I'm going
With the rhyming cliché...
But hey
That's the life I choose when I pay the price
To write
To be an author
And show the world light."
by Alexis J., author of Bailey and the Bully