Monday, December 31, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
3. Post your message on your blog and give us the link so that we can post it on Judi's tour page at http://www.virtualbooktoursforauthors.blogspot.com/ (her tour page goes live tomorrow). Email us with your link at thewriterslife(at)yahoo.com.
4. When we receive your link, we will put it on our daily rounds of promotions, thus bringing you instant traffic, so get those links to us soon!
Judi's virtual book tour will be highly publicized including press releases and other promotions. Let us know what steps you are taking to achieve success and be read by thousands of Internet users!
Friday, December 28, 2007
I moved too fast. In my head I was thinking, "The novel has been done for six months, let's get these queries out! I swore I would befor 2007 was over." So, in October I sent out a handful of queries. Not a ton, but among the first I sent out was one to my top agent pick. I then proceeded to ignore my query and move onto other things.
A month later with three rejections under my belt I went to AgentQuery.com to look up more agents that accepted e-queries. I pulled up my previous query letter and realized that my hook was far too wordy, and it wasn't enough of a hook. With frustration I reworked the hook, finding one I really liked and elicited a "wow" reaction from someone I was talking to.
I retuned the query letter and began sending queries again. I got halfway down my list of 18 and made another realization. I'd spelled a word wrong in my query letter. Yup. A typo in a query...GREAT first impression. Head hung in shame, I corrected it and sent out the rest of the queries.
In the days after sending out the round of queries I realized something else. I always knew my novel was on the high-end of word count (over to some agents), but I never saw anything "extraneous" to cut. Three days after I sent out a query I thought, "well, my first chapters HAVE to be tight. I'll just triple check them." I pulled up the novel and started 'tightening' the first two chapters. I cut close to 2,000 words in two chapters. Stunned, I sat back staring at my computer.
What had I done? I'd sent out 20+ queries in two months - several of which asked for the first 50 pages or 3 chapters - with a novel that I had just 'tightened' to make better for queries.
So, I put myself in the penalty box. If any of you have ever seen the movie Slap Shot, you know what I mean. To quote the movie:
"You go to da box for 2 minutes, ya know, by yourself...you feel shame...and then you get free." ~Denis Lemieux (Slap Shot)
So, knowing that the holidays were coming up, and I couldn't paper query until I had the funds to buy stamps and ink, I put myself in the penalty box. For two months, no querying, no agent search, no nothing but tightening Lisabeth. But that wasn't enough. I was allowed to tighten Lisabeth only on the condition that I also begin research on the next novel. Lisabeth could no longer be my focus, my baby. She was my pride and joy, and I'd been so eager to send her for others to love, that I hadn't realized she wasn't ready.
Sometimes you have to take a step back. I thought I had, but even though I'd taken a month or two to ignore the novel before going back to edit. But it wasn't enough. I had to find something else within me. Another story to write before I could truly look and see what work had to be done.
Every piece of writing is important to us. But if we focus on something too long (Lisabeth is 3 years old now, and the only storyline I've focused on for all that time, including her continuing saga of sequels) we fail to see its flaws.
Take your time. Don't send your baby into the world until it's ready. Find something else that drives you. If we are true writers we do have more than one story within us...we just have to find it and give it love and attention. Then we can look back at our older 'child' and make sure it's truly ready. When it is, it will shine bright! And you won't have a bit of regret in sending it out into the world!
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I started writing 30 years ago and, trust me, I’ve seen and heard it all. In short, anything that has happened to you on your road to being a published author happened to me, too. I papered my office walls with rejection letters; I even got to the point were I was receiving personalized rejections…no more form letters. I was the victim of an unethical agent and an equally unethical editor. I turned down a contract from a large publisher—because my lawyer said they wanted too much. (Which they did. I would have given up virtually all rights to my work, which should never happen.) Yes, I’ve been through the gamut—like all of you—and I was tempted to just throw in the towel many times. In my case, I got so frustrated after losing $1500 to that unethical editor I mentioned that I said to heck with it and self-published my first book, Wagons To The Past. Luckily it paid off, and the sales from that book allowed me to start my own publishing company—but that’s another story.
Mainly, I guess what I want to relay in saying “Don’t Give Up” is to do whatever it takes to get your work out there—and if you’re a dedicated author who believes in his or her work, and you know it’s good (and don’t take the word of Mom and Grandma on that one) then keep trying.
When that manuscript comes back with a rejection letter, send it out again—the same day. Keep a list of potential publishers and just keep submitting until the list is depleted, then start a new one. Your persistence will pay off. One day you’re going to see your manuscript land on the right publisher’s desk on the right day at the right time and voila, you, too, will be a published author. This business takes about 20% talent and 80% persistence. Develop a tough skin and one day you’ll sit back and watch your dream come true.
Jean Hackensmith is the author of The “Passage” Time Travel Romance Saga, “The Gitche Gumee Saga”, “Wagons To The Past,” “Tender Persuasion” and “Sweet Hell, Bitter Heaven.” Her books can be purchased through Amazon.com or through the publisher web site at www.porttownpublishing.com.
Friday, December 21, 2007
By Holly Fretwell, author of The Sky's NOT Falling: Why It's OK to Chill About Global Warming, from Kids Ahead Books (World Ahead Media)
Kids are the greatest. To hear them laugh and see them play is heart-lifting. To listen to them and learn from them is a joy of life. And to teach them is invigorating but it can be a challenge. I have two kids of my own that I read to every night. It is a magical time where we adventure into strange and foreign lands. It is one of the ways that we share ideas with each other and a time, that as a parent, I impart life lessons in ways that may otherwise come off sounding preachy and static -- not to mention boring.
To share some of these lessons I have written a book of my own. Writing a book for kids, however, is not the easiest task, especially my chosen topic; a non-fiction book discussing science and economics for 8-12 year olds. When writing The Sky’s NOT Falling: Why It’s OK to Chill about Global Warming, I had to focus on making complex concepts simple to understand for kids at different comprehension levels.
Since a kids' book in particular needs to be lively and engaging I tried to weave in some basic science and economic concepts without stopping the more entertaining narrative. I knew I needed to keep it simple while at the same time giving a fair explanation of sometimes technical concepts. I also wanted to bring light to some of the misconceptions that many kids have about global warming. After lots of help from friends and family I found what worked best was keeping the sentences short and snappy, the words uncomplicated, and the information unambiguous. I knew what it was I wanted to communicate, but I had to let go of the flourishes. Kids can’t be expected to understand, much less interpret, the phrases and clichés that adults use without a second thought.
I found that asking my kids and their friends to give me feedback as the chapters progressed was immensely helpful (and they let me know what they did and did not like)! Their feedback helped me refine my explanations and descriptions and gave me confidence that the manuscript I turned in was, to use that famous expression, "kid-tested and mother-approved."
Writing The Sky's Not Falling: Why It's OK to Chill About Global Warming was an incredible experience. It improved my writing skills by forcing me to be ever more precise, and gave me the opportunity to share the ups and occasional downs of the project with my sons helping them understand just what I do for a living as an instructor and researcher of natural resource policy and economics. In addition, if what I know can help kids relax about the natural changes in the world around them while teaching them to think critically and inspiring them to work towards the cleaner environment every community needs, then I consider the time I spent writing "Sky" to be time well spent. "
You can visit the publisher's website for info here.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
When I was in high school, I boldly decided that I wanted to become a best-selling novelist, and I went around telling everyone I knew that I was going to make $75-million. Keep in mind this was the mid-1970s, so that’s probably around $300-million, if you figure in thirty-plus years of inflation.
I wrote my first novel when I was 20 years old. It was a Stephen King-like horror novel titled Sarah’s Curse. An agent who was a family friend shopped it around, and though it received some nice responses, it never found a publisher. But I wasn’t overly concerned because I believed my second novel would be the one to hit it big. In the meantime, I started my career as a journalist at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. For me, the rat race officially began. Soon I was working 50-hour weeks and raising a family – and there never was a second book. Twenty-five years later, I was fortunate enough to be able to semi-retire. In September 2004, I wrote the first word of Book One of The Death Wizard Chronicles. Seven-hundred-thousand words later, I’m in the final revision process of Book Six.
Life has an unusual sense of humor, and for a quarter-century my dreams were put on hold. That said, those 25 years ended up serving a valuable purpose. As a reporter and editor, I learned the craft of writing and met a lot of interesting people, significantly expanding my worldview and talents. When I finally began writing my epic fantasy series, I realized that work and family weren’t to blame for all those lost years. Instead, I simply had not been ready as a writer. Finally, it all jelled. This is my time.
I describe my series as a cross between J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King – Tolkien because it contains many aspects of epic fantasy, King because it’s pretty darn scary and rough. The Death Wizard Chronicles is a classic tale of good versus evil, with lots of action, monsters, and magic. It also contains a very compelling love story. But what separates my series from most others is that I am an active student of Eastern philosophy, which fuels my world view. The concept of karma and the art of meditation play key roles in the symbolic aspects of my work. While deep in meditation, Buddhist monks have had recorded heart rates of less than 10 beats per minute. My main character takes this to the extreme. In an original twist, the Death Wizard is able to enter the realm of death during a “temporary suicide.” Through intense concentrative meditation, he stops his heartbeat briefly and feeds on death energy, which provides him with an array of magical powers.
My first wife and I divorced about 15 years ago, and I then remarried. My second wife is a Western-convert Buddhist in the Theravada tradition, and she introduced me to Buddhism. The philosophical aspects of Eastern philosophy really rang true for me and helped to further shape the person I have become. My series contains an ancient language that is directly translated from Pali, a dialect closely related to Sanskrit but now extinct as a spoken language. When translated to English, it is beautiful and erotic.
A wise man once said:
“In the end
these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?”
I live life this way. Or at least I try.
Jim Melvin is author of The Death Wizard Chronicles, a six-book epic fantasy. Book One (The Pit) was released in September 2007 by Rain Publishing, followed by Book Two (Moon Goddess) in October and Book Three (Eve of War) in November. Book Four (World on Fire) will be released in December, Book Five (Sun God) in January and Book Six (Death-Know) in February. The series is available for purchase at http://www.rainbooks.com/ or http://www.amazon.com/. The first shipments to Amazon have sold out, but more are on the way. Jim, 50, is married with five daughters and currently lives in Clemson, S.C. He welcomes personal emails at http://us.f592.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?Toemail@example.com
Monday, December 17, 2007
Don’t get hung up on what part of the story comes to you first. Don’t be afraid to skip scenes if you’re not inspired yet in one area. Your deep mind will show you the way when it’s time. Don’t feel like you need to have a whole scene or chapter “done” before you can move on…unless that’s the only way you feel comfortable writing. I think a writer should let things flow and not get in the way. So if I’m writing a scene and it’s 5 pages of dialogue at first, I don’t stop to put in gestures or bits of action or have someone order pizza. Flow is a beautiful thing and should never be interrupted to worry over a word or fuss over details. I spiral back through the story to fill in details or movements or whatever is missing.
This means my scenes have bits of setting sprinkled through them, for the most part, and not in huge clumps. I like to let readers see through the eyes of the characters. I hate huge clumps of scenery that get in the way of the characters. It’s their story, after all. If you get a great sense of place and don’t know what the characters will say yet, write what you are moved to write for now and once you know the characters, they’ll tell you what they would say and hwo they would act. Trust yourself and trust the process. Also, leave the editing for a day when you’re not writing something new. The editor and writer are 2 totally different functions that don’t belong in the same head at the same time.
Maybe this will serve some of you budding writers reading this. I do what I call spiral writing. Spiraling…I adore spirals, and when I think of how Rue the Day came together, I really did spiral my way through. I didn’t do “first draft,” “second draft” as such. I spiraled through to add or change as the needs came to me. BUT I did have a sense of where the plot was going at all times right from the moment I realized this was not a short story.
Suspense is one of my favorite features in a story, and there is a lot of suspense in Rue the Day, and in many of my tales. I was a bit surprised Wings ePress put the book as fantasy romance, because I had always thought of it as fantasy suspense, or maybe epic fantasy. But they did see the 1 page summary of book 2 and a bit about book 3, which will have more romance, so I suspect that’s why Rue got billed as fantasy romance. The romance in the coming books won’t be soggy, though. There will be plenty of sparks and no easy answers.
No matter what genre you write, a good book should pull you straight in with the characters. You should see what they see and feel what they feel. The book should be luscious and tantalizing, yet full of conflict, especially in fantasy, where you have to create an entire world...
You can get a few bits of Rue the Day sent to your inbox by registering at http://CatMuldoon.com. You’ll also get teasers for the stories I have in anthologies or magazines and find out about my Story of the Month Club.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Most of us became writers because we love to read. We have stories inside us that we want to share with others. Our own reading past influences our writing futures.
So we become writers. We spend a year, two years, three years, writing our piece. We care for it, we tend to it, we then rip it to shreds and edit it. We have others rip it to shreds. We become our harshest critic.
During all of this time, we still have the real world to deal with. We're writing, but we still have to exist in this world, too. We have jobs, families, errands to run, and leisure activities to enjoy.
It's easy to let some things slide, because we lead such a 'go-go-go' lifestyle!
I did that. The main thing I let slide - reading!
Yes, I know, it's a shock...not reading?! WHAT? Well, I have been writing my novel in earnest for about two years now. PRior to that I spent a year writing the novel and it's sequel for fun. Between researching, writing and harsh, evil edits, it's been a little over two years for Lisabeth now.
During those two years I've had one daughter face some serious health issues, I've become pregnant and had another baby girl, found out that my second daughter also had serious health issues, separated from my husband, gotten back together with my husband, had my oldest child go through two grades of school, nearly lost my house because of lack of funds, worked a part time job, started my own business, dealt with nearly daily therapies for both of my daughters, run to doctor's appointments on a bi-weekly basis, had health issues of my own, and become knee-deep in crafts of all kinds.
I've been busy.
Over the past six or eight months I've been editing. I've got folders of (somewhat) harsh critique on the novel on file. I have become my own worst critic, so determined to get my novel to an acceptable word count that I often find myself disgusted with my own writing. I see flaws where there aren't any in some cases. Opening my novel to edit has become a chore rather than a joy.
This past month I made a commitment, I agreed to review two books on my blog. I now HAD to read, when I'd managed to put it off as "frivolous" when I had things like Physical Therapy, specialist appointments to deal with.
I began reading with (unbeknownst to me) with the same harsh eye that I'd been using for my own piece. I saw some of the very flaws I'd been beating myself up over...in published novels!! Suddenly I relaxed. I read them for enjoyment. Were they flawed? Well sure, but I'd challenge anyone to read any novel and not find any flaws.
That's the beauty of it. I realized that my novel doesn't have to be totally free from flaws. It has to be crisp and clean, but perfect? No. I had crossed the line from constructive criticism of myself into the territory of being way too hard on the work. C/C is alright, as long as the beauty of the original piece isn't lost.
I'm going to keep reading, to keep reminding myself of this. That way I can open my novel to edit without hate in my eyes. And, perhaps, I can begin to get lost in others worlds again, not just my own.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Publishing contracts typically pay out every six months. The contract states that royalties for the January-June period must be mailed to the author by the end of September, while royalties for July-December must be mailed by the end of March. So, if you visit the blogs of all your favorite authors around these times and they’re deliriously happy, it probably means they got paid. Some authors out there may not be so happy as they may not have earned as much as they wanted. That’s the way it goes.
A couple of contract clauses can make royalty time a bit depressing for authors: joint accounting and reduced royalties on deeply discounted books. Let’s talk about these two so that you’ll know what authors face.
Joint accounting, also called basket accounting. What is joint accounting? I don’t have a definition but I can give an example. Suppose you have a two-book contract that includes an advance for the first book and an advance for the second book. In joint accounting, you have to earn back the money for both books before you get any more money. Let’s say you get $10,000 for the first book and $20,000 for the second book, a total of $30,000 in advances.
Typically, you’d get half of the first advance ($5000) and half of the second ($10,000), a total of $15,000, upon signing the contract. When you turn in book one and it’s accepted, you get the second half of the first advance ($5000), for a total of $20,000 in advances received. When the second book is turned in, you get the second half of the second advance ($10,000), for a total of $30,000 in advances received.
In joint accounting, you don’t get another dime from the publisher until you earn back the full $30,000. Suppose your first book earns $25,000 the first year? You don’t get any money because you still owe the publisher $5000 under joint accounting. Without joint accounting, you would have received royalties of $15,000 on the first book ($25,000 - $10,000 advance already received). Of course, you wouldn’t get any money on book 2 until you had earned back the $20,000 advance paid for it.
So, in joint accounting the payments for the books are lumped together, as opposed to each book standing on its own. Of course, if you’re getting $100,000 for the first book and $200,000 for the second, you may not mind joint accounting. You really have to look at all the terms of the contract.
Reduced royalties on books sold at a discount. Typically, bookstores buy books from publisers at 60% of the cover price. On a hard cover book, the standard royalty rate (the rate the author is paid) is 10% of the cover price for the first 5000 copies sold, 12.5% for the next 5000, and 15% for anything over 10,000. If you sell 1-5000 copies of a book that has a cover price of $22 dollars, you get $2.20/book.
The reduced royalties on discounted books means you’d get 10% of the net receipts of the book, rather than 10% of the cover price. So, if the publisher sells the book to the bookstore at a 50% discount, you 10% of the discounted price. If the book is $22, you get 10% of $11 or $1.10/book. You’ll notice that this is half of what you’d get under normal royalties. [To be fair, I think 55% is the deep discount point for most publishers, but 50% was an easier number to work with in the example.]
These two clauses are reasons enough to get an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Your agent may not always be able to get rid of the clauses, but she can advise you on ways to minimize their impact on your bottom line.
For my most recent book, The Amen Sisters, I negotiated my own contract. This was not a fun experience. I was uncomfortable bickering (that's what it seemed like to me) with the publiser so I finally caved in and signed the conract, even though I knew there were a couple of clauses that were not to my benefit. Somehow I convinced myself that they weren't that bad. They were.
If you're like me and lack the fortitude to endure the negotiation process, then pay an agent to do it for you. It's very easy for me to tell my agent that something is a dealbreaker, but it was impossible for me to say it directly to publisher. I guess I'm a wimp. The cost for being a wimp these days is 15%. I consider it money well spent.
Angela Benson is the author of The Amen Sisters ($13.99, Grand Central Publishing). "The Amen Sisters tells the story of sexual sin and the far-reaching consequences of that sin.. .Ms. Benson aptly captures both the passion and pain that folks bottle up in their lives, and the importance of dealing with situations as they arise. Kudos to Ms. Benson for dealing with one of the last remaining taboo topics in today’s church in such a straightforward and compassionate manner." -FallenAngelReviews.com
You can find Angela on the web at www.angelabenson.com
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
How many times have you been asked: So, who do you write like?
Irritating, I know. But the fact is, agents and publishers tend to have the sheep effect: If this one works, others just like it should follow the same path. They want more of what’s selling and if you aren’t it, many times you get the old rejection letter. And by the time you decide to play the game their way, giving the length of time between acceptance and actual publication, the market may be saturated. And that transmits into not so stellar sells. Which means you may not meet your advance, which in turn, translates into: Thanks but no thanks the second time around or you are pigeon-holed into a genre and can’t get you agent to “buy into” another genre.
Sometimes it seems like you can’t win, huh.
I realized early on I wanted to write in any genre I chose. Was I a hard “fit” for an agent? Sure. But I kept writing and publishing in various venues and soon, I had a following. People always knew, they never knew what to expect from me. I’ve written short stories, mystery/suspense (my favorite), erotica, quasi-Christian and mainstream. Bottom line, I write what I’d like to read in a novel. And if that “like” takes me down a different path than my last book, so be it.
Your authentic voice makes you stand out from the homogenous crowd. It makes a new reader take notice and cruise the net for your other works. It validates your soul when you get the email stating, “This novel is so different from the rest!” Blush. Blush.
I feel that as a writer, taking chances in your writing style is a good thing. The “sheep” may not notice it right away, but stay true to yourself. Eventually, “they” will get it and come calling.
Hopefully, the next time the question is asked, “So, who do you write like?” You can respond, “Me.”
Thanks for having me.
Get to know Sydney and her writing at her website.
* Complete edits to The Sisterhood and begin agent search
* Get articles ready to submit to Writer2Writer http://writer2writer.com/ for review
* Perform research for A Shepherd's Journey and continue writing
* Revise Betrayal(now Montezuma's Revenge) and submit to Wolfmont Publishing
* Write and submit short story Rage
What did I get done? Not a lot from this list. Actually, only one thing, which was submitting my articles to Writer2Writer. This turned into a multi-article assignment and my time management and organizational tips for writers now appear on the site once a month.
But as for working on my manuscripts or increasing my overall number of submissions, I fell flat. I guess I should be upset and angry with myself...but I'm not. I still got a lot accomplished this year.
* My articles for Writer2Writer are so popular that the editor asked me to go from once every other month to once a month.
* I revised the prologue to The Sisterhood three times and finally feel it is up to snuff.
* I began interviewing authors of various genres at my blog, The Book Connection http://thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/
* Due to the interviews I was writing for The Book Connection, I began working with Pump Up Your Book Promotion PR http://pumpupyourbookpromotion.com/. Pump Up specializes in virtual book tours. I started off hosting their clients and now I am a Tour Coordinator.
* I review books for The Book Connection and The Muse Book Reviews http://themusebookreviews.tripod.com/
So, while everything that I've worked on did not directly work towards my goals, I am still promoting myself and my work. The Book Connection's rating and ranking continue to climb as I interview more authors and post book reviews. I network with people in the industry through virtual book tours and being a member of various writing related groups. I maintain my website and blogs so that people have a reason to come back.
Overall, I'm very happy with how 2007 turned out.
Next year already promises to be a good one. I have three clients signed up for virtual book tours for January and one for February. I plan to cut back on the number of reviews and interviews I offer outside of Pump Up Your Book Promotion's clients so that I can make time to submit more of my work. And, I am going to have the opportunity to present a workshop on time management and organization at the 2008 Muse Online Writers Conference http://www.freewebs.com/themuseonlinewritersconference/
I don't know how many of my goals I will achieve in 2008. All I know is that everything I do to promote myself is one step in the right direction towards becoming a published author.
So, don't beat yourself up if 2007 wasn't all you wanted it to be. Just keep plugging away, setting realistic goals, working towards them, and being flexible and forgiving enough to realize that goals can change quickly throughout the year. Believe in yourself and what you do. Persevere no matter what and be persistent in working to make your writing dreams come true.
That's what is is all about...and I know you can do it!
Monday, December 03, 2007
Adverbs are the lazy man’s way to penning fiction. The mission of any worthy writer (not merely a storyteller) is to eliminate as many adverbs as possible—in not only our dialog tags but also our narrative and our descriptive writing; we want to activate our writing.
We should never write: “And we both know you’re an expert,” she said sarcastically. That’s a lazy writer’s passage. Instead, we take the time to craft our message; we offer, instead, something sharper and more direct: Mary deadpanned, “And we both know you’re an expert.” The vision, the image, is much clearer in the second passage.
We don’t say, “He ran swiftly.” We say, “He sprinted.”
We don’t say, “She held him tightly.” We say, “She clenched him.”
We don’t say, “He looked at her angrily.” We say, “He glared at her.”
While this may seem like a minor thing, crafting one after another activated passage amid a 40,000 to 50,000-word story expedites your delivery, ensures that your voice is clear and concise, and enhances your overall style.
Instead of the lazy, muddled, inefficient, and amateurish adverb game…
Active it all!
To learn more about Nelson, his romance Bee Balms & Burdundy or his virtual blog tour, check out his website.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Who is the overcommitted writer? This will give you some idea of who she is:
* She has no less than 10 ideas racing around in her head begging to be written, but she has no time to write any of them down
* She spends no less than 8 hours a day on the computer
* Her family eats lots of fast food or TV dinners
* Her housework piles up until she can't take it anymore and spends an entire day cleaning out of sheer frustration
* When she is lucky, she gets more than 5 hours of sleep each night
* She is the woman who volunteers for every project put on at her church, her children's school, or by local town committees
Doesn't this writer sound hopeless? She's a lost cause, right? Well, not exactly.
The trick to not getting overcommitted is to learn how to say "no". It's not a dirty word, but a lot of people--especially women--find that tiny word so difficult to say.
Saying "no" does not mean you are a bad person, self-centered, or ungiving. It simply means that you realize your body and mind can only do so much with the time you have. If you're constantly running around with little or no time to relax and enjoy life, then your physical and mental health will suffer.
But how do you say "no" and not feel like a bad guy? Honestly, I'm still trying to figure that one out. I have read lots of articles about ways to say "no" and tips on how to get to the point where you can say "no" comfortably, but I'm not there yet. Writer Donna Birk had this great article I found at http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Birk1.html, which talked about the stages of learning to say "no". I'm in Stage 1, where I have identified that I need to say "no" to things. This is also the stage where I am able to see places where I could have said "no" but didn't.
As part of my goals for the end of 2007 and into 2008 I have made my writing a top priority, right next to spending more time with my family. I've already started to put into motion things that will allow me to do both. Once I was at the point where I realized I needed to say "no", I stopped living the life of the overcommitted writer and began living the life of the the writer who is going to make the time for the things that are the most important to her.
You can do it to!
Monday, November 26, 2007
It was later that I was taught a distinction between detective fiction and crime fiction. By my professor’s definition (I’ve heard others since), a detective novel is told strictly from the point of view of a detective. You only know what he knows. A crime novel may be told from the point of view of a criminal, a victim, or a bystander (innocent or otherwise.) It can even be told from multiple points of view, employing a crosscutting technique so often used in film and TV. This can raise the stakes, and often begs the categorization “thriller,” which I use to describe my books.
My main character is a detective, but in three of the books, the reader knows who the killer is long before the detective does, even before the killer kills. The story often begins with a murder and ends with a solution, as all detective stories do. But there are other murders along the way, and plots and schemes, and attacks and counterattacks. There are elements of romance as well as mystery. My goal is to make the reader hunger to find out what happens next, rather than wondering what happened before.
My newest book, The Last Jew Standing, is different from my others in that the entire story is told from the point of view of the detective, Dan Reles. We only see what he sees, and often, by the time he finds out what the criminal is up to, the damage is already done. My goal was to create a story that was just as thrilling as a multiple-POV story, but with only one narrator. To do that, I created a situation where the character found himself, (along with his family and his town) in increasingly desperate danger.
Then I challenged him to get out of it.
For more information on Michael or The Last Jew Standing, check out his website.
Monday, November 19, 2007
From burglary to armed robbery and murder, infamous bad guy Frank Cullotta not only did it all, in Cullotta he admits to it—and in graphic detail. This no-holds-barred biography chronicles the life of a career criminal who started out as a thug on the streets of Chicago and became a trusted lieutenant in Tony Spilotro’s gang of organized lawbreakers in Las Vegas. Cullotta’s was a world of high-profile heists, street muscle, and information—lots of it—about many of the FBI’s most wanted. In the end, that information was his ticket out of crime, as he turned government witness and became one of a handful of mob insiders to enter the Witness Protection Program. “Frank Cullotta is the real thing,” says Nicholas Pileggi in the book’s Foreword, and in these pages, Cullotta sets the record straight on organized crime, witness protection, and life and death in mobbed-up Las Vegas.
Murder in Las Vegas
According to investigating police officers, Lisner had put up quite a fight. Bullet holes were discovered throughout the inside of the dwelling, and blood was found on the walls and floor leading from the garage, through the residence, and out to the pool. Although the house had been ransacked, the cops didn’t believe robbery or burglary was the motive. They declined to speculate on the reason Lisner was killed, but they did have a theory on how the murder went down. The killer, or killers, knocked on the garage door, surprising Lisner. When he answered the knock, the shooting started. Although wounded, the victim attempted to escape his assailant, running through his home, the would-be killer in close pursuit and bullets flying. After a valiant effort to survive, Lisner’s luck ran out when he reached the pool. No murder weapon was found and no suspect named.
But the police had their suspicions on the why and who of it. They knew that the dead man had mob connections and was in legal trouble. He’d been arrested by the FBI on July 11 and charged with interstate transportation of stolen property, aiding and abetting, grand larceny, and conspiracy. Free on $75 thousand bail, Lisner was scheduled to go on trial October 29 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Lisner was also believed to have been acquainted with Chicago Outfit enforcer and Las Vegas organized crime kingpin Tony Spilotro. And it was rumored that the deceased had been negotiating with the FBI to work out a deal in the cases pending against him in Washington. Could those negotiations have included providing incriminating information against Spilotro, one of the FBI’s prime targets?
Metro investigators knew all this and suspected that Spilotro might well be behind the killing. However, they couldn’t immediately prove their suspicions and kept their thoughts to themselves.
As it turned out the cops were pretty close to the truth in their idea of what occurred at Lisner’s house that night. But they were wrong in that Lisner had not been surprised by the arrival of his killer, he had been expecting him. And the victim had drawn his last breath in his living room, not outside by the pool.
There was no error in their belief that Tony Spilotro was behind the murder, however. When the soon-to-be dead man answered his door that evening he invited his murderer inside. In a matter of moments the visitor began to fire a total of ten bullets aimed at his host’s head, with several finding their mark. The assassin wasn’t Tony Spilotro himself, but he was there at Tony’s behest. The man was Spilotro’s trusted associate who ran a crew of burglars and robbers known as the Hole in the Wall Gang. His name? Frank Cullotta.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
This question has tumbled around in my mind for the past few weeks as I search for blog hosts for my clients at Pump Up Your Book Promotion. I actually handled the whole gaining myself an online presence thing backwards. Unfamiliar with HTML and afraid of designing my own website, I chose to start a blog first. It was an easy way for me to make a little bit of the World Wide Web my own and I like to spout off at times, so it worked for me. I did eventually break down and put together a website, like a good little professional writer should, but I still enjoy blogging much more.
Over the past several months I have seen some amazing websites, but they don't tell me enough about the writer. I am always left with wanting to know more. That's why blogging is so great--your readers get to know more about you without spending $15.95 to figure out if they like you or your work. Blogs give writers the chance to really reach out to readers and gain new fans, and I believe they do it better than websites.
Now, the trick is that you have to keep the blog updated. No one wants to go back to a blog that hasn't been updated in three months. I like to think of my website as the place to promote my blog and not the other way around. While I can be lazy and only update my website once a month, I have to constantly be updating my blog to increase it's visability and ranking with blog rating sites. I'm more motivated to blog than update my site, and I schedule my blog updates along with the other items on my to-do list. So, all around, it works much better for me.
If I had only enough time to commit to a website or a blog, I would choose a blog hands down. And newsletters--while a wonderful way to promote yourself--take more time than I have and am willing to sacrifice, so I'll stick with a blog. It's a win for me and a win for my readers.
Start your blog today at these or any other free blog hosting site:
Monday, November 12, 2007
Synopsis: Christmas is fast approaching and many of the women in the town of Holly are bracing themselves for stress, overwork, and little understanding or appreciation from the men in their lives. But then inspiration hits. Joy Robertson, Laura Fredericks, and their knitting buddies decide to “go on strike” and give the men an opportunity to see firsthand what it takes to make the holidays merry and bright. Soon other women are joining in and husbands all over town are getting a crash course in decorating, shopping, and what to wear to see Santa, and are searching frantically for an interpreter to translate the mysteries of holiday recipes. The men may just come to appreciate the holidays after walking a mall in their wives’ high heels. But maybe the women will learn something, too.
ON STRIKE FOR CHRISTMAS EXCERPT:
Glen Fredericks slapped the back of his last departing Thanksgiving dinner guest. "Good to see ya. Thanks for coming."
"Hey, man, great time," said the mooch. "Thanks for having me."
"No problem. We'll do it all again at Christmas," Glen promised.
Behind him, Glen's wife Laura suddenly envisioned herself going after her husband with the electric carving knife he'd used earlier on the turkey. "In your dreams," she growled. She stepped around Glen and shoved the front door shut. Having made contact with a hefty male hind end, it didn't shut easily, especially for a woman who was five feet two and a hundred and nineteen pounds, but she managed."Hey," Glen protested. "What was that all about?"
"You need to ask?" Laura gave her over-chewed gum an angry snap. He did this to her every year, and every year he promised that next year things would be different. But they never were.
"Mama, Tyler's in the 'frigerator," called five-year-old Amy.
Laura marched toward the kitchen, Glen trotting after her. "Today might have been your idea of fun, Mr. Invite the Whole Planet Over, but it sure wasn't mine."
No woman in her right mind would volunteer to have her house turned into the city dump by the invasion of family, friends, and Thanksgiving freeloaders her husband had invited into their home. Before the invasion, this room had looked great, decorated with little gourds, cute ceramic pumpkins, and her two prettiest vases filled with mums. Now everywhere she looked she saw mess. CD's lay scattered on the floor in front of the entertainment center. Her new leather couch was littered with a plastic football, Glen's socks, magazines, and an open can of nuts (half-spilled). Glasses and bottles were strewn every which way across her coffee table. The little hand-painted, wooden Pilgrim couple that she'd set out on the sofa table now lay on their sides as if taking a nap, not that you could really see them anyway in the litter of napkins and appetizer plates and other party leftovers. And it was hard to ignore the towel on the carpet, evidence of an earlier wine spill mop-up.
People said you shouldn't have cream colored carpet when you had little kids. Well, people were wrong. She managed to keep the carpet clean just fine with two kids. It was Glen's moocher co-worker who was the problem. And of course Glen had been too busy yucking it up to tell her about the spill. She only discovered it when she stepped on it in her stocking feet.
"Come on, babe," he protested. "It's the holidays, and it only comes once a year."
"It's a good thing because it takes me a whole year to recover. In case you didn't notice, Glen, we've got two children, a big house that I clean, and I work thirty hours a week." Before Glen could reply they heard the distinctive crash of a dish breaking followed by a startled cry. "Oh, great. Now what?" Laura muttered, and picked up speed.
She found five-year-old Amy hovering near the doorway, a golden haired cherub. "I told him not to," Amy said, already the bossy older sister.
Behind her, by the fridge, stood two and a half-year-old Tyler - nickname, Tyler the Terrible - whimpering. At his feet lay a fluffy pile of whipped cream fruit salad, broken shards of ceramic bowl sticking up through it like mountain peaks through the clouds.
Laura walked over to where her son stood and surveyed the damage. "Mess, Mama," Tyler told her.
She had been going non-stop since six in the morning and it was now eight at night. She sat down on the floor behind her son and began to cry. That set Tyler off, and he started wailing. She pulled him to her and they both went at it."It's okay, baby," Glen said and knelt beside her. He was a big, kind-hearted teddy bear of a man. Most days. Today, he was just a big pain in the butt.
He reached out to put a beefy arm around her and she gave him a shove. "Bite me. Do you have any idea what this day has been like for me, Glen? Do you even have a clue?"
"You made a great dinner," he tried.
"Yes, Imade the dinner. No one brought anything except your mother, and all she brought was soggy pumpkin pies. I stuffed and baked the turkey, I made the fruit salad, the candied yams, the smelly rutabagas your lazy cousin loves, the green bean casserole, the mashed potatoes and gravy and the home made dinner rolls from your mother's recipe. Why can't she make her own damn rolls?"
From the other side of the kitchen, Amy gasped. "Mama said damn."
"Mamas can do that on Thanksgiving," Glen said, thinking fast.
Yeah, he had a comeback for a five-year-old, but he couldn't think of anything to say to his wife. What could he say, the big turkey? "I cleaned and decorated the house, set the table, and made the whole effing dinner. And, while you and your family and those freeloaders that you call friends all sat around afterward like beached whales and watched the football game, your mother and I got to clean up the big, effing mess you left. I don't care how much football you played in high school and college. You could miss fifteen minutes of one game to help."
He frowned. "Hey, I was watching the kids."
"Yeah, right. When, during the beer commercials? Tyler ate almost an entire candy bowl of M&M's. It's a wonder he hasn't thrown up yet. And if he does, guess who's dealing with it."
Glen held up a hand to cut her off. "I will, don't worry. But you know it's not entirely fair to say I did nothing. I helped."
She glared at him. "Oh, yeah, you put the extra leaf in the table and brought up the folding chairs. Real big of you." She got up and steamed out of the kitchen, calling over her shoulder. "I'm taking a bath. After that, I'm going to bed with my mystery novel. I don't want to see you or anyone for the rest of the evening."
Glen's voice followed her. "That's a good idea, babe. Take a break. You deserve it."
That was an understatement Laura decided, looking at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The makeup that hadn't worn off was now smudged and runny from her crying jag, and her hair was a mess. She looked like blonde roadkill. She felt like it, too. The labors of Thanksgiving had almost crushed her.
And in just four weeks her husband expected her to do this all again. Four weeks? Who was she kidding? It would all start this weekend with cleaning up the mess Hurricane Glen had left in his wake. (Naturally, he'd help . . . for about two minutes until he got distracted horsing around with the kids or finding a football game to watch.) Then they'd start hauling out the Christmas decorations and begin the Christmas shopping. The day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year - she couldn't face it. Maybe she'd just stay in the tub until she turned into the world's biggest prune. Or until Glen got a clue.
Except Glen was terminally clueless, so she'd never leave the tub again. If only his brain size matched the size of his heart. Maybe he needed glasses. He obviously couldn't see how much he dumped on her this time of year . . .
Find out more about Shelia and On Strike for Christmas at her website.
Friday, November 09, 2007
All writing takes place first in the higher dimensions of the heart, soul, and mind of the author and then gets translated to the two dimensional piece of paper. So when one is experiencing writer’s block, whether you are fully aware of it or not, it means that somewhere along those points of energy, or energy meridians, exists energy blockage.
One of the keys to unlocking the doors to creativity lies in the ability to clear and rebalance the energy field and/or chakras. When the energy field is balanced, one discovers with joy that the hinge on the door of the creative mind once again swings open as easily as a newly oiled gate.
The first step in clearing the field is as simple as identifying what is really bothering you or affecting you on a very physical level. We start with this because this is the energy that resides in the first or root chakra. Issues and challenges regarding money, time, family, and relationships can have quite a negative effect upon creative flow.
The second chakra is the seat of creativity. If we are writing and creating something that we have no audience for or have challenges in bringing to market, then we may find the creative flow being stifled or staunched. It is akin to being in a constant state of pregnancy and never giving birth.
The third chakra is the resting place of the soul. If you aren’t able to express, communicate, and impart what is in your very core, you will perhaps experience a wedge of stagnation and frustration.
Most writers write from the heart, from their imaginations and upper chakras. When experiencing writer’s block it isn’t that the heart and mind are closed. It’s that the flow to these is temporarily blocked. If the flow is blocked by the static energy being generated from the lower chakras, nothing brilliant or inspirational can get through or get translated to paper. It’s similar to a clogged pipe. It is necessary to eliminate the obstruction in the system.
Clearing the energy field and balancing the chakras is not a difficult task if one understands that one must start at the base and work up from there. I used to teach a class on how to do it, and then in 2005 I developed a music and meditation series for vibrational attunement of mind, body and soul. One can incorporate this concept of vibrational attunement into everything they do. I incorporated it my new cookbook, Voice of the Angels – Talk To Your Food! Intuitive Cooking. Cooking and preparing food is a basic root chakra function; however the creative procedure of doing so is an upper chakra operation. When you tie those together, you’re opening and balancing all of your chakras easily and effortlessly.
One of the most important goals of my body of work is to make chakra balancing and energy clearing into a completely natural and enjoyable process for everyone. In learning to do this we can become our best selves and our whole selves. Here’s to no more blocks! Let the creativity flow!
Dyan Garris publishes a free Daily Channeled Message on her website: http://www.voiceoftheangels.com/
Monday, November 05, 2007
SAVAGE SURVIVAL is not just another testosterone driven science fiction novel. At the basic level, it explores the personalities and attitudes of men, women and children when stripped of the comforting insulation of organized society. Invulnerable aliens have captured millions of humans and are subjecting them to the most brutal and horrible environments ever encountered, in essence a survival test of a magnitude heretofore undreamed of.
Lyda Brightner is an eleven-year-old girl when she is suddenly and without warning separated from her parents and thrown into the midst of undisciplined humans in a harsh desert environment. Food and water and clothing are fought over. Those who control it can do as they wish—and their wishes are terrible.
Lyda is weaponless and alone, like almost everyone. Raped at eleven. Forced to kill. Grieving for her parents. All that stands between Lyda and death is her own innate bravery, her quick mind, her unwavering integrity and ultimately, her belief that someday she will find someone to love.
Lyda's strength of character and fighting spirit make her a leader, even at a very young age. Over the next six years she must constantly fight the ever changing and ever more dangerous environments the aliens subject them to. But she must fight other humans as well, those who have survived by brute strength and ruthless plundering of the weak.
But even if she lives through all this, Lyda must still face the final question: What do the aliens have in mind for the few hundred remaining humans, those few left of all the millions who died?
SAVAGE SURVIVAL is a coming of age novel like no other and Lyda Brightner is a character you'll never forget.
Monday, October 29, 2007
I'm just an average person. I'm a wife and mother who home schools my children. I love to read--have always loved to read. And my creative juices are always flowing; whether I'm doing graphic design work or writing, or working with music, there are a million ideas roaming around in my head at any given moment.
How long have you been a writer? What made you put that first story/poem down on paper?
I can't remember a time when I wasn't a writer, but I didn't write my first novel until I was in my early 20s. It was an awful thing, but I wouldn't trade it for the world; without that first book, I would have never written the second, or the fifth--and they each got better until I could actually write something that didn't make readers cringe.
What do your family/friends thing about your writing? Are they supportive?
My family and friends are very supportive. They think it's fantastic that I am creative, and often tell me they can't believe I can come up with so many characters and plots.
Earlier you said you love to read. Who are your favorite authors and what kinds of books inspire you to write – if any?
I read constantly. I've always been an avid reader. Any well-written book will inspire me to write. It's a spark inside that ignites when someone has been able to immerse me in their created reality. I itch to pen something that will match that type of great escape.
Favourite authors? I think there are too many to count, in a myriad genre and style. At any given time, I can be reading a Regency romance, or a thrilling Christian novel by Ted Dekker, or non-fiction books on Christian apologetics, comparative religion, or spirituality. If I have to pick a favourite, though, I'd have to say William Shakespeare.
For you, what is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
There isn't really anything frustrating about writing--however, finding the right publisher has been known to be a little frustrating. The most rewarding thing is reading the finished and polished manuscript and being able to say, "I did it! Finis."
Do you take most of your ideas from life? Or your imagination? A mix?
I don't think any author completely creates a world without influence from his or her own. Our minds are filled with knowledge of our experiences, so we cannot get away from that. However, what I take from real life is usually just a premise that evolves into a fictitious plot that doesn't even resemble the incident which sparked the story to begin with.
Do you have days when the words won't flow? What do you do?
I do have days when the words won't flow. I try to push through them by writing what little comes to mind--even if I think it's drivel. In my experience, when I go back and read those sections the next day, they aren't nearly as worthless as I had thought when I was creating them.
Do you have a "golden rule" of writing that almost always works for you?
Write. It's very easy to allow other things to get in the way. Make time to write, and then use that allotted time to write.
What is the best piece of advice you've been given as a writer? What's the worst?
The best piece of advice I've ever been given as a writer is to listen to constructive criticism. It is true that the only way to improve one's writing is to acknowledge what is lacking, or where it is flawed, and do everything to fix it.
I don't think I've ever been given bad advice--or maybe I've just blocked it from my mind!
Did we forget anything? What would you like to add? Any upcoming publications or links for our readers? Current projects we should watch for?
I would like to thank everyone for their interest, and I extend an open invitation to my website at http://www.inicola.net or at http://www.shoutlife.com/nicola . I have a great deal in the works. I've just been privileged with having two releases made available on the same day: The Resurrection of Lady Somerset is a traditional Regency romance, and The Lighthouse is a contemporary romance novella with allegorical overtones. Both are available in both print and electronic formats.
In addition to fiction projects, I'm also working on a few non-fiction works: Writers will be interested in The Lightning-fast Lexicon of Period Lingo. Award-winning author, Linda Lea Castle and I are at work on an updated edition of that book. Christians will be interested in a companion book I'm writing to go along with the already-published prayer CD, The Prayer of the Heart.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Before you can formulate a riveting story, an interesting character must be devised. Many writers envision the setting first and the people inhabiting that world second. This often results in shallow characters. Developing a character in depth, complete with flaws, will give you a basis for your narrative. It is easier to build a plot around an individual than force that character into unrealistic situations.
Two factors will determine your character – their background and their personality type. Both are equally important and require some thought. Humans all share similar feelings and needs, but how they respond to those depends on their upbringing and their basic, fundamental personality. You need to be aware of these factors when writing your story.
Backgrounds are as varied as humans themselves. Race, culture, religion, and economic status all contribute to one’s development as a person. A person’s moral compass is easily affected by their upbringing, and you need to keep this in mind when creating your characters. A person raised in a loving family on a farm and someone raised on the streets of New York will not react the same! Flesh out your character with a family history, interests, and experiences.
Become familiar with the four basic personality types – choleric, sanguine, melancholy and phlegmatic. They will also determine how your character reacts in any given situation. (“Personality Plus” by Florence Littauer is an excellent book for researching these personality traits and one I used extensively for my series, The Circle of Friends.) A bold, first-born choleric would likely take charge in a situation, while an introverted phlegmatic would step aside. You need to be aware of these personality traits in your character or you will find them responding in a dubious fashion.
Avoid the temptation to create a perfect character! People are flawed creatures and the more imperfections and internal conflicts your character possesses, the more intriguing your story. Give them weaknesses, impulses and unresolved issues. Negative aspects of your character might improve and eventually vanish, but this needs to be developed slowly during the course of your narrative. Life altering moments happen for us all, but a sudden change for no apparent reason will be looked upon as a mere plot contrivance.
Characters will always be the drive and focal point of any story. By putting a great deal of thought into your main characters, you will form interesting, relatable people. Once you have established this foundation, you can begin creating an intriguing tale!
- Author & speaker, L. Diane Wolfe, www.thecircleoffriends.net
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I've spent the majority of this year promoting the works of others. I've interviewed several authors and posted many book reviews at my blog, The Book Connection http://www.thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/. Those I've worked with have been wonderful, welcome to opening up about their books and their creative process, and happy with the questions I've asked. And the best part is, I've loved every minute of it.
But somewhere along my journey, I lost the time I used to have for my own writing. I still manage to churn out an article each month for Writer2Writer http://writer2writer.com/, but the manuscript I finished last summer and my two other works in progress sit untouched on the corner of my filing cabinet.
I guess the wake up call for me came when I attended the Muse Online Writers Conference http://www.freewebs.com/themuseonlinewritersconference/ this month and found out that the market I wanted to send a short story to was closed for submissions at least until January of 2008. My goal had been to submit it in February of this year, but I was too busy doing other things and volunteering at church and my daughter's school. So, I didn't work on the story in earnest.
I've hesitated to make any changes to my schedule because I didn't want to be seen as opportunistic or unsupportive of my fellow writers. But wanting to avoid having to work outside of my house in two years is not opportunistic or unsupportive; it's a reality I face if I don't begin submitting more work.
I've begun to realign my priorities and change how I handle promoting the works of others, so that I can steal back some time I had lost. In addition, I will have to cut back on some of my volunteering efforts. Who knows, this could be a temporary thing until I tuck enough money away to avoid working out of the house when the little one enters school.
I don't know how others will feel about my decision, but I know what I am doing is the best for me, my family, and my career. I'll have to stick by my guns and make it work or my writing will become a hobby that I dabble in after my full-time job is over...and I've worked too hard the past few years to let that happen.
Monday, October 22, 2007
And, I thank God for those authors, btw, because I don’t know that I’d have been able to get through the writing of my first book without them!
I have to credit my fellow author Amelia June for clueing me in to what was really attracting me to all those books, in all those genres, by all those different authors. It was the characters all along.
Now, as a writer, I’m a big time plotter. I’ll freely admit I can’t even begin to write a book without knowing ahead of time where I’m going and how I’m getting there. I admire the hell out of those writers who can just sit down and start pounding out a story from pretty much nothing at all. But I can’t—and probably never will be able to—do that.
So, sure, I love my characters and probably the best compliment I could get as a writer is for someone to tell me that one or more of my characters came to life for him or her, but are characters more important than story? How could they be? Why, I’ve left some of my very favorite characters languishing in a scene for months on end for the simple reason that I had no idea where they were going or how I was going to get them there. I couldn’t write their story because I didn’t know what it was yet.
So, obviously, I must think plot is more important than character, right? Well, not exactly.
Reading and writing are two different things, after all. When I’m writing a book, plot may very well be king, but, when it comes to reading, I’m all about the characters. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.
But how do we go about creating the kinds of characters that readers will find compelling? Again, I think the answer to that question is as individual and varied as there are writers to ask it.
Just as writers have been divided into the categories of plotters and pantsers (those who write ‘by the seat of their pants’ so to speak) I suspect how we create characters can be broken down into two main methods that (probably not incidentally) tend to follow a similar, albeit opposite, pattern.
Pantsers are notorious for being among those writers who cannot discuss a story too much ahead of time for fear they’ll find themselves ‘all talked out’ and no longer motivated to actually write the story. Most plotters, on the other hand, can talk (and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk) for days about their stories and only end up more motivated.
Likewise, when it comes to creating well-rounded characters, there are authors who find character sheets invaluable. They’ll fill out forms asking for all the most minute details of their characters lives: What was his favorite toy as a child? What was the name of her first pet? Did he ever break any bones—and when and how? Does she play sports—and how well and how long and what position? What’s his mother’s maiden name? What’s her favorite shade of nail polish? What’s his favorite breakfast cereal? Does she have a dark secret she doesn’t share with anyone? And on and on and on.
Me? I can’t stand the sight of those things! Nothing makes me lose interest in a character faster than trying to pin them down on all these (to me) unimportant points And, once again, I don’t think I’m alone. From what I’ve seen, pantsers do better with character sheets than plotters.
So here comes the theory: I believe that, to a very large degree, character IS plot. The story that I meticulously plot and the seemingly serendipitous, unplotted stories created by my pantser fellow authors will only work if our characters breathe life into them.
I think we all start out asking ourselves the same two questions: Who are these people and what will they do next? And then we take reverse approaches to arrive at what are, basically, the same answers.
Pantsers, I believe, are more likely to figure out who their characters are first, and then let them lead them into their story. Plotters are more likely to let their characters reveal themselves through their actions (ie the plot). In both cases, however, I’m quite sure it’s the characters who are calling the shots.
They’re the Pied Pipers of the tale, after all, for both reader and writer. Give us a great character, piping his or her own, uniquely compelling tune, and we’ll all happily follow wherever they lead us whether that’s over the rainbow or to the ends of the earth.
You can get more info on PG's book, Love From A to Z, at her website.
Friday, October 19, 2007
A practicing Attorney since 1980, with an office in Oxford, Connecticut (http://www.getlawhelp.com/), Reilly and his wife, Suzanne, live in Seymour, Connecticut.
You can visit his website at http://www.thefatladyneversings.com/.
THE FAT LADY NEVER SINGS SYNOPSIS:
On Friday nights in the fall, all around the country, scores of fans gather to support their local football teams. The town of Derby, Conn. is no different. In The Fat Lady Never Sings, author and former assistant baseball coach Steven M. Reilly tells the story of the downfall of the Derby Red Raider football team after 28 years of winning seasons, and how three seniors on that team seek redemption on the baseball diamond.
Every boy in this blue-collar town dreams of playing football for the Derby High School Red Raiders. The city doesn’t have much else going for it, only the pride in its successful high school football program. After the fateful game that ends the Raiders first losing season in nearly 3 decades, seniors Gino DiMauro, Ben Bartone and Donny Shepard know that nobody will remember this game’s score, but no one will ever forget they lost. Although the three had given everything they had on the field, they know it won’t be good enough, not in Derby. In a few short minutes, they will forever be labeled as losers—unless they can prove otherwise during baseball season.
The smallest school in the league, Derby qualifies for the state baseball tournament and ultimately advances to the championship game. Under the towering lights of Middletown’s Palmer Field, Gino, Ben, Donny, and the rest of the Red Raiders face off against Terryville. But in the last inning, the Raiders trail by two runs and are down to their final at bat. With one out remaining, the "fat lady" prepares to sing—or so they think.
A feel-good story of perseverance much like those in the classic sports movies "Friday Night Lights" and "Hoosiers," The Fat Lady Never Sings provides an intriguing look at the "never give up" attitude of high school athletes, and the pressures they face from parents, coaches and members of the community.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Do the words make you wince?
If you belong to that blessed, miraculous group of people who can write anywhere, anytime, who are able to switch themselves on into a writing mood like a light-switch, then your answer will be No. But if you're like me, and belong to that cursed, demonic group who kill themselves writing that first sentence, these words will make you grimace with a heartache that plunges deeper than the Cayman Trough.
But what is writer's block, and why do many writers--damn good ones—suffer from it? Some think the reason is old plain laziness or lack of discipline, but I disagree. The reason is more complex. I can't help remembering my creative writing professor back in college—a published author of many mystery novels who suddenly stopped writing for eight long years simply because he "froze at the computer and couldn't put a word down."
Only God knows the dark mechanics that kept my professor from writing for such a long time, so I can only speak for myself.
So here it goes. What is writer's block? Following the famous editorial advice, instead of "telling" you, I will "show" you.
Picture in your mind a beautiful winter morning, snow falling from the window, the office toasty warm, the house empty and quite. It's just me and writer's block:
9:30 I sit at the computer, ready to write that piece of literature that will bring me fame and riches (okay, no need to be greedy, I'll settle for riches).
9:31 I decide I better answer my emails first, get them out of my mind (yeah, right).
10:00 I'm thirsty. I better make myself some tea. Writers drink hot beverages, don't they?
10:05 I'm back at the computer. I take a sip of my tea and suddenly remember all the things I should be doing instead of writing: wash the rabbit hutches, purchase moist wipes for my husband's glasses, do the laundry, vacuum the bedrooms, feed the fish… somehow there's no end to this list.
10:25 I stare at the blank monitor. I loathe myself.
10:30 I'm hungry. I'll have an early lunch (someone should conduct a study about frustrated writers and overeating).
10:50 I glare at the sign on my desk "A Writer Is Someone Who Writes Everyday," and try to set it to flames with my mind power.
You get the picture. This is writer's block. This is what happens when I break the habit of writing everyday and disconnect myself from my current project. I don't know about you, but when I don't write, the consequences are catastrophic. I hate the world. I snap at people (my husband is my favourite victim). I feel trapped in a box, unable to breathe. If I were the sort of person who went to pubs, I would surely start a brawl.
But what causes writer's block?
Almost always, it is fear. Plain and simple. F-E-A-R.
Fear of not being good enough.
Fear of not being able to write that perfect sentence that will impress the reader. No wonder it blocks! How can you write freely and impress people at the same time?
So in order to lift the block, you need to get rid of that fear. It is easier said than done, I know, but I will give you a few practical tips that will help you overcome it, based on probably the best book on writing in the market today, Julia Cameron's The Right To Write. If these tips have worked for me, they can work for you, too.
1. Keep a journal and write 3 pages of anything that comes to your mind each morning. Strictly stream-of-consciousness stuff. Don't worry, no one will read this (if you're paranoid like me, hide the journal). The idea is to drain your brain of all the clutter so that when you sit at the computer to do the actual writing, you'll be able to do it with a clear head. You don't feel like writing this morning? Your writing sucks? You feel fat? You hate your neighbour? Write it down. By the way, if you feel like clobbering someone to death with a medieval flail, add that too. Write down your dreams, your plans, your fears. The idea is to keep writing non-stop until you have fill those 3 pages. I write in my journal almost everyday. I'm addicted to it, almost to the point of being superstitious. Remember to do it in the morning. If you write in your journal at night you'll probably go over what you did during the day and this will defeat the purpose. The idea is to positively affect your day by writing those pages in the morning. By training your mind to do this each morning, you will not only make writing more approachable, but also more disciplined.
2. Don't edit as you write. If you can't keep your neurotic, perfectionist urges under control, then at least keep them to an absolute minimum. Editing as you write is like editing a movie and filming it at the same time. It can become pathological. Editing, re-editing, searching for that flawless sentence that will create that immaculate paragraph. Well, do you want to know something? It won't happen. No matter how many times you try to improve it, there will be always room for improvement. Ultimately, if you want to finish that first draft, you'll have to trust yourself and simply let it go. Remember that a first draft is just that, a first draft. Once you've finished that first draft then you can polish and change and edit all you want.
3. Set yourself a small quota everyday. You don't have to finish a whole chapter in one sitting. Just write 2 pages, or 1, or even just a paragraph. The important thing here is to meet that daily quota. It's amazing how thinking like this can affect your brain. It's like with exercise. If you tell yourself, "Oh no, I have to exercise for one whole hour," this will block you. But if you think, "I'll only exercise 20 or 30 minutes," the work becomes more approachable and you'll stick with it. The key here is to create the habit a little step at a time. The best thing about meeting this daily quota is that it allows you to feel "guilt-free" for the rest of the day, making it possible for you to spend happier times with your family and do other things. In other words, if you stick to your writing schedule, you'll be able to enjoy life.
4. Have the right sense of direction. This is probably one of Cameron's most powerful advice. Don't think that you have to think something up, that you have to create something. Instead, think that the words, plots, characters are already there suspended in some other dimension, and all you have to do is listen intently and write the words down as if taking dictation. Thinking like this will immediately lift a heavy load off your shoulders. It will make you feel free of responsibility and allow your writing to flow easier.
5. Find a support group. Artistic souls need artistic soul mates. If there isn't any support group you like, start your own, like I did. As I write this article, I'm sitting at a café with 3 writer friends. We meet every Friday morning from 10 to 12. These meetings are incredibly productive, maybe for the simple reason that I HAVE to write. I mean, face it, not writing alone at home is bad, but not writing in front of your writer friends would be a disgrace. Who wants to be a loser? Also, sometimes writers need to get out of their homes and experience a change of scene. Writing at a café makes writing fun. There's a baby howling a table away, and at the same time I can clearly hear the loud voice of a Spanish lady several feet from me, telling her friend that she wished her husband would hide his briefcase in the cellar… Hide his briefcase in the cellar? Strange… But I reel myself back in. I don't want to become like one of my writing partners, who periodically listens to people's conversations to get ideas for her stories. I'm not that desperate yet.
6. Give your brain high quality foods: Read great books about all types of subjects, both in fiction and nonfiction. I read astronomy, cosmology, history, comparative religion, physics, metaphysics. Listen to music. Music can trigger powerful inspiration. But please, not heavy metal! Put your favourite composer on the stereo, close your eyes, and just let your mind drift. Doing this alone is a form of meditation. I can assure you scenes of future books will appear in your mind, characters will talk, ideas for your present project will present themselves. Visit museums, flower shops, go to the theatre, take walks and observe nature. All these things will enrich your life and your mind, automatically giving your writing more energy and depth.
The following tip is not from Julia Cameron, but from me. It works wonders for motivation but is not for everybody, only for those of you who have generous and supportive husbands: Make a signed agreement with your husband in which he'll have to pay you $10 for every full page you write. So if you write 15 pages a week, he'll have to pay you $150… I said this is not for everybody. (By the way, my husband hasn't agreed so far, but I'm still hopeful.)
Don't be afraid. Just write. Just WRITE. Just describe the movie in your head and put the words down. In the meantime I'll try to apply these wise words to myself, and not give the evil eye to the "A Writer Is Someone Who Writes Everyday" sign on my desk.
This article is based on ideas described in The Right To Write, by Julia Cameron.
Other great, inspiring books about unleashing the power of your creativity:
The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron
Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
Write From the Heart, by Hal Zina Bennett
Mayra Calvani is an author and book reviewer. Her latest release, DARK LULLABY, is a paranormal horror novel set in the Turkish countryside.
For a blurb, excerpt and reviews, visit www.MayraCalvani.com.
To view the trailer, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZgbg5wk5Ug
Friday, October 12, 2007
First, there are three types of sleuth, Amateur Detective, Semi-Pro and the Professional. Amateur Detectives are those who don’t get paid to solve crimes. Generally they are an ordinary person caught up in the circumstances. Whether in the wrong place at the right time or connected with the crime in some way they need to solve the crime. Usually this “need” to solve the crime has to do with clearing themselves or a friend of the crime. The Amateur Detective is quick thinking and usually less violent. Another plus is these amateurs can have careers such as landscaper, newspaper carrier, or veterinarian which make interesting backgrounds and characters.
Semi-Pro sleuths are those who have a connection to the crime solving business. They may be courtroom reporters, bailiffs or news reporters. Journalists and insurance investigators also make great semi-pro sleuths. Just make sure you get those job details correct. While these sleuths still need a reason to be involved in solving the crime, they have the advantage of not being held to the same rules as the police and private investigators, such as not having to reveal their sources.
Professional sleuths are the police, private investigators, detectives and those involved in law enforcement. Their reason for being involved in the crime is their job and they are bound to the rules and regulations of their profession. This career field also has some great possibilities for settings. From border patrol agents on the Mexican or Canadian borders, the small town marshal or FBI agents on the hunt for terrorists to James Bond spy thrillers; these are just a few to choose from. Again, you must get the details right with this type of sleuth. Many city police or sheriff’s departments give civilian ride alongs so check into that and take advantage if available. And remember, you can’t put a silencer on a revolver and those “six” shooters have to be reloaded for the seventh shot.
Next is the “tone” of mystery which really has to do with the character and degree of violence in the story. The most familiar type is the Cozy. Cozy mysteries tend to have an amateur sleuth and the violence is generally off stage. Often set in small communities, the crime leaves a gaping hole in the community and is generally committed by the neighbor that “would never do anything like that”.
Soft-boiled, hardboiled and noir deal mostly with the private investigators and again with degree of violence. These tend to be the “loner type” sleuth dealing with the gritty reality of a corrupt world. What the heck is “noir” you ask? Noir means black, as in the black spaces on a roulette wheel...think of the old black and white PI movies with Bogart and you can’t go wrong.
Once you know which type of sleuth and tone you can decide on type of mystery. You have plenty to choose from. Police Procedurals, Courtroom Procedurals, True Crime tend to deal with facts and procedures. Espionage mysteries take us to the world of the spy and possibly distant lands and exciting adventures. Historicals take us back in time either to a crime or a setting we may not be familiar with and require plenty of research to get those details right. Mysteries can also be romantic, fantasy or science fiction. The murder of the head of supply on outpost twelve in the delta quadrant of the Orion star system might lead all over the galaxy.
The most important thing to remember, I think...is to write what makes you happy. If you want to write a “cozy” with a private eye for the main character, go ahead. If you love fantasy, set your mystery in the days of knights, dragons and damsels in distress. Intrigued by a crime you see on the news...research it and see what comes of it. Don’t worry so much about the labels, besides they keep changing. Now, go write that mystery.