Friday, May 30, 2014

What Would James Bond Do?

From the first page, an author must pull the reader into the story by assuring him of its forward movement. There’s no better way to do this than to involve your reader in your protagonist’s goal-oriented behavior. Here’s an easy way to remember how to do that, straight from a master of story action.

If things get slow, just ask yourself, WWJBD?


One thing I feel sure of: Once James Bond enters the scene he will not sit down somewhere and get lost in his head.

He will set a goal.

Do not fear stating this goal overtly. Doing so can actually ramp up suspense and remind you to push your story forward.

Let’s say we are writing a middle grade novel about a boy named Brandon who hopes to find the courage to tell his first crush, a recent immigrant named Parvati, that he likes her. He knows she likes soccer, and he wants to demonstrate his proficiency at it, so you set a scene at a game, show him playing, and put the girl in the stands.

This scene sounds relevant to the story, but it lacks impulsion toward the over-arching story goal. WWJBD?

Harnessing his inner James Bond, Brandon will ramp up his efforts in this particular game by setting a scene goal relevant to his attainment of Parvati’s attention. He’s known and valued for his set-up shot—the whole team counts on him for this—but today he will show Parvati what he is made of and go in for the score.

Now that Brandon has shared his scene goal, the reader will form a question in her mind: Can Brandon switch up his usual team role and win her admiration? This question has the all-important role of “bond-ing” the reader to the protagonist. As an experienced reader of stories, you know that one of three things will happen:
  1. He will meet his goal and the story will move forward. 
  2. He will not meet his goal and end up worse off than before. 
  3. Goal attainment will be delayed. 
There’s no right or wrong choice here.

Is it best, just now, if Brandon musters everything he’s got, prevails with the winning goal, with the result that Parvati comes over to talk to him? Or is it better for your story that he misses the goal, injures another player with his unexpected strategy, incurs the wrath of his teammates, and, covered with mud, watches Parvati shaking her head and leaving the stands with another boy? Only you can decide what’s best for your story.

For the sake of our discussion of story movement, let’s look at the third option—a delay. In inexperienced hands, a delay can be a way of avoiding the forward movement of your story. When used deliberately, however, a delay has its uses.

Let’s say that halfway through the game—when sweet success is one kick away!—a thunderstorm causes a rain delay. He looks up and sees that Parvati has already made a run for cover. Tension builds within Brandon, who is sure that their mutual love for soccer will be the shared language that will bring the two together. He must live with his unfulfilled desire through the entire group math project they work on that week, which day after painful day reveals that when it comes to math, he is no match for Parvati. Tension builds toward the next game.

Do not make the mistake of sending him into that game, however, with the exact same goal and the same stakes for failure, or it will feel as if your story has stalled.

If you repeat a scene goal, raise the stakes.

Feel free to raise them a couple of ways—now Parvati has seen that he’s no good at math, Brandon’s specific goal attainment will feel all the more critical. And maybe she has made friends with a clique from the math club, and brings them all to the game, and he sees them pointing to him and laughing. And maybe he caught a cold that kept him out of practice that week, so he doesn’t realize the team has switched up its own strategy.

What Would James Bond Do? He’d swallow his fear, run onto the field, and kick some middle grade…soccer balls.

No matter your genre, keep your story moving with scene goals and increased stakes, and you will win your reader’s attention—as well as all the friends to whom she’ll describe your story as a page-turner.


Kathryn Craft
is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service, and the author of The Art of Falling, a novel by Sourcebooks. Her monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the Storm. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

History's Mysteries

Every time I come across an intriguing article I think has story potential, I save it in folder labeled “History’s Mysteries.”

As Dan Brown has proven with his DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, readers love a good thriller that sheds light on a piece of history that has intriguing possibilities.

There, among the real artifacts, are shades of unwritten historical gray that are fertile ground for writers. A good historical thriller prompts the reader to learn more about the details of the story it is based on.

I present a list of some mysteries that have intriguing potential.

1) The Portal to the Sun

According to this theory, magnetic portals exist between the earth and sun and every eight minutes or so we are connected by a magnetic cylinder as wide as the earth. What happens when the portal is open?

Strange Portal Connects Earth to Sun

2) The Divine Matrix

According to this theory, we are all part of a cellular web that forms a force field. Everything we do creates ripples in the web. In this web, telekinesis, telepathy, and remote viewing are possible. How was this web created? What happens if parts of it weaken and break? How could this web be utilized for good or evil?

The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles & Belief

3) Standing Stones in New England

Much is made of Stonehenge and other British megaliths, but America has its own share of standing stone sites: Mystery Hill, the Upton Cave, Calendar I, Calendar II, Gungywamp, and Druid’s Hill. How did they get there? Who made them? Are they portals to their European equivalents?

Evidence of Sophisticated, Ancient, Unknown Cultures in North America

4) The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture

Why would a settlement burn their entire village once every 60 to 80 years? According to scholars, many of the settlements were reconstructed several times on top of earlier ones, preserving the shape and the orientation of the older buildings. Members of this culture belonged to tribal social groups, scattered over an area of southeast Europe encompassing territories in present-day Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture

5) Prince Henry Sinclair

Did Prince Henry Sinclair of Rosslyn Castle in Midlothian, Scotland visit America? Was he a Mason in search of a place to build a utopian society? What happened on his journey?

Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney

6) The Kensington Rune Stone

Is the rune stone real or fake? Did Nordic explorers use it as a marker to claim the land for their own? How did the members of the team die?

Kensington Runestone

7) Utopian Societies

The 1800s were rife with settlers in America forming various utopian societies. What were they like? What happened with each society? What worked? What failed? What was the final disposition?

8) Norse Gods

Aside from the comic book Thor, the Norse god myths are filled with passion and violence and larger than life personalities. Stripped of the comic-book factor, inbued with humanity (with or without the paranormal aspect), they would make worthy heroes and villains.


9) The Tuatha de Dannan of Ireland.

The mysterious tribe arrived in Ireland "in dark clouds" and "brought a darkness over the sun for three days and three nights". Who were they? How did they change things? There are mentions of other tribes around the word with similar names. Are they connected?


10) The melungeons of the Appalachian Mountains.

I stumbled upon this unique group during the research for my family geneaology. Who were these mysterious people? Where did they come from? What happened to them? How did they end up in the mountains? Were they hiding? If so, from whom?

Melungeon

I will never get around to writing about these historical mysteries. I would, however, love to see them brought to living color with casts of conflicted characters.

If these nuggets don't ignite a spark of inspiration, make your own list of story seeds and see what germinates.


Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Guidelines for Requesting Reviews

Back in June 2013 here on The Blood Red Pencil, I offered some suggestions on taking a professional approach to being a book reviewer, so today I would like to take it from the other side.

Writers, we are in a business, and it is so important to be professional in how we write, not just our books, but every letter and every e-mail we send, unless we're sending those to Mom, and then we can be all cutesy cutesy and forget about proper spelling and punctuation. Although Mom might remind us that she taught us better than that. Or at least she tried.


I've been a professional reviewer for many moons, starting out for newspapers and magazines, and then moving into online sites. I now do reviews primarily on my blog, It's Not All Gravy, and also post reviews on the online retail sites and Goodreads. I get several review requests a week and turn down many of them for not being a businesslike letter. Such as: 

Hi there. I am hoping that you will consider reviewing my latest book, (title deleted). It is available in print and e-book formats. Thank you

The proper salutation should be: Dear Maryann Miller with the name spelled correctly. I am not Maryanne or Marianne, or Mary Ann or Dear Reviewer. My mother gave me the perfectly lovely Maryann.... Enough said.

Maryann, Hello. I would like to request a book review. I am a self-published author.

Hmmm. Maybe it would be good to include a book title and description. Oh, and your name, too.

I am available for anything that you might consider appropriate.

Okay.... I don't even want to comment on that one. LOL

Not only family and friends, but complete strangers have told me they really enjoyed my writing and my story. I am sure you will too.

Rank, rank amateur-type wordage. We don't care that your Aunt Millie loved your book. Please let the reviewer make up her own mind as to how wonderful your writing is. 

For more infomation (sic)on me and the book, click on the amazon (Sic) link below.

First, don't make the reviewer click on anything for information. Always include a brief book blurb and author bio. Secondly, it would help to proof your letter for spelling and other mistakes.

Dear Reviewer:

I hope you will be interested in reviewing my novel, (title deleted). I am also open to doing interviews, and all other projects that might help to promote this book. I have a very limited budget, so ebook reviews and the like are best. The book is described in the attachment and in the press release below.


Don't let your desperation show. While you might be feeling kind of desperate, it is not professional to reveal that to a reviewer or an editor or an agent. Also, very few people will open an attachment, so all relevant information should be in the body of the e-mail.

The following is a letter I received just the other day:

title: (removed)
author: (removed)
The book is at Lulu, the publisher, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. There you can read some for free and obtain further information.  If you wish to review it, you would have to purchase it in whatever form you preferred. 


Buy it? Really? You want me to do you a huge favor and you want me to buy the book? The accepted practice is to send an ARC (advanced review copy) either in paper or as an e-book. Some authors gift the reviewer with the book via one of the online retail sites, or send a file that the reviewer can load into a reading device.

Image courtesy of Moving On Magazine
While some of the review requests I receive are unprofessional, there are some that do it right. Here is an  example of an effective query:

Author: (name deleted)
Title: (deleted)
Genre: Mystery

Dear Maryann Miller,

I am an Australian author (nine novels to date) whose independent Australian publisher, Wakefield Press, has just released, as ebooks, all four books in my mystery quartet. I am writing to ask if you would be interested in reviewing the new, and final book…..


The author finished the letter by offering the book in whatever format I prefer. She also included a short book blurb and bio, and thanked me for whatever consideration I might give her request. I appreciated her friendly, yet businesslike letter, as well as the one I received from Benjamin Dancer, author of Patriarch Run, who is my Wednesday's Guest today on It's Not All Gravy.

We have become so accustomed to the relaxed atmosphere on social media, sometimes we forget that casual doesn't apply to all business dealings. Even though most queries are now sent via e-mail, they are still a business letter and should faintly resemble one.
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

More Fun with Editors

Previously I shared some anecdotes on some of my less-than-ideal experiences with editors.

My next editor at Walker remains a good friend. She let me stray from the genre to write a Time Travel Regency (having written one herself). Byron's Child came about because I wanted to tell the story of Lord Byron's legitimate daughter, Ada, often called the first computer programmer. Unfortunately, she wasn't born till towards the end of the Regency, but a time traveller from the present—a historian who happened to have Ada's biography with her--worked perfectly.

I continued to write for Walker, but when I got divorced, I wasn't making enough to pay the bills. Regencies are very much a minority genre, and I had no interest in any other kind of romance. Though a part-time job helped, it wasn't enough.

Then I had an amazing stroke of luck. At a(n) RWA conference, I met a senior editor from Harlequin. She actually knew my name! She told me that Harlequin were about to restart their Regency line, dormant for several years. What was more, their new Regency editor was a fan of mine. You'd better believe I was on the phone to my agent at dawn the next morning!

Harlequin's "house style" differed in some respects from Walker's. For a start, it was less flexible, though I was never given any guidelines such as some of their lines required. On the other hand, my editor didn't blink at a plot involving a hero who managed to have 3 concurrent mistresses and 3 concurrent fiancees. I'm not sure Walker would have gone for that.

Already familiar with my work, she helped me adjust with many apologies accompanying every suggestion for revision. Secondly, they were around 20,000 words shorter. That suited me, as I found myself writing two books a year for Harlequin and two for Walker (as well as a part-time job proofreading for Academic Press).

My Harlequin editor moved on, as editors all too often do. I was happy with the new editor but suddenly, within a few months of each other, both Harlequin and Walker dropped their Regency lines. Corporate decisions, so I didn't even have the satisfaction of swearing at my editors.

In fact, my Walker editor had given me a three-book contract. They published the first; I'd completed the second, a sequel, and sent it in. The third was partly written. In response to a request from my editor, I'd put a baby in it—babies were all the rage in romances at the time. Or rather, I'd planned a baby. When it was cancelled, my unfortunate heroine was 8 months pregnant. She stayed that way for two years...

In the meantime, I put together a proposal for a historical/traditional mystery series. It caught the eye of an editor at St. Martin's Press, an editor for whom I have now written 24 mysteries, with another three under contract. Keith Kahla has not only been a wonderful, helpful, supportive editor for 21 years now, he's managed to stay with the publisher as it became St. Martin's Minotaur, now just Minotaur, an imprint of the publishing giant Macmillan.

But my pregnant heroine still needed a home. She found it eventually at Zebra/Kensington. My two editors there were very open to non-traditional Regency ideas.

I wrote a ghost story, The Actress and the Rake, with a deceased grandfather interfering disgracefully in the heroine's life, to the dismay of the lawyer, the only person aware of him.

I had a fairy tale retold in Regency terms that I'd written by request for Walker and long since filed away. One day when my editor was depressed, I dug it out and sent it to cheer her up. It was full of references to Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, and Gilbert and Sullivan. I didn't think for a moment that she'd want to publish it, but she decided to base an anthology on it, with retold fairytales by two other authors. That did well enough for the three of us to produce two more similar anthologies—all thanks to a depressed editor.

They let me write some stories with "older" heroines, in their forties (!), instead of the usual 18-25 slot.

Most surprising was what happened when one of the two left Zebra and the other took over. I'd just written a book considerably longer than normal, having sold it on the basis of a two-paragraph proposal. Scandal's Daughter turned out quite different from what I'd expected—a sort of Regency Perils of Pauline. The hero and heroine travelled from Istanbul to London, facing every conceivable danger with a cliff-hanger at the end of practically every chapter. It was such fun to write, but I wasn't at all sure the editor who'd bought it would like it. And then she left before I sent it in. I was sure it would be sent back for major revisions, as in "What the heck is this?"

She loved it. Her only suggestion was that I should add a couple of scenes. Believe it or not, they were both scenes I'd meant to put in, but somehow failed to include. Talk about "on the same wavelength"! Editors can't get better than that.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Marketing & Selling: The Same?

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book." ~Cicero, 106-43 BC

Many people mistakenly think that selling and marketing are the same - they aren't. Selling is the “instant gratification” we all like—you hand someone a book and they hand you money. I sell about 90% of my books in person, by hand. 

Marketing is a little like planting seeds in your garden. You put them out there and water and fertilize and you hope they will bear fruit (or vegetables.) With marketing you are putting your name or your books out there and maybe some people will buy it right away and maybe two years from now, someone will come across your name and decide to buy. You may not be able to tell how many sales you make from a website or a virtual book tour until you receive a royalty check from your publisher or from Amazon.

Global management consultant Alan Weiss says, "There is no music if you don‘t blow your own horn." Like it or not, these days authors HAVE to get involved in the business side of publishing.

Selling is one activity of the entire marketing process. And Marketing activities support sales efforts. Some authors are good at promotion and some aren’t. You have to decide what you can do yourself or if you want to hire someone else to do it for you.

Hundreds of little things contribute to success, not necessarily one big thing. Here are some basics:

  • Create a platform: Build an expertise in the subject matter, write articles or short stories.
  • Create a website to showcase your book, with excerpts, reviews, and additional information about the topic.
  • Write a blog. Blogging is the “new” journalism and an important part of your marketing strategy. Your readers will get to know you, your books and characters, and again, you can provide subject matter expertise.
  • Find your niche. My books are about old-time cowgirls, so I’ve sold books at feedstores, rodeos, concerts, even a Cowgirl play.  If your book has an historical aspect, do school presentations, talks at service clubs, etc.Does your book have recipes in it? Do a talk at a kitchen store, prepare a recipe to share.
  • Get over the fear of public speaking. It is easier to pursue a subject for which you are passionate.
    • Do a radio talk show or a TV interview.     
    • Do a virtual book tour. Find blogs that are of similar interest to your topic or theme, follow them, comment, and when you’re ready, ask if they will host you. Write an article, do an interview, have giveaways. Make it fun!
And, of course, you must add social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Pinterest.

Pick one tool or technique you’re passionate about and take one action on it right now. Today. And every day. Find what is fun for you, persist at it, track your results. Then try something out of your comfort zone. Keep trying new things to find what works for you, and you will become a super marketer.

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, has just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Where's the Tree?

Across the street, a small pile of sawdust sits where not an hour before loomed a towering tree. I'd watched a man climb up and saw various portions of the trunk off to fell the tree. It had to go, because it was old and diseased, yet it was a part of our neighborhood, and I felt bad watching its demise.

I'm not the only one. While I gazed at what remained, I saw a bewildered bird scampering amidst the sawdust. I could only imagine what ran through its head. It had to be wondering, "Where's the Tree?"

Though there are plenty of other trees in the neighborhood, the sight of the bird's confusion saddened me. It also made me think about the ongoing publishing industry changes.

I'm not a huge environmentalist, but I do my part, separating the recyclables from other garbage, and turning off the lights when I'm not in a room.

I've also joined the e-book revolution and have published all of my books in that format, but still a few in print.

I'm now addicted to reading mainly on my Kindle. A Kindle is convenient. I can adjust the font to a comfortable size, I always have plenty of books at my disposal without wearing out my back, plus I have space in my house for other items.

Still, I have to admit that when I attended my chapter's Spring Fling 2014 Conference toward the end of April, I eagerly accepted the freebie paperbacks on the goodie table, along with those offered by the headliner speakers.

I hadn't noticed in a while, but did miss the look,  feel, and smell of print books. The problem is that print books are made from trees. In a way, that makes me feel guilty, but in another, not.

I still plan on publishing mostly e-books. I'll still do most of my reading on Kindle. However, I may sneak in a print book or two at times. Some birds, but not all, might still wonder, "Where's the tree?"

What about you?

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tips for Deep Point of View

Photo by Jason Odell
One of the first things I learned when I toyed around with writing, was that despite decades of being a reader, I didn't know diddly about Point of View. I accepted the challenge, and discovered an affinity for using what author Suzanne Brockmann calls "Deep Point of View." I thought I'd share her tips, and add my commentary.

In a nutshell, being in deep POV means you're in the character's head, very much the way you are in 1st person. You see only what he can see, hear only what he can hear. You're privy to emotions, to thoughts. The author isn't on the page. There is no narrator.

And, just as with first person, you have to work to let the reader know what you want her to know, or not know what you don't want her to know. Nobody said it was easy.

1. Don't cheat the reader. If it's logical for a character to be thinking of something in a scene, you can't hide it from the reader.

2. Make sure your characters don't notice things they would miss. This is one of my "pet peeves" with characters noticing brand names, designer labels, composers, or artists, that they logically shouldn't recognize. My favorite example – the red carpet parade before an awards show. Husband lost an argument and can't watch the game. She, if she's fashion conscious might reflect on the style of gown, perhaps even recognize the designer. The man's probably not going to go much beyond, "nice tits."

3. No unconscious thoughts. No slipping into omniscient POV. Music, which he didn't recognize as Mozart, drifted from the room. No slipping out of character. "He didn't notice Frank pour the drink." If your POV character didn't notice it, then the reader can't see it, either.

4. Don't use distancing words. Avoid 'he thought' in place of 'he said.' If you're in deep POV, the reader should know that the character is thinking. If your character is facing a man with a gun, and you write, "She was going to die," it's obvious that's what she's thinking. It's not necessary to write, "She was going to die, she thought."

5. Use anchoring words to maintain deep POV. Now, some "rule followers" might tell you to avoid these words because they're distancing, or adverbs, or some other violation. But if you're in a character's head, that character can't know for sure what someone else is thinking, seeing, hearing, etc. So, words like "seemed" "saw" or "wanted" help ground the reader. "He saw her eyebrow twitch and knew she was one step away from slapping him."

And, I'll add a reminder – whatever POV you choose, however many characters have front and center page time, it's about the transitions. If your reader follows your shifts, whether they're done with extra line breaks, asterisks, or just plain good transitional writing, then you've done your job.

To "test" yourself: Substitute "I" for "he" (or the character's name) in a scene. Is there anyone else sneaking in there? Write the entire scene again from another character's point of view. I did this as an exercise once, and it ended up being my first published work, the short-short vignette, Words. If you want to read it, you can get it free at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Third person doesn't have to be deep. It just happens to be the way I like to read and write.

Any preferences or pet peeves about POV?

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Three Days at the Malice Domestic Convention

Poison, image by
Andrew Kuznetsov, via Flickr
This is from the “About Malice Domestic” link on their website:
“Established in 1989, Malice Domestic® is an annual "fun fan" convention in metropolitan Washington, D.C., saluting the traditional mystery—books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie.
The genre is loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence.”
I don’t write traditional mysteries or cozies, and the fact that all my books are self-published made me ineligible to participate on a panel. Had any of my books been published by a large or small press, or if I’d published three short stories in any of the accepted mystery magazines or anthologies before I switched to publishing my own books, I would have been considered panel-worthy. I could have moderated, but since that was my first time going, the program director thought it would be a good idea for me to get my feet wet first. I knew that going in, and I was okay with it.

However, I was gob-smacked when I asked the attendant of the hospitality room if I could put my bookmarks along the walls with a gazillion of other writers’ promotional paraphernalia, and she said no when she found out that I wrote darker mysteries. The writers I told, some in board positions, were as outraged as I. They told me I should have put them there without asking, and the next day I did, but the slight still rankled.

All the qualifications/requirements set by the conference got me thinking: how could so many indie authors writing good books continue to be ignored, and was it fair that they were? Conferences can make any restrictions they want; it is their privilege, but has the time come to set some criteria to separate those serious self-published writers from those with one or two books who didn’t take the essential steps such as editing, cover design, or formatting to produce a professional publication? Should a ranking gleaned from purchasing venues such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or bestseller lists, whether local or national, newspapers, libraries, or bookstores, be a determining factor of whether an author should qualify to be included in conference participation? Self-published books have garnered high marks and positions on all of those venues. What about a requisite number of reviews with a minimum rating as a condition? I don’t know the answer or if there even is one. But I certainly think it’s time for some discussion. Another indie writer made the point that readers couldn’t care less who published the books they like. Or those they don’t like. They remember the authors and either look for more of their work or avoid them.

My real purpose for going to Malice was to meet friends I’d made in the online mystery community, friends I knew I would like in the flesh and did. I cheered them on when they were up for awards and was thrilled to congratulate them for their nominations and wins. I manned the Sisters in Crime table for a few hours, met more people I didn’t previously know, and enjoyed the many panels I attended. All and all, it was a great time, and I’m glad I went. But more than likely, I won’t be going back. Though I felt welcomed by the amazing writers I met, I was still left with the feeling that I wasn’t quite good enough for this particular conference.

An opposite example is Murder in the Magic City in Birmingham. It’s a smaller conference, of course, but they’ve managed to integrate the panels with both traditionally and indie published authors, and in doing so, expanded the opportunities and information for all writers. I enjoyed being on the panels in the more intimate setting. I know other conferences have adapted to the new author landscape, and when I can afford to do so, I’ll attend some of those because conferences are the best way to make personal connections.

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Deja Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Trend in Titles

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng
Back for another visit, dearies? Splendid. Things have been far too exciting around here lately; a bit of coffee and chat will be just the thing.

We've touched on titles before, if I recall. The niceties of Your Majesty and all that, yes? In a same-but-different vein, let’s consider titles again. I’m thinking of blogs and books and such. Yes, those titles.

There are two main types of treatment for titles of works. The most straightforward is sentence-style capitalization. In addition to the first word of the title (and subtitle, should you have one), you need only worry about capitalizing any proper names. High heels: A look at torture devices through the ages. Simple, but a bit boring, don’t you think?

I’m inclined to believe that a title should grab the reader’s interest right off, and headline-style capitalization will help in that regard. While the CMOS allows for a certain amount of aesthetically-inspired deviation from the rules, there are a few principles to bear in mind.

In titles and subtitles, the first and last words and all other “major” words (pronouns, verbs, et cetera) should be capitalized. The articles a, the, and an, along with conjunctions but, and, or, for, and nor, may remain in lower case.

As you might expect, there’s an exception, and it’s our friend the preposition. When used as an adverb or an adjective, a preposition may be capitalized. Look Up: The Rise of Hemlines. In all other instances, you may leave the preposition in lower case. I Left My Hanger in San Francisco.

Good heavens. I think that’s enough for today, don’t you? If there are questions, be sure to let me know, and we can address the title situation in further depth next time. At the moment, there’s a plate of tiramisu calling my name. Until next time, keep your pencils sharp, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew
Now that spring is at hand, the Style Maven will spend her days begging and pleading with the three recalcitrant tomato plants that have reluctantly agreed to reside in her garden.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Don't Live on the Sidelines


For twenty years one of my writing disciplines has been to write one haiku poem per day. I write them whether I feel like it or not, mostly in the mornings while looking out my home office window. The view outside is always and never the same, reflecting the inward view of my own psyche.

Twenty years ago I did not know this haiku practice would change my life, but it did. At the time I worked for the marketing department of a large technology company, and tried to pacify my lifelong dream of being a “real” writer by writing “on the side.” One evening while on a business trip and staying in a nondescript hotel, I was reading a book about writing I had brought from home. I have since forgotten the author and title of this book; the only thing I remember was that the author suggested would-be writers might try to write just one thing per day, no matter how small. Even a three-line haiku would be enough, the author said, to prove you were a real writer, a real artist.

“I can do that,” I thought. Even though I was a single mom with a demanding job, surely I could manage seventeen measly syllables each day. So I determined I would try. I wanted to fulfill the dream I’d had since childhood. I wanted to lay claim to that powerful statement, I am an artist.

It worked – boy did it work. Five years after I began writing my one haiku a day I left my corporate job and became a full-time freelance writer, writing not only haiku, but books of fiction and non-fiction, both for me and for others as a ghostwriter. Despite my – and my family and friends’ – fears of poverty, I survived and it is what I am still doing today. And in honor of the discipline that has enriched my life, I devote every Friday on my blog to “Haiku Friday” in which I share one of my haiku and invite others to share theirs.

In the seventeen syllables of one of my daily haiku:

come when you are called
on the sidelines of your life
nothing will happen

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Teaming Up For Success

Booklover's Bench
A while back, I attended my first Novelists, Inc. conference in Albany, NY. One of the panels featured a "Lifeboat Team" – a group of authors who had decided there was value in working together on the 'non-writing' aspects of being a writer. I recapped their findings on my blog, and had several people respond that they were interested in joining a team. At the time, I had no intention of joining one, much less starting one, but after more inquiries from others, we decided to give it a shot, and formed Booklover's Bench. I blogged about it here over a year ago. I thought I'd share what we've learned.

1. Know your goals.
Other groups have set goals of hitting the major best-seller lists. These require a much greater investment of time and money. They've produced boxed sets, sold them for a pittance, but generated enough sales to hit those lists. Our goal was, and still is, to expand our reach, because in this publishing climate, marketing is vital. Decide what you want to get from the group, and what you'll have to do to get it.

And, for the record, getting a kazillion Facebook followers no longer means what it used to. While it's good to have Facebook followers, Facebook has changed its policy, so having 5,000 people liking your page doesn't mean anything close to 5,000 will see your posts. It's more like 10%. That's barely half of the average open rate for a newsletter. Also, Facebook can decide to make your page go away without notice. You'll never find those followers, because there's no place you can store them. Our goal of reach-expansion means we're looking for mailing list names. Our contests do that for us. So, even though we all have more Twitter and Facebook followers, we've also seen considerable growth in our lists, which is more important.

2. Have rules. Know what's expected.
We learned, more or less the hard way, that we had to set more specific "requirements" for being a member of the group. Whereas some of our members didn't like telling others they had to check Facebook posts, tweets, etc., a given number of times a day/week, we found that there were a couple members, no longer with us, who felt that the original wording of "as you have time" meant they only contributed when they had something that put themselves on the radar. So, we've designed an agreement. It's still loose, but it's better than having members join only to drop out later.

3. Have a way to communicate with each other.
At first, we formed a Yahoo Group where we could email everyone at once. This worked, and still does, but it became difficult to track threads and know who was answering what. AT one member's suggestion, we formed a "secret" group on Facebook, which makes keeping topics straight easier. We've also done Skype meetings, although the technology became an issue with dropped calls. However, a reliable on-line meeting system can work if there are decisions that require discussion and immediate input.

4. Make sure everyone has a job.
The idea of forming the group was to share the workload. Everyone is good at something, so it's important to utilize each member's skills. One of us is a web designer, so he takes care of maintaining the site. Others collect contest information, members' good news, set up our contests, etc.

And, of course, having others helping out with marketing and promotion means each of us has more time to devote to that number one marketing tool—write the next book.

For more, visit the Booklover's Bench. There's even time to get in on our May contest.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Importance of Memories

Memoirs have become very popular of late, and I think that is due, in part, on the fact that so many Boomers are becoming "of a certain age" and discovering the importance of that connection between now and the past. Kim Pearson has written several posts here at The Blood Red Pencil about memoir writing, and here is a link to one of her more recent posts about dealing with the facts. If you are inclined to write a memoir, her series is most helpful.

The following is taken from a memoir I have been working on in between my fiction projects, and in looking at this piece I realize how quickly we can forget those things that molded us into the people we are today. Perhaps capturing the memories is more important than we ever thought.

"One day when I was reminiscing about high school, I dug out my high school yearbooks – I won’t tell you how old they were, but it was a relief to find the pages didn't crumble. Anyway, my intent was just to look for a picture of someone I'd gone to school with, but I got caught up in a trip through my past.


"My kids were immediately interested in this chronicle of a part of my life that came before them, and they all wanted to see my senior picture. Obligingly, I leafed through the pages, but I couldn't find my picture. It wasn't there between the Ls and the Ns like it should have been. I couldn't understand it. I had my senior picture taken for Pete’s sake. Why wasn’t it there? Then my husband reminded me that my last name wasn't Miller then. 

"How silly. I'd forgotten. But who could blame me? At that juncture in my life I'd been a Miller longer than I’d been a Van Gilder.

I'm on the bottom, second from the left. My kids thought I was pretty, but the glasses were ugly.
"As I looked through the rest of the book, I found in some ways I was meeting this Van Gilder person almost as a stranger. Weird! I mean, that was me, but I'd forgotten so many things. Like being a photographer for the school newspaper. I remember working on layout and being a reporter. I was also on the yearbook staff, but a photographer? This is a person who doesn't know an aperture from a lens cap.

"I did remember participating in the Model United Nations at the University of Detroit. Who could ever forget the first time they stood up in front of 1,500 people and offered an opinion?

"It's so much easier doing it on paper.

"However, I'd forgotten I was a finalist for a National Merit Scholarship. (I left that page prominently displayed for my children who were of the combined opinion a mother's intelligence quotient is equivalent to that of an armadillo.)

"In spending that time with a part of my personal history, I found an odd dichotomy between what I remembered and what I didn't. On one hand, some of my memories were definite distortions of the past. Yet some of the memories, those that centered on incidents and people who influenced me greatly, were very true to the reality of then.

"Obviously, I was never meant to be a photographer. But I was meant to be the kind of person I've become, and in some ways that new person isn't so different from the person I was in high school. I'm still idealistic, almost to a fault. I still daydream. I'm still interested in people and social issues, wishing for a world with no injustice or evil. And I'm still on the "out" side more than I'm "in." But that's OK, because it's by choice, and I enjoy the view so much better from out here."

Are you interested in writing a memoir? Have you ever sat down with siblings and shared memories of the past, only to discover that you all remember the same incident a bit differently? Do you think it is important to capture these memories, even if we don't intend to write a complete memoir?
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the Season's Series. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She believes in the value of memories and connecting with your past.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How a Good TV Show Can Help You Write (and Edit) Your Novel - Part Two

In yesterday's post, I talked about how good TV shows can help writers develop their story's beginning.

Today, I'm concluding with a short talk on how those same TV shows can help writers develop their "commercial breaks" in fiction. What are fiction's commercial breaks?

Chapter and scene endings.

Just like TV writers need to hook viewers to keep them waiting through commercial breaks to see what happens next, fiction writers need to write riveting chapter and scene endings so that readers will want to flip the page to the next chapter or hurdle their eyes over white space to rush to the next scene.


Make those commercial breaks count...
In The TV Writer's Workbook: A Creative Approach to Television Scripts, writer Ellen Sandler states that a scene needs a narrative structure and that this structure contains three interconnected elements: the setup (beginning), the power switch or turning point (middle), and the arrow (end). The arrow is what I want to focus on here.

When I edit stories, and this is something I've said in previous BRP posts, too, one thing I tend to focus on is how well chapters and scenes end. Sandler states that the arrow is "the element that drives you to the next scene" (p. 118), and in writing further about scenes, she states, "Each scene should have a compelling reason to move on to the next one. We want to see how your Central Character recovers if he lost power, or we're waiting to see if he can keep it if he gained power. That's what keeps your audience hooked in, and that's essential in a TV show" (pp. 119-120).

I would say this is essential in fiction, too.

Which of these scenarios would compel and propel you to read the next scene?
  • Scenario 1: In this scene, the main character is having an argument with her friend, and the scene concludes with that argument ending.
  • Scenario 2: In this scene, the main character is still having an argument with her friend, and though the argument concludes, the end of the scene focuses on how this argument ties into the central conflict of the story, either providing a sense of angst or a sense of joy for the main character moving forward.

More often than not, I see the former scenario presented in earlier drafts, and an edit of that scene wouldn't necessarily be a major overhaul. What the writer could do is go back and consider the story's purpose, the main conflict, the minor conflicts, and ask, "How does this scene tie into the central conflict of the story for the main character?" An answer to that question can aid in developing a scene ending that is strong, that will make a reader see the white space at the end of that scene and want, need, to move on to see what happens next.

Think about when you're watching a great TV show (right now, I'm smiling and thinking about Fox's reboot of 24), and the show cuts away to a commercial, and you're left groaning and frustrated as you yell, "These commercials need to hurry up. I need to see what happens next."

Yeah. Make your readers feel that way about your story as its scenes and chapters conclude.

Do you think about TV shows/writing when you're developing your novels? Do other forms of media help you to write your books?


Reference

Sandler, E. (2007). The TV writer's workbook: A creative approach to television scripts. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How a Good TV Show Can Help You Write (and Edit) Your Novel - Part One

Two things I almost always comment on when editing a client's manuscript are a story's beginning and chapter/scene endings. When I comment on these two story components, I tend to discuss TV shows and make the suggestion that we borrow what successful shows do and apply it to our novel writing.

Today, I'll offer insight on how TV shows can help you develop your story's beginning.

In the beginning...
We all know how important a story's beginning is. Because a story has a beginning, middle, and an ending, some writers start their story at the very beginning, meaning, they use their first chapter to set us up with who the main characters are, where they live, and what they do. Toward the end of that first chapter, we might get a hint of conflict. Many times, especially in early drafts, we don't. When you consider the reader of said first chapter, that would be a problem.

William Rabkin, in his book, Writing the Pilot, states that "what you're doing in the pilot is establishing the characters, situations and, most important, conflicts that are going to drive your next hundred stories. You've got to introduce all these elements to your audience and do it in a way that feels natural" (p. 67). He mentions two types of pilots: the premise pilot that "directly sets up the franchise by showing the series of events that puts the characters and conflicts in motion" (p. 66) and the regular episode pilot that is an episode that "could conceivably be aired at any point in the season" (p. 66).

Rabkin uses the show Lost as an example of a premise pilot as he states that this episode MUST go first in that it sets up characters and the major conflict - the plane crash. "Nothing that happens in the series could conceivably come before that episode" (p. 66). He uses the hit show Mad Men as an example of a regular episode pilot in that it "picks up with Don Draper in the middle of what will obviously be a typical kind of crisis for him - in this case, the need to come up with a new ad campaign for Lucky Strikes cigarettes now that Reader's Digest has declared tobacco to be a carcinogen" (p. 66).

How can these ideas of premise pilot and regular episode pilot help you in developing a stronger beginning for your novel?

From the two types of pilots, we get two good points:
  1. We need to put the characters and conflicts in motion. We need to set up our world, the important people in that world, and the conflict(s) that will drive the story forward [premise pilot].
  2. We need to not be bound by starting our story at the beginning [regular episode pilot]. As Rabkin states on the regular episode pilot, this particularly pilot could technically be shown at any point in the season. This is good in a way because it allows you to break away from the notion that you must always start at the beginning. What if in examining the trajectory of your story, you realize that in starting at story-zero (the very start to which your story can begin), you will take your reader to nearly the middle of your book before any type of conflict arises? This realization would call for a major edit because most readers will not trudge through half a book for pretty visuals and dialogue and action that contain no bite or substance.

In revising/editing your story, it's a great idea to print out your first chapter, go find a quiet place to read, and plow through the chapter, checking to make sure that you've done some developing of time, place, characters, and a conflict or two. While doing that, also make sure that you examine whether your story's starting point is an effective one, conducive to getting readers to the conflict early so that they want to know what happens next, and next, and... well, you get the picture.

In part two, I'll talk about how we can use TV shows to help us develop strong endings to our scenes and chapters.



Do you think about TV shows/writing when you're developing your novels? Do other forms of media help you to write your books?


Reference

Rabkin, W. (2011). Writing the pilot. Pasadena, CA: Moon & Sun & Whiskey, Inc.


Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

Friday, May 9, 2014

“In Defense of Teaching”


On Wednesday, April 30, Maryann Miller posted a reference to the above link on Facebook. Mildly curious and nursing an injured shoulder that restricts activity to almost nothing beyond short stints at the computer, I watched/ listened to the short video. And then I listened again…and again. The words resonated more with my “writer” each time I heard its powerful message.

Part of the video debated the lasting value of the book 1984 by George Orwell—hence the writer in me snapping to attention—and the teacher was clearly frustrated with the current state of our educational system. I asked myself, “Do parallels exist between writing and teaching? Can we speak ‘in defense of teaching’?”

When we write, we often teach life lessons, intentionally or not. Children learn how to treat other children, adults, animals, and so forth. Adults see the results of wrong actions and the worth of
positive relationships. Principles, values, and integrity (or lack thereof) in our characters can make powerful impressions on people who might remain oblivious to the same in other forms of communication. How-to books teach skills and insights missed or unavailable in classrooms. Editing guides can make dry, uninteresting grammar rules come to life—especially when they include examples of traditionally accepted usages. Biographies of successful people can inspire us to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. The list goes on.

Consider our own Dani Greer, a vital team member at Little Pickle Press, a publisher dedicated to creating books and other media to help children grow up to be responsible adults through meaningful exploration of the world they live in.

Note the works of Amanda Litz, author and founder of Traveler’s Trunk Publishing, producer of books designed to encourage acceptance of differences, autonomy, and self-confidence.

Fantasy fiction writer S. K. Randolph’s books, The Condra’s Fire and The Dimensioner’s Revenge, abound with subtle lessons for youngsters and adults alike, woven seamlessly into the fast-paced storylines.

We also examine how we view body image, the terrible toll of eating disorders, and the basis for true self-esteem in Kathryn Craft’s wonderful novel, The Art of Falling

Do you weave lessons into the fabric of your works? How do you make them an integral part of your story rather than a written rant that might otherwise be delivered from a soapbox? Have you had any feedback from readers regarding what they have learned from your books? Do your stories touch your readers on a level that will leave a lasting impression that transcends time and culture and emotions?

As writers, can we defend teaching?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at  all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Is Quoting Word for Word?

A few years back, I wrote books for TSTC Publishing. The first one was called TechCareers: Biomedical Equipment Technicians and the Department Chair's name is on the book. The second book was called TechCareers: Automotive Technicians. Then came TechCareers: Avionics and TechCareers: Computer Gaming. Those last three books have my name on the cover.

For the Biomedical Equipment Technicians book, I interviewed five people. For the remaining books, I upped the number of interviewees to at least 13. That meant a ton of transcribing, creating questions, typing and organizing. And it doesn't include the hours of researching schools in the U.S. that teach that career and what classes are required, etc. or travel time.

For each interview, I created a profile for each subject. In this case, a profile is not a life story of the person. It’s a brief bit about his or her background in the field, then some of his thoughts on an aspect of the field. To determine where in the book I’m going to put a particular person’s profile, I look at the transcription and see which person said something relevant to a certain topic or had something solid to contribute to the topic. Then I write his profile with that angle in mind. I can’t use everything the person said in an interview because each interview ran from 30 minutes to over an hour, one or two much longer. To interview subjects, I traveled from central Texas, to south Texas to the east and to the west and places in-between.

If you’ve not done this kind of writing, you might think this process would be easy. You just throw in the relevant quotes. Even if we don’t get into the actual interview and the hours it takes to transcribe, but only talk about creating the profile, it’s still not an easy task.

You have to decide what to include. Then you have to edit what the person said. And by edit, I don’t mean change what they said. Few people talk as succinctly as they might write. They ramble; they switch directions in the middle of a sentence; they use slang; they correct themselves; they spend three minutes saying what they could have said in fifteen seconds. Now, don’t get me wrong…you can learn a lot in those extra two minutes and forty-five seconds. And slang and speech patterns say a whole lot about the person. As I re-read my transcription of an interview, I can actually hear that person speaking.

But when you’re preparing a quote, you need to cut the extraneous and get down to what the person really said - that nugget of brilliance. You must in no way change their meaning or cut their qualifiers. But if you’ve ever transcribed the exact words of someone speaking off the cuff, you know what was captivating while they spoke can sound like stuttering nonsense when every sentence circles twice before coming back to the point and includes five “wells,” two “you knows,” and one “let me backtrack here.”

So, unless you write for a magazine whose purpose is to lampoon, you have to learn how to quote. It’s something I struggled with for the first book, but learned how to do. Have any of you done this kind of interviewing and writing? Do you think you'd like to?

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Spring 2014.

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