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Showing posts from February, 2013

Maryann Miller Interview about Stalking Season

When not writing, Maryann likes to play on stage.  Here she is as Mildred in "Squabbles." Today we welcome one of our own for an interview. Maryann Miller has a new book out from Five Star Cengage/Gale, the second in her police procedural series set in Dallas, Texas. Stalking Season was r eleased December 19th, 2012. The underlying ground in the series explores issues involving racism, rooted in the partnership between the two female police detectives, one white and one black. Here’s a brief synopsis: In this second book of  The Seasons series, homicide detective, Sarah Kingsly, and her partner, Angel Johnson, are pitted against an uncanny killer while still struggling to feel like real partners. Neither wanted the pairing in the first place, and it isn't getting any better. A young girl is killed in a cheap motel, and when her identity is discovered, an influential Dallas businessman brings the heat down on the department. It isn't easy to work un

Seven Proven Ways To Pack Suspense Into Your Stories

How many ways can you hang a page? Or a scene? Or a chapter? Page hangers are a relic of the Victorian three-deck novel that was delivered in monthly installments. Each installment ended with a little advertisement for the next one. How ever would our hero escape from that flooded cellar and those hungry red-eyed rats? Yet even today they are a fixture in best-selling suspense novels. Mistresses of melodrama Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell use so many page hangers - around three per scene - that they must pluck them out of a database. Not every novel calls for hangers, of course, but the ploy is useful when the scene shifts into a different point of view or sub plot. It buys the author time. We’ll put up with a lot of digression if we're sure that the mystery posed by the page hanger will soon be resolved.  Here are seven proven page hangers and how to use them in your story to create suspense. 1. The seamless transition This is not so much a hanger as a link betwe

How to Design Your Submission Package

Ideally, a novelist’s submission package is comprised of three elements: the query, the synopsis, and the sample pages. This post is not intended to help you write them. I’ll sprinkle in a few links from the BRP team to help with that. This is to help you understand how they work together to either disappoint or entice an agent. Think these materials are too brief to fairly represent your project? Read on. You may be surprised how revealing they can be. Let’s look at each aspect of the package in terms of its function. Source: Query: The Hook The query is the bedrock of the submission package. It may be all an agent ever sees, since many request a query only. Rest assured that if written well, it is enough to earn an invitation to send more. In just a few paragraphs, this page suggests whether you are ready to make the transition from writer to published author. Its opening is your pitch, one or two concise, cogent paragraphs meant to align us with your protago

Is It a Love Story?

Genre is the promise you make to your reader to give them the kind of story they want without annoying them by giving them information they don’t want. So what happens when your premise, that brilliant story seed that came to you in a dream or while pacing your kitchen at 3:00 a.m. on a sleepless night, doesn’t fit neatly into one of those broad categories? What if the term genre makes you feel slightly nauseated or makes you fear you’ll have to kill too many darlings?  The answer lies in the story skeleton you select and how you layer the conflicts. Let’s say you have a brilliant story idea about a scientist named Dick trying to win the heart of Sally, the girl of his dreams. Meanwhile, Jane asks him to solve the problem of a meteor streaking toward earth. In addition, Dick really hates Ted because Ted is eager to replace him as head of the space defense department. You want to cram all of this into one story. But what kind of story is it?  That depends on how much p

Defining the Reader Part 2

Google Images After you’ve thought about the qualities of your potential readers , you might want to stake out some of them before you begin to write for them. Here are some more ideas that might help you find out what your readers care about.   Go out to coffee with a friend or acquaintance who typifies your ideal reader, and have an in-depth conversation with them about the subject of your writing. Ask them what they care about, in terms of your topic. What questions does he or she have? Does he or she have any objections to your position? What problems do they have that your writings might solve for them?   A good idea is to record these conversations (with their permission, of course.) Or you might want to take surveys of your potential readership.   If you have an email distribution list, or a group of friends on a social networking site, or have joined clubs or other interest groups, ask these same kinds of questions of them. Social networking sites can be very v

Defining the Reader Part 1

Google Images Last month I wrote about why it’s a good idea to write for your readers , not just for yourself. But how do you know who your readers will be? To figure out who is most likely to be interested in your subject, and who you want to be interested in your subject, you need to ask yourself some categorization questions. These questions can range from general and broad to as detailed as you want. The two broadest and most general are: 1.   Gender.   Are your readers more likely to be men or women? There have been many things written about the differences in gender communication styles. 2.   Age.   Are your readers likely to be under thirty? Over fifty? Mid-life, seniors, Generation X, Y, or Z?   But don’t stop there. The more detailed you make the description of your ideal or most likely readers, the better you will be able to grab their attention. Here are some other categorizations you might want to ask yourself about the readers who will most likely read

Creating That Perfect Cover

Covers have been a recurring theme this month. I thought I'd share how my cover artist, Dave Fymbo,  and I worked to create the cover for Book 3 in my Pine Hills Police series, Saving Scott . I asked Dave to share his process, and this is what he said: I start by asking clients what the book is about, what the tone should be, and if they have any images or colors in mind. Then I'll do an initial exploration. I search for free images that would work as well as lay down some text options. Sometimes the right font is the design. But usually the hardest part is finding the right image. For the first round I send between 5 and 10 options. Then I strip away all the text and go round and round until the imagery is perfect. This often includes compositing multiple photos, adjusting colors and contrast, and lighting effects. (You'll notice he'd already inserted my name in these samples. That's because this is the 3rd book in my Pine Hill Police series,

5 Tips to Effective Dialogue

HE SAID, SHE SAID Writing dialogue trips up the best of us, at one time or another. On the other hand, often comes the comment, “This author has a great ear for dialogue.” So how do we tame this beast and go from the former to the latter? A few tips will take us a long way here. 1. Formal and Stilted Dialogue, and everyone sounding the same. Often, without the tags, I cannot tell who’s talking, and I should be able to. For most new writers, this is almost a given, and I see all the time a variation of this: “My name is Bill. What is your name?” he asked. “My name is Theresa. Good to meet you, Bill,” she replied. Yep, this is an exaggerated example, and for comparison: “Name’s Bill,” he said, a grin spreading over his rugged face. “Yours?” “Theresa. I know you from somewhere?” I.e.—get something done in the dialogue with every spoken word as well. Dialogue should rarely be in complete sentences—we just don’t talk that way. Unless, of course,

Skype in the Classroom with Shaunda Kennedy Wenger

Kids love meeting authors, no doubt about it. That's great, because authors can serve as valuable tools for teachers by serving as exciting mentors for their language arts curriculum. But in today’s classrooms, shrinking budgets are making it more and more difficult for schools to bring authors on campus to meet and workshop with students. However, technologies like Skype are emerging as a bridge to help keep students and authors connected in the classroom. When I Skyped with second and third grade classrooms in New Hampshire last year, it was easy. Neither I nor the students had to stray far from our home bases. The students gathered in their classroom, and I sat down at my office computer. Although this was a first time experience for both the hosting teacher and me, we both managed to pull it off without a hitch. Today, I'll give a list of the tools that are needed by the hosting teacher. Get ready to write the following list down. You may be amazed at how simple it is

What’s In a Name?

In my previous installment , I posed two questions: (A) What is there about fantasy literature that elicits such enthusiasm among so many readers? and (B) What are the reasons underlying the corresponding critical contempt? I’ll be dealing at length with Question A in up-coming posts by way of exploring the challenges of writing fantasy from a practical perspective. For the moment, I’m going to focus on Question B: Why are so many mainstream writers, critics, and academics so hostile to the genre? Two key factors are involved in the answer: on the one hand, semantics; on the other, marketing pressures within the publishing industry during the genre’s infancy. In this month’s article, I propose to address the former factor, taking as my chapter and verse a quote from Shakespeare’s Juliet who asks plaintively, “What’s in a name?” ( Romeo and Juliet , II.ii.1-2) At the University of St. Andrews in 1938, J.R.R. Tolkien delivered a now-famous essay titled On Fairy Stories . In t

Combat the Dangers of Sitting

An excellent interview with a young chiropractor who has developed a series of simple exercises any writer can use. Here's the fundamental exercise: Read more at

Between the Covers

This month we’ve shared covers that inspire potential readers to open the books they enclose and peer into their pages. From Morgan Mandel’s discussion of StephenWalker’s cover designs to the reveal of Kathryn Craft’s fabulous cover for her debut novel, The Art of Falling , due out in January 2014, we have explored the vital role of covers in marketing books — that first impression we never get a second chance to make. However, February traditionally speaks of love rather than book covers. Television commercials tout gifts of flowers and chocolates for the object of one’s affections. And back when I was in elementary school, the Valentine’s Day party was one of those memorable traditions we looked forward to every year — but book covers? love? Am I digressing here? Or does a powerful connection exist between these seemingly unrelated topics? As the saying goes, a book should not be judged by its cover. This works both ways: a gorgeous, gripping, or intriguing cover does not guar

The Importance of the Cover

When I wrote my first fiction book, Angel Sometimes , there were a lot of decisions I had to make. First, I needed to decide if I would query it, ask the publisher of my three non-fiction books to handle it, or self-publish. At the time, I wanted to get the book up on Amazon as an e-book, so I decided to do it myself. For me, the most difficult part of the process wasn't writing or editing, or formatting it to meet the requirements.   I had to figure out how I wanted the cover to look. Hours of many days were spent looking at pictures online, some free, others at a reasonable rate. I couldn’t find what I was looking for -- a flower garden.   I had a flower garden in mind because it plays an important role in the story. In the end, my husband and I drove to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and took pictures there. After a few hours of walking and snapping shots, I came home with one that I liked enough to use as the cover art. That was the original cover for

Love is Ageless

Since tomorrow is Valentine's Day, I thought it would be fun to share some thoughts on love from one of our frequent guests at The Blood Red Pencil, Slim Randles . Slim writes a popular column, Home Country and offers it up just for pure enjoyment. In the week before Valentine’s Day, Marvin Pincus had two new customers for his (free of charge, of course) love advice and fly-tying consultation services. He tied up a midge for one client, a salmon streamer wrapped in lead for another, and wished them well. This was his busy time, of course. He knew another would come in mid-May, in desperate anticipation of June weddings.  “Marge,” he said, sipping coffee and looking out at the snow, “I think we need a vacation.” Marjorie Pincus smiled. They’d both been retired and on permanent “vacation” for years now. “I’ll go if it means I don’t have to make the beds or do the dishes,” she said. “The only thing is, what if someone needs the fly tying love advice service while we’r

Three Dynamic Ways to Open Your Story

‘My life began the day I killed my psychiatrist and started an illicit relationship with my tortoise.’ Are you still with me? Of course, you are. A story that opens with an intriguing mystery, even a silly one, is a story that gets read. And we don’t have a second chance. The first paragraph is the advertisement for our story. Imagine if an advertiser started with his name, the dimensions of his factory and the biography of his parents. Would we buy his product? Hm… A lot of stories are like that. The writer ‘eases us in’ with a long slab of scene setting or character description. Meanwhile, where’s the story? The reason to read on? Here are three tested ways to open a story and persuade the reader to read on:  1. Drop in a time bomb. Every good story or novel hinges upon one key incident. Maybe our character chances upon buried Nazi gold, or Jane discovers her husband is unfaithful, or a child witnesses something she was not supposed to see. Without that incident there is no

Breaking the Literary Atrophy

Atrophy : decrease in size or wasting away of a body part or tissue ~ When we hear or read the word atrophy , we tend to think about muscles . . . parts of the body as the definition above suggests. But what about writing ? Can't it suffer from atrophy, too? Surely, for some writers, there are moments (sometimes long stretches of moments) in which no writing gets done. We might call it writer's block. We might call it focusing on work and family and whatever else is on the list that goes before writing, but the fact remains, the word count is at a standstill. There are some of us that can easily jump back into writer mode as if we never left, but there are others who find coming back to the page a daunting task. It's as if they lost the know-how of writing. Lost the joy and wonder of it as well. I call this Literary Atrophy : the decrease in size or wasting away of writing in one's life. The MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia sugg