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Showing posts from April, 2013

Anything but Cozy

Books should come with ratings, like movies. As a reader, I'd mostly select R-rated titles, like I do with movies. Not because I love sex and violence, but because I like stories that push the limits of conventional expectations, and I find that most authors who push those limits don't limit their characters to polite language. I would steer away from G-ratings, or anywhere I might encounter a bakeshop mystery or a cat named Fluffy. Not because I hate cats or cupcakes, but because I feel like I'd be less likely to be challenged or surprised by those stories—and I like to feel both when I read. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a book that should have been rated . Great story, compelling characters, but lots of people were repulsed by the brutality of the rape scene, and more. I would choose to read it again in a heartbeat—in fact, an R-rating would have likely made me pick it up even sooner than I did. But others could have saved their time, money, and sensitivity and s

Editing Success: How Do You Measure It?

Dear Potential Client, Thank you for your recent e-mail, under the subject line “doctoring,” that sought information about my editing services by asking, “May I ask how many novels you have worked on that have been published via traditional routes?” Of course you can ask. You have every right to. But in my experience, when a potential client starts out with this question, it ends badly. It's sort of like going into a clinic because you know you need a diet for your health, and asking the dietician what her measurements are and what she weighs before she has a chance to find out anything about you and your needs, and how she can help you be the best version of yourself. Or to embrace your subject line metaphor: not all people seek out doctors for the same reason. If your goal is to get rid of your cough, and the doc says the only way to do so is to stop smoking and start exercising, and you institute a new plan of walking home from work but feel you've earned the right t

Twitter Don'ts

If done right, social media can be an effective tool for selling books. A while back, when I began to write seriously, I set up a Twitter account and tweeted four times daily. Some swore that was too much, but it seemed to work for me. My tweets were often about a blog I'd written, an aspect of writing, or one of my books. When the Facebook revolution began, I followed the masses to the pretty and popular place. A page on Facebook looked almost like a website, but could easily be updated. I could post longer messages than on Twitter, plus more pictures. @MorganMandel I was really getting into the Facebook scene, when lo and behold, I was surprised to learn from fellow-author, Bob Sanchez , that Twitter, which I'd thought had become unpopular, had regained steam. Not only that, Bob, as well as many other authors, were successfully using Twitter to promote books. Shonell Bacon posted an article here, called " Using Twitter to Promote Your Book ". And, now,

Making a Thriller (Continued)

We continue with our story seed featuring Dick, love interest Sally, bossy Jane, jealous Ted, and the meteor streaking toward earth. If we select the Thriller and Suspense skeleton, the overall story problem becomes the catastrophic danger that must be averted: the meteor. If we choose the Psychological Thriller, there is a cat and mouse battle between Dick and Ted or Jane. Dick isn’t certain who the enemy is, but if he can’t identify him/her in time, the meteor strike erases the possibility, along with the entire cast. Sally's life could be threatened by the antagonist. Alternatively, Dick is forced to solve the mystery of the meteor strike location. Was it a space rock or something more nefarious? Can he prove it? If we choose the Religious Thriller, Dick could be a priest or religious scholar. The plot involves a religious prophecy or the meteor is somehow tied to biblical history. Perhaps Dick finds the Arc of the Covenant actually contained a piece of meteor that bestows

How to be a Weaver Bird - And Write a Great Story

Are you a peacock or a weaver bird? Some writers - peacocks - flaunt their lovely words and beg us to admire them. Others are weaver birds, patiently building a structure that’s serviceable but dull. Some preen. Some delve. Or so I’ve discovered from three years of judging the Writers’ Village story competition. Who wins the prizes? Peacocks or weaver birds? Neither. The cash goes to those who combine both colour and craft, preening and delving - with flair. Here are three fast ways to blend colour and craft and write a best-selling story - or, at least, win a cash award in a story contest: 1. Draft it quickly You have a plot idea, right? A few dramatic events? A snatch or two of dialogue? Scribble it all down as fast as you can. Don’t wait for the ‘right’ words to come to you. Clichés, stagy incidents, clumsy expressions? Welcome them. They’re fine. Just get the tale written! Then throw it in a closet for a month. Pluck it out with a sniff, tone it down and tune each

How do You Refill Your Well?

What do you do when you feel like you are "at the end of your rope," with no more to give? Writer and artist Julia Cameron writes in The Artist's Way that each of us has a well or a reservoir of energy and creativity that we are continually drawing from in dealing with the stresses and the demands of our lives. But if we are always taking something out, we will eventually run dry. That's where I have been many times. When I still lived in Washington, after writing my first two novels, intense marketing, traveling, taking care of my home, hubby, and cat, as well as my various writing groups, and completing numerous editing jobs, I suddenly found my well dry. Even though the sun was shining (and that usually gives me lots of energy), I had no energy, no ambition, no creativity and no desire to do anything or go anywhere. So I took an afternoon off, drove to my favorite beach park on Puget Sound and just sat by the water. I watched the seagulls swooping and fighting

World-Building 101: Geography and History

Because Modern Fantasy fiction comes in so many flavors, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a definitive recipe for writing The Perfect Fantasy Novel. What I propose to do, in this and subsequent posts, is to examine technical strategies for producing a good fantasy novel regardless of sub-genre. One of the first distinguishing features of a fantasy novel is that it takes place in a setting defined by the imagination of the author. Where (as in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings ) the setting is completely detached from the mundane world as we know it, the author must reckon with the sub-creative process known in the trade as world-building . World-building entails “realizing” your fantasy world by endowing it with features analogous to the world we know. These features include geography, history, languages, culture, and technology. As a general rule, the more “concrete” your fantasy world in terms of these attributes, the more convincing the setting becomes to your readers.

Writers as Artists?

Bas relief from Mamallapuram, India When we first moved to Colorado, we rented a tiny studio apartment while we went house-hunting. One evening, our landlords invited us up for a glass of wine and some conversation. She is a sculptor who works primarily in stone. She mentioned that it was interesting that we were both artists. Frankly, I'd never considered myself an artist, but we discussed our creative processes. There's an old saying that in order to carve a block of stone into an elephant, you simply chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. In writing, you keep adding until you get the elephant. If writing were like sculpting, it would mean being able to change what comes next, but not what came before. Scary. Really scary. I mean, I know authors who sell on synopsis, but when they write the book, it's all different. As long as it's good, there's usually no problem. When the sculptor asked how I created a book, what my preparation p

Inspiration or Perspiration: Which is Most Important?

Well, of course, we know it’s both. Anyone who has undertaken the daunting task to actually write and complete a book knows that no choice really exists.  I wrote in January about Inspiration, but this one is more about her evil twin: Work.  Yes, you need the initial inspiration to even talk yourself into starting. And, often, that beginning breath of the gods will take you a long way—through the opening, into the major conflicts, your oh-so-well-drawn characters jumping to life and racing around the first turn and even (hopefully) into the backstretch. Image Courtesy of http://www.horse-races.net/clip/  Ah, we love that muse, and prime her in every way we can think of! We feed her with all the sweet nothings whispered into her ear, with the promise of carrots at the end of our writing day. And she always responds. At least initially.  And then, often, we run smack dab into a soft spot on the rail. Sometimes writers hit a wall but, usually, it’s more of a bogging down. Wher

A Mild Case of Conjunctivitis

Hello, dearies! You’ll forgive my slovenly attire today, won’t you? Donna Reed might have pulled off the pearls-and-heels look whilst cleaning house, but your Style Maven has better luck with jeans and T-shirts. Especially considering what was under the fridge; egad. It was at some point during my third cappuccino break that my mind started wandering down the to-do list. “Laundry, dishes, lunch, aaaand …” And I gave up right there, I must confess, thanks to the sidetracking effects of conjunctivitis . Not pinkeye; it’s not my shade at all. I mean I was captivated by those lovely little words that connect clauses and sentences. They’re more important than you might think. In fact, the Chicago Manual of Style devotes quite a bit of space to the subject. For the sake of a fresh espresso and some dust-free clothes, we’ll pare it down to a few paragraphs today. Conjunctions can range from simple, one-word examples such as if, and, or but to elaborate phrases like as th

Starving Artists

The Poor Poet by C arl Spitzweg I have a four-year-old grandson who I think is musically talented. In fact, I think he is gifted, although I suppose it is remotely possible that I am a tiny bit prejudiced. But what is my grandson doing in a blog post about writing?   He’s here because I want my grandson to live a happy and fulfilled life, and I fear that he will begin to hear those voices in his head shooting him the very same line of BS that I got when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. These voices are familiar to all American artists, whatever their art form. Art is just a hobby, not a profession. You can’t make money at music, writing, acting, painting, etc.   – unless you are really really lucky and become Beyonce or Dan Brown or Judy Chicago – you have about the same chance of becoming rich in the arts as you do of winning the lottery. Make sure you train for something else to fall back on, because you will need it. People who try to become artists are immature Peter Pan

Somatic Yoga

A sequence for tight shoulders. Easy and very effective!

Heed the Warnings and Survive the Storm

Amidst blizzard predictions and admonitions to stay inside, I contemplated the whimsies of springtime in the Rockies and their similarities to the writing profession. Meteorologists warn of pending storms, share survival techniques, and urge us to carry emergency packs if we venture out during dangerous conditions. In like manner, editors, publicists, designers, fellow writers, BRP, and more warn of potential snares along the writing trail, pass on techniques for circumventing those dangers, and urge us to form support networks for emergencies that threaten our writing progress. All this is great—but it works only if we heed the warnings, prepare for the storms, and have a contingency plan. Are we excuse makers or listeners? Let’s consider some mindsets that send us into inclement writing weather without protection against the elements of failure. This is my story. Only I can tell it the way it needs to be told. Do you believe your story is one-of-a-kind, a topic that has never b

Getting It Right

If you're stuck on how to spell a word, you can turn to a dictionary. If you want a word that's more specific than the word in your head, you can look in a thesaurus. Sometimes, though, you may feel that what you need can't be found in a book. For example, one of the characters in your book is a police officer, but you, personally, know nothing or very little about being an officer or following police procedures. If you have time, you can probably find a class on police procedure at your local college or junior college. You might also know someone who works for your local police department who can help you with information or an answer to a question. Before you do that, though, do some research. The police or contact person with the police can't give you the answer you want unless you know what you want. You're going to have to narrow down your question. Rather than asking how police investigate a crime scene, try to narrow it down to specifically what you need t

Time Out For a Little Fun

Here we are looking at the middle of another month and it seems like just last week I posted something just for fun. This week, I found two comic strips that seemed worth sharing. The first one is from Pickles: Earl is busy plunking away on an old typewriter when Opal comes in and asks "What on earth made you decide to write a memoir, Earl?" "I just thought it would be a shame not to put down on paper all the wisdom that I've acquired over my long lifetime." "So how much longer do you think it'll take you to put all that wisdom down on paper?" Earl pulls a page out of the typewriter with a flourish. "All done!" "Wow, almost a whole page." What Opal doesn't understand is that sometimes a whole page is a major accomplishment, isn't it? This other one is from Pearls Before Swine: Goat and Pig are having coffee and Goat asks, "What are you doing, Pig?" "Reading this text from my neighbor Bob. He

Punctuation - Is There Any Point To It?

What do new authors hate even more than agents who don’t acknowledge their manuscripts? The apostrophe! Why? It’s like a Christmas gift from an uncle with poor taste. They don’t know where to put it. That was clearly the dilemma of councillors in Mid-Devon this month when they ruled to banish all apostrophes from the county’s street names ‘to avoid confusion’. At a stroke, or lack of it, they have turned ‘Baker’s View’ into ‘Bakers View’, a haiku of enchanting ambiguity. Does ‘Bakers View’ still mean a view once taken by Sir Samuel Baker, the Victorian explorer, after whom the street was named? Or a stance traditionally assumed by local bakers at the summer solstice when they gather to view the rising of the dough? Or does it now mean nothing at all, like a novel by Martin Amis? Yes, punctuation matters! It’s also a dilemma. If we get it wrong as authors, agents won’t read beyond our cover letter. Get it right and somebody in a different culture will chide us for illiteracy.

Using Twitter to Promote Your Book

Last week, I released my first novella, Saying No to the Big O [ Amazon | Smashwords ]. Instead of reading a book description, you can view the trailer for SN2BO below. As I began promoting Saying No to the Big O , I thought about how I would use Twitter in the promotions. I tweeted the obvious posts that brought people to my Website to read the novella's description, to watch the trailer, to read a sample, and to read commentaries I wrote on the novella, but I wanted to do something that was fun and intriguing and that would be a challenge for me. Back when I was promoting my mystery Into the Web , I pulled several lines from the story and tweeted them along with the link to purchase the novel. Tweeting lines from the story generated a lot of interest. Many people messaged me to talk about how much they enjoyed the tweets, many retweeted the lines, and others went directly to the purchase link to buy a copy of the novel. With the success of the tweets, I decided to do i

Countdown to a Book 7: Five Tips for Getting Blurbs

This last month was a reminder that publishing is not for the faint of heart, the faint of spirit, or anyone who had trouble selling her assigned box of Girl Scout cookies. photo credit: pam's pics- via photopin cc Now…ahem…a few years later, I have once again donned the sash, it would seem—only this one says “Author”—and I find myself knocking on the digital doors of esteemed strangers, begging them to lavish their nonexistent spare time and goodwill upon an untested product, without even the promise of a sugar high in return. And so began, this past month, the cringe-worthy task of begging for blurbs . Here are a few things I’ve learned in the process. 1. Aim high. How high? High enough to draw attention and bring you an audience (you’ll want a blurb worthy of your personal anguish in asking for it), but just below the mega-stars’ “no blurb” policies. Yet it can be a trick identifying authors in that sweet spot. Amazon rankings may offer some clue—in general, a ra

Grammar ABCs: U is for Use

I have several word pet peeves. One is “snuck”, which I have written about previously. Another is 9 a.m. in the morning. (Think about it! As opposed to 9 a.m. in the evening?) My word of the month is “Utilize”. Utilize is one of those fluffed up, pretentious, supposedly intellectual “dollar” words that people use when they want to sound smart. Many times we see it in PR copy: If you utilize this product, you will be better/stronger/smarter/richer etc. But I often see it in plain old prose: He utilized the rake to clean up the yard . Aw, come on. There is a perfectly acceptable, three-letter word you can “use” instead. That’s it—USE. He used the rake to clean the yard . If you use this product you will___. Simple. Utilitarian. Easy. And do NOT use the even fluffier, more pretentious verb form: “utilization.” Ugh. Here are the definitions of the two words: Use : take, hold, or deploy (something) as a means of accomplishing or achieving something; employ— Oxford English Dictionary