Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Countdown to a Self-Published Book 3 : Rewrite!

Available on Kindle from 1st May 2014
Following the input of my editors, I went back over my book with the fine-tooth comb of their comments. I found that I’d begun with a fairly simple premise, but had complicated it in the main by not allowing my protagonist to know what was going on. I’d made her work far too hard, and I’d let her get it very, very wrong. Thus her convoluted discoveries of even the simplest information took dozens of pages, sent her on multiple wild-goose-chases, and bred walk-on characters.

My first step was to let Maddie in on the family secrets that she’d originally spent most of the book uncovering. There were already a lot of puzzles and mysteries to solve relating to her current predicament; stating some of the backstory mysteries upfront would not spoil much of the rest of the story. Secondly I decided to bring some of the final revelations right in to the beginning, by promoting a relatively minor character to co-protagonist and giving her alternating point-of-view scenes. Thus, instead of the reader having to remember the mistakes Maddie made early on, and finding out at the end what the consequences were, the reader is now aware that Maddie is making mistakes as she makes them.

Next came the hardest part: I wrote a cull list of characters who could potentially be cut, and sketched out how the removal would affect the plot. I decided to delete four chapters straight off in order to keep the action moving in the right direction. My editor, Debby Harris, recommended maintaining a linear journey, rather than allowing Maddie to constantly retrace her steps. This suggestion gave me another means to organise and co-ordinate my rewrite: as much as possible, I grouped the events occurring at each location, eliminating whatever no longer served a purpose plot-wise. And, lastly, I cut every scene where I’d attempted to rein in my plot by allowing my supposedly intelligent and strong characters to behave like morons. Luckily Debby was not shy about pointing these out!

All that remained was to fill in the blanks I’d created with forty thousand new words. I said it was a simple solution; I didn’t say it was an easy, or a quick, one.

Previous posts counting down to a self-published book:
1 : Making the Decision
2 : Putting Together My Editing Team

Elsa Neal
Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, which is now available on Kindle. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. To keep in the loop about “Maddie”, join her mailing list here, or find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com

Monday, April 28, 2014

Series Setup

For some odd reason, one summer I got addicted to watching the TV series, House, M.D.
That series lasted from 2004 - 2012, but I started watching late in the game, while reruns were already showing. They still are on Tuesdays. 

With the marvels of DVR, a few weeks ago I was able to record not only the very last episode, but also the first and second episodes which all ran back to back.

It was fascinating to watch the series setup, as well as the concluding episode. From that, I garnered a few tips which could also apply to setting up a book series. If you're thinking of setting up a series, here are three questions you might want to ask yourself:  

  1. Are your characters unique?  In the first episode, it was apparent to me that House was a lovable, intriguing curmudgeon, who liked to go his own way. His buddy, Dr. James Wilson, appeared to be his polar opposite. Their boss, Lisa Cuddy, was a rules stickler. Early on, it's obvious House was not only attracted to her, but also enjoyed rattling her cage. The cast included other great characters on House's team, but I can't go into them all here. Each, however, played a particular role not only as a doctor, but as a person in his or her own right.
  2. Are the characters sympathetic? It seems strange to be fascinated by a character who enjoyed flaunting the rules, but I couldn't help being intrigued by House. One reason was the script writers' inclusion of House's leg injury. How could I not feel sorry for a guy who carried on, despite a debilitating leg injury, which kept him dependent on pain-killers? His buddy, Dr. Wilson, came off as not only a caring, kind person, but also specialized in oncology, a noble profession. Then there was Dr. Lisa Cuddy, who had her hands full keeping order in the midst of chaos.   
  3. Are the characters sustainable and plot worthy? Episodes for eight years featured House hard at work solving one after another medical puzzle. Patients exhibited strange and sometimes scary symptoms, many times resulting in a race against the clock to sustain life. Snippets about the personal lives of the main characters were interspersed with research about finding cures. Even in the most dire circumstances, it wasn't unusual for House to throw out a personal remark to catch another main character off guard. Dr. Wilson served as his conscience, yet had his own weaknesses. Dr. Cuddy fought an attraction to House. I won't tell you how the series ended, in case you want to find out for yourself.
Can you think of any other questions a series writer might consider? Or, maybe you'd like to mention a unique character from your book series, someone else's, or a TV series.

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 COMING SOON: A Perfect Angel

Friday, April 25, 2014

Countdown to a Self-Published Book 2 : Putting Together My Editing Team

As Carola Dunn illustrated in her recent post, in traditional publishing the author is sometimes at the mercy of her editor. One of the benefits of (and problems with) self-publishing is that the author-publisher gets an overruling vote against the editor she hires.

Look at all the pretty colours...
(a screenshot of the multiple edits of a now-deleted scene)

As a history major, I was taught to seek multiple sources of information, and, even with my own fictional brain-matter, I don’t feel comfortable until I’ve had several opinions on it. Since I had the budget, I decided to hire two editors for Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, knowing that I might be tempted to outvote a single editor, but two against one would show me there really was an issue that needed fixing. I also placed a request for teenage beta-readers. And the final member of my team would be proofreader Julia Gibbs.

My editors, Sally Odgers and our own Debby Harris, both picked up on an “incomprehensible” beginning (caused, I have to confess, by not having a true antagonist in the first draft and trying to retrofit the bad guys) and a lack of explanation of key elements affecting the plot. Even more telling (and embarrassing) was that only one of my beta-readers actually managed to finish the book and provide feedback. Out of ten.

In addition, Debby Harris brought her thirty years of experience to bear when she pointed out that the fun I’d been having jumping my protagonist back and forth between Earth and an alternate world (Ground) had forced me as the writer to come up with plot threads to justify the situation, extra characters to carry out the extra threads (and provide expository information), and then extra complications to justify the existence of the extra characters. In effect my book and characters had run away with me. I had allowed the plot and characters to meander in the beginning—having fun, but not really doing anything of value—and towards the end I’d sprinted through the wrap up in order to complete the book before I birthed my daughter. Three quarters of the book had a good proportion of showing (but very little of it important to the plot); the last quarter was mostly exposition (and vital to the climax). And if I wanted to keep everything as it was, it was going to have to be a much longer book—or perhaps split over two books.

Or perhaps there was a simpler solution. But that’s a tale for the next post.

Previous post:
Countdown to a Self-Published Book 1 : Making the Decision

Elsa Neal
Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, which is now available on Kindle. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. To keep in the loop about “Maddie”, join her mailing list here, or find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com

Thursday, April 24, 2014

7 Tips for Writing Book Club Fiction

When Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees was released in 2002, it met with encouraging yet modest sales. It was only after book clubs started discovering it and recommending it word-of-mouth, over the course of the following year, that it accumulated the kind of readership that would push it onto the New York Times bestseller list, where it stayed for two-and-a-half years.

The book club craze isn’t over—in fact, it’s in a boom. The New York Times recently estimated that five million Americans belong to book clubs. Publishers understand the boon that the book club movement represents, and will often give books designed to meet this market additional support at the publisher’s website. These titles often have staying power. I just heard of a club reading The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, which also came out in 2002. For the math-impaired, that’s twelve years ago. Especially with book club fiction, a title need not be out three months then die a quiet death as so many cynics attest.

This post is for authors who might like a piece of that action.

Book club members get creative about reading!
This one recreated Penelope Sparrow's fall onto
the baker's car in The Art of Falling

As someone who has led four different book clubs, participated in many more, and authored a novel marketed as book club fiction, I have some considerations you might want to take into account.

1. Join a book club. Not every book makes a great book club pick, and your club’s trial-and-error will give you a handle on that. Meanwhile you’ll learn to appreciate getting to know people through books, gain ease in entertaining differing opinions, and get a handle on what drives a great discussion.

2. Write about an issue that matters deeply to you. I remember one club that chose to read an early Lisa Scottoline mystery. By the time the club met we could recall not one of the character names. Our discussion lasted three minutes—a quick, “when did you figure out the murderer?— before we moved to food and wine. Compare that to another mystery, Elizabeth George’s Deception on His Mind, which incorporates themes of immigration (Pakistanis in England), arranged marriage, and necessary secrecy. George's passion for these issues gives clubs a lot to talk about.

3. Orchestrate your character set around that issue. While my debut, The Art of Falling, is a widely relatable tale about a woman seeking her authentic creative contribution in the world, it does so through the lens of what we can and can’t change about the talents, dispositions, and bodies we were born with. The many ways my characters relate to their bodies and to food pave the way for revelatory discussion.

4. Don’t spoon-feed the reader. Give clues about character motivation and let your readers figure it out. One of the surprises for book clubs when I talk to them is how often I’ll answer a question with, “Maybe she just didn’t know that…” They laugh and say, “You’re the author. Don’t you know?” Heck—I don’t know my own motivation at times! One of the great joys of art is interpretation. Don’t rob your readers of this opportunity to enter into and own your story.

5. Don’t tie up all the loose threads in your ending. A favorite book club question is, “Where do you see these characters another five years down the road?” If you’ve included an epilogue that told them, you’ve taken away another chance for them to co-create your story. Instead, think of your ending as a way to create emotional resonance while addressing the main story question.

Here a book club member created a display
about the fastnachts featured in The Art of Falling

6. Add discussion questions. If your publisher doesn’t plan to put the questions in the back of the book, there’s no reason you can’t put them on your website. My publisher has a book club site that includes a downloadable discussion guide, recipes, and food and drink pairings. You could do this too.

7. Devote a page at your author site to book club interaction. This shows that you are devoted to your book club readers. Here’s mine. Depending on your book, yours could include bonus discussion questions, a video, recipes, maps, photos, or related articles and facts. Book clubs often like to add a creative flair to their treatment of your book, so why not encourage it by asking them to send photos? Invite book clubs to interact with you and give a contact link so you can set up in-person or Skype visits. If you can find out the members’ names in advance, you can mail the organizer personalized and signed custom bookplates as a lovely and much appreciated way to thank them for choosing your book.

Book clubs are comprised of avid readers who recommend their favorites to other clubs. Don’t overlook this important market.

Have you met with book clubs, or been in a book club chat with a guest author? What was your favorite part of that interaction?

Click here to read more about the difference between book club fiction, women's fiction, and literary fiction.

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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Grave Matters

Contemplating my mortality and being obsessively organized, I have given considerable thought to what happens when I die. Having dealt with our parents’ deaths has reinforced the need to think about the logistics of dismantling the detritus of a lifetime.

There are special matters that must be addressed upon a writer’s death.

If you are a traditionally published writer, you have a contract with a publisher and an agent. In the digital age and with self-publishing, the list is a little longer.

1) How will your outstanding royalties be paid?

Are they paid into a business account or a personal account? Will that account be closed? If the payments are direct deposited, the executor of your will must change the bank account information for payments. If the account belongs to a corporation that will remain intact, the payments can continue as is.

2) Who will you give access?

If you self-publish, make certain you leave instructions as well as your sign-on and passwords for Kindle, Create Space, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. with a copy of your will. Your executor needs to access your accounts to follow through with your wishes. If you are unwell but not deceased, who holds the power of attorney to conduct your business for you?

3) Who controls your royalties and copyrights?

If you have a contract with a publisher and agent, do your royalties and contract end with your life or will they be paid for as long as your book remains in print? Do the copyrights transfer to your designated beneficiary? If you own copyrights to your self-published works, can you will them to your estate or a beneficiary?

4) Will your books remain for sale?

If you self-published, will your books be taken off the market or will someone continue to manage them? Have a talk with your designated beneficiary. Do they want to continue to deal with it? Kindle, Create Space, etc. will continue to issue 1099s at tax time and the beneficiary must claim the amounts as income. We may be talking peanuts or, if you are lucky, a decent amount of money. Do they want to be responsible for claiming the income? Are they capable of learning the ins and outs of how to manage the books on the various platforms? They have to keep up to date on the status of those sites.

5) What if you have books in the pipeline?

Will they be published? Will your agent and editor continue to work with your “estate” or your heir? Will your designated beneficiary desire to finish the project and upload it to the self-publishing entities?

6) What happens to your business entity?

Did you form a Limited Liability Corporation or sole proprietorship? If so, the LLC needs to be dissolved or transferred to a new owner. Forms need to be filed with the appropriate documentation. Taxes have to be paid. It will help greatly if you have all of the necessary documentation printed, prepared, and ready for the eventuality, especially if your beneficiary lives in another state.

7) Are your records easily available?

If your record-keeping has been slipshod, you need to tighten it up. Make sure you leave explicit instructions and make important papers easy to find. You might know how to take care of these matters, but your spouse or other beneficiary may not.

8) What happens to your copies?

If you have stacks of your own books lying around, what do you want your beneficiary to do with them? If you have specific wishes, make them known. Do you want them to be sold, donated, or sent to special people? Is your address book up to date?

9) Who will have Power of Attorney?

Who do you trust to make certain your literary legacy is handled properly? As much as you may love those near and dear, they may not be up to the task. Choose wisely.

10) Do you have it in writing?

In addition to making your wishes known, you must make them legal. Draw up a will. Consult an intellectual property lawyer if necessary.

By providing in-depth information and instructions, you lighten the burden for those you leave behind. In the digital age, your literary legacy can continue to make an impact long after you are gone. It is important to make provisions for the care and keeping of your “book babies.”

Other articles on this topic:

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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Do You Know When You Need to Revise?

I follow the “social media maven” Kristen Lamb’s blog. She is a zany, savvy writer and social media marketer. Here are excerpts from a recent blog post “Five Warning Signs Your Story Needs Revision.” I ditto her remark, “To maybe make you guys feel better, I’ve written well over a million words in blogs and articles alone. I’ve also written three books, two novels and scads of short stories. As much as I have written—and EDITED—even I have to seek outside editors to look for these issues.”

Photo by Andrea De Stefani
via Free Images
Kristen’s warning flags:

1. If Your Novel has More Characters than the Star Wars Prequels, You Might Need Revision. Whenever the author takes the time to name a character, that is a subtle clue to the reader that this is a major character and we need to pay attention. Think Hollywood and movies (good ones, NOT the SW prequels). If the credits roll and there is a named character in the credits, then we can rest assured this character had a speaking part….Only name them if you plan on getting us attached.

2. If Your Novel Dumps the Reader Right into Major Action, You Might Need Revision.
Lola leaned out over the yawning chasm below, and yelled to Fabio. She needed her twist-ties and lucky purple rabbit’s foot if she ever was going to defuse the bomb in time. Sweat ran into her eyes as she reached out for Malfio’s hand. They only had minutes before Juliette would be back and then it would all be over for Katy, Skipper and Mitzi. 

Okay, I just smashed two into one. Your first question might be, Who the hell are these people? And likely your second question is Why do I care?
(Heidi's Note: Now I've been taught it's good to start with action, but I think the rule "moderation in all things" might apply here.)

3. Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts? Time for Revision
Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.  
His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.” Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow…the carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

4. Too much Physiology? Time for Revision 
Her heart pounded. Her heart hammered. Her pulse beat in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs.

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out. That and I read a lot of entries where the character has her heart hammering so much, I am waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment. Ease up on the physiology. Less is often more. Get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus.

5. Too Many Evil Adverbs? REVISE!
Most of the time, adverbs are a no-no. Find a stronger verb instead of dressing up a weaker choice.
She stood quickly from her chair.
Stronger: She bolted from her chair.
Also be careful of redundant adverbs. She whispered quietly… Um, duh. The verb whisper already tells me the volume level. She can, however, whisper conspiratorially. Why? Because the adverb isn’t denoting something inherent in the verb. To whisper, by definition is to be quiet BUT not necessarily to conspire. The adverb conspiratorially indicates a certain quality to the whisper.

Read the rest of this excellent post at Kristen Lamb’s Blog. You can also connect with Kristen Lamb on Facebook, on Twitter @KristenLambTX and #MYWANA

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, will be published in May 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Remembering Your Reader During the Editing Process

While editing, yes, be the "editor," but also be the "reader." What do you, as reader, think of the story?

When I teach Writing for the Media, I talk a lot about audience. It's the first thing we talk about at the start of the semester, and as we move through our writing projects - traditional news stories, features, radio and TV commercial scripts, and mini advertising and public relations campaigns - I sprinkle audience across each project. From the pre-writing, research, legwork phases of their projects to the revising and editing, the students keep their focus on audience. Like I tell my students, we live in a fast-paced, technological society, and readers can go to any number of outlets - offline and online - to receive information. What are you going to do to make sure readers are reading you? If the students aren't focused on their readers, those readers will definitely not be focused on them.

Image by marin from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fiction writers are no different. We have to think about our audience, too. We might start out writing the story that only we can tell, writing the story that matters to us, but ultimately, consideration of our readers should come into play. The best place for that to occur is in the editing phases. I mean, let's be honest. It's hard enough fighting with the voices in our own head during the writing of a novel. The fewer voices involved in the actual writing process, not including those lovely characters, the better.

Writers often think about the audience after a story is written, and many of them focus on the audience when developing their marketing and public relations plans for the story. This is important because in the developing of a plan, writers are defining their audience and researching where this audience congregates - offline and online - so that they can reach them.

We should, however, be thinking about our readers beyond being able to pitch a book to them. A great marketing plan will do nothing for a book that doesn't consider the reader's needs in actually enjoying the book.

We spend months, maybe even years as the writer, crafting the story.

We move into our role as self-editor to revise and clean up the story. We further develop the story's content, making sure all elements of the story are sound. We comb through the story to make sure grammar and mechanics and structure are clean and consistent throughout the story.

Once we have that copy we believe sings off the page, it's a good idea to now become the reader.

You, the writer, love the story. You, as self-editor, think the story works. But what does the reader think? Who would read this story? What would they need to know about your characters, about the setting, about background information, etc. for the story to sing off the page to them?

The story we love as writer and self-editor might become, when in our role as reader, a story that could be even better with exposition trimming and scene development.

How often do you think of the reader during your editing process?

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 and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What Is Your Story?

An Excerpt from The Life Organizer by Jennifer Louden

You observe the world in your own way, a way formed by your biology, life experiences, education, culture, spiritual beliefs, and many other influences. That’s a common enough idea — you observe the world through a lens fashioned from all these facets of you. Yet consider: to observe is to interpret. You literally cannot experience reality as it is, just like you can never see yourself without a mirror. You live in a world first filtered through your brain’s system of sorting, editing, and ordering information and then shaped by your observations. It is a narrative system — information comes in, and your brain sorts it into a story, which is a good thing, since 400 billion bits of information are received by your brain every second. Without this narrative-making brain, you would soon be insane. Creating narratives is how you make sense of things. Everything you experience is the product of this storytelling process; without really knowing it, you become the shape of your stories. You look at a person, and you see your story of him and whatever meaning you assign him. You start a business, and it fails, and you create a story out of those events. “We do not see how things are; we see them according to how we are,” writes Australian coach Alan Sieler in Coaching and the Human Soul.

We can create tremendous pain in our lives, our communities, our corporations, and our world by confusing story with fact, interpretation with truth. When we believe that there is only one true religion or that one race is superior to others, for example, there is no limit to the evil we can perpetrate in the name of “truth.” On a more intimate scale, how many of us are unhappy right this second because we believe our co-worker or boss or partner or child ought to be a certain way, in spite of the reality that he or she is not? How much time and energy do we spend nagging and hoping that people and circumstances be different than they are, more in alignment with our interpretation or story of what is right?

Given this powerful automatic dynamic it is critical to ask yourself these questions: What stories am I telling myself? What do I base these stories on? Do I base them in fact? What is fact and what is interpretation? How life giving are my stories? Is there a kinder story to be telling myself?

Here’s an example of how powerfully the stories we tell can shape our lives. Having had my share of knee injuries and two surgeries, when my knee started “sticking” as I rode my bike, accompanied by a couple of sharp pains, I immediately assumed (or interpreted this to mean) that something was seriously wrong. On the ride home, I imagined a future in which hiking, yoga, and biking were gone and a knee replacement was looming.

Over the next few weeks, I stopped exercising. I ignored my knee, told myself I was getting old, and beat myself up for not being able to participate in extreme sports — never mind that I don’t even like extreme sports. After a few weeks of telling myself this story, it finally occurred to me to go see Mark, an orthopedic surgeon, to have my knee checked out. He laid his hand on my knee, twisted it in each direction, and told me my knee was in solid shape and that I was most likely experiencing “wear and tear,” and perhaps a small tear in my cartilage.


Because of his grounded assessment of my knee, which was based on his years of training, and my trust in his ability, my mood and my use of my body changed — instantly. Suddenly, I was literally leaping around his office, flexing my knee, calculating how many yoga classes I could fit in that week. My interpretation of the sensation in my knee had changed — the twinge, the catch, the pain were no longer “serious,” just due to wear and tear. Yet the sensations were the same. Before I walked into Mark’s office, I was telling myself a story that I was broken and doomed. Ten minutes later, I was ready to climb Mt. Rainier. All that had changed was how I interpreted the pain.

Separating the Story from the Facts

To understand the power of stories, you need to cultivate a habit of noticing your interpretations and whether they are serving you. What if, instead of assuming that the sensations in my knee meant I was badly hurt, I had said to myself, “Hmm....This is a new sensation. Let me take a moment to feel this. When I stand I feel a catch. My knee feels like I don’t want anybody to touch it. I don’t want to ride a bike or do deep knee bends.” When I remain with the sensation in my knee, without having to decide what it means, my field of possibilities widens dramatically. When I decide that my interpretation of an experience or sensation is a fact and I forget I’m making up an interpretation, forget that I am observing through the lens of me, my ability to shape my life becomes cramped and limited, or it shuts down altogether. When I believed my own story that there was something wrong with my knee, my mind went instantly about its job of proving my story to be true.

When I don’t observe the story as simply that, a story, it becomes the truth. Often we observe without being aware of the context that shapes our observations, just as a fish isn’t aware it lives in water (or at least I don’t think the fish is aware). Water just “is,” and many of our interpretations have that same quality of inevitability: this is just the way I am, this is just the way working in this company is, this is how I always feel when my mother comes into town. Oh really? Is that true? This is rarely anything other than an interpretation.

Excerpted from the new paperback edition of The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year © 2013 by Jennifer Louden. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com 
Jennifer Louden helped start the self-care movement with her first best-selling book The Woman's Comfort Book. She's written 5 more books including The Life Organizer, just out in paperback. Visit JenniferLouden.com/lifeorganizer to get your free app and four more super useful gifts.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Characters - Peel Away Those Layers

To me, a book is ALL about the characters. Strong characters can shore up a weak plot, but weak characters won't help even the strongest story. Characters should be like artichokes. You don't get to the heart until you do some serious work peeling away the layers. What the reader sees, as well as what other characters see when they meet a character, be it protagonist or a secondary character, will be superficial at first. Perhaps the character was too good to be true, and as time goes on, faults are revealed. Or maybe it's the other way around. An unlikeable character turns out to be golden inside.

We spend a lot of time getting to know our characters so we'll know how they'll respond in any situation we subject them to. Or will we? It's just as important to know how your character will behave when confronted with the unexpected. And, as authors, we need to keep the unexpected happening.

What happens when your hero finds himself in an unexpected environment? How will he cope? Does he grumble and complain? Does he make the best of it? Go into hiding until it passes? In one of my Blackthorne, Inc. books, Where Danger Hides, Dalton, the hero, is a covert ops specialist. How does he respond when Miri, the heroine, drags him along to her shift as a 'baby cuddler' and he's forced to face not only something he's unfamiliar with, but something that calls up memories he's tried to bury. Will he suck it up? Refuse? Explain? Or suddenly remember somewhere else he has to be?

The best characters are the ones who have to cope with NOT having their creature comforts, or their professional tools. What happens when the hero is a chef renowned for his veal and lamb, and he prepares an exquisite meal to impress the heroine? Who, he discovers, is a strict vegetarian.

Or the hero who's a whiz with technology: What happens when he doesn't have any of his fancy equipment? Does he give up? Go into MacGyver mode and create a high-tech gizmo? Or utilize a totally new way to solve his problem, not relying on technology at all?

Peeling away those character layers makes for three-dimensional characters—characters your readers will care about.

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, April 16, 2014

Making a Point or Three

Graphic courtesy of freeimages.com
Hello, dearies! Well, it seems that Mother Nature can’t make up her mind. Eighty summery degrees one day, snow the next. I must confess that I’m sorely tempted to simply toss my coats and T-shirts into one large pile and draw my wardrobe at random. It would make about as much sense as the latest weather patterns.

To spur the jet stream into sticking with a decision, let’s have a little look at ellipses versus periods, shall we? While some writers delight in the use of ellipses to trail off thoughtfully in a sentence, many editors (and readers) rail against this trail and demand closure. Firmness! Decisiveness! Like a good analyst, they seek closure in their sentences.

Here are a few tips to help nudge you in the appropriate direction when faced with the decision to dot or not.

1. Ellipsis points indicate the omission of some portion of a quoted passage. The omitted portion mustn’t be essential to said passage, or you run the risk of skewing the meaning.

2. Suspension points (same thing, different use) are used to show suspended or interrupted thought, much as an em dash indicates an abrupt shift.

3. A period, in the words of the CMOS, “marks the end of a declarative or imperative sentence” or a single-word response.

In the end, it all boils down to clarity. Is your character suffering from a derailed train of thought? Go for the ellipses. “Now then, I need to buy a pair of stockings. Heavens, what an awful plaid pattern on that coat! Hm, where was I? Something else I needed to get …”

If, on the other hand, your character has focus on par with the Hubble telescope, get to the point with a period. “I’m going to buy those shoes. Hand me my checkbook.”

That’s all for now; it’s nearly time to go out and watch the lunar eclipse. I don’t trust this ever-changing weather, so I believe I’ll wear a heavy coat while I’m outside. For the first ten minutes, at any rate. Until Mother Nature settles down, be sure to dress in layers and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo by Darrick Bartholomew

Faced with a choice between giving up King cake and buying a new (larger) wardrobe, the Style Maven opted to adapt the recipe into smaller portions, creating Epic Raisin Cinnamon Rolls. She is currently planning to install a treadmill in the kitchen

A Caper about a Caper

As I struggle through the third book in my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, I thought about the finished book waiting in the wings that I never published. I’m sure it needs a good edit and updating. I never published it because the book is fiction written around a real event, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, pulled off in Boston in 1990. This still remains one of the largest art thefts in history, valued at $500 million, and none of the 13 stolen pieces has been recovered. I’m from the Boston area, went to art school there, so the theft left a big hole in my heart, along with eleven empty frames still hanging in the museum.

I’ll certainly add a line or two in the preface to explain the creative license I took to write the book. But twenty-four years is a long time for a crime to remain unsolved, and I’m willing to take the risk. It is fiction, remember.

Another consideration was the arrest of master criminal, Whitey Bulger, a man thought to be involved, if not in the heist, as a middleman to raise money, specifically for the Irish Republican Army. If Bulger knows anything, he hasn’t disclosed the information to the public’s knowledge. Even though the FBI now claims to know who the culprits are, the statute of limitations has expired on pursuing their arrest and prosecution. However, anyone in possession of the art can still be brought to trial. The most anyone can hope for is a return of the stolen art.

My book, titled Cross Currents, is primarily a caper that revolves around one piece of the stolen artwork, Jan Vermeer’s The Concert. What makes the Vermeer, all the Vermeers, so valuable is that only thirty-four are known conclusively to be painted by the artist. The worth of that painting alone is $200 million. That’s a sizeable chunk when you consider the rest of the stolen art includes three Rembrandts, five Degas sketches, and a Manet.

Part of the fun in writing this book was that I learned about art forgers like Hans Van Meegeren, who replicated canvases of Vermeer and others to such perfection that they were hung in major European museum and found their way into the collection of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering during World War II. The development of modern scientific techniques such as gas chromatography tripped up Van Meegeren away because the pigments in paints had changed significantly since the seventeenth century. Still, he reaped millions and millions of dollars before he was caught. He died of a heart attack right before his trial.

I’ll return to Cross Currents as soon as I finish my work in progress. The book is filled with the trademark characters I love to write: those tempted to cross ethical lines, although in this book, some of them have made a career out of being on the wrong side of the law. Does my heroine, Zoe Swan, find the painting? Is it the real thing or a forgery, and will it fill the frame at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum? I’m not telling.

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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Act of Writing

I’ve always been an inveterate list-maker. Maybe it’s because list-making reduces my stress. Or maybe it’s because I have to write things down in order to believe they are real.

About twenty years ago, I was undergoing a particularly stressful time.  I was in the throes of changing jobs, moving to a new state, selling my house and buying a new one, hunting for a new school for my daughter, and saying goodbye to friends. There was a lot to do. My lists were long, and getting longer.

No matter how diligently I wrote everything I had to do on my ever-growing lists, I was haunted by the feeling that there was something I was forgetting. I was sure it was an important something.

But the only time I remembered what that something was, was when I was asleep. Nearly every night I’d have the same dream – I dreamt I remembered the something. I would wake up, breathe a sigh of relief, and go back to sleep.

The next mornings I remembered having the dream, remembered waking up, remembered the relief -- but I never remembered the “something” itself.

This cycle repeated three, four, sometimes five times a week for two or three months. I spent many of my waking moments trying to remember my dreams or figure out what the something was that I was forgetting.

Finally one night when I woke up after the dream, I got out of bed, stumbled across the room to my desk, and scribbled “the something” down on a scrap of paper, making a list. Then I stumbled back to bed and fell back to sleep.

In the morning when I awoke, again I remembered the dream, remembered waking up, and still did not remember the something. Ah, but that didn’t matter now! I had written it down on a list! Saved at last! I scampered over to my desk, excited and filled with curiosity about what I would find. 

This is what my list said: 


???? To this day I have not figured out what those words meant. I do not know what my subconscious was trying to tell me. Maybe it was just playing a joke on my conscious mind – you know, kind of a “gotcha.” But the really interesting thing is that from that time onward, my feeling of having forgotten something important went away and never came back.

I have come to believe that the point of this story is that what you write is not as important as the act of writing.
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.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Opening Hooks

Grabbing the reader’s attention in the first few lines of a book is essential. Below are two examples of openers from my writing manual. Which of the two do you like better? Why? How would you open this scene?

Scene 1:
Stretching long pink fingers across the horizon, the sun scurried away from ominous thunderheads that rolled across the sky. Sharp winds charged the air with chilling expectation. Dusk yielded too
early to the dark.

Maria sat on the window seat and shuddered as jagged bolts dissected the air. Putting her hands over her ears, she tried to shut out the thunderous roars that followed.

The storm matched her mood, her life. Hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, she knew them all. They defined her existence.

Scene 2:
Streaking across the black sky, lightning dazzled the dark room with eerie brightness. Thunder answered in earsplitting claps.

Maria stared out the window. Where was Hannah? Her daughter had promised to come home before the storm hit. Maria punched the redial button on her cell phone. No service.

Another flash chased a gust of angry wind. Grotesque shadows skittered across the limb-littered yard. Dangling in haphazard fashion over the bare branches of several trees, a broken power line shot sparks toward the rushing stream that, moments before, had been the street.

“Mommy! Mommy!” The rain beat so hard against the window she almost missed her son’s words. “Where are you, Mommy?”

“I’m here, Danny, on the window seat.” She stretched her arms toward him as another flash brightened the room. “Is Devon with you?”

“He’s under the bed. I’m scared.” His voice quivered.

“Come over here and sit on my lap. I’ll keep you safe.”

“I have to go be with Devon. He’s scared, too.” Danny bolted from the room.

She jumped up and hurried after him.

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, April 10, 2014

Establishing Character

Last month, I got together with a big group of friends. We’re all writers of one kind or another and you couldn’t ask for a better convergence of personalities. We meet at various houses, supposedly for lunch, but it goes beyond that since “lunch” usually lasts around 3 or 4 hours.

We gathered at a perfect house. Not a humongous house like those around a country club. Not a cozy lake house overlooking Lake Travis. The house was perfect because it so very much reflects the owner. It’s bright; it’s funky; it’s elegant; it’s colorful; it’s warm; it’s inviting. It’s HER. You could be blindfolded, taken to this house, and when you saw it, you’d know whose home you were at.

 Now that’s something to keep in mind when you’re establishing character. The character’s home tells a lot about that person. It’s not black or white. It tells you about the character. Also keep in mind that every character’s home, office, car, etc. doesn’t have to match your tastes. They should match the tastes and lifestyle of the character and his/her personality. Even more than that, they should reflect the character; they should be an extension of the character.

 The reader should be able to enter their home and learn more about the character than what’s been told to them. Yes, as someone said, it’s all in the details. But for you to use the environment to establish character, you don’t have to have a lot of details. The room doesn’t have to be described ad nauseum. One or two things will tell the reader more than you could describe in a page. Like the delicate, porcelain, hooting owl on the coffee table. Or the twirling, kicking, pom-pom Barbie on the bookshelf.

 Or the blue and yellow office with the upside-down shelves on the ceiling. (My office.)

Helen Ginger
is an author and blogger. 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.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fun Times with Editors

In 35 years of writing, I've dealt with quite a few editors, even if you don't count the ones who only sent rejections--as I'd much rather not.

My first editor, Fredda Isaacson at Warner Books, bought my first Regency, Toblethorpe Manor. She then told me it was about 20,000 words too long for their format and would have to be cut. (Writing longhand and then typing, I hadn't a clue how long it was: 96,000 words, apparently.)

If I hadn't been totally ignorant of the publishing business, I'd have replied that I'd see what I could do. As it was, I left it to her. It turned out to be a good thing. Goodness knows what sort of a mess I'd have made of it, whereas she got back to me some time later to say she had been able to cut only about a page and half. The story was so tightly woven any more would have wrecked it. Warner published it at $1 more than their usual price!

My second editor was Ruth Cavin, later doyenne of mystery editors at St. Martin's. An amazing lady, she went on working into her 90s and still remembered having helped my early career. As Regency editor at Walker & Co., she bought my 3rd and 4th Regencies, skipping the second, which naturally did not please me. then taking it later, along with several others. In retrospect, she was right. Lavender Lady is a stronger book and remains just about every month the best seller of all my Regency e-books. Sometimes I wonder whether it hasn't by now been read by every Regency reader in existence.

In case you're wondering, I'm not conceding editors are always right.

Ruth moved on after buying Miss Hartwell's Dilemma. I didn't get on so well with her successor, who, on taking over production of that title, addressed me as Dear Author. When you've sold eight books, you kind of expect your editor to know your name—or at least to look it up before writing to you. It did not augur well for our relationship.

Fortunately, she lasted for only one more book. I won't go into painful details, just say that it was the first and last time any editor has ever asked me to rewrite more than a scene or two, and I had to rewrite twice.

She'd asked for an adventure story, then wanted less adventure. My heroine, growing up in Costa Rica, had a pet monkey and a pet parrot. The editor thought that made it seem like a children's book. They were quite important to my story. I took out the monkey but fought for the parrot. Worst of all, to my terse last sentence: At last their lips met she added a long coda—in the sweetest kiss that ever was in all the five continents and seven seas they would travel in their future life together. So-o-o not me. I told my agent I'd put up with all the rest if she left that off.

Though the published result was a choppy mess, at least it didn't end with that soppy sentimental slush.

Before it came out as an e-book, I rewrote for the third time, attempting to restore the original. But that's another story.

How about you? Share some interesting stories about editors in the comments! 

Part Two of this post is here.

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

People Don't Think Alike

People don't think alike, and the strangest of all are writers.

To prove it,
here are some examples:

A child:  What fun. Snowball fights, sledding, ice skating, snow forts. 
A stay-at-home adult: How pretty. Great time to hibernate. 
A worker: Please, not more of that stuff. It'll take forever to get to work today.
An animal lover: The poor dears can't get to their food. Time for me to feed them.
A writer: It's hard to hear footsteps in the snow. Perfect for my villain to sneak up.

A child: Can't wait for my Easter Basket. Hope it has good candy in it. 
A woman: Can I find a new outfit in time, or will someone notice if I wore the same thing as last year?
A worker: Will the boss let me out early the Friday before, or by some miracle, give me the whole day off?
An animal lover: Easter Bunny decorations are so adorable.
A clergyman: Why is Easter so secularized?
A writer: I've got to write this great idea down before I forget, but I have no paper. Will anyone notice if I use the napkin from the brunch buffet to write on?

A child: School's out, schools out, teacher let the monkeys out.
A stay-at home adult: How can I entertain this dear child until the school year mercifully starts again?
A worker: Can't wait for vacation. Where should I go this time?
An animal lover: I must remember to fill the bird bath. It can get hot out there.
A writer: Hmm, people open windows at night to save on air conditioning. Easy access for bad guys. That should work well in my plot.

Can you think of other examples? Please share.

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 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Backstory: How Much do You Use?

Now that you’ve created a character sketch, with your main character’s personality traits, flaws, quirks and secrets, what do you do with it?

As beginning writers, we often think we need to put this all up front, so the reader will know exactly who this character is, what influenced him and how she got into whatever mess she’s found herself in.

We’ve all read books that start out with a great hook—the character in the middle of a situation that makes us want to know how he/she gets out of it. So, we’re all primed for the action, the world of this story. But what happens if the whole next chapter takes us back to the character’s childhood, explaining how mistreated he/she was, describing all their physical traits, and reasons she hates men or he wants to climb the highest mountain.

That should give us all we need to know about the character so we can go on and enjoy the rest of the story, right?


Including big chunks of backstory in the opening pages is like saying, “Wait a minute—hold on. Before I tell you the story, first there’s something about these characters and this situation that you need to know.”

Long paragraphs, pages or even chapters of “telling” stops the action cold. We don’t have any emotion invested in this character yet, so we don’t necessarily care enough about him to want to continue on the journey. Like meeting a new friend in real life, we need to get to know the character as we continue to meet him, see him in various situations, see how he reacts.

Interrupting the story to tell the reader about something that happened before it began works against what we’re trying to accomplish: engaging the readers and sweeping them up into the world of our novel.

Backstory is best woven in gradually throughout the story. Giving the reader a tidbit here and another one there helps to heighten the tension, because we keep reading to find out why or how or when. And it slowly builds the character, just like that new friend you’ve met.

The book Icebound by Dean Koontz is a great example of withholding crucial backstory information. A woman scientist is among a group conducting a secret experiment in the Arctic. As this action-packed thriller progresses, we learn that she has a fear of ice. Everything that happens escalates this fear just a little, but we do not find out why until the very end. Very powerful way to use backstory.

Folio Literary Management’s Jeff Kleinman offers this hint: “Backstory is the stuff the author figures the reader should know—not stuff the character desperately wants to tell the reader. If it’s critical to the character, it’s critical to the reader, and then it’s not backstory.”

How do you use backstory?

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, will be published in May 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.