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Showing posts from April, 2014

Yoga at Your Desk

Om time...

Countdown to a Self-Published Book 3 : Rewrite!

Available on Kindle from 1 st 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 alternati

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:   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

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 “incomprehensib

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 a

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 fo

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 h

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 Fict

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; withou

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 environmen

Making a Point or Three

Graphic courtesy of 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 s

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,

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,

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

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

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

People Don't Think Alike

People don't think alike, and the strangest of all are writers. To prove it, here are some examples: Snow  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. Easter 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