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Showing posts from May, 2014

What Would James Bond Do?

From the first page, an author must pull the reader into the story by assuring him of its forward movement. There’s no better way to do this than to involve your reader in your protagonist’s goal-oriented behavior. Here’s an easy way to remember how to do that, straight from a master of story action. If things get slow, just ask yourself, WWJBD? One thing I feel sure of: Once James Bond enters the scene he will not sit down somewhere and get lost in his head. He will set a goal. Do not fear stating this goal overtly. Doing so can actually ramp up suspense and remind you to push your story forward. Let’s say we are writing a middle grade novel about a boy named Brandon who hopes to find the courage to tell his first crush, a recent immigrant named Parvati, that he likes her. He knows she likes soccer, and he wants to demonstrate his proficiency at it, so you set a scene at a game, show him playing, and put the girl in the stands. This scene sounds relevant to the story, b

History's Mysteries

Every time I come across an intriguing article I think has story potential, I save it in folder labeled “History’s Mysteries.” As Dan Brown has proven with his DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons , readers love a good thriller that sheds light on a piece of history that has intriguing possibilities. There, among the real artifacts, are shades of unwritten historical gray that are fertile ground for writers. A good historical thriller prompts the reader to learn more about the details of the story it is based on. I present a list of some mysteries that have intriguing potential. 1) The Portal to the Sun According to this theory, magnetic portals exist between the earth and sun and every eight minutes or so we are connected by a magnetic cylinder as wide as the earth. What happens when the portal is open? Strange Portal Connects Earth to Sun 2) The Divine Matrix According to this theory, we are all part of a cellular web that forms a force field. Everything we do creates

Guidelines for Requesting Reviews

Back in June 2013 here on The Blood Red Pencil , I offered some suggestions on taking a professional approach to being a book reviewer, so today I would like to take it from the other side. Writers, we are in a business, and it is so important to be professional in how we write, not just our books, but every letter and every e-mail we send, unless we're sending those to Mom, and then we can be all cutesy cutesy and forget about proper spelling and punctuation. Although Mom might remind us that she taught us better than that. Or at least she tried. I've been a professional reviewer for many moons, starting out for newspapers and magazines, and then moving into online sites. I now do reviews primarily on my blog, It's Not All Gravy , and also post reviews on the online retail sites and Goodreads. I get several review requests a week and turn down many of them for not being a businesslike letter. Such as:  Hi there. I am hoping that you will consider reviewing my lat

More Fun with Editors

Previously I shared some anecdotes on some of my less-than-ideal experiences with editors. My next editor at Walker remains a good friend. She let me stray from the genre to write a Time Travel Regency (having written one herself). Byron's Child came about because I wanted to tell the story of Lord Byron's legitimate daughter, Ada, often called the first computer programmer. Unfortunately, she wasn't born till towards the end of the Regency, but a time traveller from the present—a historian who happened to have Ada's biography with her--worked perfectly. I continued to write for Walker, but when I got divorced, I wasn't making enough to pay the bills. Regencies are very much a minority genre, and I had no interest in any other kind of romance. Though a part-time job helped, it wasn't enough. Then I had an amazing stroke of luck. At a(n) RWA conference, I met a senior editor from Harlequin. She actually knew my name! She told me that Harlequin were

Marketing & Selling: The Same?

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book." ~Cicero, 106-43 BC Many people mistakenly think that selling and marketing are the same - they aren't. Selling is the “instant gratification” we all like—you hand someone a book and they hand you money. I sell about 90% of my books in person, by hand.  Marketing is a little like planting seeds in your garden. You put them out there and water and fertilize and you hope they will bear fruit (or vegetables.) With marketing you are putting your name or your books out there and maybe some people will buy it right away and maybe two years from now, someone will come across your name and decide to buy. You may not be able to tell how many sales you make from a website or a virtual book tour until you receive a royalty check from your publisher or from Amazon. Global management consultant Alan Weiss says, "There is no music if you don‘t blow your own horn." Like it or n

Where's the Tree?

Across the street, a small pile of sawdust sits where not an hour before loomed a towering tree. I'd watched a man climb up and saw various portions of the trunk off to fell the tree. It had to go, because it was old and diseased, yet it was a part of our neighborhood, and I felt bad watching its demise. I'm not the only one. While I gazed at what remained, I saw a bewildered bird scampering amidst the sawdust. I could only imagine what ran through its head. It had to be wondering, "Where's the Tree?" Though there are plenty of other trees in the neighborhood, the sight of the bird's confusion saddened me. It also made me think about the ongoing publishing industry changes. I'm not a huge environmentalist, but I do my part, separating the recyclables from other garbage, and turning off the lights when I'm not in a room. I've also joined the e-book revolution and have published all of my books in that format, but still a few in print.

Tips for Deep Point of View

Photo by Jason Odell One of the first things I learned when I toyed around with writing, was that despite decades of being a reader, I didn't know diddly about Point of View. I accepted the challenge, and discovered an affinity for using what author Suzanne Brockmann calls "Deep Point of View." I thought I'd share her tips, and add my commentary. In a nutshell, being in deep POV means you're in the character's head, very much the way you are in 1st person. You see only what he can see, hear only what he can hear. You're privy to emotions, to thoughts. The author isn't on the page. There is no narrator. And, just as with first person, you have to work to let the reader know what you want her to know, or not know what you don't want her to know. Nobody said it was easy. 1. Don't cheat the reader . If it's logical for a character to be thinking of something in a scene, you can't hide it from the reader. 2. Make sure your chara

My Three Days at the Malice Domestic Convention

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

A Trend in Titles

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng Back for another visit, dearies? Splendid. Things have been far too exciting around here lately; a bit of coffee and chat will be just the thing. We've touched on titles before, if I recall. The niceties of Your Majesty and all that, yes? In a same-but-different vein, let’s consider titles again. I’m thinking of blogs and books and such. Yes, those titles. There are two main types of treatment for titles of works. The most straightforward is sentence-style capitalization. In addition to the first word of the title (and subtitle, should you have one), you need only worry about capitalizing any proper names. High heels: A look at torture devices through the ages. Simple, but a bit boring, don’t you think? I’m inclined to believe that a title should grab the reader’s interest right off, and headline-style capitalization will help in that regard. While the CMOS allows for a certain amount of aesthetically-inspired deviation from the rul

Don't Live on the Sidelines

For twenty years one of my writing disciplines has been to write one haiku poem per day. I write them whether I feel like it or not, mostly in the mornings while looking out my home office window. The view outside is always and never the same, reflecting the inward view of my own psyche. Twenty years ago I did not know this haiku practice would change my life, but it did. At the time I worked for the marketing department of a large technology company, and tried to pacify my lifelong dream of being a “real” writer by writing “on the side.” One evening while on a business trip and staying in a nondescript hotel, I was reading a book about writing I had brought from home. I have since forgotten the author and title of this book; the only thing I remember was that the author suggested would-be writers might try to write just one thing per day, no matter how small. Even a three-line haiku would be enough, the author said, to prove you were a real writer, a real artist. “I can d

Teaming Up For Success

A while back, I attended my first Novelists, Inc. conference in Albany, NY. One of the panels featured a "Lifeboat Team" – a group of authors who had decided there was value in working together on the 'non-writing' aspects of being a writer. I recapped their findings on my blog, and had several people respond that they were interested in joining a team. At the time, I had no intention of joining one, much less starting one, but after more inquiries from others, we decided to give it a shot, and formed Booklover's Bench . I blogged about it here over a year ago. I thought I'd share what we've learned. 1. Know your goals. Other groups have set goals of hitting the major best-seller lists. These require a much greater investment of time and money. They've produced boxed sets, sold them for a pittance, but generated enough sales to hit those lists. Our goal was, and still is, to expand our reach , because in this publishing climate, marketing is vit

The Importance of Memories

Memoirs have become very popular of late, and I think that is due, in part, on the fact that so many Boomers are becoming "of a certain age" and discovering the importance of that connection between now and the past. Kim Pearson has written several posts here at The Blood Red Pencil about memoir writing, and here is a link to one of her more recent posts about dealing with the facts. If you are inclined to write a memoir, her series is most helpful. The following is taken from a memoir I have been working on in between my fiction projects, and in looking at this piece I realize how quickly we can forget those things that molded us into the people we are today. Perhaps capturing the memories is more important than we ever thought. "One day when I was reminiscing about high school, I dug out my high school yearbooks – I won’t tell you how old they were, but it was a relief to find the pages didn't crumble. Anyway, my intent was just to look for a picture of someon

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

In yesterday's post , I talked about how good TV shows can help writers develop their story's beginning. Today, I'm concluding with a short talk on how those same TV shows can help writers develop their "commercial breaks" in fiction. What are fiction's commercial breaks? Chapter and scene endings. Just like TV writers need to hook viewers to keep them waiting through commercial breaks to see what happens next, fiction writers need to write riveting chapter and scene endings so that readers will want to flip the page to the next chapter or hurdle their eyes over white space to rush to the next scene. Make those commercial breaks count... In The TV Writer's Workbook: A Creative Approach to Television Scripts , writer Ellen Sandler states that a scene needs a narrative structure and that this structure contains three interconnected elements: the setup (beginning), the power switch or turning point (middle), and the arrow (end). The arrow is wha

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

Two things I almost always comment on when editing a client's manuscript are a story's beginning and chapter/scene endings. When I comment on these two story components, I tend to discuss TV shows and make the suggestion that we borrow what successful shows do and apply it to our novel writing. Today, I'll offer insight on how TV shows can help you develop your story's beginning. In the beginning... We all know how important a story's beginning is. Because a story has a beginning, middle, and an ending, some writers start their story at the very beginning, meaning, they use their first chapter to set us up with who the main characters are, where they live, and what they do. Toward the end of that first chapter, we might get a hint of conflict. Many times, especially in early drafts, we don't. When you consider the reader of said first chapter, that would be a problem. William Rabkin, in his book, Writing the Pilot , states that "what you're doi

“In Defense of Teaching”

On Wednesday, April 30, Maryann Miller posted a reference to the above link on Facebook. Mildly curious and nursing an injured shoulder that restricts activity to almost nothing beyond short stints at the computer, I watched/ listened to the short video. And then I listened again…and again. The words resonated more with my “writer” each time I heard its powerful message. Part of the video debated the lasting value of the book 1984 by George Orwell—hence the writer in me snapping to attention—and the teacher was clearly frustrated with the current state of our educational system. I asked myself, “Do parallels exist between writing and teaching? Can we speak ‘in defense of teaching’?” When we write, we often teach life lessons, intentionally or not. Children learn how to treat other children, adults, animals, and so forth. Adults see the results of wrong actions and the worth of positive relationships. Principles, values, and integrity (or lack thereof) in our characters can ma