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Showing posts from August, 2015

Who Needs an Editor...

...when they have kids?  Since this month has been devoted to writing about kids, or including kids in our stories, I thought I'd share a bit about writing around kids. Several years ago I wrote a blog piece here about how our kids  Help With Our Writing, and this piece today is how mine helped me with editing. This excerpt is from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck , and originated as a column for a Dallas suburban newspaper, which is where I was first legitimized as a writer.   In those early years of writing I didn’t have an editor who did more than a copy edit of my work, so I was on my own when it came to content. Thank goodness I lived with five eager little editors who were willing to help me with my work and my conversations. They took it upon themselves to keep the record straight and bail me out of the perpetual state of chaos and confusion in which they were convinced I lived. "Last Monday, when I went shopping —" "That wasn

The Art of Word-Painting, Part Two

Photo by Dennis Jarvis , via Flickr As noted in last month’s post , we all want our readers to become immersed in the world we are creating. Using sensory imagery is a key element when it comes to bringing your fictional world to life. One effective technique for “translating” sensory impressions into words is to use figurative language. The term figurative language encompasses a barnyard of rhetorical devices. The twin work-horses in the stable are metaphor and simile, with style points for originality. Your average junior high school English student can be excused for trotting out a sentence like The stars were like diamonds scattered across against the black velvet sky . Aspiring writers need to aim higher. It’s no big deal if one of these old chestnuts finds its way into your first draft, but make yourself a mental note to upgrade your figurative language the second time around. A good metaphor or simile depends on a single bold stroke of the imagination that establi

Stage a House, Revise a Novel

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee My husband and I are selling our Denver, Colorado home at the same time I’m revising my novel. I can’t help but notice parallels. Let’s look at a few: 1) Staging my house: A real estate agent told us it might take two weeks to repair, repaint, de-clutter, and clean. It took five weeks, more than twice what we expected. Revising my novel: Last August I hoped to finish my novel revisions by February. That would have been six months. It’s August again, and I won’t be done until October. That’s fourteen months, more than twice what I expected. I’ve always believed, “Everything takes twice as long as you expect.” Since “twice as long” is what I expect, sometimes I double that. 2) Staging my house: While de-cluttering our house, I began deciding what to keep and what to throw away for our move to Ventura, California. I recently watched a video about the book,  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up , by Marie Kondo. Here’s my favorite of her tips, and I p

Put a Child In It

Country singers, Brooks & Dunn, sang a song called, "Put a Girl In It." Its basic message implies a guy can own tons of toys, yet his life is not complete without a gal in it. For the purpose of this post, let's substitute the word, girl, for child. There are many couples who yearn for children, and feel their lives are not whole without at least one child. Others consider children a curse. Readers' tastes also follow on differing lines. Some enjoy reading books, no matter the genre, as long as a child is mentioned somewhere. Others feel children just get in the way of a story. I'd say, that depends on the story. Throwing a child character into the mix, with no real purpose, doesn't make sense. Every character, no matter what age, should move a plot forward in some way. Then we come to authors, like yours truly. I usually write romances and thrillers, but happened to fall in love with a stock photo of a baby. Suddenly I was inspired to write a

Dream Chaser: The Beginning

Over the last few years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet many successful authors. I have listened to their stories and learned from them. Two things are certain: Every writer’s path to success is seemingly different, but they all begin with a passion for books and knowledge. I’ve learned that best-selling authors are not mutants with special powers. They’re human. They are people who have had ‘real jobs’ and regular lives, who have struggled, and have doubted themselves. But they have also persevered, standing steadfast in the pursuit of their dreams. They believed in what they were doing and kept writing until they found their place on a bookstore shelf. My own path has been anything but conventional. Until about seven years ago, the idea of being a writer never crossed my mind. However, like so many writers, I have been obsessed with books and knowledge since childhood. I always preferred books over television and read encyclopedias like many kids read comics.

Adding a Child to an Existing Series

I was glad to see Carola Dunn had a good experience with a continuing child character in her books. I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a ten-year-old boy to my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series to add another layer to the stories, but I’m finding that inserting a new character, especially a child, into an established series is a tricky maneuver. The two main characters are a couple. By book three, they are living together, and part of their chemistry is playing off each other. The male character, Ernie Lucier, lost his wife and three children in a car accident eight years earlier. It left a big hole in his heart. So I thought I’d fill that empty space. I tried to find mystery novels that had children as main characters, and I couldn’t. Most of the male/female teams in books and movies don’t have children, going back to Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. There were mysteries with cats and dogs, with recipes and humor, but no kids. The mysteries that had kids in them, were

Children As Characters

I’ve always enjoyed having children as characters in my books. Sometimes they’re just part of the background crowd, but often they play major roles. In my fourth Daisy Dalrymple mystery, Murder on the Flying Scotsman , Daisy’s ten-year-old stepdaughter-to-be (i.e., DCI Alec Fletcher’s daughter, Belinda) makes friends with an elderly man in the train and later finds him dead. She also finds a clue to how he died, though she doesn’t realize it. She’s important to the story in Styx and Stones , and again in Mistletoe and Murder , where she and her cousin Derek go hunting for clues in the woods and discover an ancient corset (which, however, turns out not to be a clue, to their disappointment!). Belinda plays a part in several other books, notably Anthem for Doomed Youth , which is set partly at her boarding school. One of her school friends finds a body in that one. The cover shows Daisy calling the girls, who are lost in a maze. (The only cover that shows Belinda, with a friend, is F

Do Your Stories Include the “C” Factor—Children?

Youngsters are a part of life. While I enjoy good love stories, adventures, historical novels, and “cozy” thrillers as much as the next person, I often find them lacking if they don’t contain children in a role that fits seamlessly into the plot, even if that role is minor. Including children in a story, however, isn’t simply a matter of injecting them into a scene to round it out. They need to “belong.” Adding the son and daughter of a third cousin twice removed—characters that appear only once in the story—doesn’t work. Their inclusion must be well thought out and an integral part of the story. And they must be spontaneous, whimsical, and outspoken as only children are. Nearly all my books include youngsters, sometimes as secondary characters or, minimally, contributors to the development of the story, always as recurring members of the novel’s cast. Here are two short scenes from my books being released this year. The first takes place between two pre-school-aged brothers whose

Writing for Children

“I have an idea for a children’s book. Who should I pitch it to?” I see this question often on writing forums and it takes willpower to refrain from posting, “Whoa, back it up, Nelly.” Writing for children is hard, hard work. I do not advise attempting it without a thorough understanding of children’s literature. The best place to start is the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators . Children’s literature has multiple categories based on age. There are board books, early picture books, standard picture books, easy readers, transition books, chapter books, etc. Picture books in particular have specific page and layout restrictions. There are language expectations based on target audience. You can find a list of categories at Write For Kids . At the very least, you should peruse  Writing Children's Books for Dummies  and the current version of the  Children's Writers and Illustrators Market book . Go into a bookstore and head to the children’s section. The fir

The Importance of Imagination and Play in Writing

Years ago, I traveled to a library to talk about storytelling with a group of children. It was my first time, and I was so nervous. Why? Because children can be brutally honest. Unlike adults, they haven't had time to develop a filter to which they feed their opinions before spewing them out (though these days, a lot of adults have forgotten their filters, but I digress). I was worried the children would be bored or rude or want to be anywhere but in a library--on a Saturday afternoon no less. But I was wrong. As I approached a long conference table, I was met with a full house of children with wide eyes, stacks of paper, and pencils and pens at the ready. After I introduced myself, I went around the table and had the children introduce themselves. Many talked about why they loved writing. Some of them even wanted to be writers. We talked about their favorite stories, favorite characters. We talked about setting, plot, conflict, and other storytelling elements, and I

Being a Stage Mom for Your Book Baby

Photo by Bonnie Burton, courtesy of the Star Wars photostream on Flickr The term ‘stage mom’ provokes an instant, visceral reaction in most of us. We immediately conjure up images of pushy parents, barging into agent’s offices or haranguing a director for more screen or stage time, or else we picture painfully young girls dressed in puffy dresses with make-up. It’s not necessarily a pretty sight. But I have to say, from my years in theater, there is a good side to stage mom-ery. Those are the moms who get up early every day, make sure their child has a nourishing breakfast, drives them to classes and lessons and auditions, and supports them every step of the way in their dream of greatness. As writers—yep, you guessed it—we need to be stage moms for our book babies. We’re the ones who brought them into the world, after all. We’re the ones who have to get them looking their best, make sure they’re ready to go out there in the world, and we’re the ones who have to be thei

10 Ways to Parent Your Manuscript

Many writers refer to their books as their children, so why not treat your manuscript like a child? 1. FOOD. A child must be fed and so must a manuscript. Food = words written. 2. PLAY. A child needs to play and so does a manuscript - or more precisely, its writer. Anyone who has read some of my posts about writing, knows I’m a planner, but I also advocate giving yourself the freedom to wander off that carefully-laid path occasionally. Remember, without that crucial question of ‘What if…’ nothing happens. 3. SLEEP. A child needs to sleep. So does your manuscript. Once you finish that first draft, let it sleep in a drawer. Time away is good. Think of it as recharging your batteries before the next round - just like those naps your toddler takes give you precious time to find your sanity. 4. FRIENDS. A child needs friends. So does your manuscript - but we call them beta/first readers and editors. 5. RULES. A child needs to know who’s boss - and it’s not them. Yes, it’s tr

Children in Writing

When I first began moodling the main characters in my murder mystery series  - a high-powered attorney who is a partner in the family law firm, and his new bride, a child psychologist and writer - they were mostly just the perfect couple on whom I could hang my social justice plots. But the two of them had different ideas about how their relationship, and their life together, would develop. First, both developed a strong focus toward building their rural kingdom (it's just a setting, damnit!), and before long, having children and raising a family became a huge issue, especially for my heroine. How do characters take over like that? Soon I found myself searching for photos of the perfect redheaded boy to enter the story (perhaps in book #3 after the heroine suffers some fertility anguish?), instead of teaching readers about the dangers of GMO crops, fracking, and other really important stuff. Children add elements to fiction that completely change the dynamics of a story, jus