Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Second Fiddlers


This is the title of a workshop I gave at a Colorado Gold conference a few years ago. I also gave it at the Bend Christian Writers Conference and will be giving it next Month at a Redmond Writers meeting. I wish I had the space to really get into it here because it's a very involved topic. I created a character hierarchy of 3 levels of secondary characters and 8 subcategories. Yep, I take my secondary characters VERY seriously. 8^) The amount of research I did would fill a book.

I've proposed my workshop to the Emerald City conference and am waiting to hear back.

Here's a really brief overview.

Purpose of Secondary Characters:

• To aid the main character in his or her story goal and to help define the main character’s role in the story.

• To provide obstacles that prevent the main character from reaching his or her goal.

• To force the main character to prove his/her worthiness in reaching the story goal.

• To help a main character grow and assist him in completing his character arc

• To provide contrast and comparison with the main character physically, emotionally and mentally

• To provide drama because conflict can’t happen in a vacuum

• To interact with the main character and force him to show his true colors.

• To broaden the scope of the story with texture and variety.

• To expand a story’s theme (ex: The Big Chill — reunion story that is enriched by the variety of character types.)

• To develop subplots that add multiple dimensions to the main plot

So how much research and thought do you put into your secondary characters? If you'd like a copy of my hierarchy chart, I'll be happy to email the pdf to you.

Karen

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Fun Pun Blog

Sometimes we need to belly laugh. It cleanses the tear ducts, strengthens the stomach muscles, produces healthy hormonal stuff in the brain and body, and sometimes it can even make one wet ones pants; unless of course one is wearing a skirt, in which case it just runs where it may. What I'm getting at is, laughing is important and good for the soul and yes, it can get a little messy.

I'm cheating on today's blog post and using something my DH sent me via email. It made me belly laugh, (without the wetting of my pants thank goodness, but it was a close one, I mean come one, I've had five kids!) I felt so light and cheery after reading these I just had to share with you. May you be uplifted in the frivolity, and if you can think of any you'd like to add, please, be my guest.

It's a writer's job to entertain, whether through a story that is melancholy, scary, or funny, it's all entertainment. We seek out the best books and writings to give us what we're craving. I personally enjoy things that uplift and make me happy. The power to activate the human creature's emotions through the written word is pretty incredible. I'd like to grow up to do that someday. But in the meantime, here's something that someone else wrote and I hope it moves you, you human creatures. :)


Deja-Moo: The feeling that you've heard this bull before.

Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.

A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you, but don't start anything."

Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.

A dyslexic man walks into a bra.

A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm, and says: "A beer please, and one for the road."

Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: "Does this taste funny to you?"

"Doc, I can't stop singing 'The Green, Green Grass of Home. " That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome."
"Is it common?" "... Well, It's Not Unusual."

Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, "I was artificially inseminated this morning." "I don't believe you," says Dolly. "It's true; no bull!" exclaims Daisy.

An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.

I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn't find any.

A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident.
He shouted, "Doctor,doctor, I can't feel my legs!"
The doctor replied, "I know you can't - I've cut off your arms!"

I went to a seafood disco last week...and pulled a mussel.

What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says,"Dam!"

Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel, and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office, and asked them to disperse. "But why," they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."

A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt, and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also
had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

(Oh, man, this is so bad, it's good)
Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little,which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath...This made him A super-calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

And finally, there was the person who sent twenty different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least ten of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Voice

I just read Shirley Jump's comments on voice on the Ask An Author Pro loop. She said you should be able to open a book without looking at the title or author and know who the author is by reading. Every author's voice should come through in their work. She suggested comparing author's styles and voice to help you learn if you’ve found your voice.

Have you done this? I haven't and hadn't really thought about it. Now I have to go crack some books by the same authors and see if I can tell.

She went on to say - determine your strengths. Mine, I think, are dialog and quirky characters. I don't consider myself comedic, but I think my books with fun in them are more my voice. I have been struggling with the Spirit book and I find when I write the fun scenes with quirky characters they fly off my fingertips. And feel right.

Use your gut to determine your voice. Shirley also says you will know in your gut when you find your voice. It's that "Aha" moment. After writing 10 books, I still struggle with my voice. When I think I have it, someone knocks the chair out from under me. But judging from the reviews of Marshal in Petticoats and the first one from Gambling on an Angel, I think I need to stick to the light hearted, fast, fun, frolic voice and let the soapbox voice take a step to the side.

Then my oldest daughter started reading Gambling on an Angel this weekend. "Mom this is much better than the last one." She said after reading three chapters. Then this morning she told her husband it was my fault she wasn't up and dressed because she was reading my book. So now I'm thinking - so what is my voice? I remember being at a writer's weekend at Seaside a couple years ago. An author of many books said, "I'm not a writer, I'm a storyteller" because she didn't know anything about all the stuff the other writers were talking about, but she'd sold many award winning books and readers loved them. I'm beginning to think that is me. I'm a storyteller - because when writers start talking about knowing their voice, analyzing other's work - my belly turns into an acidic tornado, because I haven't a clue what they are talking about and nothing knowledgeable to add.

According to Donald Mass in his book Writing the Breakout Novel - To set your voice free, set your words free. Set your characters free. Most important, set your heart free. It is from the unknowable shadows of your subconscious that your stories will find their drive and from which they will draw their meaning. No one can loan you that or teach you that. Your voice is your self in the story.

Do you know your voice? Have you found it, or are you still looking? If you have found your voice, can you describe it? Or help someone out who hasn't a clue what they are looking for?


PS: I added another grandchild this weekend. She is adorable. 8 months old and such a good baby!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Quirks

One of the things we strive for as authors is a way to make our characters come alive on the page. We want them to be real. Real people have quirks and habits, and incorporating those oddities into your characters is one way to make them pop. But when do character quirks cross the line to writer quirks?

I just finished a book - the fourth one I've read by this particular author - and one specific trait stood out to me. One of the characters slammed their fist against the steering wheel in a moment when they were extremely frustrated. In and of itself, this isn't a big issue, but it stood out to me because this is something I would never do. I've been upset while driving, even angry at the driver next to me, but I've never slammed my fist against the wheel. What is extremely unique about this particular "quirk" is there has been at least one character in each of the four books I've read by this author who has slammed their fist against the steering wheel. When I read the line in this fourth book, it popped me right out of the story. The characters suddenly became two-dimensional to me. I realized, this isn't a character trait, this is an author trait.

I have lots of strange quirks - don't get me wrong, we all do. I twirl my hair when I'm bored or stressed. I pick at my fingernails, I bite the inside of my lip. But because these are habits *I'm* consciously aware of, I try to be careful not to incorporate them into my characters. If I do, I know I'll continue to do it from one character to the next. Sometimes we don't realize we're adding these little oddities into our writing. I had a CP once whose characters were "cupping" all the time...cupping her face, cupping her hand, cupping her breast. Her agent pointed it out to her and she's never used that word (or quirk) again.

I love characters who have unique quirks. One may play with her necklace all the time, another may tap his hand against his thigh repeatedly. One may jingle change in his pocket, and another may bite her lip when she's nervous, still another may chew on the end of a pencil. The question, however, becomes, are the quirks you're incorporating into your characters your quirks or their unique oddities? And are you too close (or blind) to see the things you do over and over?

What unique quirks do you have, and have you (or do you) include them in your writing? If not...how do you make sure you don't give your characters the same bad habits from one book to the next?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Spring Cleaning for Books?

I know this is REALLY LATE! Big apologies. Just completely slipped my mind. Bad Wavybrains!
So, I know February is almost over, but my bedroom, bookshelves, office, and boxes in the hall are still all piled with my 2006 reading. My husband calls this "book carnage" and notes that the the price of heating oil would hurt a whole lot less if we could burn them (sacrilege!) or insulate the attic with them (abusive!). Normally, I rely a lot more on the library and thus, don't add bulk at quite this clip, but breaking my foot (which also added a different kind of bulk) contributed to my mother shipping me more books, fewer trips to the library, and a small addiction to half.com. So, I've got a lot of Spring Cleaning (which presupposes that I do ordinary cleaning . . . .) ahead of me, but parting with books--any books is particularly painful. I'm thinking that the nursery's theme may be "library."

So how do I decide if a book is a keeper for me? Multiple reads, characters that linger, desire to start again from beginning as soon as I'm done, wishing the book wouldn't end--all contribute. From my 2006 reading marathon, these books were definite keepers:

  • The Unsung Hero by Suzanne Brockmann.
    • All of Suzanne Brockmann's books could be on the list. I read her entire backlist in a three month period. But, this book was the first. It was the right book at the right time--I was finally on the verge of being able to write again. I've learned so much from Brockmann about characterization, subplot, voice. Each book is like a mini-workshop and a damn good read.
  • Marshall in Petticoats by Paty Jager.
    • I know (and love!) Paty, but this book is so much fun, I forgot I knew the author--it just drew me in and kept me up late. It proves that you can combine sweet and sexy. Prior to this book, I hadn't read a western romance in probably 10 years. This book got me reading westerns again and reminded me why they used to be one of my all-time favorite genres.
  • Vegan, Virgin, Valentine, by Carolyn Mackler.
    • I don't think I've ever listened to a book on tape twice before. This one was just that good. I read a lot of superb YA this year, but this one rose to the top easily--funny, great voice, characters that I can't get out of my head.
  • Standing in the Shadows by Shannon McKenna.
    • I discovered McKenna this year and quickly devoured her backlist as well. This was the book that hooked me on her. The heat is scorching, but it's the characters that make this such an enjoyable tale.
  • Match Me if You Can, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
    • I think I've re-read this book at least six times. Already. And used it as an example in bunches of discussions about writing. Fabulous pacing, great subplots, and funny. The heroine is so immediately likeable, you just want to hang on for the ride.
  • Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot.
    • I read a lot of Meg Cabot this year too, but this was my favorite. I like the new voice she's showing off here--it's different than her other adult books and a lot fun.
  • Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much, by Stephanie Pearl McPhee.
    • Everyone always raves about Elizabeth Zimmerman and how her writing about knitting is so down-to-earth and fun. I read Zimmerman this year too, and may she rest in peace, but McPhee is the real deal. I had this book from the library and I was really loathe to return it (after the maximum renewals). Deep belly laughs like this are a rare commodity. You could read this without knowing a knitting needle from a crochet hook and still need to wipe your eyes from laughing so hard.
  • The Devil to Pay, by Liz Carlyle.
    • I was kind off historical. Then I read this book. The plot is really stellar and fresh--I think that's what did it for me. None of the old cliches of swooning misses and big scary lords apply here. After this book I started looking for (and finding) other fresh historicals, but the voice and characters of this one keep coming back to me.
  • Bound by Sasha White
    • I got this book on a complete whim. It gobsmacked me. Not just because it's Emma Holly-esque-envelope pushing-jump off the page hotness, but because the voice is fresh and fun. I'd never bought an e-book before, but I was so eager to read her other ST that I bought (and read) it the next day.
  • Don't Look Down by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer.
    • When I heard that Crusie was writing with a GUY, I was more than a little skeptical. This book delivered though, and in a big way. Mayer adds another dimension to Crusie's work---it's still very much her voice here, but the suspense is a neat addition and the characters seem even more three-dimensional.
Now I'll toss it back to you---What books were keepers for you last year? (Because I totally need more things to read :)) What adds up to a keeper for you? How in the heck do you organize your collection? Do you have books everywhere? Do you have a hard time parting with books? Would you choose more shelves or a bigger bathroom?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Talk It Out

I have a 280 page manuscript due in a little over seven weeks and I am on page…drum roll please….80.

In other words, I am up against a wall and if I think about it too long, I will hyperventilate and cut my wrists and shoot myself and take sleeping pills and drive off a cliff…after I drink myself into a coma.

It's not that I haven't spent the past couple of weeks trying to get further than page eighty, it's just that I couldn't. And that changed this morning when I was talking to my daughter and she asked what was wrong.

Well, let me use my instant replay brain to tell you how it went:

Jen: "What's wrong?"
Me: "It's this book."
Jen: "I know it's worrying you. Talk about it."
Me: "Well---"

And then I told her the first three chapters are a beginning, a middle and an end unto themselves leaving chapter four a let down, a transition chapter, a housekeeping chapter (I have a million theories on this). When you sell on three chapters, you tend to write a rousing start, a move the book along second chapter, and an exciting climax for chapter three. Or at least I do. But as I was talking, I realized that all the things I was waiting to have happen after I established the groundwork didn't have to wait. Why did the first murder have to get sandwiched between this and that, why couldn't it come the first night? Why did the pools have to get filled with water in a week, hey, they're my pools, I can fill them whenever I want. Why did the heroine have to start questioning the bad guy a chapter from now, why couldn't she question him on the plane and grow suspicious, why couldn't she arrive already primed to go for it?

No reason. It's my world. I can change the time line.

Light bulb moment.

Now, I imagine you have no idea what I am talking about in these particulars because you haven't read the chapters or the synopsis. My daughter hasn't read the synopsis either. She didn't offer a thing in this conversation except the occasional, "But--" which I rudely cut off. She didn't have to say anything, I just needed to talk and I needed to talk to someone who had read enough to know a little of what I was saying, and I needed to talk to someone I trusted and whom I knew could offer help if I ever shut up long enough to let her.

And it worked. And because I have no memory span, it amazes me it worked even though it's worked a dozen, two dozen, times before.

Try it. Find someone who fits the above criteria and when you get stuck, when you spend way too much time identifying why something isn't working instead of figuring out a way to make it work, call them, talk to them, let it all out and see if you don't accidentally come up with the answer you need more or less by yourself with just the right amount of prompting by them.

Let me know if this works for you in the future or if you have used it in the past. I'm back to my book….

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Perseverance

I'm the guest blogger today!

(Disclaimer- I am not judging anyone who doesn't wish to be published this is just my perception)

I've been skimming the chat on the Pro Ask an Author loop about Perseverance. This seems to be the biggest thing you need to have going for you to become published (aside from some writing/storytelling) talent.

You have to be able to persevere past the rejections, the contest judges criticism, even the criticism or critiques of your critique partners. You have to have an open mind and take it all in, shuffle it around, and then put it to use in your writing.

You have to be willing to keep on writing and honing your skills to get any where in this business. It is the perseverance to keep on putting yourself out there in a story. To work your butt off through revisions.

You, the writer, have to want to write so bad you ache inside if you can't get that story on paper, or you become so crabby when you don't have time to write, your family is ready to swap you for the old lady down the street who makes brownies.

If writing isn't as fundamental to you as air, water, and chocolate - then you may not have the perseverance to become a published author. It's not to say you won't write and keep on writing, but unless you take the time and find the means to continue to better your writing, you will never obtain a goal of becoming published or finding an agent.

So do you have the perseverance to become published or land an agent? Are those your goals?

Monday, February 19, 2007

10 Reasons Books Are Better Than Sex

I'm filling in today. Apologies this is going up so late...I didn't get the notice until a few minutes ago.

Because I had a rather frazzled morning, I thought we could all use a top-ten list to brighten our day. So without further ado...

10 Reasons Why Books Are Better Than Sex

10. The written word lasts longer than most husbands.

9. You can close a book and turn off the light when you're tired. Husbands (or significant others) are another story.

8. Romance novels give you that fuzzy "new love" feeling, even if you've been married 15+ yrs.

7. When you write, you have time to come up with all those witty and sexy one-liners you forget in the heat of the moment.

6. Stories never get old.

5. Crying is acceptable. (Even expected!)

4. If you get interrupted by the kids, you don't feel guilty.

3. No chance you'll throw your back out.

2. You can do it anywhere - even on a crowded bus - and no one bats an eyelash at you.

And the number one reasons books are better than sex...

1. Even when you're entrenched in the the steamiest sex ever, there's no chance you'll get pregnant.

Add to the list. I need a good laugh today. Or if you have your own writing-related top-ten list, I'd love to read it.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Writing Beyond the Novel

Journalism vs. Fiction


I appologize for being so absent on the blog lately. As I mentioned on the loop, I was commisioned by one of the papers I used to work on staff for to write three feature stories. It was time consuming, and ate up most of my writing/computer time. But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I had a blast doing it.

I'd forgotten how much I missed that sort of writing. Not only the writing itself, but getting out, talking with people and hearing what they had to tell. With this assignment in particular, it drove home the point that everyone has a story.

My assignment was to ask three ordinary people what the most amazing or interesting aspect of their lives is, or has been, then write a 300-word story for each and take photos -- action shots, portraits, or both.

I talked to a funny little guy who always reads a book while ambling along the roads in my neighborhood. Turns out, the guy -- who I thought was in his 50s -- is 69 and has run in over 100 marathons, including the big ones in New York and Boston. His whole family hiked all over Oregon when his children were young, and now he is a volunteer track coach for long-distance runners at the local high school.

I wrote about a 92-year-old retired teacher whose biggest change in life was electricity. As a child, her family had no electricity. She and her five siblings had to milk a dozen cows by hand and separate the cream in a hand-cranked cream separator. When she grew up and taught, she had to carry wood in to heat the one-room schoolhouse. Now, she says people have become so dependant on electricity, when the power goes out, she has to leave home because she can't stay warm.

The last story is about a couple who just celebrated their 65th anniversary. For 3 years in the 70s, Continental Airlines offered a special deal to senior citizens. For a flat yearly fee of $1,100, once a week the couple could travel anywhere Continental flew. One year they took 35 trips to places like Hawaii, New York, Florida, Canada and Mexico. She moved to a retirement home seven months ago. Although he'd given her notes on Valentine's Day before, he'd never given her a gift. After 65 years, he finally gave her a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Who says romance is dead?

In the post from Melinda Ruckert, it said couples who stay married for 50 years is 6%. What do you suppose the percentage is for pairs who make it to the 65-year mark?

I finished the last two stories and emailed them off to the editor today, so now you'll have to put up with me hanging around the blog again.

So what sort of writing do the rest of you do besides fiction books? Do you write press releases, journalism, technical writing etc...? Are you paid for it? (I was fortunate enough to get paid for the features). What sort of writing did you used to do? Did you/do you love it or hate it? Miss it or not at all?

The Inner Battle


I eeney-meeney-miney-moed the topic for this blog and the tiger's toe today is conflict.

There are a variety of conflict issues to choose from in fiction, but the one I consider most challenging as well as fascinating is inner conflict. This personal battle of the id is core to your character's story arc so it's loads of fun to mess with as you get into your plot.


Whether you begin planning from your story's premise or from its characters, the inner conflict driving a character's actions will be the engine that runs your plot. And it's up to us as authors to use torture as fuel to spur a character into action. Life isn't perfect. People aren't perfect. And readers enjoy reading about real people in pain who struggle with family, lovers, careers, their health, and all the other stuff they can relate to. The deeper an author delves into character, the richer the experience for the reader.


We like our characters. So it isn't easy to turn the knife and send them screaming from scene to scene, but that's what readers want from the fiction they read. I'm exaggerating (as usual), but my point is that no one wants to read about the world of the happy people. B-o-r-i-n-g. There are various degrees of torture from murdering a character's rare orchid worth thousands of dollars to having a character's family member succumb to cancer. Nevertheless, the experience of both examples will influence a character's behavior in the next scene. One bounces off the other, creating another crisis, which yields yet another, and another… The tension increases with each torturous episode in a character's life. And that's what makes a story compelling.


Is it possible to go overboard with inner conflict? Can an author push the envelope too far and end up in the gaudy land of melodrama? What's worse: going too far, or not going far enough?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Erotica...Romance or Smut?

Remember when romance novels were taboo? You'd hide them behind some other book or rip off the covers so no one would know what you were reading; after all, they were "bodice rippers" and heaven forbid you be caught dead reading one. I personally don't remember those times, but I know people who do. LOL

Over the last 20 years or so, extremely talented authors have worked very hard to change the image of romantic fiction so as not to be viewed as smut or bodice rippers, but alas, I feel tis all in vain. (Don't you love drama?) However, I proudly read the romance novels I buy right in front of anyone because I buy true romance and have no need for embarrassment or shame.

My point? I'm getting to it.

I have a peeve to discuss here. It has to do with the February edition of RWR, page 6, to be precise. There's an advertisement that just blew me away. Seriously, I was offended.

Here comes a confession... I am one of those people that has HUGE opinions. I know, you had noooo idea that was part of my personality. Anyway, it is my Huge Opinion that this ad shouldn't be in the RWR. It's pornography. Plain and simple.

Go ahead, dig out your February edition, now turn to page 6, yeah, that's the one. Disgusting. Absolutely no need for it. I guess I'm one of those "old fashioned" kinda romance readers that like some things left to the imagination.

I admit it. I don't understand what's so appealing about "erotic romance". I've read exactly ONE erotic romance. I hated it. I felt icky after reading it. I read it because it was recommended by a friend and I wanted to have a somewhat informed opinion about this type of writing. Personally, I don't see where it fits in the genre of true romance. It's really just about eroticism and that, my dear readers, is not romance, it's gratuitous non-intimate sex.

Now erotic sex with your spouse is wonderful and should be embraced as long as you're both equally up to it; and intimate sex, meaning, sex that is all things loving and kind, can mix with erotic sex when you have that close marital bond, too. But it's totally not love or intimate when you have down and dirty erotic sex with someone you hardly know. Nope, in my opinion that's not love, it's lust, and I have a problem with that being part of the romance genre.

So now that I've opened up this topic, you may expostulate me to your hearts content. But my opinion on this genre will never change. Flay away! :)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Promotion - Me or the book

Having sold and published two books with a small publishing house, I find myself in the whirlwind of promotion.

Small publishing houses, specifically ones that do Ebooks and Print on Demand (POD) don't have access to the chain stores. So promoting books falls to the author. And as I work on the promotion, I've realized each book is a one time thing. It gets promoted, 6 months, a year? Then it's on to a new book. What I really need to do is promote myself. I will be at this for years, so it seems logical that I am the commodity that needs promoted and not my books. My books are the venue I use to promote me.

Promoting my books, I have been on a local television station, had an article about me in a local paper, I've garnered reviews, joined another writer's group (other than RWA), purchased an ad in a national magazine, sent out postcards, had three book signings so far, sent books and promotional materials to any conference or workshop asking for such, and have tried to be active on all the loops I belong to as well as my blog and the chapter blog. Whew!

This promotion stuff is time consuming and pulls me way out of my comfort zone. But I never do anything half way. If I'm doing something, I'm doing it all the way or not doing it at all. So I have seen myself grow infinitesimally into a more confident writer and person.

So to promote myself, I am preparing a talk to give at a local writer's group, I am purchasing western attire to wear at all book related events (because I write westerns or cowboy themed stories), and I will put together online workshops and talks to give to my online chapters and perhaps at conferences like Emerald City and (Gulp, in a few years) Nationals.

Pushing the books is one way to sell them, but pushing myself is the way to sell everyone of them. Or should I be a recluse and use the anonymity as my branding? Make people wonder about me and read my books to try and figure out just who I am? That would be my ideal. :)

If you are published, what do you do for promotion? If you aren't published yet, what would you do for promotion and what have you seen from authors that made you take a second look at them and their work?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Loop-de-loop. All it does is confuse me.

Anyone reading the pro-class loop right now? I get it on digest, so there's a lot I miss (and skim through). In case you're missing it, the topic is persistence...basically how persistence pays off in this business. One published author, Jennifer Greene (writes as Alison Hart), and one unpublished author, Ruth Kaufman, are giving lessons and answering questions.

I don't usually comment on these things, but I read whatever piques my curiosity. This one got me:

On the topic of money, Jennifer Greene said:

[Aside from a computer] ...the only other expense I consider absolutely essential is the national conference.

Someone then asked her why the National Conference, and she said:

I think the national tends to be worth every $--although more so both when you're very close to publishing and in the first years after being published.

Well, it's no surprise I'm waffling on the whole national conference thing again this year. First of all, it's in Dallas. Been there, done that. I rarely leave the hotel during the conference, but still, it's Dallas. In July. Late July. Last year in Hotlanta we miraculously missed the heat. I have a feeling Dallas won't be the same. But aside from that, I've done two national conferences. They were good, I networked, I had fun at both, but was it worth all the money I'm forking out? If I was pushing a book, maybe? But unpublished? I'm not so sure. A lot of the workshops were the same from year to year, and though I learned a lot from both experiences, I think, honestly, I learned considerably less the second time. I'm just not sure it's worth the money for air, hotel and registration when I'm not bringing in any money with the sale of a book yet. After Atlanta, I said I wasn't going again until I sold. And I was sticking to that until reading this loop.

So I posed the question again...why, specifically for "almost there" authors? And Ms. Greene responded with:

At the cost of the RWA national conference, I can well understand it could be too expensive for many to attend. (And just getting published hardly means you're making big bucks either.) But...one of the reasons this business is so hard is that we work with people we can't see or form any kind of direction relationship. From editors to agents to publishing professionals, getting a chance to see how these people look, how they talk, if you could imagine working with them, who you think you could click with--etc--are critical things you can do to help yourself. A new writer has little chance to get a lot of one-on-one time at the national conference--I realize--but almost all the publishing professionals who attend are participating in workshops and events, so you can at least hear and see them. I can't prove this (!) but I believe you'll find that 80% of the 'bad agent' stories come from writers who've never met the agent before signing with them. Likewise, many, many of the 'horror editor' stories could probably have been prevented (or made better) if we just could deal with these people face to face. Also, editors--and agents--you hear at conferences come back to haunt you. (So to speak.) The good editors stick around--they may change jobs (five zillion times) but they'll tend to stay in the business. So every contact you make, if you have a goal of being a long term author, really can pay off.

Hmm...Makes sense, but I'm still waffling (call me Alice). The hubby and I talked about it this weekend. He's supportive of whatever I want to do - go if I think it's worth it career-wise, don't if I think it's not. Luckily, we should be getting a pretty nice tax return, so I could set money aside for the trip. Problem is, I have no clue whether it's really worth it or not. Last year I went for two reasons. 1) I won the conference registration in a contest, and 2) I had this strange feeling I was supposed to be there for some reason. I went, I had a great time, I networked my butt off. But 6+ months later, I'm still not sure what that reason was. Nothing significant - that I can see - happened as a result of my being at that conference. Good things have happened for me career-wise since, but I don't think they were directly impacted by my being in Atlanta for the national conference. This year - so far - I don't have that strange feeling pushing me to go. Only this waffling, well, I'm not sure it's worth it debate going on in my head.

Luckily, I have time to decide, but I'm curious. I know some of you like smaller conferences, some of you like the National one. Some of you have been to both or want to go to one or the other. What inspires you to go to a conference? What do you expect to get out of it? And if you're unpublished, how do you justify the expense? And finally, someone please, just tell me what to do!

Friday, February 09, 2007

WRITING "THE END" IS ONLY THE BEGINNING

I "finished" my latest manuscript the other day and shared the news on the loop -- with the caveat that meant a lot of editing and some big gaps to fill in. What does "the end" mean for your manuscript?

I remember what multi-published author Samantha James (a member of our chapter) said several years ago. She wrote about six pages a day, but those were usually pages that needed no editing. By the time they got down on paper, they were what she wanted. I was in awe.

No major rewrites, no spending thirty minutes searching an online thesaurus for the perfect word, no agonizing over a critique partner's comments and knowing "something" wasn't quite right but not being sure how to fix it, no brainstorms that provided the perfect answer but triggered additional research and rewrites in the remaining three-quarters of the book.

I do a lot of detailed plotting, yet I still end up doing several rewrites of a manuscript. Fortunately, the process of writing a manuscript seems to be getting easier. Or maybe I'm getting better at spotting where I went wrong and don't worry so much about tearing apart a scene or a chapter to make the story stronger.

This weekend I'll make a list of what still needs to be done on my manuscript and perhaps do some replotting to be sure I haven't dropped any story threads or subplots. Then I'll dig into additional research and start writing new scenes or beefing up ones I'm not quite happy with, as well as making sure the ratty orange cat that shows up on the heroine's doorstep turns into a sleek and pampered but still feisty feline by the end of the book. Yes, even the animals get a happily ever after in my stories!

How do you write? Are you a one-time through wonder who can produce a nearly perfect manuscript the first time through? Or do you do a dozen rewrites before you're getting close to satisfied? And just to satisfy my own curiosity, do you sit down and write whatever comes from the muse or do you write a detailed plot beforehand? Is there any relation between being a "panster" or a plotter and how many times you edit a manuscript?

Happy writing (and rewriting!)!

-Genene

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Casting Your Book

I've had the flu all week, so my apologies for being a bit sparse around the blog this week.

I'm also running low on brain power so I'm shamelessly borrowing an idea from Romance Worth Killing For.

Do you cast your books? Do you find suitable visual stand-ins for your hero and heroine to inspire you? In reading blogs, I noticed that a lot of authors seem to do this, and take a lot of pleasure in finding just the right pictures.

So, sometime back I decided to try to do this for my WIP:
This is my heroine. Genevieve "Gen" Sullivan. My "star search" sent me in the direction of a lot of blond actresses. But, all seemed a bit too plastic for this heroine. Drew Barrymore's look in Never Been Kissed epitomizes the goofy-cute style of my heroine and her self-concious, but still zany sense of humor. I look at this picture to remind myself of her core qualities.

Slap a ponytail on him, and this is my hero, Daniel Fair. Finding a suitable "actor" for my hero was a bit more a challenge. First, this hero is not the typical alpha hero. That ruled out 99% of the male-model type shots. However, he's not a ugly-duckly or some skinny nerd either. He's buff but sensitive. Like with my search for the heroine, I started with obvious physical characteristic and poured through dozens of pictures of pony-tailed guys. After finding the heroine through finding someone who embodied her essence, not just her physical traits, I asked myself who could *really* play this part. After all, hair can be grown/added. After seeing Tahmoh Penikett on both Smallville and Battlestar Galactica, I couldn't see anyone else playing the part. Buff, sensitive, not too talkative, not too alpha, quietly charismatic. I'll forgive him the whole no-ponytail thing.

Sometimes, I use my chosen "actors" to help me with characterization---is this how she'd play the part? What facial expression might she use? How would he react? Other times, I ignore the visual, preferring to rely on an internal picture of the character that's more unique and true to my vision. Sometimes, I use both in the same scene.

For my YA, I haven't been able to find the right image. She's a cross between the high school versions of Sookie on Gilmore Girls and Rachel Ray, but also has a snarky side that I just can't find a visual that truly captures.

So, how about you? Who's staring in your current WIP? Who's inspired past MS? Links to pictures would be great! Does the "casting" thing work for you or do you find it a waste of time? If it works for you, how do you find the "perfect" image? Discuss and share your eye candy with the rest of us.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tell The Truth Poll

Since Alice is off in Never-Never-Land (or maybe Wonderland...I think I have my fairy tales mixed up), enjoying the sun and fun, I'm taking over her day. (Aren't you thrilled?!)

Okay, since I can't think of anything witty to come up with, I thought I'd take a very un-scientific poll here. I want to know which of these things you've included in your writing:

1. Revenge Plot
2. Secret Baby
3. Amnesia
4. Love Triangle
5. Pregnant character
6. Kids
7. Twin Story
8. Marriage of Convenience
9. May-December Romance (or December-May)
10. Loony Secondary Character
11. Evil Best Friend
12. Hospital Scene
13. A character that dies then comes back to life (ah, the miracles of modern medicine)
14. An explosion
15. Someone being shot
16. Tears
17. An inebriated character
18. A writer (as in, your character, not you)
19. A cop
20. A pet

Okay, so fess up. Which of these have you used, and when and how? And if you've used all of them in one way or the other, I have a chocolate surprise for you at the next chapter meeting! (But you have to be able to explain each one.) ;)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Research: inspiration or procrastination

The book I'm working on requires a lot of research. I knew this going in, and was excited about it. Now I'm not so sure. I find myself getting hung up on small details - and I can't just leave a note to just find it later. Oh no, can't do that. Right Eli? I have to stop what I'm doing and look it up. Darn curiosity.

I'm having to do a lot of mythology research (wooooo!) and will have to do weapon and fighting research (boooooo!). Should have thought of that before I started writing I guess...I know there are tons of resources out there, but it's so time consuming to locate those details that make a story feel real. And heaven forbid it's wrong or doesn't sound authentic. Yikes!

My brain also gets sidetracked as I write. I'll be tooling along then have a brilliant idea, but one that requires research to flesh out. So I stop writing, go investigate, then loose my groove. Although on the rare ocassion the research actually gets me writing fast and furious. Those are the best times, ones where your fingers can't keep up with your brain.

I think the best way for me to work is to do much of the research before I begin writing. Since I'm generally a somewhat detailed plotter, I should know the informaiton I'll need ahead of time. Then I will have everything available when I need to incorporate it into the story without a lot of fuss. Or maybe even keep a notepad next to me as I write and jot down a "to research" list as I go.

What do you do about research? Do you do it all before you begin writing? As it comes up? Or save it till the end or during revisions? Please share any research tips you have, or even great resources you've found. Since my books are mythology based, I find a lot of great info at pandora.org.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Category or Single Title?

I got my first rejection Saturday.
It was a bummer, to be sure. I gave myself over to a brief "mourning" period, had a good cry and then really looked at the letter. I submitted to Harlequin, thinking that I was writing a category romance. Unfortunately, my story doesn't fit into the parameters of this line. Some part of me knew this all along. As I scrolled through the submission guidelines for each line, I thought, "You know, none of my stories fit into any of these lines." But, hey, I gave it the 'ol college try anyway.
I've discovered that my writing is a lot like my personality: I just can't seem to fit a round peg into a square hole. I was reading the last issue in RWR and I was struck by the author's statement, "When a door shuts, find a window" (I'm paraphrasing here).
So, I'm finding my window.
Because I can tell you right now that my second WIP is definitely not going to "fit" into any of the category parameters either. My window, such as it is, is single title. I'm standing on the edge of a precipice, fear pummeling my heart, self-doubt whispering "I don't know, Jen, are you sure you can do this?" For some strange reason, I'm terrified to make my book longer. I know I need to just bite the bullet. Get back on the proverbial horse and get my butt in gear. Beside, I can't know unless I try, right?
I think I made the mistake of thinking that category books were easier to write. This, I have discovered, was a gross miscalculation on my part, not to mention a big load of crapola. I think categories are, in fact, harder to write. But, why can't I let go?
So, how many of you write category length? And how many single title? Why do you like each style/type?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Bidda Bodda Bang

Do You Use Slang?

So, when it comes to slang are you down with it, or not with it at all?

Do you use it more in your writing or in your speech?

Let's take a look at what slang is. And what it isn't.

Slang is a (usually)fun (often) derogatory way to get your personal viewpoint across. It's also a (mostly) harmless way to rebel, or to have your characters rebel in dialog. Teenagers -- the drama king and queens of slang have been rebelling against authority and proper English use since, well since the beginning of time, I imagine. But I can only think of slang that goes back as far as the 1960s and the use of terms such as chick and hip and cat and cool and groovy and way far out, man!

These words were reinvented a bit before my time, but look at the lasting power of most of them. I mean, can you dig it, baby? Who doesn't use the word cool and chick at least once in a while?

Let's take a look at one particular word. Why? I don't know, maybe because it's fun, a little on the nasty side, and it happenes to be the word that popped into my head this morning. The word I'm thinking of has three letters. It starts with an "a" and ends with a double "s". If it isn't gray, have long ears or eat grass, it's an ass slang. Or is that ass in a sling? Maybe it's a crazy ass, a wild ass, a scary ass, or a big ass -- a redneck term for such things as tire size: "That there lifted four by four's got some big ass tires."

See? Slang is dad gum fun. More fun than a barrel of monkeys.

What slang isn't.
Well that's a a no-brainer. Slang is the words likely to get ya lots of red-marks all over that there English paper of yours. Kind of like that last sentence. But composing that English paper takes some creativity and a sense of fun that slang tends to push in front of the bus and onto our plates.

Besides slang there's euphemisms. Which are sort of the same thing. But I looked it up in my dictionary to be sure.

You-fuh-miz-ums: A mild or agreeable expression substituted for a realistic description of something disagreeable.

Immediately poop, pee, tinkle, sprinkle, doo-doo and number two come to mind. But maybe that's just me. What about all those entertaining euphemisms for vomit? Barf puke Ralph up-Chuck (poor guys named Ralph and Charles) and my personal fave -- praying to the porcelain God.

If you get intoxicated you could be blottoed, stoned, wasted, snockered, plastered, tipsy, or stinkin' drunk. In which case see the above paragraph for colorful words to describe what you went home and did after you partied till the cows came home.

So, if you think this was a silly thing to blog about. You're right as rain. And you're wrong as teats on a bore too. Slang may not win you the Pulitzer prize. Which I will never win anyway becaause I'm not even sure how to spell it...but peppering your character's dialog or thoughts with slang can shape them and bring them alive for your readers. And really, as writers, what more can we hope for?

The question of the day is: Slang -- do you love it, or hate it? Are you a slang teetotaler or a roaring slang drunk?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lights, Camera, Book Video Action!

I apologize for getting this up so late but I've been slammed with work. That's a good and bad thing, but I've had no spare time except to eat and sleep for the past week or so. I'm such a cry baby! Wah!

I'm copping out today by posting a past issue of my Promo Tips newsletter. Even if you don't yet have a published book, I think the topic of Book Teasers is interesting. Where are these little video tidbits taking the book world? Do they work?

Book Teasers

I'm talking about the video or animated variety that many authors are using as previews to entice potential readers to check out their book. It makes sense. We're living in a video age of flash and animated video games, Xboxes, DVDs, infomercials, music videos, YouTube.com, etc. It seems a natural for the book blurb to evolve into the entertainment equivalent of the movie trailer.

There are a variety of teasers on the web, some that appear as major productions with actors and special effects. Other's that aren't much more than a slide show with music. I've never priced out the production costs for a full-scale mini-movie, but expect to pay three to four thousand dollars if you decide to go that route.

Don't despair! You have other options. I've seen some homemade book videos that aren't bad, and if you're creative enough you can do a bang up job all on your own. I've experimented with my own video and it's not that difficult, just time consuming.

The main ingredients for a "home produced" book teaser video is a computer. If you're reading this in your email, you obviously have one of those. Most of today's PCs come preloaded with fun stuff for making your own home movies, and you can use those tools to make your video.

For PCs running Windows, there's software called Movie Maker and you can download it at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/updates/moviemaker2.mspx

For us Macintosh users, we have iMovie, which I imagine is pretty much the same thing. You link video clips together, plug in music and sound effects, have type dance across the screen and fade in and out along with other visual enhancements. And you don't have to be a professional moviemaker to do this. You just need time and a bit of computer savvy. Once you've created your movie, you can email it, post it on your website, even feature it on your blog. If you use a Mac, learn more about iMovie and download it at http://www.apple.com/ilife/imovie/

I'm sure you're wondering where to get the images for your fabulous movie production. That's easy. Aside from taking your own photos with your digital camera, you can purchase royalty-free stock photos online for as little as a buck apiece. These stock photo resources usually have stock video clips you can buy for as little as ten bucks each, depending on their length. My favorite resource is iStock.com, but if you google "stock video images" you'll find all kinds of stuff. And, of course, you can always shoot your own with your video camera.

I've found some great video footage of generic things like waves crashing on a beach, traffic, kids playing in a park, blowing sand in the desert, thunderstorms, you name it. And you can use Flash graphics, royalty-free, from these same sources.

As for music, there's lots to choose from in cyberland. Royalty-free music download sites abound, but they' ain't cheap. For a 30 second spot you're looking at about twenty-five bucks. But I gotta tell you, these orchestrations are tons of fun. Go spend some time at my favorite one listening to demos and you'll see what I mean.

Did I hear you say you want to use something from your own collection of CDs? Don't even think about it. That music is copyrighted. Royalty-free music is not, but you gotta pay for the privilege.

Maybe you don't have time to make your own movie and would rather have someone else do it. That's fine, too. Here are a few resources:

The absolute best, in my opinion, is Circle of Seven Productions.

Vidlit is another favorite of mine, but they use mostly flash instead of actors.

Expanded Books does a variation on the teaser by incorporating an author interview with dramatic clips from the book.

The Romance Design Studio does book videos, and they look okay, but you could do the same thing for yourself with Movie Maker or iMovie.

So what do you think of book teasers? Do they have any effect on your book buying decisions? Do you think you'll do one for your book?