Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In Defense of the Category Romance

I've recently been re-reading some of Suzanne Brockmann, Jennifer Crusie and Linda Lael Miller's category romances--the highlight reel if you will. (And yes, I know, you're probably sick of my book analyzing posts, but both Tavy and I are sick--talking about what I'm reading is the best I can do!). I've read pretty much the entire backlist for all three, so I feel comfortable saying that each had some of her best moments in the category books.

But, I also notice that category books are but a footnote in many authors' careers, something to be overcome, escaped from, and quickly forgotten. Until of course, they hit the NYT bestseller list, and their publisher sees dollar signs from reissuing category books with snazzy new covers and calling them "novellas." And the readers snatch them up, many for the first time. The same readers who wouldn't be caught dead with a category book in hand.

Why is category such a dirty word? Among writers there seems to be a hierarchy of e-publishing, category, and the golden ring, single-title. But, among readers, who don't know from publishers, category seems to rank only slightly higher than comic books. When asked what I write, I often notice a slight wince, a furrowing of the brow when I say, "Romance." If I add the disclaimer, but not, you know, category books, there's almost an audible sigh of relief. Good, good, they can keep acknowledging me on the streets.

I'm lying of course. I'd happily give up a non-vital organ to sell to category, and I most assuredly DO write category, especially if the category romances I've been re-reading are any judge. But, I can't stand the look of disappointment, especially in the eyes of those who don't read romance. Which brings me back to, what is the great stigma over the little red, white, and blue books? Is that you can purchase them along with laundry detergent and milk at the grocery? That they fit neatly in a handbag? That there are simply so many of them? That they have little resale value?

I've noticed that many writers (not naming names :)) of category--best-selling, award-winning--don't read category. In fact, it's rare to meet a fellow RWA member who fesses up to reading category. You'll have much better luck finding members who read hard erotica. THEY write in to proudly stand up for that sub-genre. But, who's standing up for category? If even many of those who write it have their eyes firmly fixed on the "real" goal of single title, it's no wonder that many good stories get lost until it's backlist time, and they become hot commodities.

But for every bestseller with reissues, there's twenty authors who make their entire career in category, many very happily. With this in mind, I went back to my TBR pile and looked at the unread category books (that I was re-reading books rather than tackling these says something in and of itself). I read each first chapter AS IF IT WERE A SINGLE TITLE. Lo, and behold, my mind shifted. I held the book to a different standard. And, I found several winners.

Long before I read single title, I spent years reading category. I followed the reading habits of my grandmother, much to my mother's chagrin. But, somewhere along the line, I too became judgmental, choosing category only as a "last resort." I'm realizing that my preconceptions have cost me many a good story.

And, I'm going to make a concerted effort to change that. And now, I have an exercise for you, if you dare. I KNOW you have unread category books hanging around. Pull back the cover. Look at the title page as if you were handed a bestselling single title. Read the first chapter. Does it make a difference in your opinion of the book?

Are there category writers whom you DO read (beyond our own amazing Alice, whom I assume you're all reading)? Whose work transcends category and is simply a great story?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

MENOPAUSAL MOMENTS IN WRITING

You may ask yourself what are menopausal writing moments?
A. Men pause over your shoulder as you write.
B. A pause or frequent pauses in writing.
C. Sudden hot flashes designed to pause your ability to think clearly and write cohesively.
D. Answers B & C.
E. All of the above.

A year and a half ago my doctor stated I had gone through menopause. I sat a little taller and carried a smug smile on the inside. My body had slipped through the gates of menopause without fuss or fanfare.

Two months ago I discover my doctor lied to me. I’ve always been a late bloomer and I should have known better than to believe the words of a male doctor, who at best may try and force his imagination to wiggle through the porthole into the world of hot flashes, brain fog, sharp personality shifts and restless nights of sleep. In reality, I question if he could ignore the tidal wave of heat rushing through his body; endure the dense haze infused into every crevasse of his brain; overcome the frantic, manic and split personalities so quick to emerge and take over, and still march through his days in perfect pitch and beat.

I am humbled to join the ranks of the women who have gone before me into the world of menopause and have come out survivors.

From my vast experience of eight weeks, writing through a menopausal moment equals a walk down death row and no amount of premium quality chocolate will halt the mission. I’m not here to give you advice on writing and menopause. I’m here to gather all I can from others and hope my brain can collect said information into a cohesive, understandable formula I can recall at will or at least within a twenty-four hour period.

This menopause gig started out as a silent assailant. What once claimed a firm stage on my frame now sags, droops or has moved south permanently. The exchange of smooth, tight skin is being replaced with loose wrinkles and flab. Once youthful freckles are now age spots. My hair has begun to turn white in areas on my body I didn't realize changed color. (If necessary I can draw a diagram.) I’ve also located wild hairs growing in frightening places. The other day I pulled a curly black hair out of my left ear. I don’t believe God intended for a black fur patch to develop in the female auditory vestibule. If I start growing more wild hairs than men, I’ll be forced to dive into a vat of estrogen and buy stock in the company.

A few years before our dog’s death the vet told us she was going through menopause. Today, through new eyes, I find myself better understanding that difficult time in her life and embraced a new bond in her memory. I even adopted a kindred spirit with her until I remembered she began lifting her leg on occasion to relieve herself. I’ve decided it’s not wise to attempt to compare yourself with a member of the animal kingdom. Yet, there are times when the desire to claw at someone grows strong.

If today’s blog has left you feeling heated and cheated of learning anything valuable in the realm of writing please join me in a menopausal moment. I’ll not elaborate further, except to say, where is the pause in menopause?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Good News all around me.


This picture is of fans from Cour'd Lene, ID who were at the Rose City RWA Reader's Luncheon in Portland.
The tallest woman is Janet. I met her the very first RWA conference I went to at Emerald City.
Nicole McCaffrey my eight year CP has her first book, "Model Man" out and has been receiving high reviews (which I told her would happen). It is an awesome book about a 40 year-old romance writer who reluctantly falls in love with a young male cover model. It is sassy, fun, and darn right hot! It's in the Last Rose of Summer line at The Wild Rose Press.


My friend, Karen, who some of you met when we had the retreat at my house, went with me to the Reader's Luncheon and from reading the excerpt Genene had there of her book "Songs of the Heart"- I may have lost my first fan to Genene! LOL She loved the excerpt and raved about it all the way home from Portland. And made me promise to buy a book from Genene as soon as she gets them.


Author, Lauri Robinson, who I met through The Wild Rose Press and has also become a friend, has received awesome reviews for her Cactus Rose book, "A Wife for Big John". A sweet, fun read about a woman who falls in love with a logger's cook stove and then him.


And though I haven't received a confirmation yet, someone at the Reader's luncheon mentioned she thought I was giving a workshop at the Beau Monde/Historical track at Nationals on Wednesday of Nationals. She's supposed to get back to me this week. I had stopped preparation on that project thinking since I hadn't heard anything- it was a no go.


Sorry this isn't a learning, growing,expanding blog, but my weekend and thought processing for the blog was messed up when my daughter's plane came in thirty hours late and my dad showed up wanting to go shopping in Bend. Family is where my attention has been and not on a throught provoking blog.


What good news has happened to you or around you lately? Good news is always fun to share no matter who it belongs to.





Saturday, April 26, 2008

CHALLENGE CHECK-IN

I believe Paty is driving over the hill today to the Reader's Luncheon in Portland so I'm going to risk stepping on toes and go ahead and post a challenge check-in. The fact is a lot of us rely on having a place to state our progress, a place to feel accountable where our audience is both knowledgeable and sympathetic.

I'll start with me. Monday I called my editor and told her I couldn't make this a three book series. There were many reasons I did this, the most important one being I could not find a connecting thread nor plot the second and last book. My editor was very supportive and kind -- I had no idea how terrible it would feel to admit defeat. Apparently, that angst acted like a wake up call to the lazy, no account brain cells loitering in my head, and they started scurrying around like ants on a drop of honey. The result is a shift of backstory and a glimmer of light. Hopefully, this will lead somewhere and I can call my editor back and tell her all is not lost and she can put a big red mark on my file (I picture red marks on all the crazy writer files. My dog once had a red mark on his file because he bit the vet... about the same thing, right? I digress....)

A writer friend of mine said, "Don't worry too much about it. I think editors expect us to be a little nuts." I aim to please.

So, how did your week go?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hodge-Podge

I swear my brain is blank this morning. I've been staring at the blinking cursor for the last ten minutes and still can't come up with a pithy topic. I've been up until well after one AM each night working on my revisions, the DH has been out of town and I have a thousand things I need to do today (which is weighing on my brain right now). Not to mention I need to get dressed to go run my seven miles this morning (my running partner is a slave driver).

So instead of something deep and stimulating, I'm going to share the things I've learned (or heard about in passing) this week and some things I'm looking forward to:

In the news:

In case you didn't hear (I think it was last week!), Kendra placed third in the Linda Howard Contest. Way to go, Kendra! Right now she's in Hawaii. (I'm green with jealousy.)

Everyone's talking about what a blast the Romantic Times Convention was this past week in Pittsburgh. The girls at Killer Fiction, The Bradford Bunch, Romance Bandits...they all have pictures and stories up on their blogs. Next year RT is in Orlando. I'm considering going because my first book will be out then. Someone told me RWA is a great convention if you're prepubbed, RT is the one you need attend after you have a book (or books) out. Anyone here been to RT or planning to go next year?

Allison Brennan just inked a HUGE new deal with Ballantine for a new supernatural thriller series based on the seven deadly sins. She talked all about it yesterday at Murder She Writes.

Gemma Halliday also agreed to write a new series for Dorchester based on a Hollywood gossip magazine and the mysteries surrounding it. Read more about her new series here.

And things I'm looking forward to:

The new Indiana Jones movie.

68 degree temps on Saturday.

Finishing my revisions (I'm so close!)

There's more but my brain is too full to think of them! So you share...what news did you hear this week? Anything interesting? And what things are you looking forward to in May?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A DAY OF MIRACLES

Have you ever had a day so full of miracles that any one the events -- let alone a series of them -- would be tagged "not believable" or "too coincidental" by NY editors if you tried to sell them in a story?

For me, Wednesday was such a day.

I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion on voice, by the way, but was too busy being awed by the incredible power that can be unleashed when our higher selves are in right alignment with the universe to join in.

I wanted to share some of the events of Wednesday with you, but struggled with how to do this in the few short words of a blog without sounding like I had escaped from the accommodations with steel-barred windows on Center Street or was some kind of a new age religious zealot. But perhaps that is my "voice," so I'll jump right in with the highlights. :)

The day started with fixing the furnace, but that didn't really count as a miracle because I had also done it the day before.

An unexpected phone call came mid-morning that pushed me to an aha moment and gave me the courage to take a strong emotional stand, breaking decades of my usual straddle-the-fence perspective of seeing all sides to an issue. That in itself was a huge step for me. The fact that this was a catalyst that could break a destructive cycle and change lives in a positive way became the next part of the Day of Miracles as three more related phone calls followed in quick succession.

The day wrapped up with another miracle: After being missing for almost a month, my son's dog is back. He evidently wandered around the city for a week or so before being adopted as a "group dog" by several young people in their early twenties. In spite of starting out with a collar with tags bearing my phone number and having a microchip, it was these kids and the Internet (and of course that higher power of the universe) that reconnected us, not the traditional methods of finding a lost pet.

Right now, my son's dog is laying by my feet, along with several others of my doggie pack, a tangible reminder of the Day of Miracles. What will the next days bring? A return to the mundane or more miracles? I'm consciously expecting more miracles and wondering how I can make them "believable" enough to use in a story. What about you? Have you had a Day of Miracles and have you used them in any of your stories? If you could manifest such a day, what would those miracles be?

OK, it's past midnight and I'm going to call it a day -- after I check my lottery tickets!

A DAY OF MIRACLES


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

VOICE


This is a quote from Wikipedia:: " Writer's voice is a literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice is a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can also be referred to as the specific fingerprint of an author, as every author has a different writing style.
In creative writing, students are often encouraged to experiment with different literary styles and techniques in order to help them better develop their "voice." Voice varies with the individual author, but, particularly in American culture, having a strong voice is considered positive and beneficial to both the writer and his or her audience."

I quote this because sometimes we wonder if we have a "voice." Somehow we know we "should" but don't know if we do. I particularly like the section up above where it says the writer's voice includes the use of syntax, diction, etc... across several works. It's there, whether we know it or not. It's how we express ourselves.

Sometimes I wish I could read our comments without knowing who the author is. I fancy that I could tell all of us without looking at a name. Last week, Eli told Lori she always knew her posts because of her voice and Lori mentioned that I had told her she had a distinctive voice and she hadn't been sure if that was good or bad. Thank heavens her husband told her it was good because it is. All of us have one. All of us. Karen conducted a test in one of her blogs where she gave a list of items to include in a story set up and everyone used them to their best advantage. Our voices shone through.

If you don't think you have a voice it may be because you haven't written enough yet to discern your own patterns. But think of your favorite authors, think of what you like about them, and if part of it is the manner in which they express themselves, their sentence structure, the way in which they develop a character and create dialogue -- you are admiring their voice. If you enjoy their message, their sensibilities and take on life -- then you are enjoying their voice. Because voice is a writer's essence, it's a part of who they are. You can contort it, just as an actor can assume a different role, but it will be a role then and not true. And it will show. No one is going to confuse Stephen King and Janet Evanovich and it's not because of their subject matter -- it's because of their voice.

Have you ever started reading a book and connected immediately? Felt very comfortable, understood every nuance, could almost anticipate the next word? If so, you may have run across someone with a voice very close to your own. It would be interesting to know if that familiarity runs through a person's favorite authors. I don't know if that;s true or not or stupid or not. What do you think?

Meanwhile, my advice for those of you who do not know your voice -- don't worry about it. It's there. It's like your fingerprints, it's part of you for good or bad. You can train it, you can hone it, you can refine and develop it. But it's there.
This is a quote from Wikepedia:: " Writer's voice is a literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice is a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can also be referred to as the specific fingerprint of an author, as every author has a different writing style.
In creative writing, students are often encouraged to experiment with different literary styles and techniques in order to help them better develop their "voice." Voice varies with the individual author, but, particularly in American culture, having a strong voice is considered positive and beneficial to both the writer and his or her audience."

I quote this because sometimes we wonder if we have a "voice." Somehow we know we "should" but don't know if we do. I particularly like the section where it says the writer's use of syntax, diction, etc... across several works. It's there, whether we know it or not. It's how we express ourselves

VOICE

Your voice is what makes your story yours

Monday, April 21, 2008

Yearly goal-setting

Today I am going to set 26 goals. And by posting them here, they are public. I am doing this because today is a special day for me, my birthday, and it's a year that signifies the starting of a new chapter of my life. So in honor of that, I'm setting 26 goals.

1. FINISH A BOOK. Siiiiggghhh. I'm actually much closer than I've been before, and I'm pretty sure it will happen this year.

2. Edit the book.

3. Submit the book to agents.

4. Write at least a draft of a second book.

5. Get a tattoo (hopefully happening tonight!)

6. Get a nose piercing (again, hopefully happening tonight!) - priorities, eh?

7. Apply to graduate schools.

8. Finish my senior thesis.

9. Begin blogging on my personal blog again.

10. Get fit and healthy.

11. Clean my apartment (I'm really starting to see a pattern here...same goals as every time...)

12. Redesign my personal Web site.

13. Read a crapload of books (both romance and anthropology).

14. Flesh out ideas of a couple more books.

15. Pick up my paranormal ideas to see if they cause any sparks.

16. Study for the GRE.

17. Take the GRE (and do well).

18. Do better at keeping up with current events.

19. Learn basic Italian.

20. Learn the human bones.

21. Try to decide on a grad school regional focus.

22. Write a short story.

23. Do better at keeping in touch with people.

24. Get rid of a bunch of crap (ties in with the apartment cleaning thing).

25. Write at least SOMETHING in my current WIP each day.

26. Be happy!


Do you have any goals you'd like to make public? Are there certain times of the year, or certain times of your life that you set goals? Or do you avoid goal-setting like the plague?


And here is my current ideas for the tattoo, trying to decide on the placement I like. And it's going to be on my left wrist, the inside below my palm. Pretty small and easily coverable by bracelets or a watch. Creative types are supposed to have a tattoo, right? ;)


Yearly goal-setting

Today I am going to set 26 goals. And by posting them here, they are public.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Challenge Check-in

Hey Everyone!

How was this week for your writing endeavors? Did you make your goal? Or like me floundered around.

This week wasn't a good word count week. I managed about 750 words. But I'm in the beginning of a new project and I'm doing more research than writing. Now if you count all the notes I'm jotting down.... Then I'd have a decent word count! LOL I spent all day Monday deciding on setting, then had a break through on my Tuesday drive that concreted the hero in my mind. He'd been a little blurry until then. With having found my setting, now I have to do research about it. So I figure this next week will be another slow word count week, but after that I hope to get those words flying.

Off to sort cattle and freeze my butt off!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Loglines

I know today's our normal challenge check-in, but if Paty doesn't mind posting the check-in tomorrow, I thought this might be a fun exercise. I totally pilfered this from Karin Tabke's blog because it was so cool.

A logline is a one sentence pitch that describes your book (or in the case of screenwriters, their script). It's the blurb in the TV guide that tells you what a movie is about. It's the line that gets you excited about a book or movie or TV show. It's what you say when someone asks, "What's your book about?" Obviously, it should answer one main question: What is your story about?

Two reasons you need a logline:
1. A logline keeps you focused as you write.
2. A logline summarizes your book in as few words as possible when you're ready to pitch it to an editor or agent. (And it gives you something to say when you find yourself alone in the elevator with Leslie Wainger at Nationals and she says, "So what are you working on now?" {One can dream, right?})

So...now that you know the definition, what's the logline for your current wip? I'll go first:

Mythological warrior falls for the one woman destined to save his race - the same woman he's been sent to find and lead to her death.

Okay, your turn. Post your logline in the comment section. If you don't have one, post what you've got and we'll all help you perfect it. And comments are good. If you want to hack mine to pieces, go for it. ;)

Friday, April 18, 2008

THE CALL


Yesterday evening, at around 7:30, my husband and I took a short drive. When I returned, the light on the phone was blinking. I called the number and the nice recording on the answering machine link told me I had missed two calls.

One was from my daughter and said she'd call back. I listened to the second message and bit my lip.

My husband came into the house. "What's wrong?" he said when he found me sitting at the table staring at the phone. "I'm not sure," I told him. "But we got a call from a very young child, a baby even. Just some sounds. The identity screen says it's a local wireless number... I'm going to call the number to make sure everything is okay."

He looked at me like I was nuts, but hey, we've been married a long time, so he shrugged.

I made the call. It was answered by a woman. I launched into my spiel. "You don't know me and I don't believe I know you, but I received a call from this number a bit ago. It was a child's voice though I couldn't understand anything he said, just some sounds ---"

The woman said, "Alice? This is Danita." (My name came up on her screen. She said later she thought I was telling a joke or putting her on so she waited through my explanation.)

Anyway, it turns out when Parker goes to sleep Danita jumps into the shower and it appears Dalton sometimes finds her cell phone and pushes buttons as fast as his little fingers can go and this time, I was the lucky recipient. The child had to wait through my message and then leave one of his own and you know, he did a good job. Other than that speech thing.

So, I got to talk to Danita and that is why I am doing this blog today for her as she is caught in new mother mode and probably will be for awhile. She sounded happy and well and says the children are doing great considering one is a newborn and the other has just landed in the land of TWO. She misses writing but knows it's just a matter of time.

Right after this, I went to watch TV and ended up finding THE NEVERENDING STORY. This is a children's story about a young boy who loses his mother and is told by his father to keep his feet on the ground. Hiding from some bullies, he finds a book by the title's name and he takes it into an attic to read. The little boy has an active imagination and soon finds this book is different from other books in that the he seems to become part of the story which is basically about saving the land of fantasy and imagination.

It's a sweet story, the little boy is adorable, and as I watched it I thought of Dalton and all the wonderful things ahead of him, and Parker, too. And given their mother's inevitable influence, is their little doubt that these two boys will know exactly how to help keep the land of imagination and dreams alive?

Here's to all the little boys and girls who know or will soon discover the thrill of opening a book and reading the first words, the words that take their hands and gently or not so gently, pull them into a world more alive than reality. Do you remember your first books? Your mother reading to you? Your children's first books and the ones you read to them? One of my fondest memories is reading a book called THE MAZE IN THE HEART OF THE CASTLE by Dorothy Gillman. Every night, my children would come sit on my bed and I would read them a chapter even though they knew how to read by themselves by then. And every night there would be a major chapter ending explosion and it was hard to stop and yet delicious to anticipate. The night the boy caught in a literal maze with a bunch of people also caught but resigned to stay there climbs the wall and then jumps off of it into a vast desert (i.e., thinks outside the box) we were all stunned.

The power of words is addictive and fascinating and has been such a huge part of my life. Another time, when computers didn't offer graphics, were just words, my kids and I played a game called Zork. Just words. Options, directions, trying to solve the puzzle with nothing but a black screen and a few questions -- a story game. At one point, we found some stairs to send the boy down and these words (more or less) flashed on the screen: "You are at the gate of hell." I shivered. They were profoundly frightening and unexpected. And though Zork evolved into future versions with pictures galore, it wasn't the same.

Words and children and imagination. I've got to go now. The phone is ringing. Maybe it's Dalton...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fuel for the Story Engine

Brass Steam Engine

Do you keep notes? I don't mean like taking notes from lectures or research, but just every day stuff. In other words, do you carry around a notebook and jot things down, like a particular way you feel in single moment of time, or how the afternoon sun creates long shadows and takes you back to when you were a kid playing kick-the-can in the street, or the time your grandmother came riding up the driveway on her new bike and couldn't figure out how the brakes worked.

This is all day-to-day stuff, but some things strike us stronger than others and plant themselves in the memory centers of our brains. It's all grist for the story-mill.

I always delude myself into believing I'll remember stuff. Oh, yeah, who could ever forget the day … Uh, well, I forgot. Or how about the time my son was on his skateboard and, uh, oops. Another lost memory.

I'm not an organized person. Some people think in linear patterns, with neat little folders filed in alpha or numerical order inside their heads. Me? My thought process is more like a collage.

So I'm finally starting to write stuff down. Where I end up storing it is another question for another post. I think in colors and pictures, then translate them through words so that I can use them. My recall is mostly visual.

I was visiting with a writer friend yesterday, a morning coffee date (2 hours!) spent talking about everything writing-related, including her new book coming out this September. She's not a genre writer. She writes literary fiction, which I'm very curious about. Her stories aren't so much plot as they are character pastiches, so I asked her how she came up with her stories.

She bases them, in part, on people she's known and worked with, not one them a member of her family. She admits to not being a social person, but she's an observant one and everyone who's interesting stands to become fuel to drive her story engine. Though she doesn’t use her family in her fiction, her adult daughter claims her latest book has a lot of their family in it. This floored my friend because for one thing, there are no family units as such in her book. But elements here and there were subconsciously taken from her life and put in the story. I think that's very cool.

There's so much good stuff to take from real life. My husband is a good example. I could create a dozen different characters from him alone. One character based on just him would never be believable. You know what they say about truth and fiction.

Do you use bits of real life in your stories? Do you write them down in a log or journal? Are any of your characters fashioned out of people you know? Or parts of people you know?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Review: Manuscript Makeover

As a fan of the works of Elizabeth Lyon of The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and A Writer's Guide to Fiction fame, I was super excited to receive a copy of her latest work, Manuscript Makeover for review. Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore would be a welcome addition to any writer's library.

I'm a handbook junkie. I like do-this, then-this, now-this instructions. I'm a big fan of The Breakout Novel Workbook, but the endless exercises can be a bit tedious, and it (like most makeover books) only really helps when you have a complete WIP. Because I edit at the end of the first draft (and second, third, fourth . . .), slash and burn editing makes sense for me. But, a multiple stage, many pass through technique doesn't work if you'd prefer to do a little trimming here, a little weeding there, a nice shrub over here . The edit-as-you go crowd have sorely needed a handbook that can be used as the draft progresses AND again in the second draft.

Enter Manuscript Makeover. With this book, you can choose: Extreme Makeover or Design on a Dime. You can take your finished manuscript and work through the book, one chapter at a time. Or you can take your concept, and work through the book as you complete the first draft. While she's targeting writers with completed first drafts, I also see this book as an invaluable aid during the outline stage. Her lists of advantages/disadvantages for each style choice (type of hook, viewpoint, flashback etc) really set this book apart from other guides.

I tend to be a visual learner, so I like the pro/con lists, and the checklists at the end of each section. The checklists and summaries add a "Dummies Guide to . . ." feeling, but it's not an unwelcome vibe here as it enhances the readability and usability of the book. The one feature I see missing is an overall checklist--either at the beginning or the end. This would be handy if a writer wanted to tackle sections out of order. I also would have liked more examples from published works, but her examples are clear and concise.

The sections on copy editing and on synopsis are both very brief, so if these are your main concerns, you'd probably be better served by other handbooks. Also, if you're looking an inspirational "this is why I'm a writer" type prose, you won't find it here. This a nuts-and-bolts inspection of your manuscript, and it doesn't waste time with many "hang in there" reassurances. I found this refreshing, but others may be at a point where they need more inspiration and less exercises. If that's the case, read one of the many author-on-writing books, then return to this one when you are ready to work.

This is one of the few handbooks I'd recommend to begining AND seasoned writers. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

Now, tell me, what are your favorite handbooks? Read any good resources for writers lately?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

SIMPLE AND SEAMLESS

Recently I watched a movie with a simple storyline. It was touching, tender, evoked tears, and spoke volumes. Why? What made it so special? The writers had chosen the right words and spelled them out in all the right places.

How many times have you read a good book and said to yourself, “Well, that was a simple story. I could write that?” What made it look simple were the well balanced, succinct word choices.

Every good story has acquired and been fitted with the right words. We need to do the same when we sit down and write. A writer’s goal is to create a seamless story. Simple? Not always.

To make sure the rhyme, rhythm and cadence ring clear read your passages out loud. Do they flow off your tongue or knot your tongue into a pretzel? Do they say what needs to be said with the heart and soul necessary? Do your sentences need a word extracted here and there? Or do you need to implant a few choice words to convey your full meaning?

Do you struggle to produce the right word? Sometimes that elusive word just won’t surface.

I’ve used all of the following with success:
* Off the top of your head, rattle off a list of possible words choices. Say them out loud to help savor and sample each one.
* Use a dictionary or thesaurus as a helpful aid.
* Sometimes selecting a short word over a long one, or vice versa, will provide the results needed.
* Call a friend or email your loop. That perfect word may fall from their tongue or fingertips.

When the right words jump from our fingertips onto the page you’ll know it. The flow sings with perfect pitch and clarity in your ears. The vivid imagery bursts into full color in your mind. Your heart thumps a little faster, more proof you’ve hit the mark.

What do you do when you’re stuck and searching for the right word?

Reminder: Meeting Tonight

Don't forget tonight's our monthly meeting at The Blue Pepper in downtown Salem. If you're a romance writer in the area who would like to stop by and see what RWA is all about, we'd love to have you join us.

SIMPLE AND SEAMLESS

Recently I watched a movie with a simple storyline. It was touching, tender, evoked tears, and spoke volumes. Why? What made it so special? The writers had chosen the right words and spelled them out in all the right places.

How many times have you read a good book and said to yourself, “Well, that was a simple story. I could write that?” What made it look simple were the well balanced, succinct word choices.

Every good story has acquired and been fitted with the right words. We need to do the same when we sit down and write. A writer’s goal is to create a seamless story. Simple? Not always.

To make sure the rhyme, rhythm and cadence ring clear read your passages out loud. Do they flow off your tongue or knot your tongue into a pretzel? Do they say what needs to be said with the heart and soul necessary? Do your sentences need a word extracted here and there? Or do you need to implant a few choice words to convey your full meaning?

Do you struggle to produce the right word? Sometimes that elusive word just won’t surface.

I’ve used all of the following with success:
* Off the top of your head, rattle off a list of possible words choices. Say them out loud to help savor and sample each one.
* Use a dictionary or thesaurus as a helpful aid.
* Sometimes selecting a short word over a long one, or vice versa, will provide the results needed.
* Call a friend or email your loop. That perfect word may fall from their tongue or fingertips.

When the right words jump from our fingertips onto the page you’ll know it. The flow sings with perfect pitch and clarity in your ears. The vivid imagery bursts into full color in your mind. Your heart thumps a little faster, more proof you’ve hit the mark.

What do you do when you’re stuck and searching for the right word?

Monday, April 14, 2008

POV or not to POV


I'm glad I decided on my subject on Friday and typed it up because today, I ache all over and find typing and thinking both hard to do. Just suffice it to say, my dh worked me near death over the weekend( and not in a fun, romantic way).

Here's my delimma:

As I work on my newest project, which is the series with an ongoing relationship between the Hero and Heroine, I’m having a dilemma over the secondary characters who will have the HEA in the book. I’ve not read one like this before and wondered- do they each need to have a POV in the story? Or can I satisfy the reader keeping it all in the H/H’s POVs showing the secondary characters and how they relate to one another? If the main characters have love scenes(to satisfy those readers wanting such scenes) do I have to show the secondary couple that intimate or will the way the Main characters perceive and tell the story be enough to have the reader sighing and happy with the HEA and yet on the edge of their seat waiting for the next book to come out and see how the H/H come together again.

Has anyone read a book with what I’m planning? If so please let me know so I can read it. I may be biting off more than I can chew, but I’m going for something unique and different with the goal of capturing an agent or editors attention. But I have to be able to pull it off as well.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Challenge Check In


Yep, it's that time again- How did you do this week for word count, revisions, or whatever it was you set you mind to tackle?


I shipped Miner in Petticoats off to my editor on Thursday and spent all of yesterday digging into the book I plan to pitch at Nationals. I did a conflict chart, started the synopsis using Michael Hauge's Six Plot Structure and that seems to work well for me, and still working on the seven elements. I've tweaked my heroine from my original plan and the thing that has me hung up, I'm going to blog about on Monday. So stay tuned for that!


Yesterday was gorgeous on this side of the mountain and today looks just as good.

Friday, April 11, 2008

10 Things I've Learned From Reading Fairy Tales

10. Females make good villains. In many of the modern fairy tales, the villain is the evil stepmother, out to ruin the future of the pampered princess. In romance fiction, more often than not the villain ends up being male. The books where the villain is female are the ones that usually have the best unexpected twists and turns.

9. In modern fairy tales, the hero or heroine learns something vital about themselves. We're talking character arc, which is as important to romantic fiction as it is to Belle from Beauty & The Beast.

8. "Once Upon A Time" could be today, tomorrow or five-hundred years ago, depending on your interpretation. Take me to a place I don't know, describe it well and hook me, and I'll believe anything you have to tell me. As it is in fairy tales, world-building in any novel is important to making the story believable.

7. Fairy tales are not just for kids. Most modern day fiction is based, in some part, on the classic fairy tale structure of good vs. evil. Classic fairy tale story lines - Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince - can be retold in a thousand different ways and still be as exciting as the originals. It's all in how it's done. And readers love to see the familiar redone in a brand new way. (Think: Ever After)

6. Not every princess needs to be rescued. Sometimes it's the prince who needs to be saved. Taking a classic fairy tale and turning it upside down is a new twist on an old story.

5. Popular paranormal & fantasy fiction has its roots in classic fairy tales. Elves, dwarves, magicians, werewolves, fae, goblins, witches, giants and talking animals aren't new but date back to at least the 1500's when cultures used fairy tales to explain their beliefs in witches and demons. Arabian fairy tales are recorded as far back as the 1200's. And the oldest known written fairy tales stem from Egypt c 1300 AD. Think you're writing something new and different? Think again.

4. Children's fairy tale movies are a great source of research for a writer. Say what you will about Disney movies, but the writers at Disney do a good job with internal/external conflict, character arcs and basic plots. If you haven't yet figured out story structure, watching simple fairy tales are a good way to learn.

3. Not all fairy tales end happily. And romantic fiction - depending on the genre, the series, etc. - doesn't necessarily have to end 100% happily either. Especially in series books where there's some kind of external struggle which over-arcs from one book to the next, so long as the protagonists have their own miniature-version of happily ever after, your reader will be pleased. Just don't leave them hanging.

2. Because of the HEA factor, people tend to dis romantic fiction just like they do fairy tales - for being far-fetched and unreal. Hence, the "fairy tale romance" or "fairy tale ending". Considering fairy tales are so deeply rooted in history and every culture on the planet, I now consider the romance industry's comparison to fairy tales as a compliment rather than a put-down.

And finally,

1. Modern fairy tales appeal to readers for the same reason romantic fiction does - because in a world where things go wrong on a daily basis and everywhere you turn, bad things are happening, it's nice to know there's a place you can go to have the promise of the "happily ever after".

For a list of classic fairy tales including title (with link), year, author and where the tale is from, check out this link.

Wanna test your fairy tale IQ? Check out this quiz and tell us how you did.

What's your favorite fairy tale? And have you learned anything significant about writing from fairy tales?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

SERIOUS PLAY

Perhaps I need a vacation, or maybe just some serious play. So, for today's blog, I combed the Internet for romance-related trivia. Here is some of what I found:

-- You've probably heard that 53% of all mass market paperback books sold in this country are romances. That means romance novels earn more money in the USA yearly than baseball.

-- The longest married couple is believed to be a Taiwanese couple who celebrated their 86th anniversary in 2003. Liu Yung-yang and his wife, Yang Wan, are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world's longest marriage.

-- For Valentine's Day 2000, a liqueur manufacturer created the world's largest box of chocolates. The heart-shaped box, assembled in New York City, measured 15 feet high by 15 feet wide and weighed some 1300 pounds. It held the record until November of 2002, when Marshall Fields broke the record with a 2,002 pound box of chocolates in Chicago.

-- Wild cabbage was traditionally recommended as an aphrodisiac.

-- You burn 26 calories in a one-minute kiss.

-- According to English folklore, Saturday, the most popular American choice, is the unluckiest day to marry!

-- Janet Evanovich wrote 12 romance novels before moving to the crime genre to author her highly successful Stephanie Plum series of novels. She credited with this quote on the preparation for her genre change from romance to crime: "I spent two years retooling - drinking beer with law enforcement types, learning to shoot, practicing cussing."

-- The average woman uses up approximately her height in lipstick every five years.

How about you? Heard any good romance trivia lately?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

TITLES


I'd like some help with titles, but first I'd like to share part of an article I recently read in The Week. The focus was the stories behind the titles of a few classic novels and was adapted from the book Why Not Catch-21 by author Gary Dexter. Since the article was already pared down, it's almost impossible to completely paraphrase it, so I am using lots of quotes.

My favorite one was the title story. I was under the impression that Catch-22, an expression used to describe an impossible bind, existed before the title was given to the book but just the opposite is true. It is the book that created the saying -- think about it, there are no catches 1-21 and no Catch-23 onward. "Its very uniqueness," Dexter writes, "meant Heller had to think carefully before naming or numbering it. And his choice was --- Catch-18."

Heller was a bomber pilot during the Second World War and so was his character in the book. When he submitted it (three years later) to the publisher, it still had that title. But then Leon Uris came out with a book the same year called Mila 18 also about the war and so Heller got the job of renaming his book. "It was thought that Heller, a first-time novelist, should be the one to blink."

In a 1975 interview, Heller said, "I was heartbroken. I thought 18 was the only number." Dexter says, "A long process of of numerical agonizing began in which the author and his editor, Robert Gottlieb, worked their way through the integers looking for the right formula. Catch-11 was one of the first suggestions, but was rejected because of the film Ocean's Eleven. Heller at one point settled on Catch-14 but Gottleb threw it out for being too nondescript. When 22 came up, Gottelieb felt it had the right ring, and Heller acceded two weeks later. 'I thought 22 was a funnier number than 14,' Gottlieb said in 1967.'"

Now, I understand I am not writing a classic, but I also understand a title can be a big selling point. In my corner of the world, hooks are used as title bait. Thus my next release, named by my editors, "The Lawman's Secret Son." My title was Shot In The Dark, but I was warned it was too mainstream and that it would hinder sales. I don't want to hinder sales. So my title has the secret baby hook and the policeman hook and it's okay with me. Try getting snotty about these things and see how far it gets you. Plus I've grown to like it just fine.

I'm currently working on a book about identical triplet brothers. I would like to submit with titles that reflect the fact there are thee of them. I've been mulling it over and have come up with zip. With the twin women I did a couple of years ago, they named the "series" Dead Ringers, and then the books had their own titles, so maybe that's where I should get in the three part. Any bright thoughts?

I'm not exactly in a Catch-22, but I could use a little brainstorming. Of course, this is the cart before the horse as I only have twenty pages of book one and seven pages of synopsis and a general idea of book three and very little for book two, but I thought I would throw it out there. Plus, a week or so ago, Paty mentioned titles so maybe she'll chime in.

Do you have a method? Do you use a phrase from your book? If you've published, have you kept your own title? I've been about half ad half.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

SEVEN OR LESS

I'm jumping in today hoping I'm not stealing someone else's thunder. How about another seven words or less story exercise to get started today?

I’ll go first.

Silent thief robs memories in one stroke.

Cemetery plot available. Apply on way out.

Even tides wash natures hurts.

Anyone else want to play?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Writing on vacation

Not a writing retreat, but a vacation or business trip. Do you find time to write? Or does it mess with your normal schedule so much that you can't manage to do it? Tomorrow I'm leaving for an anthropology conference in Ohio until Sunday. I've got my own room, which seems odd as I can't remember the last time I went away for a trip and had my own room. I don't know what I'm going to do without Eli or Alice to harass!

The way I figure it, since I don't know a soul at this conference, is I'll have oodles of time in the evenings after research presentations to write. Will that happen? Who knows. This hotel has free internet, so that could either hurt by distracting me, or help because it will keep me glued to my computer. I don't know if I'll be able to get into 'the zone' by not being in my environment. But sometimes that can be helpful. No pile of dishes or stack of laundry to distract me from writing.

There are also tools that can help people write in unsual places, like Alphasmarts. I've got one, but I can't find the %#^*$ cord. I refuse to type on that, just to retype it again because I can't upload it. Then there's the consideration of flights. A three hour flight might be long enough to justify pulling out the laptop, but will the seat be too cramped? How long will the evil battery last?

So tell me, do you write on vacations or business trips? Or do you use it as a time to reboot your creativity?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Saturday Challenge Check-in

Ha! I have half an hour before I need to head out. My week went well. Can't give a count of words or pages, but I finished going through both my CP's edits and suggestions on Miner and am on chapter three going through it for the last time before I send it to my editor.

And I wrote the opening scene for the next Halsey brother book " Doctor in Petticoats". And my daughter (who is reading old western magazines for me) found a story I can use as a premise for the second book in the series I'm proposing.

On the promotion front, I've secure two author chats for June and two blog-guests spots to promote Outlaw in Petticoats when it is released.

That was my week. How about the rest of you? Did you meet your goal?

Friday, April 04, 2008

LUCY



Playing the part of blogger today while Danita plays the role of new Mom..... me.

Okay, the bottom photo is which of the following?

a. The newest in cat hair accessories?
b. A new twist on an old throwing game called "Ring the Cat's ears?"
c. A frustrated writer's momentary diversion?

Ah, that was too easy.

This is Lucy, my writing companion. She is a gooey mess of feline love depite this photo which makes her look slightly demonic. I chose her from a litter being given away by a tried looking woman and her two little girls outside of Walmart about six years ago because she looks almost exactly like one of the cat's on THE BABY SEASON cover (the one on the top.) Did that come out so teensy you can't even see it? Trust me.

So, Lucy is the tangible result of a book I wrote and today, while I am struggling to come up with the hero's motivations and weaknesses and what he needs to learn that doesn't come across so darn depressing the reader will have to go into six months of therapy when she's finished reading the book, Lucy looks like a darn good reward.

How about you? How do you reward yourself?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Writing Prompts: Show Don't Tell

We haven't had a writing exercise around here for a long time, so I thought I'd throw one out just for grins. I'm a member of Absolute Write and on their forum, there's a whole list of writing games, exercises and prompts that I participate in now and then. I especially enjoy the Show Don't Tell exercise. It's fun and easy. Here's how it works.

I'll offer a mundane sentence that needs a lot of help. You flex your writerly muscles by bringing the sentence to life. You can expand on the image, engage a variety of senses, add a narrative twist, introduce a character, use dialogue, create an entire scene, anything you want. Just make sure that whatever you do, you must show, not tell.

Play with all the sentences, or mess around with just one. Your choice. Post them in the comments section, or keep them to yourself. It's totally up to you.

Here's a short example with the first sentence:

The glass was half full.

The amber liquid filled the glass midway, just to where the frosted etching of flowers marched in circles around the crystal. Petals touched stems, which touched leaves, then on to petals again. A reflection of flowers floated on the whiskey's surface like a wreath.

I'm going to give you three more to choose from, or you can do them all:

The cat lay by the fire.

The snow fell.

Wanda said hello to Frank.

Okay, there you go. Have at it, and have fun!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Question(s) of the Day

I'm swamped with start-of-the-term stuff right now (I'll have to do a grammar post at some future date . . .). Apologies all around, but this is going to have to be a short post. However, short can still be fun right?

  1. Check out former chapter member Jenny Gilliam's first release, The Wedding War, at The Wild Rose Press. (And while you're there, see how Paty's and Karen's books continue to climb the top seller charts!)
  2. Let me tell you a story . . . Need a cute baby fix? Check out Miss Tavy wearing the adorable outfit that Paty got her.
  3. There. See. I smile. Need more cute baby to distract you from my abhorrent lack of content this morning? Tavy in her easter dress.
  4. Darn. This is a writing blog. I better return to writing related stuff. My first question of the day: When was the first time someone praised your writing? Was it a poem in First Grade? A paper in high school? A letter for work? I'm reading a book right now about the power of praise, so I'm curious about our own experiences with praise and how it's shaped us as writers.
  5. Question two of the day: I'd like to add more book reviews to my to-do list. I know, I know, I'm a glutton for punishment, but I've truly enjoyed my reviews for www.mother-talk.com and other one-off reviews I've been asked to do. In fact, I'll be reviewing Elizabeth Lyons' newest writing book in my next post here. Anyway, I'm wondering what your favorite book review sites are, and if you have information/advice on doing romance reviews.
I promise more content next time! I'm enjoying Elizabeth Lyons' book immensely, and I can't wait to share it with you! Until then, keep churning out the pages---everyone is doing amazing on the challenge!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

TIMELESS


We are in the throngs of doing some house remodeling. In the process we removed the carpet from one of the bedrooms and discovered a lime green, bright yellow, and tan linoleum in a huge daisy print. I graciously offered this find to Paty for use in her cabin at a reduced price since the treasure was glued for life and had to be removed in a million little pieces. If this discovery could have been removed in one solid sheet the pristine covering would have created a unique take on the floor in her rugged cabin, and I could have garnered twice the price. Instead, I suggested she could apply the gems to the ceiling for an eye-popping mosaic conversation piece. I’m still a little hurt she rejected my clever idea and turned me down flat. My solution offered a remedy to reshape dated material into a timeless work of art.

The brilliant idea induced me to think about timeless in regard to writing. Have you ever read a book without checking the copyright first and quickly discovered within a few pages or chapters that the word choices and descriptions have dated the novel? I have found myself thrust into a seventies living room with avocado green carpet, harvest gold brocade couch and orange bean bag chairs. In another book characters from the sixties dashed across the pages in hip huggers and bellbottom pants with wide leather belts. Language choices, yea, far out, cool man, and totally radical slang also dates the material. These earmarks slap a time warp onto every page of a novel.

Personally, I love to read books written in a timeless frame. They leave the reader believing it’s written in the present day. They can slip between the pages of a book and never guess the copyright or time period from detailed descriptions of furnishings, clothing, cars, popular product trends, and sayings.

I’m not suggesting I don’t like historical, western, or regency books, to name a few. I love books set in a specific point in time. I’m talking about books that could fit into any decade with the removal of some word choices. Over detailed information can dress a book in a distinctive frock found only in a sliver of years.

If one can ignite the urge to purge dated material from their manuscripts, they can expect future generations to enjoy their books without the invasion of intrusive dated material adding layers of wrinkles to their stories. Hold dated descriptions at bay and lavish your attention and talents onto your unique characters, plots, turning points, black moments and resolutions. Let each page of your book don a suit of timeless fashion pressed to pristine freshness.

Do you want your books to show signs of age or do you hope they’ll be read decades later with their true birth date well hidden?