Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The lovely Kaye Dacus spoke about story boarding at our Music City Romance Writers meeting a few months ago. Among the cool props she used were large (6X4 inches, approximately) sticky notes and a white board. I was intrigued.
I'm not really a pantser, but I'm also not much of a planner. Let me explain. Once I have a story idea, the next thing I do is choose my hero and heroine. I make a big deal of out naming them, giving them a back story - everything from their favorite color to their most poignant childhood memory. Most of this will never make it into the story, but I feel as if I have to "know" them before I can write them.
Next comes GMC - Goal, Motivation and Conflict. The fabulous Deb Dixon taught me that, and her book is always near me when I write. But beyond that I just write. I guess you could call me a plantster. :)
Because of this, I've written myself into more corners than I care to count. Yes, it's cool when your characters reveal something you didn't know before, or that perfect plot twist comes to you in a flash as you're typing dialogue, but those moments are more rare for me than the corners and moments of now what the heck do I do?
But a white board... and those pretty-colored HUGE Post-It Notes... imagine what I could do with those?
Absolutely essential when one is planning a six book menage series that spans an entire century. Yep. You read that right. I'm so freaking excited about this project it isn't funny, but I also realized there is no flipping way I can "plants" something like this without getting thoroughly lost, changing character names halfway and not realizing I've done so, or screwing up key elements and time lines. I must have a PLAN.
What is it about stores like Office Max or Staples? I get this rush when I walk into one. All those folders, and markers, and labels and printer cartridges, lined up like candy bowls in an old-fashioned drug store. Even the smell makes me hot. I could walk in there with one thing in mind to buy, and I still have to look at everything. I have to touch the giant Post-It Notes and the bubble wrap. Hey, you never know when you'll find the perfect dividers for all those folders you never use anymore since you now store your records on your hard drive.
So... I bought a white board. Right now it has only a few key points on it. Soon it will contain color-coordinated large, LINED Post-It Notes, one color for each specific element in the series that needs to stay consistent. I also have white board markers and a dry eraser. SQUEEE!!!
Tell me how you like to organize your projects, and don't throw that Scrivener thingy at me. :)
Sunday, November 27, 2011
All this week Harlequin is holding online workshops in conjuction with its second So You Think You Can Write competition. From November 11 to December 15 you can submit your completed manuscript to the contest. First prize is publication with Harlequin. The winner will be announced March 1, 2012. Even if you don’t plan to enter the contest, the online workshops and bulletin boards have lots of great advice about writing for Harlequin from editors and authors with the line. Check it all out at So You Think You Can Write.
And news from Carina Press:
The Editors at Carina Press recently revealed what they’d especially like to see in their submission in-box:
Rhonda Helms: Steampunk, urban fantasy, gladiators, historicals featuring real historical people
Gina Bernal: military heroes and heroines, romantic adventure — especially pirates, shapeshifters
Melissa Johnson: “deep and difficult conflict” and big stories with series potential
Alison Janssen: space opera, steampunk, redemption stories
Denise Nielsen: gothic suspense, dark characters with secrets
Lynne Anderson: cross-genre, multi-cultural, LGBT
Deb Nemeth: high-stakes thrillers, steampunk, Arthurian fantasy
Elizabeth Bass: historical mysteries, westerns, 20th century historicals
Mallory Braus: a zombie hunter romance, psychics, historical mysteries
Check out all the details here.
Monday, November 21, 2011
One unwanted gift. One great wrong. One chance to make things right…
Tony Solomon never wanted to be a time traveler. But when a freak accident gifts him with the ability to travel in time, he becomes an unwilling initiate in the Saturn Society, a secret society of time travelers. Determined to prevent his daughter’s murder three years earlier, he violates the Society’s highest law and becomes a fugitive. But the Society refuses to tell Tony how to time-travel within his own life, so he seeks help from Charlotte, the woman whose life he saved during a prior trip to the past.
When Tony arrives in 1933 looking for answers, Charlotte is both thrilled and terrified to see her childhood hero. Loyal to the Society, she is honor-bound to bring to justice those who manipulate time for their own gain. In giving him sanctuary, she faces a terrible choice-condemn the man she loves and to whom she owes her life, or deny her deepest convictions by helping him escape and risk sharing his sentence.
Time travel romance usually goes like this: a man or woman, through some mechanism, magic or device, travels back in time or into the future. Once they get there, they usually stay there for the duration of the book, learning to deal with their new circumstances and falling in love with someone from that time period along the way.
TIME’S ENEMY is not your typical time travel romance. It takes this general premise and gives it a science fiction edge, taking the reader on a page turning journey. Put it this way, if you take THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, mix in THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE and sprinkle it with SOMEWHERE IN TIME, you’ll get this amazing book.
Time Travel Paradox
Powell uses this principle with deft skill and it’s the thing that makes this story shine. Any change in history, no matter how minor, can have dire consequences in the present/future. Every time Tony goes back in time, he does something (often unintentional) to alter history and when he returns, his present is altered because of it. It’s when he goes back in time to deliberately change the past that the Saturn Society steps in. He broke the rules and he must be stopped. Now he finds himself on the run, in the present and the past.Not Your Typical Romance
Most romances have the hero and heroine meet within the first couple of chapters of the book. Not so here. The romance between Tony and Charlotte doesn’t even get started until the middle of the book. That’s a long time to wait in romance-land, but experiencing Tony’s journey getting there was well worth it. I love how the author portrays his confusion and desperation when he starts time traveling. He doesn’t understand what’s happening, he’s scared and disoriented, and has no control over where and when he goes (at least in the beginning).Not Perfect, but Close
As I said before, I thought this was a page turner of a book. But it’s not without its flaws. There are a few points in the middle where the pacing drags in comparison to the fast paced beginning and ending; one chapter makes use of short, choppy scene breaks which bothered me; and the author has an affinity for using parentheses throughout the narrative, which was a bit jarring. I use them a lot myself (as you can tell), just not in my fiction writing. But these flaws were minor, and didn’t diminish the enjoyment of the book.What Makes This A Perfect Indie Book
I’m pretty sure I know why this book didn’t sell to the NY Big 6. It’s a mix of romance, sci-fi, and paranormal fiction. I’m guessing editors and agents loved it, but just didn’t know how to market it. Like many indie books, this one didn’t fit in the tidy NY box, but it’s definitely one you don’t want to miss.
Learn more about Jennette Marie Powell at http://www.jenpowell.com/
Sunday, November 20, 2011
For example, I recently read about how lakes in Texas have been shrinking because of the drought conditions they've had. But the interesting part was what could be found UNDER some of the lakes. In one case, Lake Buchanan covered a graveyard connected to a small town, when it was filled in the 1930s. Here's a link to the article, which shows the gravestone of a young boy who died before he turned a year old: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45378438/ns/us_news-life/#.TsnjiLK-dkE
The drought is a pretty ordinary story, but the minute those stones showed up, my mind started plotting up all kinds of ideas. What if the town was slated for flooding because the boy was murdered and the killer wanted to make sure his bones would never see the light of day again? What if his ghost haunted the shoreline near the lake's edge? What if the child died as a result of plans to make the town disappear under the lake, if his parents protested against losing their town and cemetery, if ... I could go on and on.
There are stories every day about mundane things that suddenly take a turn for the weird - or paranormal, as we like to call it. You can find many ideas in just reading a newspaper or taking a tour of the internet to see what's been happening around the country or around the world. It all depends on how you look at things and, as a writer, you should have a unique perspective on all things strange and unusual to be found underneath the simple stories we hear or see every day.
What is it that makes you think 'STORY'? Did the recent re-opening of the investigation into the death of Natalie Wood give you any ideas? Would it help to know she was filming a 'scary' movie with Christopher Walken when she died? Do you know what the movie was about?
Anything that makes you ask questions is good. If you can make your reader ask questions, GREAT! That's where you find your story - something you find interesting and then expand into something even MORE interesting - something that will grab your readers and not let them go until they've finished your story. That's what all writers hope for.
So you know there are millions of ideas out there - go find them and get writing!
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
I asked a popular author, Karen McQuestion, if she would share some pearls she has learned in her journey to writing success.
For those unfamiliar with Karen, she gives this description of her extraordinary career:
“In 2009, after nearly a decade of trying to get my fiction published, I uploaded my books so they would be available on Amazon’s Kindle. What happened next was astounding! From the start, sales were good and supportive readers gave the books positive recommendations and reviews. As a result, one of my novels, A Scattered Life, was optioned for film in November 2009. And then, just when I thought things couldn't get any better, I got (and accepted!) an offer from Amazon's new publishing division, AmazonEncore, to publish the book in paperback. It came out in August 2010."
Today Karen has five books under the AmazonEncore imprint, two of which will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The bottom line: Thanks to a vivid imagination, she has achieved her lifelong dream of being a well-read author and "couldn’t be happier.”
Here are several insights she’s grateful she discovered along the way.
- Not everyone will love my books. In fact, there will ALWAYS be a certain percentage of readers who don’t. Negative reviews used to devastate me ... until I noticed that all of my favorite books had at least a few one and two-star reviews. Once I realized some people out there hated To Kill a Mockingbird, it got easier. My take on it is that I always do my best, which is the only part of writing a novel I can control. Ultimately, people will have their opinions. So be it.
- The importance of writer friends. I love all my friends, but writer friends come in handy when I want to talk shop or celebrate something writing-related. When I first started hanging out with other writers, I had this immediate strong feeling that these were My People. Turns out I’m not as weird as I thought, or at least I’m weird in a way that makes sense.
- There’s no competition. I can envy another writer for his or her rich use of language, or New York Times bestseller status, but when the day is done, writers are not in competition with each other. Like literary fingerprints, each author writes the book only he or she can write. Besides, there are an unlimited number of slots to be filled and new readers are born every day.
- To trust the process. Partway through writing a novel I always reach a point where I feel like I’ve painted myself into a corner and I become convinced there’s no way to get the book to work. It's a scary place to be, considering the time and emotional energy I’ve already sunk into the story. At some point, I realized this is part of my writing process and there’s no need to panic. I still do panic (a little bit), but it’s reassuring to know I’ve worked through this problem before, and I probably can do so again.
- That nothing matters except the work. Not the reviews, not the rankings, not the sales. Many deserving books never get their due. There’s a lot of heartbreak out there for writers. If you really love writing, that will carry you through.
- Thanks, Karen. ... After reading her "thankful" discoveries, I'll add some of my own. So here goes: Other writers and their writings can inspire you.
- Everyone makes mistakes. One editor told me that it takes an average of 16 pairs of eyes to make a manuscript perfect. I totally bought that idea. Now when I miss a comma, I don’t get all that upset.
- Although talent’s important, good writing can be learned. James Scott Bell says in his book Plot and Structure, “I wanted new writers to know that they were doomed to stay where they were. [But] they could learn craft… craft can be taught and … you -- with diligence, practice and patience -- can improve your writing.” I believe James Scott Bell, and that gives me hope.
- There are lots of good books on writing craft. Jack Bickham’s Scene and Sequence, James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel, Dwight Swain’s Techniques of a Selling Writer, Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict, Jordan Rosenfeld's Make a Scene and Donald Maass's The Fire in Fiction to name some. Most can be borrowed from public libraries.
- Look for others on the same writing path you’re on. It’s fun to write with others and be part of a bigger community, such as the Romance Writing chapters or the National Novel Writing groups. The camaraderie of friends makes even rejections more tolerable.
- Good critique partners can improve stories. Writing is communication and one of the best ways to check its effectiveness is asking someone else for an opinion. Look for a critique partner who believes in the stuff you create, but who's also able to give constructive criticism.
- What goes around really does come around. Helping others pays off. If you get a chance to volunteer or to do a favor for someone, do it. Soon you may need a blog spot to plug your new release, a person to proofread your manuscript or a friend to take you out for coffee when you receive a thanks-but-not-for-us rejection.
- Blogging is fun. Especially when others respond to what you write. I love to hear from you all.
No doubt you’ve learned much along your way. I'm hoping you’d like to share a gem or two. Karen and I look forward to your comments.
By the way, Karen has a new release this month -- Secrets of the Magic Ring -- that
I’m betting you’ll enjoy. Here’s a brief blurb:
"Nine-year-old Paul thinks getting a new swimming pool in his backyard is going to be the big excitement of the summer. But when he discovers a peculiar box in the construction hole, his life becomes crazier and more incredible than he ever imagined. It turns out the box contains a magical ring which grants wishes. At first this seems ideal, until he finds out the magic can backfire if the wishes aren’t just right. Before long, Paul is dealing with a mysterious boy who’d like to steal the ring, an annoying talking dog, and an aunt obsessed with swimming. As the wishes spiral out of control, Paul must figure out a way to set it all straight before it’s too late. ..."
Wouldn't you like to read more???
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I've had a life-long fascination with the city of Chicago, starting when I was very young and we traveled there to visit my maternal grandfather's family. Last month, my husband I took a trip to Chicago for our wedding anniversary. It was the first time we've been anywhere alone together overnight that didn't involve our daughter or a band function, since before she was born. We had a fantastic time!
We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites on West Illinois Avenue, right next to a fire station, but that didn't bother us. Being city people at heart, we loved being back in the middle of the hustle and bustle. We took a river cruise, walked about a million miles, shopped, ate too much, and I even had my palm read. By the way, according to the woman who read it, I'm due for that best seller next September. :)
I've set one unfinished contemporary romance manuscript in Chicago, and after visiting the neighborhood where my heroine lives, I have a renewed interest in tackling that project one day. Teresa, the heroine from my latest release, Playing for Keeps, is originally from Chicago, but since Teresa is a demon who's been dead over one hundred and fifty years, the Chicago she remembers is not the current one.
It was interesting to visit the Water Tower because it's one of the few structures that survived the fire of 1871, meaning you won't find many structures in the city older than that, even though Chicago was settled in 1832. Of the structures that survived the fire, most have been torn down and re-built.
What really struck me about the city were its citizens. As we stood on street corners, maps in hand, trying to figure out where Lake Michigan was because we knew then we'd be facing east, total strangers came up to us and asked if they could help. By the end of our few days there I was able to point out a street to a stranger, and it was a neat kind of "pay it forward" feeling to do so.
I love visiting cities, new and old, and it's wonderful to find inspiration in the smallest things. That's what we do as writers, after all.
What cities have you visited where you've found inspiration?
Thursday, November 10, 2011
There are many ways to become a zombie, including nuclear radiation, voodoo ritual, nanobots, rage virus, receiving a bite from a zombie, consuming expired taco meat, and, my personal favorite, spoiled milk.
I took a different path to zombification. I got pregnant.
So, with the 3 active brain cells I have remaining, here’s the surprising link between pregnancy and zombification in a handy-dandy chart. Spot the differences between the true walking dead and those whose hormones levels are simply making them feel that way. I’m already infected, but perhaps this information can help others create their own (doomed) preparedness plan, or at least spot the signs they or a loved one may be zombnant.
- Unquenchable thirst for brains
- Eyes dull and vacant
- Skin discolored and decaying
- Stumbling and sluggish
- Moaning incoherently
- High brain functions lost
- Limited muscle control
- Known for gathering in shopping malls
- Uncontrolled rage in the presence of living
Ways to Incapacitate:
- Double tap
- Aim for the head
- Unquenchable thirst for tacos
- Eyes dull and vacant
- Skin more blemished than a teenage chocolate
addict's 2 weeks before prom
- Stumbling and sluggish
- Moaning obscenities
- High brain functions are lost (God help me, I
came close to chucking at a Two and a Half
- Limited emotional control
- Known for gathering in restrooms
- Uncontrolled rage in the presence of strangers
trying to pat my stomach
Ways to Incapacitate:
- Double fudge ice cream. With potato chips.
- Aim for ankles. Seriously, if I go down I'm not
getting back up.
Have you suffered from zombancy? Did you experience symptoms similar to the standard zombie characteristics described above, or symptoms not yet touched upon?
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Julia Smith has written a fascinating book SAINT SANGUINUS that answers these questions and more. Her vampires exist around the year 577.
Julie is a multitalented person. Among other things, she has a film degree from Ryerson University in Toronto. She writes and directs book trailers, documentaries and a radio series. She’s also edited a promotional video, stage managed 'The Children's Hour' at The Pond Playhouse in Halifax, and been an assistant director for 'Dracula' at Seaweed Theatre in Halifax.
I know Julia from her first rate blog which lately has featured vampires.
Thanks for hosting me today at The Otherworld Diner. I’ve been a visitor for several years, now, and always enjoy the cherry pie.
To celebrate tomorrow’s release of my ebook SAINT SANGUINUS through Amazon Kindle, here are thirteen things about the time period in which my Dark Age vampire superhero origin story is set:
1 – SAINT SANGUINUS takes place 160 years following the retreat of Rome from British territories.
With no occupying military force in place, the simmering power plays between tribes had risen to shape daily life in 577, the year in which my story takes place.
This time period has attracted me since childhood. I found myself mesmerized by the exact same fluctuations following the collapse of the Soviet Union in eastern Europe. When there is no iron fist holding down the locals, the power vacuum must be filled—and it takes no time for the jockeying to start.
2 – Tribal power structure was based upon mini kingdoms. The main kingdom established by Cunedda or Cunedag in the area in which the novel takes place was subdivided among his sons, resulting in nine mini kingdoms. The weakening of centralized power by subdividing these lands made the west coastal region of Gwenydd ripe for plunder by the advancing Anglo Saxons.
3 – The tribes that made up Wales in the 6th century were part of a larger cultural group known as Britons.
In Peredur’s western coastal region, the Ordovices and Gangani tribes inhabited the area where the story takes place. Both peoples were known as fighters.
One of the brethren is a Brigante, the broader group of tribes claiming what is now known as northern England.
Another is referred to in the story as a Pict, although that is for modern convention, as no one ever referred to himself as a Pict during the 6th century. ‘Pechts’, however, was the Old Scottish term for the unconquered people living far beyond Hadrian’s Wall.
4 – Irish raiders plundered Welsh coastal settlements for slaves in the 6th century. In a few more centuries, Viking raiders made regular stops in Dublin which had become a centralized hub of slave trading, moving captured villagers from Britain to Scandinavia.
These are the raiders which Peredur and his war band go off to fight at the beginning of the book.
5 – Tribal fighting was a way of life. They loved to make war upon an enemy and much of their culture was devoted to fighting. They decorated their weapons lovingly, and collected trophy heads as an expression of ritualized violence and prestige.
Unfortunately, this lust for war prevented any sort of cohesive desire for presenting a unified front to a larger enemy like the Saxon invaders.
6 – Although modern assumptions of this time period tends to imagine an extremely primitive existence, because of the prior Roman occupation, there were many holdover traditions borrowed from the absent conquerors. This included the appetite for traded goods from far-off places.
Archeological finds during the 1980s revealed red roof tiles on buildings that had been concealed by later renovations upon various British market sites. The current British road system is often simply overlaid upon the original routes laid out by Roman engineers.
Besides the carry-over of Iron Age subsistence farming, hunting and fishing, Peredur’s world would have included markets that featured imported goods from Europe, a coin system as well as barter, and artisan production in metal, leather and jewelry.
7 – Celtic tribes owned their clan lands as a communal enterprise. A leader’s wealth was measured not by land ownership but by the size of his cattle or sheep herd. Tanwen’s father is the recognized chief both by demonstrated fighting skills and his sheep herd.
8 – Clothing worn at this time was simple long robes for women, and tunics and leggings for men, along with cloaks against the cold and damp.
Woven wool and linen, dyed in simple neutrals, browns, reds, greens and blues would be combined with leather and ornamental metals. Fur for warmth and decoration was also highly prized, as were feathers.
9 – The most common foods which Peredur and Tanwen would have eaten were grain porridge, bread, salted meat, bean, milk, some raised vegetables such as cabbage, and stew. Fresh roasted meat was generally only eaten during celebrations or feasts.
10 – Peredur’s people worshipped Cernunnos the stag-horned god representing male energy, and Epona, the female horse goddess. They also venerated various healing deities located in holy springs or wells, rivers, lakes and the sea.
The Arthurian figure known as the Lady of the Lake who is the keeper of Excalibur is a well-known example of this sort of minor goddess.
11 – The early Welsh believed that rowan trees held mystical properties offering protection against dark forces.
Known as the traveler’s tree because it acted as such a distinct landmark, the rowan makes a significant though unheralded appearance in SAINT SANGUINUS as Peredur is tied to one of these trees in order to better navigate a trial that takes him to uncharted internal landscapes.
12 – The Celtic harvest festival of Sanhaim, where they marked the passing of the world into its darker half, also celebrated a festival of the dead. While honoring their deceased ancestors, the Celts also protected themselves from evil influences by trying to trick these darker spirits through masks and costumes.
They also reinforced their clan ties by lighting a bonfire, extinguishing all family fires and then relighting their hearth fires from the communal bonfire.
13 – Peredur’s fellow villager Cavan is the son of the wise woman, the healer of the clan. She would have performed all of the duties we now associate with the medical health profession, using the herbal remedies available to her, as well as cultural belief rituals.
However, these wise women were most often shunned as supernatural beings, and later hunted, tortured and put to death as witches. The very faith which the local population held in her healing powers also made them fear her enough to insist that she live on the margins of their society.
We hope you've enjoyed learning about life in 577. To find out more please visit Julia at www.juliaphillipssmith.com or leave your question in the comments. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.
Monday, November 7, 2011
If you’re involved in indie publishing, you’ve probably heard the names Amanda Hocking and John Locke bandied about. They’re the super stars in the biz, making a million or more on their self-published books. Every indie author wants that kind of success, but unfortunately only a few will even come close. On the other end of the spectrum, for those of us who belong to RWA, we all know the magic price tag to get into PAN (the Published Authors Network) is $1,000 in advance and/or royalties on a single “eligible” novel or novella. That’s a pitifully low amount but the sad truth is many authors published with “eligible” electronic or small presses don’t even make that. So, let’s talk money. Just how much are indie authors making these days? Below, you’ll find a few authors who’ve graciously posted their sales and earnings on their web sites or blogs.
To the best of my knowledge, none of these numbers include any free downloads.
August 2010 – March 2011 (4 books) $1048
April – July 2011 (9 books) $2522
Total for 1 year = $3570
Aug 2010-April 2011 (2 books) $8300
16,653 sales (8 books) at $0.99 x 35% = $5829*
(*This amount is just a guess on my part since she didn’t post dollar amounts, just sales numbers. Right now, most of Ms. Scott’s books are priced at $0.99. However, one is currently free while 2 are priced at $2.99 so this figure might be a bit off.)
May (2 books) $377
June (2 books) $2133
July (2 books) $5234
August (4 books) $6272
September (4 books) $5021
Total for 5 months = $19,037
Theresa Ragan is probably the most successful of them all (that I know of). I bow down at this woman’s feet.
Books sold between March and October 2011: 122,611
95,155 books sold at $2.99 x 70% = $198,874
27,456 books sold at $0.99 x 35% = $9,610
If I did the math right, Ms. Ragan has made $208,484 in 8 months with 5 books. Amazing. She has never been traditionally published. She didn’t have a fan base or backlist to help boost her sales, but she’s making more money than most e-pubbed authors I know and I’ll warrant more than many midlist NY pubbed authors. Even though she’s qualified for PAN 300 times over, she isn’t eligible because she self-published. She can’t enter the RITA either. Something’s wrong with that right there. But for me, is being in PAN or eligible to enter the RITA that important? It used to be, but not anymore. Outside of RWA, not many people know or care if an author is in PAN or has won a RITA. Readers just want to read a good book and quite frankly, I’d rather take the money than a shiny gold statue any day.
So, do all indie authors make this kind of money? No. I’m sure Ms. Ragan promoted her booty off to get those sales. And just like many traditionally published authors, most indie authors aren’t going to be able to quit their day jobs. I’ve heard it said more than once: indie publishing is a marathon, not a race. The trick is to not get discouraged when you’re not raking in the big bucks right off the bat. Sales build more sales. Readers follow authors who consistently write good books. Polish your book until it shines, have it professionally edited, design a kick-ass cover, put it up for sale, and then do it all again.
* UPDATE * I found 2 other authors (Trish McCallan and Jolyn Palliata) who are posting details on their indie sales. I won't post the actual numbers here, but you can see them on their blog, Total Transparency Self-Publishing.
* UPDATE #2* I did do the math wrong for both D.D. Scott and Theresa Ragan. I forgot to take into account the Amazon 35% royalty rate for $0.99 books and 70% for $2.99 books and over. The earnings have now been adjusted accordingly.