Sunday, August 31, 2008

So Done!

I'm so done with this book.

As writers, do you ever have that feeling? There comes a time in the lives of many manuscripts where you just want to pound out "The End", no matter what it takes. You're sick of the characters, sick of the story, sick of not being done when you thought you'd be free a month ago. Your book is a ball and chain, dragging you away from much more interesting projects. You're ready to submit it to your editor or agent, or your potential editor or agent, and sometimes your critique partners are starting to make snarky comments about those final chapters never seeing the light of day. If the manuscript were a book I was reading instead of writing, I would want to slam it closed, maybe slam it against a wall.

With several manuscripts, I got so desperate to wash my hands of this story, I skipped over the last third of the book, faked the ending, and then filled in the blanks, polishing as I went. I just wanted to be DONE.

Because I lose patience with the process, I suppose, endings are my most challenging part of writing a book. I can dream up story premises, appropriate characters and whiz-bang first chapters until the cows come home. I enjoy the middles, the meat of the book, where characterization and adventure are key.

But the endings? The endings crinkle my drawers. I struggle with conceiving them, plotting them, struggling to reach them, and most of all, doing them justice. They intimidate me and they elude me. Yet if I don't know roughly how a book's threads will tie into the finale, I can't write beyond the first scene or so. And, since I'm partially a "pantser", it's not unusual for my threads and plot points to morph as I tip-tap through the book, sometimes altering the conclusion.

Some authors are organized and determined and pre-plot everything, outline it and actually stick to what they decided they were going to do in the first place. Some can write a book without knowing the ending, happily flying into the mists of their imagination and excited about the journey. And some are like me, stuck in the middle of panting and plotsing, needing to do a bit of both in order to remain motivated.

How about you? Do you need to know every detail about your ending before you can make the book happen? Or does it come as a surprise to you? (And by surprise I mean something besides "surprisingly sucktastic".)

Jody W.
SURVIVAL OF THE FAIREST--Available now, Samhain Publishing

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Inspiring Middles

Well, my post was delayed today because I literally could not think of ANYTHING to say about middles. So I decided to let the eyes have it. Here are some of my favorite, inspiring middles.


An Athletic Middle

A Model Middle

Aussie Middle
Fuzzy Middle

Well, hope you enjoyed these inspirational middles. I sure did.
Have a happy and safe Labor Day holiday everyone!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Prize Inside Every Snack!

For today’s snack, I’m going to look inside some bestselling books. I just grabbed a few books at random, then figured out where the middle of the book is (math was involved), then picked out a line or paragraph and copied it here. Enjoy!

Maggie Shayne is a USA bestselling author. Here’s a quote from the middle of her book, Colder Than Ice:

She looked up at him, and for just a moment he saw in her eyes, shining from their depths, the excitement and joy that idea brought her. But she tamped it down, covered it up with bleak realism. “We’ll see.”

Kathy Reichs, New York Times Bestselling author of the books that gave rise to the television show Bones. From her sixth novel, Bare Bones:

“Walter”—Slidell gave the three-note trill—“was excavating on some island off Beaufort, South Carolina. Said he’d get hold of his grad student to read him the Lancaster report as soon as he finished digging up some dead Indian.”

Harlan Coben, New York Times bestselling author. From his 2003 thriller, No Second Chance:

Seidman moved toward her. He was twenty feet away. Then fifteen. When he was only ten feet away, Lydia raised the pistol and took aim.

New York Times Bestselling author Lisa Gardner, from her book The Killing Hour:

Tina awakened with a jolt. Her head flew up from the rock and she became aware of two things at once. Her eyes were swollen shut and her skin felt as if it were burning.

Mary Jo Putney, New York Times Bestselling author. From her book, The Burning Point:

Trying to maintain his air of cool, the youth trudged toward the barricade. Kate waited until he was safely under the eye of a policeman, then went back to work, shaking her head at the dangerous allure of explosives. Not that she had a right to criticize the kid, when she was just as bad.

And finally, here’s MaryJanice Davidson, New York Times bestselling author. From her book Undead and Unappreciated:

I had to admit, I didn’t much care for the role reversal. But what could I do? I had the distinct impression that apologizing for having sex with him would just make everything worse. And things were plenty bad enough, thanks. “So, what else did you guys find out?”

Have a great holiday weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Killing Me Softly

Forget about sagging middles, mine is bulging at the seams. My latest masterpiece came in at a whopping 434 pages in TNR. That’s 137,000 words according to the computer word count. Yikes. Converted to Courier, it’s 611 pages. Doing the math at 250 words per page, it’s 152,750 words. Ack! Even worse. So do I think the middle sags? Not really. My (now ex) agent said it had “lots of life.” Maybe too much life. So what’s a writer to do? In the immortal words of William Faulkner, I’m going to have to “kill my darlings.”

I figure I need to cut 40 to 50 pages to get it under 400 in TNR, then tighten what’s left to get the computer word count down. But where to start? For me, it’s all about taking baby steps. To think about it otherwise makes my head explode. So, I’m gonna tackle the first 4 chapters first. They’re at 58 pages right now and I want to get them down to 50 pages or less.

Here’s the breakdown:
Chapter 1 is currently 11 pages. Could be 10.
Chapter 2 is 13 pages and needs to be 11.
Chapter 3 is 19 pages and needs to be 14-15.
Chapter 4 is 15 pages and needs to be 13-14.

I figure if I can do that, I’ll cut 8-10 pages and about 3000 words. Sounds do-able, right? Here’s how I’m going make it happen...

Step 1 -- Dust off my notes from Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing workshop and highlight the heck out of those 4 chapters. Done.
Chapter 1: Lots of green (description) and yellow (narrative). I’m cutting those parts in half.
Chapter 2: Lots of blue (dialogue). Need to keep only what’s necessary. Icsnay the chit chat.
Chapter 3: Tons of action and tension. Gotta keep most of that. But there’s that part at the end of scene one I had doubts about when I wrote it (Was it too cutsie? Too forced?). It’s out. That cut 1 ½ pages right there. Woo hoo!
Chapter 4: More unnecessary dialogue. Snip, snip.

I’ve cut 4 pages and 1200 words already. Now on to…

Step 2 -- Tighten what’s left.
Get rid of those pesky adverbs that snuck in while I wasn’t looking.
Get rid of weasel words (that, really, seemed, nearly, etc.)
Get rid of passive voice (‘was running’ becomes ‘ran’ -- 2 words to 1)
Get rid of throw-away phrases (in fact, at the moment, in spite of, etc.)
Shorten long phrases to 3 or 4 concise words.

Step 3 -- GAP (Gain a Page)
Tighten again. Reduce each long paragraph by at least one sentence and you can cut 1 page.

Okay, so maybe this is more about revisions than sagging middles, but it’s what’s on my mind today. And I haven’t gotten to my middle yet. By the time I’m through with my highlighters I may find I have more sag in it than I realize. But I’m still on step 2 of the 1st four chapters. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

FinishThat Story!!

I recently returned from the RWA National Conference. I had a wonderful time meeting and chatting with writers at all points in their publishing journey. What surprised me was the number of writers who said they had 100 beginnings and never finished a novel. It's that dreaded middle again! No wonder agents and editors insist new writers have at least one finished manuscript.

A few of my fellow writers confessed they were there to learn something from the many workshops, a few others said they needed the motivation. I hope they found what they were looking for. The Sagging Middle Blues is a dreaded sickness amongst writers who want desperately to put their story into words, but the middle eludes them.

The cure? Learn your plot inside and out. Have real, convincing conflicts that can't be remedied with a heart-to-heart talk. Get to know your characters inside and out and NEVER lose sight of that light at the end of the tunnel

We have to start the story with a bang and end it with a sigh, but it's the middle that has to keep them turning the pages.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Foods with a Middle

This week we're still talking middles, but we're doing our snack entries, which means they're going to be short and sweet...or maybe savory. Since it's dinnertime in the Wallace household, I'm in the mood to talk about food! Here's a menu that focuses on the middles of things:

Start out with an appetizer of meaty stromboli bites dipped in either Italian dressing or marinara.

Then have your main course of cheese and spinach ravioli with a sauce of your choice--cream, tomato, cheese, what have you.

Next have green beans, obviously not the shellie kind since you want the beans to remain in the middle of the shells. These can be steamed or stir fried with carmelized onions and coarsely chopped Italian pancetta. You can also toss them with olive oil, bread crumbs, garlic and parmesan cheese.

End the meal with dessert, of course. There seem to be more dessert items with deliciousness in their centers than any other kind of food, maybe because middles are so yummy! But for tonight's menu, we're having cream puffs. Finisci di mangiare!

What are your favorite foods that are delicious mainly because of their middles?

Jody W.
SURVIVAL OF THE FAIREST--Available now, Samhain Publishing

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Spicy Filling: erotic romance middles

Erotic romance is different. No kidding, you say? I know I'm stating the obvious, but not only is the explicitness and amount of heat different, the structure is too.

In ER, you have different challenges. How do you maintain sexual tension after your characters have sex in Chapter 3 (or chapter 1 - whatever)? They have already done the "horizontal mambo." So what's left?

It takes work to hold the readers' interest. With a novella, you are building a simpler story with few extraneous characters. Things go from point A to point B. But I primarily write novels, not novellas which requires an entirely different skill set. I admire those folks that can craft a short yet enjoyable read. Now, I have written a novella, but I'm more at home with a novel because I'm one of those people who finds herself perpetually hovering around 100,000 words or more. (In person, I talk a lot too.)

Erotic romance novel writers have to cook up a spicy filling that keeps the reader reading. So how do you write a hot middle? I wish I knew. It would be great if there was a formula, but there isn't. However, there are a few tips I can offer from experience.

So the most important tip I can offer is to make each and every scene relevant. The love scenes matter and they must matter. No gratuitous quickies for me. If you can take a sex scene out of the story, it might still be a romance, but it is not an erotic romance. Not to me. A love scene must move the story forward and/or reveal character. If it doesn't, it doesn't belong.

In ER, the hero and heroine may get physical in chapter 1 (or it may happen a bit later, depending on the author). The challenge is to keep the relationship challenging without the reader wanting to throw the book against a wall. Different authors take varying approaches.

Me? I like my H/H to be stuck with each other and have to work it out. I use that method in my shapeshifter stories and I used it again in the medieval, paranormal I've written.

My shapeshifter h/h are True Mates which means they bond immediately. Whether they are a lot alike or complete opposites, they've got to go through all that stuff that happens as two lives start to intertwine. This is perfect for adding conflict to a story because they can't leave each other. They can try, but they know they'll be miserable. If you throw in some external stuff (like in Protect and Defend my H/H are being stalked by a serial killer) then you can move your story and still have all the heat the reader can handle.

With my medieval, paranormal my characters are human but marry one another very early in the story. In the 1100s, once you married you stayed married. There was no way out. Now, it is possible for problems to occur between the characters which keep them at odds, but I prefer to throw external conflict at my characters so they are forced to work together. In the case of Seeking Truth, my hero's dying foster mother is the main conflict with my heroine's evil father thrown in later for good measure. In the meantime, every time my hero and heroine are physical with one another they build their relationship. Until finally, they are fully making love. Sigh. I love that.

That's how I do it, but it is definitely NOT the only way. So, all you erotic romance writers out there? How do you keep the filling spicy? And if you don't write ER, what do you do to keep your hero and heroine fighting for their happily ever after?

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Middle Ground

What exactly is the middle of a WIP (work in progress)? It’s more than page number or a place in a plotline. The middle is more of an attitude—of both the characters and the writer.

I’m a “panster” (flying by the seat of one’s pants) or an “into the mist” type of writer. Which, for the uninitiated, means that I write without an outline. This works for me, but it also means that a few chapters in I always land in a puddle of “what now?” I’ve heard rumors that those who plot carefully beforehand don’t have as many problems with their middles. Because they actually know beforehand where things are going, they don’t have the “what now” problem.

You’re probably thinking, “Why does the woman not plot?” Let me tell you, I’ve tried. I’ve charted out the scenes and the order in which they will go. Guess what? My characters take off in whatever direction they chose, thumbing their nose at the author—me. So back to square one I go. My characters are much too unpredictable for me to know what they’re going to do in advance. So, I give them their heads and let them tell their stories in their own way. My process works by seeing the early scenes clearly, and I have a general idea how the end will pan out. The area between, though, is uncharted ground. And that can be a scary place.

Being as I’ve been lost in that mysterious forest of the middle (sometimes starting as soon as chapter three!) I’ve given a lot of thought to techniques I could use to punch up the middle and get the story back on track

In the WIP I’m currently writing (a paranormal romance, of course) hero and heroine were beginning to trust each other a bit. The sparks were beginning to fly a little. The paranormal plot was solidly in place. But I needed to stir things up, create a little conflict between the hero and heroine. And to create a series of crisis in the paranormal plotline in order to get it to where I needed it to be for the climax and resolution. These are some of the ways I’ve been considering to punch up the middle and get my characters and story going again:

1. Kill off a character.
2. A character has a serious accident.
3. Introduce a new character.
4. Use a minor character in a new way.
5. Throw in an unexpected plot twist.

My thought process went something like this: (1) I didn’t want to kill off a character, I like ‘em! Except for the villain, and I kind of need him. (2) A serious accident? Well, major player gets injured closer to the climax, so I didn’t want to go that route here. (3) Add a character. This is a novella, so I didn’t want to clutter things up with another character. (4) Use a character in a new way. Now this has possibilities. There is a minor character I could play with a bit and cause some turmoil in both the romance and paranormal plots. (5) This character’s
shenanigans would play well with a plot twist I’d thought of during my local Romance Writers of America chapter meeting—thanks Smoky Mountain Romance Writers! Between the character and plot twist, things should be sufficiently agitated to get things going again. And then I realized how everything could come together to create more conflict and lead directly to the climax and resolution.

And that’s what I love about writing. It truly is magic!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You Know You Have a Sagging Middle When…

Thirteen Things about Sagging Middles
  1. You have to kill off somebody to liven things up.

  2. Your hero and heroine (hereafter known as H&H) can’t find anything interesting to do, so you bring in the oddball relative/friend/ex-lover to take the focus off the fact that they have not moved the plot forward in the past 3 chapters.

  3. Your H&H have already jumped the shark by doing the horizontal mambo in chapter 4 so they pick a fight over something idiotic so that one of them can stomp out with the emotional maturity of a 5 year old, separating them for no good reason until chapter 12, and you try to pass it off in the name of ‘conflict’ or ‘romantic tension.’

  4. You take time out of your villain’s busy schedule of doing nefarious deeds so that he can explain to his idiot henchmen in meticulous detail what other nefarious deeds he’s going to do to the H&H instead of letting us find out as they happen to them.

  5. You can’t stretch out the major conflict any longer without ending the book so you dredge up some deep, dark secret from one of the character’s pasts so they have some other issues to deal with instead of resolving the biggie too soon.

  6. You spend 13 paragraphs describing the furniture in the hero’s apartment, what designer clothes the heroine is wearing and what they’re eating for dinner because you only have 1 ½ pages of actual action and dialogue in the chapter so far.

  7. Out of shear boredom, your H&H have wild, passionate, mind-blowing sex in an unusual, kinky location at the drop of a hat -- forget that they couldn’t stand the sight of each other 5 minutes ago.

  8. One or more secondary characters take off and run in another direction with a subplot that’s more interesting and exciting than the main plot. Can you say H&H who?

  9. You have poor little Timmy fall down the well/get kidnapped/come down with a deadly case of Mongolian Body Rot so the H&H have something emotional to bond over since they’ve become emotionally stagnant themselves.

  10. In padding your middle, you have your characters spend 4 chapters helping Aunt Bertha repair the leaky toilet in the sentimental old homeplace (and bonding over it) when it should have only taken 2 scenes, at most. (Of course, knowing my husband and the 5 trips to Lowes he has to make to complete one project in our house, I guess in reality it could take 4 chapters to fix a leaky toilet. Maybe more. *G*)

  11. Your H&H start talking about their estranged family members, their traumatic past childhood experiences, or their unrealistic future dreams because they have nothing else plot-worthy to say to each other in the present.

  12. Your H&H decide to take a quickie vacation for a change of scenery because where they are in the story is about as interesting as clipping your toenails.

  13. You break to a scene where the villain has some freaky sex because, well, your hero and heroine had that silly argument (see item #3) and still aren’t talking to each other and somebody needs to be getting some at this point in the book.

So what's your sagging middle look like?


Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lose the Deadwood

I have to be honest. I've been busting my brain all day trying to come up with something that Jody and Talia haven't already said about the sagging middle. My blog-sisters did such a wonderful job, I'm left with with giving advice. For what it's worth :)

I never got the whole 'sagging middle' thing. After all, if you have a good plot and solid interior and exterior conflicts you can avoid it, right?

Sure. But when I see a middle sagging it's usually because the writer is adding too much to the plot. Things that can be easily left out without endangering the quality of the story.

Only once did I have trouble with the middle of a book. I agonized over it for years. Until one day I decided to just skip the middle and write the end. I can always go back and fill in later (something I loathe to do)

What I found was I didn't need any more than what I already had. I thought all my books had to be at least 80k words, but in reality, some stories just aren't that long.

There are plenty of books I could name that could've done with a bit of editing, subplots that could have been omitted. In the end it's up to the author and his/her editor to decide what is needed and what must go.

If you find yourself rushing through a scene or skipping it all together, get rid of it. Never give them a reason to put the book down. Always keep them coming back for more and you'll never have to worry about the sagging middle.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stuck in the Middle With You

So this week we're moving down the menu to discuss middles--story middles, that is. Arguably not an author's favorite phase of writing. In RWA, they devote whole workshops to the sagging middle. Friends grouse about plodding through the middle like it's a pitstop on the way to the end and honestly, I don't understand it. Mind you, I am a plotter not a panster and that means by definition I know where I'm going with a story (at least I think I do) and I have a synopsis before I start writing in ernest.

Paint me crazy but middles don't freak me out.

I think that's because middles mean I can trot out my minor characters and let them shine. As a backstory slut and an avid minor character supporter, it's the perfect place to do it. Your hero and heroine have been shouldering the burden of the story but in the middle, those quirky side guys and gals get their chance. And here is where you can sew the seeds for future novels. Think: trilogy.

So like the beloved cookie pictured above, I am hear to tell you that the middle should be your favorite part of the story.

If the beginning sets the stage and the end wraps up the loose ends and gives closure, then the middle...ah, the poor misunderstood middle is your story! It's the journey, the arc, the meat (in dinerspeak) of your creative effort. Why the long faces? And who gave the middle this rotten PR?

Think about this, you may be able to recognize some of the following novels, but would you read them with the middle missing?

The second daughter of a country gentleman meets a rich but snobby gentleman from the city---> They marry.

Humble halfling inherits a magical ring from his uncle--->He destroys the ring.

Kids from opposing families fall in love--->They die.

Not much of a story after all, is it?

Viva the middle!!


Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Best of the Worst

The title of Lori's Thursday Thirteen is a famous line and I doubt there is a writer out there that hasn't read it before...It was a dark and stormy night. I think it is considered one of the most cliched openings ever. But who wrote it? Snoopy? I must say, Snoopy (and his artist Charles M. Schultz) certainly immortalized it. But the deathless prose were written by Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton.

The full line was:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

His opening sentence was so memorable...and painful...that it is commemorated yearly by San Jose State University which has sponsored an annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

So my beauties, I challenge you. Capture the florid majesty that is a dreadful first line... The comments await your worst efforts. :-)

Just to get you started, I shall share one of mine. I wrote this when I was in my early 20s and even though it is indeed, VERY BAD, I have a fond spot in my heart for it. Why? Every time I read it, it makes me giggle.

"Ho, there you vile wench," her black-clad father cried in wrath, pointing his long, bony finger at her as she fled into the crimson glow of a perfect sunset.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night . . .

Since we're talking about catchy first lines and opening hooks that grab the reader and don’t let go, I thought I’d take a look at the great beginnings of past and present RITA paranormal romances to see how the winners did it:

Thirteen Great Beginnings from RITA Winning Paranormal Romances
  1. “What if I told you I had a fantasy?”
    Lover Revealed by J.R. Ward, RITA 2008

  2. Sometimes the fire that licks the skin from his bones dies down.
    A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole, RITA 2007

  3. Only fools boast they have no fears. I thought of that as I pulled the blade of my dagger from the Takan guard’s throat, my hand shaking, my heart pounding in my ears, my skin cold from more than just the chill in the air. Light from the setting sun filtered through the tall trees around me. It flickered briefly on the dark gold blood that bubbled from the wound, staining the Taka’s coarse fur. I felt a sliminess between my fingers and saw that same ochre stain on my skin.
    Gabriel’s Ghost by Linnea Sinclair, RITA 2006

  4. The summer I discovered the world was not black-and-white -- the way I liked it -- but a host of annoying shade of gray was the summer a lot more changed than my vision.
    Blue Moon by Lori Handeland, RITA 2005

  5. Lucien Thorpe walked quickly up the walkway toward the address to which he’d been summoned, the bag containing a change of clothes grasped in his right hand, the heavier case containing his equipment in the left. He took in the house before him, a clean and charming two-story cottage gleaming in the moonlight, a downstairs window glowing with welcoming light, the door painted a cheery red. Bright autumn leaves, red and orange, had drifted across the walkway and danced out of his way as he strode purposefully forward. The home before him didn’t look at all like a haunted house -- but then they rarely did.
    Shades of Midnight by Linda Fallon, RITA 2004

  6. The thunderstorm appeared in front of the Boeing 747 without warning. At 33,000 feet, in a calm, clear night over the Pacific Ocean three hours out of Honolulu International Airport, it should not have been there.
    Contact by Susan Grant, RITA 2003

  7. Today you will meet your HeartMate. Rand T’Ash’s blood thrummed in his temples as he stared at the divination dice that he’d just rolled.
    Heart Mate by Robin D. Owens, RITA 2002

  8. Adam Black materialized in the Greathall.
    The Highlander’s Touch by Karen Marie Moning, RITA 2001

  9. In Jillian’s mind, Francis Maguire would forever be associated with the pungent, woolly smell of wet dog.
    Nell by Jeanette Baker, RITA 2000

  10. Few men dared enter the old part of the Castle Leger. The light of a thousand candles would not have been enough to dispel the darkness of the great medieval hall with its lurking shadows and ancient secrets that had gathered for centuries, thick as dust on the rough, uneven floor.
    The Bride Finder by Susan Carroll, RITA 1999

  11. She’d never wanted to kill before.
    Fire Hawk by Justine Dare, RITA 1998

  12. “Damn you, man!” Kendrick of Artane exclaimed. “Have you no idea who I am?”
    Stardust of Yesterday by Lynn Kurland, RITA 1997

  13. Sam Hooker went east from the Choctaw Nation into Arkansas an hour after sunrise. Only his knowledge of the scrub oak, rocky hills, and still-trickling creeks marked the boundary. If he had been on an official mission, that knowledge would have forced him to stop. Members of the Choctaw Lighthorse had no authority outside the Nation.But this was not an official mission. This was a vendetta.
    The Covenant by Modean Moon, RITA 1996

If you’re interested in more great beginnings from romance novels, check out “First Lines from Romance Novels” at

If you want to go beyond the romance genre, here’s the “100 Best First Lines From Novels” as decided by the American Book Review My personal fave and one immortalized by dear old Snoopy, is #22. The title of this Thursday Thirteen probably gives it away. *G*

Lori D.


Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Druid Made Me Do It

From Lori: Please weclome back a talented paranormal writer with a wickedly skewed view of life, my good friend Natale Stenzel.

(Well, actually, ‘Pandora’s Box made me do it,’ since Druid’s a sequel and PB sets up the opening, but see, that’s not my book title. And I’m shameless that way. And getting way ahead of myself.)

Hi everyone, and thanks so much for having me here at The Otherworld Diner today! It’s great to be back. Hope I’m dressed okay? You don’t require shoes, do you? (I’m only barely civilized.)

From what Lori told me and what I’ve read on previous posts, it looks like hooks and openers are the theme this week. As it happens, that works for me, too. Well, that and it’s hard to come up with my own topic in between sneezes and snorts. I’ll try to keep the summer cold slime on my side of the screen – my apologies.

Here’s my opening for The Druid Made Me Do It, (Dorchester Love Spell, August 2008), the second book in my series of funny paranormal romances:

“You, Janelle Corrington, will be Robin Goodfellow’s guardian on Earth.”

And, actually, that’s not just the opener but also the premise for the whole book: To satisfy karma and Druid justice, hunky but penitent bad boy Kane (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow) must make amends to everyone he’s harmed in the past – including Dr. Janelle Corrington, his new and reluctant guardian. How does a Druid convince a human doctor to take on guardianship of the guy who devastated her years ago? Why, he offers compensation in the form of a gift she cannot refuse: the power to heal with just a touch. Not that this gift is without its own drawbacks . . . and temptations.

I’ll admit I’m partial to dialogue openers, but then, I’m a dialogue junky. My first drafts basically resemble a bunch of talking heads in need of bodies, props and setting. For me, though, it’s easy enough to insert the narrative parts later, but dialogue . . . Well, when the dialogue is flowing, when the characters are talking in my head faster than I can type, who am I to silence them? I can be unwise at times, but (I hope) never that stupid. Sometimes it feels like I’m just taking dictation. But those are the good days, you know?

Openings honestly terrify me unless they emerge immediately and completely. I have to not think about them and just dive into the story, hoping for the best. Otherwise, that blank screen stays blank. So I write something – anything -- just to get started. Sometimes I nail the first line immediately; other times I have to go back and change it later. That’s when it can get ugly; we’re talking copious tears, cursing and bloodshed as I work, rework, set aside, reconsider, toss aside and start over . . . before the final version of that first line finds its way onto the page. Yes, I’m exaggerating, but really only about the bloodshed part.

For Pandora’s Box (Dorchester Love Spell , February 2008), the first book in my series, I started with a blog entry by my heroine. She basically retells the Pandora’s box myth, adding her unorthodox perspective on the subject, and hints at how it relates to her own situation.

Then, I go to chapter one and begin (again) with dialogue:

“I inherited a rock? Some distant relative I’ve never met willed me a rock? You can’t be serious.” Was that supposed to be an insult? Mina wondered. You’ve been a bad little descendent, Mina, so here, accept this rock as a sign of my eternal contempt . . .

And, sure, that particular rock – her inheritance – turns out to be Pandemina Dorothy Avery’s very own rock box of trouble.

For my March 2009 release, Between a Rock and a Heart Place (third book in the series), I begin with stand-alone quotes by my hero and heroine. They’re taken completely out of context but are a deliberate study in contrast and set up my characters in opposition to each other. I’d quote them here, but they haven’t been edited yet (and may very well suck).

I do think – as I’ve seen mentioned here in other postings – that leading with dialogue can be and often is abused. However, I think dialogue is one of my greatest strengths as a writer and I think it’s generally best to lead with your strengths if you can. You know, put your best foot forward?

So tell me . . . how do you get that curser moving across the first page? Can you toss something temporary up there as you plow through your rough draft, or must it be perfect before you can move on? What tricks work for you? How do you use your strengths?

Natale Stenzel

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Multiple Choice First Lines

Here are 6 first lines from paranormal romances released in 2007 or 2008...mixed up a little! What are your guesses in my little quiz? And yes, I did include the correct second half to each first sentence. At some other time this week or next week, I'll list the correct answers and also the titles and authors of the books for anyone who's interested.

1) Not many people can handle the pain of

A) losing their true love once, much less once a generation.
B) being ripped apart, of having your limbs twisted and morphed until you are convinced your mind will shatter into a thousand tiny shards.
C) a bikini wax.
D) the Change, and that is what drives so many of my kind to madness.


2) When I opened the door to greet my grandmother for the very first time,

A) I'm not sure what I was expecting.
B) she greeted me with a hug and two sloppy kisses.
C) I accidentally let the dog out, and the little bastard ran straight out into traffic.
D) I wasn't prepared to meet my mother and her other children, too.


3) "A cowboy, a lawyer, and a mechanic

A) walked into a bar."
B) can't compare in the bedroom," Stella said.
C) all make better money than you do," my mother griped at me.
D) watched Queen of the Damned," I murmured.


4) He didn't know how long

A) he'd been dead.
B) he could listen to her complain about her manicure.
C) he'd have to wait before he could see the Boss.
D) it took for a vampire to rise after its death.


5) Creed wasn't sure what he'd expected the forbidden dimension to look like,

A) but this wasn't it.
B) but it bore a striking resemblence to his grandmother's parlor, right down to the yellow rose wallpaper.
C) yet by the carrion scent in the air, he could tell he'd come to the right place.
D) but preschool for demon toddlers had never crossed his mind.


6) Nick Rawlings hoped

A) the winning lottery ticket was still in the jeans he'd stupidly washed without checking the pockets.
B) Cindy Mongomery of the Atlanta Mongomeries had forgotten all about him.
C) he got attacked today.
D) this would be the last time he ever had to kiss that demon's ass.

Jody W.
SURVIVAL OF THE FAIREST--Available now, Samhain Publishing

Monday, August 11, 2008

Snack Shop: Wild About Harry

Here at the diner, we've been testing out a new menu, so to speak. Last week diner employees served up top-notch entrees about beginnings. This week we're serving up snacks. Bite-sized tidbits that can range from favorite first lines/paragraphs to first impressions of a favorite character.

So, I'll kick it off with my new favorite hero: Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden created by Jim Butcher (though every author knows a good character has a life of his or her own.)

I'm late to the game (I know) but having just finished the first book, all I can say is "WOWSER!" Love at first read, baby. Love at first read. I can't wait to turn my teenager on to him.
A wizard for everyman. Harry is the kind of guy I love to Dark past, misunderstood by the opposite sex, not to mention that he's not trusted by his superiors, he struggles with ordinary things like food, rent, and staying alive. We've all felt that. Doesn't everyone have their own private Morgan who pops out of nowhere and tries to take you down? Let's hope we're able to keep our sense of humor and understand the power we hold within Harry.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

All it takes is 100 words

100 words.

If you only had 100 words of your latest work in progress could you capture the interest of an agent or editor and convince them to ask for more? This past spring Bookends Literary Agency ran a series of 100 word contests. They asked authors to submit one hundred words from completed manuscripts and WIPs for them to read. The winner in each genre they solicited got a critique from one of the agents. It was too good an opportunity to pass up and I entered in the historical category. I didn't win, but the effort of excising the first 100 words from my manuscript was eye opening.

This was my entry from my completed novel, Seeking Truth:

His stallion’s hooves pounded like the beating of his heart as Lord Eaduin Kempe shook damp black hair from his eyes. Though a gentle spring rain fell, it felt like a driving storm; like the driving storm in his soul. The presence of his beloved foster mother blunted the emptiness of his keep, but if he lost Judith. . . Nay. He wouldn’t think on it. All had seemed normal with her, so well did she hide her pain. Was he blind? How could he have missed something of such import? Eaduin rode on grimly, determined to find aid. Today.

Is it perfect? Nope. And it didn't win...there were entries in the contest that blew me away. Still, it took a lot of editing to get it this tight and I worked hard to inject excitement. The first version was a bit more static. The paragraph conveys action and voice. I also think it makes a reader want to know what happens next. Does he find help? Where does he find help? How? Those are the things you want those 100 words to do for you.

The opener is your work horse. This example provides clues about where and when you are right away. From the language alone the reader knows this will be an historical. It's set in England because of my hero's name. And if you note that he lives in a keep and his name (Edwin) is spelled Eaduin - you get that this is a medieval.

An opening has a big job, but if you write it right, you can do a lot with it. And even better, it can do a lot for you. It can keep an agent or editor reading beyond that first paragraph of your work. We've all heard the advice that if you don't get 'em in the first sentence you can forget about a request for a full let alone a sale. I think they give it a little more than a sentence, but if you don't catch them quick, you don't catch them at all.

Here's another one. This is from Protect and Defend:

If just one more Mad Max driver cut her off in traffic, he was dead. After that, getting to her appointment at the Crime Lab on time would cease to be an issue because Lieutenant Diarmid Redwolf would come to her. Mad Max’s homicide would be very bloody, but highly satisfying. Mikaela Laughlin heaved a sigh of relief when she turned onto the street the Crime Lab called home. Yes! She pulled into a parking spot smack in front of the door to the lab in the visitor parking lot. What a stroke of luck!

You'll notice it has a completely different voice. And the clues I offer my readers are completely different. Contemporary language and culture references tell you that you're in the here and now. You know the heroine is on her way to meet a Lieutenant in a crime lab. And if you look at his name, Redwolf, you might guess this guy is gonna be a shapeshifter. If you guessed that you'd be right.

I know this one works. Why? I submitted it to Ellora's Cave and they requested a full. Not only did they ask for a full, but a couple of months later they made me a contract offer. This week I signed the contract and mailed it back to them. Yep. You're reading it here first. I am so excited I could scream but I'll just do my happy dance in the privacy of my office instead. I'm waiting to get a copy of the countersigned contract back, but I think I can make my announcement at this point. I don't have a release date or anything else, but it's a great start.

Now, you'll notice the above paragraph was not in any way shape or form, perfect. But it caught an editor's eye enough that she kept reading and liked the rest of my manuscript. I am not claiming to be an authority on the subject, cause it's my first novel-length sale. Still, I like to think it was that paragraph up there that got my foot in the door.

So are there any brave readers among you willing to share your first 100 words? If you'd rather not put your paragraphs out there, share a comment instead. All lines are open. ;-)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Openings Past and Present

I’m late posting today, partly because of getting caught up in that life thing and letting Friday sneak up on me, and partly because I got caught up in the research instead of the writing.

My plan for today, is to compare the openings of classic novels to those written today. I thought it would be interesting to look at the differences. I’d never really looked at just opening lines of classic novels before, and it was very interesting.

From Wuthering Heights:
I have just returned from a visit to my landlord--the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country!

An exclamation point! Today that would be edited out (if the work were accepted at all). Not the reach out and grab ‘em opening readers are looking for in the twenty-first century.

From Dracula:

3 May. Bistritz. Left Munich at 8:35 P.M, on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible.

Wow, that was exciting. Not! Interesting that a book with that many chills and scares has such a bland beginning.

From Frankenstein:

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.

A bit better, but still not something a modern reader would likely continue to read.

From A Study in Scarlet:
In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the Army.

So begins the first Sherlock Holmes novel. Not a reach out and grab you kind of beginning, but the rest of the book makes up for it (at least in my opinion). Still, if Arthur Conan Doyle were writing in 2008, he might have a hard time of it.

Pretty much everybody knows the first line of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, but check out the second:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation.

A little long winded? Making up for that short first sentence, I suppose.

Then there is the attention grabbing Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol:

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

I think Mr. Dickens might be able to find a publisher even today.

So, how do these openings stack up to today’s? Let’s see. I grabbed four books and copied the openings. let’s see what we think.

First up is Kerrelyn Sparks and Be Still My Vampire Heart:

After four hundred and ninety-three years of teleporting from one place to another, Angus MacKay still felt an urge to peek under his kilt to ensure everything had arrived in fine working condition.

I love this opening, and this is a character quirk that carries on throughout the novel—one that makes the hero somehow adorable—in spite of the fact that he’s a fearless warrior.

Then there’s Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Nerds Like It Hot:

"Gillian, Darling, It's Cora. Four out of five women surveyed say that nerds are amazing in bed. You simply must go on this cruise wiht me. Kiss, kiss."

Not your average opening, but Vicki Lewis Thompson isn’t your usual author. A series about nerds? Not only did she manage to sell it, she’s using the nerd thing to brand herself. Fearless. And it’s paying off big for her. Of course, the fact that the books are excellent doesn’t hurt!

Next up is Lori Foster and Murphy's Law:

Trailing close behind in the rested, rattling junk heap of a car, he watched her, plotting, planning...growing tense and hard and excited.

Opening with the villain. Interesting. And it works.

Last, and shortest, is Julie Kenner’s The Givenchy Code:

This was not my day.

Wow! It’s my life in a sentence (also paragraph, by the way). I haven’t read this book yet, but if it’s anything like her soccer mom slayer books it’ll be awesome.

Hopefully you learned something, were inspired, or got a chuckle. If not, grab some books off your shelf and read the first lines. It’s a very interesting study. In fact, if you aren’t careful you can get caught up and be late. Or is that just me?

Have a wonderful weekend everybody!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

By Hook or Crook

This article was originally printed in my local RWA chapter newsletter, but since it's so perfect for our week's topic, I've revamped it for the Diner this week.

Opening hooks are the topic of frequent how-to articles. From what I can judge, I don’t need to instruct many of you in how to write them. I just judged a bunch of contests in a row, and let me assure you that the denizens of RWA seem to have opening hooks down pat.

Unfortunately, with an emphasis on pat.

I love romance novels, folks. I believe the only formula involved in our much-maligned genre is the emphasis on the love story and the happy ending. But sensible advice — like that of the zippy opening hook — can morph into rules which authors then follow blindly, because that’s one less thing to worry that they’re doing the “wrong” way.

In regards to those poor slobs, I mean, talented aspiring authors whose entries I just judged, nearly every submission I read of, hm, fifty odd partials possessed an eye-catching opening line. Provocative dialogue was the favored hooker.

“Are you sure it will fit?” Julie asked, her eyes huge.

Oooh, Julie, if it doesn’t fit, can I have it? Then there’s the more obvious:

“I’ll trade you a Sex on the Beach for a Screaming Orgasm.”

With every one of the provocative quip hooks I read, readers soon learned the chapter had little or nothing to do with sex.

“Are you sure it will fit?” Julie asked, her eyes huge. She studied the massive loaf of bread and the Tupperware serving container objectively. Obviously Raoul had gone a little heavy on the yeast when he prepared the catering order.

“I don’t have time to worry about it. Steve called in sick, and I have to bartend as well as bake,” Raoul said.


“I’ll trade you a Sex on the Beach for a Screaming Orgasm.” Holly wrinkled her nose and shoved the fruity, pinkish drink at her friend Julie, who peered over the top of a massive loaf of bread she’d brought to the birthday celebration.

“Tell Raoul, not me. He’s bartending,” Julie said. She adjusted her crisp, white apron with the catering logo on the breast. “Would you like a slice of dark honey wheat?”

A lot of readers take this kind of bait and switch for granted. Open with something provocative, something to get people’s dirty minds churning, and then bat your eyelashes and act like you never meant such a scandalous thing. Start out with sex just to get their attention? Not you!

It does work, and can work well, if the insouciant tone that this type of hook generally requires matches the rest of the book. Even though it snags a reader, this opening wouldn’t mesh with a serious tale about trust issues in a relationship or the struggles of tortured, former Navy Seal Raoul as he attempts to salvage his family’s catering business.

Connected to the dialogue hook is the internal monologue hook. It’s like dialogue without the quotation marks and is a likely candidate for a novel written in first person point of view:

If I had my druthers, I’d never cater another birthday party for screaming, barfing, off their Ritalin, sadistic twenty-one year olds again.

Hm, does the speaker mean all twenty-one year olds? Or is this a special breed of twenty-one year olds? And what unfortunate event occurred to make the narrator feel this deep loathing for innocent young adults? Perhaps you’re hooked now, but if the narrator doesn’t continue to utter politically incorrect, grouchy pronouncements — for your benefit if for no one else’s — you may end up feeling dragged into the wrong kind of book. Particularly if it turns into an Oprah novel instead of jouncy romantic comedy or chick/mommy/nanny lit.

The internal monologue hook also works in third person:

He’d have to quit sleeping with his Glock under the pillow or he was never going to get laid.

Sex again, and no mistaking it this time. A preoccupation with guns and sex would definitely be traits of an interesting protagonist, as long as he remains that way. But don’t have your narrator utter something this blunt and hardboiled and then reveal that he’s a sensitive pastry chef who’s never shot a gun in his life and prefers baking to barhopping.

A third technique I saw during my readings, though less often than dialogue (which is the easiest), is the action hook. Start out in the middle of things and make your reader wonder just what’s going on.

Julie unglued her face from the birthday cake, sugary white icing wreathing it like a facial gone wild, and screamed at the top of her lungs.

How old is Julie? Presumably old enough to have a facial. Why is her face buried in a cake? Does it have anything to do with sadistic twenty-one year olds? Presumably she doesn’t like it being there — or doesn’t like being interrupted when she’s eating. Definitely eye-catching. But can you keep up that pace in the rest of the book?


Raoul’s huge, hammy fist drove into Steve’s face like a jackhammer, knocking him down and sending him scudding across the tile floor.

Wow! Poor Steve, getting knocked out by a brute like Raoul. It’s going to be a fast-paced action adventure with a violent beginning like that, right?

Wrong. The whole paragraph is:

Raoul’s huge, hammy fist drove into Steve’s face like a jackhammer, knocking him down and sending him scudding across the tile floor. Various smuts of sauce and stains decorated his monogrammed white apron, and the skein of hair across his nearly bald pate was crusted with cake icing.

“You should have shown up for your catering shift!” Raoul bellowed. “I’m a bartender, not a baker!” Then the man burst into tears while Steve rubbed his aching jaw in bemusement.

The rest of the book, the tone of the following chapter, doesn’t live up to the hook.

A fourth technique for hooks that has been touted across the Internet and beyond is the striking description. If you started out a story with:

Egypt Lake shimmered in the early morning light like a giant steam bath, trailers of fog nearly obscuring the body that floated face down near the algae-slimed wooden dock.

The combination of whimsy — a giant steam bath — and macabre reality — the floating body — may linger in a reader’s mind in the desired fashion. Keep thinking about me, your text whispers, and keep reading to see what happened to that body. The scents, the sensations, the contrasts — if readers can click into this, they’ll click into the rest of your story, right?

Right — if the rest of your story maintains that degree of specificity and scenic appreciation. If you only use a striking image at the beginning of each chapter, right after you do that cliffhanger chapter ending, of course, then it makes for inconsistent tone. Particularly if you get really poetic but the rest of your book is prosaic.

What if the rest of the paragraph was:

Egypt Lake shimmered in the early morning light like a giant steam bath, trailers of fog nearly obscuring the body that floated face down near the algae-slimed wooden dock. Steve hocked a loogie onto the body. He felt glad he’d never have to cater to Raoul, or for Raoul, again. Beside him, Julie cried till he wanted to slap her teeth out.

Hm, shimmering steam bath, trailers of fog — all graceful. Even “floated face down” has a watery consonance. But the sentences that follow are shorter and more, well, colloquial in tone. Not a match. Of course, it does prove Steve made good use of the Glock beneath his pillow.

In summary, while it’s all well and fine to grab your audience — I mean, the necessity of it has been jammed down our throats with a cannon ramrod — you need to be careful that what follows your hooker matches it in tone. Too often I see chick lit sarcasm in the opening and then bland, or just not comical, text thereafter. If your book doesn’t have a lot of attitude and cheeky one-liners, it’s probably not a good idea to start with one. Ditto with the violent or striking description or action and then having that be about the only place in the book you get that sort of keen edge.

Perhaps my view is jaundiced by pros on the contest circuit, by folks who polish and buff their partials and send them to repeated contests but never, somehow, finish a book and trundle it off to editors. They ensure the opening hook is all gussied up, but from there it’s a slow decline into mediocrity. Not where you want to be if you want to get an editor or agent’s lasting attention in this very competitive market.

Of course, these examples were written with proving my point in mind, and I’m sure you’d never write such rubbish, but I hope you know what I’m talking about? Author Marie-Nicole Ryan calls it “the hype falls flat” syndrome. If you crook your hook, make sure it’s not false advertising for the rest of the book!

Jody W.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The First Course: Beginnings

This week here at the Diner, we’re serving up the first part of a three-course story meal. Yep, we’re talking about beginnings—first lines, first paragraphs, and even first chapters. Make no mistake about it: beginnings are powerful.

Consider the following scenario. You’ve heard great buzz about the new restaurant in town. You make your reservation, sit down and take in the romantic atmosphere. You place your order for soup or salad and wait for the great unveiling. The waiter approaches, places your dish before you and ugh! Hair in the food! Your appetite is ruined as you beat a hasty path out of there.

The same thing applies to your writing.

Even with good PR, a nice cover, and an interesting premise if a reader opens up your book and finds she’s wading through a quagmire of backstory, it’s the equivalent of hair in the soup. One-dimensional characters, pages of pointless window dressing and infamous info dump will send your manuscript straight into the reject pile faster than you can say, “Check, please!”

Christopher Vogler in his book, The Hero’s Journey identifies the first step in a story as “The Ordinary World.” This step sets the stage, cluing the reader in on the character and his environment before the inciting incident occurs and the story kicks into full speed. Nowadays, many writers skip this step and plow directly into step two: “The Call to Adventure.” The reader is plopped down mid-action. It's a good way to start a story, but is it the only way in today's market?

In my opinion, no. There is still a place in books for "The Ordinary World."

Blame it on my age or my fantasy background, but I like a little O.W. served up in my books. It’s my antipasto, so to speak. It whets my appetite for the big stuff to follow and as long as it’s written engagingly, furthers my understanding of the situation and doesn’t go on for too many pages, bring it on. It's a matter of volume. Too many tidbits spoil the appetite for the main dish which is what you're paying for. A good rule for writing is a good rule for life--everything in moderation.

In my WIP, the first chapter spotlights my hero in his world that isn’t even close to ordinary for us mere mortals. I did that for several reasons, chief among them being that I wanted my reader so deeply immersed in the hero’s POV that they’d be lulled into believing one scenario when, in fact, something entirely different was occurring. That plot twist provides an underlying theme for the story: appearances can be deceiving.

There is no right way to begin you're story. A rolling boil works with some while a nice slow simmer works with others. No matter which recipe you choose, be sure to connect with your reader. After all, readers are the ultimate critics and may all your reviews be 5 stars!



Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday, Sunday - A Peek At Promoting

Today's blog is a bit off the usual topic, but I figured, since I've been sitting back in my booth for a while being quiet, I wanted to give you a little oooomph for the time spent reading here.

Promotion is essential to every writer I know, published, about-to-be-published and unpublished. Say you're working on your first book and you're only three chapters in. You decide to enter a contest, and WHAM! you place, or better yet, win, and somebody wants to see the rest of your book. Of course, it's not done yet, but eventually it will be, and then there's a chance someone willl maybe want to buy it. Wouldn't that be great?

But what if you could start promoting your work now? Whether you're finished or not, whether you've been requested yet, whether you've placed or won in a contest or met an editor at a con who asked you to send her something. You WILL be published someday, and you should start thinking about promoting now.

There are thousands of articles online and in magazines about how to promote your work, but what you really need to start with is promoting YOU. That's one of the reasons we started this blog - to promote ourselves and our work - and to connect with people who are interested in what we have to say.

Well, I'm starting to become kind of knowledgeable about this whole promoting thing - and I'm hoping one of the things we can talk about each week is how to start getting your name out there, where editors and agents can see it, and readers and friends and fans and pretty much everybody. I'm hoping you'll want to hear more!

So for my blog this week, I'm asking - what do you want to know about promoting yourself, your work, your characters? On Sundays, I'd like to answer those questions, post suggestions, talk about things that have worked for people I know. If this would help you, let's hear it! Speak up and let me know!

And if you want to know what brought this on, Comic Con recently ended in California, and a friend or two of mine got some awesome news and made some serious announcements about projects they have upcoming from people like Dreamworks and Oni Press and Fox Television. So I thought maybe you guys could benefit from some of their work!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Flights of Fantasy

For years I thought my muse was a cat. I had my reasons, you understand. For instance, if I want the muse, she’s nowhere to be found. But if I’m doing a revision, it never fails that my muse is whispering new stories in my ear. In fact, there’s nothing like being hard at work on one project to get my muse all excited about another. Cat behavior, it seemed to me. I had even planned to snap a picture of a neighborhood feline to use with this post. Then I discovered something interesting—my muse is a dragon.

Well, why not? I love dragons. To me, they represent fantasy, freedom (the flight thing), and the ability to breathe fire if needed. Wonderful creatures. But a dragon muse?
Unlike several of my coworkers, my muse is female. Her name is Quill, and she loves more than anything to give me stories of fantasy and adventure. Even the contemporary romances I’ve written have paranormal elements. Why did I not realize before that my muse was happier playing in the fantasy field? To me, that seems to be dragon behavior.

Then there’s the flying. My muse loves to fly high and long, where she gathers beautiful words, wonderful plots, and interesting characters to feed me. Usually when I’m in the shower. By the time I have a chance to write anything down, my human logic filter has wiped away much of the dragon spawned wonder.

I hate to mention it, but there’s the fire too. If I try to stray too far from my muse’s plotted course, I find out very quickly that she isn’t happy. If I’m lucky, she’ll just go away for a few days. If I’m not so lucky, I’ll get stories and characters downloaded into my head so fast and hard that it feels like my head is going to explode. Or I’ll get partial ideas, but not enough to work with (especially effective when a deadline is involved).

But the best thing about working with Quill, is the treasure she shares with me. The treasure of plots, characters, fantasy worlds, and wild adventures. Quill is amazing to work with, and I appreciate her dedication.

Note: The amazing picture of Quill that I’ve posted here was drawn for me by Michael Mason. He’s a writer in his own right, and has just returned from Iraq, where he risked his life for his country. Thank you, Michael, for everything! I’m glad you’re home safe.