Monday, March 29, 2010

The Yellow Brick Road ...

It's almost April, which means conference season is about to start. So why the reference to Wizard of Oz in the title? Well, it's about traveling, finding the right place to go, meeting new people, and possibly being able to win an audience with the Wizard ... or Christine Feehan, Charlaine Harris or Sherrilyn Kenyon. The ladies are big in the paranormal world ... along with many other of my favorite writers - Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman and, of course, Stephen King, to name but few. Oh, and don't forget Dean Koontz and up-and-comers Gabrielle Faust, Lisa Mannetti and Mark W. Worthen. There are so many authors out there who write about the supernatural or paranormal or whatever your word of the day is for it.

So back to the conference idea. I hope you're planning on going if you're a writer. Pick a conference near to your or in the right price range or go totally wild and travel overseas. There are lots of cons out there. RT Booksellers is April 28th in Columbus, Ohio. RWA National is July 28th in Nashville. Emerald City (there's that Oz reference again) October 1 in Bellevue, Washington. There are plenty of them out there to find. Part of being a writer is about getting out there and networking, meeting agents, editors and other writers with whom you share a passion. It's a great way to feel connected, to get motivated and to maybe, just maybe get the go-ahead to submit something to someone so you can get published.

Where are you going this year? I know I'm going to RT. After that, who knows? Make your plans now ... and share them with us. Tell us what part of the country - or world - you're going to see this year to get that writer in your head writing, and selling.


Friday, March 26, 2010

To V or not to V?

So...what's with the new series, V? Like it? Hate it? Couldn't care less?

I'm not hugely obsessed but I'm looking forward to seeing what they've done with the show. The few episodes that were broadcast initially set the stage but didn't really give us enough to make a commitment.
Here are some of the things I like about the show:
  • That it's sci fi. Anything sc fi I'll give it a shot.
  • That there are traitors within the alien community; it's a nice complication and helps even out the power/technology difference between them and us.
  • That the Visitors are able to use our own nature against us. At least so far, there has been no huge, special effects all-out war with lots of stuff blowing up. Conquest is slow and calculated.
  • That the head Visitor is a woman.

Things I'm not so crazy about:
  • That the Visitors have to have something evil up their sleeves. It would be more interesting if the evil they committed was unintentional.
  • That there are already folks on the ground ready to fight them. A bit too quick, if you ask me.
  • That the true visitor inside the human skin is a reptile. Come on, guys. why are they always reptiles?
  • That the Visitors are so clever. A little too clever, at this point
  • That plot points are a little too predictable and the writing too slick. Hold some back! Give us a little mystery!
But I'm willing to overlook the second set of points and keep watching. Think America will agree with me? Or is this show destined to go the same route as Invasion and Jericho, both great shows I enjoyed that were canceled too soon?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

13 Typical Ingredients in a Gothic Romance

A favorite Gothic Romance in my opinion

In one of my first writing classes, the instructor asked class members what genre they chose for their writing?
I raised my hand and replied, "Gothic Romance."
She threw me her most disapproving look and said, “If you want to sell your work, you’ll want to forget about the Gothic Romance. Its market has passed. Readers aren’t interested in that today.”
Perhaps I don’t take instruction well. Or perhaps I simple write what I like to read. I’ve spent many fine hours enjoying Daphne du Maurier, Emily Bronte, Barbara Michaels, Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney and Amanda Quick.

I went on to finish that Gothic Romance book because it felt right to me and I really like Gothic Romances. In fact, I’ve written several more. I don’t know if any will sell, but I have to tell you they were pleasures to write. So much so, I’m starting on another.
At this point, you might be wondering just what a Gothic Romance is.
"Infoplease" defines a Gothic Romance as “a type of novel that flourished in the late 18th and early 19th century in England. Gothic Romances were mysteries, often involving the supernatural and heavily tinged with horror, and they usually were set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins and haunted castles.”
I believe Gothic Romances actually flourish today under the broader umbrella of Paranormal Romance. All right then, how can you tell if you’re reading a Gothic Romance?

It's not difficult. Gothic Romances have some common elements. Here are 13:
1. The story unfolds in an eerie atmosphere, full of peril.
2. The setting is forbidding or haunted. Typical sites: A manor in the moors, an isolated ruin or a haunted castle.
3. Often, the writer’s voice is melancholy and in a minor key.
4. The writer and you as a reader expect bad things to happen to the heroine.
5. The story is shrouded in mystery, a past secret that the readers and the heroine must figure out.
6. The heroine enters the story as a victim, someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.
7. Even though the heroine is a victim, she has the potential to unearth the past secrets.
8. The heroine is resourceful and -- even if she doubts it -- she possesses an inner strength equal to the threatening situation she’s thrown into.
9. The hero, usually the master of the menacing dwelling, appears to be sinister, at least at the story’s start.
10. The hero almost always knows about the unfortunate past.
11. As the heroine uncovers the mystery, she enters into a relationship with the hero.
12. If there are two love interests in the story, one will turn out to be the villain.
13. Often the heroine is a virgin. Usually the main characters are so busy solving the mystery and surviving they have little time for intimacy.

Well, that’s my list. Can you think of any other Gothic Romance elements I might have missed? I’m taking suggestions. Also if you’ve read a good Gothic recently, please share. Thanks.

“How to Write A Romance and Get It Published,” by Kathryn Falk

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Generated image

Spring is my favorite time of year. The rebirth of my garden always inspires me like no other time of the year. The smell of fresh grass, the dirt beneath my fingernails as I get the pots ready for the herbs and vegetables that will grace my patio all ignite my inner child, the one that dreams up the happily ever afters, the fantastical stories of witches, curses and ghosts!

But it's also fun to think about facts associated with this time of year.

The first day of spring is also called the vernal equinox. “Vernal” and “equinox” are Latin terms meaning “spring” and “equal night” respectively.

Is the Vernal Equinox really equal? The idea is that on the first day of spring there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness, but it rarely works out that way. (Does anything ever work out the way we expect? Usually not for me! LOL)

There is always a time each spring, and then again each fall, when the hours of light and darkness are equal, but it usually occurs before the vernal equinox and after the autumnal equinox.

The First Day of Spring--which occurs on March 20 or 21 each year, signals the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, is also the autumnal equinox—the first day of autumn—in the Southern Hemisphere. Conversely, the autumnal equinox in the north, which occurs in late September, is the first day of spring south of the equator.

Now, if you were standing on the equator during either the vernal or autumnal equinox, you would see the sun pass directly overhead, the only two times in the year when that is true. The two equinoxes are also the only times during the year when the sun rises due east and sets due west.

In spring, the Earth’s axis is tilted toward the sun, increasing the number of daylight hours and bringing warmer weather that causes plants to bring forth new growth. The buds on the trees sometimes seem to pop out overnight - I love that!

There is a persistent myth that at the vernal equinox, and only at the vernal equinox, can you stand a raw egg on its end. There is an equally persistent rebuttal that says it’s not possible at any time to balance a raw egg on its end. Neither assertion is true (at least this is what I've heard, because I've never tried it myself.) With a little patience (or sometimes a lot), you can balance a raw egg on its end at any time of year. (Hmmm, it is science fair season, wonder if I can convince my daughter to try this?)

So, the first day of spring has nothing to do with it.

Whether we can balance an egg or just smell the essense of spring when we open the windows, this time of year can still inspire us to look for something new in our lives and in our writing.

Happy Spring!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Debut Authors and the ‘It’ Factor

Over the weekend I read a debut novel. When I finished it, I sat back and wondered what it was about that particular book that caught the editor’s eye, made her pick up the phone and say “I’ll buy it.” Don’t get me wrong – it was a good book, with a terrific opening chapter and a fast-paced plot. The author is a friend of mine and I had watched this same manuscript final in many a contest before it was finally snatched up. My last manuscript has also finaled in many contests. So why did hers sell and mine hasn’t (yet)? OK, so maybe I’m comparing apples to oranges because hers was an inspirational romantic suspense and mine’s a sexy medieval time-travel. But it got me to wondering. We’ve all heard editors tell us they can’t predict the next big thing, but they know it when they see it. So just what is ‘it’?

First, some statistics. (There’s nothing scientific about these numbers. I pulled them from RWR’s First Sales announcements for 2009 so the statistics are only as good as the number of authors who reported them). The first number is the number of debut authors for 2009. The number in parentheses is the number of paranormal first sales (since we’re all paranormal writers here.)

January – 12 (1)
February – 22 (5)
March – 14 (3)
April – 27 (4)
May – 8 (3)
June – 16 (5)
July – 16 (5)
August – 13 (1)
September – 9 (3)
October – 13 (3)
November – 10 (0)
December – 7 (3)

So for 2009 there were about 167 debut authors and 36 of those were paranormals. So what’s it going to take to make me one of the potentially 150+ debut authors for 2010? To help improve my odds, I’ve decided I’m going to do some major reading of debut paranormal authors (all in the name of research, mind you *G*) to see if I can determine what the ‘it’ factor is each of these authors has. I’ll report back here on April 5th (I think that’s my Monday to post) with my first analytical book review. Gretchen will be happy. There are zombies in it. *G*

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stop, or My Muse Will Have You For Lunch!

A writer and his/her muse generally has a love/hate relationship, and my relationship with mine is no different. For a long time I actually thought she was a cat. When I needed her she was nowhere to be found, but if I was busy doing something else, she would come and curl up in my lap and purr stories into my head. Later I decided she was a dragon. I’m not sure why I thought that, but it seemed right at the time. Then there was a while that I thought she might actually be a male. In other words, my muse confused the crap out of me on a regular basis.

I got some answers a few nights ago. My muse appeared to me in a dream. Yep, you read that right. I dreamed about my muse. She appeared as a beautiful young woman dressed in a long, flowing, gossamer dress. I was surprised, but it was cool to know what exactly she was (and that she was a she). But then we had a little conversation. "Get to the writing!" she said.

"I am. I’m editing and polishing and getting this manuscript to send to my editor," I told her.

"That’s not writing. Creating new material, that’s writing," she informed me. "There are a hundred new stories backed up along the assembly line waiting for you."

I groaned. "But if I don’t polish and submit, what good is writing all those stories?"

"Not my problem."

"Give me a break. Don’t you want to see our book published?"

She gave me an exasperated look, then quickly changed into a cat and then a dragon. Holy crap! My muse is a shape-shifter.

"If you want to get something published then you do what you need to do to make that happen," she told me. "My job is to inspire new material, and if you don’t get to writing something new I’ll show you what I’m truly capable of."
With that, she became a fire-breathing, seriously scary version of my dragon Quill. Then she vanished.

The next morning I worked on a new first scene, a scene my muse had shown me a couple of months ago. Yep, she scared me I generally love dragons, but that scary one was something else.

Well, y’all have a great weekend. I have to go write.

Ouch! Hey, that’s my best pair of feels-good-but-falling-apart jeans you singed. Gee, you have a creepy laugh.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

13 Things about Liam the Leprechaun

Did you know I actually wrote a romance novel about a leprechaun? It's called Liam's Gold and it's for sale at Samhain Publishing. In honor of St. Paddy's today, I've composed a list of 13 ways Liam (the hero of the story) is not much like the Americanized version of the leprechaun many of our visitors might be more familiar with.
1) He comes from another dimension and not the Emerald Isle.
2) When his skin starts to peel, it means his trial in humanspace is nearly over, not that he got a sunburn.
3) His irises are green, yes, but also shamrock-shaped. Good thing he found contact lenses to hide that little facet of his physiology.
4) He can make wishes come true only if you realize he's a leprechaun. And why would you? He's practically indistinguishable from any really charming, red-headed, green eyed, and attractive human male. Which is kind of a rare combination, actually, so if you happen to meet suspicious.
5) He prefers expensive wingtips to any footwear with snazzy gold buckles.
6) He does not smoke a pipe.
7) Never in his life, except that one time Sal paid him, has he ever said, "Top of the morning to ya."
8) He likes to jog, not race around hiding his gold.
9) In fact, he really doesn't have that much gold. He spent most of it on shoes and private detectives.

10) He is a womanizer, not a miser. Ok, not really, on the womanizer part. He just likes women a lot, one in particular--his neighbor Sal. But it's true he's not a miser, except for his extensive shoe collection.
11) He's never found the end of a rainbow. Probably hasn't looked, either. He's got better things to do.
12) He does not dance jigs or wear a top hat.
13) He doesn't aggravate actual Irish folks, unlike the commercialized image of the leprechaun found in so many countries today. Well, unless they're offended by romance novellas with smokin' hot sex scenes.
Jody W.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Paranormal - writing?

Today, I was looking around for inspiration and I typed paranormal writing into my web browser, thinking I might find something of interest to spark my own (and hopefully your) creativity.

The first search result came up as "automatic writing." Weird. So I figured, I'd go check it out. They define automatic writing as receiving a message where your hand moves of its own accord to write message that seems to come "out of nowhere." Sometimes my hand does that too - only it's because a character is talking to me, not because some "otherworldly spirit" is attempting to pass a message through me. There have even been complete novels written in this method they describe ... I wonder how good they are, and how I could tap into that, because novel writing is HARD! If someone would do it for me, and it would actually sell, wow!

So here's the link:
They tell you how to do it and give you tips - recognizing its level as hard and the time it takes as anywhere from 15 minutes up.

While I'm not saying it's a good way to get your "writing" started, you never know. Paranormal writing at its strangest.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Oscar Anger: A Rant

I should know better. I don't like awards shows as a rule. I don't like the politics of them, plain and simple.

Last week, I watched the 82 Annual Academy Awards.

I know, I know, I do these things to myself. So, what was it that bothered me about this particular awards show? I'll limit my response to one thing only: the horror montage.

Where to even begin? I think the horror genre is to film what the romance genre is to books. Underappreciated. Neglected. Abused.

Just as many turn their noses up at romance as crass genre fiction and not “real literature,” horror movies are seen as pop culture schlock and not fine cinema. This kind of snobbery is ridiculous. It’s based off the notion that because something is popular, because it is blatant in its themes and deals with some of the most basic human emotions, it can’t be meaningful in a truly artistic way. Love and fear are central to the human experience, and yet the expression of these in popular media are more often than not devalued and impugned. Guilty pleasures, not respected interests.

The Academy has a long history of ignoring the horror genre. It’s been over 35 years since The Exorcist won 2 Oscars. So, I had high hopes for the horror montage, hoping to finally see the genre get some of the respect it deserves.

And, I have a soft spot for zombies. No pun intended.

('s zombie Bill Nighy)
So the horror montage rolls. It hits the high points of the genre. It hits the low points of the genre. It hits some points that aren’t even in the genre. Then it stops, at which point I nearly exploded out of my seat in agitation. A full horror montage spanning the history of horror in film (which is really the entire history of filmmaking), and not a zombie to be seen. Livid, thy name is Gretchen.

The classics were accounted for, films like Psycho, Nosferatu, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and Carrie.

The modern fanboy horror/slasher films were accounted for, films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, Friday the 13th, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Films that are not horror, at least not in any traditional sense, were included. Jaws? Aliens?? Silence of the Lambs???

Don’t even get me started on the New Moon clip. I’m pretending it wasn’t there.

I had to rewatch the montage 2 more times before I saw it. A faint glimpse, 1 second long, of pale figures standing motionless. I think this fuzzy snippet of film is all there was to represent the zombie delegation. It may have been from Night of the Living Dead (maaaaaaaybe), it was too short and indistinct to tell. There may also have been a fast moving zombie encompassing another full second of film. After a third rewatching I still wasn’t clear.

(A still from Night of the Living Dead, not the still from the montage)
How, I ask you, can zombie films go all but ignored in a montage of horror history? Since the release of White Zombie in 1932, zombies have played a key role in horror cinema. In 1968, George Romero changed the face of horror with Night of the Living Dead. Decades later, writers and directors are still imitating Romero's style. And yet, in the one ode to horror granted by the Academy in the last 37 years, zombies and the work of visionaries like George Romero are suspiciously absent. No, I'm not counting 1 second of indistinct film as inclusion. Omiting the films of George Romero from a montage of popular horror is like omiting The Godfather from a montage to gangster films. Leaving John Wayne out of a western tribute. Ignoring Nora Robert's when discussing the history of modern romance. In short, it's appalling.

This is why I don't like awards shows. I like the underdog, I like them to get their day in the sun, be it an underappreciated actor/writer/director, or a genre that simply isn't esteemed. Horror probably won't grace the Oscars again for a decade or more. For zombies, well, it looks like it will be far longer than that.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Look Inside Cerridwen Press

Ever wonder what it’s like to write for Cerridwen Press?

Multi-published author Frances Stockton is here to share her experience with us and I hope that you’ll check out one of her many books. Within a few pages, I bet, you’ll find yourself rooting for her heroine and hero to deepen their compelling romance. Her Abcynian shape-changers are mystical, alluring and just plain yummy.

Header by Samulli

1. How did you get started as a writer? Actually, I started writing when I was thirteen. I’d always been imaginative and loved telling stories, so when I sat down and put it all together and created a contemporary version of Laura Ingalls Wilder who wanted to be Nancy Drew, while dating one of the Hardy Boys (the oldest, btw.) While it wasn’t the best or most original concept, what I’d known when I’d written ‘The End’, was that I had many more stories to tell. Since then, life, school, education, working as a Veterinary Technician, a teacher, and volunteering at a community theater all helped prepare me to become the writer I am today.

2. Getting The Call is the moment many unpublished authors fantasize about. It’s that moment when authors hear that a publisher wants her work. Can you describe your experience? Well, for me, I decided to submit a partial of what became Seductive Persuasion to Ellora’s Cave Publishing for Cerridwen Press, according to the publisher’s guidelines. To my pleasant surprise, I received word from my editor on Christmas Eve that she wanted to read the full and she’d get back to me in six weeks. As promised, she let me know that they wanted to publish the book. Three books later, I am very happy that I made the decision to submit my work to Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

3. How long was it from the initial publisher’s request to see your manuscript until it reached published form? You know, I was so excited by the whole process that I lost track of time. Edits took some time, as Seductive Persuasion is set in 1453 England, and it was necessary to make sure that words were in use at that time. Once the editing process was complete, the book released rather quickly, and believe it or not, it came out on Christmas Day 2008. Three months later, it was available in trade paperback form.

4. What steps were involved to elevate your manuscript from a submission to a published novel? Honestly, my editor was the reason the book became what it is today. I had a lot to learn. But I believe that the story was always good, with just enough history to make it feel Medieval without bogging the reader down and leaving plenty of room for spicy romance.

5. What surprised you most about being published? I’d have to say the fact that since Seductive Persuasion released last December, two more books followed very quickly. Once Seductive Persuasion came out in trade paperback, Rhiannon’s Pride and Sea Captain’s Ghost came out within the same year.

6. What advice would you give other unpublished authors who hope to interest your publishing house in their manuscript? The best advice I can give here is to read both Cerridwen Press and Ellora’s Cave imprints. They are different in feel and content, of course, but reading what’s being published is a great way to know what editors are looking for.

7. What reasons would you give an unpublished author for sending his or her manuscript to Ellora’s Cave Publishing? In other words, what do you particularly like about your publisher? I love my editor, I love the cover art that I’ve received for all three books, and I love the freedom I’ve had to write in a genre that may not necessarily fit elsewhere.

8. How has your life changed since being published? It hasn’t changed all that much, except I am more and more excited about the next story I have to tell, especially regarding the Abcynians and I’d like to continue writing their stories. One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most has been receiving emails or friend requests from readers who’ve told me how much they like my books. It’s a rush that I can’t explain and will always hold dear.

9. Typically, how long does it take you to write a book? What’s your writing schedule? Once a story idea is down in a very basic synopsis, I can write pretty quickly. I’m very visual when I write, so I picture each chapter and recreate it with words. As to a time line, it changes, depending upon the time of year. Usually, I write for three to four hours a day and edit for about an hour before I begin writing for the day, this way I get into the mindset of my characters and just write freely.

10. How do you generate ideas for your stories? As mentioned before, I tend to be very visual. When the Abcynians came to me, I was at RWA Nationals in Dallas, TX, and I happened to see a big poster for a tiger while I was there, and I thought, wow, that animal needs to be in one of my books. I loved reading Paranormal Romances, especially featuring shape-shifters and vampires, and wanted to try something a little different. I decided to switch up the shape-shifter angle, step back into my love of history and animals, and the Abcynians came to be soon after.

11. What excites you about your current work in progress? I can’t say too much about it, but I’m working on two projects. One continues with the Abcynians, the other is a new venture for me and I hope to see it grow into either a series or several books.

12. Could you share an excerpt from your books? I would love to share! Here are several links to check out, the first is for Seductive Persuasion, available in ebook and print:
For Rhiannon’s Pride:
And, for my latest release, Sea Captain’s Ghost:

13. Where can readers find you on the Web? (Twitter, blog, Facebook, Website)? I’ve provided links for all three of my Cerridwen Press books, however, I can also be found at,
We hope we’ve passed along some good insights into writing and Cerridwen Press, but if you have other questions, feel free to ask. We appreciate hearing from you.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Who Needs a HEA?

In a brief moment when I had the remote control all to myself yesterday, I was channel surfing and stumbled on the Leo DiCaprio / Claire Danes version of Romeo and Juliet. I didn’t watch the whole thing because, to be honest, it’s too strange an interpretation of the classic for me. But it got me thinking. As romance writers, we hate to hear the dreaded words “formula” or “rules,” but the fact is there is one golden rule required of us all – there must be a happily-ever-after for the lovers at the end of the story. But there are many classics which are considered some of the greatest love stories of all time that don’t have the mandatory HEA. Quite the opposite. Their endings are often downright depressing. Here’s a few that immediately come to mind, both in fiction and in film:

Romeo and Juliet – teen suicide

Gone With the Wind – he abandons her

Casablanca – he saves her life, she leaves with her husband

Tristan and Isolde – he dies of his wounds, she dies of grief

The Thorn Birds – their secret son dies, he dies, she’s left old and alone

Jane Eyre – they reunite, but only after he’s been blinded and maimed in a fire

Wuthering Heights – she dies after childbirth, he broods himself to death

An Affair to Remember – they meet again after she’s paralyzed

Phantom of the Opera – she runs off with the cute guy, he dies of loneliness

Anna Karenina – her lover rejects her, she commits suicide by train

What other classic romances can you think of that don’t play by the happily-ever-after rule?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday a bit late - and still writing

I have been a little out of touch lately for my Sunday posts. I don't always make it on Sunday, but I try to get here as I can. We've been homeless for a while, so while I don't use it as an excuse, it does make my life more stressful. Amongst all the stress and dealing with family and friends, I try to write. I can't say I spend as much time at is as I can, but I make the effort. I encourage other writers to write - those I work with online and those in my writing groups. But I am getting discouraged lately, and I feel a bit bad about it.

So I decided I'm going to focus more on goals, like getting something ready for a contest or submitting a query or something I can promise myself each week. I'm hoping this will help me make more time in my day to make these people in my head quiet down a bit while I write down their thoughts and conversations. I'm hoping you guys could help inspire me a little. Have you ever had times when you really just couldn't get it together and make your writing happen? Any tips or tricks that help someone who's really stressed start feeling creative again? I'm open to any ideas you may have, and then some.

Thanks for your help,

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Book Signings R Us

This is going to be a busy book signing year for me. I'm planning to attend RT (the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention) and Romanticon (Ellora's Cave Convention). RT has an ebook expo on Friday, and a print book fair and Saturday and I'll be signing at both. Last year I signed at the Romanticon book fair and had so much fun meeting readers and fellow authors.

I'll be kicking my book signing year with an Author Breakfast at Joice Public Library in Iowa. The author omelet breakfast is an annual event and this will be the first time I've attended. I'm really looking forward to it. My friend and fellow author Maggie Rivers will be attending the breakfast and signing a book she co-wrote.

I try to think ahead for things I'll need for promotion. I have some book marks for the two long novels that are published by EC. I just had Croco designs create a bookmark for my new ebook, Whirlwind Affair, which EC will publish on March 10.

So I have a question for the readers of our blog...if you're a writer, what types of promo materials do you hand out at book signings? Which work best and travel best? For readers, what do you like to get from your favorite authors when you meet them at a book signing?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Four Creativity Exercises for Groups

Recently I got back from our local RWA chapter's writer's retreat, where I am often called upon to concoct creativity exercises for our group. Here are four I've used with good success.

MacGyver Writing

Everyone in your group should bring a paper bag containing 4-5 household items. Switch bags with someone else and write a scene (usually people do the first scene of a hypothetic story) that incorporates as many items from the bag as possible. Sharing these scenes is a lot of fun.

For extra juiciness, before sharing the stories or telling one another about your ideas, switch bags again (without getting your own bag) and write a new scene using a new group of objects. The important part if you double up is to see how two different, wonderful brains MacGyver together the objects to make a scene.

Twist a Trope

Either the instructor (or the participants as a group) come up with a good number of standard romance genre "tropes" that tend to be in place at the beginning of the story. These could be things like secret baby, boss/secretary, family feud, best friends, and so on. Write each trope on a slip of paper. Then, using the same method, come up with the same number of standard romance genre complications that tend to happen a while into the story or often drive the story forward. These could be things like must find a serial killer, must save the world, must save the company, must go on a road trip, must find the treasure. Same deal -- each complication / challenge / conflict, whatever you want to call them, on its own piece of paper.

I think you can see what's coming next! Each participants gets a trope and a challenge and they write a fake book blurb, essentially the back cover copy, for the story that springs into their minds using the pairing. Emphasize how romance readers love familiarity without stories being imitative and editors are also looking for a "fresh approach".

Mad Writing Libs

On index cards or pieces of paper, every participants writes down 7 or so terms according to what the instructor requests -- a noun, an adjective, a verb, a geographic place, an emotion, or whatever seems to fit. As with the other exercises, cards are shuffled and handed back out, making sure nobody gets their own card. Participants write a first page using as many of the words as possible. It's sort of like MacGyver and sort of not since it deals completely with objects. As with the MacGyver exercise, you can double up before revealing the results to anyone to compare what different writer brains can do with the same information.

Picture It

Cut out many, many pictures of interesting looking people from magazines, the less familiar they are in the media the better, so there won't be preconceived notions about their personality. Give everyone a woman and a man (or any combination they indicate they want) and have them write the "cute meet" for these two individuals. A picture of a location can be added if desired.

The flexible thing about the "Picture It" exercise is it can be combined with any of the above three exercises to add additional constraints and inspirations, although I don't recommend adding the setting picture when you add faces to the exercises.

If the group is shy or unfamiliar with one another, the instructor can create scenes too and use them to break the ice. It seems like with each exercise we would write for about 20 minutes. Sometimes we doubled up on the same exercise, and that was our whole program, and sometimes we did two of the exercises. Leave enough time for everyone to share! The scenes are often hilarious, clever and enlightening.


Jody W. *

Monday, March 1, 2010

Writer's Fear: Public Speaking

I know many wonderful writers--lovely, talented women who (unlike me) have no problem putting a story to paper. Words flow from them unencumbered unless...they're in front of an audience.

Well, finally I can best them on something! Because guess who will talk to anybody about just about anything. Mwahaha! Yep. Me. Put me in a line at any Disney ride and within 15 minutes, I'll have everyone's life story and email addresses.

Such is the power of the extrovert.
So here are my talking tips (gleaned from years of community theatre and professional customer service training):
1. Breathe - I know it sounds obvious yet we still need reminders because when you're in a stressful situation you tense your muscles and involutarily hold your breath increasing that tension. Remember childbirth classes? No? Okay, about your last yoga class? Breathe, sweetie. Your neck muscles and your brain cells will thank you.
2. Smile - It makes you instantly beautiful and people really do hear it in your voice. With so much stress in our lives, people are starving for positivity. Be a good vibe generator! Show off your pearly whites and your audience will smile back. Or wonder what you've been up to. ;)
3. Posture. Posture. Posture. - Why? Well, it projects confidence. Even if you're not sure of what you're'll look like you do and image is half the battle. Oh, and you'll give those lungs a little more room to breathe.
4. Eye Contact - Yep, to borrow a cliche, let your eyes sweep the room. Find a friendly face. There's at least one out there. Remember that your audience wants to hear what you say or they wouldn't be here. Looking at your audience is another way to establish a connection. It's also a way to acknowledge and include them in your presentation.
5. Speak up - In theatre, actors are told to play to the person in the last row. As a speaker, you're addressing your entire audience, even those wallflowers hanging in the back. You can't reach them if you don't turn up the volume. So pump it up!
6. Know your stuff - In theatre, you learn your lines and your blocking (physical directions) by running through the play. The workshop or presentation is your play. Know the material and practice with a friend or in front of a mirror. Bring cue cards with an outline of points you want to cover in case you forget or wander off into tangentland.
6. Relax - Yes, it's difficult but you're a writer and writers are tough. Embrace the curiousity of your audience. It's great for the Q&A section of the presentation. And remember to have fun. As a writer you want to connect to your audience and now you've got one!
Enjoy the journey,