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Showing posts from September, 2007

Love Me, Love My Story

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That's what our characters might tell us, and I believe they're right. When a reader falls in love with one of our main characters, he/she will follow that fictional person almost anywhere, through anything, because the reader cares intensely what happens to this "loved one."

Making a character attractive to the reader is about for more than physical beauty, or making the character a super-nice person who rescues fuzzy bunnies and delivers meals to the housebound elderly. Very attractive, fascinating characters can be plain/homely (a little plainness, in fact, can increase relatability; most of us aren't Miss America), snarky, weak (think of Kyra Sedgwick's character in The Closer, with her sugar addiction), selfish, or even lethal and still likable. So what are some of the "Pied Piper qualities" that keep us turning pages? Here are five that work for me.

1. A fascinating/refreshing/entertaining point of view. This character sees the world in a somewh…

The Pirate's Daughter: a gorgeous book, a publishing adventure

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When a friend at Unbridled Books graciously flipped me an advance copy of Margaret Cezair-Thompson's forthcoming novel The Pirate's Daughter, it quickly migrated to the top of my gotta read stack. This is one of those luxurious, bottle-of-wine, house-to-myself, let-it-all-go-to-voicemail books that completely kidnapped me for a day.

The story:
In 1946, a storm-wrecked boat carrying Hollywood’s most famous swashbuckler shored up on the coast of Jamaica, and the glamorous world of 1940’s Hollywood converged with that of a small West Indian society. After a long and storied career on the silver screen, Errol Flynn spent much of the last years of his life on a small island off of Jamaica, throwing parties and sleeping with increasingly younger teenaged girls. Based on those years, The Pirate’s Daughter is the story of Ida, a local girl who has an affair with Flynn that produces a daughter, May, who meets her father but once.

Spanning two generations of women whose destinies become i…

A little less lonely at the top: NYT splits their bestseller list

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In case you don't obsessively look at the NYT bestseller lists every Sunday like a certain fire-in-the-sugar-free-latte-filled-belly writer who shall remain nameless, they finally clapped on to the fact that it makes no sense to quantify Anita Shreve alongside Harry Potter. According to the "Up Front" column:
It gives more emphasis to the literary novels and short-story collections reviewed so often in our pages (and sometimes published only in softcover). Mass-market paperback titles are now covered in a separate list. In addition, we present expanded coverage of paperback non fiction and of advice, how-to and miscellaneous books, as the increased number of titles this week makes clear.Josh Getlin commented on the split in an LA Times article:
It has been criticized for being ingrown and unscientific, a weekly work of fiction that -- for all its seeming authoritativeness -- is shrouded in mystery. So when the New York Times Book Review announced it would begin splitting…

What Are You Doing to Build Sweat Equity?

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I love Habitat for Humanity's concept of sweat equity, where low income family's chosen to have a house built are required to pour 350 hours of their own labor (friends and family can help, but not too much) into both their own and other's houses. In addition, they pay a mortgage on a home sold to them at cost. The idea is that the beneficiaries of the program will appreciate and tend well something that has cost them so much of themselves.

An aspiring novelist must build sweat equity as well. Though mentors and critique partners may provide valuable assistance, many hundreds of hours are needed to hone the voice, develop the craft, and glean enough information about the business to have a shot at breaking in. Unlike Habitat, however, the writer must do all this on faith, with no guarantee of (with daunting odds against, in fact) achieving her goal. Instead, she writes and writes, edits and reshapes, submits and all too often fails, building sweat equity toward a dream so p…

"Nice dress. Take it off.": Literary sex in brief

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I've been thinking a lot about sex.

My agent and I have been dialogueing about the sex scenes in the novel she's about to start shopping around, and having already cut a LOT of sex from this book (the plot of which hinges on an unusual sexual proclivity) I was loathe to follow her recommendation that I tone it down. Frankly, I am offended by coyness, which is really just hypocrisy with a sunbonnet on it. However, I am interested in getting this book placed with a great editor for a tasty advance, and the old saw about how "sex sells" really does not hold true for mainstream/suspense fiction.

I did some homework on it. Using Amazon's "Search Inside" feature, I looked for the word kiss in about a dozen bestsellers by highly commercial authors. Every book had some sex in it, but my agent was absolutely correct that there are limits. As I've said before, while my books do have sex in them, I don't write "sex scenes". There's always some…

The Brighter Side of Fear

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A couple of days ago I blogged about The Fear Place, which can be an extremely uncomfortable spot while we're creating. But the more I think I about it, the more I believe that there's a time and place to slip inside its barbed-wire borders.

Without fear, we might stop stretching our hands toward perfection. Without fear, we can let the happy babble of outside praise deafen us to the false notes in our current work-in-progress. Our egos can swell so tight inside us that valid doubts are crowded out. Too often, I've seen authors near the top of their game begin to get a little sloppy. "Uneditable," a friend of mine calls those who wield such power that their words can't be questioned. And the work suffers for it in the long run.

I don't want to go to that place, so maybe I'll adopt this as my new mantra: Write fearlessly, but edit ruthlessly. Only don't try doing both at the same time.

Maiden review

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Even when all the firsts of the first novel are far behind, every book is like a virgin, and that maiden review tends to set the tone for the entire book launch. If it's a pan-fry, it's difficult to go forward with trust and joy. If it's a rave, you're energized, soaring, optimistic.

So I was thrilled to see this first review for Colleen's forthcoming novel The Salt Maidenfrom Detra Fitch of Huntress Reviews:
An excellent thriller with a touch of romance. I could not bring myself to set the book down. I simply HAD to know what would happen next. From the beginning it is non-stop action, drama, and mystery. Fans of Tess Gerritsen, Tami Hoag, and Sandra Brown will adore this tale. Phenomenal!
Wha-BAM!

The Fear Place

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Don't get me wrong. I'm happy, happy, happy to be writing another romantic suspense for Dorchester. Especially this one (Triple Exposure), which is a book I've dreamed of writing for some time. Since the research will involve another glider flight (yea!) and a much-anticipated visit to the beautiful West Texas town of Marfa, I'm especially excited...

I am also scared as hell.

Not about the soaring (which I love) nor the prospect of driving nearly ten hours each way and meeting strangers in a strange place all alone (love that kind of thing as well). It's the pressure of wanting this book to be perfect when I'm not, of wanting it to be successful because I care so deeply. And the especially tight deadline doesn't help.

To be an artist of any sort is to dwell inside the fear place. We're afraid because we can neither anticipate nor control others' reaction to our labors. Afraid because the reality never measures up to the ideal held in our minds. Afraid,…

The all important face-to-face

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When my literary agent first came out of her office to greet me in New York yesterday, my first thought was how much she reminds me of my daughter. Roughly the same height and build, the dancer neck, the fresh face, Jane Austen hair pulled back in a ballerina bun. It makes me a little nervous, I must confess, that she is actually closer to my daughter's age than she is to mine. I chose her over an older, wiser, and far more accomplished agent because I loved how smart and unjaded she is. I don't agree with everything she says, and we're a bit of an odd couple. She's very reserved, and I'm very...not.

I had high hopes and deep fears about this alliance before I met her, and that hasn't changed. We were on the same page with 90% of her comments on the manuscript in play, but I left the meeting not feeling great about it.

We exchanged several emails today, however, and now my high hopes are higher than my deep fears are deep. The tone of our conversation has changed…

Quickie from Laguardia

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In New York for the day, just long enough to stop by and give a dear friend a shnuz before jogging up the street to meet my literary agent. Back at Laguardia waiting for my flight and decided to post a quick one to the blog before departure time.

One question: Whose life is this?

As I strode up Park Avenue after leaving my agent's office, a man fell into step beside me and said, "Life is good, is it not?"

"Yes," I said. "Tell me what's especially good about your life today."

"Just saw Phantom of the Opera. The way they change the stage and all that--holy moley!"

"Ah, the Broadway high," I nodded, understanding completely. "I hear ya."

"I'm not a rapist," he decided to mention.

"Me neither," I said. "One more thing we have in common."

"Thanks for talking."

"My pleasure."

"You know what else is good? Flank steak. And pretzels."

"And taxis," I said because on…

Name that Character

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I admit it. I have trouble writing a story if the characters' names don't feel right. I frequently make changes, change those, and then go back and change again. (Thank goodness for the Search/Replace function!)

I prefer to use names that sound more like everyday people rather than label my poor characters with romance-speak names. (Hmmm... Blade Wulfe for the hero, and let's see... how 'bout Lady Chantilly du Tiffany for the heroine.) So where do I go when I need everyday folk naming ideas? The Social Security Administration has a great site where you can input the character's birth year and come up with a list of the most popular first names. Also, there's a listed posted of most common U.S. surnames that I've found extremely helpful when I'm not reaching for the Houston residential pages for ideas.

But here's a new (to me) resource that takes census info and randomly generates lists of male or female names. Very handy to get a nice group to choose …

What's Your Authorial Mission?

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For way too many years, I wandered, meandering from poetry to short stories to plays, then starts to novels in half a dozen genres. As I become the jack of all writing trades and master of none, I at least learned how to write and began to get some sense of what I might be good at. But in spite of contest accolades and critique group praise, my goal of getting published began to feel like mission impossible.

Until I found a focus to my work, or you might call it a vision. It didn't come all at once by any means. First, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a novelist. Then I refined it to author of commercial paperback (mass market) novels. Later, I refined it further, to fast-paced, emotional, suspenseful adult fiction. It took years and hundreds upon hundreds of pages written to winnow down my dream that much. Along the way, I made a study of the type of fiction I wanted to write, and of the heretofore neglected business aspects of it. Gradually (and I hope you're all …

Black Books: sweet rejection

Thanks to Lark Howard for directing our attention to this way too funny bit.

Wrong way, Feldman: Joni’s publishing parable of the week

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In Dallas this weekend. Opening keynote at a Leukemia Lymphoma Society conference. I had a fraction of the expertise the rest of the speakers had, which is why I was there. I’m the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, as it were. Smart conference planners know people need to laugh a lot, cry a little, and put a face to lymphoma before they get hit with the solid wall of survival statistics, monoclonal antibody therapies studies, and T-cell re-engineering talks. I always work hard to deliver the goods at these gigs. I care a lot about the audience and get paid well, but this time I had the added incentive of a videographer filming me for a new demo video with which my speaking agent will hopefully score me oodles of gigs.

I got up at 4 AM so I could fuss like a Dolly over my hair and makeup. I wore an unadventurous but hopefully slimming all black ensemble, spiced up with a pair of funky brocade demi-boots so it would look more artsy than Amish. I drove to the address of t…

Wyrdsmiths: The Truly Garagantuan Miss Snark Index Post

Here's a wonderfully-helpful resource indexing many of Miss Snark's most helpful post.

Wyrdsmiths: The Truly Garagantuan Miss Snark Index Post

Thanks to Kelly McCullough for compiling it and, of course, to Miss Snark herself for the words of wisdom!

In Praise of Leroy Jenkins

Yesterday, my son showed me the classic viral video of Leroy Jenkins and his ill-considered full frontal assault on various monsters in the World of Warcraft video game. For those of you (like me) not up on nerd humor, in WoW, online players work their way cooperatively through a fantasy roleplaying game. In the famous video, players are heard strategizing in great detail ("I'm just crunching some numbers on that") when character Leroy Jenkins (who had been away from his keyboard instead of listening) suddenly charges into monsterdom screaming his name as a battle cry. After a stunned moment, his online buddies charge in after him, and everyone, predictably, gets slaughtered while players are heard cursing Leroy.

In writing, there are those who spend months, no, years meticulously planning strategy. They travel to conferences, take classes, and read everything they can find on the various aspects of craft and publication. But they never just charge in and go for it with e…

You Might Be a Writer if You Laugh at This

Here's a Youtube video that's been making the rounds. If you've ever had a conversation with an editor or agent (or even a critique partner) that's left you scratching your head, you'll laugh in recognition. Enjoy!

First, do no harm: Should there be a 'litblogger's Code of Ethics'?

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Very much appreciated Jane Ciabattari's Wednesday post about litblogging ethics over on Critical Mass, including this subsequent comment:

The [National Book Critics Circle] includes members who are literary bloggers whose blogs carry regular book reviews and interviews and podcasts as well as members who are book reviewers for newspapers, broadcast,online publications, magazines, the full range of publications in the 21st century. And as the various forms shift and migrate, it makes sense to answer questions members raise about ethics and what guidelines might be appropriate. That said, yes, some reviewers don't follow the guidlines. And readers pick that up quickly. As for the issues, they have to do with the ethical guidelines suggested by the Online News Association noted in the post. i.e., "The cornerstones of this code of ethics are to 1) Be honest and fair. 2)Minimize harm. 3)Be accountable." And the question is, should these or other ethical guidelines also app…

A conversation with Cajun caper diva Toni McGee Causey

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After seeing the trailer for Bobbie Faye's Very Very Very Bad Day, you’ll probably want to a) read the book and b) go out for margaritas with the author. Next best thing to being there? Our author E-chat with the delightful Toni McGee Causey.

Even before I was a Southern girl, I loved Southern stories. Talk to us about story-telling in the Cajun culture.
I grew up where it was a family activity to tell stories and to out-do one another while we were at it. I love movies, too, and photography and painting and... and so much more. When I was very young, my dad would play poker every Friday night at my uncle's house, and all of those men would ignore a kid nearby. Cigarette smoke thickened the air, chip racks were discarded (and great toys), and everything from world to local affairs might be discussed. Or my mom and aunt would let me lie down in the back room where they were sitting and talking, and I'd pretend I was asleep because they would tell hysterical stories (and it wa…

As True of Writing As It Is of Music...

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Yesterday a good friend of mine passed on this quote from the late, great Pavarotti:

"Learning music by reading about it is like making love by mail."
~ From Luciano Pavarotti, 1935 - 2007

Studying writing has the same pitfalls. You can spend all your time taking workshops, reading books, and (ahem) stopping by blogs or you can do the most important part: the practice.

As Joni would put it, 'Nuff said.

Do Book Trailers Work? This One Sure Did!

Lately, there's been a lot of Internet buzz about book trailers, which are used to promote upcoming or new releases on an author's website, MySpace, Youtube, and the like. As more and more authors jump onto this fun, new bandwagon, I've resisted, saying that though I've seen and admired quite a few, I've never actually purchased a book because of a trailer.

That ends today, with this fabulous trailer for Toni McGee Causey's hilarious Southern (mis)adventure, Bobbie Faye's Very Very Very Bad Day. Why did it convince me to order the book? First of all, it's clever and well-made, amusing in itself and very professional. But more importantly, it led me to look up more traditionally-formatted info about the book, and it's just what I'm in the mood for. Lately, I've been on a humorous Southern fiction kick. I've greatly enjoyed books such as Mary Kay Andrews' Savannah Blues and Joshilyn Jackson's Gods in Alabama.

Here's the descript…

It was a dark and stormy night: Fondly remembering Madeleine L'Engle

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It's one of those books that came to me at the precise moment I desperately needed it and stayed with me...well, so far forever. Sixth grade was a miserable year for me. At home, my mother was recovering from a terrible car accident. At my strict parochial school, my teacher was an elderly man whose senile dementia erupted daily into verbal abuse and sometimes physical violence. In a desperate effort to be like my uber-perfect big sister, I went out for cheerleading and was horrifically unlucky enough to be placed on the squad. I didn't fit in (to put it mildly), and the other girls didn't candy-coat their disdain for me. I begged to quit. Pretended sprained ankles. Faked sick a lot. All I wanted was to climb up into the giant mulberry tree in front of our house and read.

One day, as I returned my Chronicles of Narnia revisitation stack, the librarian handed me A Wrinkle in Time, which happened to be on top of the incoming bin. "If you're looking for another series…

Men and the art of motorcycle maintenance (or “Why I love this bird”)

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Shortly after I posted about risk-takery on Wed morning, my son Malachi walked into Starbucks with his girlfriend, a voluptuous psych major who actually seems to get his sense of humor (a testament to the towering abilities of the psych professors of Central Florida.) Gary and I were doing a fast latte and email check on our way out of town.

I said, “Hey, Spike. How are you today?” He responded, “I am astonishingly well.” And he was. Gary had trucked him and his wounded motorbike around Orlando in search of repairs the previous day, the VPM had driven over from Tampa for a pleasant meet the parents over Mexican food, and Malachi was preparing to meet his fate as a UPS box hefter, a job that might be less than edifying on an artistic level, but will fund his travels to Asia and Europe this year.

Sitting across from him at Starbucks, I observed a happy man. He had wheels. He had a woman. He had work. His life, for this brief and shining moment at least, was working on a mechanical level.…

The Good, the Bad, and the Subjective

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It's so tempting to believe rejections, to come to the conclusion that the powers that be are right. After all, it's hard to be objective regarding your own work, and there are always nagging little naysayers in the background telling you that "nobody gets published," "agents only represent experienced authors," and "publishers will only look at work by agented authors." That's a lot of negativity free-floating in the atmosphere, and if you're not very careful, it can overwhelm that tiny voice inside you that's saying, "You are really freaking good!"

The next time you're tempted to give over your destiny to the judgment of others, consider this. Newcomer Joanne Rowling's first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by eight publishers before finally received an offer -- and a less than thrilling advance. Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected twenty-four times. And the list goes on and on.

Think it gets easier after you&…

High risk behavior

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"The key ingredient to a successful and interesting life," I told my son last night, "is risk-takery."

There was some dispute over whether or not "takery" is a word, but hey, I consider it my right -- nay, my obligation! -- as a writer to facilitate the expansion of the language. What is most certainly not in question is the truth in that statement, and it applies to writing in a number of ways:

Character development depends entirely on the person's willingness (or unwillingness) to be dynamic, to change, to face unknowns. For you romance writers, that's one of the most delicious elements. If a relationship is easy, is passion possible? Without the danger of heartbreak, no enormous loss at stake, there's no credible incentive for change.

Doing anything new and different as a writer sets you up to get smacked around by readers and critics. Colleen and I both have our battle scars. I love that she stepped out on a long limb and pushed genre constra…

Everyone's Raving About These Writing Workshops

I've been hearing so many great things about Patricia Kay's online novel-writing workshops from her students -- rave after rave. But it wasn't until she pinch-hit for me last month while I was recovering from a nasty virus that I had the chance to see first-hand what a terrific teacher she is.

All About Scenes & Sequels
Instructor: Patricia Kay

About the Instructor: Patricia Kay is the USA TODAY bestselling author of more
than 45 novels of romance and women's fiction. She is a former writing teacher
with the University of Houston and has given her acclaimed workshops all over
the country.

When: October 8 - 31, 2007

Do the principles of scene and sequel strike terror in your heart? Learn how to
master story construction using this proven method. In a series of lectures,
homework assignments, examples, and class discussion, you will learn the
elements necessary to write terrific scenes and compelling sequels. Here's what
one former student said:

"Out of all the writers I…

Louisiana after

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Started the holiday weekend with a series of exceedingly bummed out phone calls from my son, whose Kerouackian dream of motorcycling from Houston to Orlando was rudely interrupted by technical difficulties. Note for future ref: motorcycle repairmen spend holiday weekends living the Kerouackian dream. Kerouac did not carry a beeper. After working the computer and phones for a few hours, Gary and I headed over to Baton Rouge to truck boy and bike back to Florida.

I've been making that drive along I-10 at least four or five times a year since my kids were small, and there's much to love about it. The lumpy bumpy roads make your voice wobble when you sing "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall". Sometimes you see alligators in the swamps below the bridges. Verdance and kudzu and lovebugs abound. Every little cafe and gas station bathroom has a dialect-rich conversation to eavesdrop upon. The humid generosity of the people, the dirty jeans on the little boys, the wilted plastic …

Top Ten Clues You May Be Dealing with a Scammer

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Nearly every writer I know has been taken at some time or another (usually when he/she's first getting started) by one of those unscrupulous bloodsuckers who live by sucking the juices from other people's dreams. (Let's not sugarcoat it, Colleen. Tell us how you *really* feel.) Sometimes the parasite calls itself an agent. Other times it claims to be a publisher/editor, a book doctor, or a publicist. While I've worked with wonderful, legitimate people in every one of those capacities, scammers have proliferated, thanks to both the Internet and the never-diminishing abundance of people with big dreams (or as I call them, the best people).

So how do you know who's the real deal and who's out to separate you from your hard-earned rubles? Here are a few red flags to alert you that you may be dealing with a scammer.

1. Money flows the wrong way. It is not cool to pay an industry pro a reading fee to consider your material. It's sonot cool that the Association of A…