Thursday, July 31, 2008

Like A Drunken Sailor

There's always a point in one's career when one must look back upon the path and all the decisions leading up to that point, and gaze upon the wonders of randomness--and of deliberation--that led one to this moment and this time and this place and this happenstance.

For me, that point is where it is truly possible to comprehend non-Euclidian geometry and multidimensional quantum physics, because there is no way anyone not blind-drunk walking backwards on their hands and using the guiding light shining out of their own backside could navigate a path like this on purpose.

Like most fools, I started out focused and sure of myself in the grander scheme of things--I knew what I want and how I thought I'd be getting it, and even presumed to assume who'd be signing the checks. I now know that it's only because of an innate and impeccable sense of comedic timing that I was permitted to think thusly, for the sole purpose of providing the universe with a banana-peel pratfall.

With the twists, turns, and timeslips, I have since learned to assume nothing, expect nothing, and prepare for anything. When I look ahead, I see only the landscape I'm guaranteed not to be experiencing in the near future. I'm learning to look around and under and in between. Career progression is not the ship sailing through murky waters, but rather the algae bloom lurking in the waves, the sentient ooze that finds its way into the spaces between grains of sand.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I'm early - good news!

Firstly, I know it's not my day to blog, but I'm not going to be on the air on Wednesday, so I thought I'd just sneak in with a little bit of good news.

As most know, I had a hard time writing my last novel. I started a different book and ended up scrapping it about 40,000 words into it. Then I started another book and had a deadline extension...well, the good news is that my writing mojo has come back!!! I finished the book and submitted it to my publisher with a week to spare of my deadline!

WHOO HOO!

I tell you, when I lost my way a little there, I was freaked. I've never had it happen to me before now. But when i look back on that time, I realize that the first half of the year started out hard - a sick cat, her eventually being put to sleep which broke our hearts, and then I seemed to come down with one yucky wog after another as well as hurting my back. Yep, it was a hard time.

Well, I worked through it, because my philosophy is that you can't go back, you can only go forwards, so I kept plodding onwards, and yes, the light was at the end of the tunnel and I've come through into it.

Hard times come to us all, and they vary in their severity, and what seems light to one person is heavy to another. Be kind to yourself, acknowledge when you're having a hard time, and keep placing one foot in front of the other. Eventually you'll step out of the tunnel and into the light.

cheers
Angela

Monday, July 28, 2008

Guest - Angie Fox

Good morning everyone! Today's guest is pure serendipity :D Skylar suggested the Contest theme week that we just had and none of us realized that Angie's first sale was due to a contest! So she's going to talk about her experience and therefore add a whole 'nother layer to our discussion. Oh, and be sure to check out her contest at the end of her article. She's giving away a copy of her book 'The Accidental Demon Slayer'

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Newly anointed with demon-fighting powers and suddenly able to hear the thoughts of her hilarious Jack Russell terrier, a preschool teacher finds a whole new world of dark and dangerous, including a sexy shape-shifting griffin she’s not entirely sure she can trust.

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Three things I had to do in order to sell

I noticed you’ve been talking about contests, which is completely up my alley because I sold The Accidental Demon Slayer as a direct result of the Chicago RWA’s Four Seasons Contest. I entered mainly for feedback, but also hoping that the manuscript would make it to the desk of Leah Hultenschmidt, who was the finals judge for my category. It did and she bought the book.

Now my critique partner also has a manuscript on the desk of my editor, as a result of the exact same contest. No kidding. We’re going for a two-fer!

And since we’re talking about writing and making that all important first sale, I’m going to blog today about the three things I had to do in order to sell. Because, let’s face it, its hard being “almost there” with a story. You love your work, you’re getting positive rejections, so what does it take to break through? For me, it was all about making the story bigger. And, I know, you’re saying you’ve heard it before. So did I. But I didn’t know what it meant. I had to push my writing to a level I had never gone to before, but I found three things were the key

The “no way” factor
My characters had to take bigger chances, have more to risk and lose. It’s easy to say, but a hard thing for a writer to do. It’s a vulnerable, risky place to be. I knew my story was big enough to sell when instead of ending my writing sessions thinking, “I hope that’s good enough to impress an editor.” I ended them thinking, “No. I didn’t not just write that. I did not just make my character defend herself with a toilet brush and a can of Purple Prairie Clover air freshener.”

The “brainstorm” factor
The first thing you think of might be good, but chances are the 20th thing will be even better. When I was trying to think of a hidden hideout for my biker witch characters, the first idea that popped into my head was an abandoned biker bar. Kind of neat, right? Instead of going with it, I sat down and brainstormed twenty ideas. The first five or so come easy. The rest really make you stretch and think. One of those twenty ideas became a fun, quirky hideout for my witches – an abandoned riverboat that they’d enchanted years earlier (while drunk on dandelion wine). Now they not only need a safe place, but they need to catch the Choking spells, Lose Your Keys spells, not to mention the Frozen Underwear spells ready to attack from around corners and behind the old jukebox.

The “surprise” factor
Follow your story in new directions, because if you’re enjoying the surprise, chances are your readers will too. When I sat down to write my book, I had no notes about a sidekick for my heroine. But in the second chapter, when she’d learned she was a demon slayer and all hell was after her, she took comfort in her dog. As I was writing, I thought, ‘This is a sweet moment. Now how do I throw her off?’ Simple. I made the dog say something to her. Nothing big. After all, he’s only after the fettuccine from last week. And he knows exactly where my heroine can find it (back of the fridge, to the left of the lettuce crisper, behind the mustard). It amused me, so I did it. Thanks to her unholy powers, my heroine can now understand her smart-mouthed Jack Russell Terrier. I had fun with it. In fact, I suspect Pirate the dog is my editor’s favorite character. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Pirate helped talk my editor into buying The Accidental Demon Slayer.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is – make your writing an adventure. Don’t be afraid to step out, take risks and push your story to the next level.

And in the name of fun, I’m going to give away a free copy of The Accidental Demon Slayer. Just click on the What’s Your Biker Witch Name? quiz, tell us your biker witch name and you’re entered to win!


QUIZ LINK:
http://quiz.angiefox.com

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Angie Fox is the author of the award-winning Accidental Demon Slayer series. Critics call it, "fresh, unique and larger than life," Angie simply calls it fun. That's because she gets a kick out of surprising herself, and her readers, with plenty of plot twists, magical moments and sizzling romance. The first book in the series is called The Accidental Demon Slayer. The second, due out in April 2009, is The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers. Visit Angie at www.angiefox.com

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Win, Lose or Draw

Keep in mind all you’re about to hear is coming from a reverted contest slut. I’ve entered over 50, finalled in a few and placed in a couple. So did my money pay off? For the most part. I got feedback on things I was testing out, and got the chance to get in front of a couple agents and editors. However, I will share a few things I’ve learned. And no, it’s not a 12 step program to quit.

Pay attention to what the contest asks for. Does it want the first chapter, the first three chapters or even the last chapter? Or perhaps you have to enter the first meet, the first kiss or even an emotional scene. Make sure what you’re sending meets the guidelines and can end on a hook. If that manuscript makes it to a final judge you want that person to want more. Trust me!

Make sure you can afford to spend the money. Even with the lull in the economy contest prices haven’t dropped. Most are still around $20 a pop, except the Golden Heart which remains at $50. So choose wisely, instead of emptying your bank account for a longshot that isn’t a sure thing.

Do you really want the final judge to read your work? If the judge isn’t on your hit list, why not choose another contest where they are the final judge. If the judge isn’t an agent or editor, then go in knowing that. If it’s a published author, make sure that you know their work.

Check the grading sheets. If you know your submission will grade low in a category or categories, choose another submission or another contest. Because of problems with grading sheets, some chapters have actually just started letting judges make good/bad comments about entries.

Follow the guidelines. Every contest has them, those rules for how to make your manuscript just so. The right margins, headers, footers, point size, etc. Do not think you’ll get lucky and no one will notice. Chances are high that your entry will be returned, but your entry fee will not.

Be sure you’re ready. Some judges don’t pull punches and others like me try to give the author good with the bad. Some of the comments can make you cry, but others will make you laugh out loud. I still smile when thinking about all the smiley faces I got marked-up on LOVEMAKER. But don’t let fear stop you. If you need to jump the hurdle of sending out that manuscript you’ve been slaving over, then use the judges as a sounding board. That way you can fix your prose and send them to that editor/agent you’ve been eyeing.

Be prepared to throw out half of the comments. Some judges’ reactions are on the money, but some aren’t. Make sure to review all of what they say before you start reworking. It’s also good to give the info a day or more to sink in so you can process everything. In my experience I seem to split everyone. Usually one person hates it and one person loves it (and occasionally one is in the middle on the fence). I’ve heard this is a good sign because it made the judges feel passionately. However, a better way to look the situation is to determine is the judges made similar comments. If so, the issue likely is a problem.

Find the time to judge a contest. After you judge peers work you will see what else other writers in your genre have to offer. Plus you’ll have a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. I’ve judged several contests, and actually was sorry that I couldn’t judge the Maggies this year because I’m not PAN. If you judge, don’t be afraid to sign your name. I got two fabulous cards from people I judged last year.


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ya Pays Yer Buck & Ya Takes Yer Chances

Contests are a crapshoot.

Now, before all the contest coordinators from RWA chapters put out contract hits on me, let me qualify this and say, "That's totally not a bad thing." Because it isn't. And the reason why it isn't is because writing and submitting for publication is also a crapshoot, and it's a similar crapshoot to the contest crapshoot, so you get crapshoot creds for contests that add a little more experience to your crapshooting efforts in submitting for publication. And I've probably reached the upper limit of the amount of times I'm permitted to use the word "crapshoot" in a single blog post.

Contests have their uses. I used to enter contests when I wanted to test the waters and see if an idea I had (and had pursued out at least a few chapters) would fly. However, that was several years ago, and at the time, I was writing a very specific type of story for a very specific market, which contained a well-documented set of boundaries. I write somewhat more "out of bounds" now, and find that most contests, with the limitations of a single chapter, would not give me accurate feedback on my ideas any longer.

I know of writers who enter contests because of the judge. This is a pretty valuable aspect of many contests, and worth the modest fees. If you have a story that you're aiming to submit to a specific publisher, and want the fast track to the editor's desk, the contest is one way to take a shot at that fast track. The editor has a chance to see your work outside of the slush pile, and in a more timely manner, usually, since most contests have in them a definite results date that's less than a year after you send off your entry, and most NY publishers, uh, don't.

I don't enter writing contests anymore for RWA chapters, primarily because most of them are for unpublished writers and I've been published. However, there are some contests open to writers previously published if they meet certain criteria (f'r'ex, if it's been three years since you've had a contract, or if you're not previously published in a certain subgenre). Most RWA chapter contests are opportunities for unpublished writers to make contacts and earn credits for themselves on the road to publication.

If you are an unpublished writer, contests are a valuable step to take in your road to publication. Especially for folks new to the publishing end of things, or new to the feedback side of writing, contests are a FABULOUS way to get your feet wet without burning any bridges. Contests usually are very specific as to what they will accept in a qualified entry (and the coordinators are usually kind enough to tell you if you failed to meet those criteria and why). Honestly, some contest judges are even more strict on standard submission formatting than editors and agents are. If a new writer submits an entry to a contest that doesn't meet the submission format, you're out postage, and maybe the contest entry fee (although again, some contest coordinators go above and beyond the call of duty and refund you your entry fee, when they really don't have to). If a new writer submits a manuscript to a publisher on scented pink paper with lime green printer ink, thinking something bright and bold will catch the editor's attention, the new writer risks catching attention all right...just not the right kind.

Many writers--even experienced ones, find the submission process so intimidating that they never get around to submitting. Contests can help move a scared writer over the hump of fear--submitting to a contest is a smaller, yet very similar step than submitting to a publisher or agent.

But contests have their downsides, too. A contest final--even a contest win--is no guarantee of publication. For as many Golden Heart finalists/winners who've been offered contracts, there are five times as many for whom that Golden Heart win netted them no luck in the publishing ring.

Contest judges can be arbitrary. In spite of the supreme efforts made by RWA, especially the long-suffering contest coordinators who run these things, there will always be an element of judging that is purely subjective. Contest judges have been known to literally hemmorhage points from an entry for transgressions as small as a sixteenth of an inch margin-difference from the guidelines, to halving an overall contest score simply because the heroine was a redhead and the judge hated redheads.

And contests can provide a writer with a safe haven. Such a safe haven that even when the writer begins to accumulate finals and wins, the lure of the contest win prevents that writer from pursuing true publication options, or even from moving on from a work that's been polished and edited into oblivion, and starting something new.

From the other side, contests are a great fundraiser for an RWA chapter, and some contests have been so consistent with their winners that they've come to carry a certain respect, or to represent a certain quality or characteristic in fiction that they've achieved a small notoriety of their own.

Writing contests can help your career, but use them as you do any tool in your toolbox, and don't let them stand in for something else you may need to pursue more.

--Xandra

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Contests - to Contest or Not?

eeee....I don't know if I should blog today or not! Why? Because I have only entered one contest...if I remember correctly. *sheepish grin* So I don't know if I'm the right person to say aye or nay!

Firstly, why haven't I entered more than one contest? Basically, because I never seem to have time. I'm always on deadline for my books and chasing my tail trying to get things done, so sitting and writing specifically for a contest pushes me over the line LOL.

But I do think contests are great - it's a way of getting noticed, and maybe rubbing noses with 'the stars', as they say! Imagine writing a short story in a contest and winning and having your short story included in an anthology with such writers as...oh, let me see...Lynsay Sands, Shiloh Walker, Kim Harrison, Lori Foster - anyone of those and more wonderful writers so well known. A contest such as this might kick start that writing career we've been chasing for so long.

I also think contests are a good way for beginners to learn, to take criticism in the spirit it's meant (constructive), and to give them experience in approaching writing and all it entails.

For established writers, it could get you noticed by agents, publishers and the big market.

So yeah, I do think contests are a good thing. But also, I do believe it's personal, an individual choice for every writer, whether published or not. So whatever you do - have fun!

cheers
Angela

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Judge not lest ye be judged

I apologize for the brimstonyness of the title of my post - it did seem appropriate when talking about contests.

Let me start first by saying when I first saw this week's topic, I thought we would be talking about running contests, not entering them, so I thought I had it made, considering I'm currently running a contest to promote my upcoming release, Wolfsbane 2: Leader of the Pack from Amber Quill Press [shameless plug here, and another apology].

Once I realized this topic concerned entering contests, I had to switch gears and think about my take on writing contests. I haven't entered very many, so I may not be the best authority, though one I did enter certainly brought me desired results since the 'prize' was a publishing contract and getting my foot in the door with a publisher who not only put my first print book in my hands, but also continues to provide me with a wonderful home for my stories.

I've acutally judged more contests than I've entered, and speaking from the standpoint of a judge, I'd have to say that while winning or even finaling in a contest can give your career a wonderful boost, the most important thing you can do when entering a contest is prepare yourself for what may ultimately seem like unnecssarily harsh criticism from judges.

First round judges for writing contests, often the ones who score entries and determine which ones will go on to the hands of final round editors or agents, are usually volunteers. Many have few credentials to judge other than belonging to the organization running the contest, and a good portion of the time their assessments are based on their opinions as readers, not any inside information on what will sell and what won't. While first round judges can often give you excellent advice, don't become despondent if their scores or comments seem completely out of line with what everyone else is saying about your manuscript.

Are judges sometimes wholeheartedly wrong about manuscripts? Yes. I've been there myself. Having recently discovered a contrest entry that recevied a very low score from me garnered a two-book deal for the author from a well-known publishing house, I realized my opinion as a judge was nothing more than my opinion and therefore hopefully disregarded by the author. I hope she didn't lose sleep over my comments, which while not harsh, certainly didn't reflect any insincere optimism about her story.

So ultimately my advice on contests is: enter for the experience and the opportunity to put your work before someone who's opinion can help your career, but be prepared to take it on the chin from first round judges, use their advice to your advantage, and don't sweat the small stuff or the low scores. More often than not they'll have no bearing on whether or not you ultimately sell your book.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Theme Week - Contests


Sexy Comments & Profile Graphics



Gack. Mondays are hard but Mondays are my day so let me just swallow another sip of coffee and I'll get us started :D

This week we're talking about contests. I'm not sure how the other ladies feel but I do like contests. I think they're a great advantage to the unpublished writer.

How so?

The most obvious is that if you final, your manuscript will land in front of an editor/agent judge. That cuts a lot of time from the old slush pile. And, even if that editor or agent doesn't want it for some reason, they'll often give feedback that could be advantageous for improving your story.

You finaled but didn't win. It's still a good thing though. You've now got some 'writing credentials' to use in your query letters. Don't say you came in third or fourth. Just say you finaled. How cool does that sound?

So...okay, you didn't final but you did get feedback. Now what? Look long and hard at any feedback you may have gotten. If it's constructive and if it rings true to you and your characters, you may decide to use it. If it's just 'hated the premise' or 'hated the characters' with no concrete reasons...well, we can't please every single person out there. Sometimes our stories or our characters just don't resonate with a particular reader. We have to accept that and move on. But if you get a lot of these comments, then it might be time to look really hard at the manuscript and see if there's a problem that you, as the author, are blind to. After all, we know our characters' motivations and goals but the reader (judge) doesn't. It could be that we need to do a little revision to make their motivations/goals a little more clear.

I've entered a bunch of contests, finaled in a lot of them too. How did I choose which contests to enter? I decided to select the contest by their final judges. If they had a judge in my category who I wanted my manuscript in front of, then I'd enter that particular contest. It's that simple. One thing you should do though is to aim at the more well-known or prestigious contests. A final in a well-known contest carries a better 'wow' factor than a final in a contest no one has ever heard of.

There are all kinds of contests out there for unpublished writers. Some are purely electronic, some only take electronic payment but want 3-6 hard copies of your entry. Clearly an entry that you'll have to snail mail is going to cost a bit more. You'll want to keep that in consideration -- how does the contest entry fit into your budget? Me? I like the electronic contests the best b ut your mileage may vary.

Good luck (and I'm anxious to see what the other Star-Crossed Ladies have to say!)

-- Lynda

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Star Light, Star Bright....Interstellar Interview with Virginia Kantra

Virginia Kantra is a USA Today bestselling author and winner of the Golden Leaf, Holt Medallion, Maggie Award of Excellence and 2 National Readers' Choice Awards. She's rubbed elbows with Angela Knight, Lora Leigh, MaryJanice Davidson and Sunny in NY Times Bestselling anthologies twice. So what prompted Virginia to go on to final for 6 RITAs and 4 Golden Hearts? A love for strong heroes, courageous heroines and a childhood spent devouring fairy tales.

After penning her popular MacNeill Brothers and Trouble in Eden Series for Silhouette, Virginia turned to single title romantic suspense and paranoral romance. Currently her new series, Children of the Sea, has hit stands and promises to continue her reputation for hard-hitting action with a blend of unforgettable romance.



Virginia was one of the first people I met when I joined a local RWA chapter. She's always been known for her brilliant sense of business and as a go-to for deep POV problems. Virginia is also a wise woman in the way of decoding men, and getting them "right-on" in the written word.

I couldn't put "Sea Crossing" down and am drooling over the copy of SEA WITCH on my desk. Why? Because she's not only my friend, but she's also a writer that will make you disappear into a world you thought couldn't exist. Her writing touches your heart and soul and makes you yearn for such a deeply moving HEA. How? She believes in the strength of family, the importance of storytelling and the power of love.

I never expected Virginia to be anything less than a success when she broke away to write single titles. Needless to say I'm delighted to see her star on the climb, eventhough to me she's already a keeper.


When did you have the “ah ha” moment and decide to write your Selkie Children of the Sea series? How many research trips have you made to Maine and can you let slip some actual places that inspired you?

I had already written two paranormal novellas for Berkley based on legends of the fair folk—the Children of the Earth. Anyway, I had this vision of a police chief on the rocky coast of Maine discovering a naked woman who had been attacked on his beach. I planned to pitch the idea to my editor as a romantic suspense. But my mind was still in the fairy tale world of the novellas, where anything is possible. So I thought: What if she wasn’t human?

It was less like a light bulb going off and more like my head exploding.

I did a lot of research from my home in North Carolina (mostly reading and phone interviews with law enforcement), but I really needed to capture the sensual underwater world of the selkie as well as the details of coastal life in Maine. So last summer I spent some time in Portland and Rockland and around the islands, particularly Vinalhaven. I kept grabbing my husband’s arm and saying, “Take a picture! There’s where Margred came ashore!” and “Get that! That’s Dylan’s house.” My fictional island of World’s End is a combination of several of the islands and my own imagination.


From Romantic Times Magazine we learned your Children of the Sea series came from a mixture of Selkie legend and sisterly stories, but what do you feel gives you the edge in writing this kind of novel?

You mean, besides my selkie grandmother? (Kidding! Sorry, Mom!)

I do feel that with this series I’m finding my authentic voice, which draws a lot on my English major background as well as on the language of faery. Look at the old fairy tales or the classics like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles. The best ones are about ordinary people—the neglected stepdaughter, the woodcutter’s son, the children fleeing London in the blitz—who are forced by extraordinary circumstances into becoming braver, stronger, smarter, more heroic.

That’s what the Children of the Sea series is about—except of course with hot sex! But it’s that juxtaposition of the sensual selkie and the down-to-earth islanders, that tension between land and sea, between the contemporary, pragmatic, police procedural world of my hero and the timeless, sensual, magical world of my heroine, that totally hooked me into the first story and into the series.




Will you be writing any more period pieces like “Sea Crossing” in SHIFTER or will we have to get our fix with the new books?

“Sea Crossing” was a joy to write—although I was so nervous about attempting a historical that I set the story in 1899. (Think Anne of Green Gables sails on the Titanic.) Fortunately, my editor loved it, so we’ll see.



As a RITA finalist, can you share a look behind the scenes as well as your personal highlights? And of course, what did you wear?

I am the Susan Lucci of the RITAs. I’ve finaled six times, haven’t won yet. Finaled in the Golden Heart four times, won once. That’s ten dresses. Every single one of them sparkly. That’s part of the joy.

At the risk of sounding gaggingly sincere, simply being nominated by your peers is truly an honor. I mean, to realize your work is being judged in the same category as Suzanne Brockmann’s or Nora Roberts’s . . . It’s a “Pinch me” moment.

(At right: Virginia at her first RITA outing with Silhouette editor Mary Theresa Hussey.)





If you had the chance, would you go back to category? Or do you prefer to stick with single titles after your success?

I love the stories I wrote for Silhouette. But after a dozen or so books, I became increasingly aware of the parts of the story I had to leave out—not because of any editorial restrictions but because of word count. Writing the longer books really lets me do more in terms of setting the lovers in their larger world.



If you were ever in a sticky situation, which one of your heroes and/or heroines would you call for help?

I have a real life hero who has lurched with me from managed crisis to managed crisis through many years of marriage. But if I needed anyone else, I’d call on Regina Barone from SEA FEVER. She’s not magic, but she’s a Mommy, which gives her a power and tenacity all her own.





Since SEA WITCH kicks off the Children of the Sea series this month, I’m sure you’ll be promoting at the RWA National conference, but do you have any other appearances readers/fellow writers should mark on their calendars?

I am really looking forward to Nationals! I’m giving a workshop on “voice” Saturday morning (after all the parties on Friday night, oh, no!). After that I have a deadline and I’m staying home to write. However, I will be at the Durham Public Library’s Romance Tea on October 5 and speaking at the New Jersey Romance Writers’ conference October 24-25.




If you want to learn more about Virginia, or take a look at the workshops she offers and info in her articles go to http://virginiakantra.com/ .

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Becoming a Writer

I didn't become a writer overnight. (I wish I did!)

It's the same little story - I'd been writing since I was knee high to a grasshopper (and whoever met a knee-high grasshopper anyway?). I used to scribble stories etc etc etc.

Some writers started simply by reading a book and deciding they could do it better - and they became successful writers!

The first book I wrote, the publisher sent it back with instructions to keep my fantasies to myself *ouch!* ( I didn't know about erotica then, but appprently I might have passed for writing it?!) I got so steamed I thought , "I'll show you" and wrote Heart of an Outlaw - and sent it back to the same publisher! (No, this wasn't Wings ePress It was an Aussie publisher who went broke - then I found the wonderful Wings ePress mob! but that's another story...).

This publisher took the time to read it - all 800 pages. She sent me a letter and the whole manuscript back and said it needed to be cut in half, but she liked it.
'
Lesson one in self editing. Editing that book broke my heart, but you know, to get somewhere, you have to climb mountains. Oh heck with it - it broke my damned heart! But I knew I had to. I learned how to edit and tighten. I typed that thing out three times on a type writer and sent it back. It was accepted (then the publisher went broke, as I said, and Wings took me on).

Learning to be ruthless with your own work is probably something many writers go through. You need to be ruthless, because when you turn in a finished manuscript, you want it to be nice and tight and done as correctly as you possibly can. That's a key element to getting it noticed.

But the story line has to make sense.

What's the best advice I can give? Read the genre you want to write in. Study the stories, the way they're written, even check out the other books in the genre published by a certain publisher, if that publisher is who you're aiming to pitch your book at.

But I digress... (I've always wanted to say that!). Writing is a learned art. There's so much more to it than simply sit down and write a good book. (unless you're one of the lucky buggers!!!). I say sit down and write that book, then review it or get a trusted friend to review it. Redo it if you have to. Send it off. Take rejections as part of that learning process, and soldier on. Many great authors got rejected many times. Welcome to the world of writing!

And don't be afraid to try something new, something different. If it doesn't work, re-do.

My best advice is to read and write, live your book, see it playing out in your head as you write. Remember, it's a learned art! Practice makes perfect.

Angela

Monday, July 14, 2008

Guest - Maureen Fisher

Good morning everyone! I hope you're having a fantastic summer. We here at Star-Crossed have been all the wonderful guests we've had recently. And we have another I'm sure you'll enjoy reading about today. Let's move right into it, shall we? Please join me in welcoming Maureen Fisher.

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Reincarnation: Fact or Fiction?

My first book had to be a paranormal romantic suspense. But which aspects of the paranormal would I select? It was a no-brainer. Like a homing pigeon zooming home to roost, I pinpointed reincarnation coupled with an ancient race’s religious belief in shape-shifting.

Here’s the thing. While embarking on my spiritual journey ten years ago, I read a fascinating book entitled Many Lives, Many Masters written by Dr. Brian Weiss, renowned psychiatrist. This book is a case study describing one of Dr. Weiss’ patients whose mysterious ailments disappeared when, using hypnosis, he regressed her into the past lives where traumas had occurred. Intrigued, I started researching the notion of reincarnation, reading voraciously, talking to energy healers, and even undergoing a couple of regressions under the competent care of a qualified hypnotherapist.

Armed with personal experience and a ton of research, I incorporated reincarnation along with the notion of both karmic and genetic memory in my first book, The Jaguar Legacy. Here’s the gist of my paranormal concept: Triggered by the energy of the archaeological dig, my heroine makes an unnerving discovery: In her past life, she was an Olmec High Priestess, trained to kill at an early age, thirsty for power, and possessing the paranormal ability to shape-shift into a jaguar.

As I wrote the flashback scenes, it occurred to me that the past life I wrote about in The Jaguar Legacy was one of my own. Certainly, it was the part of the book that flowed most easily, the only part that required little or no editing. Not only did the flashbacks evolve painlessly, but while writing those scenes, I discovered many facets of the physical location I had been unaware of at the beginning of the book.

Only my imagination? I don’t rule out the possibility, but in my heart, I think not.

I would love to hear about your thoughts on reincarnation (pro and con), even some of your own past life experiences (those of you who remember them).

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THE JAGUAR LEGACY

Strong enough for a man … but written for a woman, THE JAGUAR LEGACY is a paranormal romantic suspense written in the tradition of Indiana Jones and the TEMPLE OF DOOM (with steamy romance).

Start with one archaeological dig -- a lost city in Mexico -- where ancient danger stalks the jungle on velvet paws and occult energy triggers past life flashbacks; add one hunky archaeologist who hates the press; combine with one smart-mouthed reporter on a quest for an exposé; throw in one vengeful ex-wife and a mysterious shaman bent on resurrecting the past. Stir until well-mixed and stand back from the fireworks.

Despite baffling panic attacks that devastated her career, journalist Charley Underhill barges in on a Mexican archaeological dig, bent on sniffing out a juicy exposé that will restore her reputation and earn enough money for her mother’s life-saving treatment. Haunted by past betrayals, Dr. Alistair Kincaid isn’t about to let a smart-mouthed reporter leak word of his latest discovery, an ancient Olmec city, to the press. A battle of wills and wits ensues. Strands from a past life intertwine with the present, drawing the couple into a vortex of chilling evil. Torn between redeeming her soul and betraying the man she loves, Charley faces impossible choices.
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About Maureen Fisher


Born in Scotland, I emigrated to Canada, kicking and screaming, at the tender age of seven. Years later as a University of Toronto graduate, I convinced the federal government to hire a Fine Arts specialist as a computer programmer. After three years of bits, bytes, and dumps (probably not what you are thinking), I graduated again, this time to full-time homemaker and mom, raising two wonderful sons. Plunging back into the business world, my second husband and I started a management consulting company. This marriage survived because my husband and I pledged never to work on the same project again. Ever.

After a century in the consulting world, I grew weary of wearing snappy power suits, squeezing into panty hose, and fighting rush hour traffic. I made a life-changing decision. I wanted to write books. Not dry, boring, technical treatises, but fresh, funny romantic suspense novels.

Between trips, my husband and I live in Ottawa where I volunteer for an addiction family program, play bridge, and slave over my computer to improve my writing skills.

You can contact Maureen Fisher at:

Email: author@booksbymaureen.com

Website: www.booksbymaureen.com

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Beginner's Class: The Paper Clip

Ursula says, damn the Paperclip! But he may have a point.

Sorry, I missed my blog day this week – partly because I didn’t really have a good take on the topic. Learning the craft of writing, after all, is a tall order. There are so many aspects to it, I wasn’t sure where to begin.

Then yesterday I was at my ‘other’ job composing the minutes of a town meeting for my boss and someone had set the help file to active on my computer. So in the middle of a spell check this guy pops up:

He starts ranting about passive voice. I yelled at him and shut him down because the style we use in writing town minutes is all passive [yeah, I know, it kills Ursula] but that’s how we do it. “A vote was taken.” Etc.

A little while later PC [paperclip] came back complaining about sentence fragments. Yes, a list in a table is a sentence fragment. Sorry. I shut him down again.

Later, he came back to tell me I had an extra space between words...and that’s when it hit me. He had a point.

Not about the spaces – or the fragments or the passive voice...but, yes, about the spaces, the fragments and the passive voice. I thought to myself, as annoying as this little guy is, he might be of help to a new writer.

I’ve been a professional editor for several years now and I’ve found that new writers make a lot of the same mistakes. Most of my editing revolves around fixing grammar, spelling and punctuation problems before I can tackle actual story edits, and it occurred to me that a first line of defense for an author, before a CP, before professional editing, even before learning the craft of story telling, might be to run a grammar check on a manuscript and see what the computer comes up with.

This isn’t, of course, a substitute for writing know how and the deeper skills you can learn in workshops or from other writers, but it’s a way to clean up a manuscript and see areas where there are problems. The Paperclip, or simply the grammar check function on your word processor, does have some merit. While the computer doesn’t have writing talent and knows nothing of poetic license, a crash course in sentence mechanics can help a lot.

It may seem simplistic, but my advice to new writers is start with the Clip, you may find, when he’s not being an annoying little pain in the butt, he might have some good advice.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Professional Development--A Season For Everything

"How long have you been writing?"
"Did you go to college for it?"
"How did you learn to write?"

The three questions above are probably some of the most popular, frequent, and consistent that writers of all stripes get asked (I wish I could say, "get asked by their adoring public," but it's usually some half-pickled, barely-known co-worker at an office party who will then leer when it's brought up that what you write is romance). But the questions are valid ones, and when asked by the genuinely curious--or the aspiring themselves--they inevitably lead to discussions on where you accumulate your knowledge of the writing craft. Because for anyone who scratches the surface even a little, it becomes apparent that writing is both art (which can't really be directly "trainable") and craft (which can). And when you put writers in a room together--especially ones in as commercially-oriented a genre as romance), you inevitably get discussions--and then classes--on craft. We can't change our talents, but we can teach ourselves and each other to hone our strengths and combat our weaknesses.

But inevitably, the longer you spend in this world of ours, the more you see--and perhaps become--someone who has accumulated vast tankloads of "learning." And perhaps you have something to show for it--your writing has improved, your knowledge base is expanded. But maybe your career hasn't shown it (yet). Maybe you haven't moved forward as far as you expected, and maybe you still have that little insidious pipe-dream meme in your head that there is some Big Secret to making it as a writer--some magic formula, pill, method, or tool that will suddenly catapult you into super-stardom (such that it exists for writers). Or more dangerously--something that will magically make the writing of your stories faster, easier, and better without effort (and boy, aren't we all holding out our hope for that, eh?).

If you find yourself in this place (and I have myself, more than once), it might be time for you to stop the learning. Yeah, you heard right. No, not forever, but for now, because there comes a time when you have to put the book away and actually do the thing. All that knowledge that you've accumulated from your wonderful classes, and books, and workshops, and worksheets, and forum discussions, and blog posts (including this one--I exempt not myself, LOL), can't do anything for you until, well, you do.

In my own process of writing and learning, I go through cycles where I absorb anything and everything that piques my interest about craft, or inspiration, or process, or whatever...and then my brain reaches some sort of saturation point, and if I don't start writing--and therefore attempting to put into practice all that I've learned, I can't seem to learn anymore, either.

Many times, even the stuff I've recently learned doesn't make its way into my writing for months or even occasionally years. My brain just seems to have to process and digest that which I've learned, and mull it over and ferment it. Only then, after it's aged (much like good cheese, and writing and cheese for me seem to want to go hand-in-hand, LOL), will it find its way into what I do and how I write. It's a very organic process, and organic processes do go according to season.

--Xandra

Learning by Osmosis

I remember wishing to have the power of osmosis back when I was in high school, and then again at the National Conference in Atlanta. There was just so much info to take in!! But not only did you have to fight the throng nicely, but you had to decide between a packed schedule (when there are so many fabulous classes at the same time) and then try to calm your brain to take in the material.

As you can tell I’m a big proponent of attending workshops. Some people go to meet friends, promo books, etc. but there’s nothing like a conference to gorge yourself on writing knowledge. They have classes on everything! And I do believe that even if you’ve heard one class on a topic, that you need to attend several, especially if it’s a problem area you can pinpoint in your writing. There really are many ways to explain something, I mean just look at how we talk about making love. Everyone doesn’t teach the same either. And one of the best ideas RWA came up with was recording the sessions. Sure it’s a pain to repeat questions and listen to the moderators repeat that same old sentence at the beginning and end of class, but it means you can hit play, pause and rewind on all the great info! (Except for the sessions that aren’t taped. A bummer, I know!) You can listen to insight from bestselling authors and professionals in the luxury of your car, while you’re walking to get inspired, or even at the office if you have a FT job!

I’m also all for learning new things. I try to keep an open mind on anything that will help with my process and allow me to create realism in the details of my story. Okay, I wouldn’t put all the details I learned about polygraphs and testing from my local RWA meeting, but I can definitely tell you I know a lot more about the subject. I don’t write historicals, but who knows when I’ll need to use some of that hard to remove clothing in a novel? It’s never a waste of time, if you’re soaking in the information to use for later. Just like you’d stockpile for a hurricane, tornado, etc. you can do the same with knowledge. You never know when you’ll need to pull out that little tidbit to insert to make your work better.

One of the other ways I learn craft is by listening to other authors about non-fiction books they recommend. Chances are if it has helped them, it can help me. Our chapter president thought this was so important that we now have a Recommended Reads section in our newsletter, The Final Draft.

But the key to any learning process is ingraining it in your gray matter, and then putting it into action. Sure a new way to plot can seem like a sure fire way to end your lull, but you’ll never get to join the others at THE END if you don’t use the tool to get back on track! I know workshops can’t go on forever, and by the end of conference we’re all twitching from overload, but I do wish more workshops were interactive. I don’t mean totally interactive because shy people don’t always like to be put on the spot. However being forced to put a plan (the focus of class) into action would be a step closer to using the info, instead of losing it to conference buzz.
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In other news, I’ve been approved to do a workshop for one of my local chapters mixing Symbology and superheroes! It should prove interesting since it starts right after Halloween in 2009.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

You don't need to go to school for this

Well, I'm going to amend my title just a tiny bit. You don't need to go to school to learn how to write romantic fiction. But you do need to read.

I've found that reading is by far the greatest teaching tool for fiction writing. That's true whether you write SF or Fantasy or Romance or whatever. Just as a picture can illustrate a dress or car or cut of beef, a writing technique is best illustrated in its use. The wise writer will read countless books to compare these techniques and learn how, or how not to, use them.

Wait a minute. How NOT to use them? That's right. Books can be published with glaring examples of what not to do.

Okay, fine. What kinds of techniques are we learning from already published books?

Off the top of my head, I'd say: Characterization. Pacing. Descriptive narrative. POV handling. Effective dialogue. Plotting.

Who do I like for Characterization? Dean Koontz. His DARK RIVER OF THE HEART blew me away with the characterization. I mean...how many authors can make a psychopathic killer the least bit sympathetic? Koontz can and did.

While we're talking about Koontz...his INTENSITY is an absolute study in Pacing-- it's pure rapid fire, constantly building tension being pushed through to the end. Should you try to imitate this technique? That depends on your story and genre. Modified, it would work anywhere but in its purest form? I don't see it for Romance where the focus of the story must be on the romance, not the danger.

As for Descriptive Narrative, I like Karen Marie Moning, particularly in her new Fae series. She doesn't talk down to her readers but she also doesn't talk so far over their heads that they have no clue what she's saying either.

POV Handling? Well, I hear POV and immediately think Nora Roberts. Why? Because she shifts POV so often. Most of the time, it's fairly seamless but occasionally you'll get a real clunker of a shift and end up scratching your head wondering why the Fabulous Nora did that? And for an astounding take on POV, read Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. She NEVER enters the main POV character's head and yet we feel as close and sympathetic to him as we do to any main character we've ever read.

Some of the best dialogue I've read has come from Linda Wisdom. Yeah, I know, she's a friend but believe me, I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true. Her characters speak with their own voices, their own passions, and their own motives for driving the story forward.

Plotting. I've got a couple of favorites for this. Anne McCaffrey, JD Robb (aka the Fabulous Nora), Dean Koontz (again, LOL), and Moning (again I'm thinking of the Fae series). And I'm going to add Dunnett to this esteemed list too. Her Lymond Chronicles are dazzling in the scope of movement for the characters and their goals and passions.

These are my current paragons though I'm always looking for new authors who can usurp their places and teach me how to finesse a particular writing technique.

Who do you think shows, in their writing, shows how to accomplish these things?

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Friday, July 04, 2008

To Promo or Not to Promo...That is the Question

As soon as I got my contract from Trisk I hit the ground running. I had my website up in a month, designed by Moi. (And yes, I know it needs a facelift.) I learned about the fabulous place called CafePress and used my art background to design magnets, stickers, t-shirts, etc. to put my name on anyone and everyone, especially my friends. (I will say that “fans” loved the mousepads and magnets best.) Another big thing was an online banner (still available for your viewing pleasure at www.maseysplace.com ). For conferences I did small tins of Tropi, a drink only found on Beryl which my heroine fell in love with. (I still have boxes of empty tins left! Hmm…maybe they will get converted into wedding favors…someday.) I also did bookmarks which I designed myself and had printed. They included the “sword” I showcased on one of my latest posts (which is actually a beautiful dagger I picked up in Florida). And since one of my friends was doing a pitch workshop, she graciously allowed me to do a tie in—tip cards for the perfect pitch. Of course they had my bookcover on the front!

So why did I go to all that trouble when I was a brand spanking new author and TIES OF VALOR was my first book ever?

I wanted to spread my name (outside my local fan base) using any means I could, including links on friends’ sites and especially at RWA National’s website. And I chose to promo TIES OF VALOR a) because I’d been planning a blowout for a while and b) it was due to be the first in a four book series. Also, since it was due to be an e-book it would’ve had a long virtual shelf-life.

On the flipside, designing, etc. did take a lot of time out of my schedule, though it saved me some money. However, since my book never made it to the masses, I ended up having to eat the cost of what I’d spent.

I think any writer just has to make sure to create a budget and stick to it. For freebies you want something memorable and preferably useable. (I know one of my faves is still Jenna Black’s doorhanger and Debbie Macomber’s printed seed packets.) You can never go wrong with pens or ARCs! And if you have several small projects (anthologies, short stories, novellas) it might be more beneficial to “sell” your name or your website instead of one project. That way the reader will come back to check out what’s new.

So are you wondering if I’d do it again? In a heartbeat...with a couple small mods. To sell any book you have to get your name and cover out there multiple times. (Rule of thumb used to be 3-4, but now I’ve heard as much as 50!) No, I don’t want readers to get sick of it, but I would love them to say, “Yeah. I’ve seen that and downloaded it to my laptop. It’s a keeper.”

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With TIES OF VALOR, I also used a star theme and a military slant since my hero’s and heroine’s “job” leaned that way. It got reverberated in my contests as well as the star pack goodie bags that I gave away. And of course I tied in the good ol’ red, white and blue! Happy 4th of July! And I have to shout out a happy birthday to my bf who sticks with me through the crazy ups and downs of writing, promoing and trying to burn the candles at both ends!


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