Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The First Stroke is the Freshest

I had the privilege of getting to know Author Sylvia Rochester through one of my favorite groups, WritingGIAM. Imagine when I learned she not only excelled in writing but at painting. So many times I've wanted to sit down for a chat. Now thanks to the Five Scribes blog, I have the opportunity, and so do you. Please welcome multi-talented Sylvia Rochester to the Five Scribes. ~ Donnell

y mother said I was born with a paintbrush in my hand and wasted no time expressing myself on the walls and furniture. I survived the paddling with fingers in tact and was ordered to confine future paintings to paper and canvas. From the beginning, those unrecognizable shapes and swaths of color conjured up stories. Didn't matter that no one else saw what I did. I could talk for hours, oblivious to the what-the-hell-is-that expression on their faces. Today, the surprised looks are few, but the stories continue to leap from the paintings.

When Donnell asked me to join her on the Five Scribes Blog, she suggested a title, "When an Artist Knows Two Worlds." Thing is, Donnell, painting and writing are one world to me. While different mediums, they both tell a story. The artist speaks with a brush; the author, with words.

Ask yourself, "What is it about a painting that holds your attention?" Is it the composition, the palette, the subtle blending of colors? Or is it more than that? The visual image should evoke emotions, take that which is but an illusion and make it real. When you look at a landscape, can you feel the wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of a winter's day? Do the flowers tease your nose with their sweet bouquet? Are there hidden mysteries within the shadows? Can you taste the fear of the unknown?

It's the same with writing. The author must make real what exists only in the mind. When I describe a setting, I see it in a painting. The scene comes alive with color and texture, yet is captured only by words. The scene applies to characters. Moving between the two mediums is second nature to me. I find that one feeds off the other.

Dividing my time between the easel and the computer presents a problem. Lately, I've neglected my painting. The more novels I write, the harder it becomes to pick up the brush. I have characters screaming at me to tell their stories. When I finally ignore their pleas and turn my attention to the canvas, my paints take revenge for abandoning them. Colors turn to mud, values distort, and perspective is lost. My compositions are not balanced and refuse to hold together from a distance. I have become a stranger in my studio and making friends again is not easy.

How do I work through this? Perseverance! Turn off the computer. Give the canvas undivided attention. Some music and a little wine also helps. Put a horizontal line to represent a horizon, a couple of vertical lines for trees and dive into a simple landscape. Ah ha! Already a story begins to unfold: Who lived here and when? What happened to them? Whose paths did they cross? What hardships befell them. How did they die? Did they have children? What if...and here my mind runs wild, new stores begin to form.

Cursed by the sign of Virgo, I'm never totally satisfied. What writer or artist ever is? You won't believe how many times I look at a passage and revise it or pass a painting and not wish to change something. Then again, I bet you do. Painting has a lesson to teach here. The first stroke is the freshest, overworked the color dulls, the spontaneity is lost. Likewise, constant revision can destroy the voice, cloud the meaning, in painting and writing often less is more.

Promotion! Promotion! Promotion! Ever consider what your local nonprofit gallery can do for you, the writer? That's right. A guild or nonprofit gallery's mission is to make available art of all forms to the community, even literary art. I joined the River Region Art Association, Their mission, as stated on their website, "...shall be to follow artists from all disciplines to work together to improve public awareness of all art forms. We associate to help individual artists in whatever way they need, and to help promote the Arts in the community. ...Most of all, we associate to share the sheer joy of creating!" How great is that?

Why not give a nonprofit gallery a try? You might be surprised at the results. If you volunteer to run such a gallery for a day, you can sell any of your own work at no commission. Think of it as a once-a month book signing. I picked the first Tuesday of every month. The week before, I send an e-mail and invite all my friends and future clients to come by, have coffee, and visit. I look forward to meeting new people and handing out bookmarks or other promotional items. Between customers, I'm free to work on a painting or my next work-in-progress. Surrounded by walls of creativity, I can't help but get inspired.

A few months ago. at my suggestion, my gallery reached out to members of my RWA chapter and sponsored a writer's workshop and book signing. The response exceeded everyone's expectation. Another workshop is planned for later this year. In October, members of HeartLa and SOLA, along with other local authors, will hold a signing at the gallery's annual Awesome Art in the Gardens Show. This two-day festival, held at the Houmas House Plantation, is an elegant and spectacular event which draws hundreds of people from across the state. While not everyone can afford a piece of original art, many are happy to meet the authors and buy an autographed copy of their book. The advertisement for all such events and the contacts made are invaluable.

Thanks, Donnell, for letting me share my world, and I invite everyone to visit me at Please tour my on-line gallery and view my latest books. I write romantic suspense, time travel, and general fiction/paranormal. My books are available in trade paperback, ebooks and Kindle at,, and a variety of ebook publishers. Autographed copies can be purchased from my website.

Sylvia, thanks for being with us today and explaining how you move between the two mediums. I finished Shadow of the Soul Monday night and fell in love with Matthew, Shadow, Wolf, Jesse, Naomi, Rachel, Leah, Aaron...they became quite real to me. For anyone who leaves a comment today, you are entered in a drawing to receive Sylvia's new release.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Guest Blogger, Mary Connealy

(Guest Blogger, Mary Connealy is one the finest authors to exemplify the new generation of Inspirational Fiction writers. Her acute perceptions and infectious humor grab the reader from page one. Obviously Barbour Publishing, her publishing house, recognized her talent and has launched Mary's books across three of their lines: Short Historical, Long Historical, and Cozy Mystery. Mary is a finalist in the Book Of The Year contest hosted by American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Petticoat Ranch finaled in Debut Author; Golden Days finaled in Short Historical. The winners will be announced at the conference in September. Way to go, Mary!! -audra)

Christian fiction is the fastest growing area of all fiction genres. If you
haven't checked out Christian fiction lately, you need to give it another

Whatever your favorite kind of reading, there's a Christian version of it.

If you love suspense, give Brandilyn Collins and Ted Dekker a try.

If you loved the sassy chick lit style of Bridget Jones Diary, try Kristin
Billerbeck and Camy Tang.

If you love the romantic comedy of historical Julie Garwood, check out my
books, Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon.

We've got cop dramas, courtroom dramas, angst ridden melodrama, cozy
mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, and sweeping family sagas.

The main difference in Christian fiction is there are Christian characters at
the heart of them. No profanity. No sex between unmarried couples and once
they are married, we let them go into the bedroom alone and swing the door
shut. C'mon, that's just good manners!!!! :)

The books are the same fast-paced, funny, sharply written content you enjoy
in any of your favorites.

If you've tried Christian fiction before and found it too mild...and I make
no apologies for some of the mild, beautiful stories out there, but if that's
not what hooks you, then it's time to check in again. Christian Fiction is
growing fast for a reason. We're having a lot of fun.


Calico Canyon – Lassoed in Texas Book #2 is a suspenseful, inspirational, historical western, romantic comedy. In Petticoat Ranch I talked about a man who’d never been around women, dropped into an all-girl world, so I decided to do the flip side of that story in Calico Canyon.
I took prissy, Miss Calhoun, the school marm, and shoved her, completely against her will, into an all-male world.

The thing with trying to do this is to focus on their complete fish-out-of-water story, make it as extreme as possible and still have the hero be heroic, the heroine be delightful and loveable. Not that easy when she doesn’t understand anything about his wild, ill-mannered boys, less about him and nothing about marriage.

There’s a line in Calico Canyon I loved while Daniel is watching her cry, terrified of tears:

He and his boys stood absolutely immobilized. The wind moaned around the house and Daniel wondered if he’d have to dig them out in the morning. They lived on fairly high ground. They got a beauty of a snow storm once in a while, he’d heard. A blizzard might cut them off from civilization for a spell, if you could call Mosqueros civilized. Then he realized there was no way they were going to get to church in the morning. Daniel liked church. He did. But once he showed up with Miss Calhoun in town, his marriage was a done deal.

And that’s when he realized he was still trying to think of a way out of this. But Daniel Reeves was no fool. He could dream all he wanted. He was tied to this woman.

John whispered again, “Is she supposed to get all sad like that, Pa?”

“Yep, in my experience with wives, they’re supposed to fuss about something all the time. I’ve never had me one that didn’t cry up a storm at the drop of a hat.”

Grace lifted her head and scowled through her tears.

Daniel was surprised at his urge to laugh. She was really a mess. The oh-so-tidy Miss Calhoun kept getting herself slopped up more and more. He wondered when she’d gather her wits together enough to care about that.

“Did it ever occur to you that you might be doing things to your wives that make them cry?” She pushed her hair off her soggy face with shaky hands.

“Nope.” Daniel shrugged. “Never was nothing I did.”

This is just Daniel being absolutely clueless and having no idea what it takes to make a woman happy.

The main trouble between Daniel and Grace isn’t the fact that they loathe each other—although that’s huge. It’s the fact that Daniel completely blames himself for his first wife’s death in childbirth, plus how brutally hard it was for him to survive with newborn triplets. He is so deeply traumatized by it that he won’t risk letting another woman bear his child.

That’s all fine as long as he and Grace can’t stand each other, but, once he calms down and accepts his fate, Daniel has a perfectly natural desire and ever stronger desire for his new wife.

Calico Canyon is a he said/she said look at a forced marriage and getting inside Daniel’s head, as well as his sons, was the most challenging part of the book, and the most fun.

Do you think a woman can ever really know how a man’s mind works?

And is that even fair? Maybe one man is completely different than another. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I really nailed it, but seriously how can they be sure?

But guys do seem to kind of all think alike in some weird ways.

How about you, can you think of something your husband/brother/father/son or whoever did that made you just think, “He is such a guy!”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Missed Opportunities

Missed Opportunities in an Indy Movie?

Yeah, yeah, I can hear you all yelling, "What are you talking about... no way, it was a great movie." Hold on there, I enjoyed it, it took me on a ride, but all the time I was aboard, I felt something wasn’t quite right.

And please Mr. Lucas and Mr. Spielberg, don’t be mad...ha, like they even know I’m in the universe...but really, I worship these guys and would love to be a team member of theirs, basically their screenwriter, some day. Hope I’m not spoiling my chances with this blog.

Onward. I bet you’re thinking it was the aging Indy that was the first of many missed opportunities. While I did gasp the first time I saw my beloved Harrison Ford, wrinkles and all on the big screen, the fact that he was 19 years older didn’t really bother me. Hey I’M 19 years older, too and I’m sure I have a few wrinkles, somewhere ;) Harrison Ford still is Indy and never did I doubt that through the entire film.

Real Missed Opportunities. First Off, Cate Blanchett’s character, Soviet Agent Irina Spalko. Ms. Blanchett is an amazing actor with infinite range. She wasn’t given the opportunity in this film to be a really worthy adversary (and we all know a strong adversary makes for a stronger hero.) Sure she could wield a sword, but she needed more than strong moves and be clad in black leather to be someone I wasn’t sure Indy could beat. Believe me, Ms. Blanchett could’ve handled whatever they gave her. I wanted a lot more from her character.

Second, Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, Indy's first love in Raiders of the Lost Ark nearly stole the scenes with Indy in this film. (As an aside, none of Indy's love interests in the sequels had nearly the same chemistry.) Naturally I was excited to see what happened when they were paired again. No spoilers ahead, you gotta know that she’s still Indy’s love interest, but I wanted more screen time with her being in jeopardy and getting out of it, or at least fighting side by side with Indy.

Granted, that was Shia LeBeouf’s role this time around, but STILL, give me strong heroines. I loved Ms. Allen in this movie and wanted more, a lot more.

The chemistry between LeBeouf and Ford started rocky and became stronger as the movie progressed which I expected. There were some great scenes where I was being led one way, then a twist happened that left me delighted. Again if I tell you, they’d be spoilers, so we can talk about them in the comments if you want. I liked them together, and frankly I didn’t expect to, so I guess this isn’t a missed opportunity, but one that came together.

Mac, Indy’s compatriot turned...nope, I’m not telling. But his role was cliche. Sorry, but it was. Darn.

The ending of in the Kingdom was the biggest missed opportunity all around.

What happened? It went too fast and there wasn’t any thing I could pin down as a major culmination. All this angst and action and adventure for....Irina Spalko to fire spit out of her eyes? Ooops, that was a hint.

I wanted it all to mean something, I wanted to care that they’d found the crystal skulls and stopped the Soviets, and I didn’t. The Ark of the Covenant in Raiders was a deadly tool that could have been used against humanity, the Stones returned in The Temple of Doom saved a village and the children. And The Holy Grail’s power to give or take life was dramatic. This was...not dramatic. And worse, gulp, I didn’t like the CG effects.

I guess I wanted a ride that went flat out, characters who were fully played out and the plot satisfying and twisty. By all means, see the movie. There are wonderful parts, and I didn’t realize WHAT was missing until I left the theater, I just knew something was.

Go ahead, comment pro or con. I love them all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Publisher and Book Sales

Knowledge is Power

Jennifer O’Donohue has worked in Borders Group working retail in stores and well as a sales rep. She worked in sales for several publishers including Harvard University Press, Chronicle Books, Time Warner and Penguin Books. Though she left that world to pursue a sales position with Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, she still consults with a small children’s publisher and maintains her ties with the publishing industry. Here are a few bullet points touched on during her talk:

§ --The single best thing a prepublished author can do, besides learning the craft and writing a great book, is to educate yourself. Go to conferences, workshops, retreats, and learn to network. Develop contacts. Get in a critique group. Do research. Keep up with the industry.

§ --There were 267,000 books published last year and another 134,000 print-on-demand books—which was up 100,000 from 2002. That’s a LOT of competition! T’s comments—and that’s only books. Publishing is the entertainment industry and books sales compete with movie, video games, and other ways of spending the consumer’s entertainment dollars.

§ --Make goals. Think about why you are writing and what you hope to achieve with it.

§ --At Bookstores:

o --check out who are the current big names. What promotions are going on?

o --How are books categorized—the subtle nuisances of how they’re shelved. This will help the agent / editor position your book—help people identify where they can find your book. Face out or spine out? Face out gives you a sense of the publisher’s commitment to the book because the publisher pays extra to have a book face out.

o --Pay attention to the packaging.

o --Which publishers predominantly publish which authors?

§ Publishers:

o The Big 6 Publishers—like the Ivy League

§ Random House, Penguin, Harpercollins, Hachette Book Group, Simon and Schuster, and MacMillian--Holtz

o Privately Owned Publishers—

§ Workman, Chronicles Books & W.W. Norton

o Small Boutique Publishers—The largest number of tiny presses-

§ MacAdams Cage, and hundreds more

§ Big 6-

o Pros-

§ Powerful sales and distribution arm and a lot of direct contact with retailers

§ Have key managements to track sales and they “own real estate” meaning they own the first 10 feet--ish of the bookstores—literally! They pay between $300-500,000 to have their authors books stacked at the front of the stores. They also pay a huge amount for the book displays at the end of the rows.

§ The Big 6 have a LOT more resources for design and packaging for their books.

§ They can afford to absorb a lot more of the overhead to keep the price of the books down. They have a smaller price point, giving them a competitive advantage over smaller presses.

o Con—

§ Your book is only 1 of hundreds coming out that year, hence you’ll get less attention throughout the whole process.

§ You need to have an agent to get to the big 6.

§ Smaller Publishers-

o Pros—

§ Many accept unsolicited queries—so no need for agent.

§ Fewer books published each year so better chance of your book being the “star” lead book

§ Better chance of getting more attention all around from the publishing house.

§ Less distance between the different departments (Editorial, Sales, Art/Design & Marketing) so better chance at generating “buzz” and inhouse excitement over your book. Communication often better in small houses.

§ Better chance of a lot more editorial attention paid to your book.

§ They tend to be more creative with marketing strategies

§ More willing to take risks on creative packaging.

§ Tend to be more connected to independent book stores, which gives them a little edge in generating grassroots excitement.

§ Question I asked:

o Why approach an agent or publishing house of a big name author in the same genre as what you’re writing? If I’m writing legal thrillers and they have John Grisham, why would they want me? Or women’s fiction and they have Jodi Picoult, what would they want with me?

§ Her answer—one day John or Jodi may abruptly retire. You never know. Yes, they will still be interested in you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Charming the Muse

"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."

- Sylvia Plath

Lately, it seems like many writers are struggling with getting words on the page. Stress, family crises, looming deadlines, and general indecision seem to be the main culprits. I certainly haven't been immune - my husband just deployed to Afghanistan, I have two books I'm expected to finish very soon, school requirements suck up more attention, my kids are freaking out about their dad taking off again, my father just underwent bypass surgery, and I'm preparing to move our entire household twice in a year.

Yes, there's a wee bit of stress around here.

But stress is no excuse not to write. If we each took a break from our stories any time life tried to interfere, we'd never finish anything. I believe one of the best skills we can learn to help us become successful in our craft is perseverance through inspiration. There's a process to inspiration, and I like to call it charming my muse.

Flag Down the Muse
There are so many ways to get in touch with your own inspiration, to feel the passion for writing even when life is throwing a bucket of ice water on you. First thing, you must figure out what makes your muse sit up and take notice. It's different for everyone, but the part of our brain that accesses creativity is the same one that likes to play. Bright colors, varying textures, scents, interesting pictures, music or rhythm in general - these all access the playful, childlike area of our minds. Doing something that excites us in a playful way can inspire us to sit down and write.

What are some examples? Try a culinary experiment or go to dinner and order a dish you don't normally eat. Knit or crochet with fun fibers. Play an instrument. Try a new craft - beading, sculpting clay, rubber stamping, painting (even finger painting), floral arrangement, etc. Give yourself time and permission to play. Put on music that gets your foot tapping and whirl around the room. Put on a bellydancing DVD and shimmy. Just play!

Give Her a Reason to Help You
Once you feel ready to write, create a ritual to get started. The ritual can be anything that tells your brain that you're about to sit down and write, and it should be different from rituals that you already perform through the day.

Suppose your usual day looks like this: Brew coffee. Toast bread. Check e-mail while sipping coffee and eating toast. Shower.

Then the ritual for writing should not look like this: Pour soda. Grab crackers. Sit down at computer with snackage.

Instead, try putting on music that fits the mood of the story you're writing, light a candle, hang a collage of your story, reread the last scene you wrote. Perform a short but significant series of steps that speaks to your mind about the importance of your job. Make sure your subconscious is aware that you love these characters and feel compelled to tell this story, and you'll be able to get your ideas on paper without a struggle.

Make sure your desk, or wherever you write, is comfortable and decorated for the task at hand. I mentioned a collage above. That's one item I hang by my computer on a corkboard that also sports my scene ideas. The collage is something I create for each novel I write and contains random pictures and words clipped from magazines in one sitting and randomly glued to cardboard. It's really amazing when I sit down and write how a picture that spoke to me, but that seemed not to fit the story I wanted to tell, actually became significant as I got deep into the novel.

If you don't have time to create a piece of art for your book, dig around online or in a Michael's bin for inexpensive art that carries the essence or tone of your story and hang it next to where you work. You might also print out inspirational quotes and hang them up, or maybe jot down a creative thought on a sticky note and put it on your monitor. Don't feel constrained by rules. Your desk, your kitchen table, the corner of a cafe, wherever you like to write, is as important to the ritual as everything else you do. The decor you choose, the messages you surround yourself with, will influence your ability to write. Find a way to encourage and inspire yourself. Nobody else can do it better.

Put Her to Bed When She's Tired
Help your muse to relax when you're done abusing her. Craft another ritual that helps trigger your brain to slow down once more. Even if the ritual is nothing more than putting your pen and pad away, shutting down your computer, turning off music, or blowing out a candle, do it. Do anything and let that become your way of saying, "Thanks, Muse. Great work. I'll see you tomorrow."

Send Her Gifts
When your muse isn't actively working, she's still there, paying attention to everything you say and do. And it's so easy to hurt her feelings. Anytime you disrespect yourself, you disrespect your muse. "This scene sucks." In other words, "Thanks, Muse, for giving me a dungpile of words." Would you willingly go back to a job where the boss said such things to you? Even if you're not thrilled with a scene, you can find something positive to say, encouragement both for the work you put into the scene and for the inspiration your muse handed over. "Wow, there's a lot of potential in this scene. It'll be fun to rewrite. Let's knit a funky purse!" See? Much better.

In between writing sessions, comfort your muse and inspire her. Feed her with exercise - a brisk walk, more bellydancing, yoga, weights, whatever - and healthy, tasty, fresh food. Get enough rest, wear fun clothes, read and read and read some more. And most importantly, write every day. If you journal, if you blog, if you do Julia Cameron's morning pages, give yourself permission to write whatever comes to mind, and do it daily.

To get started, try anything and everything - variety helps. Your job as a writer is to stretch your creativity and let it fly. Inspiration, the muse, the creative mind, whatever you call it - this is our greatest asset, and it deserves every attention. Do what it takes to replenish its stores, and experiment until you find a combination that works for you. Don't be afraid to change things up if the muse ever feels stale.

Charm your muse. Show her you appreciate her gifts, and she'll shower you with her blessings.

Now it's your turn. What do you do to charm your muse? How do you keep her happy and yourself inspired?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Subtext: What really lies beneath the surface?

Blogger's Note: A few weeks ago, Renee Ryan and I got on the subject of subtext. The way she put it was so right on and so much better than I could recount second hand, I suggested she write an article. Guess what? She did. Please welcome the very generous and gifted Renee Ryan to the Five Scribes ~ Donnell

I first started thinking about subtext several years ago. It began when I was critiquing a friend's manuscript because she had received an extensive revision letter from an acquiring editor but no contract. My friend asked me to take a look at her final manuscript. Although an incredibly hardworking woman, this particular writer was one of the most negative people I had ever met. As I started reading her manuscript -- a supposedly light-hearted short contemporary romance -- something felt "off" about the story. I had no idea what. The writing was stellar. The plotting was airtight, the premise perfect for the targeted line. So, what was wrong? Why did I keep putting down the manuscript with a sense of nausea in my stomach? About halfway through the story it hit me at last. Her negativity was coming through on the pages. Not in the story itself, but in the subtext. As I read page after page, I kept getting a sense that the heroine would never find happiness no matter how the writer wrote the ending. That manuscript never sold. That author is still unpublished and, sadly, still one of the most negative women I know.

They say we should write what we know. I say we write who we are. A miserable person will have a miserable subtext if not checked. Conversely, a confident person will write with an unspoken confidence that shines through on the pages.

Not with me on this? Fast forward several years after the above incident. Another friend. Another manuscript. Another problem with subtext. Again, I was reading a manuscript that left me feeling -- ick. Again, I couldn't put my finger on the problem. All I knew was that this friend was in the middle of a nasty divorce. Her anger and misery were coming out on the pages, even though her characters were neither angry nor miserable. In fact, her characters were noble, with equally noble goals, motivation and conflict. They should have been sympathetic. They weren't.

Knowing the problem had to be somewhere on the page, I plucked my favorite highlighter from my desk and quickly highlighted her verbs and nouns. Aha! I discovered the problem. There was nothing wrong with her writing, nothing wrong with her plotting, and certainly nothing wrong with her characters. The problem was in her word choice. She was choosing hard, hateful, over-the- top nouns and verbs to evoke emotions that weren't anywhere near that dramatic. To show frustration, she was using venomous verbs that indicated hatred. To show impatience, she chose hard-sounding, angry verbs. To show confusion, she chose words that evoked bitterness.

Have I convinced you that subtext exists? Okay, then how do we create subtext instead of letting is seep into our manuscripts unnoticed? I've given the first clue. Word choice. Want to create anger, joy, depression attraction? Try creating those emotion consciously choosing verbs and nouns that evoke those moods, the more concrete the better. Want to take it one step further? Pick verbs and nouns that also sound like the emotions you've chosen. Use hard consonants for hard emotions, soft for softer ones.

If this conscious word choice seems daunting to you, start with the four elements: air, earth wter, fire. Is your heroine a grounded person? Use earth-related verbs, nouns and adjectives when you're in her POV or in the hero's POV when he's thinking about or describing her. Is she ethereal? Try focusing on water words.

What about how we use setting? For me, setting is yet another character in my stories. In my second Love Inspired Harlequin Romance, Hannah's Beau, I described the exterior of a notorious brothel like a woman refusing to accept her age. The madam of this brothel is exactly that, a woman refusing to accept her age. I never say this outright, but it is implied when I describe her home in a way that makes the reader subconsciously think of the owner who has been 29 years old for two decades.

Want to create a dark mood? Use, rain, clouds, or a moonless night. Happy mood? Sunshine, soft breeze, perfect room temperature, background music. How about trepidation? Use fierce winds, cold temperatures, a candle snuffed out by a burst of air.

Although I could talk about this topic forever, I'll give you one last example of subtext. Often what a character doesn't say is as equally important as what she does say. She might utter, "I love you," but her body language (lack of eye contact, shifted stance, crossed arms) say otherwise. Want to show it even further? Our heroine says, "I love you," but her immediate step back followed by an internal thought that reveals her lack of trust toward the hero instantly negates her declaration.

Okay, I've rambled enough. I'll leave you with an exercise that will help you recognize subtext in stories. Pick a favorite movie. Watch a scene with the sound on first. Write down all the emotions and/or moods you think you're seeing in that scene. Now, review that scene again, only this time with the sound off. What does the body language say? What mood are you getting now? What emotions are you seeing that have nothing to do with words? Do they match up with what you saw when the sound was on? Inconsistencies usually indicate a powerful subtext at work.

Thanks, Donnell, for having me here today. I'm a frequent visitor and always come away with new insight. I consider it an honor to share my thoughts on subtext.

Renee Ryan writes for Love Inspired Historicals. Her fabulous editor is Melissa Endlich of Steeple Hill. Look for her first release, The Marshall Takes a Bride, to come out February 9, 2009. For further information check out .

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gum On The Bottom Of My Shoe

I’ve recently rejoined the work force. No way, no how was I ever going to dust off my degree and return to my old life as an Interior Designer. Uh, uh. The last thing I need in my life as I nurture two rambunctious teenagers, a passel of mismatched dogs and a bookful of characters who refuse to cooperate, is a job that extends beyond the bounds of 8 to 5 with irritating meetings and revisions that stick in my mind like gum on the bottom of my shoe.

So, instead, I accepted a job as an administrative assistant in our local Extension Office serving the 4-H community at large. No stress, no outrageous responsibilities – just the ordinary workings of your average, every day secretary. You’d think having been an organizational leader of a 4-H club for 10 years would have prepared me for this adventure, right? Okay, so I manage fine with the common garden-variety enrollment forms and procedures, but nothing equipped me for the details, most minor, some very major, that continue to explode around me. . .

. . .much like writing a novel -- you knew I’d work this in somewhere, didn’t you?

For most of us, the love of writing sprouted from the love of reading. How many of us haven’t at one time or another uttered the infamous words, "I can write better than this!!"

And thus we have the birth of an author.

My mundane admin asst position with limitless rules and regulations mirrors the clandestine twists and turns we take as we craft our book. Let’s skip past the obvious elements of simple character, plot and ending and dig deeper into our craft -- isn’t that what we’re always being told?? I’m talking about unearthing some good stuff here, you know what I mean?

Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, yada yada, and live happily ever after. Yup, that’s the way I saw it, and years ago, that’s the way I wrote it. This is afterall, a romance.

And I’ll have you know, my mother loved my writing.

But the rest of the world didn’t. Boring, predictable, cliche. Now, that wasn’t the feedback I got from my crit partners. When I used to go out on Critique Night, my husband and kids would lay wager whether I’d come home with any hide left on my bones or not. No, these short, concise evaluations came from contest judges. And my response?? Pffft, what do they know?? Well, pretty soon, I began to dread paying the $10 - $15 entry fees -- don’t snicker! Yes, I’ve been writing since postage was a minor irritant on my tomb-worthy Priority Mail envelopes -- only to expect similar comments, especially when I’d wait up all night waiting for the coordinator to call to tell me I was a finalist. After a loooong while, I talked myself into looking at a change or two offered by some sympathetic judge whose sincerity twiddled through the pages.

Hmm, dark moment? Give them a situation that looks impossible then have them overcome?? Make’um laugh, make’um cry, make’um wait??? This was when reason began to war with instinct.

I’ll never survive this.
This is a book! People expect larger than life.
But I don’t like fighting.
You’re not the one fighting.
No, but my children are and I don’t like ugliness.
It’s gotta get good and ugly before you can clean it up and win the reader with the happy ending.
It hurts!
It’s memorable!
I want to cry.
That’s great!

And in those tears sits the truth. Writing is hard work. We go against everything rational and safe in our sense of survival to give our readers a ride they’ll never forget. We devour movies and sitcoms looking for clever twists to life; we walk through fields of flowers or beside highways of heavy traffic to try and see the world through someone else’s eyes; we write and re-write until our eyes cross and our finished product doesn’t resemble the original idea in the least.

Ah yes, those irritating traits we now possess that make quirky situations stick in our minds like gum on the bottom of our shoes.


I was less than a six-month tenured employee when the task of preparing all the necessary files for the office-wide Affirmative Action audit was thrust into my lap. I recognized the Black Moment of my otherwise happy job yawning before me. Fight or run? Sink or swim? Do or die?

It’s okay for those frantic thoughts to run through our minds and it’s perfectly alright for them to race through your hero/heroine’s mind, too. Being honest with ourselves puts us higher up on the food chain. God gave us the ability to reason through our problems, and God gave us the desire to encourage one another to be our best. God loves us enough to never give us more than we can swallow.

Go and download the score sheet of a contest you respect. Look at the elements the judges are to consider. Do you have them incorporated in your story? Be honest now, okay? Does your dialogue so natural? Are you using all five senses? Have you sprinkled in enough, or too many, commas?

How badly do you want to enter the Rita? Participate in a booksigning? Be recognized as XXX’s lead author?

See the truth, face your fears, and stifle your impatience. God has good things planned for us.
Oh, and BTW, here it is, a year later, and I’ve been gifted with a new office chair and two lateral files of my own. Next year, I’m hoping for an electric stapler and keys to the postage machine.

May God’s blessings fill you abundantly!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Importance of Great Dialogue

Dialogue Is Far More Than "Hello, How Are You?"

We crave reading dialogue, the witty exchanges, barbed comments, veiled threats, and wrenching, passionate, heated declarations. Why? Because when it’s done right, we get more than just polite conversations, we get the all important revelation of character.

Dialogue illuminates character faster than any narrative
because dialogue is a function of character.

Dialogue also moves the story forward while establishing your character and character relationships.

Dialogue reveals conflicts and causes a reaction.

And dialogue actively imparts information.

Is that all it does, you ask?

Yeah, I know, I’m asking you to think on many levels as you create your dialogue, but I promise it will be worth the sweat. Your readers will love you and you’ll become a sought after writer.

And before we start I want to ask one more thing of you. Don’t be disappointed if your first attempts sound cliché, stilted and strained. The more you write, the better you’ll get, and your characters will start talking to you. So don’t beat yourself up when you begin and it sounds like two robots talking. You’ll find your stride, and soon be off and running.

Okay, let’s dig in.

"If the scene is what the scene is about, you’re in deep shit."
- old Hollywood adage, Sam Goldwyn.

"...the writer’s constant awareness that everything exists
on at least two levels..."- Robert McKee

Is the literal meaning of what is being said. "Just the fact’s ma’am." Use this judiciously as it can become very boring quickly.

Is the real meaning of what’s being said, revealing the substance of the scene and characters even as they consciously or unconsciously attempt to conceal it.

In other words, what the character means as opposed
to what he says.
Subtext allows you to bring to light your character’s unconscious desire vocalized as word play, or her actual intentions hidden behind a catty or snide joke where she means every damning word. We get the information in an active, interesting way without using exposition.

Subtext can also be a way of avoiding a direct declaration or confrontation. Instead of a character saying what’s on her mind, she hems and haws. The usual reason behind this kind of avoidance is for the character to spare herself pain but I’m confident you’ll find other reasons. I caution you, don’t over do it or you’ll have your reader saying "come on, spit it out!"

Think about using action to reveal your character’s complex inner emotions.

Body language doesn’t lie, even if the lips do.

Your character can say "I love you," but not look his lover in the eye as he says it. Ouch. You feel for the lover, because she knows by his actions the words he speaks are false.

Dialogue demands a reaction. Physical or spoken or no reaction at all, which in itself is a reaction.

What could the reaction be in the above scenario? The sweet talking liar is slapped and his lover drives away angry and has an accident? Or maybe plots the liar’s demise?

Or perhaps the lover knows he’s lying, yet sleeps with him anyway, giving the liar the knowledge he’s in control.
See how you can drive the story forward, while actively imparting information without the use of narrative?

How cool is that? Very.

Usually only kids get to straight out say "I hate you." Adults, especially adults with something to conceal, use all sorts of manner of dialogue to throw their opposing character off the scent or throw down the gauntlet.

They bluster, or oh-so-smoothly change the subject or lie even if it’s a tiny white lie, or maybe simply say "I’ve had enough."

Conflict is the basis of all good drama
and dialogue is one of the best ways to create it.

Here is a list of some basic, yet important dialogue questions to ask yourself as you rewrite:

1) Do all my characters sound alike when they speak?

They shouldn’t, ever, unless they’re androids. A man speaks differently than a woman, uses different words, rarely uses adverbs and adjectives, (unless of course your character is British, just listen to any BBC show.)
And kids speak differently than adults. They can be chatter boxes, sullen, shy, excited and afraid and change from one emotion to the other in a split second depending on what’s happening around them, to them.
Teens speak differently than anyone else on the planet.
2) Am I revealing character traits and emotions?

Perhaps one of your characters is a very proper or uptight person, then wouldn’t his dialogue be properly structured to the point of full sentences and big words?
Then what happens when he’s upset? Run on sentences, gaps in his words?
Changing the rhythm is a great way to reveal/show emotion, without TELLING US.
Study the people around you. LISTEN WELL. BUT I caution you to use dialect sparingly. It can be overdone and can cause a reader skim.

3) Is my dialogue too-on-the-nose?

Am I saying verbatim what I mean? Am I hitting the reader over the head with information? Don’t, unless your character is a police officer or witness, or we need to know the straight and hard facts. Remember my definition of TEXT?
4) Am I moving the story forward?

It’s too darn easy to have your characters simply talking without the words moving the story in any sort of direction. That’s fine...FOR A FIRST DRAFT. Your character’s dialogue better move the story forward in the second draft and even be more honed in subsequent drafts.
5) Am I allowing my characters to react to what is being said?

It’s your easiest way to move the action forward. You don’t need a ton of narrative to explain what’s happening. A verbal slap in the face demands a reaction. And believe me, even standing still afterwards is a reaction as it could show us supreme willpower or abject fear.
6) Am I using tags at the end of a dialogue passage to denote the emotion?

If so, your characters aren’t saying what you want them to say. The dialogue itself should tell us.
The differentiation you’ve made in the character traits should tell us whose talking, even in a long stretch of dialogue. That’s not to say you can’t use a tag once in awhile. "He said, she said," are invisible to the reader and can reorient us if need be.
Or maybe you’ve just gotten into the habit of using tags and your dialogue is more than fine. In that case they’re redundant, so lose them.
Remember, words once uttered, can never be taken back.
They are a powerful tool in a character’s and writer’s arsenal.

I hope these tips will inspire you to enjoy writing your character's dialogue. Good luck and keep on writing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Crested Butte Writers Conference

The Crested Butte Writers’ Conference was wonderful! With only 20 in attendance, we got more networking opportunities with authors and industry professionals than at any other writing event I’ve ever attended. For those of you who missed out, let me hit a few of the highlights:

Firstly, this is the view outside the country club where it took place. Gorgeous. No need to say more.

Secondly, my great friend Ms. Kerri-Leigh Grady raised the bar yet again, in that not only did she win the romance category of The Sandy Writing Contest, but editor Selina McLemore of Grand Central requested the full manuscript! Woohoo! Way to go Kerri!!! Don’t know how my other romance writer friends can top that, but come on guys—not a one of you have backed down from a challenge before.

John Shors, had an inspiring journey to publication tale, not to mention his inventive and effective marketing tool where he calls in and chats with as many as eight book clubs a day. He’s talked with more than 1,200 book clubs and has been offered $5,000 for his book club list.

Karen Joy Fowler, while experiencing some travel difficulties, gladly shared tales of her writing life with us Saturday and Sunday. Karen answered any and all questions and despite her phenomenal career success, is a very down-to-earth, humble lady. She had the audience chuckling throughout both her talks. Did you know that Karen takes 3 years to write a book? And if she didn’t exaggerate her daily routine, which mostly consists of impressive elaborate means of procrastinating, she’s truly an inspiration and there’s hope for me!

Marcie Telander helped us to write group poems that our table was sure would be a disaster, yet they turned out rather good. I still maintain it was all in the delivery. Marcie could read the phonebook and make it sound enchanting. She’s a wonderful performer.

I got to chat and share meals with just about everybody, and though Jennifer Rees is a Scholastic children’s/YA editor, her talk was geared towards the life of an editor—which is pretty genre nonspecific. She maintains that the query letter is such an important tool for authors, that she offered to critique any query letter those in the room sent her—regardless of genre. I’m no dummy; it wasn’t 3 days before I took advantage of that opportunity. Picture: Jen is to the left and Barbara Crawford to right.

While I love learning lots about writing and promotion, the very best thing about this conference for me was the networking time. I got to know agent Rachel Downes. She’s a very enthusiastic young agent who has a wonderful sense of humor and took my continual teasing with grace and good humor.

Mario Acevedo gave us a fun workshop on plotting and was a great sport about accompanying me, Susan, Barbara, Rachel, Sandra, and Karen on a shopping spree on Elk Ave before dinner Saturday night.

And finally, Susan Wiggs was brilliant in her workshops, as usual, despite having a deadline looming only days away, and she wormed her way deeper into my heart in her appreciation of Crested Butte and our mountains.

She kept taking pictures on her cell phone and texting her husband, editor, and agent telling them what a wonderful time they were missing out on and insisting that they need to come year. And when Susan wasn’t doing that, she was brainstorming ways to help me get published. What’s not to love about that?

All in all it was a really fun event. Hope to share it with a few more of you next year—but not too many. I’ve never really been big on sharing. Despite what I always told my kids, I think it’s overrated. I like having the authors, editors and agents pretty much to myself.



Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Words of Wisdom

"Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are." – Rod Serling

"Writing is a solitary business. It takes over your life. In some sense, a writer has no life of his own. Even when he's there, he's not really there." – Paul Auster

From CS Weekly, a free info website on Screenwriting. Go take a look.

An English Author Breaks into the American Market -- Part 2

When last we left Donnell and Anna, they were in the throes of discussing setting. Today, they move on to her protagonists.

Anna, as you stated yesterday, you have to dig deep to bring out your characters. Jenny, in particular, demonstrates some amazing hidden attributes in Run Among Thorns, which you soon bring to light. Was she a product of your imagination? Do you know someone like her, or is she in any way like you?

A.L.L. I don't know anyone like Jenny, except Jenny. [Anna smiles here]. I know plenty of resourceful, hands-on talented women, though! I spent some time working on conservation projects, stone walling, fencing, timber work, footpath work...many of the volunteers were like Jenny. Practical, clever, quick-thinking. I can drive an off-road vehicle competently, and I'm pretty comfortable in the wild.

But I think Jenny's biggest talent is being able to see what needs to be done, and being willing to do it -- no matter what. That's the core of heroism, isn't it?

I certainly think so. Speaking of heroic, we should probably talk about Kier McAllister. You make an unlikely character the hero in your book, where in other novels, he might have made a compelling villain. My main questions here are: Did you base his agency on reality? Was his character formed from research? In other words, what brought Kier to life?

A.L.L. You've put your finger on what made me write this book, you know. -- He [Kier] might have been the villain. The question that made me want to write the story was simply what happens if you truly fall in love with your enemy? And for a good chunk of the book, that's what Kier is to Jenny. No, Kier and the Agency aren't based on anyone I know, but I knew that no one wakes up one morning and thinks, "I'm going to be a villain." It's the little steps, the thousands of daily choices that bring someone to that conclusion. And then, if he's lucky, someone comes along who makes them look back and think, "How did I get here?"

Looking back and identifying some of Kier's "little steps" made him seem more real to me, and so it made him more real in the book.

And Kier has a very strong mind of his own, you know! Once he was formed on the page, I just had to wind him up and let him go. He's still the only character I can get into the head of, and write in his point of view, any day, at any time, without having to read back and remember. He's just THERE!

What a gift, Anna. I will never forget Kier. But someone else who intrigued me was Jenny's brother, Alan. Will I see more from this very mysterious secondary character? How about Jenny and Kier?

A.L.L. Oh, yes! I had immense fun with Alan. He's charming, confident, laid-back and juuussst a leeetle bit shallow and selfish. [another wicked smile here]. I gave him a heroine who was convinced she had no strengths at all, let him put her into mortal danger, and then let guilt, love and a flight for their lives do their merry work.

And of course, when Marianne's in danger, and Alan has to go halfway across North Africa to rescue her, who else would he go to for help? Yes, both Jenny and Kier crop up in that story, too! It was so much fun revisiting them and their young family. Dangerous Lies is the result, and that's out in June, 2009.

I look foward to the entire family's new adventure. So now that Run Among Thorns is in America, are you seeing success in England as well?

A.L.L. Frankly, no! You see, the sad fact is there is no market for romantic suspense in the UK. In fact, most readers in the UK aren't even sure what it is. Speak to editors and agents, and they'll talk about the difficulty of marketing and shelving it, and ask you to write something else.

So I'm in the strange position -- writing romantic suspense for the US market with a very English voice.

I think I will try something else for the UK market very soon -- I'd like to be published over here, too -- but I'll always come back to action, adventure, and a setting that's part of the story.

Anna, I think you're in a unique position. You may, in fact, be the door that swings open an untapped market in the UK. Word of mouth is a pretty strong motivator. Finally, as I indicated above, your log line was the first thing that gleaned my interest. Do your stories result from what-if scenarios?

A.L.L. I think my stories result from several things coming together at once. The what-if scenario, a sense of characters, and a place for them to react. Often those things will float about, independent of each other for a while, before I put them together in the right match.

For instance, we know that for Run Among Thorns, the what-if was the unexpected killing, the characters were light and shade in equal strength and the setting started out with wild Scotland. For Dangerous Lies, I had the Sahara desert, Alan and his innocent tourist, and the what-if a spy used someone to carry his secret information?

I love it! Get my attorney back on the phone! 2009, you say? [sigh]. All right. Forgive my editorializing. Before you leave us, Anna, what are you working on now? And what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

A.L.L. Oooh. Well, I'm working on two things, actually. A contemporary romance based in London aimed at the UK market, and what I hope will be my third book for Medallion Press. Danger: Deep Water. In this one, I had the hero and the setting (mostly the sea), but it took me a while to come up with the heroine and the what-if, both closely bound with modern-day piracy. Not all pirates are Cap'n Jack sexy.

[As for aspiring authors,] I find it hard to give advice, because I've gotten so many things wrong! But for me it comes down to one thing: Don't defeat yourself. There are plenty of people and circumstances more than willing to get in your way -- don't be your own worst enemy. Keep writing, keep learning, and accept that your process may change.

D.B. Anna, I so appreciate you sharing yesterday and today with us. I promised not to give too much of the book away, and I hope I kept my word. What I will share with readers is thanks to Anna Louise Lucia, I've been on a voyage. I've traveled parts of America, Scotland and England, and never once suffered jet lag. Expect great things from this author. I certainly do. Check out her web page at

A.L.L. Thank you, Donnell, for the chance to chat with you and with your readers! I've had a blast.

An English Author Breaks into the American Market

In a crisis moment of her life, Jenny Waring did something exceptional. ... She killed three armed men.

INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: A few months ago, I read the above log line. I found it so compelling that I couldn't wait for Run Among Thorns to come out so I could read the story behind it. Recently, I had the opportunity. I won't give the story away; what fun would that be? What I will tell you is that Run Among Thorns, by Anna Louise Lucia, earned 4-1/2 stars from Romantic Times, and that this rising star has a breathtakingly, beautiful voice. I hope you'll join me in welcoming Anna for this two-part series to Five Scribes.

D.B. Anna, I am so pleased you could join us today. The one complaint I have is that your publisher kept me waiting!

A.L.L. Thank you so much, Donnell! I'm blushing here. Yes, Medallion Press has a full schedule, and it's been a long time coming, but for me it was certainly worth the wait!

Well, "I" almost didn't survive it, and I've contacted my attorney as a result. How many months would you say transpired between the time Medallion accepted and the book went into print?

A.L.L. Oh, blimey, I accepted an offer in Sept. 06, so that makes it ... *counts on fingers* ... 21 months, all told! But the time went very quickly.

All right. On your reassurance, I will cancel pending litigation, because I happen to agree the wait was worth it. As I read the pages, Anna, the first thing that struck me, in addition to the fantastic suspense, was the setting. It seemed as much a part of the character as your protagonists. Then I read of your background and understood why. Will you tell us about that?

A.L.L. I'm so glad you found it that way! That's a job well done, to me. I'm always trying to create settings that are more than just places where the story happens. You see, landscape fascinates me, particularly the historical and cultural aspects of it. Where we are, and how connected we are to that place has a huge effect on how we feel as people. Setting is more than just place; it can be a tool, a weapon, enemy, friend, shelter or prison.

I live in England, on the edge of the Lake District, and I've always been fascinated by the country around me. That's why, even though I was writing for the U.S. market, I had to bring the story home to my own ground -- and share that fascination with other people.

There are places in Run Among Thorns where both Jenny and Kier use the landscape (even the cityscape!) they know as a tool, places where they have to battle it, places where it's their ally. And the best bits, for their love story, are where they use it together.

I've worked in wildlife and landscape conservation, and in protected landscapes and I live within easy reach of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites, so it's natural I'd give my characters a place to work in that matters.

I'm doing a workshop about using settings at the UK Romantic Novelists' Association annual Conference in Chichester, England in July!

Lucky attendees! They are in for a learning experience. I did notice your use of the landscape as a tool for this book. Watch for a lot of authors to emulate this practice. Another thing that impressed me was your knowledge of the US and its bureaucratic workings. Have you been to the States before? Was this hands-on research, or how did you as a UK resident accomplish such amazing transcontinental world-building?

A.L.L. I feel like such a fraud! When I first wrote the book that would become Run Among Thorns, I hadn't been to the States at all (although I did for the first time in 2003, before I rewrote the book). I didn't do a lot of research on that part because I didn't want to get bogged down in the procedural stuff, which doesn't appeal to me as a reader. If you notice the points of view I use, I had one character drugged, and in shock, one character wholly focused on getting out of there and on with the job, and one character at the start of a crisis of conscience. Where they are, what's happening, is real to them only in terms of what they're experiencing. The reader is taken along for that ride.

As a writer, I wanted to get Jenny and Kier out of there, and across the Atlantic as soon as possible, so I could stretch my legs on my own ground.

Anna, if researching a place in person is a requirement of writing a stellar book then I suspect many, many authors out there are frauds. In Run Among Thorns your application worked very well. I found it seamless.

Onto your protagonists. Kier McAllister and Jenny Waring, in this reader's opinion, the term three-dimensional doesn't do them justice. Tell us how they came to be and what inspired them.

A.L.L. Ah. Now that's an interesting thing. You see, as a writer, I often find that aspects of characters are drawn from myself. We know that happens, right? It's not that we're writing something autobiographical, it's just that we draw from what we know. So I knew, writing Jenny, that her anxiety about heart versus brain came from me. What came as a surprise, though, and not a very comfortable one, was the realization that Kier's belief -- that to be less than the best was to be nothing -- also came from me. Oh, dear!

I think all writers try and write about people, not puppets. But, as a very wise romance writer called Kate Walker always says, you've got to know WHY your character behaves a certain way. Digging to get at that "why" is what gives them their depth.

D.B. And digging is something Anna Louise Lucia does best. On this note, we must leave you. But join us tomorrow, because I'm going to introduce you more in depth to Run Among Thorns' fantastic characters. Plus, Anna has a special treat. Today and tomorrow, she'll be conducting a drawing in which one lucky commenter each day will receive Run Among Thorns. I'll wager the author might even sign it for you. See you tomorrow! ~ Donnell