Friday, January 30, 2009

Good News for Misty Evans, one of the Scribes' Author Interviews

Congratulations to Samhain Author Misty Evans!! Her book Operation Sheba received the prestigious CataNetwork Reviewers' Choice Award for 2008. Misty's book was among the best books reviewed on Ecataromance and Sensual Ecataromance this year.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

James Scott Bell -- You CAN Learn Fiction Writing

Welcome to the How-to Author Series!

January’s Featured How-to Author: JAMES SCOTT BELL

This monthly series is your opportunity to dig deep and ask how-to authors your hot questions. We’ll take questions from any level of combustion: sparks, slow burns, and bon fires.

Post a comment today – and you may win:

  • A signed, hardback copy of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
  • A Lecture Packet from me, Margie Lawson

A big Thank You to JAMES SCOTT BELL for joining us today. He’ll drop by the blog several times to respond to posts.

As promised in the promo, Factoids and Funtoids about James Scott Bell!

  • Award-winning author of nineteen novels
  • A former trial lawyer
  • A former fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest Magazine
  • An adjunct professor of writing at Pepperdine University

  • A former Off-Broadway actor
  • A former actor in commercials
  • A guitar-playing-singer-song-writer

His website is

Upcoming Releases:
DECEIVED -- a suspense thriller, will be released in March, 2009
TRY FEAR – another Buchanan thriller, will be released in July, 2009
THE ART OF WAR FOR FICTION WRITERS – a new how-to book, will be released November, 2009

Publishers Weekly Review of Deceived:

“Former trial lawyer and Christy Award–winner Bell (Presumed Guilty) hits his stride in this twist-filled suspense thriller...Dialogue carries the book with rich characters...a fast-paced thriller with its Los Angeles music scene, creepy canyons and a slew of cons. Bell, who also writes nonfiction books on writing, is a master of the cliffhanger, creating scene after scene of mounting suspense and revelation in this heart-whamming read.”

James Scott Bell Interview
By Margie Lawson

ML: Your first how-to book, PLOT & STRUCTURE, was published in 2004, nine years after your first novel was released. It's a text in many creative writing programs. What prompted you to write PLOT & STRUCTURE?

JSB: I wanted to do a couple of things. First, kill what I call "The Big Lie," which is what I'd heard for years: Fiction writing can't be taught (and variations on that theme, such as, Writers are born, not made). I wasted about ten years believing that Lie. Then I decided I had to write, even if I failed, and determined to try and learn the craft. I found you CAN learn how to do it. So that's one reason I wrote the book.

Also, to save new writers time on the learning curve. What took me many years to figure out I put in the book.

Plus, I like helping writers. Nothing pleases me more than to see one of my former students getting a contract.

ML: You're the author of nineteen novels. You've won awards. You've also written two acclaimed how-to books for writers. What writing rule might you stretch, or snap?

JSB: Writing "rules" are good and necessary when you're learning to write. Like scales on the piano. And usually they are rules for a reason. They work. They make your writing stronger. So I don't usually go out with the intent to break anything.

If I get to a place where I think something will work, I'll use it. But in retrospect I find that, for the most part, things work because of the craft, not in spite of it.

ML: When reading fiction, what are the Top Five irritations that would drive you to frisbee the book out the window? Not that you would . . .

1. Point of View inconsistency ("head hopping")

2. Constant adverbs in speaker attributions, he said disgustedly.
3 Exposition dumps, especially in the opening.
4. Author intrusion. When I hear the author's voice, not a POV voice.
5. Overwriting, when cutting flab would make the writing stronger.

ML: In REVISION & SELF-EDITING you recommend 'getting HIP.' Given that it's not the 70's, what did you mean by HIP?? Hip-deep In Prose? Hike in Paris?

JSB: Let me slip on my Isaac Hayes outfit and tell you about HIP. It stands for Hook, Intensity and Prompt. It's my little acronym for a great scene. If you can build every scene with HIP, you will have an "un-put-downable" novel.

Basically, you hook the reader from the first line or paragraph. There are ways to do that, like starting with the action or dialogue, and then dropping back for description.

Then, you ratchet up the intensity level. You can always add another 10 – 20% on intensity.

Finally, you leave them with a "prompt" that makes them have to read the next scene. In the book, I give some examples.

ML: Your chapter on dialogue in REVISION & SELF-EDITING is superb. You covered 8 Essentials and Twelve Tools for Great Dialogue. One of my favorites is 'curving' dialogue. Your examples from The Godfather and Seinfeld are page-popping-powerful . Could you explain how to curve dialogue - and provide an example from the small screen, big screen, or your books?

JSB: That chapter is the result of years of not finding much out there on how to write dialogue. As I was studying great dialogue from books and movies, I started coming up with these principles and have been teaching them for at least ten years. They help tremendously because, as I say in the book, dialogue is the fastest way to improve any manuscript.

Here's a tip: If you can put great dialogue on the first or second page of your proposal, the reader will instantly think you know what you're doing.

"Curving the language" is a concept I got when I studied comedy writing with Danny Simon, Neil's older brother (and the one Neil and Woody Allen credit for teaching them to write narrative comedy). It is a way to turn mediocre lines into memorable lines.

What you do is write out the line as it comes to you, probably in a plain vanilla or even clichéd way. Then you play with it. You "curve" it. You don’t throw it out, you just tweak it until it is original.

They did this all the time in Seinfeld. Here's an example I use in the book. In one episode Elaine is suddenly being hit on by Jewish guys. She’s told this is “shiksa appeal.” So she goes to a rabbi to ask about it. The rabbi tells her shiksa appeal is a myth.

Her reply might have been written out the first time this way:

“Something’s going on here, because every healthy Jewish guy I see is making a play for me.”

Not funny. So you curve it. You think, Hmm, what would be a substitute for “healthy Jewish guy”?

“Something’s going on here, because every able-bodied Israelite I see is making a play for me.”

Okay. Now maybe curve it some more:

“Something’s going on here, because every able-bodied Israelite in the county is making a play for me.”

And so on. When it was all over, the line in the show was hilarious:

“Something’s going on here, because every able-bodied Israelite in the county is goin’ pretty strong to the hoop.”

Sometimes, you can just add something fresh to an old line. Harlan Ellison once wrote, "She looked like a million bucks tax free."

That little "tax free" at the end kept it from being a cliché.

ML: The next four questions focus on tenets from PLOT & STRUCTURE. You warn against rushing at the end. How do you avoid the rush?

JSB: Discipline. If you keep to a quota system, you should know how long it will to take you to get to the end. When you do get there, be sure to spend a lot of "brooding" time over it.

It also helps if, as you get toward the end, you are mapping out your climactic scene possibilities, in your head if not on paper or screen.

ML: You introduced an interesting concept, The Force Field of Character Change. Sounds powerful. Could you share a short version of the force field?

JSB: The idea actually came from my days training trial lawyers in jury communication. As human beings, we have certain beliefs and self-concepts that make up who we are. We protect these (put up "force fields") because, if they are disturbed, we get into a state of disequilibrium, which we try to avoid.

The core of your being, your deepest beliefs about yourself and the world, are the hardest things to change. That's because people protect this area at all costs, and thus create "force fields" around it. Your self-image is at the core, then your beliefs, then outward with values, attitudes and opinions.

The easiest things to change are opinions, at the outer edge. But as you go deeper, change is harder.

As a writer, then, you can view the events happening to the character as disturbing the rings of the force field. If you do it skillfully, you can show true character growth by the end of the book.

ML: In your chapter on BEGINNING STRONG, you recommend including six tasks in the beginning portion of a novel. Then you dive into the specifics and tell writers how to successfully carry out those tasks for twenty-six pages. Could you list those six tasks? Here's a follow-up question: You recommend accomplishing those six tasks in the beginning portion of your book. Define: beginning portion.

JSB: The six tasks are:

1. Get the reader hooked.
2. Establish a bond with the reader via the Lead character.
3. Present the story world--tell us something about the setting, the time and the immediate context.
4. Establish the tone the reader will rely upon. Is this to be a sweeping epic or a zany farce? Action packed or dwelling more on character change? Fast moving or leisurely paced?
5. Compel the reader to move on to the middle. Just why should the reader care to continue?
6. Introduce the opposition. Who or what wants to stop the Lead?

The "beginning portion" of the novel is another way of saying Act I. I am a strong believer in the three act structure. You can play with it in many ways, but you ignore it at your peril.

ML: You explore Read on Prompts. Can you share several?

JSB: One of the first things I did when I started to learn how to write was go to my favorite used bookstore and buying up an armload of paperbacks: Grisham, King, Koontz and some others.

Then I read them for study, and one of the things I noticed was how they could end scenes with prompts that make you want to read on. In REVISION, I give a few examples:

  • A mysterious line of dialogue.
  • An image that is full of foreboding (like the fog rolling in, or a distant sound).
  • A secret suddenly revealed.
  • A major decision or vow.
  • Announcement of a shattering event.
  • Reversal or surprise—new information that turns the story around.
  • A question left hanging in the air.
And so on. Here's a tip: go to the library or a bookstore (or your own shelf) and gather five books by King and five by Koontz, from the 1980s (their "middle periods"). Then just read the last few paragraphs of each chapter. You'll get a real strong sense of prompts.

ML: In REVISION & SELF-EDITING you discuss the magic of writing. What advice would you give aspiring writers about creating that magic?

JSB: I think the magic comes from having your heart in the story. If you're going about this mechanically, it won't be enough to carry you. You've got to be "juiced" about the story in some way. Usually that happens when you've worked out the LOCK elements of your story up front (Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knock Out, as explained in PLOT & STRUCTURE)

Then, know your craft. The more you know it, the better you'll feel. Some people say you can't learn from books, or you shouldn't waste your money. I feel exactly the opposite. When I would study a writing book and find a technique that worked for me, I got excited. I have a shelf of my favorite books, and will occasionally grab one and read what I highlighted, and get excited again.

In REVISION & SELF-EDITING I talk about my encounter with Dai Vernon, the greatest card magician of all time, and his "trick that cannot be explained." He could improvise moves on the spot, because he knew his craft so well.

I apply that to writing. You face a problem, a creative challenge, and you use your tools to find a way through it. That's when writing becomes magical.

ML: Last question! You have a new how-to book for writers coming out in November. I'm intrigued with the title. Can you give us the WHY and WHAT on THE ART OF WAR FOR FICTION WRITERS?

JSB: It's a riff on Sun Tzu's ancient classic. A handbook, basically, of axioms, with some commentary. The idea is to fill in some cracks in the traditional teaching on fiction writing. To go a little deeper, to offer some of the "extras" that can elevate a manuscript above the slush. Along with advice on the business of writing and how one should approach it.

Hopefully, people will still be reading it 2000 years after it comes out, just like generals still read Sun Tzu.

We hope you enjoyed Margie's interview with James Scott Bell. Join us next month on February 25, 2009 when her featured How-to Author will be Hallie Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to knock 'em dead with style.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Inspiration That Comes From A Sale

A friend of mine sold her first book on Friday! Glynna Kaye received the call from Melissa Endlich of Steeple Hill Love Inspired on Friday morning, 7:35 (Arizona time)! Excited for my friend, you bet.
Her sale did wonders for my attitude.

After cyber celebrations all day, I came home from work Friday night, ready to finish the book I'm working on and submit it. Of course this has been my plan all along, but experiencing the excitement of Glynna's sale, really got my adrenline pumping. Procrastination didn't seem to rear its ugly head as much as it usually does. I became focused. I planned my scenes and worked my way through them.
This weekend, I worked like a writer.
And it paid off. I'm 91% of my goal on my current mss, Rough and Ready. This book has been requested by multiple editors through contests, but it wasn't until a couple of months ago, that I seemed to clear the fog out of my head and actually finished plotting the thing. I'm pleased with my rough draft and I don't think I'll spend much time on rewrites, unless my crit partners prove me wrong : )

2009 is starting off as a good year. My rough draft will be complete by January 31. My rewrites will be done by February 15. I'm judging for The Sandy and The Genesis, and I plan on plotting out the third book of my Circle D series, by the end of April.

When you blog about various topics you take for granted because they are second nature to you like organization, plot storming, motivation, etc, realize there may be someone out there that hasn't mastered the technique and your blog may be the one thing that energizies their creative juices.

My kick in the butt for 2009 came from reading blogs like this one (Five Scribes), Camy's Loft, Seekerville, The Craftie Ladies of Romance and many others. I experienced many ah-ha moments that left me inspired to dig into my writing with renewed vigor.

Look at the line up Five Scribes is offering this year. I know Margie Lawson's series is something I don't want to miss. The Sandy updates will be fantastic considering the line-up of speakers. I find Seton Hill fascinating and am thankful KL is posting on her progress. The interviews LA is working on with film professionals make me think outside the box of novel writing.

Once again I say, YAY, Glynna Kaye!!! Her book will be an October 2009 release and the poor thing is happily scrambling to complete revisions from the editor (in hand already!) and cover work.

May all of us be so busy over the months to come!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The American Title Competition-- Not for the faint of heart

Every year Dorchester recreates its brainchild The American Title now in its fifth competition. Needless to say, when Contestant Edie Ramer rose to the top of this contest, I wasn’t surprised. Edie is a fabulous writer who constantly encourages and supports. Her blogs and, co-founded by Edie and seven other writers, constantly motivate. Please welcome someone I call an inspiration herself: American Title V finalist Edie Ramer.

D.B. Good morning, Edie, thanks for coming down from your roller coaster for a moment to talk with us. You’ve entered contests before; correct? So my first question is does a chapter contest even come close to preparing you for American Title? How is it alike? How is it different? And why aren’t you wearing an oxygen mask?

E.R. Donnell, thank you for all the nice things you’ve said. Right back at you!

I’m not a contest queen, but every once in a while I’ll enter one. I judge contests, too, which is another learning process. I’m constantly amazed at the difference in scores. What I loved, someone else might hate. The same thing with comments I get from judges. I’ve gotten a perfect score from one judge and a 50 from another.

So much of this is subjective. I pay attention to judges’ comments, but I don’t blindly agree. If we try to please everyone, we strip our manuscripts of personality.

And the only reason I’m not wearing an oxygen mask is because I love my cat and it would scare her.

D.B. Understood. It's against Scribe policy to scare our guests' cats ;). I’m particularly impressed that Dorchester pits the contestants of different genres against one another. That has to be tough because not only is it subjective, you might get a reader who favors a particular genre. Do you have any estimates how many enter the American Title and how the final round judges break it down? Tell us about your notification processes and what went through your mind each time you advanced.

E.R. I’ve never worried that someone might vote for a book because they prefer the genre. Probably because I read across the genres. But you’re right. Now I have something new to stress about. Thanks for pointing that out to me, Donnell.

One of the other finalists asked the Dorchester editor how many entries they had. The editor wouldn’t say, but Leah Hultenschmidt mentioned in her Romantic Reads blog that the editorial staff had read hundreds of entries.

I received the request for a full last July from Dorchester. I was excited, but knew they’d asked for fulls from other writers. I hoped DEAD PEOPLE would be selected, but was prepared for a rejection. I think my CPs were more positive I’d make it than I was.

When I got the email that DEAD PEOPLE had been chosen, I immediately emailed my CPs. It was such a thrill. It’s still a thrill!

D.B. As well it should be, Edie. The final round judges don’t mince words. Tell us how you reacted when they made a comment you loved versus one you didn’t agree with. Did they ever say something that made you want to slam your palm against your forehead and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

E.R. Even with my thick Hellgirl skin, the criticism of DEAD PEOPLE’s first line by two of the judges caught me by surprise. I LOVE the first line, and was expecting the judges to love it too. (Here’s the link to the first round:

I credit my quick bounce to being a contest veteran. My friends’ support helped, too. And people I didn’t know emailed me to tell me they loved my line and thought it was fresh and different. I can’t describe how good that felt, but it was better than chocolate.

In the second round, my hero and heroine summaries fared better. (Link to the 2nd round: In the third, the judges’ comments weren’t awful. Nothing that made me slap my forehead or other body part. (third round url:

It’s human nature to focus on the negative comments, but the one I’m printing out and putting on my bulletin board is from judge Leslie Kazanjian: “When a sexy, brooding, single dad grudgingly starts falling for the wisecracking spitfire hired to exterminate his annoying ectoplasm, the result sounds like a witty, suspenseful combination of Cold Case and Ghostbusters!”

D.B. Bulletin board? I’d make room for a quote like that on my pillow. Promo is the name of the game in publishing. And I’m particularly pleased to note I haven’t noticed a lot of backbiting among these talented finalists. I loved the blog you did at Sylvia Day’s blog ( and your interview of your ghost whisperer protagonist ( Other than this marvelous tool, what have you done to promote yourself? What worked, what didn’t and what made you the most uncomfortable in putting yourself out there?

E.R. Thanks, Donnell! We don’t know what worked and what didn’t. I wish I did! I was lucky to be first up on Sylvia Day’s blog. A friend told me that Sylvia sent out a Twitter message to everyone following her, inviting them to my interview. I had a lot of comments. Sylvia Day is a goddess!

All promotion is a stretch for me. I’d rather sit home in my comfy clothes and write my next book. Most of my promotion is on the Internet, but I hand out flyers when I go to the library, pet food store, even the liquor store. (Honest! I walked into the liquor store to get a bottle of wine and the clerk was reading a book. How could I resist?) A few relatives and friends hand out flyers, too.

And I have great friends who let me guest blog. 

The other finalists and I are sharing this experience, and it brings us together. We’re in a Yahoo group, and Helen Scott Taylor, last year’s winner, is our mentor. And we have a group blog, Love Conquers. ( We support each other. I feel bad every time someone is eliminated.

D.B. Kudos to you and your fellow contestants. As you know I’m a huge proponent of professionalism. You said to me you now have skin as tough as Ron Perlman’s Hellboy. I loved that analogy. It’s obvious what you want to take away from this competition, a publishing contract. But say you have two types of aspiring authors seeking your advice – a brand new writer and an old pro. Give them the benefit of what you’ve learned from this experience.

E.R. You probably noticed I changed Hellboy to Hellgirl. lol

The only advice I’d give an old pro is to be prepared for the contest to swallow more time than you expected. Despite the time away from my manuscript, it’s all good. This prepares us for selling, only more intensely. This lasts for five months! (We hope!) Most published writers I know are busy for the first month their book is released, and then it’s back to their WIP or revisions or whatever else they’re doing.

To any writer, I’d say, Go for it! It’s an incredible experience. Out of hundreds of manuscripts, the Dorchester editorial staff chose eight writers to be finalists. They saw something special in our books. That makes me feel pretty darn good.

D.B. Yes, I noticed the change to Hellgirl ;) Edie, I’ll close by handing you a huge bottle of Jergens to soften that thick hide you’ve developed. I also have a surprise for you so you know you’re not alone in your journey. Our friend and fellow GIAMer Mai Christy Thao was also an American Title finalist. Here’s what Mai had to say about her experience…

I entered ATIV mainly because I wanted to see how I ranked among the other paranormal writers out there. A final meant I was the on the right track; not finaling meant I needed to take another look at my writing and see what I'm doing wrong. I knew that finaling in AT and the exposure the contest offered (hopefully) meant more doors being opened for me. Also, I wanted to win and snatch that publishing contract for myself. :)

Going in, I had always thought I had tough skin, but boy was I wrong! While I can honestly say (now) that most the judges' comments were valid, some of them were pretty harsh. It was difficult at times not to let certain negative comments get to you, especially with the fact that everyone in the world could see the comments. The key is to believe in yourself and your writing, and understand that it's all subjective for the most part.

Finaling in AT prepared me for publication because I had to learn how to effectively market myself. In doing so, I developed a fan/readership base and was able to make connections and forge relationships with other individuals in different parts of the industry. I also got to experience firsthand how it felt to have your work rated/reviewed/commented on, and how to deal with a not-so-complimentary "review".

E.R. Mai is modestly not telling you she advised me from my first cover letter on my entry. Right after e-mailing my CPs about finaling, I e-mailed her. I could tell she was squealing on her end of the e-mail.

We do have different reactions about the judges’ critiques, but I’ve probably entered more contests than Mai. (My Hellgirl skin again. Sigh. I’ll never star in a skin product commercial.) And she’s so right about believing in yourself and your writing.

I haven’t developed the fan/readership base, but I have fabulous friends in the writing community. The romance writing community is the best! My friends in GIAM, my local chapter and other writers I’ve met online. No matter what happens, I appreciate every one of them and will remember how wonderful they are. Donnell, you’re one of them!

D.B. Ah, thanks, Edie. And Mai, thanks for your comments as well. As unpublished authors we’re oftentimes protected and then outraged by an occasional harsh critique or rejection. Published authors don’t have that luxury. The American Title Competition dips its entrants in a hard vat of reality. It truly isn't for the faint of heart.

E.R. Donnell, thank you and the other four scribes for having me and asking me such great questions.

D.B. Thanks so much for being with us today, Edie. You’ve always been such a generous spirit. Now I know the truth, you’re a consummate pro who’s ready for publication. Thanks for being with us today.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Now I Know I'm A Screenwriter

NO, no, I haven't won another contract, it's worse.

Here's the deal. I was trying to go back to my novel roots. I was thinking that a script I'd written would make (and still think this) a great book. So I dug into it.

Aacckk, what I wrote was all present tense! I wrote to my scribes and said, OMG, what now? KL graciously told me that some literary novels are being written in present tense, so why not be a ground breaker and go for it.

So I tried...but it read like a screenplay. Not that that's bad, but it lacked all those great nuances that I'd so loved as a novel writer. The story moved...too quickly and the setting was all action oriented.

So, I dug in my case you don't know, I'm a very stubborn wench, and thought I'll try past tense...and I wrote and edited and wrote some more and sent it off for a bit of critique and...

It was ...uh, not good. Not for past tense novel writing. Can you believe it? I'd left my novel roots behind and I couldn't easily find them.

So...I didn't want to take the time to relearn stuff that used to be second nature, and I'm back on my script. And it feels good, really good.

Someday, when I have lots of time (and hopefully that will be a long time coming because I'll be so darn busy writing screenplays) I'll tackle this novel writing again. But now...I'm really, truly a screenwriter.


Book Sighting! Rachel and the Hired Gun

Today, as I wandered the aisles of my local grocery store in Alabama, I happened to find myself standing in front of the book and magazine shelves (I have no idea how that happened - really!). I scanned to see if I could find any bestsellers to analyze, but I stopped when a cover caught my eye.

Elaine Levine, one of Five Scribes' first author interviews, has been book-sighted in Pelham, Alabama.

Of course, I had to buy the book. It was the last copy on the shelf.

You go, girl!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Extra Extra: Margie Lawson's High Energy Interview Series

The Five Scribes are proud to present...

Ask a How-to Author! Margie Lawson’s High Energy Interview Series

Don’t miss these opportunities!

-- Win a how-to book from a writing expert

-- Win a Lecture Packet from Margie Lawson

-- Crawl around inside a how-to author’s brain

Drop by Five Scribes Blogspot on the LAST WEDNESDAY of each month to learn how-to author's factoids and funtoids – and ask questions. Each how-to author will respond to blog comments.

JANUARY 28th: James Scott Bell: Plot & Structure, Revision and Self-Editing

James Scott Bell is the award-winning author of several novels of suspense and historical intrigue. Booklist and the Los Angeles Times compared James Scott Bell to Raymond Chandler and Dasheill Hammett.

A former trial lawyer, James Scott Bell has been an Off-Broadway actor, an actor in commercials, the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest Magazine, an adjunct professor of writing at Pepperdine University, and author of nineteen novels and two books on writing. WRITE GREAT FICTION: PLOT & STRUCTURE, 2004, is one of the most popular writing books today. His 2008 how-to book, WRITE GREAT FICTION: REVISION & SELF-EDITING, is equally strong and a must-have for writers of all genres.

Upcoming Releases by James Scott Bell:

DECEIVED -- a suspense thriller, will be released in March, 2009

THE ART OF WAR FOR FICTION WRITERS – a new how-to book, will be released November, 2009

Publishers Weekly Review:

“Former trial lawyer and Christy Award–winner Bell (Presumed Guilty) hits his stride in this twist-filled suspense thriller...Dialogue carries the book with rich characters...a fast-paced thriller with its Los Angeles music scene, creepy canyons and a slew of cons. Bell, who also writes nonfiction books on writing, is a master of the cliffhanger, creating scene after scene of mounting suspense and revelation in this heart-whamming read.”

Featured How-to Author for February: HALLIE EPHRON!

FEBRUARY 25th: Hallie Ephron, Writing & Selling Your Mystery Novel

Hope to see you here the LAST WEDNESDAY of every month!

Questions? Want to recommend a how-to author to be interviewed? E-mail

About Margie:

Margie Lawson—psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter – applied her psychological expertise to develop the EDITS System and other Deep Editing techniques. She teaches writers how to add psychological power to create page-turners. A former university professor, Margie taught psychology and communication courses at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Her resume includes clinical trainer, professor, sex therapist, Director of an Impotence Clinic, hypnotherapist, and keynote speaker.

Margie is an in-demand speaker. In the last four years, she's presented forty-two full day Master Classes across the U.S., in Canada, and in Australia and New Zealand. For more information regarding her Master Classes, on-line courses, and Lecture Packets, visit:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Failure as an Opportunity to Begin Again More Intelligently

Since I'm from the Detroit area, I thought I'd give you one of my favorite quotes from a fellow Michigander:

"Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently."
-- Henry Ford

Though I have to admit, the cynical side of me would like to point out that, billions of Americans have given Mr. Ford's company another "opportunity" to begin again more intelligently, and I hope his people are very successful so they can pay back the loan.

Seriously, I despise beginning new stories. That first draft is so painful to me that every day I spend time writing that first draft, I am ridiculously proud of my discipline--as much as if I'd dragged myself to the gym to sweat and grow strong old bones. However, as I'm about to stop researching and start writing my 6th book, I have to admit that every time I start a new book, I plot and write that first draft a little better.

Practice makes perfect, or using my failure in past books as opportunities to start again--even better and stronger. I guess that's why I lOVE to revise--it's the opportunity to make something more "intelligent". How about you guys? Getting easier with each book? Seeing your failures as opportunities to start again more intelligently?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Back from Seton Hill with Notes from Stephanie Bond

I know everyone who reads Five Scribes is probably sick unto death of hearing me talk about Seton Hill. However, when I was preparing for my first residency, I couldn't find anyone out there who blogged about the experience, and that made it hard to know what to expect. For that reason alone, I like to get info out about the program and the school.

But here's a carrot I'll dangle for those of you who couldn't care less about the degree (or the certification, which you can apparently work on without having a bachelor's degree): I will recap some of the awesomeness I learned from Stephanie Bond, our special guest speaker this residency.

Friday night: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the program, so our orientation included more celebration than usual. It amazed me my first residency (last January) how much fun everyone expected to have, even while we worked our bums off. That excitement and contagious enthusiasm makes its first appearance as we all gather together to kick off the week.

Saturday: Theory in the morning with Stoker-winning Dr. Arnzen, a discussion of the genre read this term (In the Woods by Tana French - a good story with incredible writing, but OMG the second half made me sob, and the ending made me throw the book at the wall), and then lunch. That afternoon, I attended a workshop with the amazing Tim Esaias on world building. I left with schwag (actual hardtack and actual parchment of varying origins - woot!), obscure knowledge, and the confidence that I could not just create a world but weave its details into a story. After dinner (I zipped out for supplies and picked up some hummus for my meal), I attended some truly wonderful thesis readings. By the end of the day, I was impressed by the incoming class of first termers (ones), delighted to see old friends in the twos through fives, and sad that I had mere days left to enjoy the company of the graduating fives.

Sunday: In the morning, I woke up sick. Stomach sick. I first thought it was nerves, but as the day progressed, I realized I was very mistaken. 'Twixt the mad dashes to the bathroom and some dry heaving, I managed to sit through a morning of workshops as we critiqued each other's stories, I slept through lunch on the couch in the hall, I dashed to the bathroom again throughout the Using Personal Experience module, went back to the hotel to crash for a while, then went to my mentor meeting. As an aside, I was supposed to be in charge of the wine social that night, but my illness meant I had to saddle a very nice person who didn't deserve it with the job. I hear the party was a success. Wish I could have seen it. :) After I nearly puked on my poor, sweet mentor (Tim Waggoner, author of some gnarly horror as well as YA and fantasy), my friends kidnapped me and forced me to the ER. I'm so glad they did. I got an IV with fluids and anti-yuck meds. Then I got a biiiiiig cuppa barium to drink. YUM! One CAT scan later, I was back in bed at my hotel, already feeling oodles better.

Monday: So many people approached me to see if I was feeling better, it was a little embarassing. Even people I didn't know came up to me. It's truly a sign of the type of community the WPF program fosters at Seton Hill. Personalities might clash, tastes might differ, discussions might escalate into crazy debates, but at the end of the day, we're all part of the same tribe. Meanwhile, I attended some presentations by the graduating students (topics covered: keywords and link optimization for your professional web site, world building, and creating characters), went to the SF/F/H market module, and bagged out early so I could get some rest back in my room. It took an hour to get my prescriptions filled, but afterwards, I was armed with anti-nausea meds. Thank goodness. After a nice nap, I went to the hotel lobby, where several students were chatting and working, and I had the chance to feel like I was at residency until exhaustion got me again.

Tuesday: Workshops in the morning went well enough (though I get SO nervous critiquing people to their face). In the afternoon, Stephanie Bond spoke to us about what happens after you write The End. She gave me some wonderful ideas and offered up fabulous advice. After dinner with other romance authors, we returned to hear her speak about how she organizes her writing to facilitate the 4-8 books per year she writes and also how to research and find cool ideas. Wow!

Wednesday: Last workshops for the week were in the afternoon, so in the morning, I attended Stephanie's presentation on how to make a living writing romance novels. Again, wow. The woman talked for a total of 7.5 hours over the course of two days, she didn't cover everything she could have offered up, and it was jam-packed with amazing info. She's a real dynamo. Of course, knowing she has a computer science undergrad means she's brilliant, savvy, and just plain awesome. Not that I'm biased on this topic or anything....

I stayed until Thursday so I could participate in the post-graduation events that include dinner (and my former mentor came with - party!), joking around (aka networking) in the hotel lobby, and getting a night of rest before travels begin. Since it had been snowing the whole week, and temperatures really dipped on Thursday, it was a wild ride to the airport. But I got home safe and sound last night with oodles of information to share. And now, I present to those who waited patiently for the carrot's delivery, here is a highlight of the fantasticness of Stephanie Bond's brain in bullet form:

  • Create a business plan for yourself and your writing career. Stephanie has how-to articles at her website to guide you.
  • Learn to write in 30 minute increments. Life always interferes, and if you want a career as a full-time novelist, you have to learn to grab every available opportunity to get words on the page.
  • If you write one page per day, you can write a novel a year. If you write two pages per day, that's two books a year. Five pages a day leaves the opportunity for five books a year. It's possible to produce quality books quickly if you learn consistency.
  • The way to become successful is to have one goal: create a cohesive, consistent body of work under one name. (I might quibble over this one since the idea is to brand yourself, and if you write books that don't fit your brand, it might behoove you to create a second brand.)
  • Make sure your voice shows up in the first sentence of a query letter.
There's so much more. Pages and pages of notes. Plenty of what she said is stuff you hear eventually if you've been in RWA for any significant length of time. However, refreshers are never a waste of time, and hearing everything she had to say at once was almost a shock to the system. It really hit home that it's possible to have a career in this field. It might not always be easy to overcome some of the setbacks that are bound to happen to any author, but consistency, branding, and knowing your goals can help you achieve success.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

RWA's Medical Specialty Chapter : Heartbeat

Most are familiar with Romance Writers of America and the fact that it supports the interests of more than 10,000 published and aspiring authors. What some may not know is that specialty chapters exist within RWA. These special-interest chapters are designed to connect writers with others who have the same goals and needs. In 2009, the Five Scribes will bring readers interviews relating to these diverse groups. Please welcome Interview No. 1, Dianne Despain writing as Dianne Drake, multi-published Harlequin author and president of Heartbeat.

D.B. Dianne, congratulations on your success with Harlequin and thanks for agreeing to talk to us about Heartbeat. I understand that Heartbeat, compared to many, is a relatively new chapter. Can you tell us about this organization and why members felt there was a need for it?

D.D. Thanks for including me. And thanks for your kind words about my relationship with Harlequin. It's been a good ride, and 23 books later, I'm still loving it! About Heartbeat, the chapter was started by Theresa Gaus, an incredible fan of medical romance. She's a grade school teacher in Texas, and it was her vision to start a chapter for people who wanted to write medical romance, or include medical elements in their stories because that's what she loved to read and write. Personally, I think Theresa had a great idea because medicine pops into so many stories. Sometimes in a big way, sometimes in the small details.

Even before I started writing medical romance, my reading preferences involved medical -- either medical romantic suspense as in Tess Gerritsen, or medical suspense from authors like Robin Cook or Michael Palmer. Of course, you expect these authors to get the details right -- they're doctors. They should. But so many times when I read a book with medical elements from an author without a medical background, I find something wrong. The errors distract me, sometimes so badly I don't finish the book. In research, the details have to be correct. Readers are too sophisticated to let the writers get away with anything less. So that's where a chapter like Heartbeat comes in. We have medical resources. Many of our members are medical professionals. We think alike, that accuracy in the medical detail is important. The Heartbeat Chapter came about because there was a need.

D.B. Count me as one of the millions who love medical details in novels. I see that Heartbeat has a number of Harlequin authors. Did the Harlequin editors encourage the creation of this chapter?

D.D. They didn't encourage the creation, but they've certainly supported the chapter in amazing ways over the years. In fact, I dare say that few, if any, chapters get the kind of support we do from the Mills & Boon office in the UK. The editors are particularly responsive to our members, know many of them by name, have established professional relationships with a number of our unpubbed members. They're very encouraging to our unpublished members and very accessible. Of course, I have a particular affinity for the editors in this office because I write for Mills & Boon. But if I were an outsider looking in, I'd be amazed at how nice the editors have been to this chapter year after year.

Tell us about the membership. How many members did you start with, and how many do you have as of January 2009?

D.D. Heartbeat started with five or six members and grew to about 15 pretty quickly. Then it stayed at nearly 20 for a couple of years, but right now we've grown to around 40 (with room for more!). I've always said that it's one of RWA's best kept secrets. Even though we've been around a few years now, people are still surprised that we exist. But we're out there (hint, hint) and looking for new members.

Hint taken, Dianne. I understand why medical professionals are interested in the group. But why would a non-medical professional join? Further, do you feel only someone with a medical background should write about medicine, e.g. a medical romance?

D.D. Would a non-medical professional benefit from joining us? Yes, I believe so. We have members now who aren't medical professionals, but who write medical elements into their stories. We also have several members who aspire to write category romance and have joined because as a small chapter we have a large number published in category. Our authors are willing and eager to help where they can. A number of our members have been/still are medical professionals, which is what earned us the nickname, "the nurse chapter." But like I said, we're not all medical and we certainly welcome anybody who would like to join us. I think for those who don't have a medical background, the advantage in joining Heartbeat is that if medicine finds its way into your stories, the chapter has amazing medical resources. Chances are, someone in the chapter will know the answer. If not, we have access to outside medical resources. In addition, we have a regular medical consultant:

Howard R. Bromley, MD, MBA

Associate Professor of Anesthesiology,
Critical Care and Pain Management
Anesthesiology Residence Program Director
University of TN Health Science Center
University of TN Medical Group

Dr. Bromley is a real sweetie when it comes to answering questions. He's been available every time we've asked. As for writing medical romance, if you don't have a medical background, we're writers. We can write anything we want. If we limited ourselves to writing that in which we're experienced, we'd have a very short, narrow career.

For instance, I read serial killer books. I love the deep drama. But do I think that every author I read is somehow personally experienced in serial killing? Absolutely not. As writers, we have to be good researchers in order to make our stories believable.

I recently wrote a story set in 1901, but since I wasn't around in 1901, I had to rely on my research to get the facts right. It's the same with someone who wants to write medical romance. The key is research. Sure, it would be easier if I'd been alive in 1901 -- although I wouldn't be here today answering these questions. It's career-limiting for a writer to think he/she can't expand into unknown areas. Doing something different might be a challenge, but a good challenge is what keeps our writing muscle working.

We've established Heartbeat is a fantastic networking opportunity. As a multi-published author what do you get out of the chapter, Dianne?

D.D. Heartbeat gives me all the chapter experience I want or need. I'm not a big joiner. I've never joined my local chapter and probably never will because it would take up a chunk of time I don't have. But Heartbeat gives me as much or as little activity as I want on any given day. I like the people and it's nice to be in company of like-minded thinkers. It's a good chapter. As far as networking opportunities, as I said we're closely connected to the Mills & Boon office. Besides that, our members are spread out all over the world or involved in different chapters. That's a pretty good networking opportunity too.

I attended a Heartbeat luncheon at National and truly appreciated the cozy setting. I also liked the fact that the editors were present. Do you organize this luncheon every year?

D.D. We do have the luncheon every year and the editors are in attendance as well as agents. What's really neat about this small gathering is that the people who go to the RWA agent/editor pitches have such a small amount of time to sum up their work. I'm not criticizing RWA; these sessions give aspiring authors awesome opportunities. But at Heartbeat, you can sit next to an editor for two hours and chat at your leisure. We haven't had a luncheon yet that several members haven't left with requests. Plus, there's the added benefit of having the editors tell us specifically what they're looking for, talk about changes in editorial direction and more. All in all, for many who attend, our little Heartbeat luncheon becomes the highlight of the conference.

Dianne, I appreciate your insights. Before you leave us, what are you working on, and given that you've taken on the chapter presidency, I'm curious how you budget your time?

D.D. Currently, I'm involved in what I'm calling my White Elk series, the first of
which is due out in Spring 2010. It's a series set in the same town with connected characters from Harlequin Mills & Boon Medicals, of course. As for budgeting my time, I'm a fanatic for a schedule. Gotta have it or I'm lost. But more than that I really pay attention to body rhythms. I can't "create" in the early morning, but I can sure tend to chapter business. My creative juices flow around ten a.m., and that's when I start writing. By three I hit a wall and that's when I spend the time editing, writing a synopsis or plotting the next book. Years of experience have taught me to go with the flow.

It's been a pleasure, Donnell. If anyone has questions about Heartbeat, they can go to and take a look at the website. We have some "by request" workshops coming up this year and everyone is invited to participate. Also, feel free to e-mail me at

Dianne Despain w/a Dianne Drake
The Wife He's been Watiing For - HMB Medicals - hardback 11/08, paperback 1/09
Dr. Velascos' Unexpected Baby -HMB Medicals -hardback 4/09, paperback 6/09
Found: A Mother for his Son - HMB Medicals -hardback7/09, paperback 9/09
Coming in Spring of 2010 - The White Elk Series

Monday, January 12, 2009

Crested Butte Writer’s Conference Breaking News!

We have just confirmed that Donald Maass will attending the Crested Butte Writers Conference and giving a 2 hour workshop on his new book, Putting Fire in your Fiction, scheduled for release in May. I believe we will be one of the first to have him do that workshop and I’m thrilled about that prospect!

In addition, Lisa Rector-Maass, a fantastic freelance editor who specializes in late draft writing, will also give a workshop at the CB Writers Conference. Therese Walsh, of the great blog, Writer Unboxed, did an amazing, detailed interview of Lisa and her skills for helping the more experienced writer that had me feeling as if she was talking directly to me. That was me. My writing experience. My feedback from agents and editors. My point of being stuck and how her workshops can help me. Check it out. I can’t wait to learn from Lisa!

Our keynote speaker at the conference will be Legal Thriller, Best Seller, William Bernhardt. Rocky Mountian Fiction Writers’ own Tina Ann Falkner will be in attendance as well as –Aryn Kyle, author of the national best seller, The God of Animals. And we’re hoping to add another author or two. Stay tuned!

As for Acquiring Agents and editors attending, we have:

Adam Wilson, editor at MIRA

Katherine Nintzel, Editor at Harper Collins

Colleen Lindsay, Agent at Fine Print

Donald Maass, Maass Agency

So don’t miss out on this terrific opportunity to advance in your craft and network. I know conferences are expensive, yet I believe they are a necessary investment in ourselves, for if we don’t believe in ourself, then why should anybody else?

Start saving your lunch money and put the Crested Butte Writers Conference on your calendar today!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Calling All Writers

Calling all writers! For a chance to win an evaluation of your proposal by a professional freelance reader, visit Seekerville Monday, January 12 at

All you have to do to enter the drawing is read Crystal Laine Miller's excellent post, "Dare Your Reader to Risk Reading Your Book" that's chock full of tips on getting past a publisher's reader and then leave a comment.

The drawing will take place on Wednesday, January 14.

Don't miss this terrific opportunity for a free evaluation of your manuscript's first three chapters and synopsis.