Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a truly unique American celebration, 'tho I understand there is a Thanksgiving in Canada, and my bad, I didn't research what that one is about. So I'm sticking with our American Thanksgiving.

I humbly ask that you take time today to give thanks for the gifts in your life. I won't deign to tell you what they are, you know. And if you don't know, stop and ponder, then give thanks.

We know not is all well with our country, but we can commit this Thanksgiving Day to making it the best place we can. With gestures of kindness and generosity we can help those not as fortunate as we are and those that can't be with the ones they love.

Thanksgiving can be more than Turkey Day, although the feast is fab and I look forward to it all year long. When I go to bed this evening, I'll recall the wisdom of a dear friend Jean who has lived a long and varied life, and take a moment to recall the joys I experienced this day and pass them onward.

Peace and Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Terrific Openings

Here's a post from one of my favorite blogs. Chuck talks about a workshop similarly to one we run at the Crested Butte Writers Conference--which is a real crowd-pleaser. But in any event, it's a great reminder of what NOT to do in your own openings. Take a look!

7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter
Posted by

I recently attended the Writer Idol Event at Boston Book Fest. It was not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to brave public ridicule, it was a great way to get helpful feedback.

This is how it worked: An actress picked manuscripts at random and read the first 250 words out loud for the panel and the audience. If at any point a panelist felt he would stop reading, he raised his hand. The actress read until two or more panelists raised their hands, at which point the panel discussed the reasons they stopped, or in cases where the actress read to the end, they discussed what worked. Helene Atwan (Director of Beacon Press) and agents Esmond Harmsworth, Eve Bridburg, and Janet Silver (all from
Zachary Shuster Harmsworth) served on the panel.

These panelists were tough! I'd say less than 25% made it to the end of the passage. Here are some of the common reasons panelists stopped reading.

1. Generic beginnings: Stories that opened with the date or the weather didn’t really inspire interest. According to Harmsworth, you are only allowed to start with the weather if you're writing a book about meteorologists. Otherwise, pick something more creative.

2. Slow beginnings: Some manuscripts started with too much pedestrian detail (characters washing dishes, etc) or unnecessary background information.

3. Trying too hard: Sometimes it seemed like a writer was using big words or flowery prose in an attempt to sound more sophisticated. In several cases, the writer used big words incorrectly. Awkward or forced imagery was also a turnoff. At one point, the panelists raised their hands when a character's eyes were described as “little lubricated balls moving back and forth.”

4. TMI (Too Much Information): Overly detailed description of bodily functions or medical examinations had the panelists begging for mercy.

5. Clichés: "The buildings were ramrod straight." "The morning air was raw." "Character X blossomed into Y." "A young woman looks into the mirror and tells us what she sees." Clichés are hard to avoid, but when you revise, go through and try to remove them.

6. Loss of Focus: Some manuscripts didn't have a clear narrative and hopped disjointedly from one theme to the next.

7. Unrealistic internal narrative: Make sure a character's internal narrative—what the character is thinking or feeling—matches up with reality. For example, you wouldn't want a long eloquent narration of what getting strangled feels like—the character would be too busy gasping for breath and passing out. Also, avoid having the character think about things just for the sake of letting the reader know about them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

When it's too hard to write

How many times in the last few months have I wanted to give up writing?

When my son's foray into Kindergarten failed so miserably that I had to step up and homeschool...

When the additional coursework required for my degree meant I had to spend more time analyzing horror novels and critical essays on the genre than I could give my own thesis...

When the numerous revisions and halting progress on my thesis novel over the last year and a half meant that the Frankenstory it had become was almost beyond hope...

When that thesis novel was still due at the end of October...

When I'd already committed to volunteer in my children's religious education and couldn't weasel out...

When I was sick and my blood pressure skyrocketed for no logical reason...

When I had to fill so many prescriptions at the pharmacy that I wondered if they'd have a bag big enough for all of them...

When it seemed like everything around me was either exploding or falling apart and I was fumbling my obligations, how often did I want to just power down my computer and walk away for good?

Not once.

Even on those days when it was too hard to write, when I felt like any talent I might have was long gone, I still felt the fire.

Today, I give thanks for the fire to write. Some days, even if I only want to brainstorm under the spray of the shower and ignore my computer, that fire smoldering under the weight of life's burdens is what keeps me focused.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Refilling The Well -- This writer is reading

I realize that for many November is NaNoWriMo, and for the many dedicated people pounding away at their keyboards, I salute you. As for me, after coordinating the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense this year as well as finishing my own romantic mystery, the last thing I want to do is sit at a keyboard and stare at a computer screen. Therefore, I dedicate November to "Me" time," to refilling the well time and to doing something I rarely get to do anymore--read for pleasure.

My nightstand resembles a bygone era in my household. The table is loaded with books! I just completed my first "for fun" reads. Tess Gerritsen's, The Bone Garden, and Daniel Silva's Moscow Rules. (I can picture non-thriller lovers saying, This is fun?) For me it is, absolutely.

Once again, Gerritsen's physician background serves her well in this Boston-based book set in the present and in the 1800s. Combining fictional characters with the remarkable real life historical figure Oliver Wendell Holmes, she addresses the subject of ressurectionists -- grave robbers who harvest bodies for the black market. Anytime you read Tess Gerritsen you expect beautiful writing and thought-provoking text. The Bone Garden doesn't disappoint. And I love the life lesson she provides at the end of the book. It's something we take for granted today, and yet our ancestors had to learn it the hard way--with myriad loss of life and disease. The book isn't Gerritsen's standard breakneck page turner. But if you like stories of Jack the Ripper and have a love of history, you'll love The Bone Garden.

Next on my nightstand is Moscow Rules. I love sitting down with anything written by Daniel Silva. First, I know I'm going on an international tour by reading his well-researched work. In Moscow Rules I traveled to Italy, Israel, France, England, Russia and of course the U.S. His protagonist Gabriel Allon is one of the most interesting fictional characters of all time in my opinion. His combination of art, political events, world history with some of the most intriguing protagonists and the most evil antagonists created guarantee I'm in for an up-all-night read. Silva does hooks better than any author out there, his sense of humor is laugh-out-loud funny, and the way he tortures his characters is grossly unfair. His knowledge of espionage and the realism in his storytelling leaves me with no choice but to turn the pages. What I love about his series featuring the ruthless, eye-for-an eye Gabriel Allon, Ari Shamron and Adrian Carter is I know after he's made my heart stop a time or two, good will defeat evil.

I forget that I'm a writer when I read books like these. Good luck to everyone doing NaNoWriMo. Like the overworked employee who hangs up a shingle that says, "Gone Fishin'", my shingle is up too. Mine says, "Gone Reading." So, if you're a writer, how do you refill your well?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Online Chat With Zac Sanford

This is not to be missed. A chat brought to you by Scriptscene RWA.

WHEN: This Sunday November 15th, 2009 5pm PST ( it will last apx 1hr.)

Zac Sanford is the development director with Suntaur Entertainment. He's willing to answer any questions about the movie industry. He's not trying to sell anything, so he'll tell it like it is. He's knowledgeable about both sides, writing and development.

Suntaur doesn't accept unsolicited queries, but Zac said he'd accept queries from chat participants.

You'll need to go to Twitter and sign up for an account. Then on the night of the chat, log on to and enter scriptscenechat for the hashtag. That will take you to our chat area.

Scriptscene,, an online Chapter of Romance Writers of America is offering this first chat as an open chat. Future quarterly chats will be for Scriptscene members, if you love this perk, and who wouldn't...join Scriptscene RWA (must be an RWA member as well) if you have ANY interest in writing screenplays, learning the craft from dedicated writers and being around creative people who love what they do.

Also, stay tuned. Scriptscene has a brand new look and feel to their annual contest. Info coming soon...


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Sandy's Back!

Bigger and Better than ever. The Sandy is back.

I hope you all have been busy writing and polishing your pages 'cause I’ve been working hard to find great new final judges for the 2010 Sandy—and I got some real gems again this year, folks! Check them out at Please note that the URL for The Sandy has changed for dot com to dot org.

Also, I’m pleased to say that we’ve added a new genre, so now mystery writers will have their own score sheet—though they will be competing in the same category as suspense & thrillers. The final judge is Mark Tavani—Sr editor at Ballantine Books.

We’ve got a brand new website, chocked full of all sorts of helpful information. So check it out and spread the word!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Critique Groups: Love 'em or hate 'em -- they're an important writing tool

If you've been writing fiction as long as I have, you form a few opinions. Think back to your very first manuscript. Now fast forward to the ideally several manuscripts that you've completed since then. Are you the same writer you were when you reached THE END of number one?

Probably not. If you are, there might be a problem. If you're still working on number one, ask yourself why. And if you're submitting, getting no response or little feedback on your rejection letters, maybe it's time to take a look at that also.

Above all, if you haven't had any luck, can't understand why, and you haven't done so already, you might want to join a critique group.

If you're a new writer, my number one advice is to join one with more experienced writers than you are. While that might sound intimidating, that is the only way (unless you're that rare storytelling natural) that you are going to grow as a writer. You can read every book on the shelf, but until you apply craft and writing technique to your own work, e.g. develop your voice, you won't improve as a writer.

I can't tell you how much I've learned from my first book to my now sixth completed project -- not to mention all the partials stuffed deep in my drawers -- thanks to my critique partners. Comments I received in book number one were -- you've gone into omniscient POV and just blew up your POV character; you have too many POVs; you're in the incorrect POV; you're head-hopping; too many words; weak action verbs; and your research is showing.

And those are just the comments I can remember. If you listen to experienced critique partners, something will happen from one project to the next. Those new writer comments will go away. You're going to find in the next book, they'll move on to more complex writing issues. GMC (goal, motivation and conflict). Why would your hero do that? This action seems out of character? Your protagonist doesn't seem three-dimensional to me; what's his back story? Up your pacing here, this chapter is dragging. Need a transition here....

These comments may seem tough to hear, and often they're downright painful. But they are invaluable to a professional writer. It may feel fantastic to get a critique that says oh, my gosh, I love your writing, I wouldn't change a thing! Nice ego boost, but that comment isn't going to get you published. Some good advice I received--don't fall in love with your words.

Another helpful tip I've learned over the years when you're in a critique group is to listen -- don't argue. It does you no good to try to explain what you meant. Take it all in, sit back and let a partner's words sink in from one meeting to the next. It's your story, and it's up to you whether or not to change it.

Another thing to consider when you're a member of a critique group is: Are they helping? A critique group isn't a marriage. You've joined to help you improve. It's okay to say this isn't working and move on to one that will help you. If a critique group is destructive or seems intensely negative, run do not walk away from this energy. This will only make you doubt yourself further -- and let's face it, there's no one more full of self- doubt than a writer ;)

Not sure how to find a critique group? Join your local writers' organization or ask about them on line. If your organization has Open Critique, go and go often. This may be the best way to establish a new group or to get an objective viewpoint.

These are my opinions regarding critique groups. Like anything in this biz, it's subjective. How about you? What do you value in a critique? What's the best -- or worst -- advice you've ever received? Are you still with your original critique group, or have you moved on? Or have you quit altogether and prefer to write alone?

I'd love to hear your stories and what you've taken away from them. I'm a member of an in-town and an on-line critique group and find their comments invaluable. I feel they make me a better writer.

Friday, November 6, 2009

60 Days to PRO

Last week, the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal chapter of RWA® wrapped up the first annual 60 Days to PRO event. From September 1 until October 30, we offered inspirational quotes, free workshops, pitch opportunities on our members-only blog and chat room, progress trackers, chat room sprint sessions, incentive awards, and more to our members. In exchange, they worked on completing their novels, submitting query letters, and sending in their applications to gain RWA® PRO status.

Our published authors stepped up, presenting free versions of their workshops to both our PRO and wannabe PRO authors. Our members stepped up, taking all the wonderful opportunities offered to them and finishing their novels, writing query letters and synopses, pitching their novels to agents and editors, earning PRO status, sharing their daily "pearls" with others, and more.

It was an amazing whirlwind month. And it was so successful, we're expanding it next year. Instead of focusing on moving more members into PRO status, we'll focus on moving all of our members straight to PAN...or from PAN to bestseller...or from bestseller to phenom.

I'm already excited about next year even as I'm trying to recuperate from this year's event. The amazing feedback we've received has literally brought tears to my eyes given me allergies. Don't worry, they were the good kind.

If you want to join the fun, I encourage you to try this in your own organization. (Or you can always join FF&P, of course!) It was a lot of work, but it was worth every minute to see the amazing progress our members have made in their writing careers.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Breathing Life Into Characters

Audra here : )

If you've written with the intention of selling to the romance market for as long as I have, undoubtedly you've attended more workshops and read more books on the techniques of writing than you could ever count. It's continuing education, right? You never know what online class or workshop is going to make that light bulb go off in your head and give you a clear vision of everything that you've been doing wrong all these years.

Well, that of course is if you are an extremist. Personally, I think I do a lot of things right, it's just not the right editors are looking for : )

Over a year ago, I queried an established agent, well-known in romance marketing circles and she responded with a request for a partial. Oh happy day! I whisked my partial out the door with high hopes that this agent would consider representing me. Much to my surprise, a few days later I received an email from her. Even though she passed on representing me, we did email back and forth about the the proposal I'd sent.

First of all, she said I had talent and a unique voice and she assured me she thought I'd be published someday. She even liked the proposal I'd sent except for one thing: the plot felt contrived.


How does a SOTP writer create a contrived plot?

Hopefully we've all attended a workshop on deep POV. If you haven't, sign up for the next available slot with an author whose work you love. Deep POV brings out the heart of your characters and gives them reasons to do the things they do.

Okay. I thought I understood this.

Obviously not.

Back to my original point. You take variations of tried and true classes and workshops hoping someday the *aha* moment will burst forth and you'll get whatever everyone else seems to have gotten.

Last month I read a blog post by my friend Missy Tippens. Missy talked at length about ANOTHER craft book called The Story Within Guidebook. Caught my interest to the point where I visited Alicia Rasley's site and ordered a copy. Best decision I've made all year.

Alicia makes the concept of deep POV a perfectly painless concept. She takes you through the hows and whys of getting to know your character and anticipating their behavior. You learn to understand the character.

I know most writers have a copy of GMC: Goals, Motivation, Conflict book by Debra Dixon. Excellent book. Everything she says about dissecting The Wizard of Oz makes sense. Only problem, I had a difficult time applying the GMC to my own work. Is that an internal or external goal? If that's my goal, what is my motivation? My conflict has nothing to do with my characters goals or motivations.

Where are Munchkins when you need them??

Alicia doesn't give you the answers. She asks the questions that make you think about your book so you can answer them yourself. Clever idea, huh?

Not every method works for everyone. I'm so glad I finally found a method that works for me. Maybe now I won't be rewriting my drafts a ba-billion times and still coming up contrived : )

BTW, I have an open-ended invitation to submit my work to the above mentioned agent. By jove, this time I think I've got it : )

Blessings to all!