Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Margie Lawson's How-to Interview Series with Chris Roerden

Welcome to the How-to Author Interview Series
from Margie Lawson

Featuring: Chris Roerden

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Don't Murder Your Mystery, Agatha Award-winning Best Nonfiction Book

Don't Sabotage Your Submission

  • Don't Sabotage Your Submission just won the National juried Benjamin Franklin Award for Literary Criticism.
  • Required reading in two (so far) university writing programs.
  • 230 examples show what authors do well that most writers don't.
  • Graduated NY's Music & Art High School School at 16; college summa cum laude.
  • Taught Korean teachers one summer in South Korea.

  • Kate Flora gave Don't Murder Your Mystery a 5-star review in ForeWord Magazine, and Chris didn't know who she was (past president, Sisters in Crime).
  • Kate said Chris wrote for 40 years in the trenches, "Unlike the writer who writes one book then publishes a 'how-to' book, evidently believing that writing is a 'see one, do one, teach one' profession."
  • Why nonwriters would read a book for writers, Cozy Library said even the tone deaf take music appreciation: Don't Murder Your Mystery was author appreciation.
Website: www.marketsavvybookediting.com

Post a comment today -- and you may win:
  • Don't Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden
  • A Lecture Packet from Margie Lawson

Questions for How-to Author Interview

For Chris Roerden

ML: Chris – When DON’T MURDER YOUR MANUSCRIPT was released in 2006, the title hooked me, your humorous style hooked me, and the power-punch content hooked me. I was thrilled to see it win an Agatha Award!

Thank you! I was thrilled.

In 100 words or less – could you give our blog guests some hints about how your two editing books DON’T MURDER YOUR MANUSCRIPT and DON’T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION can benefit them?

CR: Even if writers already know about some of the writing habits to avoid, my books analyze dozens of such habits and demonstrate numerous alternatives to consider (DON’T MURDER has 140 positive examples; DON’T SABOTAGE has 230). Nowhere else are so many options presented for more effective ways of writing dialogue, tags, beats, physical description, setting, hooks, and on and on. Writers tell me these books sit next to their computer, and they wouldn’t think of submitting anything without going through all the checklists during revision.

ML: Loved your chapter on ‘Fatal Flashbacks.’ What recommendations do you have for handling flashbacks, including the issues of time and tense?

CR: Narrative that writers don’t think of as creating a flashback can be just as awkward if it reverses an ordinary sequence of events. For instance, “Jeff had run ahead to hide the gun, then came back from the bedroom as Ann reached the top of the stairs. In the car they’d argued....”

Perhaps the author feels that hiding the gun is a more compelling way to open the scene, but reversing the sequence calls attention not to the action but to the sequence, which is screwy. The reader pictures one thing, then gets snapped backward to something that happened before it — and there’s no good reason for the reversal. Just yesterday I came across this construction in a manuscript, but I’ve changed the details here to protect the writer. I never want to embarrass anyone; writing is hard enough, and I admire everyone who even tries to create a full-length novel.

My recommendation is to first be aware of events in sequence, then whether part of the sequence is reversed, and how important that reversal is to the story. A true flashback is a dramatization of a significant experience adding meaning to the main story that could not be conveyed as compellingly via any other narrative method.

As for verb tense, characters are always being made to think or speak in ways that none of us would ever use in conversation. “I knew he’d been disappointed when I’d said no.” That’s the writer’s perspective, not the character’s. Take out that second contraction of “had” — the first already places us in an earlier time, and in that time the ordinary past tense is fine: “I knew he’d been disappointed when I said no.” Doesn’t everyone love to read this kind of minutia?

ML: Your chapter on ‘Dying Dialogue’ is a killer. A good-for-writers killer. You cover relationships, sowing dissension, informational dialogue, simulated disagreement, and pacing dialogue. Could you select one area and tell all?

CR: My suggestions for informational dialogue got me into trouble with one writer I’m certain had finished writing a restaurant scene that she was happy with — until I came along. Exchanging information is necessary to a story, and it may advance the plot or expand character, as dialogue is supposed to do, but if an exchange isn’t confrontational it lacks dramatic interest. So instead of sitting two people at a restaurant table exchanging data — with no activity occurring except for sipping a drink and taking a bite and chewing and taking another sip (yawn) — either create conflict or move the conversation to a setting that offers its own conflict, like a football game.

I was fortunate to find a perfect little scene in Blues in the Night by Rochelle Krich that let me demonstrate conflict in an informational interview and also analyze a delightful bit of Krich’s use of dramatic irony.

ML: You cover some dynamite tips in the section labeled ‘First Offenders.” Could you share some details about what you call ‘Hobbled Hooks?’

CR: The earliest chapters are so important in hooking a reader’s interest — including that all-important first reader who controls which manuscripts make it to the next level of decision-making. In DON’T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION I really got carried away presenting examples of some excellent opening lines from both romance and mystery. I love those that contain the subtext of a contradiction, such as this from Lynn Viehl’s DARK NEED: “Men did not dump Lena Caprell. She dumped them. That was how it went. That was how it always went.” Effective hooks make you want to read the next line, and the next, never stopping. Who could stop after this opening from Julie Garwood’s SLOW BURN: “Kate McKenna’s Wonderbra saved her life.”

ML: I bet our blog guests are dying to know about Poisonous Predictability. ;-)

CR: Predictability is poisonous to any novel. As an editor I see it in descriptions that stop the action for an inventory of physical features immediately upon a character’s making an entrance. And the features themselves are usually predictable, this color eyes, that color hair. Among the effective alternatives I present is a passage by Margaret Maron that makes you feel you know the characters — they’re your family! — but I challenge you to find the physical description.

ML: What do you cover in your ‘Strangled Speech’ chapter?

CR: Many writers, unpublished, either make all their characters sound alike or work so hard at making them sound different that the result is ludicrous. Some love inventing ‘Southern’ accents by droppin’ the endin’ of all “ing” words, somethin’ that sets an editor’s teeth on edge. Avoid odd punctuation and phonetic spellings, puhleeze. In DON’T SABOTAGE, my ‘Strangled Speech’ clue reviews 23 examples of effective speaking styles taken from many authors. One is a monologue from a piece of flash fiction by Janice Holm that suggests the speaker’s social class, attitude, values, and age through word choice alone. And flash fiction uses few words, as you know

ML: Digging deeper into Strangled Speech, what are some ways writers can make speech distinctive for different characters?

CR: There’s so much more to speech than pronunciation. There are regional expressions, intentional grammatical lapses, vocabulary, syntax — the careful, resourceful writer is a good eavesdropper. I review an example from a short story by Dottie Boatwright in which the violence is understated because the viewpoint character is a child who’s been taught to run and hide upon hearing certain sounds. As a result she hears but doesn’t see what’s happening. I think this story shows a brilliant choice of techniques.

ML: From your POV, what are the TOP TEN mistakes writers make that could keep them from getting published?


  1. Putting others’ needs and wants so far ahead of your own needs for time and space to write that a work-in-progress never progresses.
  2. Sticking it out with a critique group that’s not right for you, your genre, or your writing.
  3. Failure to read widely and absorb the sound of good writing.
  4. Reading primarily for plot without analyzing how favorite authors achieve the effects that make them favorites.
  5. Focusing writing efforts exclusively on plot, as if the story is what happens instead of whom it happens to.
  6. Embarrassment or laziness in not reading aloud all dialogue.
  7. Underestimating how important it is to have a “fresh, new voice” for catching the interest of an agent and editor, and how numerous and subtle the writing habits are that smother one’s natural voice.
  8. Devaluing the comments of agents, editors, and contest judges, when offered, because they contradict each other, instead of viewing contradictions as proving the range of personal preferences that make perseverance necessary.
  9. Feeling devastated when a first effort is rejected, assuming that becoming a professional writer should not require the years of practice and development that becoming a professional musician or artist requires.
  10. Arrogance — from ‘I’ve read enough books on writing’ to ‘I don’t have to follow submission guidelines’ — believing they’re all the same.

Chris and Margie, thank you for allowing Five Scribes to host this interview. It's been fascinating and a pleasure. Margie recently won her own web site, gang, so she's taking her How-to-interview to her own site. I look forward to many, many great interviews there. Next month she will interview Macavity Award-winning and Edgar-nominated non-fiction author, D. P. Lyle, M.D. So with that announcement, let's see those comments and questions.

Habit v. Inspiration

"First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice." ~~ Octavia Butler

Saturday, July 25, 2009

2009 RWA National and Inspiration Personified

I don't go to National every year. I'm the world's worst social butterfly. There's nothing more I enjoy than escaping into my own work in progress and leaving the in-person networking to the extraverts.

However, this year's RWA National was a networking first for me and it was in our nation's capital. I gave my first speech in front of a large crowd and didn't land face down in the chocolate; I met my outstanding Daphne Committee and gave them a hug; and I got to stand up for my friend, Kelly Ann Riley, www.kellyannriley.com, and accept on her behalf her Golden Heart WIN! as she and her family were on a mission in Utah. As an inspirational writer, Kelly lives what she writes and I'm honored to know her.

I attended a cocktail party with my agent Elaine English www.elaineenglish.com, her assistant Naomi and her three hysterical interns. I felt like I was talking to my daughters -- they were that young -- and I LOVED their insights and their interpretations of books and films.

The Literacy signing, the workshops, RWA's staff, the hotel staff, were exceptional, my online chapter, members of the Kiss of Death www.rwamysterysuspense.org, worked particularly hard to provide three days of tours for its members while in D.C., including tours of the FBI, the State Department, The Postal Inspection Service and the CIA.

My roomies were wonderful, and my longtime roomie and traveling companion, Jude Willhoff, www.judewillhoff.com went through our jaunts like female Two Stooges. Starting with unpacking at the airport because my bag was seven pounds over and hers was two, and neither of us wanted to pay $90; to getting trapped in a crowded, thunder-storm soaked Atlanta airport, arriving at Washington at three in the morning, walking into the men's room we were so tired, and even freeing a woman trapped in a bathroom stall. Let's just say Jude has the innate ability to keep things positive--and hysterical--at all times.

But along with laughter and nonstop hustle and bustle the conference was full of inspiration.

Janet Evanovich was amazing, telling it like it is, in her frank, funny way, that there is no such thing as writer's block, only lack of commitment and fear.

Linda Howard, who can say, "Bless her heart," like nobody's business had us roaring in the aisles about her family of "nuts."

And finally Eloisa James, who had us choked up and moved to tears over how she incorporates her real life situations/emotions into her writing.

To understate it, Romance Writers of America did an outstanding job in choosing these bestselling authors as speakers. We laughed, we cried and we came away inspired.

If you attended the conference, I only hope you got as much out of it as I did. For now it's back to reality and happy writing!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Loose Women in Regency England

Allegra Gray joins us today to promote her book Nothing but Scandal, which hit bookstores July 7th. Allegra is a former military officer, turned English professor, turned defense analyst -- and she's also my critique partner ;) I can guarantee Nothing but Scandal will have you reading long into the wee hours to root for a sexy hero and a sympathetic heroine. Please welcome Allegra Gray to the Five Scribes. Post a comment or question, and be entered in a a drawing for a book give-away -- winner determined on Friday.

First, thank you to the Five Scribes for hosting me ;).

Second, I must begin this post with a disclaimer (well, actually, two): The academic in me must have been asleep when I selected this topic. Otherwise I would have realized I cannot begin to cover in one post what others have taken entire doctoral dissertations to discuss. The second disclaimer is that talking about the topic of loose women or prostitution and how it is handled in romance novels means we are dealing with fiction. Many writers strive for historical accuracy--but only to a point. We create dukes and earls in numbers far greater than ever existed, and part of the fun in writing historical novels is dreaming up ways our characters can bend the rules of their time and--as long as the rule-bending is done in pursuit of true love and passion--be rewarded.

But I digress. What fascinates me about the question of women's morality and sexuality in Regency England is that there are so many shades of gray. Take prostitutes, for example. At its basic level, we all understand that prostitution is: trading sexual favors for money (or some other tangible form of compensation).

Romance novels abound with tales of women who must marry for money (including my own "Nothing but Scandal" ...though my heroine takes a rather unusual approach). Yet to marry for money was not considered immoral--making a "good match" (not usually measured by love!) appears to have been downright encouraged. These women are in a tight spot, and are essentially trading themselves as a way out of that spot, but in the historical setting, we don't usually call their morals into question for this. In fact, the merest moral slip...a conversation with a strange man (or, heaven forbid, being alone with a man no matter what the circumstances) could lead to a woman being "ruined" and therefore unsuitable for a "proper" marriage.

But what about the many mistresses also populating the romance novels set in Regency England? Some are skilled courtesans accustomed to pleasing men of the upper class in exchange for "protection"--a house, an allowance, jewelry and clothing...but with no expectation of marriage or love. A "lady" would not associate with such a woman, yet we as readers routinely forgive our heroes for doing so, especially if they DO fall in love with the woman. Even if they don't we expect them to have had some past experience and a well-kept mistress or two (or possibly a few more) fits the bill. Rarely do our books feature heroes with a habit of frequenting the cheapest brothels in town: it's just not "heroic." (Unless he's visiting for some type of altruistic purpose that has nothing to do with his own "baser urges," but that would be a whole other story).

I've also seen many examples (both in real history and novels) of mistresses who are lifelong companions to a single man...they may share love and even children, but due to societal "rules" about class, they do so outside the bounds of marriage. Are these loose women?

There are certainly more clear-cut cases: the women who worked in brothels or the tavern maid who could be tipped a little extra for a quick "tumble." When the exchange is purely monetary, it is easier to apply that label of "loose" or "prostitute." Even then, though, we must ask if the woman prostituting herself is doing so because of loose morals or for other reasons...what led the woman to such a lifestyle, what other options might or might not have been available to her?). In both real history and novels, though, the street whore generally draws the least respect from the remainder of society.

Of course, the great thing about writing fiction is the endless possibility, and I know there are some wonderful writers out there making heroines out of low-born characters and doing a darn fine job of it. After all, a loose woman has possibilities for an interesting life story that a purely innocent, well-bred girl just might not have :)

The key is, these writers manage such storylines successfully not because they ignore societal conventions of the time period of their stories, but because they become experts on the obstacles and prejudices such a woman would face, then dream up creative ways to overcome them. And that is the power (and pleasure) of writing ;).

About Nothing but Scandal:


When her father dies leaving her penniless and without prospects, Elizabeth Medford is faced with a horrible future: marriage to the vile Harold Wetherby. Her family thinks he's a brilliant choice, but Elizabeth has witnessed Wetherby's cruel nature and knows a life with him would be a miserable one. If only he didn't want to marry her...but for that to be the case, she would have to have a damaged reputation, and despite her father's missteps, Elizabeth's own name is pristine among society...so far...


A brilliant plan is hatched: Elizabeth will organize her own ruin and escape the betrothal, leavng her old life behind. The only hitch is the man she hopes will do the ruining--the irresistible Alex Bainbridge, Duke of Beaufort. But he has secrets of his own that make Elizabeth Medford a woman he should avoid at all costs--for both their sakes. He insists he will have no part in her crazy scheme...no matter how tempting she may be...

Musical Writing Genius

Last week I enjoyed a father-daughter weekend with my dad at Snowmass, and in the 41 plus years my parents had been coming to the Aspen area, they'd never visited the John Denver Sanctuary. To be fair, the beautiful, peaceful sanctuary was only created in 2000.

John Denver was a gifted creative genius who I've appreciated since I was a teen--long before we moved to Colorado.

He tragically died in a plane crash in 1997 at the young age of 54.

The sanctuary is this lovely park pictured to your left. Visitors meander down a crushed gravel path that winds alongside a shallow crisp river. Lush green slopes contain clusters of huge boulders onto which his many of his famous song lyrics have been carved.

I'm going to wax on here a little bit, so please bear with me.

I am so grateful for the gifts John Denver gave this world, not only because of his musical talents, but also as an environmental activist. He was dedicated to preserving our environment worldwide--not just the mountains he adored. And as with most enormously talented people, it came at a high personal price.

What impressed me most about John, was the genuineness, passion and honesty he brought to us through both the lyrics and the delivery of each of his songs. He and his songs touch my soul in a pure, joyful way. They make me smile. They continue to bring me peace. They move me in way I hope to emulate in my writing.

The sanctuary is the perfect way to honor John Denver. Kudos to whomever thought of it and to those who carried out the vision. I'd love for my actions and creative gifts to inspire and entertain others. I'd love to make that kind of a positive mark on the world.

Hmm. That makes me wonder about the process of song writing. Even though a song is significantly shorter than our shortest chapters, the words of great songs are just so perfect, nothing that wonderful comes without a lot of work. What do you think?

Rest in Peace John Denver. Thank you and we miss you!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Christy Award

The Christy Award, named in honor of Catherine Marshall's nove, was designed to recognize novelists and novels in several genres of Christian fiction. The Christy Award is designed to:

  • Nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishin of fiction written from a Christian worldview.

  • Bring a new awareness of the breadth and depth of fiction choices available, helping to broaden the readership.

  • Provide opportunity to recognize novelists whose work may not have reached bestseller status.

Similar to the Romance Writers of America's (RWA) RITA award, novels are considered with a copyrighted date of the year preceeding the awards. Publishers submit the novels written from a Christian worldview. Each novel is entered in one of several genres and/or best first book. A panel of seven judges composed of librarians, reviewers, academicians,literary critics and other qualified readers, none of whom have a direct affiliation with a publishing company, read and evalute each entry against a standard 10-point criteria.

The finalists are announced in March. An awards ceremony is hosted during the CBA's International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in July. This year, Denver hosted the event, July 12-15, with the awards ceremony on July 11.

Past winners include, Robin Lee Hatcher, James Scott Bell, Catherine Palmer, Gilbert Morris, Francine Rivers, Dee Henderson, Randy Ingermannson, Randy Singer,Ted Dekker, Liz Curtis Higgs, among many others.

For a list of this year's finalists and winners, please check out the Winners page!

A special shoutout goes to Mary Connealy! Her book, Calico Canyon, finaled in the Historical Romance category. Read her book and see for yourself why Mary is a Christy Award finalist! While you're at it, check out her blog. Check out Petticoats & Pistols and Seekerville, too! You'll find Mary's sense of humor and wit contagious!

Congratulations, Mary!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Changes Afoot in the Land of Academics

I've only mentioned my status as a grad student at Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction program a hundred times on this blog. So this week, when an exciting and major change was announced to the students, I decided I should bring a discussion on this subject - the change and what it means - to the Five Scribes.

First, I applied to Seton Hill two years ago and began work on my Master of Arts in January 2008. For the past year and a half, I've had a blast in the academic setting even as my craft improved drastically. But since January, I've felt the impending bummer of graduation approaching. Don't get me wrong - I have a hankering to graduate and move along, but at the same time, I truly love the program, the learning opportunities, and the camaraderie. I began three months ago to look into PhD and MFA programs. Why?

The Master of Arts degree is a stepping stone as much as it's a final destination. Many are content with an MA in their field and rightly so. But the Master of Fine Arts is a terminal degree. That means you can't go any further in your education in that field. There are a couple PhD programs in creative writing out there, but those programs focus on literary fiction rather than popular fiction, which is where my heart is. Most of the PhD programs I'd be willing to jump into are for literature and English. While the PhD is very much *the* terminal degree, an MFA is also considered one.

Being the complete whore for academics that I am, naturally, I want this terminal degree. I want the opportunity to study popular fiction as much as I want to write it. Also, if I need a day job while I'm waiting to hit the top of the bestseller lists, I can teach. The MA qualifies me to teach at community colleges and possibly find adjunct positions at four-year colleges. The MFA, however, opens the field. I could teach at a four-year university or at a community college or in my back yard. I'd have options.

So when Seton Hill announced that they have received approval from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to convert the MA to an MFA, I immediately signed on.

If you check out the SHU WPF website, you'll see the changes already publicized. There's an additional courseload of online classes during the term, an additional term, and an additional residency, and it seems as if the structure of residency might change, as well.

Not all of the details are available yet. In the meantime, take note. There is officially one more MFA program dedicated solely to genre fiction.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seducing the Reader: How do you do it?

I took a online writing course from Nicole North on writing sexual tension. Great teacher no matter what your genre or comfort level. Naturally, I asked her to talk about what she does best. Please join the Five Scribes in welcoming Paranormal Erotic romance author, Nicole North. For readers who leave a comment, Nicole will be drawing the winner on Friday for a 20-page double spaced critique of your work in progress. Here's a great opportunity to get an expert opinion on your sex scene or a chapter dealing with sexual tension.

Seducing the reader is about coaxing them--with your words and your voice--to suspend disbelief and become immersed in your story for hours. They never want to leave that story world. They can't stop turning the pages. Can't put the book down until they find out how it ends. Will these characters, who are like real people, achieve their goals? Will they fall in love and end up together? At the end, the reader puts the book down with a sigh and wishes the story could go on forever.

With your writing, you never want to do anything to jar the reader or yank them out of your story. Everything should flow smoothly, be logical and well motivated.

In romance, you also want to charm the reader into falling in love with your hero. Most romance readers are women who want to escape for a short while. A large part of that escape is fantasizing about a sexy, hot man who deserves love,a hero the reader finds irresistibly attractive.

In real life, not every woman is attracted to a given man, unless he's something spectacular and larger than life, like Gerald Butler, Hugh Jackman or Viggo Mortensen.

Those guys can seduce the viewer every time. These hunky men have a combination of a gorgeous face, a great body, intelligence, charm, confidence, and maybe a sexy accent or a sense of humor. These guys are real men, but they're also larger than life in some ways and they appeal to a broad range of fans. To seduce your reader into falling in love with your hero, he should have the same broad appeal.

The heroes in the novels on my keeper shelf are the ones I fell in love with. They are so real, and in most cases imperfect and damaged...in need of love and healing. Every woman wants to be THE ONE who tames him, heals him and captures his heart...the only one he thinks about. We want to see that strong, tough man's vulnerabilities because that's when he will touch our hearts most profoundly.

And perhaps your love scenes literally seduce the reader by making them wish their significant other were home at that moment so they can act out their fantasies. Making your reader feel all the intense emotions associated with falling in love will give them a natural high that is seductive and addictive...luring them back for more in your next book.

DEVIL IN A KILT in Secrets Volume 27 Untamed Pleasures will be released in July 09: A trip to the Highland Games turns into a trip to the past when modern day psychology professor Shauna MacRae touches Gavin MacTavish's 400-year-old claymore. What she finds is a Devil in a Kilt she's had erotic fantasies about for months. Can Shauna break the curse imprisoning this shape shifting laird and his can before an evil witch sends Shauna back to her time?

Nicole North writes sensual and erotic romance novels and novellas. She is the author of paranormal erotic romance novellas Devil in a Kilt, Red Sage Secrets Volume 27 Untamed Pleasures, July 2009, Beast in a Kilt, Red Sage Secrets Volume 29; and (contemporary) Kilted Lover. Nicole lives with her husband in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, but wishes she lived in the Scottish Highlands at least half the year. She teaches writing workshops on various subjects including sexual tension and love scenes. Visit her at www.nicolenorth.com

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Michael Hauge One-on-One Coaching Available in Denver


Michael Hauge be doing one-on-one coaching sessions at the Hampton Inn and Suites--Denver Downtown from 10am to 3pm, Sunday July 12th.

These sessions can be used for whatever the writer wants: story ideas and structure; pitch coaching; marketing consultation; etc.

For this special Denver Event, Michael will charge $100 per half hour (20% off his regular rate), and people can purchase back to back slots if they want an hour or more.

Anyone who wants to reserve a slot early (there are already some signups) should email him in advance at: http://www.screenplaymastery.com/; remaining slots will be available for signup at the workshop on Saturday.

Saturday Denver Workshop info: If you want to elevate your fiction writing to the highest possible level, this event, Saturday July 11th, is a must. And there are limited seats, so to find more information, click on http://www.coloradoromancewriters.org/Flyer_MH.pdf.

Please visit Michael's website, http://www.screenplaymastery.com/ and sign up for his e-newsletter.

Leslie Ann