Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Haunting Jordan: An Interview with P.J. Alderman

In 2006, P.J. Alderman steamrolled onto the writing scene with RITA-nominated A KILLING TIDE. Now she's back with HAUNTING JORDAN, the first book in the Port Chatham mystery series. Described as "The small-town charm of Jan Karon meets the time-bending crime solving of Kate Atkinson. Haunting Jordan hit the bookshelves yesterday, and P.J.'s spreading the word. Please welcome her to The Five Scribes.

Here's the blurb! Jordan Marsh left L.A. for the quaint Pacific Northwest town of Port Chatham in pursuit of some much-needed R&R. As the prime suspect in her cheating husband's murder, she had been hoping to immerse herself in the restoration of the charming Victorian she'd just bought--and put all talk of homicide investigations behind her. But as she soon discovers, the coldest of cases cry out to be solved, too.

For this old house comes fully furnished--with two garrulous ghosts who have a century-old murder of their own they'd like her to look into. Now, if Jordan can keep the L.A. police at bay and sort through a suspect list of shady characters circa 1890, she might just clear a wrongly accused man's name--and her own.

D.B.: P.J., it's so good to talk to you again. I've been looking forward to this book since I read the draft pages and had lunch with you and another writer friend in the beautiful Northwest. Obviously Port Chatham is a fictional town. Where did you get the idea for your book, how is it like A Killing Tide, and how is it different?

P.J.: Hi, everyone! It's great to be here chatting with you.

My fictional town, Port Chatham, is based on the real and very charming town of Port Townsend, Washington. I've always been fascinated with the town's history. For most of the 19th century, it was the largest seaport in the Pacific Northwest; in terms of crime its reputation rivaled San Francisco's Barbary Coast. And yet today, Port Townsend is a charming, sleepy seaside resort, filled with beautiful gardens and Victorian homes, and host to world-renowned jazz and wooden-boat festivals. I ask you, what author can resist such a contrast, LOL? I dove into several local history books, rubbed my hands with glee, and started typing!

For those of you who read A Killing Tide you'll find my addictions to research, dark and dangerous settings, and suspense heavily indulged!

: Bantam has turned this book into a mystery series. Was that your intent to develop the series, or did you write it first as a stand-alone novel?

P.J.: I originally proposed the book as either a stand alone or a series. A few years ago, I had jotted down the idea for a book with parallel plots running concurrently in two different centuries. When editors began asking agents for more historical fiction, I pitched the idea to my agent, Kevan Lyon, as a melding of the kind of suspense I love to write with the current demands of the market. She loved the idea, and we agreed to send it to both romance and mystery/suspense editors. I was thrilled when Kate Miciak, editorial director for Bantam Books, pre-empted. Kate edits suspense and mystery authors, and she has been looking for a mystery series like mine for a number of years.

The evolution of Haunting Jordan meant you had to delve into the contemporary setting of the Pacific Northwest and the historical aspects of the area--the draft I read felt like it was two different stories. And then, of course, there was the paranormal element. How difficult was this to transition through? Do you outline, do you write the book in order, or did you write two separate stories and then incorporate?

P.J: I write the book in the order the chapters appear, and I only have a general idea of the story as I begin to write. For Haunting Jordan, I knew the high-level definition of each plot, who the suspects probably were for each murder (there are two murders, one in each time frame), and what each solution to the crime might be. I also knew I wanted ghosts in present day, because I couldn't write about that setting without including a few, LOL.

As I wrote the book, I basically followed the flow of the story back and forth in time as it seemed most natural to me. When I felt that readers needed to know what was happening next in current day, I left history behind and wrote about what Jordan was up to. If someone in present day asked Jordan about her research or pressured her to find more answers to the questions her research had uncovered, I moved back in time to write the next historical chapter.

I imagine there are quite a few legends and ghosts stories surrounding this region. Did you bring any into the book? Talk about what was the most difficult aspect of writing Haunting Jordan, and on the flip side, what was the most fun?

P.J.: Yes, most of the small port towns in the Pacific Northwest have local legends
about haunted houses and ghosts, and I draw on these to come up with the paranormal elements in my book. I decided that two of the characters, the sisters, would appear as real characters in history, yet ghosts in present day. When I proposed the series, I had only a general understanding of how intricate the plotting would be as I interwove the two stories throughout the book. I banged my head against my desk a lot, sorting through the tangle of clues and events, but in the end, I had a lot of fun writing about characters who lived in the past but loved their home so much that they never wanted to leave, even after they died!

D.B.: Haunting Jordan addresses sailors being shanghaied. Obviously, this was the case in the 1800s. What kind of research went into Haunting Jordan, and did you have an opportunity to tour the tunnels? Were there any other aspects of that time period you put into the book, and will you give us a glimpse?

P.J.: Port Townsend, as well as many of the seaside towns in the Pacific Northwest, is very anchored in its history. During the latter part of the 19th century, the West Coast from San Francisco all the way up through Portland, Oregon, to Pugent Sound, was comprised of bustling seaports that came with their own brand of lawlessness. Shanghaiing was the most notorious of the criminal activities that occurred, but the region was also rife with smuggling, which is the subject of my next book in my series.

The tunnels used by shanghaiiers run for six square blocks under the waterfront, and though you can still find entrances to them today, they are blocked off and unavailable to the public. Therefore, unfortunately, I wasn't able to tour them. However, I did locate maps and descriptions of them that were very detailed.
For my research, I rely on a variety of sources from books written about shanghaiing and smuggling, to local historical documents and newspaper articles chronicling Port Townsend's history and development, its waterfront, and its most influential citizens.

Your ghosts who haunt Jordan are quite the characters. I found myself laughing as well as empathizing. How did you develop them? Are they based on any historical characters you read about?

P.J.: Hattie and Charlotte's backgrounds are partially based on a movement at the time to bring eligible women of good families from back East out West to marry the region's businessmen. It was easy to imagine the culture shock for a young woman coming from the larger, civilized cities of the East Coast to a town so lawless that one couldn't walk safely down the streets. What would happen, I wondered, if one of those women were to lose the only protection she had, the husband who had married her and moved her out West? Could she survive?

In terms of humor in the present-day story as the ghosts try to deal with their new homeowner, well, I admit it came mostly from my own twisted mind, LOL.

How much is Jordan like P.J. Alderman?

P.J.: We may have a few personality traits in common! I have an educational background in psychology, and Jordan is a therapist. Also, my friends will tell you I lean toward a dark and sarcastic sense of humor.;)

What have you been up to since A Killing Tide was published, and what else have you been working on?

P.J: A Killing Tide was published in December, 2006. Haunting Jordan, along with the second book for the mystery series, tentatively titled Ghost Ship, was contracted in 2007. I'm currently working on Ghost Ship, due to be published in 2010. In addition, I'm working on proposals for romantic thrillers and a second mystery series.

Any advice for aspiring novelists?

P.J.: If I have one bit of advice for aspiring novelists, it would be a paraphrase of Woody Allen's quote, which is that most of the job of a screenwriter involves simply showing up every day. What Woody was trying to say--and I've found to be the case--is perseverance is 9/10ths of the job. Continue to write, continue to enter your stories in contests and continue to study the craft of writing. Make every story you write better than the last, even after you are published. I never take for granted how much I have yet to learn.

Thanks for joining us, P.J. Before I let you go, fill us in on any signings you'll be attending.

P.J.: For those of you living in the Pacific Northwest, I will be signing Haunting Jordan at the Emerald City Book Fair on October 10th. Details about this book fair can be found on the Greater Seattle RWA website, www.gsrwa.org. I will also be appearing as a guest on several blogs. To find out where and when, visit my website early next week at www.pjalderman.com

It's been great to be here! Please feel free to ask questions and I'll try to answer them.

There you have it, readers. Ask a question or comment and you'll be entered in a drawing to win HAUNTING JORDAN. Winner to be drawn on Friday October 2nd. Thanks, everybody!


Monday, September 28, 2009

Writing Mysteries & a Little Help from my Friend

A few weeks ago, when I was down to the wire on my book, I was stymied. I'd followed Donald Maass's fantastic advice in Writing the Breakout Novel about turning the villain at the end, and though I fought his advice from beginning to 3/4s through my WIP, when I finally found the motivation for a different killer, my beta readers were astounded at who it turned out to be. So if anyone says to me... I saw your antagonist coming half-way through the book, they have to be psychic--because even I didn't know ;).

The reason I decided to blog on this topic was because unless you're very, very talented and have a natural gift and perception at writing mystery, I think this has to be one of the hardest genres. When I'd finally decided to turn my antagonist, I wasn't sure if I should use his/her/it ;) POV (I'll never tell) so I consulted my friend Allison Brennan, who is a constant when it comes to helping us unpubs, and hasn't forgetten her time in the trenches. Allison had this to say about mysteries, and I asked if I could share her response with you. She agreed, and I think her answer was very wise. I hope you agree.

Mysteries rarely go into the villain's POV. People are anal about POV, but mostly just writers. If there is no good reason to go into his POV in the course of the book, don't. It will seem odd to the reader. You might want to revisit the other character's POVs to see if they are necessary, and if they are just make sure you wrap up whatever their concerns/fears were when they were in POV. There's nothing wrong with going into a POV at the end of the book (as long as you introduced the character earlier and there was no reason to be in his POV) but you need to make sure that there are enough clues for the reader that he COULD be guilty otherwise you don't give them a fair chance to guess who the killer is. But there's also no reason to go into his POV if your h/h can explain his motivations or he can verbally.

Make sense?


Allison Brennan
CUTTING EDGE on sale now!

It made all the sense in the world to this writer, Allison, and I'm very grateful. Thanks!

Monday, September 21, 2009

B.R.E.A.T.H.E. -- Combining Massage Therapy Skills with the Writing Life

I recently completed my fifth manuscript, and while I’m so excited about this book, mentally, my body is no longer speaking to me.

I’m literally in traction. My chiropractor says my back muscles are in spasms. What causes this, I asked him? Innumerable problems he said: poor posture, improper ergonomic setup, nutrition, life stresses. And trust me, with both my mother and my mother in law living with me this summer (another blog topic), while trying to finish my novel, I fall into every one of the above categories.

So rather than trying to figure out what I've been doing wrong all these many months, I contacted fellow Colorado Romance Writer member Tiffany James, who in a former life, was a massage therapist. She shared some great advice and it's my turn to share it with you.

DB: Tiffany, first thanks for being here. Are you still a working massage therapist, and if not, why did you give it up?

TJ: Thanks for having me, Donnell! I’m an avid Five Scribes reader, and I’m thrilled to be on the other end this time around.

Two years ago I decided to give my newly discovered dream of becoming a published author a go. As I tried to manage a handful of roles, I realized I was spread too thin. I wasn’t doing anything well and experiencing a lot of stress – more than normal. That’s when I knew I had to give something up. After almost ten years of working as a massage therapist, I made the difficult decision to let it go and really focus on my writing (furious nail biting).

DB: Knowing when to say when--you sound like a very wise woman. What techniques did you bring from your massage training background and incorporate into your own writing?

T.J.: Great question! I’ve been writing since I stumbled upon National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) in the fall of 2007. I completed that year’s challenge as well as contracting a serious case of I-have-to-write-itis (a potentially debilitating condition in which the person afflicted has to write or risk turning into a cranky, chapfallen, just plain creepy freak. It’s not pretty – take my word for it!).

At first, I didn’t bring anything from my MT background into my writing practice. I thought they were two completely different worlds until I had a very enlightening conversation with my husband.

One day last year I was whining to him about how my back and neck hurt, and how that pain seemed to be moving into my shoulder. “Well, you have been sitting at the computer a lot lately,” he answered, oh so helpfully.

It was a “light bulb” moment for me. Nothing we do happens in a vacuum. We can always take lessons, techniques or thought processes from other vocations with us into our next adventure.

To make a long story even longer (sorry, Donnell), I started applying my MT skills to my writing life. Eventually, I developed a little system I called “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E”. It’s an acronym that reminds me of the things I need to address in order to create a physical foundation for my writing.

B – Breathing
R – Rest & Relaxation (which addresses stress relief)
E – Ergonomics
A – Atmosphere
T – Timer (Use it!)
H – Healthy eating
E – Exercise (Ugh, yuck, ewwww!)

For more information, check out my “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E” page on my website: www.tiffanyjames.net .

D.B. LOL, I knew I'd come to the right place, Tiff. When you worked on people in chronic pain, what would you say was their number one complaint?

T.J.: They had a myriad of complaints: tight necks and shoulders, low back pain, headaches, wrist pain and tingling fingers (carpal tunnel-like symptoms). But I believe that, in most cases, those complaints related back to one thing…working at a desk for eight, ten sometimes even twelve hours a day.

D.B.: Were any of their ailments preventable?

T.J.: I’m no M.D., but I do believe that, with basic changes in their daily routine, those problems could be significantly improved, if not completely resolved. These changes are simple, but don’t get me wrong, they are never easy!

D.B.: I appreciate the tips, and plan to incorporate them. As for massages, they're expensive. Any suggestions on where we authors on a budget can get one?

T.J.: Oh, yeah! Massage schools are an excellent resource. Before massage students can receive their certification or licensure (depending on their state’s regulations), students have to complete a specified number of client contact hours. Many massage therapy schools have a student clinic available. The students are usually in their last semester of study and the rates are reduced, often by fifty percent. Some schools even have professional clinics where the teaching staff treats clients, again at reduced rates. Make sure the school or professional clinic you attend is associated with an accredited massage therapy school.

Check with your local massage therapists as well. Many have reward programs that offer a complimentary massage if you refer clients or a reduced rate if you schedule your massages at regular intervals.

Speaking of regular intervals… in my practice and my own personal experience, I find that consistency is the key to effective massage therapy. It doesn’t necessarily matter how often you get a massage. What matters is that you stick with a regular schedule. For example, I’ve found that if I get a massage every six weeks (every four weeks during particularly busy or stressful times), I’m able to maintain the positive benefits. Experiment with your timeline and find what interval is best for you.

Visit www.massagetherapy.com for more information about massage therapy or to find a registered or licensed therapist in your area.

D.B.: After every massage I’ve ever received, I’m told to drink water. How important is water to the average writer sitting at a keyboard?

T.J: I don’t think there’s a yardstick long enough to measure the importance of it! ;)

Getting a massage gives your circulation a kick, revs it up so that toxins can be cleared from your body and nutrient-rich blood can be carried throughout it improving your overall health. Being well hydrated aids that process, which is why massage therapy clients are encouraged to drink water.

However, as most of us know, our circulatory systems are always working - even when we’re sitting at our desks. So drinking water all the time is important for the same reasons.

Here are a few more reasons to keep the water flowing:

* Water makes up 75% of our body, and we are constantly losing it through breathing, sweating and going to the bathroom.

* Not being properly hydrated can cause problems with everything from dry eyes to muscle cramps to decreased concentration and light headedness.

* In various studies chronic (over an extended period of time) dehydration has been connected to everything from constipation, headaches and allergies to asthma, depression, joint pain and premature aging (think of a plump grape full of water versus a dehydrated raisin)!

On a side note: The recommendation used to be 8-10 eight ounce glasses of water. I’ve recently heard that if your urine is clear, you’re properly hydrated. So take a peek at what you excrete!

D.B.: Here’s the next question: Does coffee, fruit juice etc. count? ;)

T.J.: It used to be that those things didn’t count, but I heard not long ago that we could count them. My personal recommendation would be to get most of your daily fluid intake from water. Remember, coffee and teas are diuretics so they increase the amount of water you lose, defeating our purpose. That’s not to say you can’t have your coffee and tea. I love my caramel lattes! I just don’t include that in my daily count. If you’ve had enough of the taste of water, you can add a slice of lemon, lime, or orange for a change of pace.

D.B.: How about exercise, and can you give us some tips about some stretches to do?

T.J.: Ugh! Just the word makes me want to hide under my desk. :)

Like many of you, I’m obsessed with my writing. It’s as essential to me as breathing. So I figured if I could apply that loathed chore of exercise to my writing I might be more inclined to do it. Guess what? It worked! Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m huffing and puffing up the hill near my house, and those nagging plot points that I just can’t figure out often work themselves out during my daily jaunts.

I’ve also found a way to get a little stretching in during the day without even realizing it. As you saw above (and probably wondered about) is that the “T” in my “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E.” approach is my timer. Every time I sit down at my desk I set it for 30 to 45 minutes. I type madly as the minutes countdown then, when the timer goes off, I take about three minutes to stretch. By the end of an eight hour day, I’ve gotten a 24 minute full-body stretching workout! Not bad for a few minutes here and there. ;)

Here a few of my faves that I can do right from my chair:

FOR NECK & SHOULDER: Sit tall with your feet on the floor and hold the bottom of your chair with your left hand. Pull up slightly. Tip your right ear toward your right shoulder. Feel that stretch? It’s intense! Drop your chin to your chest then do a half circle to the right with your head, stopping at particularly tight spots for a few breaths. Now do the other side.

Shoulder and gentle neck rolls are great too.

FOR UPPER & MIDBACK: Sit tall in your chair. Place your right hand on the outside of your left thigh. Reach your left hand behind you, look to the left and twist your body gently to the left. Hold for a few breaths. Switch to the other side.

ARMS: Pull your arm across your body. Hold for a few breaths. Now reach up to the ceiling, alternating reaching higher with one hand then the other (great for all of those muscles running through the sides of your upper body). Next, bend one arm, letting that hand reach “down” the back. You can use your other hand to increase the stretch. Repeat on the other side.

WRIST & JOINTS: Circle ‘em! Roll your feet around in all directions. Do the same with your hands. Place your palms and fingers against each other then gently push your palms away from each other. This stretches out all of those hardworking typing muscles in your hands and fingers.

I try to alternate stretching breaks from my chair with stretches that require me to “get up off a’ that thing”. Do you hear James Brown?

One of the best full body stretches I’ve found is the yoga series “Sun Salutation”. It would take me forever to explain it so check out this site: http://www.yogasite.com/sunsalute.htm . Be especially careful with hands up and upward dog. They can cause pain and injury to the back if you overdo.

*** Whenever you’re exercising, remember that pain is your body’s way of communicating with you! If it hurts, don’t do it or lessen the intensity.

D.B.: I can't wait to check out the site and try these exercises! I take my first hot yoga class next week. So, Tiff, how important are breaks from the keyboard?

T.J. If I could convince today’s readers to do one thing, it would be to take breaks from that keyboard! And not just to get up and move around like I talked about above – although those are really important. Even taking a mini-break and gazing out the window, at a favorite picture or art piece can relax your eye muscles and lessen eye strain.

D.B. And if you could sit down with a group of writers, what kind of advice would you give them regarding keeping their bodies healthy so they can have a successful career?

T.J.: I would encourage them to think about it like this: We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t draw water from an empty well”. It’s the same with your writing. Your body is the well, your creativity and inspiration the water. If your brain can’t function because it isn’t getting enough oxygen because you’re not taking full, deep breaths; if you’re burned out because you’ve been working non-stop; if you’re in pain because your desk set-up doesn’t jive with your body; if you can’t produce because the atmosphere in which you’re working isn’t conducive; if you’re unable to concentrate because you didn’t eat or stay hydrated or exercise then you’re trying to draw excellence in prose from an empty, uninspired, creatively void well.

Fill it! Take some time each day to “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E.”.

D.B.: Tiffany, my body thanks you, and I bet there's some sore writers out there who thank you, also!!! Before you leave, tell us about your writing, what you’re working on and how it’s going?

T.J.: (Clapping hands like an overjoyed child) I’m so excited! I just finished the final edits on One Season, a contemporary romance and the first book in my “Girls of Keegan-Bentley” series. Here’s the log line for One Season:

It’s said you can never go home again. But if returning means forgiveness and stepping back into the land of the living, is it worth the risk?

Hayden Questra is about to find out.

T.J. Thank you for having me, Donnell!

D.B. My pleasure, Tiff. Okay, readers. There you have it. Tiffany and I are going to award $25 to one lucky commenter that ideally you'll use for a massage. But here's the rub.... you must comment on WHY YOU NEED ONE IN THE FIRST PLACE. And "BECAUSE I'M SORE" doesn't count. Tiffany and I will review the responses and insert the creative ones into the drawing. Personally, I think I'm way ahead... A mother and a mother in law moving in with me??? Who can beat that? We're listening....And we'll announce the winner on Friday September 25th.

Here's to Happy Pain-free Writing!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Multi-tasking Woman

At last, in her own indubitable style, Author/Agent Lois Winston tells us about multi-tasking. Please welcome Lois Winston...

I recently learned of a study regarding multi-tasking, especially as it concerns today’s youth. The radio report made it sound like this was a new phenomenon, something invented by Gen Y kids who are simultaneously plugged into their iPods and surfing the ‘Net while they’re Twittering, texting, updating their Facebook pages, and doing homework.

I laughed out loud. The scientists running that study had to be all guys. Multi-tasking is nothing new. Women have been multi-tasking since the beginning of time. That’s why we have two X chromosomes. We’re born as clones of ourselves, able to multi-task from the moment of conception.

Sigmund Freud hypothesized that the reason men became the hunters and women stayed back at the cave, tending the fire, was because males had an uncontrollable urge to pee on the flames. Women may have wanted to pee on the flames, too, but their physiology kept them from doing so. This was back before our ancestors learned how to make fire. All they could do was keep the home fires burning. So it was really important to make sure the guys stayed beyond peeing distance of the flames. Hence, the division of labor.

Freud got it all wrong, though. The reason men went off in search of saber-toothed tigers and other gastronomic delicacies while the womenfolk stayed back in the cave was because the women could tend the fires, tan the hides, sew the clothing, look after the little ones, and tidy up the cave all at the same time. Men are incapable of doing more than one thing at a time because they have no double “anything” chromosome.

My life is all about multi-tasking. I’m both an award-winning author and a literary agent who has never given up her “day job” as a needlework designer. In addition, I teach online workshops on writing. People (usually of the male persuasion) often ask me how I manage to juggle so many careers. It’s easy.

I’m a WOMAN -- double U O M A N.

It also helps that my kids are grown. I never suffered from empty nest syndrome. I merely replaced all those kid-centric duties that are no more with additional careers. Now instead of one career plus “mom” duties, I have 3+ careers and no “mom” duties. Writing is a lot more fun than carpooling.

I’m wondering, though, with Gen Y guys developing the ability to multi-task, will this new skill spill over into other areas of their lives? Imagine a guy who’s capable of burping the baby and letting the dog out at the same time! Nah. Never happen. He’ll wind up letting the baby out and burping the dog while he’s texting his Fantasy Football picks for the week.

* * *

Award-winning author Lois Winston writes humorous, cross-genre, contemporary novels and romantic suspense. When not writing or designing, you can find Lois trudging through stacks of manuscripts as she hunts for diamonds in the slush piles for the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency where she handles romance, mystery, and women’s fiction authors. If you’d like to read more about Lois, the author, check out her website at http://www.loiswinston.com. If you’d like to query Lois, the literary agent, email her at lois.graysonagent@earthlink.net. And if you’d like to learn more about Lois, the teacher of online writing workshops, check out http://beginningwriterworkshops.com.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Joseph FInder's Top 14 mistakes of Best Selling Authors

1) Passive Hero

2) Stick Figure Hero--weak characterization--cliche' characters

3) Overwriting--trying to be too literary

4) Messing up POV- Finder's advice is one POV/scene--un-less, you are brilliant and can be the exception.

5) Overuse of Prologue--He advises trying to avoid prologues.

6) Long Windup--taking too long to get the story started.

7) Weak 2nd act= Sagging middle-- to avoid this escalate conflict. Hero needs to fail, recommit, and try harder. Here's where you introduce the subplot. Raise the stakes. Complicate the story.

8) All plot with no people=BAD- the best books--even thrillers, are about PEOPLE. Human characters readers can identify with. Readers don't care about the survival of the world . . . just the people.

9) Too Much Action-- In a book, car chases are deadly--works in movies, but in a book action without emotion is boring. And give the reader some variety. After a long action sequence, let the reader breathe. We need to rest to appreciate the action.

10) Predictability- Do NOT underestimate the reader. Do not be cliche'. Avoid predictability.

11) Backstory Dump--filter it in sparingly in bits and pieces throughout the story.

12) Lousy Ending- Don't let the book peter out. Don't give endless explanation to "wrap up" the loose ends. Surprise the reader--but play fair; it has to make sense. Harlan Coban has great endings.

13) Showing off Research--DON'T do it. You need to research FAR more than you include. Just include the tip of the iceberg--the least amount you can get away with. Don't show off. Exceptions are Tom Clancy, 'cause, well, he's Tom Clancy and it's expected. Use research for revelation and surprise elements.

14) Overly Explicit Dialogue- write natural dialogue

Sound advice, I thought. Now don't do it! Though . . . I was tempted to bemoan the point that they DID do it and not only got published, but made it to the best seller's list. But we're aiming for perfection, right? RIGHT!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Colorado Gold Conference Highlights

Hi All,
Just back from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference where I had a terrific weekend. I spent an inordinate amount of time networking ie making new friends, Charlotte Cook of Komenar Publishing, loyal Sandy entrant, Sheree Noble, Stef Blooding, Megan, Frank & Lavinia, Beth, Elizabeth and several others. I met my Crested Butte pal and CB conference co-coordinator, Barbara Crawford, there as well as some old pals from the CB Writers conference, Merrie Wycoff, Grace Larralde, Tina Forkner & Kevin Wolf--among many other old writing friends.

I confess I networked far more than went to workshops. I did make time to pitch to Sally Kim, executive editor at Harper Collins, and she advised me on how to refine my pitch, had very positive things to say about two of the three agents considering the full manuscript of The Road Between, offered a name of an agent I had not submitted to whom she thought would enjoy my story, and said she'd like to read the manuscript when I settled on an agent. So that was very positive and productive--AND to those shy (or procrastinating) people, take note. I went right upstairs and queried the agent Sally recommended and told the other 3 agents considering the work that Sally was interested in reading it once I signed an agent. No grass growing under these Rizzo feet people!

Now onto something more important to all you authors--Oh, but first, CONGRATULATIONS to Kevin Wolf whose book, Broke Heart won the Colorado Gold--and just about every other writing contest he entered it in this year. Woohoo! Kevin had the eminent good taste to join the Crested Butte Writers group after he attended our June conference and won first place in the Fantasy/SF category of The Sandy. Kevin is a very talented, very tall, very nice writer who is so close the the brass ring that I had the uncomfortable urge to rub his head for good luck--like one rubs a Buhdda's belly for good luck. I didn't. I kept my hands to myself--except for lightly swatting the shoulder he had surgery on--I didn't know! Honest. There are several people I'd love to intentionally cause pain to, and I am not above resorting to violence when provoked, but Kevin is not one of them.

I enjoyed several workshops, but keynote author, Joseph Finder's, took the cake. And that's F-soft i--nder. Fin--like the thing on a fish we don't want to eat. Or the way to identify one of the great white sharks stalking the East coast shoreline. I regress. Anyhow, he had words of wisdom concerning the Thirteen Biggest Mistakes Even Best Selling Authors Make--which I will share with you tomorrow as I'm disorganized and out of time right now. Until tomorrow!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Words of Wisdom

Friday, September 11, 2009

Words of Wisdom
"It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop." – Vita Sackville-West

"Words -- so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." – Nathaniel Hawthorne

From CS Weekly; http://creativescreenwriting.com/


Thursday, September 3, 2009

There Is No Magic Bullet

What? Are you kidding? What do you mean there's no magic bullet?

Sorry my friends, there isn't.

I've been to countless classes and seminars, taken copious notes, listened intently and hoped that this person would tell me or show me that one elusive thing I was missing or hadn't yet grasped that would make my writing stellar and oh-so saleable. That this "rule" or that formula would be THE MAGIC BULLET.

Any of you been there? Do you know the feeling? Come on, fess up, I just did.

What I've gleaned is that every seminar, book, lecture, CD or DVD can offer you nuggets...nuggets that can help you hone your craft or shine a bit of light on a dark corner of a story problem.

THE only magic bullet I know is to write. Write through the puke, the crises of confidence about your skill level and the sinking plots in your manuscript or screenplay.

Finish that WIP, give it to good friends who will be honest yet kind in their critique, then rewrite, rewrite and maybe again.

Then stop.

And start a new story. Move on and upward. Your skills will get better, you'll find those nuggets, you'll learn by writing, then learn again by rewriting as you find ways to tweak the most out of every scene, every bit of dialogue, and layer in a bit more subtext.

So by all means, take courses, listen and watch and mine for those nuggets, but please don't think this person or that formula or this concept will make it magically happen.

You will make it happen by continuing to write every day and by believing in yourself, not a magic bullet.

Write on,


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Romantic Times Gives Scribes Contributor' 4-1/2 Star Review


"Readers will rejoice at the return of one of the romance genre's special
talents! Stover is back and jumping right into the romantic suspense game,
while giving it a paranormal twist. Stover's heroine is competent yet
damaged, both by the past and her "gift". This melting pot of murder
mystery, passion and ghosts makes for an outstanding storytelling stew!"
~ 4 1/2 Stars! Jill Smith, RT BOOK REVIEWS

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fall's Coming and The Sandy Update

Hi All,
Happy September 1! Fall, my favorite season, is just around the corner. The kids are all back in school and I can get back to a more regular writing schedule. I'm looking forward to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in just ten days; not so much to learn more about the craft (though I'm always grateful to learn something new that helps elevate my writing) or to pitch my books, but to hang out with my writer pals. Conferences so often reenergize and inspire me, and I could use a little of that right about now as I begin my sixth book.

As for The Sandy . . . I'm excited to announce that Megan McKeever from Pocket has graciously agreed to judge the romance category and Senior Editor of Ballantine, Mark Tavani, will judge the suspense/thriller category. So polish up those pages--oh, and spend some time reading. Lots of time reading. Read from the current bestsellers in your genre and learn from them. What is it that they do so well, that you could do better within your own work?

I just finished Jeffery Deavers's book, The Sleeping Doll, and not only is it very fast paced, but it has terrific plot twists, and it has something I can learn from. The heroine is a specialist in interrogation and kinesics, a widow, and a mother. Deaver masterfully and constantly reminded us of these things on just about every page, through dialogue and her internal thoughts.

Sometimes I think we less experienced authors get distracted by the beauty of stringing words together, by the plot twists, by the craft and forget to actually climb into our POV character's head and look constantly and continuously look at the world/situations through ALL the facets of the POV person's personality.

Sure, I do these things with my characters, but I do them more intermittently than this best
seller--and more intermittently than Sandra Brown does in her most recent book, Smoke Screen. It would enrich and deepen my characters to maintain a more consistent focus on who they are and how they would always be considering the world--not just the obvious places when I remembered to accent it.

I think this is just a more advanced writing skill that distinguishes the best sellers from those good writers. The good news, is that I can do it. I can improve my writing by enhancing this aspect of craft and I will. But I never would have known that I could do better in my own books if I hadn't taken the time to read current bestsellers.

So even though it feels a bit self-indulgent to me to spend time reading when I could be writing, it is important. It's fun, but it needn't be a guilty pleasure. It's an important part of my growth as a writer and nowhere is it written that we have to suffer for our craft. Sure, we are writers, but I've always maintained that it should be fun. I'm not published yet. I only have self-imposed deadlines. I don't need the money to live on--and let's be honest here; it's not about the money for the vast majority of us--there are VERY few writers who can actually support themselves from income earned writing. So it had better be fun and gratifying.

Life's too short to spend time torturing yourself. So read books. Enter contests. Go to writing conferences. Learn and improve in your craft any way you can--any LEGAL way you can--no plagiarizing people. But most of all . . . enjoy the journey.

Happy fall!