Friday, December 31, 2010

Welcome 2011 to a Happy New Year of Writing

It's impossible for me to believe 2011 is here already. I just blinked and another year flew by. But whether 2010 was ghastly with rejections and disappointment, or it provided you with pleasure and success, there's one thing for certain. 2011 can be a time for renewal--for wiping the slate clean. The publishing industry is a lot like 2010. Blink and it will change.

In honor of 2011, I'm doing just that. My friend, RITA nominee Therese Walsh and author of THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY and also co-founder of Writer Unboxed gave me permission to use the following article. The title may read THE UNPUBLISHED WRITER'S SEVEN DEADLY SINS. But look close, and I believe Therese's words speak to published authors equally.

I'm ankle deep in revisions on my 2007 Golden Heart finaling book that sold to Bell Bridge Books, so that's my main focus right now.

But I have some great interviews coming up with 2009 Golden Heart winner Darynda Jones and her highly touted, FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT, award-winning author, Kaki Warner, OPEN COUNTRY AND PIECES OF SKY and her new release CHASING THE SUN.

I can't wait to talk to these very talented ladies and see what makes their writing so successful.

Also, don't forget to check in on January 3rd, when Leslie Ann Sartor aka LA presents Award-winning Author Nancy Haddock. Nancy will talk to us about EMPOWERMENT and how to identify your own power for 2011 and every day beyond .

Big things in store, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, please read what Therese has to say, and see if, like me, they don't apply to you. On behalf of my fellow Scribes, here's to your writing, to following your dreams and a successful and healthy New Year.

Happy Writing. ~ Donnell

The Unpublished Writers Seven Deadly Sins

by Therese Walsh

1. A weak concept. Let’s write a book about a guy and a girl and a dog, and love and a peach pie. And maybe an eye patch. Or not. A STRONG concept will not only increase the likelihood that you’ll be successful in the end, but it can actually help you to finish your wip. How? It’ll inspire you to sit and work on it for hours at a time. Like a body, prone and needing CPR, your manuscript needs your help. If you love it–really, really love it–and see value in it, you will keep breathing life into it until it starts breathing on its own.

2. No deadline. My kids’ school has asked my hubby and me to write a song as their new anthem. Cool, eh? They asked two months ago, and we’ve yet to work on it. I was joking with the secretary about it recently. “You should give us a deadline,” I said. “It’s all right,” she said, “you can’t rush creativity.” I smiled, shook my head. “Oh, you’d be surprised.” As someone who’s had the benefit of the hot-iron push of deadline, I’m here to tell you that it’s a truly motivating factor. But how to impose a deadline on yourself when there isn’t anyone waiting for the script on the other end, prod in hand, check in the other? You just do. You entrust an editor-like authority to those who understand your desire to reach The End–like a critique partner or buggy sister–and then let them use a pseudo-prod to bother you regularly. You mark your calendar with your deadlines–”finish part 1″…”wrap up first draft”–and you reward yourself when you meet the mark. Push yourself, and let others push you too. Don’t let your wip become an unsung song.

3. A bad critique group. Having a bad critique group can set you back even further than having a bad agent, because a bad group might mean the script is never finished in the first place. What makes for a bad group? No one knows anything more than you do. Snark (not Miss) tops the agenda at every meeting. Advice flies faster than the Wicked Witch’s gaggle of monkeys on a bad day. You edit your manuscript to please three people and set off three more. You wind up feeling utterly depleted, confused and strangely addicted to the experience–because you’re writing, after all, maybe more than ever, and people seem to want to read what you’ve written and– Stop. Set yourself free. Find some writers who you can trust and who can truly teach you something. About how to tell a good story. About the craft. About the business. And then learn and grow so that you can be an asset to them as well.

4. Relying overmuch on anyone but yourself. Even the best critique group in the world cannot write your manuscript for you. They cannot get you an agent, an editor, a contract or a check. Don’t expect them to, even if they have connections. Your writerly friends cannot and should not be expected to pat your hand and soothe your ego every time you hit a snag; there will be lots of snags, and you will burn out your valuable allies if you burden them with every one. So you dig deep. You take what you’ve learned and you find a way to become your own toughest critic and best cheerleader. And when things are very rough or when you have some joy to share, then you reach out. Writing can be a lonely occupation, but it will be less so if you listen first and foremost to your inner voice and the many voices of all the characters sprung to life on your pages.

5. Flying blind. I wrote my first novel-length manuscript without doing any craft work. I had James Frey’s How to Write A Damn Good Novel, II (not I) on my bookshelf because I felt cool having it there. But I didn’t crack it. I had books on publishing children’s books on my shelf too, but I’d never done much with those either. What I had was ego. I thought I knew how a story would unfold, so I let the characters take me on a wild journey. I learned, through writers’ loops, that I was a pantser. Cool, I thought; that’s my style, it’s how I’ll succeed. Or not. Because even though the agents I sent my script to liked my voice and many of my story’s elements, the plot itself was about as holey as a nine-year-old-boy’s socks after a season of baseball. (You know what I’m talking about.)

I have craft books now–30+ books on novel writing and screenplay writing: books to inspire, to churn ideas; to help with editing and block; easy-breezy reads and bicep-straining tomes–and I’ve read all or some of most of them. I try not to overdo it. I try to reach for these books only when I know I need the help, because I’m fearful of overwhelming the creative side of my brain with Too Many Rules. But the thing is, you need to know the rules if you’re going to play the game to win. Sure you can play the game without rules–you can even have fun doing it. But don’t be surprised if, at the end of the day, you find yourself swinging that bat alone, the others up and quit on you, sick of saying, “No, no! Second base is THERE!”

6. Not doing the hard edit. No one likes doing major edits. Wait. Can’t it work if X? Don’t you understand that his motivation is Y? Okay. It’s your story. You either see the need for work or you don’t. But if you have three people telling you they don’t understand your protagonist’s motivations, or that there’s no chemistry between a pair of would-be lovers, or that the plot skips like your dad’s old Star Wars album after you left it to bake on the dashboard of your car (oops), then you should really think about listening. And cracking one of those editing books. And doing a Hard Edit. You might not want to do it; in fact, you’d be a rare breed of writer if you did. You might even believe it would be easier just to quit and start another story all together–especially if this advice comes once you’ve finished a full draft. You might even be right. But if you love your story as you should (see rule 1), then you shouldn’t give up on it at the 11th hour. No one said this was going to be easy, and if they did you should go on and hit them with a cream pie or something. Right in the eyeball.

7. Quitting. I was torn about whether to list this one as “Not Believing” or “Quitting,” but really these vices go hand in hand. If you don’t believe in your story or your abilities as a writer, you will be more inclined to quit before you’ve finished your script or done the Hard Edit. If you feel you have compelling reasons not to believe in yourself–say you’ve received a rash of rejections lately, and none of them were favorable–you STILL can’t quit. Sorry; I’m not going to make this easy on you. It just means you’ve fallen victim to one of the deadly sins. Maybe you need more craft work or a new critique group or a better concept. Figure it out and keep going. Because EVERYthing you learn, EVERY critique you’re able to ingest without defense and grow from, EVERYtime you alone push yourself out of the dumps and carry on with your script, you become a better, stronger writer.

You cannot quit. You cannot. Not as long as you believe in your story and feel its pulse beneath your fingers. You cannot quit as long as you feel the drive in your gut to tell the tale. Because it will eat away at you if you do–until you dust off your notes and your keyboard, and try, try again.

I may not know much, but I know this.

Write on, all!

Thanks, Therese!

This article first appeared on Writer's Unboxed,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Power On!

Empowerment may be in the Universal Consciousness, but do you know what personal power truly is – much less how to use yours?

You will!

Tune into Five Scribes on January 3rd when author Nancy Haddock will outline how to identify and use your own innate power every single day of 2011 and beyond!

Nancy Haddock writes light paranormal mystery romance for Berkley. La Vida Vampire hit national bestseller lists, and both La Vida Vampire and Last Vampire Standing were awarded 4½ stars from Romantic Times BookReviews magazine. Always the Vampire, her third book in the series, will be released in May 2011.

Nancy has been a speech & language pathologist, a high school teacher, a mentor, and has studied various disciplines, including Native American religion and Huna medicine. She hails from Oklahoma, lived in the Dallas area for many years, and now makes historic St. Augustine, Florida her home.

Stay tuned, I know I am, I can't wait!!  What a great way to start a new year.


Friday, December 17, 2010

End of the Road

I know I've been MIA, and I apologize. It seems the addition of a letter to my degree meant a time vacuum would form in my life. I've had less time than I've had time obligated, and I'm pretty sure this means I've missed a few potty breaks.

But it's over! I have officially passed all my classes, have received passes from my thesis advisers, and am on the schedule at January's residency to present my thesis. Zoinks! I'm nearly done, so close the speck of light at the end of the tunnel now looks more like an oncoming train.

I have to say, as much as I loved this program, I'm relieved. I've been doing this for three years now, longer than anticipated because of the shift to the better degree, and the last year especially has been quite a challenge. It's all been worth it, though. And even though I'm already quaking at the thought of standing in front of my peers and faculty to read from my thesis, I'm also ready to pass out.

It's the end of the road, but at the same time, the book's life is just beginning. I've just turned in the first round of edits based on discussion (namely about expanding the book into a series), and I know I'll have significant changes to make to it once my editor has made a pass through it. When I put my thesis into stasis at the library before I graduate, it'll be the end of the road in academia...for now. One day, I'd like to get my PhD. But shhhh. Don't tell my husband about this brilliant plan. School loans come due next month. ;)

I'm starting to think publishing is this big spiral of joy and omg edits are due and excitement and omg I have writer's block. School just primed that pump.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Have You Ever...

Watched a movie or read a book and just wanted to cradle your head in your arms because it was SO good and you want to write like that, convey that emotion so well, have that fantastic retort, make the perfect scene.

Dang, I have! 

I just watched a movie that made me so jealous.  I want to write like that. 

This wanting to be better, to make the screen come alive becomes an itch and I guess the only way to scratch it is to become a better I won't stop now.

Keep on learning, writing and maybe we'll reach that next pinnacle and someone else will bury their head on their arms and think...I want to write like that.

I hope so.

PS. I'm not telling you which movie I just watched :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Physical Proxies, Or How To Convey Emotion!!

Robert Gosnell, screenwriter, mentor, and teacher taught me an extremely important lesson one day after I was finished beating my head against the wall TRYING to figure out how to convey the right emotion...silently, without dialogue.  The use of physical proxies.

Believe me, this is NOT just a technique for screenwriters.

There's really no mystery to the concept of physical proxies, or anything new. It's simply a reflection of the old "show, don't tell" rule.

The first thing I try to incorporate into my screenwriting process, and I know many screenwriters do this, is an ability to watch the movie as I'm writing it. When I have emotional information I want to convey; the kind which would be delivered through narrative in a novel, I picture the scene, the characters and the interaction going on and ask myself how each character would translate that information through an action, a reaction, a look, a tone or dialogue subtext.

If it's going to come through dialogue, then I'm looking for subtext. I don't want a literal translation of emotion into words, I want to say it in subtext that is unique to that character's attitude.

Remember that scene from "Rocky" that I use in class, (LAS: watch Rocky and this scene) where Mickey, the Burgess Meridith character, goes to Rocky's little apartment, in hopes of talking Rocky into letting him be his manager?  I chose that scene to study, mostly because I wanted to demonstrate how to effectively keep a long scene interesting. That scene was more than seven minutes long. Seven minutes of dialogue. Theoretically, that should be death, yet the scene played beautifully. The conflict was set up earlier, when Mickey told Rocky he should retire, and took Rocky's locker away from him, giving it to an up-and-coming fighter. Now, he wants to be Rocky's manager.

What I also point out in this scene is how well it added complexity to Rocky's character, using irony and opposing traits. Here's where we get to the physical proxies. Mickey is following Rocky around the room, making his case, talking about his experience, showing Rocky pictures of young Mickey as a boxer.

And, what does Rocky do?  He keeps moving away from Mickey.  (LAS: Here is the physical proxy...the silent part, though it doesn't always have to be silent to use this technique) He throws darts at a dart board. He gets a beer from the refrigerator. He walks to his bedroom. Finally, when all else fails, he goes into the bathroom and closes the door.

Here's a big, tough, heavyweight fighter, and what is he doing? Avoiding confrontation. He keeps telling Mickey, "The fights set. I don't need no manager." But, we know what's really going on. Mickey gave up on him. Mickey told him to quit. Mickey hurt his feelings. You could see it, stirring around inside him. You knew the reason he was saying "no." Nobody had to tell us, because Rocky showed us. The only time it was really addressed was in Rocky's bedroom. Mickey follows him in and sees a poster of the heavyweight legend Rocky Graziano on the wall. He remarks that Rocky reminds him of Graziano. "You move like him. You got heart." Rocky replies, "Yeah, I got heart. But, I ain't got no locker, do I, Mick?"

Now, let's look at it from Mickey's point-of-view. Look at the action he takes to convince Rocky. He brings a picture of himself as a young fighter to show Rocky--who just remarks that he hasn't taken very good care of the picture.  Mickey relates exploits of some of his tough fights. He insists that Rocky needs him. Nobody has to tell us Mickey is desperate for this. We can see it in his demeanor. When Rocky finally goes into the bathroom and shuts the door in Mickey's face, you can see the fight go out of Mickey. You can see the defeat on his face and in his manner. He wearily rests his forehead against the bathroom door and mumbles..."I'm 76 years old." Subtext for "this is my last chance." From confident hope to desperation to defeat to utter resignation, all shown through his actions, reactions, subtext, facial expressions and body language.

Think of it as mime, if you like. Think of it as silent films. Ask yourself, "What if there is no sound? How can I show what my character is feeling?" If your character is well developed; well rounded, the right action for that character to express his inner feelings will be there. Rocky was a brute with a soft spot. Tough and crude, yet sensitive and vulnerable. Those conflicting traits going on inside him caused him to react to a given situation in his own unique, personal way. So, his "physical proxies" were his, alone.

Like I said, nothing really new, just a mindset to help express emotions visually.

Perhaps it's nothing new, but to me, a light bulb went off.  I hope this helps shine some light in your writing.

Thanks Bob!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Message for Julia: A visit with Superromance Author Angel Smits

Dear Five Scribe Readers: I am pleased to bring you today the very talented Angel Smits. I have to qualify that I’ve known Angel for years, and have to share something she may not even know. I became her number one fan years ago, when as a new writer I attended Open Critique and Angel headed it up. She gave an allotted time for us to read, and before the time was up, someone started giving me feedback on my newby mistakes. Angel shushed the member, saying, “Quiet, I’m reading a really good story.”

Well, I read a VERY good story recently called A MESSAGE TO JULIA. Julia’s a lot like Angel in that she’s fearless, protective and entirely introspective. I’d like to share with you a review Angel recently received, and then I hope you’ll help me welcome Angel Smits to the Five Scribes.

Like many around the globe I sat glued to the TV as they brought up the Chilean miners after their long ordeal underground. A Message for Julia was timely beyond belief! I could picture Linc trying to fit in the small capsule just as the Chilean miners had to. You must have spent a ton of time researching this one. Based on what I saw and read on the Internet, Julia was extremely accurate.

I started reading this morning and just finished...I couldn't put it down! You have woven a terrific story with complex levels and touching, emotional content. Thank you. I love reading books that touch the heart the way this one did mine.

~~ Nancy Heubeck

D.B: Well, with that I could probably say interview over, go buy this book! But no, Angel’s mine for a few questions at least. ;) Welcome again, Angel. Now I know you’re a Colorado girl, but your story takes place in a fictitious place called Parilton, Pennsylvania and around the Winding Trail Mine. What inspired this story?

A.S.: Thanks, Donnell. What a great intro. You’re so good to me. And that story was really good. I remember that day. I’m really pleased to be here.

To answer your question, the story idea came while I was watching the news coverage of the Sago Mining disaster years ago. I remember a picture of a woman, one of the family members. Her face held so much pain and was streaked with tears, but still she was looking up, hoping to hear some type of news. She touched my heart. I so wanted to give her a happy ending. I couldn’t get her out of my head, and she became Julia.

The setting grew out of that idea. I picked Pennsylvania because the coal mines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania are still very active and are where the coal mining culture is located. We have mines here in Colorado and I know a lot just from my own family’s history, but the culture isn’t here. So I had to go find it.

D.B.: I’ll try not to give the entire plot away, but I picked up the book’s theme was all about understanding and forgiveness. Julia suffers a late term miscarriage, and after months of trying again, her husband Linc refuses to try alternate methods of conception. Along with their different upbringings, his refusal and Julia’s secrets drive them further apart. Unfortunately, it takes a mining disaster for both to put love into perspective. Do you agree with my perception?

A.S. I’d say you’re pretty astute. I think that’s a big part of any relationship that works and when people have hurt each other, as Julia and Linc have done, that’s the only things that can save them. Too often it’s human nature that we don’t “wake up” until something or someone smacks up upside the head.

D.B: The loss of a child storyline has been done. But in MESSAGE TO JULIA, the way you wrote it made me feel for both of these characters. You presented both their viewpoints brilliantly. Will you talk about the male/female point of view? Is this something that comes instinctively or do you struggle with it until you get it right?

A.S.: I used to think I wrote the female POV well and that I struggled with the male POV. That was a rather narrow way of thinking--you know since I’m a girl I’d automatically understand girls, right? So I started going to workshops to try and learn how to write from a guy’s point of view. I felt like I was getting a pretty good handle on it. Then something happened. My son started to write.

I’m part of a group that writes improv regularly and he joined. I’m biased, I know, but he’s pretty good. Listening to his stuff, it dawned on me that gender doesn’t matter. When my son wrote a scene where his hero (a werewolf) was heartbroken over the girl he was in love with, I just sat there in shock. First that my kid had written something so well, and second, that it was so heartfelt, and didn’t sound at all like a girl. Everyone really liked that piece. And I learned a lot. Yeah, guys say things differently, or have different body language, but inside? They hurt just like I do. They feel just like I do. It doesn’t matter if it’s male or female. It’s more about knowing that specific character well. Both mothers and fathers mourn the loss of a child. Since I started writing from Linc’s POV or Julia’s POV not his or hers, my writing’s gotten much better and clearer—and easier.

D.B.: Conflict between other characters is also something you do well. As I mentioned Julia, an only child, has a mind of her own. She’s protective of her students and isn’t thrilled when a seventeen year old quits school to work in the mine. Julia faces censure from the school board for interfering. Later, not only does the seventeen year old get trapped in the mine with Julia’s husband Linc, but the censoring school board member’s husband.

I pictured Angel Smits at her keyboard saying, I’ll put them together until they can play nice. But, wow, did you pull at readers’ heartstrings while doing it. Will you talk about conflict? You set it up so well between characters. And how did this thread in the story come to be?

A.S. Wow you are really going to put me through the paces, aren’t you? Conflict is what stories are about. I have heard Donald Maass talk several times and read his books. (Really great resources. If you don’t have them, get them. Study them.) He talks about heaping on the problems for your characters. Paint them into a corner. Keep asking yourself what more could happen? Additionally, don’t think of it as just one of those hectic days, but what more could happen that will be worst for THIS character. That’s how we are in real life, too, isn’t it? The hectic day eventually ends and you go home, but the painful issues follow you and eventually have to be solved.

Using Ryan seemed to fall naturally in place for me. Julia was a teacher and loved kids, but because of her miscarriage she quit teaching little kids and went to the high school, foolishly thinking that would be safer. Not a chance. I put her in a corner because older kids have even bigger problems sometimes. She couldn’t run away anymore.

D.B. I know that MESSAGE TO JULIA survived many drafts. I think you said that you used flashbacks originally. But I have to say I loved the way the scenes transitioned between the families in the makeshift waiting area to the miners trapped 200 feet below the surface. My heart lurched with every heading. Thursday afternoon, 4:00 p.m. to Thursday afternoon, Three and a Half Hours Underground, finally escalating to Saturday evening, 9:00 p.m. to Saturday Night, Fifty-Four and a Half Hours Underground.

Did you devise this, Angel? Or was this a collaboration of your editor?

A.S.: I have to give Paula Eykelhoff, one of my editors full credit for that idea. Yes, this book was originally written with the Everlasting Line in mind. But when it went defunct, I was still writing the book. Paula and I met at a couple different Romance Writers Conferences and she really liked the idea. We’d brainstorm and I’d come home and rework it. We did that four different times before they made an offer. She thought by actually marking the time, it would add to the tension. It did. It also made me stick really tightly to a timeline, which was a challenge but ultimately great for me the writer and the story.

D.B. You won the Golden Heart in 1996 so it’s no secret that you can write beautifully. But you have such lovely written passages throughout your book, such as…

Julia’s POV:

She nodded. On autopilot, she grabbed her purse and keys and closed the door. Settled in the passenger seat, she looked back at the house as Hank climbed in behind the wheel of her half-loaded car. It looked the same as it had just a few minutes ago--just as it had when she’d driven away on Friday, leaving Linc and it behind--and yet everything was different.

She was different. Numbness took over. Numb was good.

Linc’s POV:

“Zach convince you to write that letter?”

Linc chuckled. “Thinking about it.”

“Thinking don’t get it done.”

That was true, “You writing one?”

“Nope don’t have to.”


“Wrote one years ago, when I had my first heart attack. Left it in the safe deposit box. Shirley’ll find it when I’m gone one day.”

“What’d you say? How did you say goodbye?”

“I didn’t. I told her how much I appreciated having her, not how much I’d hate it without her. Think positive. Leave your wife with a light to see through the darkness. Don’t extinguish it by pointing out what’s hurting her.”

Linc stared at the older man. “How’d you get so wise down here in the bowels of earth?”

“Maybe talking to God near the devil’s playground gives you points.” Gabe whispered the words, and Linc knew he’d drifted off to sleep…

D.B.: I’d give my book away in a drawing, but it’s autographed. Plus, it was kind of soggy by this point. Well done, Angel. I have three final questions/comments before I let you go, because my questions take up three pages.

A MESSAGE FOR JULIA could be construed as political. There are some safety and ethical issues for these men who go down in the mines every day. Was that your intent? The way you delve into the topic is seamless. But I wanted your thoughts on the mining industry, and what you, yourself write, is one of the most dangerous industries.

A.S.: I didn’t start out to put in anything political, but I am drawn to a story that has an issue in it. This one grew organically out of the whole mining industry itself. As I researched and learned more, I realized that. Mining is one of the most perilous fields to work in. People die on a regular basis, and for what? Energy? To run our computers and hair dryers? And they aren’t getting rich doing it, either. Even our military gets hazard pay when they go into dangerous places.

Sadly, even the people within the industry itself don’t agree with each other, which fit perfectly in my story. There are regulations and equipment, like the shelter they had in the Chilean mine that can keep miners safer. Yet few mines have them in place, and there’s nothing to make them do it. Even public outcry has minimal effect.

D.B.: Will you talk about the timing of this book? I understand Harlequin puts out its books months to years in advance. How did you feel when the Chilean mining tragedy hit the airwaves and MESSAGE TO JULIA was on the cusps of release?

A.S. As I said, I started writing this right after Sago which was in 2006. Harlequin bought this book back in April, and at that time, slated it for the December release. Long before the Chilean mine. When Chili happened, we were all a little nervous. If things went bad, it could look pretty bad for the book. It was a little eerie as they were trapped and the stories started coming out. An older guy was the crew chief. One of the guys had a wife expecting a baby any minute now. I told my friends the only plot line I missed was the mistresses, which probably wouldn’t have played out well in a romance anyway.

Sadly, though, there are mining disasters all the time, they just don’t hit the major airwaves. Since Chile there have been at least two others, one in Australia and one in China. So it would have probably been more likely that there wasn’t one.

D.B.: Angel, you should be so proud of A MESSAGE TO JULIA. From my perspective I found your research flawless. My heart ached every time you wrote about the seven pings, and it soared at Seven Bells Consulting. I look forward to many, many more of your heart warming and inspiring books.

A.S. Thanks. It was definitely one of those books I’d call a gift book. It came to me and I so loved Linc and Julia. I’m glad to know others enjoyed it.

To learn more about Angel, check out her web page at For anyone who leaves a question or a comment for Angel, you will be entered in a drawing to receive A Message for Julia. We'll draw late Wednesday evening, so be sure to leave an e-mail or a way we can contact you to let you know you've won. Thanks for stopping by, and, Angel, thank you!

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Can’t Beat Subjectivity

Desperation and/or frustration send many writers to writers’ loops and to Google in search of a freelance editor. Which may or may not be a good thing depending upon the writer’s expectation.

Freelance editors charge anywhere from $4/page up to . . . I don’t know what, but it’s far from inexpensive. For a 350-page manuscript, that’s $1,400. And that’s on the cheaper side.

Anyone considering using a freelance editor must understand three key things that should help build realistic expectations for the experience. Firstly, there are no guarantees. It is HIGHLY unlikely that any freelance editor can guarantee that after having worked with her, you will produce a work that will definitely be bought. Not immediately or even in your lifetime. Too many unpredictable things go into the purchase of a book for ANYBODY to guarantee you that they can help you improve your book enough to sell it.

Secondly, you must consider your ROI—Return On Investment. Selling your book puts you in business. You have a commodity—your book, and you sell it to a publisher. You are going to give a freelance editor a LOT of money to help you whip your story and your writing into shape, but how much will you most likely sell that book for? The grim reality is that most authors are offered an advance of less than $10,000 on a first book—and more often the advance is closer to $3,000. If you paid the freelance editor $1,500 to help you whip your story into shape, you’ve eaten up most—if not all-- of your advance. Don’t forget the $3,000 is pre-tax dollars and the editor’s fee is post tax dollars.

Lastly and most importantly to keep in mind is the subjectivity element. You simply can not beat subjectivity. The publishing market is a very fluid entity, meaning that editors are constantly looking for something new and fresh that they think will be the “next big thing”. And each editor has different tastes. You could revise a story such that one editor thinks it’s absolutely perfect. But you give that exact same story to another equally qualified editor and I guarantee, she’ll want to see different things emphasized, and will have suggestions to improve the “perfect” edited work.

Now throw agents into the equation, because if you want to sell to a major publisher, you’ll need to get to the editors through the gatekeepers. The agents are another whole level of subjectivity. Another whole level of important people who may not agree with the edits your freelance editor felt were absolutely necessary.

So when considering employing a freelance editor, one needs to go into it with her eyes completely open to the reality of the situation. Sure, your freelance editor can open a few doors for you by recommending you to an agent or two. She can guide your story towards industry professionals who might enjoy it, but that’s still no guarantee. To not accept or downplay the importance of the truths of the three points above is a recipe for disappointment and bitterness.

I have used a freelance editor years ago and it worked out just fine. I did not get a publishing contract from the experience, however she was helpful to me. When we finished, her recommendation opened a few doors and got the work read by agents, however the agents had a different opinion of the story than my editor—and that’s okay. That’s just the nature of the business. You cannot beat subjectivity. You can’t.

What about you guys? Has anybody used a freelance editor before? What was your experience like?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Advice On Story Openings

With the Deadline for the Sandy rapidly approaching, I thought I'd remind our wonderful writers of the elements of great openings. Novel openings are tough to get right. No denying it. They are often challenging, subjective, and critical. But crafting compelling openings can be learned.

I always tell beginning writers openings must do three things. 1) Introduce the main character, 2) Show us what she wants (goal), 3) Why she can’t have it (conflict). And in most cases this can be (should be) achieved in the first couple of pages. You do that and you’ve got a solid start.

Here are some tips of what make or break story openings. Subjectivity is an undeniable dominating element in this business and rules definitely can be broken (if one is skilled enough to do it v-er-y well), however dynamic openings are pretty unanimously recognized—just as problem openings are.

And one thing to always keep in mind, is your reader’s expectation. What do readers of the genre you’re writing in expect in your opening? If it’s a mystery, it’s a dead body in chapter one. If it’s a romance, the reader wants boy and girl to meet fairly quickly. If it’s a historical, the reader wants to be immersed in accurate setting, dialogue, and facts immediately—and stay immersed. If it’s a fantasy, magic must be present. And so on.

Effective/compelling openings:

1) Start with action. Avoid starting your book at the beginning, start when something is already happening. Keep in mind that the action MUST have context and be grounded with a character we care about, otherwise the reader is thinking why the hell do I care about this?

2) Offer a sympathetic character. We need to care—or at least be interested in or curious about the point-of-view character. And Please. Please. Please. Start with the character whose story this is—or introduce him very quickly. We need to know up front who to bond to and root for, right from the get go.

3) Take the time to introduce the character and ground him in his everyday life before throwing him into conflict. This should be accomplished quickly--a paragraph or a page or two.

4) The opening situation needs to be rife with tension or conflict—give us a character we care about who is not getting what he wants or meets opposition.

5) Make sure the tone reflects the genre to help set the readers expectations and ground them in the story.

6) No back-story information dumps! Very little back-story should be included in the opening chapter. It must be skillfully sprinkled throughout the book. Not only is it clunky, boring, and a pace-killer to dump a bunch of bask-story in the opening chapter, but withholding some back-story can be an effective tension device. Keeping the reader wondering what in her background traumatized her so that she would act that way, helps keep the reader turning pages. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by giving away all the good stuff up front.

7) Do not use dialogue to give reader information she should be showing the reader.

Agent/Editors have very little patience for slow openings that are bogged down with lots of back-story or character or setting descriptions. They find perfect characters boring, yet they don’t care for characters who are jerks either. No matter how large the character arc—you’d better give overly flawed characters some redeeming traits right up front, so the reader is at least interested in the character. Agents and editors have a low threshold for poor mechanics (grammar and spelling), so enlist the help of a great proofreader or study Strunk and White.

Follow these guidelines and you’ve at least got a shot at scoring well in a contest or getting a request for a partial or a full manuscript from an agent or editor. I will post some Agents' and editors' opening pet peeves later this week. Until then, did I miss anything?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Susan Schreyer's Debut Novel, Death by a Dark Horse

Welcome to Five Scribes and to my most recent Author Interview. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Susan Schreyer, one of my “sisters” in Sisters in Crime, in particularly The Guppy chapter, a fabulous group that prepares SINC members for publication. Susan’s new book DEATH BY A DARK HORSE is now available for download on Amazon and Smashwords. And, ladies and gentlemen, if you’re into mysteries, dressage riding, or love horses in general, PICK UP THIS BOOK!! Please welcome Susan Schreyer to the Five Scribes.

D.B.: Good morning, Susan. I must tell you as someone who knows next to nothing about horses, your story was a fun way to become educated. But… I’m not particularly happy with you. I mean…a person being accused of murder and facing the death penalty is one thing. But an innocent horse? Talk about making your reader flip pages. What have you got to say for yourself?

S.S.: [laughs] Maybe I should say, "Bwaahahahaha!" Seriously, way back when I was plotting this story I knew I had to use situations that would infuriate a horse owner, and cause them a great deal of distress in order to have sufficient conflict to drive a reader to turn the page. Having my horse stolen and then being accused of murder would do it for me! I certainly would be compelled to action similarly to my heroine Thea (except I'd don't think I'd be as brave!).

D.B.: Your protagonist is the order-driven accountant Theodora Campbell “Thea,” and she’s a force to be reckoned with. She shows up to ride her beloved Blackie, and the thoroughbred is no where to be found. After a grueling, worrisome search, she finds him--where else--on the property of her rival. Valerie has made several offers for the horse and made no secret she would love to own him. But Thea, who loves this horse desperately, has told the Olympic champion, he’s not for sale.

Intrigued yet? Just to give Five Scribe readers a sample of what Susan put me through, read on.

“Has the horse been injured or abused in any way?" she asked.

"Not that I can tell right now, but I haven't had a chance to thoroughly check him." I reached the gate, my attention divided between managing the latch and the phone call. "I'm --" I stopped. Something was wrong. Where was Blackie?

The wind shifted, blowing my hair across my eyes. With my hands otherwise occupied, I turned my face into the breeze to clear my vision and inhaled a stench so dense it had weight.

A thousand spiders crawled up my spine.

D.B.: Now, FS Readers, before you panic, it’s not Blackie, the victim is Valerie, and here’s where a mystery lover’s dream comes true. We have a murder, substantial clues, and a suspect. Unfortunately, the prime suspect is the Black Queen's Bishop, aka "Blackie." I imagine you had a lot of fun, and endured some heartbreaking moments to write this plot, Susan. Your love of horses shows through on the pages. Talk about what inspired this story.

S.S.: Several years ago when I semi-retired from my full time teaching and training career to home school my son I found myself with time on my hands and no creative outlet. I've enjoyed writing all my life and toyed with the idea of writing a mystery novel, so I decided to see if I could do it. Bear in mind I've taught riding, primarily dressage, for about 30 years, so not only have I've owned and loved many horses but I've seen first hand how much other people love them, too. As with anything you love passionately, the flip side is heartbreak. I drew from both extremes, my own experience, and what I've been privileged to be part of to put the story together.

D.B.: You start this book so richly developed and thrust your reader into Thea’s chaotic world. I know from your bio that DEATH BY A DARK HORSE is a series. But if readers start with one, will your books be able to stand alone? Also, please tell us what plans you have for your protagonist Theodora Campbell.

S.S.: All the Thea Campbell books will be able to stand alone, but the reader will get a better perspective of the way the characters develop if the stories are read in order. Thea has some changes coming up in her life -- and they won't be easy even with her family and friends around! She'll develop her mystery/crime solving skills, and get a partner who will keep challenging her. A nemesis will come into play, as well. Some of the books will have less focus on the horse world than others, but I can guarantee Blackie will be there and help in his own special way.

D.B.: Speaking of Thea, How did she come to be? How close is she in personality to Susan Schreyer and how is she different?

S.S.: There is much of me in Thea, but one could say that of all the characters. In any novel the author creates each character from their own experiences and understanding. However, even as one creates a character they take on their own personality -- their own will! I knew my protagonist had to be a dressage rider, like me, so I could use the passion I feel for the sport and the animals. But once she arrived on the page she took charge of her own life. At times I felt as if I was simply trailing along behind her, writing down what she said, and what happened. I think most authors experience this with their characters. It's an amazing experience -- and we claim not to be crazy!

D.B.: As I said, I learned a lot of about horses. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book in which the horse fascinated me as much as the human characters. Again, I refuse to spoil this book for readers, but, this is one smart horse. And I think it’s hysterical that Blackie isn’t even black. Is Blackie one of your horses, Susan, or is he a combination of many?

S.S.: I've owned many horses. Each has a distinct personality, and all have contributed to Blackie in their own way. But Blackie is primarily modeled after my horse Eddie. One of the things I wanted to do in this book was to create an animal character that wasn't simply part of the scenery. I love it when an author can convey the personality of an animal and the special relationship they have with their person. After all, our animals help shape who we are in real life and connect with us in ways that defy explanation. That needs to happen in fiction, too.

D.B: You create some fabulous characters in this book. Without giving too much away, we have Thea’s spurned-lawyer-boyfriend Jonathan, who after publicly rejecting him, Thea must ask him for help; the murder victim’s fiancĂ©, Greg, who is none to pleased with Thea and wants Blackie put down; then there’s Thea’s wonderful British Aunt and Uncle, Vi and Henry, who love Thea, but have a secret of their own; and, of course, Paul Hudson, who forgive Interviewer intrusion, she wouldn’t mind meeting;). I found them extremely three-dimensional.

Discuss if you will how you keep track of characters, their quirks and their growth. Are you a chart keeper, or are you a muse writer?

SS: I started out as a muse writer, then tried to be a chart keeper, and have currently settled on being a "structured muse-er." I have detailed personality profiles of everyone -- I feel like the FBI! However, I don't refer to them often. Once I get to know a character they tell me what they're going to do and how they will grow. Gee, funny you should bring up Paul J! He's complex and it took me a while to understand him. He challenges Thea, and their relationship is going to force both of them to grow as individuals. Sparks will fly -- count on it! Oops! Did I say too much?

D.B.: Possibly. But thanks for the heads up;). The story takes place in Snohomish, Washington, an actual place and in a perfect Washington setting. You mention several places in your story, including Bernards. Is Snohomish where you’re from? And if so, are the locals excited about your book and being mentioned?

S.S.: I don't live in Snohomish, but very close by. Although I don't use real business names in the book, and locations are somewhat vague, locals will know what I'm talking about. Folks here DO love having their town as the setting for a mystery novel!

D.B.: Thea is a very savvy woman and I love how she puts two and two together, while in a random conversation with her aunt and uncle. Mystery writing is not for novice writers. What kind of law enforcement research/training have you gone through to write this book?

S.S.: Oh dear…the "reveals all" question! I don't suppose I can get away with saying everything I know about law enforcement I learned on TV can I? No? Okay, then. Here it is: I was married to a police officer for about eight years and actually got to go on "ride-alongs" with him. It's a different world! I also have the great fortune to belong to Sisters in Crime and the Guppies chapter of SinC. There's an enormous depth of information to be had in those groups. Many members are law enforcement professionals, medical professionals, legal professionals -- basically, if you've got a question there isn't one person who knows the answer, there are scores! And they're writers as well!

D.B.: The writing is beautiful as well. You deftly use body language and subtext to tell this story. In other words, you ground us in well. How long have you been writing and what kinds of craft courses have helped you?

S.S. Thank you, Donnell! I've taken fiction writing seriously now for about six years. When I started I was determined to learn as much as I could from the people who were already successful, instead of trying to tough it out on my own. I joined a local writing group, Sisters in Crime and then Guppies, all of which were and continue to be wonderful. I've taken many courses, read scads of writing books and listened to legions people. There's an enormous amount of information to be gathered, and eventually some of it started to stick. My general rules have been to seek out the experts, ask questions, and pay attention. If something resonates, use it. If I don't understand it, forget it for now. If something or someone makes me feel bad or discouraged, walk away.

D.B.: Finally, you decided to self-publish what, in my opinion, can stand up to any published book out there. Will you tell readers why you made that decision? And then will you tell us about the cover art and the brilliant artist who designed your cover?

S.S: And thank you again, Donnell! To answer your question, there were a number of things that drove my decision to self-publish. I wrote two very lengthy blogs about it on Writing Horses in September. Briefly, I'd been going through traditional channels for some time but after reevaluating my personal goals and taking a hard look at the changes the publishing world was going through -- as is STILL going through -- I decided I needed to be the one driving my career. It's a personal choice, and the right one for me. There are many options available for getting one's work into the hands of readers now, and I expect there will be many more new and exciting paths opening up in the future. However revolutionary the publishing industry is becoming, it still is wise to take the steps necessary to produce the best work you can by getting good editing and good help.

Part of that good help is having an eye-catching cover. It was something that I could not do myself. I had no ideas and no skills! Tracy Hayes is a fellow member of Guppies and an artist as well I'd seen her website, and had fallen in love with her work and her incredible range. Tracy is also a horsewoman. How lucky could I get? I sucked up my courage and asked her if she'd help me and she generously agreed. She read my manuscript and kept me involved in the cover-creating process. I'm very lucky to have her on my team.

D.B.: Congratulations on an amazing debut mystery, which I enjoyed immensely. Readers, if you would like to follow Susan she has an award-winning blog, and another on

S.S.: Thanks so much for having me Donnell! This was fun!

D.B.: For me, too, Susan. Come back when LEVELS OF DECEPTION is out ;) Readers, do you have any questions or comments for Susan. Her book is very affordable on Amazon or Smashwords. I know you’ll enjoy it.

About Susan: Susan Schreyer lives in the great state of Washington with her husband, two children, a demanding old cat and an untrustworthy rabbit. The horse lives within easy driving distance. When not writing stories about people in the next town being murdered, articles for worthy publications, or blogging, Susan trains horses and teaches people how to ride them. She is a member of the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime where she serves as a member of the steering committee, and is co-president of the Puget Sound Chapter of SinC. Death By A Dark Horse is her debut mystery. The second book in the Thea Campbell series, Levels of Deception will be out in early spring of 2011.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cover art released!

I've been waaaay behind the eight-ball in all things in my life. Actually, I'm still celebrating with Donnell...WooHoo on that contract, babe! So happy and proud of you!!

I have a tiny bit of good news to share. Steeple Hill finally released my cover. Everything I told them about the setting of my book, the artist captured with a fine tipped brush, LOL! May I introduce you to Rocky Mountain Hero...

I have a thing for cowboys and they gave me a great one!!

If you have a second, I'm guest blogging on Words Seasoned With Salt. Stop by and say hi. Leave a comment and you'll be in a drawing for a copy of Rocky Mountain Hero!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The 2011 Sandy!

We've got another terrific line-up of final judges at The Sandy this year. Acquiring editors and top-selling agents!
This year, to make my life easier, we're also going to electronic submissions. Hopefully this will be easier and more convenient for our writers too.
Take a look! Tell all your writing pals who are ready to throw their hat in the ring and earn some recognition from people who can jumpstart your writing career!

2011 Sandy Final Judges
  • Romance - Holly Blanck, Assistant Editor, St. Martin's Press
  • Mainstream Adult Fiction - Leis Pederson, Associate Editor, Berkley
  • Suspense / Thriller / Mystery - Sarah Knight, Senior Editor, Simon & Schuster
  • Fantasy / Science Fiction - Suzie Townsend, FinePrint Literary Management
  • Children's & YA - Holly Root, Agent at Waxman Literary Agency
Oh, and two more of my past Sandy winners have sold the winning entries this year. Congratulations to Kerri-Leigh Grady and Donnell Ann Bell!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NaNoWriMo -- One Participant's Perspective...So Far

Seriously fun. 

When they say on the banner, "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon" I took that to heart.

I'm working on a novel.  I haven't worked on a novel for a long long time, you all know I'd traded writing passions and was working exclusively on screenwriting.  So I'm feeling VERY rusty writing a novel,

But you all also know I've been seduced by the e-book phenom.  The books out there are good, so mine will have excellent company :)  BUT I needed a kick in the pants to get it done.

WOW is NaNoWriMo a fun kick.

I'm writing, thoughts are flowing, pacing is fast, details aren't happening and I'm not editing myself (almost a first)  I'm just writing the story.  All the rest will come later.

By today, 1/4 of the way through-ish the month, I should have close to 11K words.  Not there yet, but I'm not giving up.  I will have the required 50k words by the end of the month in order to be considered a winner.  I WILL.  I vow in front of all of you.  I have a blasted cold, but that will not keep me down.

Then I'll have the major portion of a book written.  Not well mind you, but remember what I always say; you can't fix it if you don't have anything to fix

Puke is what I'm doing, and I'm loving it. 

Back to the page.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Best Birthday Ever -- a Publishing Contract

I am thrilled to announce that I have sold my 2007 Golden Heart finaling manuscript WALK AWAY JOE. I don't have all the details yet, as the name will change to reflect the suspense. I'm more than fine with that. To learn more about my new publisher check out Thanks for letting me share ;) Talk about a happy birthday! Here's the announcement that ran in Publisher's Marketplace.


Donnell Ann Bell's WALK AWAY JOE, in which a Colorado woman threatened by a stalker must depend on the protection of the police officer who sent her to prison years ago, to Deborah Smith and Debra Dixon of Bell Bridge Books, in a nice deal, for publication in Fall 2011 (World).