Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The truth about editors: Four debut authors have their say

One of the many things I learned during my nonfiction career was never to put a newspaper to bed before another set of eyes went over it. For our weekly publication, we had the writer, the editor, the typesetter and the copy editor. Why so many pairs of eyes on the text? For one simple reason--because no matter how many times an author writes something, the brain tends to accept what s/he "meant."

I've been excited about selling my 2007 Golden Heart finaling manuscript to Bell Bridge Books. I've also been intensely curious about what happens next. But with the publishing industry bursting at the proverbial seams, I reasoned other publishers might be different. So I approached some friends--three other debut authors who also are going through the editing process--and asked if we could get together and compare notes. They generously agreed. Please welcome in alphabetical order: Anne Marie Becker, Julie Rowe and Maryn Sinclair.

Anne Marie Becker: Thanks for having me today, Donnell. I'm excited to share the editing portion of my publishing journey and look forward to reading what others have experienced. I signed the contract for my debut novel, Only Fear, in January and promptly set about savoring the emotional high. Another milestone reached, bring on the wine and chocolate.

But reality soon hit. I'd be editing a novel I hadn't read in 18 months (talk about fresh eyes!). And I'd have deadlines that weren't set by me.

The panic was quickly replaced with curiosity. What would it be like to have someone working with me to make this novel fantastic? I looked forward to the challenge. (I'm crazy like that.)

Here are only some of the things I've learned as Deborah Nemeth (a.k.a. my amazing editor at Carina Press) challenged me:
  1. Track Changes is my friend. (Thanks, Deb, for the forewarning of all the humungous red boxes that would dot my manuscript upon opening it! They weren't so bad after I got into it.)
  2. How to make a proper "em-dash" in Word. (Press shift-option-dash.)
  3. "Further" and "farther" are different. (And I tend to prefer "further.")
  4. Save often. Especially when using Track Changes while going back and forth between multiple documents. (My computer took to throwing hissy fits every so often and freezing up.)
  5. Don't make your heroine cry too much. One of Deb's most valuable comments was a quote from Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint: "If your characters cry, your readers won't have to; if your characters have good reason to cry, and don't, your readers will do the weeping."
  6. Throw out as many dialogue tags as possible. Instead, use an action statement that shows who is speaking. (But, if you have to use a tag, "said" is often best.)
  7. Repetitive words and phrases are redundant. (Though I try to catch these, several slipped through the cracks. Deb caught many of them. Extra eyes are invaluable!)
  8. If a hero's eyes are green on page five, they should remain green (not change to hazel) on page 105, unless genetic mutations are part of your story.
  9. "RUE" = Resist the Urge to Explain. Trust that your reader will understand, rather than repeating words and gestures. (All of my readers will be of superior intelligence and excellent taste, of course.)
  10. Trust your editor. There's always more to learn about my craft. (Yes, this one I knew already, but this process was a great reminder.)Link
Wherever you are in your edits, good luck!

Only Fear, Anne Marie Becker's 2009 Golden Heart winner for Best Romantic Suspense will be released by Carina Press September 5, 2011. (Please visit www.AnneMarieBecker.com for more about Anne Marie.

Julie Rowe: I've been writing for over ten years and have 15 or 16 completed novels sitting on my hard drive. I've taken dozens of online classes and attended many conference workshops in the hopes of learning that special something that would put my writing over the publishing hurdle.

I finally figured out what that special something is: hard work and a damn good editor.

I've been finaling in contests for years, the Daphne, Finally a Bride and the Golden Heart. I've received lots (I'm afraid to count them) of "good" rejection letters with personalized feedback. I've also worked through a dozen revision letters from a variety of editors (with no commitment to buy the book), resubmitted the manuscript, and still received a rejection rather than an offer to publish.

I learned so much from those revision letters. I learned that editors are hungry for a riveting story, intriguing characters and an emotional journey that leaves them breathless.

I learned that I'm not writing for me, I'm writing for the reader, and that the two are NOT the same.

I learned that a good editor can see the overall promise of your story, the small details that make it unique and problems the author can't.

My novel, Icebound, due to be released by Carina Press November 14, 2011, was initially written in 70 percent heroine's POV and 30 percent hero's POV. Editor Kym Hinton sent me an encouraging, detailed revision letter (with no commitment to publish) suggesting I remove or change ALL of the hero's POV scenes and go really DEEP within the heroine's POV.

It took me a few weeks, and it was a lot of work to revise that much of the manuscript, but the result was WOW! I submitted the revised manuscript and three months later got the call with an offer to publish.

I've worked through another developmental revision letter with my editor, and I'm astonished all over again at how much better the story is. She doesn't tell me how to write, she suggests I do things like enlarge some of the secondary characters, change up the dialogue in a scene to better show the hero's character growth and use plain English instead of some of the medical jargon I use out of habit.

We've brainstormed title ideas and scene revisions, and my editor has been available to answer questions. Next, we'll get to the line edits, but I'm not worried. I welcome the next stage of the process.

To learn more about Debut Author Julie Rowe, check out her website at http://www.julieroweauthor.com/

Maryn Sinclair: In the movie Pearl Harbor, which depicts an event in 1941, there's a building in one shot with "est. 1953" on it. Two characters in Days of Thunder call Tom Cruise's character Tom instead of Cole--his name in the movie. How come no one caught those things? Editing is the difference between a clean product and a sloppy one.

When Donnell mentioned a combined post about our editing experiences, I thought, how do I express how important the editing was to my very first published novel, Sexual Persuasion? I'm not talking about leaving off a quote mark or forgetting a word. I'm talking about major story flaws--things sharp readers find that cause them to swear off an author. A major problem for me is when two scenes happen at the same time from different POVs. For example: my hero, Alex leaves my heroine, Charlotte in the street-level entrance of her apartment. He's too wound up to sleep and and goes to his friend's restaurant. Meanwhile, Charlotte climbs the stairs and finds her sleazy ex-boyfriend in her apartment. Her assault scene takes less time than Alex's restaurant scene, yet I didn't account for the time discrepancy. Charlotte calls Alex. He rushes back. Um, what did Charlotte do all that time? My editor saw that. I didn't. What to do? I had my traumatized heroine delay calling Alex, equalizing the time difference.

Oh, here's a goodie: In a flashback scene between my hero and his male lover--my hero sits down to his favorite meal that his lover made for him: chicken topped with shrimp. Hel-lo! My hero is a vegetarian and has been since the age of ten. That one really embarrassed me, and I questioned whether to even mention it because it sounds like I didn't know Alex. I did. I do. Really. But somehow that one slipped by me. Are you ready? It also slipped by a couple of critique partners, two edits by my fantastic primary editor, and the line editor. That's right. A couple of critiques and three edits missed that fact. The third and final editor caught it. But really, I should have detected that ages ago. More importantly, I never should have made the mistake.

Those were important mistakes, which makes me wonder how many errors pepper my other books and why editing, good editing, is so important. A toast to the Loose ID team for excellent editing and for making me look better than I am.

Maryn Sinclair's Sexual Persuasion was released in May, 2011. Maryn was also a guest on Five Scribes earlier in 2011 http://fivescribes.blogspot.com/2011/04/erotic-romance-making-of-story.html To learn more about Maryn, visit her website at http://marynsinclair.com/

I ask you, readers, aren't these women fantastic? I so appreciate their sharing and their candid perceptions about what took place before, after, and during their editing processes.

As for me, Donnell Ann Bell, my book still unnamed at present (formerly Walk Away Joe) but is due for release from Bell Bridge Books September 15, 2011. As soon as I have a title, I'll be shouting the novel's new name, you can count on it!

The novel just went to copy edits. It's been through a two-page, single-spaced revision letter, and intense editing by Senior Editor Pat Van Wie, and since we've covered redundancy above, I'll just say my editor addressed most, if not all, of what Anne Marie, Julie and Maryn talked about.

The major thing I learned about editing is the importance of follow-through, and staying in character. For instance, in chapter five my heroine takes a gun out of storage and puts it in the top of her closet for protection. Pat asked, what does Melanie do with the gun? Nothing, I replied, it's illegal for her to have it in her possession. Pat simply said, do something with that gun. (After much hair pulling, I did. Imagine my relief when it added an important layer for all the characters involved).

My editor's perceptions as far as character growth were also right on. In chapter three, my heroine fearlessly decides no one will force her from her home again. So what do I do when I need to create the black moment where all is lost between the hero and heroine? Take her out of character and have her contact her realtor to sell her house. Yeah, that was effective. (Not.)

These are things my fantastic critique partners never caught, but my editor did. I also think that after working with her these many months, her vision for this book is equal to mine.

For more information about me, my web page is www.donnellannbell.com.

For anyone in the process of submitting or revising, I hope the experiences we've shared will help you make it through your revisions unscathed. One final bit of advice. Sit back and let your editor's words digest. I suspect it won't make much sense at first. It's still your baby after all. But revision is a collaborative effort. It's also a wonderful learning opportunity if you treat it as such.

Questions, comments? We'd love it if you'd share your experiences.

Happy writing, revising and editing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

As the Crow Dies: Book One of Ken Casper's New Mystery Series

Vietnam took his legs.

A murderer took his father.

Somehow, Jason Crow has to take a stand.

“My father had no reason to kill himself," I said. "On the contrary, he had every reason to live. I was coming home. We had plans to do things together. Plus, there’s no way he’d kill himself using my gun.”

Burker picked up a screw driver, went through the motions of examining it. “Look, Jason, we’re not friends. Never have been. Probably never will be, but I’ve always respected your talent on the football field and your intelligence. You were good. Damn good. What’s happened . . . well, it’s a shame.”

“I don’t want your pity, Burker.”

“Good, because you won’t get any from me, but I will tell you I’m disappointed in you. You’re smart. That’s why I expected you to be more objective about what’s happened. Let me give you another tidbit of information, another fact for you to consider. There were powder marks on your father’s right hand. He pulled the trigger.”

Jason Crow comes home to Texas on clumsy, prosthetic legs—a double amputee, struggling with his lost dreams and the pitying curiosity of friends and strangers. But there's no time for him to brood, because his father has just been shot to death.

Unable to convince the police that his father was murdered, Jason begins his own investigation. In the process he uncovers family secrets that shake him to his core and make him question everyone and everything around him, including the love of Michiko, the beautiful Eurasian-American nurse he met in Japan.

While fighting his own insecurity as a double amputee, Jason must challenge forces capable of destroying him and those he loves to pursue the person who robbed him of his greatest hero: His father.

This debut book in Ken Casper's Jason Crow series treats readers to a powerful new voice in mystery fiction.

Five Scribe Readers: I usually do an introduction, but how could I top the excerpt above. Please welcome Multi-published Author Ken Casper to the Five Scribes.

D.B.: Ken, it’s an honor for me to talk to you today. Confession time. I attended a conference last weekend and kept sneaking out of workshops to finish AS THE CROW DIES. One would think the subject matter too painful to read. But like your protagonist Jason Crow, I suspect Ken Casper is no quitter. When the story took hold, you finished it. Moreover, you wrote it in such a way, that while I empathized with Jason, I’m like Burker above, I couldn’t pity him. I knew Jason wouldn’t want me to.

A double amputee protagonist. What inspired you to develop such a tortured character?

K.C.: Years ago I read all the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Nero Wolfe never left the house on business. Since I like turning things on their heads, I tried to imagine a protagonist who couldn’t leave the house. But of course a heroic character does next to the impossible. So I came up with a character who might never want to leave the house but who fights his own demons because honor dictates that he must. Jason went through many iterations before I discovered he was a double amputee.

D.B.: This story takes place in 1968. Jason and his friends from Coyote Springs are in Saigon when Jason’s hurt. You do a great job of placing us in war-torn Asia. Your research is impeccable. Are you a Vietnam veteran? Why choose this particular time and this war?

K.C.: Yes, I am a Vietnam vet. 1968 was a pivotal year in our history. So much was going on. So many paradigms shifted that year. Assassinations, riots, war, flower children, drugs and religious cults. To use a term that wasn’t in vogue yet: it was a perfect storm. For my protagonist it had to be cataclysmic too. All seemed lost. It wasn’t completely lost, but it was permanently changed. Life would never be the same for us as a society or for Jason Crow as an individual.

D.B.: Not only did you select an unpopular war, you chose an era in which the U.S. was in the midst of enormous bigotry and social turmoil -- and I can’t think of one issue you didn’t address in this book, by the way! Then you place this story in the heart of West Texas (I know something about this region. I was born in Lubbock, my daddy grew up in Big Spring.) I read you were born and bred in New York. And yet you captured the heart of these people like a native.

What compelled you to set the novel in this area, and how does one prepare for a novel like AS THE CROW DIES? Since Five Scribes is a writing blog, will you talk about the drafts, any frustrations that arose as you wrote and how long it took you?

K.C.: It’s that contrariness again. Plenty of mysteries are set in NYC. How many are set in West Texas? I wanted my protagonist to be different but the environment unique as well. As for writing the book . . . it went through a lot of drafts. It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas. I had too many. What to put in and what to leave out is a perpetual dilemma. The original concept probably goes back twenty years, the actual writing of it considerably less. More than once I put it aside, wrote other things but inevitably came back to it.

D.B.: To say the characters in this book are three-dimensional and non-cliched is an understatement. You take a family at odds, where any one of them might have murdered Theodore Crow. Jason’s closest friend, accountant Zack Merchant, is a five-foot-two-inch Jewish orphan. Jason’s deceased father is in the restaurant business in partnership with George Elsbeth, a black man. Jason’s love interest, Michiko Clark, is a Eurasian-American nurse. Race is unapologetically addressed in this book. I have to tell you I flinched more than once at the treatment of your characters. But you were fearless in your creation.

Is this strength something that comes with writhing 25 novels? What I’m getting at is did you experience any doubt as you tackled such a controversial issue?

K.C.: My doubts weren’t about the characters but whether readers (the editor is the first reader) would accept them. Flinch at situations? We do that because they scare us, and they scare us because they feel real. My first drafts were meek and self-conscious, but real life isn’t gentle or politically correct. That’s where learning how to “show, don’t tell” comes in. By showing it the way it is, we experience what the character feels, and that binds us to him or her.

D.B.: From the opening pages, you do a convincing job that Theo committed suicide. And then you do the most devilish thing. With enough drug dealing and corruption in Coyote Springs to light up a powder keg, you weave in clue after clue that has the reader sitting up and saying--Suicide? Oh, no, he didn’t.

You certainly don’t believe in information dumps either. Not only are there hooks in the chapter endings, there are twists and turns and questions in every chapter. As a side note, I will read this book more than once as a study of craft. I guess a very simplistic question is: How do you do it? Do you plot from start to finish, or are you more of an intrinsic writer?

K.C.: I’m a plotter . . . or plodder, if you prefer. I write an outline and follow it until I discover it doesn’t work (about half the time), or because a better idea comes to mind. Then I sprinkle in clues, but I try to do it by indirection, by disguising them as innocent bits of information not associated with the problem at hand. I’m always amazed by the creative process. I surprise myself at the details that pop up—little seemingly innocuous tidbits of information that furnish unexpected clues I can take advantage of. It’s a wonderful adventure, discovering what my characters will tell me.

D.B.: Your chapters are short. Talk about pacing. Was this deliberate on your part or part of the editorial process?

K.C.: I prefer short chapters and cliffhangers that make the reader automatically want to peek at the next page. I like plenty of dialogue because it serves both as a means of delivering needed information and of characterizing the speakers. I also enjoy the editing process, cutting superfluous words, even details. The result inevitably speeds up the pace.

D.B.: You write in first person. Was this a conscious decision or did this involve some experimentation? What authors do you like and who has inspired you?

K.C: Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe stories are told in the first person by the central character’s companion. My first draft of Jason Crow was told by his best friend, but then I decided to go a step further and have the handicapped protagonist tell the story himself. Actually, I experimented with first and third person and combinations of the two. Third has its advantages because you can be in the heads of different characters. But third can’t compete with first for immediacy. When a third person character gets in trouble, the reader watches but doesn’t feel threatened. When a first person character is in trouble, so is the reader. Nero Wolfe’s leg man (no pun intended), Archie Goodwin, was the first person narrator of the stories, but he was rarely, if ever, in physical danger. The same with Dr. Watson. Jason Crow, by the very nature of his handicap, is perpetually vulnerable, physically and emotionally. How can the reader not be concerned for him?

D.B.: You also pitched and sold this book to Bell Bridge Books http://www.bellbridgebooks.com/. Will you tell us about your experience with them? Also, I’d love it if you’d share how the title came to be.

K.C.: Deb Dixon and Deb Smith have been fabulous to work with. Experienced, best-selling writers themselves, they understand both the craft and the business of writing. I have to give Deb Smith credit for the title. My working title, The Point of No Return, suited the story but was cliché. Deb saw the potential for capitalizing on Jason’s last name and started playing with it. In fact a crow will be featured as a logo on all Jason Crow mysteries. I display it on my website too. www.kencasper.com

D.B.: I do my best not to give away too much of a book’s plot in my interviews. One thing I will say is I was impressed how Jason grows, not only mentally but physically. You give him his independence, always keeping in mind his beloved father’s words, “We can’t control what other people do, son. We can only act honorably in our own lives.

We’re not quitters, you and I. We do the best with the hand fate deals us . . . ”

How can Jason, and readers, not love a man like that? Feelings and emotions just pour off these pages. As for Jason, he’s a worthy, worthy protagonist, and in between gasping at what happens next, readers will be cheering him on. Also, readers, you will learn there isn’t anything in this book that is as it seems. Ken Casper creates characters, not only with baggage, but with secrets.

Will you talk about characterization? Do you do character profiles? Or do they come fully conceptualized with only minor tweaks as you write?

K.C: I have a pretty good concept of the character when I start writing, but it inevitably matures with the writing itself. I’ve tried using profiles (I do keep notes about details), but I generally let the characters tell me who they are. For example, in one of my early books, I had the romantic heroine driving a Ford Escort in her profile, but when I wrote the scene she climbed into a Chevy Corvette. Suddenly I realized who she really was. A woman who drives a ‘Vette is different from a woman who drives an Escort. In Jason Crow’s story I didn’t realize a couple of the relationships between characters until they popped up on the page. Those discoveries are enormously rewarding. It makes writing an adventure.

D.B.: Is there any advice you’ve received over the course of your career that you’ve considered especially profound? Also, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

K.C.: We read fiction for emotion, not information. That’s non-fiction. The value of a story is in the emotion it elicits. That’s not to say we can’t learn from fiction. The joy of learning is, after all, an emotion. I was blessed with wonderful critique partners when I started writing, three women who were writing romance. They perpetually prodded me with the question: what is the character feeling? Then, of course, there was the dictum to “show, don’t tell.” In a rough draft I may write “He felt sad,” but then I have to go back and expunge the word “feel” and either show what elicits sadness or what actions or words betray his experiencing that emotion. As for advice to aspiring authors: keep writing and keep revising. My late mother-in-law was an expert seamstress. Her motto was: “If you’re not willing to tear out, you shouldn’t be sewing.” That’s sound advice for writers too. “If you’re not willing to revise, you shouldn’t be writing.”

D.B.: Finally, I understand this book is a series. When may we expect the next Jason Crow mystery?

K.C.: The second book in the Jason Crow West Texas Mystery series, tentatively entitled Crow’s Feat, is due out in early 2012.

Ken, thank you for joining us here today. Readers, questions or comments will enter you in a drawing to win an autographed copy of AS THE CROW DIES. We will draw a name on Thursday evening May 26th. Thanks for joining us. Happy Writing & Reading.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Romancing the Script Finalists

Congratulations To Our Three Finalists

Best Of Luck

~LA, Contest Chair for the 2011 Romancing the Script Screenwriting Contest

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Write Tight: 15-Steps to Avoid Overwriting

I’m proud to call Lois Winston my friend. She’s nothing if not forthright and honest, plus she’s a darn good writer. Please welcome Lois Winston to The Five Scribes as she shares writing information you can take to the bank. ~ Donnell

You’ve gotten to the end of your manuscript.
What a sense of accomplishment to type THE END. After months or maybe years of labor, your baby is ready to leave its cozy Microsoft or Apple womb and fly off to that “A” List of agents and/or editors.

Then the rejection letters start arriving, and each one mentions that the writing isn’t “tight” enough. You scratch your head. What does that mean? Tight writing is key to attracting the attention of an editor or agent. Verbose writing will lead to rejection letters, and you want to do everything you can to prevent receiving one of those.

So before you start sending baby out into the world, you want to make sure she’s not a porker bloated by excess wordage that drags down your pacing and bores the very people you want to impress. You want your manuscript lean, your writing crisp and succinct to stand out and catch the eye of that A list editor or agent. You need to put your baby on a word diet to shed that excess word weight. Here’s how you do it:

STEP ONE: Reread your manuscript. Is every scene essential to the plot or the goals, motivations, and conflicts of your characters? Does each scene advance the plot or tell the reader something she needs to know about the characters? If not, the scene is filler, and no matter how much you love what you wrote, you need to get rid of it. Each scene must serve a purpose. No purpose? No scene. Yes, I know it hurts. So instead of hitting the “delete” key, cut and paste the scene to a LOQUACIOUS BLUBBER file. You may be able to use it in a future manuscript.

STEP TWO: Repeat STEP ONE for all dialogue. If the dialogue is nothing but chit-chat which neither advances the plot nor tells the reader something essential about the characters, exile it to the LOQUACIOUS BLUBBER file.

STEP THREE: Do a search of “ly” words. You don’t have to omit all adverbs, but wherever possible, substitute a more active, descriptive verb to replace your existing verb and the adverb that modifies it.

Blubber: Joe walked purposefully across the room.

Tight: Joe strode across he room.

You’ve revised a mediocre sentence into a more visually active one.

STEP FOUR: Instead of using many adjectives to describe a noun, use one all-encompassing adjective or a more descriptive noun. Although every word in the English language can be used in your manuscripts, there are some words that are overused by authors and should either be avoided altogether or used as little as possible. For most of these words a more descriptive noun or verb would go a long way to improving the sentence. Also, if certain information isn’t necessary to your story, omit it.

Blubber: Elizabeth grew up in an old, large house with twenty rooms that sat on four acres of land.

Tight: Elizabeth grew up in a Victorian mansion.

Or: Elizabeth grew up on an estate.

You’ve tightened the sentence without sacrificing any of the pertinent information. And unless the home where Elizabeth grew up plays a pivotal role in the story, you really don’t need to go into excessive description of it. This is one of the major mistakes authors make -- describing all sorts of things that are unimportant to the story. Describing only that which is essential to the story makes for tight writing. Laundry lists pull the reader from your story. Better to weave the descriptive elements in unobtrusively over the course of the narrative. Don’t bog the reader down with all sorts of unimportant details that have no bearing on your story. It will lead to a swift rejection.

STEP FIVE: Say it once, then move on. It’s not necessary to repeat an idea or image in different words in the next sentence, the next paragraph, or on the next page. You don’t need to beat your reader over the head. She’s intelligent enough to “get it” the first time she reads it, and that goes for editors and agents, too.

Blubber: A kettle drum pounded inside Elizabeth’s head. Her temples throbbed. Her scull pulsated with pain.

We got it the first time. Don’t be redundant. All you need to write is:

Tight: A kettle drum pounded inside Elizabeth’s head.

STEP SIX: Identify needless words and eliminate them. Every writer has at least one or two pet word she overuses.

Blubber: Elizabeth just wanted to get to know Joe better before she dated him.

Words like just are killers. Search your manuscript and get rid of as many as possible. Most of the time that word is totally unnecessary. Just is one of those words.

Tight: Elizabeth wanted to know Joe better before she dated him.

And why do you need to get to know when to get is superfluous? Get rid of it.

STEP SEVEN: Avoid laundry list descriptions by substituting more descriptive nouns and adjectives.

Blubber: Joe wore a blue and green plaid threadbare shirt with a missing button at the cuff and a pair of frayed black jeans torn below the knees.

Tight: Joe wore Salvation Army rejects.

Both sentences paint a picture of Joe for the reader, but with the tight sentence you’ve saved 22 words and written a much more interesting sentence without sacrificing anything.

STEP EIGHT: Do a search for was. Wherever it’s linked with an ing verb, omit the was and change the tense of the verb.

Blubber: Elizabeth was listening to Joe.

Tight: Elizabeth listened to Joe.

STEP NINE: Choose more descriptive verbs and omit the additional words that enhance the verb.

Blubber: Joe walked with a swaggering gait.

Tight: Joe swaggered.

Both sentences say the same thing, but the second is tighter.

STEP TEN: Omit extraneous tag lines. If it’s obvious which character is speaking, a tag line is unnecessary. Use tag lines only when there are three or more characters taking part in the dialogue scene.

Blubber: Joe turned to face Elizabeth. “You don’t understand,” he said.

Tight: Joe turned to face Elizabeth. “You don’t understand.”

It’s obvious that Joe is speaking to Elizabeth, so adding the tag is redundant and unnecessary, and when you add lots of redundant and unnecessary words, you give the editor or agent a reason to reject your manuscript.

STEP ELEVEN: Show, don’t tell. Wherever possible, you want to “show” your story through dialogue and active narrative, rather than “telling” the story.

Telling: Elizabeth felt happy.

Showing: (through dialogue) “I’m as happy as a pig in mud!”

(through active narrative) Elizabeth clapped her hands and bounced on the balls of her feet.

STEP TWELVE: Let your character’s words convey her emotion, not the tag line. Also, keep to the unobtrusive said in tags. You can’t grimace, laugh or sigh dialogue. The character can grimace, laugh, or sigh before or afterward but not while speaking.

Wrong: “John, you are such a dork,” sighed Elizabeth.

Right: Elizabeth sighed. “You are such a dork.”

STEP THIRTEEN: Avoid non-specific words like it and thing. Whatever the it or thing is, it has a name. Use it.

STEP FOURTEEN: Describe body movements only when they’re essential to the scene. Don’t break up dialogue every other sentence by having your characters shrug, smirk, giggle, glance, nod, or drum their fingers. This grows old very fast and will begin to grate on the editor/agent’s nerves. One rule of thumb is to describe only those things about a character that the POV character would remember 20 minutes later. Don’t throw in body movement as filler.

STEP FIFTEEN: Don’t fill dialogue with interjections. We might have the bad habit of peppering our speech with well and like but having a character constantly adding those words makes for lousy dialogue.

Wrong: “Well, uhm, like I said,” said Joe. “I had to do it, you know?”

Dialogue like that is dialogue no editor or agent wants to read.

Lois Winston is an award-winning author and designer as well as an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. Her latest book, ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN (January 2011), the first book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Visit Lois at http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com .

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Or the Return of the "Writer Leslie."

Where had I gone, you ask.  Ask!  I know you care :)

I had gone to HTML land.  A land of curious rules, where strict adherence to those rules was the only way to get through the maze that led to the golden prize.  The coveted A.

Why you ask?  Well that is the beginning and the end of the journey.

I love designing websites.  I love designing digital scrapbook pages and working in Photoshop with textures and colors and all the pretty cool things you can do with programs like PS and Dreamweaver and Flash and......

I knew I couldn't stay in my part time job forever, it was sucking me dry...dessicatedly dry.  So I thought I would try and add a website design business to my already crammed life. 

About a month ago, after weeks and weeks of 20 + hours of homework (yes, for a 3 credit class) and knowing I had 27 more credits of this kind of intensity to get my certificate, fate smiled on me.  My best buddy Audra and fellow scribe, chatted with me over coffee about writing, or my lack thereof.  She knew I loved designing websites, I did hers, and yet she knew I wasn't totally happy.

Then a few minutes after I left Audra, my bro called me on the cell phone (he NEVER calls me on the cell phone) and asked how my writing was coming and did I know about Script Frenzy?

THEN the next day, T, another faithful friend and fellow scribe, asked how my non-writing was making me feel as we sat in Panera for lunch.

I drove home slowly (I never drive slow) and realized I was miserable.

I went straight to my husband's home office and said we needed to talk.  RIGHT NOW.  That kinda shocked him.

I told him I still wanted to design websites, but not for a living.  I wanted to write, to go back to writing.

Dead silence.

Then a huge smile broke out and he basically said "Terrific, Finally and Thank God" or something along those lines.  He reminded me that I'd been writing for so long and loved it too much and have too much going for me to suddenly move into a new career. 

I burst into tears. 

I'd forgotten, after telling everyone else, that there are new horizons for us writers to sell our work, to find an audience a market.  I hadn't listened to my own words or taken my advice.

Doing what we love, be it full time, part time or minute-by-minute time is important to our well being.  I'm not trying to be "granola" here, or Pollyanna.  But time moves swiftly and we have to be happy and productive, have something to look forward to, someone to love and something to do.

So, I've given myself a year at my PT job, then I'm done!  Yes, really.  I have to find health insurance and a few other things, but most of all I can WRITE and know deep in my heart that I'm doing the right thing and I'm on the right path.

So listen to your heart and find a way to make it happen.

~Leslie Ann aka LA aka "Leslie the Writer"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Author of A Rancher's Pride revisits Five Scribes

Previously on Five Scribes, I interviewed Barbara White Daille, a talented Harlequin American Romance author, and when her next release date approached, I welcomed the opportunity for another Advanced Reader Copy. Ms. Daille did not disappoint. There isn’t much to dislike in this novel that shows such depth and humanity. Moreover, as I read, I formed the impression, each word was carefully chosen. Please welcome Barbara White Daille to the Five Scribes.

D.B.: Hi, Barbara, welcome back. Is this a great cover or what?! I loved Family Matters. I adore A Rancher’s Pride. I saw a lot of you in Family Matters, however, I think you sunk your heart and soul into this book. A little background: Rancher Sam Robertson lives in New Mexico with his aging mother. Sam is a bitter divorced man, with a questionable past. His ex-wife Ronnie adds one more layer to his bitter persona--she drops off the daughter he never knew he had and then simply abandons her to Sam’s care. Becky is not just any four-year-old, however. She comes with issues. Becky is deaf. So not only do we have a man who never knew he was a dad, he now has a daughter with a disability and no way to communicate with her.

Ready to put the book down now? I don’t think so. Barbara, are you a teacher and a sign language interpreter as well? Tell us what inspired such a gripping conflict for a man already torn apart.

BWD: Hi, Donnell, and thanks for welcoming me back at Five Scribes! It’s always great to stop in. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed both FAMILY MATTERS and A RANCHER’S PRIDE, and I appreciate the wonderful comments.

To answer your first question, although I’m not a certified teacher, I have taught writing as an adjunct professor for community colleges and adult education programs. Also, I hold National certification as an American Sign Language Interpreter.

As for Sam, he fascinated me from the moment I first saw him. He’d had a hard time of things for a while and a lot of negativity in his life based on issues with his ex and... Well, I’m afraid I did to him what authors are supposed to do to keep readers interested in their characters: Hit ’em while they’re down. Pile on the conflict. Make things worse.

People might think I was inspired by my background to write about a deaf child. But that wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. What hooked me was the idea of taking a well-loved plot twist—having a hero suddenly “inherit” a child—and increasing his conflict by having the child speak a language he couldn’t understand. Along came Becky.

D.B.: After tearing at the readers’ heartstrings in the opening, you can’t leave well enough alone. Like icing on a cake you add another layer of conflict. Becky’s aunt and Ronnie’s sister, Kayla Ward arrives. She doesn’t think much of Sam, in fact, despise is a better word. No way, no how is she leaving this beautiful little girl in this ogre’s care. Now that Ronnie’s taken off, Kayla, a sign language instructor, who lives in Chicago, is the only one qualified to care for Becky, and she’ll do anything, including fight this man for custody.

Barbara, talk about these characters. They swarmed into this book with three-dimensional issues and personalities from page one. What went into their creation?

BWD: Honestly? A lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I fought to get the story “right”—at least for me. And I cried more than once during the writing of it. I recently received copies of the book, re-read the story, and will confess I cried again.

I wanted the hero and heroine to face the risk of losing someone they loved. Once I came up with the storyline, I wanted them to be equally determined about gaining custody of Becky.

Kayla has always been her niece’s champion, so it was natural for her fly into battle. To raise the stakes, I made Becky a child she’s nearly raised as her own.

Sam was a different story, and he really worried me! He might have had the weaker case—and the weaker determination—because he’d never had a relationship with his daughter. I gave him a little nudge by letting him know this could be the only child he would ever have.

And then there’s Becky, a four-year-old who’s been yanked out of her familiar surroundings and set down in a new location, among people who can’t explain to her what’s happening. Who can’t talk to her at all. Kayla, Sam, I all felt the need to do what was best for Becky. It just took a while for the three of us to agree on what that was!

D.B.: You have a great cast of characters as well, including a no-nonsense judge who from the very start shows the wisdom of Solomon. He knows Sam’s past, but has a fondness for the young man anyway. He also can see Kayla’s point; that Sam cannot communicate with his daughter. Judge Baylor comes up with an incredible compromise.

Did you study court cases to write this book? Tell us about the judge and where he came from?

BWD: I’ve read about plenty of court cases. But in this case, studying wouldn’t have done me much good. You see, Judge Baylor runs his court the way he sees fit. And while he doesn’t break any laws...let’s just say he’s sure an original thinker when it comes to interpreting them.

D.B.: You place this book in New Mexico in a town called Flagman’s Folly. Now, Barbara, seriously. Are you trying to pull the wool over this New Mexico girl’s eyes? No such place. But by the end of this book, I wished there were. What inspired this town? Is there an exact New Mexico location in your mind? Do you have an interest in railroads?

BWD: You’ve caught me on this one, Donnell! Flagman’s Folly is a homemade mix that started with a pinch of Gallup and a dash of Tucumcari, with a sprinkling of other places in the Southwest and a liberal splash of imagination added in. Using my own recipe lets me create the street names and stores and the layout of the entire town, which makes it fun for me.

That doesn’t mean the towns come without history, though—and Flagman’s Folly origin is important to the plot. I won’t give it away here, but I think the facts behind the town’s incorporation add an interesting layer to the book and to Sam’s story, and I hope readers think so, too.

As for your final question, when I was little I knew my grandfather “worked the railroad.” While I couldn’t tell you now exactly what he did, I always thought that was an exotic occupation. It sparked my interest in reading about railroads—in fiction—from THE TROLLEY CAR FAMILY, which was my idea of a train back then, to Agatha Christie’s “locked room” mystery, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

D.B. Aha! I knew it. Flagman’s Folly must be close to the Texas border. I smiled at the drawls that came with these characters. New Mexico has a huge Hispanic population, which I’m sure you’re aware. It didn’t make me suspend my belief, however.

BWD: Yes, the town is set roughly halfway between Texas and Arizona. Its population is based on my own experience living in the Southwest: many of the inhabitants aren’t native to the states they now live in.

In A RANCHER’S PRIDE, along with the twangin’ Texans and various other folks, there are two Hispanic characters who appear—and who play even more important parts in my next book.

A blended population appeals to me because I write about relationships and families, and I like to show that close relationships can develop among diverse groups of people and that families don’t necessarily have to be connected by DNA.

D.B.: You do a fabulous job of taking two people who should be sworn enemies and develop an attraction, then chemistry between them. What’s more, neither is perfect. During one of Kayla’s introspection scenes she thinks how can a man who doesn’t communicate period learn to talk to his daughter? Kayla, herself is a woman quite used to getting her way.

In the first part of the book I found myself not liking Sam. Midway through, I found myself wanting to take Kayla aside for a good talking to. Especially when Sam comes up with the most painful and unselfish solution concerning the daughter he’s just been reunited with. Talk about hero material. Was this character growth intentional on your part? Have any of your other reviewers or readers mentioned this? Or was this simply my perception?

BWD: Thanks, Donnell. It might sound odd to say I’m glad you didn’t like Sam at first and that you probably wanted to tell Kayla off. That makes them human. That makes them real. That means I’ve done my job.

Yes, people have talked about Sam’s situation, the changes he needs to go through, and the decisions he’s forced to make. I’ll stop with that—we’ll save some twists for the reader!

D.B. Imagine my surprise when Kayla contacts Attorney Matt Lawrence. I instantly recognized the lawyer/protagonist from Family Matters. Kerry, Kayla’s friend and fellow teacher, is now Matt’s wife and due any day with their first child. That was a cool reunion for me. Did you set out with that idea in mind, or did it just naturally pop up when Kayla, a woman from Chicago, needed a lawyer?

BWD: This was one of those lucky breaks that can happen while writing a book. At first, I had no thought about adding an attorney to the story, but once the need became obvious, I knew Matt was just the man for the job.

I love learning what’s going on with characters after I’ve read their books. It was great to discover whether Matt and Kerry were adding another male or female to the MacBride clan.

D.B.: The twists and turns in this book are beautifully accomplished and well-written. I think the very human factor is what appealed to me the most. You unravel these characters’ stories with the finesse of a chef peeling an onion. What comes next for Barbara White Daille now that you’ve earned a 4-1/2 star review from Romantic Times for A Rancher’s Pride?

BWD: See? You did find the characters real, after all.

Thanks for asking about what’s coming up. You may be happy to hear that the next two books will also be set in Flagman’s Folly.

The first is the story of an injured rodeo cowboy who returns to his hometown seeking to right some old wrongs. There, he encounters his former high-school sweetheart, now a single mom struggling to survive financially and having trouble with her preteen daughter. She’s the woman he most needs to get square with. But he’s the one man she has to avoid.

The second book is the story of a young, widowed business owner who lost her Army hero husband and is determined to make a life for herself and her three kids. The rancher hero is just as single-minded in his goal to keep a promise he made—a promise that will once again turn the heroine’s world upside down.

I hope your readers will keep an eye out for them and will look for A RANCHER’S PRIDE, too.

Donnell, thanks again for interviewing me here at Five Scribes!

D.B.: You're most welcome, Barbara. Five Scribe Readers, questions or comments will earn one lucky person a book from Barbara's backlist. We'll decide on Friday the 13th, (no superstition here). I'll put you two together to decide which one. ;) I guarantee this will be happy reading.


Originally from the East Coast, award-winning author Barbara White Daille now lives with her husband in the warm, sunny Southwest, where they love the dry heat and have taken up square dancing.

From the time she was a toddler, Barbara found herself fascinated by those things her mom called "books." Once she learned the words between the covers held the magic of storytelling, she wanted to see her words in print so she could weave that spell for others.

Barbara hopes you will enjoy reading her stories and will find your own storytelling magic in them!

Her newest title from Harlequin American Romance, A RANCHER’S PRIDE, was just released and has received a 4-1/2 star Top Pick review rating from RT Book Reviews.

You can find Barbara online at her web site and blog: www.barbarawhitedaille.com where you can check out her Virtual Blog Tour schedule for A RANCHER’S PRIDE.

You can also reach her via Facebook and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/barbarawhitedaille and https://twitter.com/BarbaraWDaille\