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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Good Beginnings

Hooks are probably the hardest things to write for a story. Just think about what it has to accomplish. Within the first few lines you not only have to grab the reader's attention but you have to keep it up so that he continues reading. No pressure. LOL

Crit partners are essential sounding boards in this matter, but even I'm hesitant to put in my two cents when I'm reviewing someone's hook. A hook establishes your voice, your style and your story in the first few sentences.

My suggestions could never be more than just that. Suggestions. I can point out where I think the novel's best starting point is in order to grab the most interest, but the exact choice of words, the style and rhythm of the narrative is solely on the shoulders of the author. The best a reviewer can do is tell the author if the hook failed or succeeded and why he thinks so.

(Note: When you review, always tell the author WHY you think something worked or failed. Especially if you think it failed.)

Hooks are personal for the reader too. What might excite me may not do anything for the guy next to me. I think there are certain aspects that all good hooks have. Namely, a good hook delivers a stake and the potential for conflict. Using copywriting jargon, it stirs the reader to a call for action. It compels the reader to keep reading because you HAVE to find out what happens next.

Since I won a contest on hooky beginnings, I thought I would dissect the opening lines to my current novel. Here are all five lines at once:

The Reverend Mother used to tell acolytes that if men were going to brawl, they should at least be naked and glistening with oil.

Leda's money was on the hulking brute with the Cydian blade, but right now she needed the other guy to win. That one had information she needed, and she wasn't going to get it if he got himself killed. She was just about to intercede when her quarry tripped on his feet and knocked himself out cold.

Idiot.

*****

Line 1: The Reverend Mother used to tell acolytes that if men were going to brawl, they should at least be naked and glistening with oil.

Right away, I started with something a little startling. Can I be any more sacrilegious? Okay, don't tempt me. LOL. Seriously though, you don't know much yet, but it's probably piqued your curiosity enough to keep reading.


Line 2: Leda's money was on the hulking brute with the Cydian blade, but right now she needed the other guy to win.

I've introduced a character and the scene here. And the mc is conflicted, creating much needed tension.


Line 3: That one had information she needed, and she wasn't going to get it if he got himself killed.

Now we find out why the mc needs this other guy to win. But we don't know if that's going to happen. The tension keeps rising.


Line 4: She was just about to intercede when her quarry tripped on his feet and knocked himself out cold.

Pow! I've given you the set up and the stakes and then pulled the rug out from everyone involved.

Line 5: Idiot!

Here we see a little of the mc's characterization and her voice. Short, (not so) sweet and ready to rock and roll.

*****

Does it work? Well, it won the contest. And let me tell you, it was quite competitive. There were more than 270 entries and once they started to narrow the field it was hard to choose the finalists for the last round. You have to remember too, that this was one editor's opinion. She happened to like my voice --and hopefully the rest of the manuscript.

As a reader, a slow beginning is a deal breaker for me. I need to be involved immediately. I don't have to necessarily like the character but I need to be interested enough to keep reading to find out what happens next.

And that, I think is the key. It has to be juicy enough to intrigue, titillate and promise. It's gotta make the reader want more.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mini Movie Reviews

Went to see two movies recently.

The Last Legion starred Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley. I love historicals. Love them. Especially when they deal with myth, but this was a little lackluster in the plot department. Basically, it was the story on how Excaliber came to be.

I guess I should have known I'd be disappointed since this is a Di Laurentis film. Every time one of the Di Laurentis clan have their hand in something, you can count on two things. The settings and costumes will be phenomenal and the plot will be lukewarm. Never fails.

I forgive a lot because I love historicals so much, but the antagonist was a laughable bad guy in a mask. Merlin (Ben Kingsley) got more air time than he deserved and they forced Colin Firth into a really stupid romance.

Thomas Sangster who played the young Caesar was very good though, as were all the actors. It was the plot that suffered.

The other movie we caught was Stardust, a Neil Gaiman story. While the beginning was a bit long and tedious, it all worked out in the end. Robert De Niro as Captain Shakespeare was terrific. That man can play anything! Even a gay pirate.

We also loved the ghost brothers acting as much the audience as the real audience. It probably could have been more tightly edited in the beginning, but over all it was a fun movie with a great cast.

Stardust is a great date movie.
The Last Legion is good for writers who want reference material for their historical settings.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Branding

I've been brainstorming branding lately for a friend of mine and I thought I would talk a little on what branding is.

Branding is a word that has grown in meaning over the years. Initially, it meant a logo, a mark that identifies a product. But it's far more complex than that now.

A brand uses several elements at once, creating and reinforcing an emotional attachment to the product. Let's take Dan Brown as an example.

The recurring theme in all of Brown's novels (so far) is the idea of cryptography. His genre is the thriller and mystery fiction. A favorite conflict centers on secret societies.

From what little I've given you so far, you can see a pattern forming---a brand. It gives you imagery, and more importantly it conjures an emotional response. Whether that's a positive or negative response isn't important in Brown's case. Luckily for him, both kinds of responses merit huge profits.

This is the important part. All the fancy art and all your promotional endeavors mean nothing if you can't create an emotional response from the reader.

Dan Brown's website is extraordinary. Notice the little touches. Dan Brown's author photo is professionally done. On top of that, he photographs well and his publicity team uses that photo for all its worth. (You see it everywhere.)

The primary color on his website is black with a rich rust-red color. The main graphic uses Mona Lisa's eyes, from his book, The Da Vinci Code. Other graphics illustrate and support parts of his novels. The text is succinct and extremely well written, with links to other sites in case the content piqued your interest enough to do further research.

Notice the torn page effect under Common Questions and the interactive sites that encourages the reader to participate. Everything in this website reinforces the concept of secrets and codes. (Kudos to Brown's web designer.)

So what can you take away from this virtual field trip? When you think about branding, think about what you write in broad terms. Think about the patterns, the themes, and the emotional draw of your particular voice.

Jot down your genre and write every word that YOU think describes that genre. For example if you write mystery, your list might look like this: dark, cryptic, secrets, danger, black, blood, murder.

Jot down every word that describes the elements in your stories. Now give them a corresponding image. Pick out two or three images that keep resurfacing.

Finally, jot down a short declarative sentence describing your voice. My voice is on the snarky side. My heroes/heroines are brash, emotionally flawed and not always right, but always have their hearts in the right place. So if I were to create an image describing my voice, it would be something in clear focus and something very tangible. If your voice is more on the poetic side, you might consider soft backgrounds and wispy settings. You're looking for something that reflects your writing style.

When you've gathered all this information, you should find recurring elements that illustrate your genre, novel, and voice. Use that as your base, bearing in mind that you want to instill an emotional response from the reader.

If you've done your homework, you might discover a brand of your very own.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Puppet Master

Ack! I've been sick the last few days, nursing a head cold that just won't let go. But Greg is home now and I've got someone to take care of me. Read: feed dogs, cook meals and buy me Nyquil.

My friend, Kevin, sent me this and I thought it was pretty cool. Hope you like it too.

video

Friday, August 24, 2007

That New Baby Novel Smell

Nearly every one of my critique partners is on the cusp of starting a new project. I have a new project too, but I can't start on it until my obligations to the old work are done.

I am a stickler for getting things finished. And I don't mean writing "the end" kind of finished. I mean pressed, polished, prayed-over, and pass the biscuits finished.

And maybe for that reason, starting a new novel isn't as exciting for me as it is for my CPs. A brand new project is like a new baby. It's all new and shiny and looks really cute in its little-bitty baby clothes.

Since I am a born-again outliner, the new baby smell is missing all together in my new projects. My oohs and ahhs are at the idea stage. This is where I get excited. By the time I get down to writing, I've already outlined the entire novel. I know where all the big plot points are going to come in, so no surprises there.

And I'm okay with that. I've learned this is a very comfortable working environment for me. It frees me up to get creative with the delivery instead of the plot.

This last novel took just over two months. I used Candy Havens' Fast Draft Program--slightly modified. While I couldn't finish a novel in two weeks, I was able to push through whenever I found myself stumbling over a scene or chapter.

It wasn't easy at first. My anal retentive side wants to suffer over a plot problem until it figures out the solution. But using Candy's method forced me to keep moving. And even though this wrote itself more slowly than what she advocates, I was happy with it because I wasn't worrying every piece to death. I was able to let my CPs hack through it, tell me where I needed to add, or make clearer, and move on.

This was the easiest novel I ever wrote, which is saying a lot because I had absolutely NOTHING to go on when I started it. I am not kidding. This whole novel started because of a contest where I had to come up with five spiffy lines. That's it. I built an entire world and plot on the strength of five lines.

But you know, now that I've done it, it's really not a bad way to start a novel. What is it that most people have trouble with? Beginnings. How often do we agonize over our hooks hoping they grab the reader right from the start?

If I start every novel with the idea that this is going to be a contest entry, maybe I can sidestep that whole awkward hook business by getting it right the first time, knowing I have to set up the seeds of character, world and conflict inside five lines.

Maybe next week, I'll post those five lines and try to disseminate them.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Read and Release

The other day, I was going through my email and came upon a post from KS Augustin on one of my list groups. She welcomed people to her blog and I decided to take a look. She has a very neat blog, by the way.

As I was reading some of the entries, she mentioned that she had moved, leaving behind more than 2500 books. I have no idea how many books I have, but between two houses, numerous bookshelves and countless boxes, I am no slouch in the book hording department.

But KS said something that struck a chord. She said she was glad for the rise of e-books, making it so much easier to read and accumulate novels. It hit me like a thunderbolt. Is that why electronic books are gaining popularity? Is there a correlation, not just with the convenience of moving our libraries with us no matter where we go in this world, but also with the public's increasing inclination to read and release?

I don't reread many books. I can count on one hand how many books I have reread. (okay, one and a half hands) There are just too many books out there to linger too long on older work. And while I much prefer the feel of having a book in my hands, I think I can get used to reading off a screen.

A couple of years ago, my company went to on-screen proofing (in an effort to reduce paper). Lots of people balked, but it's amazing how quickly we all adapted. Today, as I walk around the office, I never hear a single gripe about reading off the screen. Why? Because we've discovered that not only can we enlarge the text size to our comfort reading level, but we also aren't drowning in paper everywhere we go.

My generation knew only one kind of book, something tactile…and usually heavy. But the generations being born today will not flinch for a moment with the new mediums. So while I might be more comfortable with something physical, I think I can adjust, and I can embrace e-books with open arms--and less tired eyes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Markets

Rapid Magazine
Rapid magazine covers all aspects of whitewater paddlesports.
Pays up to 20 cents/word.


Lonely Planet Publications, Australia
Described as 'The world's largest independent guidebook publisher', Lonely Planet is looking to expand its range and is looking for freelancer authors in various locations, with specific regional knowledge and experience.

I swoon when I think about Australia. Someday, I'll make it down there.


Intergalactic Medicine Show

Stories of any length in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. "Science fiction" includes hard sf, sf adventure, alternate history, near-future, far-future, psi, alien, and any other kind of sci-fi you can think of. "Fantasy" includes heroic fantasy (based on any culture's mythology), fairy tales, contemporary fantasy, and "horror" in the sense of supernatural suspense. Six cents a word up to 7,500 words and 5 cents a word thereafter.

Word of warning: You do get an email saying they received your query, but it takes a LONG time to hear from them.


Contests

ING Direct Adventures on the Road to Happiness Contest

NO ENTRY FEE

Tell us about your Adventures on the Road to Happiness! Send us a short essay, with a photo, telling us about your savings goal and how you plan to get there. The Road to Happiness is filled with many great stories and we want to hear yours! The best part? The winning entry will be awarded a $10,000 deposit in their Orange Savings Account™! In addition, twenty-five other winners will be awarded $1,000 deposits.

Park your entry here no later than August 31, 2007, 11:59pm ET.


Here's Looking At You Contest

NO ENTRY FEE

Deadline September 15, 2007.

Prize: $100 prize and publication in The VERB writing ezine. Also, signed copy of Characters and Viewpoints (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Orson Scott Card.

Word length: may be up to 700.

Give us a short story in which you, the author, are directly involved. You may be the main character or a minor character but—and here's the catch—you may not use First Person narrative. That means no I or me. For this story, you are looking at yourself from the outside.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Get a Plan

I'll get back to my usual blog tomorrow.

Maya's query lecture was so much fun. She did a great job and really instilled a sense of purpose.

We had a packed room too.

It reminded me how much we need to support each other as writers. Rally around authors you enjoy and appreciate. Go to their blogs, their book signings, their lectures. Some day, it will be you out there needing someone to be in your corner.

Karma, baby. It all starts with you.

I was talking to a few writers during break and after the meeting and every one of them was so impressed with how methodically Maya went about getting an agent and getting published.

I suppose other people can get away with a more scattered approach, but Maya and I are cut from similar cloth in this regard. While I first entered the writing world out of simple curiosity, once I decided to make this my career, I became obsessed with learning all I could. (Go ahead, ask Greg. He will confirm the "obsessed" part.)

You have to go in with a plan--and a deadline if you're like me and need the ticking time bomb. I gave myself seven years to be gainfully published. Now seven years seems like a long time to me and my rabbit ways, but since I have a full time job and extraordinary circumstances that require a good deal of travel, I had to reconcile myself to the fact that I wasn't Wonder Woman. Seven years was doable to include both a learning curve and accomplishment.

Everyone is different. I do advocate a well thought out plan, a plan that you'll stick to, but if you prefer to wing it, more power to you. I'll be rooting for you either way.

Tomorrow: Markets

Monday, August 20, 2007

Authors and Updates

Well let's see. It's been a busy weekend writing-wise. I am adding a little more to the fantasy novel to round it out more. That will be sent out soon.

True Believers, the SF novel, is going through minor revisions too. I was asked if I could add more depth to the final battle.

Greg to the rescue. He's been looking it over and giving me tactical information on how the US and other world powers "should" respond in case of an alien attack. I trust him implicitly on these things. In all the wars and skirmishes around the world in the last 30 years, he has had an uncanny ability to guess what the combatants will do next. He even predicted the exact hour the US would strike Iraq back in the first war. Now that's good.

Right now though, I am more excited about the fantasy. I really like it and my brain is anxious to start on the sequel. I have a rough outline already drawn out. Still working on creating a worthwhile conflict to tie the whole thing together, but the bones look pretty juicy. If I plan this right, I might be able to drive this towards a trilogy.

I have to confess I have been wanting to write a time travel story ever since I got interested in writing. The only thing that stopped me was that I was unable to come up with a unique time travel device that hadn't already been exploited. As I was writing Touch of Fire, the characters themselves told me about my time travel machine. Guess I just had to let my subconscious work it out on its own.

*****

I spoke to Joshua Palmatier, an OWW member, over the weekend. He's got a 3 book deal with DAW--and more on the way it seems. The Skewed Throne is out right now, The Cracked Throne comes out in November and The Vacant Throne comes out in 2008. Joshua's been busy. Check out his website and read the excerpts.

*****

And don't forget Maya Reynold's program on query writing TONIGHT! If you are within driving distance of north Texas, don't miss this interactive program. It will be worth the trip.

Maya has told our Yahoo group that she will work with volunteers who want to bring their queries up for review during the program.

Here's the meeting information again.

Monday, 20 August 2007
7-8:30 p.m.
Speaker: Maya Reynolds, Penguin Author
Topic: Query Letters
Richardson Public Library
900 Civic Center Dr.Richardson TX 75080
Basement Room

Maya Reynolds tells all in "The Dos and Don'ts of Query Letters: The Things I Did Right and the Things I Did Wrong on the Way To Getting An Agent and Contract."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Etcetera

Found this on Stephanie's blog about a new review group and their contest. Sign up here and get in the running for a bagful of books from 'The Long and the Short of It'.

*****

Many apologies to Rayven, among others who's email got caught in my spam filter. I recently upgraded to a newer version of Microsoft Outlook and it was very picky about what mail I got to see.

Rayven Godchild has a new book out called: Secret Lilies, an inter-racial erotic romance. Go and take a look.

*****

Thanks to several OWW list members/grammarians who did their best to explain the quirky rationale to commas before the word "then". Maya probably explained it the best in a language I understood. She said her copy-editor didn't question the commas in her book. That's good enough for me. lol

*****

Thanks too, to Rayne who gave me some wonderful expert information about Wicca. I am working on the outline to the sequel of the time travel fantasy I just finished and Rayne appeared just when I needed her most.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hurting Characters

There was a thread on the OWW list group about hurting your characters. I didn't read many of the emails in the beginning because I had this duh moment. You know…duh, of course you have to hurt your characters. Where else is the heart of the story going to come from?

I think people err on how far to hurt their characters, and sometimes go too far thinking that will improve the conflict. You don't have to chop off appendages or torture them to death. Death and dismemberment is only covered by auto insurance (lol) and isn't always necessary to excite the story. (Learned that the hard way!)

There are more subtle means, and sometimes through that subtlety it becomes even more tension-filled because the pain isn't visible on the surface. For example: the character can lose his career, his lover, his dignity. Hurt happens and it doesn't have to be physical or apparent to the casual viewer, or even to the character himself.

When a character is hurt, he reacts to the situation and provokes the next evolution in the scene---or he should because there's no need to hurt him unless it's integral to the plot. Action = Reaction. Can you see the domino effect? One action leads to another and then another; each creating a ripple that becomes cause and effect.

Now complicate things. What happens if the pain inflicted is done without malice, something done by accident, perhaps? Now two people are affected by pain, the giver and the receiver.

Pain is a great impetus for expanding the depth and tension of a story. Done well, it also creates empathy.

How can you hurt your characters without looking too manipulative? Give your mc a passionate want or need (something we as human beings can relate to) and then take it away from him--in a BIG way. Does he want the girl? Make sure the girl falls for the jerk who also happens to be his biggest rival. Does he love his dog? Kill the poor pooch or have him stolen. Does he need to pay for his father's operation? Get him fired, drunk and arrested for possession.

You can hurt your characters in all sorts of delicious ways that will make the story un-put-down-able. The more the mc suffers, the more readers have to know how he gets out of his jams.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Query Letter Program

I will post a reminder on Sunday, but if any readers live in or around the north Texas area, I invite you to come to this month's Writers' Guild of Texas meeting.

This month, my friend, Maya Reynolds will be presenting a program called: "The Dos and Don'ts of Query Letters: The Things I Did Right and the Things I Did Wrong on the Way To Getting An Agent and Contract."

Monday, 20 August 2007
7-8:30 p.m.
Speaker: Maya Reynolds, Penguin Author
Topic: Query Letters
Richardson Public Library
900 Civic Center Dr.Richardson TX 75080
Basement Room

If you've never met Maya or followed her blog, I can promise you it will be an insightful hour. Maya is a wonderful speaker and knowledgable about many aspects of the publishing industry. She's also very funny and smart. I've gotten lots of great advice from her, so I know this program is going to be chock full of information.

Come to the meeting. If we've never met, ask for me and I'll be happy to introduce you to the group.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I owe, I owe...

...................It's off to write I go

A few weeks ago I won a hook contest and since then my obligations have been piling up like cordwood. The requested manuscript had to take priority. It's done and thanks to some remarkable crit partners, it looks pretty darn good. One more CP has kindly offered to review it.
--this despite her hectic schedule. As soon as she's done, I'll give it one last careful proofing before I submit it to the editor.

I had an interesting experience recently. One of my networking partners has a series of five books and she needed to come up with blurbs for the series as well as each book. It was kind of fun brainstorming the blurbs. It's one of my favorite things to do.

I think it's easier to work on somebody else's blurb rather than your own. An outside reader usually focuses on the things that piqued her interest, while the author is stuck on every little piece of minutia she went through to create a finished book. It’s the forest for the trees scenario.

The next time you're stuck on a blurb or a query hook, send it off to writing peers who haven't read the manuscript. The more virgin their eyes, the better the feedback. And you're assured an even cleaner response if you submit it to people who don't normally crit you at all.

This goes double for whole manuscripts. Critters who have read your novel too many times have one fatal drawback. They are too used to your style and forgive grammar and story problems that an agent or publisher won't.

One thing I should address is that you have to cultivate successful critique relationships. I realize I preach as if all reviewers are the best things since sliced bread, but that's not always the case. I'm at a point in my career where I've developed very strong relationships with people who happen to be phenomenal reviewers. But when you're starting out, it's dicey out there.

There's the friendly reviewer who wouldn't dream of hurting your feelings and wants to be liked. And there's the space cadet reviewer who doesn't have a lot of real world experience so doesn't understand a lot of what she reads. Then there's the antagonistic reviewer who acts as if you slept with her husband and now she's out to get even.

Believe me, you find them all out there in various degrees. I read about someone recently who'd been writing for several years and had yet to find even one reviewer who could help him get to the next level. It's like finding a spouse. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right one. Unlike spouses, we can have several crit partners.

Lots of critique partners are great. But one spouse is more than enough.

Good reviewers are out there so don't give up. I found my first set of reviewers after six months of reviewing heavily. These people analyzed the story down to its buttons and were able to articulate their reactions in an easy to understand manner. Bingo! That's exactly what I needed.

Crit relationships are by their nature very dynamic and organic. They feed off each other, so don't put your work out and expect people to take care of you like a hothouse tomato. You have to get out there and earn your keep.

Off with you now. Go forth and do good.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Markets

The weekend was a little lazy. I got the important stuff done then I goofed off by surfing the net and checking out some blogs. I guess even alphas need some down time. Besides, it was so HOT! Triple digits and dangerous ozone warnings.

I have a board meeting tomorrow, which means I'll be home late (and cranky), so this post will have to do you for a couple of days.

Let's do markets.

This one is brand new.

Magik Mist

They pay 2-3 cents per word.

From their site: Because we are at the very early stages of development, our guidelines are fairly fluid at the moment. Monthly columns and special articles about the business of writing, industry news, story development, etc. would be appropriate…and of course…stories! We are also open to suggestions. (What would you like to see in a new speculative fiction ezine? As readers and writers, what length stories would you like to see?)

Magik Mist also has a contest coming up fast.
Deadline: 8-15-07
Story length: 1,000 to 3,000 words.
Fee: $10
Prizes: $500 – first place
$250 – second place
$100 – third place
$50 – honorable mentions (3)


Mothering

Our main objective is to be truly helpful, to provide information that empowers our readers to make changes, and supports them in being their own experts. We like articles that have a strong point of view and come from the heart, that are challenging or evocative. We also take pride in publishing well-researched, extensively documented articles. When submitting this type of article, please use only the most updated research, from primary sources. We pay between $200 and $500 for a magazine article, the amount to be negotiated at the time it is selected for and laid out in an issue. Payment is made 90 days from publication date for one-time use of the article.


Kids Pages

Nonfiction: Family related topics
Word Count: Up to 2,000 words
Pay: 10 cents per word


New York Review of Science Fiction

Pays $10 for reviews, $25 for features, and $5 for short ("boxed" or sidebar) features. Seeks popular articles, essays, parodies, studies, and thought-pieces on topics related to science fiction, fantasy, and horror literature. The same provisions regarding the writing quality of reviews applies to features. Please query with specific topics.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I tear because I care

I should be working on my book, but I heard from one of my crit partners today and I wanted to speak a little about the strength of a good review.

I don't mince words---or I try not to anyway. I don't think that helps people when you sugar coat your review. Writing is hard enough, but if you're not honest, not clear about what worked and what didn't, you waste the time of the person who submitted his work, purposely leading him down the wrong (rose-colored) path.

Don't do that to people. If they are serious about getting published they deserve the truth. If they can't handle the truth that's a different problem. I'm talking about writers who are chomping at the bit to excel at their craft.

One of my all time favorite reviewers used to preface each of her reviews to me with, "I tear because I care." That always softened the blow just before she tore me a new one. LOL…I always needed a day to recover from her crits. But holy moley, she knew her stuff. To this day, I try to follow her example.

I won't review just anyone. They have to be serious writers who won't wilt every time someone points out a flaw in their stories. I'm not going to mother you and let you cry on my shoulder.

On the flip side, I will answer your follow-up questions and brainstorm with you until the cows learn to play accordion. If I go through the trouble of reviewing, you have me for the life of that story.

I know I am a good reviewer. People (sometimes total strangers) seek me out on a regular basis because they'd seen my review on some board or someone else told them about me. Because of time constraints, I have to limit who I review. My regular partners take priority. But I have friends too who need an occasional virgin eye and I will read their stuff if I have a spare couple of hours.

I've been very lucky in that I've had some incredible reviewers show me the ropes. And the only way to become a good reviewer is to review often and with an analytical eye. Play devil's advocate. Show the author not only what he missed, but what he could try.

Remember that the reviewer plays one very important role. He gets to see all your mistakes before an agent does. When you find someone that good, never let him go. I can't tell you how many times my reviewers have saved my bacon.

They are gold.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Good Place

The other day I listed the book, More Sand in My Bra, which contains one of my stories, (Thongs for the Memories) in the Broad Universe book catalog. It felt weird to know that I have something with an ISBN code.

Broad Universe is such a neat group. While their primary purpose is to promote women writers, they don't stop men from joining. I enjoy the intelligent list group and how seriously they take their role in promoting writers. Please go over and visit the site. Cost of membership is low, but the benefits and camaraderie are priceless.

All in all, my writing career is coming along rather well. Despite a hectic schedule, I've managed to write three novels, a fistful of articles, maintain several important critique relationships, attend some excellent workshops and conferences, and update this blog regularly with (hopefully) helpful content. It's all part of my strategy for meaningful publication. Currently, I'm on year 3 of my 7 year plan.

Could I do more? Heh! Not unless there was two of me. I've reached my limit time-wise. As it is, I feel I may have to give up one or two of my smaller groups in order to keep up with my obligations.

I'd also like to update my art portfolio too. There have been several opportunities for me to get an art gig, but I've declined because I don't have anything current to show clients. I do have a project to complete in the next few months--a pet portrait for a friend of mine, which I think would also make a good portfolio piece.

It's funny. The other day I went with a buddy of mine to a local art store and it tugged at my heart strings. It just feels like home whenever I'm surrounded by art supplies and artists. I love the smell of oil paints and turpentine, the feel of crumbly pastels on my fingertips and the sight of row after row of brushes. I love talking to other artists. There's a kinship there, much like there is between writers.

I often feel torn between these two worlds, but I also feel blessed because I get a perspective that few others share. I'm in a good place. It's been tough juggling so many plates, but I really feel things are starting to come together. The icing on the cake is that my health has improved dramatically since the surgery, too. You can't work if you don't feel well.

Here's hoping year 4 will be the year I turn the corner on my career. I've been encouraged by recent events. Things are looking up.


On the home front: Baby brother has a new baby of his own--his third. Congratulations, little bro. My kid brother owns and operates Cary Gymnastics Center in Cary, Illinois, with his lovely wife, Laura. It's a corporation he built all by himself and big sister is very proud of him.

--David, I forgive you for tossing my jars of paint off our 4th floor apartment window when you were four. But the Spiderman incident will live on in infamy. I know I can sell that story somewhere. You are toast, buddy. LOL

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Markets

Victoria Strauss once again put out a killer post on her blog. Check out the August 5, 2007 entry, Writers and Money. Sobering and full of great intel.

With that in mind...Let's do Markets!

Employment Times
Employment Times is a weekly employment trade newspaper distributed in Maine, New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts. We accept labor/education-related articles for submission into our publication and Web site.

Word length: 800-1500 words
Payment: $50-$100


Great Lakes Story and Photo Contest

Contest Categories:
General story
Fishing story
Camping story
Photograph

Deadline: August 20, 2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Word Limit: 500 words
Prize: $7500 in prizes - including a kayak, digital camera, fishing gear, and more.


Intergeneration Foundation Contest

The Intergeneration Foundation seeks to reinforce and recognize the power of storytelling as a way to connect generations. Storytelling is an ancient tradition of every culture to inform, entertain, educate and bring people together. We invite people of all ages to tell us a story: a narrative of their family’s history or traditions or a story from their imagination. Whether fiction or non-fiction, the story should illustrate intergeneration needs, connections and understanding, and feature characters from at least two generations. One illustration, such as an original photo, drawing, painting, or cartoon may be included to enhance the story’s message.

Deadline: August 15, 2007
Word Length: 600 words
Genre: Fiction, nonfiction
Prizes:
1st - $500
2nd - $300
3rd - $100


Kalan
Alternative greeting card and novelty gift company
Send in your slogans.


Far, Far Away
Genre: Slipstream, Cross genre, SF, Fantasy, Humor, Experimental and/or Surreal
Deadline: 2-29-08
Word Length: 100 to 15K
Payment: $10-$50


Resources:

Cop Talk
Writing a novel? Have a question on police procedure?

Writing for Children
Lots of articles on the ins and outs of YA writing.

Writing the Novel Synopsis
Good article. Short and to the point. Just like your synopsis should be. Right?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Blogging

OWW has been running a thread on the use of blogging as a marketing tool. I resisted blogging for a long time because in the beginning the only blogs I came across were personal diaries or dirty laundry aired for public consumption.

Eventually, I found sites that contained useful information. There were blogs from writers who delivered hard-hitting market information, others who regularly gave the skinny on little known contests and markets, yet others who could disseminate aspects of writing in a way I found understandable. They became resources for me as I learned the ins and outs of the publishing industry.

Do I visit sites with personal diaries? Sure, once a week if I happen to know that person. But most of my time is spent browsing sites more relevant to my current development. Accordingly, I've tried to incorporate this blog with useful information, things I've learned, things I've heard about, and tips and tricks from the college of hard knocks. This has earned me a respectable number of visitors in return.

It's a skill unto itself to create an audience and a following for a blog.
And here's where I tell you: Do what I say and not what I (don't) do.

• Post regularly on forums that caters to the audience you care about. Careful about becoming a post whore and showboating.

• Sign all your email with your blog address as part of your signature. Microsoft Outlook will do that for you automatically.

• Visit other blogs and leave a message.

• Participate at cons, workshops and lectures. Make sure your blog address is listed prominently on their write-ups about you.

• Write articles. But only post your blog address in the bio if it's a blog that would be of interest to that particular audience.

• Make sure the big search engines have your blog listed.

• Link to other blogs. A word of caution: Link to people you want to be associated with. If the other blogger acts the ass, it becomes by extension, a reflection of you. The same goes for an exemplary blogger. Your blog is more respected just by association.

• Hand out your business cards liberally. More people visit this blog because of my business cards than any other method.

This is probably because I am so bad at posting regularly on forums or on other blogs. And the majority of my articles in print have nothing to do with writing, so those readers aren't directed here either. But I've seen these methods work for other people, and they work well if you're willing to post content that is well written, (spell checked) and interesting.

Tomorrow: Markets

Monday, August 6, 2007

Crits & Movie Reviews

I am off today, taking care of fix-it chores I can't put off any more. We spent the weekend slumming though, watching lots of movies and taking a little time off to work on ToF.

My critique partners always amaze me. Not only do they catch things I miss, but their perspectives are wildly different. It gives me an insight into different ways of thinking, different attitudes, different backgrounds.

Establishing solid critique relationships is the best thing I've ever done for my writing career. I made it a point to look for people who were honest, thorough and logical. No one comes in with pom poms and I appreciate that.

Don't get me wrong. We all want to hear that we're the next Clancy, Rowling or Nora Roberts, but I think it's fair to say they all started the way we did, one step at a time.

I have a very specific audience in mind and I do not try to make my books everyone's cup of tea. I write what I like to read---usually something fast, something with a lot of plot twists and hopefully something heroic. I don't think I can write a story that is long and winding. It's not my style, and not what I read.

Ironically, my critique partners aren't necessarily my core audience, and because they're not, they are able to give me a perspective that a reviewer for that subgenre might miss.

I mentioned a particular scene to my husband to get his feedback. (He's always good for man-on-the-street reactions.) For some reason this scene really raised some eyebrows from all three of the reviewers who read this book. The action my mc took was rather extreme. Having put myself in her boots, it seemed the most logical course of action, even though it came out brutal. Should I have set that behavior up more? Hmm…my gut feeling said no. I think if you telegraph people's intentions too much you destroy the element of surprise.

It's something I learned when I studied tae kwon do. The sensei warned me about telegraphing my moves. My body would move in anticipation of the attack I was going to make. And of course, a good sparring partner would realize this immediately and react accordingly. Because of this experience, I don't telegraph my characters' actions so much. I prefer to let it stun the audience.

I also saw this in action in the movies I watched this weekend. We saw The Simpsons, The Bourne Ultimatum and 300 (Again!). The best parts of each of these movies (even The Simpsons) was when the characters did something out of character and unexpected. All of a sudden they became more interesting, and I sat up higher in my chair, waiting to see what they'd do next.

So how did the movies rate this weekend? The Simpsons was better than I expected, but I would've been happy to wait for this on DVD. The Bourne Ultimatum was good but not as good as the first movie (in my opinion). There's been an awful lot of hand clapping for this movie, but I thought certain scenes went on too long. The plot remained the same, Bourne looking for his identity. The pay-off was not as surprising as I anticipated. It more or less reflected the common liberal view on what they think the government is doing. Ho-hum. Already heard this one before. I wanted to see something original, something as fresh as the first movie's plot devices.

300, even though it was a repeat for me, was still the best movie of the three. We are still watching the "making of" portion. It's the kind of movie I would watch again and again. It's got history, action, and exquisite settings.

Friday, August 3, 2007

PC Tricks

One of my friends has been having computer problems and I offered her my handy-dandy tips that pulled me out of a nasty computer mess recently.

Tip #1: Google is your friend. When an expensive hired gun couldn't figure out a connectivity problem, I took matters into my own hands and googled the error message I kept seeing. It led me to a chat room where other people experienced the same message.

There were tons of geeks and pseudo-geeks who offered dozens of possible solutions. One by one I tried the easy fixes first to see if it would connect me until I hit on the one that fixed my particular problem.

This is dicey if you know nothing about computers, but if you have a modicum of sense it's worth a try. Just don't install or download code unless you're reasonably sure you won't put yourself in a bigger jam.

Tip #2: Keep a notebook where you can log all your error messages, their fixes, or subsequent actions. You'll be amazed at how much you'll depend on it. I also use this notebook to store all my passwords. ---the memory banks aren't what they used to be and this comes in all manner of handy.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Word 2007

I goofed the other day and put in the wrong web address for Query Tracker. I ended up sending you to an online article I wrote.

I've since corrected my gaff. Here is the right address for Query Tracker. By the way, if you go to this site and click on their articles link, you'll find my online article on writing sex scenes, called Creating the Sizzle in Sex.

The skinny on Word 2007: One of my computer genius friends did his best to talk me out of getting Microsoft Office 2007. I won't kid you, it wasn't user friendly for the first two days until I figured out where they put all my favorite tools and commands. But once I got the hang of it, I have to say Microsoft outdid itself. It has more bells and whistles than a shiny new bike.

The nicest feature for me is that you can create your own personalized list of most used commands at the very top of the menu bar.

I recommend it if you don't get flustered easily with new software. Word 2007 is chock full of useful features, just not where you expect them. Now that I'm comfortable with it, I wouldn't trade it for the older versions. Just be prepared for a learning curve.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Worth Every Penny

I feel like I've been bobbing for air lately. It is very, very hard to write productively in the few spare hours I have after my work day. I go to bed every night like a bowl of whipped cream--beaten to a froth.

Got a maybe from a very high-paying magazine. I hope I pass the next review. That would be a nice feather in my cap.

If all goes according to plan, I should be finished polishing my apocalyptic fantasy in the next two weeks. The short story after that should be done before the end of August, and then I'd like to concentrate on subbing to an anthology or two.

How does everyone else decide how to plan their writing schedule? Do you wait for the opportunity to present itself and write for it specifically, or do you simply write what moves you and hope the right venue comes along?

I have to admit, I prefer to write when the venue presents itself rather than have a trunk full of stories and articles lying around waiting for a home. There have been a couple of stories I have written for exercise or because it moved me to do so, but as a rule they have to have a reason for being conjured. And it has to be compensated.

Anyone who's read me for a while knows that I don't advocate giving work away. If it's good enough to be published, it's good enough to get paid adequately. Part of my hesitation to give work away stems from the idea that a poor paying market who buys "my" work does so because they can't afford the really good writers. I know that's not really the case, but it's the paranoid psychotic in me who believes that.

The other reason is because of my design background. I've seen bad illustrations for magazine and book covers. And I investigate what they pay out of curiosity. Sure enough, the bad art is either poorly compensated or simply donated---just like the story. Which only reinforces my belief that you get what you pay for.

If you donate work, do it out of a sense of altruism. Don't do it just to claim a publishing credit.

Eons ago, when I was at university I took a ceramics class. I love working with clay, but like all newbies, I was pretty bad. My first pots were horrific, heavy monstrosities, but I was proud of making something useful out of mud.

My professor, who remains near and dear to my heart, told me point blank to smash those pots before the semester was over. He said, a bad pot will follow you around like a rash. Years from now, you won't want anyone associating your name with that shoddy piece of workmanship.

I did trash my first pots, but I kept one for sentimental reasons. And you know what? He was right. I found that pathetic-looking pot years later. ---and I couldn't smash it fast enough.

You are your work. Submit only what you'll be proud of.