Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Holiday Greetings!

Happy Holidays!
It is always so exciting to start a new year--fresh opportunities and a new start.
As you can imagine, I'm still pretty excited about having my first Regency novel published, although to be honest, my feelings range from thrilled to scared to death as the "rubber hits the road" and the dirty work--editing--begins in earnest. And there is always the fear that people will hate it and you won't find an audience. Or that you'll find an audience maybe two people. Frightening.

The really horrifying part is that it only gets harder. You think now that you've sold your first book, things will get easier, but the reality is that the market gets tighter each year as the Internet (well--you're reading this instead of a book, right?), games, television, movies and books all compete for the same limited attention span. Not to mention other worthwhile activities like just going for a walk.

As part of that trend, books are getting shorter and sharper, which I view as a good thing since to be honest, I'm not much on long books. After a while, I just want the author to wrap things up and move on. Lately, I've been reading a lot of short stories, particularly mysteries like those published in the lovely magazine The Strand. If you've never seen an issue and you like mysteries, I highly recommend in, along with The Mystery Scene.

I keep wondering if the short story is going to make a comeback. There are already e-zines available through the Internet and various publishing companies are experimenting with online offerings, as well as an upswing in novelettes for romance and erotica readers. I'm all for various "length factors" because I figure any medium that gets folks reading is great.

Short stories are an interesting format and I keep toying with the idea of writing a few, myself, but to be honest, they scare the dickens out of me. I believe short story writers are exceptional writers because they have to do all their character development as well as story development in just a few pages. No long descriptive passages, no lengthy backstory explaining how the character got the way they are, just quick and hopefully not too dirty :-) scene setting, character description, and story. Short story writers are the slim, muscular atheletes of the writing world.

I personally like a very lean, tight writing style so I'm very drawn to short stories--I just don't know if I can develop both a character and a good story in just a few pages. But I think in today's market, if you can hone that skill, you're going to sell. I don't know if you could ever actually get rich on short stories, but I believe there is an audience out there for them.

What I'm thinking is some sort of RSS feed subscription (I mean, authors do want to get paid for their work) where you could set up a web page with an RSS feed and then post your stories and novelettes. Anyone who subscribes (and pays the subscription fee--which wouldn't have to be really expensive) would then get automatic notification and download of the new stories via the RSS feed. There are tons of free RSS feed clients and the new version of Outlook from Microsoft (Outlook 2007) will include an RSS feed so you can get your news and junk dumped directly into your e-mail bin. Readers can then read their content on any device, e.g. smartphone, pda, laptop, desktop computer, whatever. You could even do a serialized novel/story that way. How cool would that be? You could even include pictures, like Manga stuff, if you're into that.

Companies such as Harlequin are already experimenting with various serials and e-pubs but at the moment, I'm not sure how they're handling the business (money making) end of it. So much of the stuff on the Internet is free--which is what makes it such a terrific resource--but on the other hand, it would be difficult to make a living as a writer if you never actually got paid for your work. At what point do we start charging and what do we charge users for? If you were a writer and never got paid, would you continue to write? You might, but I'm not sure what kind of quality product readers would be getting. There is a lot of truth in: You get what you pay for.

Still, a lot of writers love writing so much, they may write for free. Personally, I find that a little too depressing to think about, but I guess a lot of socialists would really love that idea. I'm a little too much of a capitalist to appreciate the benefits of working long hours to produce something for someone else and never get anything in return except possibly a plaque or a pat on the head.

Anyway, I sure I don't know the answers. I only know that I regard writing as a second job for now and one which I hope to change over to completely as a primary occupation to help me pay the bills sometime during the next seven years. That means I would actually need to earn money for my novels. Now that I have my first publishing contract, I expect to start earning something, but I can't help thinking there are vast opportunities out there for new stories presented via the Internet, with a fair price that readers find totally acceptable.

We live in an interesting time and I hope 2007 continues the unprecedented developments on the Internet. There is no doubt that we are headed in some unexpected directions.

So Happy New Year to everyone and may we all get our hearts' desire!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Writing the "All-Nighter" Book

*News Flash* And now a word from our sponser...My publication date has been changed! Smuggled Rose is now due to be released as an e-book on May 3, 2007! I hope to have a cover soon so you can see what it looks like. And we are still hoping to have a paperback version 6 months later, so I'm totally thrilled! Anyway, back to the REAL subject...

The Anatomy of an All-Nighter Book
Hopefully, David Morrell will not sue me for dissecting his book, CREEPERS, which is a perfect and clear example of a book which is so gripping that you literally stay up all night reading it to find out what happens next. A lot of writers worry about sagging middles or engaging the reader, and sometimes it helps to see how a really expert writer does this. I chose CREEPERS simply because it was so well done and it was so clear how it was done.

Morrell doesn’t pepper you with a lot of backstory and unnecessary information, particularly at the beginning. He establishes who his characters are and what their goals are: to explore an old, abandoned hotel before it is torn down. He lays down hints that the main character has more to his motives, but there is only a hint. You don’t actually find out all his hidden secrets and motives until almost the end.

In previous articles, I’ve talked about making sure your reader understands your hero or heroine, so they can bond with them. This means you have to make sure your reader understands at that hero/heroine’s goals and motivations, but only enough to accept the action and get into the story. It’s a fine line.

Starter Conflict
The hero of CREEPERS is Frank Balenger and we know he’s joined the group of explorers for his own reasons, with the overt explanation that he’s a reporter doing a story on creepers (urban explorers). His explanation to the rest of the group for his presence is actually enough for the reader, too. Morrell throws out hints like:

“I’m beginning to like this guy,” Vinnie said.
Balenger’s muscles relaxed. Knowing there’d be other tests, he watched the creepers fill their knapsacks.

Balenger wants the creepers to accept him as a reporter so he can go along with them. We know there may be more to it, but it’s good enough for us. This is the perfect example of giving the reader enough motivation, enough details to get them involved and intrigued, and to start sympathizing with Balenger, without dumping a whole lotta unnecessary backstory on us. We’re intrigued because we know there’s more to come…

So the first hurdle for the hero is to get the creepers to trust him enough to come along. This is the first twist of tension the reader feels, and the starter conflict. Of course, the creepers let him come along, which brings us to the next twist of tension.

Hints of Horrors to Come
As they break into the hotel, they run into rats and a cat with abnormal physical characteristics like extra legs or ears. There’s no long explanation, which is a mistake a lot of beginning writers make. The characters do a small amount of speculation as they move on into the hotel, but not a lot, because the reader will do all the speculation for them. The reader will pick up these details and tighten the tension another notch all on their own, because readers always play that guessing game of trying to figure out what’s going to happen next and where the author is going with these details. So already, with just a very few details, the reader is thinking:

Is there some sort of biological or radiation causing the mutations?
Are they going to run into a monster?
Or will the original owner turn out not to be dead, but alive due to some biological or radiation thing?

Now the reader is involved. They’re guessing and wondering if they can figure out where the author is going. And they’re worried about the creepers and Balenger. Will they survive? What horrors will they run into?

Brushes with Death
Once the creepers get into the hotel, the tension increases again as they run into difficulties like rotted floors. One character almost falls through. And they see a cat with five legs, again. Something is not right…

All of this serves to create the atmosphere and start building dread. By this time, the reader is going to have a hard time putting the book down, because they want to know what is going to happen next. Are there going to be monsters? Are accidents going to become fatal?

First Major Twist
But you can’t let it rest there. You have to introduce something unexpected now, to increase the tension or you will have…a sagging middle. You see a sagging middle has nothing to do with “no action” or other misconceptions like that. You can have plenty of action, but unless that action goes into a different direction, then it’s just boring.

For example, if Morrell just had more accidents like people falling through holes in the floor or ceilings caving in on them, it would just get boring. It’s happened already. It’s now expected. So more of the same isn’t going to do anything to increase the tension.

Thanks to the detail of the weird cat, readers are also sort of expecting monsters.

So Morrell gives readers what they don’t expect and throws in a completely new kind of threat. Something all his hints about the strange first owner, the abnormal animals, and rotting hotel just didn’t prepare you for.

I am not going to spoil this book by revealing what it is, but trust me, it’s a good twist.

Second Major Twist
Now that he’s introduced new threats into the environment, Morrell doesn’t leave it there. He’s got the screws tightened to the point where you can’t put the book down because everything is dangerous for the characters. How are they—any of them—going to survive?

But wait! That’s only the first 2/3 of the book! Now, he introduces another twist that relates to one of the initials guesses readers might have been making about where the book was going, but is so unexpected and not exactly what they were thinking, that again, you can’t put the book down. This second twist increases the danger, not just for the “good guys” but for the “bad guys” as well!

Final Twist
In the final third, Morrell finally reveals all of Balenger’s backstory and his underlying motives about why he is there—but only because it is relevant to the action. The second twist introduced more elements and one of those elements has a direct relationship with Balenger’s past, his motives, etc. If it had not been related in this way, with direct and personal implications for Balenger, we probably could have gone without ever really knowing about his past. The book would have been just as enjoyable and just as tense (believe me) but there is an extra layer of personal involvement and meaning that would have been missing had he not had the twist have real implications and meaning for Balenger.

This is all sort of airy at the end, mostly because I didn’t want to ruin the story for those who have not read it. Get it and read it. It is a superb example of how to create mounting tension and make that tension and plot twists directly impact the main character in a meaningful way. That’s the secret to creating killer fiction.

Sigh. Now if I could just do that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Since my first book won't be out for a few months (until July 2007) it should be obvious that I don't have long years of experience with promoting, but I have been querying other writers. It's a mixed bag out there, and no one has the keys to the kingdom.

However, the first thing you need to consider, and I mean really consider, is your audience. If you're trying to reach younger folks, realize that attention spans are very brief. Even if they see your name and book title over and over again, if they can't buy it when they see the ad, it's pointless to advertise. This is particularly true of e-books.

That's where the main "decision point" is going to be. Are you coming out first as an e-book or as a paperback, or even as a hardcover? Because those things are going to affect who--and when you need to first advertise.

For all authors, make sure you coordinate any reviews, advertisements and other promotions with your publisher's marketing department and editor. You don't want to give them the idea that you are going around them. This is a team effort. You are part of a team. You don't want to send a copy of your book someplace for review, only to discover your marketing department has already done that. It's bound to make someone angry. You don't need that.

Remember: this is a team effort. Coordinate with your team.

If you're coming out first in e-book, realize that you are catering to the "I want it now crowd. That's the whole point of an e-book. So you don't want to start advertising months, or even one month, before your book comes out. If you do, by the time the book is downloadable, you'll have lost any small advantages your ad might have garnered for you. In fact, it may be detrimental because potential readers, having tried to buy your book when they saw the ad, won't be able to, and their impression will be that there is something wrong with your book or publisher's site--like--are they going out of business? It is unlikely the reader will try again.

Also, realize that your audience is on the computer. They are not in a library or a bookstore. You don't need to advertise to the more expensive publications that cater to librarians or bookstores, like Romance Sells. There is a small exception to this: if you think you can appeal to the librarians and bookstore managers as readers, who might then chat up your book to their customers, you can consider this, but on the whole, it's a pretty expensive venture for very little gain. Save these for when your book comes out in print.

Make Advanced Reader Copies (ARC) of your book and in coordination with your marketing deparment, send them to folks who do reviews. Getting someone to review your book is one of the BEST (and free) ways to get it known and purchased. Some sites prefer to download the e-book so you, again, will need to coordinate with your marketing department on how to provide a free download to reviewers. Many of them take care of this for you. In fact, most do.

As far as places to advertise, probably your best bet for e-books is Romantic Times. They often do a review (free) and will accept ads. Another place for exposure is RWA's monthly magazine. Some other ideas that are a little unusual, but sometimes work out are:

Mention the book and where to purchase it in your High School and/or College alumni newsletter or magazine. Classmates will often purchase out of curiosity or so that they can brag that they went to school with an author.

Some folks find that MySpace or other sites on the Internet like that are helpful, but they are also collossal time-wasters, so you should consider that factor as well.

Paperbacks/Trade Editions
These are the hard core consumer items, so this is where you can really begin to put in a lot more effort, including book signings, etc. I've been to some book signings and you should be aware that the advantage is NOT in signing the books, the advantage is in getting it mentioned in the newspaper. You may only sign 20 books, which is not going to make or break you as an author, but if the event is mentioned in the newspaper, then you may get people to buy the book the next time they go to the store (or online).

You should schmooze librarians and booksellers--particularly the booksellers. If they don't acquire your book and put them in their store, your chances of getting sold none. They place their orders in advance, so they need to see information about you and your book well in advance of it's initial release. This is where publications like Romance Sells are invaluable. ARCs are important, and if you can get a few ARCs to buyers for a few chains in your area, so much the better.

The advice for hardcover is much the same as paperback, except with possibly more emphasis on librarians. There are a lot of libraries and a lot of libraries buy a lot of hardcovers. So make sure you and your marketing department get that covered as much as possible. Also, attend conventions where there are librarians and booksellers. Make friends with them. Give them ARCs. Do what you can to find out about who does the buying and how decisions are made. Encourage them to make positive decisions about your book.

Finally, I want to emphasize again that you need to work hand-in-hand with your marketing department. You aren't in this alone. They can help you. They want to help you, and they know what they are doing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Writing and Publishing

It's been a while since I wrote a crafty blog and unfortunately, this isn't going to be one, either! I'm working on a contemporary mystery and need to get back to work on it, so this blog is sort of off the top of my head.

Now that I finally have a publication date for A Smuggled Rose, each day is a new day, and I'm not even in the big leagues yet. I'm being published by a small press publisher who does mainly e-books with some print books released a few months after the e-book. And is truly weird. All of a sudden, I'm invited into all these loops and groups for published writers. I've gotten congratulations from people I don't even know and have no idea how they found out I'm being published. I guess they're on one of the myriad loops which are now inviting me to participate. And you know, a few scant weeks ago, I got nothing.

Which goes to show you, people really like successful people. Even if you're only successful in a minor way.

Why do I mention that? Because just like "real people" in the "real world," if you want your readers to like your characters, your characters should be at least marginally successful. Or good at something, even if it's just shooting boogers across the room (and he scores another one!). One of the hardest creations is a character that the reader can bond with. I've talked about it on other blogs, but characters are sort of like diamonds--there are a lot of facets to creating one which is valuable and worthwhile. You need a lot of sides to the character, a lot of facets, to give them depth, and there needs to be at least one, successful, worthwhile thing about them. If the character doesn't start out successful, then the character's journey most likely should contain an element of growth and so the success is that the character grows in some way. Of course, in literary fiction, the character more often than not, ends up not growing and is spectacularly unsuccessful, which is why it is often so difficult for the reader to "get into" the characters.

We want success. We crave success. We want to be around successful people. Unless they are too successful, in which case, we delight in tearing them down and heaping blame upon them for everything, no matter what they do or don't do (e.g. Bill Gates). However, that is sort of drifting away from the point.

Right now, I'm toying with a heroine in my murder mystery who has uclers and way too much stress in her life. I'm trying not to make her whiney, but she really does have a lot to whine about, and I'm thinking about how far I can go with her before I've gone TOO FAR, because this heroine with the ulcers and the stress, is on the first vacation she's had in five years (trying to relax and let her ulcers go away) and I'd really like her to have the ultimate female insult--get her period. I mean, this has happened to ME so many times...I've saved up my annual leave and planned a big vacation (particularly a vacation at the beach) only to wind up with my period being early or late and sort of interferring with the whole thing. Not that you can't still have a good time and all, it's just not the best.

But I thought about it, and I can't really remember any heroine within my recent memory who has even had a period mentioned, which when you think about it, is fairly...odd. I mean, I've read books where the "action" takes place over a month, and the heroine is just f-i-n-e the entire time, including adventure stories where her airplane/car/whatever has crashed and she and the hero are struggling to the nearest town over a period of weeks, guess period. Which is good, since they often only have the clothes on their backs and nothing in the way of supplies. It does make me wonder, though. It seems to...unrealistic.

Okay, I know if you are under a lot of stress, this might happen, but isn't it a little weird that nobody in a book seems to have any kind of a monthly cycle, but they can sure pop those kids out in the epilogue. Amazing.

Guess those nasty little real life details just need to be glossed over, although it seems a little disengenuous considering how much detail is employed regarding condoms during love scenes in so many recent books. They want the reader to definitely know that all the characters are having safe sex, even if the woman apparently hasn't started to have her monthly cycle yet (even though she's in her mid-to-late twenties/early thirties).

Maybe it's these sorts of issues that make me completely uninterested in writing detailed love scenes or reading them. They seem so ridiculous--and weird combination of complete fantasy (everyone has at least one, if not multiple 'O's), yucky reality (is there anything more yucky than a used condom?), and complete disregard for biology. Or maybe I'm just behind the times and don't realize that young folks now-a-days have complete control over their biology and don't have nasty things happen to them at awkward times.

Then again, books are, by their very nature, fantasies, and none of us want to read about bloated, crabby women. We know the feeling, we don't like the feeling, and we don't want to be reminded.

So I guess I won't do that to my poor heroine, although it really would be just the icing on her vacation cake. I'll think of some other way to torture her.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Lucky 7?

Houston, we have a go...

Cerridwen Press has given me an actual release date for my Regency: A Smuggled Rose. It will be coming out July 7, 2007 (7/7/07). Assuming no disasters, of course. This entire process has me mystified. They decided to sort of delay the release a little because they were organizing their traditional Regency releases by "story tone". Now I'm wondering what sort of tone I have. I suspect it's dark, although it didn't feel all that dark to me when I wrote it. It is certainly not as dark as some things I've read, although there are some sort of dark strands running through it.
I never think of myself as a dark writer, although most of my stories have some very, very dark undercurrents. So, I'm really curious to see how I end up being viewed by readers and reviewers. It will also be interesting to see if others think that major, underlying themes are individuality and the pursuit of freedom. I've been told that this is a theme in most of my work, but I usually think of it more along the lines of an individual's place in Society and how far does one need to go to be accepted or acceptable. Personally, I'm not willing to go all that far. I'm afraid my own streak of independence is often--and uncomfortably--echoed in my characters.
Which is odd for someone who always reads all the documentation which comes with everything, like electronic equipment, and generally tries to follow the rules (as far as I understand them). You would think a person like that would be a conformist, not a non-conformist. Certainly not an individualist who can't stand to be told what to do (unless it is written down in the user manual).
But I guess, underneath it all, I prefer individualists who mind their own business and don't expect me to live up or down to their expectations. I really hate expectations. I hate being told what to do. Just tell me the rules and I'll see what I can do to fit them in. Then leave me alone.
Which pretty much sums up how most of my characters feel about things. So, yeah, I guess individualism and independence are a major themes for me. I can't seem to get away from them.
And theme is important. It can add a lot of depth to your writing. The good thing is that most writers have themes, even if they don't realize it. Cool. The only problem is, most people totally don't get what a theme actually is. They confuse it with their character's goals or personalities. Not the same thing at all. Theme is what is *shown* by your story and develops as the characters' goals and personalities play out through the course of their adventure. It is doubtful your characters--even at their most enlightened moment--would be able to verbalize the theme. Unless they are Melanctha in a Gertrude Stein story, of course ("You have to know what you've got when you've got it"--but Melancthan knew what she had when she had it, and she lost it anyway--and knew she lost it, so...even she--clearly--didn't grasp the theme entirely.) But I digress...
Back to my publishing trauma. I'm now in the process of having to create a, gulp, blurb. I'm totally hopeless with titles and blurbs, so this is not easy. I actually hoped my editor would foist some sort of title and accompanying blurb on me. :-) That would have been great. But she didn't, so I had to come up with a blurb. So I'm looking at two blurbs.
I'd love to know what people think of them and which they prefer. It will probably only confuse me further, but I like to think hearing someone else's ideas will suddenly clarify Life, the Universe, and Everything for me.
Blurb 1
Occasional rose smuggler, Margaret Lane, wants nothing more than to go to London and enjoy a London Season. But after being disgraced by a member of the Ton when her brother failed to honor a gambling debt, the best she can hope for is to be forgotten by Society.

Michael Peyton, earl of Ramsgate, wishes Society and all his responsibilities would go to blazes. He has agreed to an arranged marriage with a woman who cringes whenever he enters the room, and the best he can hope for is to avoid it as long as possible. He never dreams his irresponsible brother would get wounded by the Excise and that a beautiful woman like Margaret would rescue him.

Unfortunately, Margaret's past soon catches up with her, and Michael is faced with a fearful dilemma. If he cannot protect her while still fulfilling his promise to another woman, he may lose both his honor and Margaret.
Blurb 2
Occasional rose smuggler, Margaret Lane, dreams of a London Season, knowing her hopes are unrealistic. A rejected suitor’s gossip has destroyed her reputation and trust, and smuggling roses from France to make ends meet further damns her. So, with lowered expectations, she hopes Society will simply forget her, until she rescues a man from the Excise. Soon she discovers no one has forgotten the rumors about Miss Lane, particularly not the man’s brother, Michael Peyton, the earl of Ramsgate.

Finding his brother in the hands of a well-known doxy is no relief to Michael, who has his own social burdens including a young fiancée who cringes at the sight of him. But when he discovers the rumors about Margaret are pure fabrication, he hits upon the perfect solution to repay her. He grants Margaret her heart’s desire, a London Season, hoping to cleanse her reputation by having his mother and fiancée present her at Court.

Unfortunately, when they arrive in London, the past catches up with Margaret, and Michael must protect her and deny his own heart’s true desire. If he does not honor his duty to another woman, he may lose Margaret’s trust, and love, forever.
That's it - which would you prefer? Would either one make you part with your hard-earned money?