Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Sunday, December 30, 2007

E-Books and E-Book Readers

There has been a lot of news in the press lately about the current crop of e-book readers, such as the Sony Reader and's new Kindle. Since I have a book published (and will soon have two) in both an e-book and traditional print versions, I'm often asked if my book(s) can be read on such devices.

My fans will be relieved to know that the answer is a resounding Yes. At the moment, many smaller publishers like The Wild Rose Press, Ellora's Cave/Cerridwen Press, and others, may not have e-books in the Sony and Amazon Kindle stores, but readers can purchase their e-books as they always have directly from the publishers and sites like FictionWise. I believe many of the smaller presses are working to get their e-books into the Sony and Kindle stores, but that is not necessary for readers to enjoy their favorite e-books or other materials they need to read.

Most e-books purchased outside the Sony/Kindle stores are easily converted and transferred to e-book devices including's new Kindle and Sony's e-book reader.

A few extra steps may be needed to transfer your favorite books, however, you do have an additional benefit you may not be aware of. E-books from most publishers like The Wild Rose Press and Cerridwen Press/Ellora's Cave are not DRM-protected as are e-books purchased directly from the Kindle or Sony store. This means you can transfer books to whichever reading device you chose, and more importantly, you can back them up as needed. You are in complete control. When you acquire a new computer, you can transfer them just like any other file. In the future, if you decided to switch from Sony's device to the Kindle, vice versa, or even get an unknown future e-book device, you could still transfer and read your e-books.

So if you were one of the lucky ones to get a Kindle or Sony e-book Reader, here are a few tips to help you make your favorite e-books available on your new reader.


The Kindle uses a proprietary format (.azw) so you will need to convert your e-books. There are two ways to do this: a free way and a cheap way. You can convert e-books that are purchased in either MS Word format (.doc) or HTML. You can get the following types of files (or e-books in these formats) converted by either method listed below:

Microsoft Word, HTML, TXT, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PRC and MOBI files.

Special Note: .PDF (Adobe Acrobat) files are listed as an "experimental" format. Most readers find it best simply to download the MobiPocket Creator program (a free program) which will convert .PDF e-books to the MobiPocket (.PRC or .mobi) format. Once converted, you can transfer them directly to your Kindle from your computer through the USB cable. You do not need to take any additional steps if you use this method to convert and move e-books to your Kindle.

Free Way

You can e-mail the e-book to Replace yourname with your username, as defined when you got your Kindle and set up your Kindle account.

The file is converted to the Kindle .azw format and is sent back to you, through the e-mail address you registered for your Amazon account. You save the file on your computer. Once there, you transfer the file to your Kindle via the USB cable.

Note: You can transfer .TXT, MobiPocket (.prc or .mobi), .AZW, .AUD, and .MP3 files directly to the Kindle without e-mailing them for conversion. Just copy them from your computer to your Kindle through the USB cable.

When the Kindle is connected to your computer via the USB cable, it shows up as another hard drive in Windows Explorer. Just drag & drop the files into the Book folder of the Kindle.

Cheap Way

The cheap way to convert and move e-books to your Kindle costs $.10 per e-book. The advantage of this method over the free way is that the converted e-book is sent directly to your Kindle library where you can access it without connecting to your computer.

You e-mail the e-book to be converted to Replace yourname with your username, as defined when you got your Kindle and set up your Kindle account.

Sony Reader

The Reader supports .JPEG, .PNG, .PDF, .TXT, .RTF formatted e-books. It has an application, "CONNECT Reader," that can convert MS Word (.DOC) e-books to .RTF before copying them to the Reader from your computer. In most cases, you should use the "CONNECT Reader" software to transfer supported files to your Reader.

The text size for .PDF e-books transferred to the Reader is considered small by some readers, but if you hold down the <Size> button for five second, it will rotate the screen, which is a tremendous help.

In addition, you can purchase your e-books in HTML format and convert the e-book to .RTF, which would allow you to enlarge the font as you would with any other document on your Reader.

Hope this helps a few of you who were blessed with new electronic toys. As soon as I can save up enough money, I'm going to bless myself. J

May you achieve every success and dream,


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2007 Goals

Happy Holidays!

I got up this morning thinking about what to blog about and realized it is almost time to review my goals from 2007 and begin creating new goals for 2008. I was in a pretty good mood, too. My editor for my new book, I Bid One American, gave me my first edits and they were extremely light (whew). And I managed to get those done, as well as finding a few more errors, this week so I could send it all back to her. I am really excited about this book and can't wait to get a publication date.

So I was really riding high. And I decided to go back to editing the traditional Regency I've been working on since November.

Of course, that was all before I did a google search of my desktop to find my 2007 goals and see how well I did this last year. And wow. Bummer. I had forgotten that I spent the better part of 2007 racking up a bunch more rejections. Publishing is such a strange business. Even published authors get rejected and get rejections from their current editors/publishers.

Here's irony for you:

I had a goal of selling several Regency romance and Regency romance/mysteries to my current publisher. But I ran into a few snags.

The books were too long for the line that published my first book. So I tried to cut them down and learned a very important lesson: some stories can't be cut down without losing their charm and integrity. Of course I didn't learn that until I butchered several of them and sent them to my editor. Who despised them—thereby proving to her that I'm a one-book wonder.

So there went my first four goals, right down the…well, you know where they went. And it was four goals since I actually had four manuscripts which were rejected. I wasted the better part of 2007 trying to cut back manuscripts that were already lean and deserved better treatment. Very sad.

But all was not lost. I took a step back and thought, well, what if I went to a different publisher with different length requirements? I could go back to an earlier version that had not been butchered and try that.

I did and I sold I Bid One American to The Wild Rose Press.

And I wrote a couple of short stories just for fun. I'm trying to sell Malice through Amazon's Connect program (if I didn't just jinx it by mentioning it) and still ruminating over where to sell My First Case. I also wrote a contemporary mystery called: Whacked!

Therefore, what did I get done in 2007?

  1. I learned not to butcher books. As a byproduct, I learned I'm already a "lean" writer (meaning I don't have any extra fluff in books—in fact, I probably need more fluff—not less) and cutting back a book is not a good idea unless I'm willing to totally gut it and remove subplots.
  2. Sold I Bid One American
  3. Finished my first draft of Whacked!
  4. Wrote Malice and submitted it to Amazon Connect
  5. Wrote My First Case
  6. Finished my first draft of a Regency romance (no title yet, though)
  7. Racked up six rejections
  8. Spent a lot of time learning about promotion and doing my best to promote my first book: Smuggled Rose, which is available in print now from Amazon.

I didn't do everything I wanted to do, but I did do some things I am proud of and I can't wait to see I Bid One American in print.

As 2007 roars to a close, it's time to reflect on our accomplishments and select new goals for the coming year. There are always new opportunities and even when we did not accomplish what we expected, we did manage to survive and learn a few things.

I sincerely hope each and every one of you can find at least one thing in 2007 that you can be proud of and has one more thing left to be done so you can start 2008 with anticipation and energy.
Have a wonderful holiday season and a bright new year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Happy Holidays

The fall and winter seasons are my very favorite times of the year. And I am very pleased with my publisher, The Wild Rose Press (TWRP), who contracted I Bid One American. I love that story and am just thrilled to see it getting published. To my amazement, I no sooner signed the contract than I had a cover! Talk about a quick art department.

It looks like they are pretty quick off the mark in terms of getting books out there, which suits me. I'm hoping for a release date in early 2008. In the meantime, I'm putting the final touches on the first of a triple play of short stories, entitled: Malice, Revenge, and Murder. They are short stories set in the Regency period, in June 1809, August 1809, and September 1809, respectively. I hope to release them through Amazon Connect's Shorts program, although I know TWRP also publishes short stories so… One way or the other, 2008 is looking good to me as a writer.

Those three short stories are very loosely related—in fact the only real relationship between them is a reference to a certain character—but together I'm hoping they will do a nice job as the backstory for the hero in another of my books, The Vital Principle. With luck, I'm hoping to sell that one to TWRP, also. It's a—-yes—a Regency mystery/romance.

And here's the cool thing. As a writer, you're taught not to weigh down a story with a lot of background information (i.e. backstory) for your characters. But sometimes, a character's background includes one or more rather interesting events. Such as a murder or two. So rather than boring your audience, you can write related short stories that are, in essence, the backstory. The advantages of this are numerous.

  1. You get to write short stories, which are a lot of fun. J
  2. You can sell the short stories as a promotional tool for your bigger, bolder, badder (or gooder) novel.
  3. You can finally tell all those background bits to the readers, without annoying them by taking up pages and pages of reminisces and background as would happen if you did this in your actual novel. Your short stories are "what happened, when it happened" rather than, "oh, way back when, this happened…" memories stuck in your novel.
  4. You can round out your characters without doing the full-length novel/sequel thing (which I dislike intensely—I loathe sequels—speaking as a reader).

It's all good.

So now I have to get going and do just a few more edits on Malice so that I can send that story out this week.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tense and the Reader

I'm blogging a little early this week since I'm about to go on a business trip and will have limited (i.e. no) opportunity to do so, much to my dismay. I haven't quite wrapped my head around the concept that I am not allowed to use my "work" laptop for any other activities. Since I object to carrying two laptops on the airplane… Well, you get the point.

This week I'm addressing something I ran into last night. It really bothered me. Tenses.

I'm hardly an expert in grammar—heck, I often forget how to spell the word 'grammar'—and I'm sitting here with a grammar book in front of me to make sure my rant is correct. Pathetic, true, but it does not negate this issue. And that issue is: use of simple present tense—or worse—present progressive. Or present perfect progressive.

Ah, you will say—you're writing that way yourself—right now. I know. But this isn't a piece of fiction and I'm not expecting you to get into the head of the main character—i.e. me. In fact, I recommend you stay out of my head, completely.

Now, I'm probably an old fuddy-duddy, so I admit that up front. Nonetheless, I've read a lot of experimental fiction, Science Fiction, and other just plain weird stuff and I've never run into any issue where the writing actually made my head hurt. I've read books I had to reread a few times to understand all the implications, but the writing was fine. It was invisible so that you could concentrate on the story and the concepts and not the author's use of verbs and tenses.

But just when you think it's safe to go in the water, you pick up a romance and/or a mystery and some author takes a hammer to your head.

About two years ago, I picked up this really, truly famous author's most recent book. I had never read her work before, but I'd listen to her speechify about writing and there were a series of movies based upon her books (mostly geared for young ladies). I thought, this ought to be a lot of fun. And wham, I read the first page and got a headache.

There was a bit of dialog followed by this sentence: The girl in the dressing room next to mine has a voice like a chipmunk.

I thought, well, okay, maybe it was just me—the reader. So I continued. There were a few more bits of dialog, and: I hear a sales clerk come over, his key chain clinking musically.

And I freaked out. My head started throbbing. I was like: What the heck tense is this and why is this author doing this to me? STOP IT—THE AGONY IS KILLING ME! However, grimly determined (because this was SUCH a popular author and I wanted to learn) I managed to suck up the pain and finish the book. But I only finished it because it was about 80% dialog and I just skipped all the action/narrative stuff. And I swore never to read another of her books. I've been true to my word.

That author, my friends, used present tense and it was horrible torture for the reader. It really put me off. I kept thinking—I am not there—I am not in the room with this bimbo narrator and I'm not seeing this. Who the heck is she talking to and when is this actually occurring. The writing got in the way of the story.

Writing should be invisible. You should get so absorbed by the story that you don't even notice the writer. In fact, Jenny Crusie has a rule that you shouldn't even use anything other than "said" for dialog tags because anything else makes the reader pause infinitesimally. (That may be going too far into the "make your writing invisible" but it does illuminate that dark corner a bit.) But here was this author that made me pause for every single verb.

Anyway. Maybe, I thought, this one book is just a fluke or weird thing this popular author is doing and no one else on the planet is writing this way. Because if they are, God Help Me, my reading days are numbered.

About two years passed. I went on about my business, reading and writing quite happily. Then I stumbled upon this wonderful mystery series on BBC America and I searched all over for the author of the books the series was based on. I found one book, and although it was not related to the series, it was so exquisitely written that I rushed out again and bought two other books from this author.

Last night I plucked one of the two books from my shelf and curled up in bed, planning on enjoying myself. And I read: London. A stifling early September afternoon, the sun beating down.

A little unsettling, to be sure, but I went with it. Then I got to the following sentence: Overnight bag and briefcase in one hand, handbag over her shoulder, Fran plunges down into the arguably worse hell…

Suddenly, for me, the reader, I start having issues with temporal displacement. I not only can't get into this, but I'm faced with: Who the Hell is she talking to and when is this taking place? Because it sure isn't now. But she says it is NOW. ARGH!

I really struggled through the first page, almost crying. My head throbbed. It only got worse. Because not only is the author using present tense, but the character suffers from flashbacks or memories (whatever you want to call them) where she explains who she works for and her circumstances. And it's all in the present tense which makes it really like some drug-induced hallucination where you can't keep straight what is happening for real, right now in present tense, and what isn't really happening but she's just thinking. Or really—isn't really thinking but it's the author in a God-like way explaining the heroine's job—but she's using present tense as if she's Fran, but not really, because why would Fran be thinking all this background sort of stuff?

I don't even know how to explain how confusing it was. Or how it really made me feel quite ill trying to read it and understand WHEN anything was happening. And to make matters worse, she didn't just have this character walking through the here-and-now in present tense, and sort of not remembering but thinking somehow in present tense about her job, employer and family, but…she also introduces actual memories. And the memories start out with a few sentences of past tense and then drift around between past, present and perhaps even a few progressive forms of past and present tense. Leaving you completely unable to get into the story because you're so busy trying to figure out what is going on, to whom and more importantly, when.

And as you can see from my own casual use of tense, I'm not perfect. But hey… This is a blog. Not a book.

So—here is what I, as a reader, did out of self-defense. I started to skim so that where the author had a phrase such as: Fran makes a run for it, I mentally substituted: Fran made a run for it. It was hard work. However, I got to the end of the first chapter.

Then the author switched point of view to another character and adopted the standard past tense we all know and love. THANK GOD. But by that time, I was shaken and mentally disturbed. Could I trust the author to now STAY in past tense or tenses like: past, past progressive or past perfect/past perfect progressive? Those, I can handle. I can even handle a few future tenses (future, future progressive, future perfect, future perfect progressive—whatever).

Now, this evening, I'm looking at this book and I'm thinking: why was the first chapter written that way? (And why did I just write that in present progressive—the very thing I hate? Ah, human frailty…)

However, back to my question. There was no—absolutely no—reason for it, particularly since in chapter two, the author adopted the more common and easy-to-read past tense. I read the blurb on the back of the book again and it says that first character is the book's heroine. And now I'm scared. I'm really scared that the author only moved to the comforting past tense for other characters and when she moves back to the heroine's point of view, she'll use that brain twisting present tense (and all it's ugly related brethren: present perfect, present progressive, & present perfect progressive).

I've lost my trust and faith in this author and she has scared me enough that I'm thinking I may not read any more for fear of running into another chapter of temporal displacement. And I'm sadly looking at her other book I purchased and haven't read yet. I'm having buyer's remorse. And yet there was that one, magical book she wrote which was so perfect. It's hard to believe she fumbled so badly on this other one.

Or maybe it's just me. Maybe this is the new "thing" and I'm just not getting it.

Finally, before I get back to my packing, I have only this to say: If you're an author, I'm begging you to avoid present tense (& its related forms) for the sake of your reader. Unless you have a really, really good reason—and frankly—I can't think of one.

Oh—that wasn't my final word. For those of you who are grammatically impaired (like me) here is a quick reference:


Present - He walks to the store

Present Perfect – He has walked to the store

Present Progressive – He is walking to the store

Present Perfect Progressive – He has been walking to the store


Past - He walked to the store

Past Perfect – He had walked to the store

Past Progressive – He was walking to the store

Past Perfect Progressive – He had been walking to the store


Future - He will walk to the store

Future Perfect – He will have walked to the store

Future Progressive – He will be walking to the store

Future Perfect Progressive – He will have been walking to the store

Have a good evening!

Friday, November 30, 2007

NaNoWriMo is Over for Another Year

That's it for this year—National Novel Writing Month (November) is over for another year. I sweated through it and finished a brand, spanking-new 50,000 words in 30 days. I wrote a Traditional Regency and now I hope I can edit it, polish it, and send it out into the world to hopefully earn its own living. I haven't decided what to call it yet. I've got a list of titles, none of which really float my boat, but at the moment, I really don't care.

As always, writing this has been an experience in extremes. Extremely exhausting. Extremely exhilarating. Extremely energizing—artistically speaking. I found that my plan did work. I did character sketches before hand so I knew who my characters were supposed to be when I started. And I wrote a series of brief plot points: 3 per chapter. The plot points were basically what I needed to get done in that chapter to bring the characters to their deepest, darkest place and then spring them out into the light again.

I wouldn't say I'm big on planning. Nor am I the best as far as developing an outline with all those nasty goals, motivations, and conflicts listed right out there on a piece of paper, but I do love those plot points. Without them, I could never have kept going at an average rate of 2,500 words per day, every day, for 30 days. Well, almost every day. Of course there was Thanksgiving stuck in the middle there, as well as a business trip.

And, as if finishing this wasn't sweet enough—I got terrific news this week!

At my day job, we hired this guy we've been trying to hire for over a year now! I am so freaking grateful because we desperately needed the help. When my boss called me and told me the new guy starts on December 9th (well, the 10th) I was almost crying with relief.

Okay, and then…I heard from this absolutely wonderful lady at The Wild Rose Press that they want to buy my book: I Bid One American! Life is sweet. I love this book and I really wanted to see it published. This is the manuscript that got me an agent so I rather immodestly believe it is quite good.

Yes, The Wild Rose Press is a small press, but I'm very well pleased and I signed the contract immediately. You betcha. My manuscript will come out sometime (I don't have a release date yet) in e-book form and then I'm hoping it will later follow as a trade-size paperback.

And thenhttp://www.Amazon.Com announced Kindle which is a new e-book reader! Talk about synchronicity! I don't know if my books will be some of the e-books available for Kindle, but I have every hope that my two publishers will pursue this. That would be really sweet.

So to say I'm pretty jazzed at this point is a severe understatement.

I've come a long way over the last few months and I'm slowly making headway in the weird-and-wacky world of publishing. I'm still hungry for that big (or at least 4 figures) contract with a publisher that pays advances, but in the meantime, I'm thrilled to be where I am.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Getting Read for NaNoWriMo

Didn't add an article to my blog last week because I was deep in edits. I wanted to give my Regency mystery: I Bid One American a final "going over" before sending it off to an editor. This is one of my favorite stories so I hope she likes it—at least she requested it.

So I got that submitted and I recently sent the first three chapters and synopsis of a contemporary mystery-romance to my agent and hopefully, she'll let me know what she thinks about that one soon.

The decks are now cleared…sort of. I've been noodling around with a much, much simpler Regency than I've ever written before with the idea that I could try to sell it to one of the remaining publishers of Traditional Regencies. This is a tough one because they make you stay between 50,000 to 70,000 words and my "natural" story length seems to be about 86-90,000 words. Big frownie face. However, this time, I'm deliberating trying not to kill off anyone in the story and removing at least one subplot I already thought of, in order to try to make a story that can be told in 50,000 words.

And interestingly enough, National Novel Writing Month: NaNoWriMo occurs every November AND the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. A novel in one month. Which so fits into my plan to really, deliberately write a shorter novel to fit within the Traditional Regency parameters… And I've polished off my other things so this is perfect timing.

I just have to figure out the plot. You see, I'm not what you'd call a "pantster" which is someone who writes by the seat of her pants. I've tried it and it's generally not worked at all well for me. And I've "won" at NaNoWriMo (written 50,000 words in 30 days) twice now—but only because I had a very brief outline of what I wanted to write. Without that, I would have a heck of a time grinding out that many words.

Let me make it clear, however, that it's not like a real outline. It's more like this: I break the book down into chapters. I figure each chapter is going to have about 3 scenes that accomplish something for the purpose of driving the hero and heroine into their big black moment of despair.

So I start a file that has chapter headers—one for each chapter. Now 50,000 words is about 200 pages (standard manuscript) and a chapter is about 20 pages (or around 8 pages if you are e-publishing) give or take. So you need about ten chapters to start with.

After creating ten Chapter So-and-So headings, I then just put in my 3 plot points. For example:

Chapter One

  • Introduce Elizabeth—preparations for a party
  • Party—she meets Alexander
  • Alexander inadvertently finds out Elizabeth used to write poems and he lambasted her poems

That's usually all I write, although I may elaborate if the points don't give me enough clues about what I had in mind. For example:

  • Introduce Elizabeth—preparations for a party—she wants to get married but she's not sure she's desperate enough to marry the man next door, Alexander. The party is to welcome him home and Elizabeth's aunt has been working to arrange a marriage between the two.
  • Party—she meets Alexander and rather likes him—maybe the arranged marriage won't be so bad and she'll finally live down the humiliation of having published a book of poems. She believes that once she gets married, she'll assume the mantle of wife and once and for all, everyone will forget she ever wrote poetry. She wants to get beyond all of that. Desperately.
  • Alexander inadvertently finds out Elizabeth used to write poems and he lambasted her poetry because it was so trite and sickeningly sweet. He "does the math" and realizes she was actually only sixteen when the book was published, but while this is uncomfortable because he knows she will probably hate him if she finds out, he is not ashamed of what he did. Because bad poetry is bad poetry and she obviously had talent. He had hoped that his review would challenge her to reach her potential instead of writing pathetic odes to birds and flowers. She could do better and he wants her to do better. He believes all artists should either strive to do best they can do or stop messing around.

That's the long version. I generally don't write a long version—I generally just write sketchy points with about three or four words.

However, the long version brings me to another device which is badly misunderstood and unloved. You see, before you write the story (particularly if you want to write 50,000 words in 30 days) now is the time to write the synopsis. Oh, no! The dreaded synopsis! But wait! I exclaim (with improper punctuation). Writing a succinct synopsis does something that not even plot points or an outline will do for you.

Because you see a synopsis has information in it you need to write your story. A synopsis is really just a few pages filled out according to a nice little formula.

  1. S/he did this because of X.
  2. Her/His action resulted in Y.
  3. S/he felt Z way about the result so they decided to do V.
  4. [Loop back to item 2 and repeat until done with the story.]

If you follow that formula, you should have an escalating series of events/decision/character reactions that lead ultimately to the huge big black moment when everything is almost lost (but isn't—or in the case of some of my more angrily imagined stories—where every character dies horribly) but the characters finally win through and are drawn to the conclusion.

What this synopsis does for you that the outline doesn't is: show you your story holes. I can't tell you how many times I've finished a manuscript and been a little uneasy about it. I then (stupidly) write the synopsis (instead of writing it at the beginning) and I start getting into a predicament where the hero or heroine does V for no good reason whatsoever. Or the hero or heroine had a completely stupid reaction to whatever resulted from their actions. Or the story flow just did not make sense.

'Cause when you go through that formula for your major plot turning points, and include your character's reactions and his/her decisions and resulting actions, you start to see what hangs together and what does not.

I really think writing the synopsis ought to be done first. And interestingly enough, did you know that a lot of published authors write only the synopsis and first three chapters to submit to their editor? There is magic in that. The synopsis fixes the plot up front and the first three chapters are necessary to find out who your characters are and how they interact with one another. I don't care how many character sketches and interviews you do, until you start writing, you don't know your characters. And when you've written about 3 chapters, you'll find out who your characters are, and you'll discover many, many amazing things about them that will have a later impact on the story.

So even though you may have a plot outline and a synopsis, don't expect to actually follow them. They are the aura of your story. Or perhaps the bones. Either way, by the time you finish, your final manuscript will probably not even be close to what you outlined or put in your synopsis.

Does that make the outline and synopsis bad? No. They are just signposts and ideas. Things to keep you going in the right directions. The synopsis in particular keeps you on track with what your characters need to get them to the crisis and back out alive. (If you intend them to come out alive—I'm sorry, but I have a very black heart sometimes.)

Circling back, finally, to NaNoWriMo—writing that minimalist outline may be enough (hey, the chapter headings alone give you 20 words toward your total of 50,000, meaning you just need to write 49,980 more). Or if you're serious about writing a real book, the outline and the synopsis together may give you the signposts you need to write quickly without staring at a blank screen wondering what the heck you should do for the next scene.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

I'm getting ready for NaNoWriMo and by George I'm going to make it to 50,000 words again this year and tell Alexander and Elizabeth's story whether they like it or not.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Book Signing

Sunday, Oct 14, the Durham Library held a Regency Tea for five authors who write novels based on the Regency period (roughly 1800 through 1820—those dates are not precisely accurate, but they are used by most publishers to define this genre). NY Times Bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries, Claudia Dain, Deb Marlowe, Susan Ralph and me—Amy Corwin—attended and it was so much fun! In between munching on fabulous desserts including rich, luscious brownies, tart lemon squares, and lovely warm spinach & feta cheese filled phyllo dough treats, we had a panel discussion about the art of writing. It is interesting to see how many people would like to write. I don't know how many will actually set pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) and write a complete novel, but I think it's one of those things a lot of people dream of doing.

I feel very lucky to have been able to both finish a novel and see it published. And tada it is now in print and available from — what a real thrill to finally see my work in print. My publisher shipped me my box of author copies and I took all of them to the Regency Tea. We gave out some as door prizes and I gave a copy to the Durham Library with the hopes that they may like it and buy other books in the Cotillion line from Cerridwen Press.

And speaking about promotion—I guess I'm hopelessly naïve but I got a note from Arthur C. Clarke, the Science Fiction writer. I really admire his work and have almost every book he has ever written, including my favorite "Childhood's End". I can't see him trolling the Internet for new, relatively unknown writers—particularly Regency romance writers—but hey, it's nice to think I really did get tapped on the shoulder by him. It reminds me of the time I was visiting Historic Williamsburg and walking through the gardens behind the Governor's Palace. I was just walking along thinking about weeds when low-and-behold, I saw Isaac Asimov! I was absolutely stunned. Like a blithering idiot, I stumbled over and shook his hand, mumbling things like, "I've read everything you've ever written!" He must have thought I was a moron, but he was exceptionally polite. And I totally missed the opportunity to take a picture of him—drat! You know, now that I think about it, I wonder if he was really polite because he thought I was some kind of crazed stalker. Of course that was before there were all these crazed stalkers running around and you wouldn't expect to find one rambling through the formal gardens behind the Governor's Palace in Historic Williamsburg, but still…

So—I love Science Fiction and I have a great deal of respect for those who can mesh real science into an interesting and readable story. So it's nice to dream that Arthur C. Clarke really does want to be my friend. J The Internet is really a weird place.

Tonight I have to get back to real work. I've been polishing up the first three chapters and synopsis of a new manuscript with the working title of Whacked! I don't know if I've mentioned it before. I sort of think I might have. This one is a contemporary mystery—on the light side, though. With luck, my agent will like it and ask to see the rest—then, gulp—I'll have to polish the rest of the rough draft and see where that one leads. This writing game is definitely not for sissies or people with easily wounded egos. Although having a truly bad memory helps on that last bit. I get rejections, but I can't remember them. But I know I have gotten them—if I could only find the file I thrust them into—Oh, here it is. Over one hundred and counting…

But that's the point—everyone gets rejections—everyone. The best thing you can do is forget them and write something else.

Which is what I need to do…right now, so good night and sweet dreams!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Going Crazy

So I took a few days off work and got the fabulous news that my book, Smuggled Rose, is out in print. And Amazon is carrying it, although it says it will take a few weeks to get the books in and deliver. I'm hoping they are just exaggerating. And I got my box of five Author's copies that I can put on my bookshelf. I'll probably just end up giving them away, but they are nice to look at for the moment. It's very surreal.

And really interesting because I sent the Amazon link to a relative and they wrote back: "Thanks for the link. Who is this Amy Corwin?" Well, uh, that would be me. Duh. This isn't the first time that I've noticed that most people have no idea what I'm saying to them, 90% of the time. They stand there with smiles on their faces and say, "Oh, that's so cool…" But ask them twenty minutes later what I said and it's like I never existed, much less said anything.

Maybe other people have experienced the same thing. Maybe that's why folks at work who call me all in a tizzy about something are so thrilled when I keep my mouth shut and just listen. By the time they finish talking, more often than not, they've figured out the problem they called me about while they were talking. And then they thank me. Hey—no problem. All I had to do was listen. Although if they don't figure it out, then I actually do have to do some work and resolve the issue which generally stinks (and is why I needed to take a few days off so that my nervous rash would go away).

Anyway—while I was lolling around not working, I went way off track and wrote a short story. A crime story. And started a second crime story. I've found I like to write short stories. I like just writing about that one moment when the world shifts for a character. Of course, I just swooped through the web and found that most publishers of short crime fiction close down during the month of October and don't accept submissions, but that just gives me time to polish and think about where to submit it. And worry about it and decide it's horrible. That's the bad part.

An intelligent author who just had a traditional Regency come out in paperback might also worry about things like: What the heck was she thinking to write a crime story? Well, I do read a lot of them. And I like them. And I'm particularly fond of those Florida Crime stories and funny crime stories like Dave Barry wrote (you know—the one they made a movie out of with Tim Allen). And I just read a great Geezer Noir collection of short stories that were really a riot. So I have a new goal: to one day get a short story included in one of those anthology collections.

I love anthologies.

So onward and upward. In November, I'm going to join National Novel Writing Month again because I'm going back to traditional Regencies. I have a half-baked idea for a novel about a lady Poetess and a Critic. No murder or mayhem, unfortunately, but I'm going to try to crank out 50,000 words in November and see if I can't get another Regency historical published.

Who knows? I may get lucky!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Eight Random Facts

Tonight's blog is just for fun. A wonderful writer friend of mine, Edie Ramer "tagged" me to write eight random habits or facts about myself in my blog (or web site—whichever is appropriate). Then I get to tag eight other people so they can do the same.

You know there's that seven degrees thing, i.e. you're only ever seven people (or whatever) away from some hugely famous person or thing…I keep wondering if that's true and somewhere if you keep following all these various tags, someone is going to tag some outrageously famous and cool person like Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, or the dynamic writing duo of Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Although if you really knew such an overworked, completely stressed out person, you wouldn't do such a thing to them.

That's not to say that the authors I'm going to "tag" aren't also outrageously cool and famous. Hmmm, I don't think I'm going to continue down that path because I can see far too many "open mouth, insert foot" opportunities. I'll just say that the folks I'm going to drag into this cauldron are people who either owe me a favor, have done something so egregiously bad to me that I'm now getting my revenge, or I just happen to know they have a blog or website and hope they won't be too upset.

My Eight Thingies

  1. This bites: I hate lists. Oh, sure, I do lists for work and make copious notes for myself, but only when I'm losing my mind. Which is pretty much daily. So that's number 1. Grrrh.
  2. I hate hot weather. It almost can't be too cold for me. Perhaps not entirely true—I'm not terribly fond of temperatures dropping into the minus numbers, but at least with the cold you can put another layer of clothing on. Unfortunately, there are only so many layers of clothing you can take off and once you're down to the skin, that's pretty much it. If you're naked and still hot, there's not much else you can do except get heat rash and a boat-load of chiggers because you're walking around without sufficient protection. So hot weather is out. [This is turning into a "what I hate" list—I need to do a 180.]
  3. I love autumn. I get a huge burst of energy, both physically and mentally. I write volumes in the fall and early winter because I know come summer, I'm going to be a droopy, miserable little brat who just vegetates in the coldest room of the house and complains about having hot feet. (Which reminds me that I also hate made beds, i.e. beds with the sheets tucked in nicely, because I feel hog-tied when I get into them and spend hours trying to pull the sheets out so that my feet can be free and breathe.)
  4. My husband thinks I'm an alien. He claims that anyone who thinks her feet need to breathe at night (see #3) and who can't tolerate another person putting their hand on the top of her head because it makes her feel like she's smothering is obviously not a human being from the planet Earth. Apparently, he has concluded that I breathe through my feet at night and through the top of my head during the day (like a whale—and I'm getting pretty much the same proportions, too). And all because I yank the sheets out so my feet aren't covered at night and I go bananas when he lays his hand on the top of my head (and that is not funny even if he does nearly pee in his pants with laughter when he does that). Nonetheless, I do actually breathe through my nose. As far as I can tell. That other stuff is just crazy and it beats me where he came up with those ridiculous ideas.
  5. My cat has no respect for me. If I turn around to get something out of the fridge while I'm getting my meal together, when I turn back, the cat is either drinking my milk out of my glass or eating my food off my plate. He doesn't do that to my husband, although it could be that he objects to my husband's beer. It's getting to be a challenge to eat before the damn cat tries to shoulder his way in and grab the food right out of my mouth. And he's got really bad halitosis (the cat—not my husband). I'm not sure about the dogs, either. Lately, they've been eyeing my plate and leaning over, hoping to slobber enough onto my food to gross me out and make me give it to them. My husband is definitely the alpha dog, but our pack of dogs treat me more like I'm the zeta dog—cute and sort of nice to have around, but completely irrelevant when the alpha dog strolls in.
  6. I am constantly amazed by Cops. And I'm amazed that I watch Cops.
  7. I love technology. I love Wired magazine. Even my husband reads Wired and he's a freakin' biologist who moans that we should forget all this Windows/GUI stuff and go back to MS-DOS (I'm still mad at Xerox/Apple for introducing a GUI OS—when I first saw it, I wanted to sit and weep with frustration in front of the computer—and I loved computers. I don't know what the stupid pictures are, what to do with them, or how anything works and I despise it. I hate just randomly clicking on pictures that mean nothing to me and hoping it will turn out okay. Thank goodness Microsoft will now let you install a server with no GUI interface! Hip-hip-hooray!) Anyway, I wish I was rich enough to buy all the electronics and doo-dads I'd like. And I wish I had enough time to actually learn to use all the electronics I currently have. Wow, sorry, this was really off-topic.
  8. I grow roses. A lot of roses. And I'm a birder (i.e. I go bird watching). And in college, I almost became a biologist. Weird. Thank goodness I came to my senses and just married one, instead.

So those are some bizarre-o factoids about me.

And now here are the eight poor authors who will now have to bare their souls in their blogs or websites:

Jenna Black

Kristina Cook

Caren Crane

Charlotte Featherstone

Lisa Fuller

Deb Marlowe

Susan Ralph

Mai Christy Thao

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Great Fiction

This blog is devoted to thinking outside the box. Writing is a complex activity and sometimes we forget that one of the best ways to learn is to read something different. And that's why I mean when I use that horrible phrase: Think Outside The Box. Because some of us forget that the actual framework of the story is also a creative element and can be used in unique ways to deepen the message or illuminate some aspect that is relevant to the characterization. (See "Thug" below.)

I really like stories that may not fit in the normal story mold. For some strange reason, I have a particular love of fiction that is a little…well, different. In college, I picked up a copy of The New Yorker and discovered short stories. Often, weird short stories. And for me, the weirder, the better. . I discovered that Woody Allen, for example, didn't just make films. He wrote dozens of fantastic & funny short stories. I got a subscription to the New Yorker for a while, but eventually terminated it because out of 12 issues, I might only find 1 or two stories that were different enough to catch my interest. I'm just not into depressing stories about how miserable and hopeless life really is and unfortunately, the editors drifted in that direction.

So here is a short list of stories ranging in length from very short to very long. There is something different about each one and if I could tempt you to read them, I'll feel that I've done something worthwhile. I won't say they are the best "in their class" or anything like that, but they are works of fiction that I remember and that is saying something. I remember very, very little.

I tried to find my "Portable Dorothy Parker" book to include her short story about a woman asked to dance (when she really doesn't want to dance) but I couldn't find it and I'm darned if I can remember the name of it. Sigh. I'll have to talk about it another time…

Short Stories

"Thug: Signification and the Deconstruction of Self" by Tyler Dilts. You can find it in the collection: "Best American Mystery Stories 2003". I cannot recommend this story enough—it is absolutely brilliant. The story framework supports and illuminates the main character's —well, uh, character, in a unique way. Get it. Read it. Study it and think about it.

"Surface Tension" by James Blish. Things are not as they seem. I don't know why this story has stuck with me so many years, except that the feeling of yearning and striving and striking out to explore new horizons strikes such a chord within me…

"The Unrest Cure" by Saki (aka H.H. Munroe). Not a politically correct story, but damn if this isn't one of the best short stories I've ever read. It rates right up there (if not above) the one we're all forced to read in school by him: "The Open Window". Which I also love, along with "Esmé". If you want to learn how to magically make horrible characters strangely likeable, read any of his short stories. And for the sheer satisfaction of seeing a petty tyrant get her just desserts, "Sredni Vashtar". I guess P.C. people won't like these stories, but I can't seem to help myself.


I like so few poems but I wanted to include these—just because.

"The River-Merchant's Wife: a Letter" by Ezra Pound

Poem 986 by Emily Dickinson – which contains the memorable lines which capture so perfectly the emotion when you feel when you come upon a snake gliding through the grass:

But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the bone—


I hesitated over this and couldn't decide between "The Death of a Duchess" by Elizabeth Eyre for its subtle characterizations that do not hit you all at once in the face but grow gradually, and "The Grail Tree" by Jonathan Gash, who really shows you how to create and stay in character when using first person. Or perhaps I'm just deluded and Gash really does sound, think and talk like Lovejoy.

Long Novels

"Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clark. And check out the website: . This story is enthralling and weird and different. It's like reading some compelling history book, complete with footnotes (hilarious), except it never happened. And the descriptions and characters are done so brilliantly… I can't even imagine the amount of work and research that went into this book.

"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. More philosophy than fiction, but interesting because of it.

Like I said – I would hesitate to say any of these are the best & brightest works. They are ones I found memorable and some had writing techniques that were just so amazing I had to include them. This isn't my favorites list (although I guess Thug is my favorite story at the current time) and I actually don't keep such a list because it varies depending upon what I've read recently and my variable memory. I do like Georgette Heyer, particularly "The Masqueraders" and "Faro's Daughter", when I like no other historical romance novels—go figure. So my tastes vary wildly.

I won't promise you'll love these stories, but they really are worth your time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

This and That

Cooler weather has finally arrived after a despicably long, hot summer. I love the fall—I always get such a tremendous burst of energy as the temperatures drop to more livable levels. It's weird, but the older I get, the less tolerant I am of heat.

Anyway, this is good. Yesterday, I submitted a partial manuscript to an editor which is always exciting. Particularly when it results in you lying awake all night thinking about all the things that might be wrong with your submission. It's just like buyer's remorse: you think this manuscript is absolutely perfect until you actually submit it. Then all of a sudden you see a million weaknesses and mistakes, things you should have fixed, things that were badly done, etc. I often wonder if all the big name authors have the same sudden rush of despair after they hand something over to their agent or editor. Some of the published authors I know seem so darn sure of themselves—my mouth hangs open in awe when I hear them say things like, "Oh, I never took classes or anything. I'm a natural writer. I just write and it sells."


The longer I work at writing, the more I know I don't know squat about it. In fact, I now know that I have surprisingly little knowledge of anything. Even my day job as a supposed computer expert leaves me feeling that I know less than one of those guys lying in the alley behind the building, drinking $1-a-bottle wine. The more I know, the more I know I don't know.

How, exactly, does one become an expert? You'd think doing something for 30 years (like working with computers) would make you something of an expert—but no. Not really. And I watch those folks on CSI and I'm thinking, Geeze, these people are what? Thirty? And they like know everything about every scientific field you'd care to mention—and even all the cutting edge stuff that just came out in Wired. (I love that magazine—it's so geek-cool.) And then there's Jason at work (in the real world) who is too young to get the rental car when we travel and heck if he doesn't know everything there is to know about just about any computer-related thing you'd care to mention. Although I've done assembly language programming and he hasn't. So there, Jason.

(No one does assembly anymore, though, unless they're some geek writing low-level hardware drivers. And I stopped writing assembly language when we moved away from 8080/8086 Intel CPUs, so I guess that knowledge ranks right up there with some of the more arcane subjects like phrenology.)


Anyway. I may no longer be the bright young thing in the office, but I can sure as heck keep my eyes open. Unless you decide to just shut your brain down completely, you can always learn. In fact, I learn something new every day. Even if what I learn is that I know less than I thought I knew when I got up that morning.

Today, I go back to working on polishing up the first three chapters of Whacked!. It's a contemporary murder mystery about this guy who gets…whacked. Sorry. I couldn't help myself. The plan is, however, to fix up the first three chapters and synopsis and squirt it off to my agent to see what she thinks about it. If she likes it, then I'll polish the rest of it and we'll see if she can sell that to the guys in New York. The first draft is done, but I'm not going to put any more effort into it unless she decides it has merit.

That's sort of the point I wanted to make with this blog. I'm trying to get smarter. My current plan has several legs to it and they are as follows:

  • Keep on writing (so I might actually get better at it). This means: don't spend all my time editing older manuscripts.
  • Write the first draft and then STOP. Polish up a synopsis and the first 3 chapters and send to my agent to see if she thinks it is worth continuing. Because the first draft only takes a few months. The bulk of my work lies in the revisions. Revise, revise, revise. Since my goal is to sell to a big NY publisher, there is no point in spending a year on revisions if no one is interested in the book.
    • Oh, I don't abandon my stories. What this really means is that these unwanted manuscripts get pushed to the back burner where I edit them as time allows. The process may take a couple of years instead of one year, but when it's done, I'll try the manuscript with smaller publishers who tend to me more open to whacko things (sorry again, I just can't help myself tonight). Which brings me to the next leg of the plan.
  • Submit manuscripts that I really love, and that I think are finally good, to small publishers. It keeps my "hat in the ring" and may eventually lead to a few readers. A thousand readers would be nice. Heck, one reader would be nice.
  • Try short stories and novellas. I am so intrigued by the idea of selling shorter works and have found several publishers who are selling short stories and novellas over the Internet. This is excellent for honing writing skills and again, it keeps your name out there and may garner a few more readers. The time investment is much, much lower than writing a full novel so it's really a win-win situation.
  • Use other authors. I've begun not just studying other authors, but using their techniques to overcome my own weaknesses. I always thought this was sort of cheating, but finally conceded that it is a legitimate technique to improve quickly. It's like a painter who copies another artist's masterpiece for practice. Emulating lets you work new muscles and learn much more quickly than just trying to slog through on your own. I've been looking at other writers who I like and have a similar book. And then I see, for example, how they start their book. And then I go to my page 1 and rewrite mine using some of the same techniques. Since my story is different and has other characters and situations, it does not come out at all the same. I'm not copying phrases, sentences or words, I'm emulating the techniques. I've even been making copies of certain pages that show good examples of things I want to learn to do.

It would be nice to say I'm such a great writer that I don't have to work on my skills in this way. I'd love to say I have my own successful style and storytelling talent, but failing that, I have patience. Hmmm. Well, maybe not patience, per se. I have very little patience. But I can tolerate rejection if I have a long term goal in mind. And I love to learn.

One day, I'm going to sell more than a couple of copies of a story. I may not be famous but by God before I die, I'm going to be able to walk to my bookcase and find at least one book there with my name on the spine.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Revitalization of the Short Story

There's a lot of bad news out there but there is a new trend emerging from our modern, online, no-time world. Short stories are making a comeback. We've all heard the predictions that the Internet, computers, gaming, and the multi-media extravaganza that is our life now means that no one reads anymore. However, much of the Internet is reading and with online and e-publishing growing, the short story and novella is emerging as the story of choice.

It makes sense.

You're sitting on the commuter train, in your carpool, or waiting for your next class to begin. You're tired of reading the millions of IMs containing the minutiae of all your friends' daily lives. You want to read a story. You already carry around a plethora of mobile devices, any one of which can download and contain any number of stories. But you're constrained for time and it's not that comfortable to read a 500 page tome on a tiny screen. But it's not too bad for twenty minutes, or about as long as it would take to read a short story.

Some of the bestselling stories being downloaded now are short. They range from short stories, through novellas, into the full-length book category. But by far the more popular ones are the short stories and novellas. They have been so successful, in fact, that publishers—both e-publishers and traditional NY publishers alike—are collecting up those stories in anthologies and publishing them as print books.

And this is fantastic. It is such a wonderful opportunity for new writers and old writers alike. I, personally, have been toying with several ideas for novellas. The only thing that scares me is the speed with which the story has to develop. You have to get those characters introduced to the reader and into their conflict within a page or two. Then you've got to bring that conflict to a rapid boil and resolve it, pronto. No time for a lot of setup, which can take me the first 1/3 to 2/3 of a full-length book. It's a daunting prospect.

But it's a great way to learn economy of style and how to get characters in and out of trouble swiftly. It's wonderful discipline. And it's quick. You can write a rough draft in a week instead of three or four months (or however long it takes you to write the first draft of a book). Of course then you're in the editing cycle and that can stretch out for a long time, but it should be quicker.

And for a new writer, you can build both your skills and your audience more quickly. You can build up a body of work. Your stories can be collected into anthologies and if you're really lucky, you can get into an anthology with a really famous author. Readers who pick up the book to read the "big name author" will read your story, too, and you'll build your audience even faster. It's a win-win.

So for once, rejoice in the opportunities offered by our "I want it now" age. It may be easier than ever to get into the fast lane and finally get someone to read all those stories you've been longing to share.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Everyone’s a Critic

Just finished reading two books over the long Labor day weekend. I actually took a vacation, too, which was why I didn't post a blog last week. J

When I initially wrote this, I intended it to be a well-considered, thoughtful review of a few writing techniques that I ran across in my reading. It turned out to be a rant and a very politically incorrect rant, as well. Sigh. Best laid plans and all.

So anyway, I finished 'The Sleeping Doll' by Jeffry Deaver and 'The Shape of Sand' by Majorie Eccles.

***** Out of 5 stars, I give 'The Sleeping Doll' 5.

**********'The Shape of Sand' by Eccles gets 10. I know I said there was a maximum of 5 stars, but Eccles reminds me of the reason I wanted to be a writer in the first place, and why I writhe in despair when I read an author like her. I'll never be that good.

My writing will ever be as exquisite as Eccles' but I keep trying. Eccles reminds me that descriptions done properly are not really descriptions at all: they are the character's emotions and perceptions of the world around her. You cannot remove the descriptions without losing most of the characterization and mood.

If you can remove a description and you only lose the color of the wallpaper, then the description is pointless.

Anyway, regarding the ratings…don't get me wrong. Deaver is a best selling author and totally fabulous. But 'The Sleeping Doll' (for me) just wasn't up to quite the same standards as some of his previous works, or the Eccles book. I really don't like book-bashing and 'The Sleeping Doll' is an excellent book. I seriously doubt anyone else would have any of the issues with it that I had. It's very enjoyable.

Maybe I just wasn't in the mood. Readers' reactions are so subjective. That's why you really can't always read someone else's review and take it as THE TRUTH. It is, generally speaking, only true for that person, at that time. A reader may even find their own reaction changes at a different point in time.

When I was very young, I found P.G. Wodehouse to be unbearably boring. Now, I love him. Perceptions change.

And I feel a little guilty about not liking the Deaver book so much, but I can't help my reaction. But I did learn a few things and identified what to me were mistakes. I hope to avoid these particular ones in my own writing. (I'd prefer to continue making other, more egregious mistakes ;-) as any reader of my book will no doubt confirm.)

The biggest issue for me was that by the end of the book, I really did not like the main character—the heroine. I didn't like her because she was too perfect. Too good to be true. It's the same reason I haven't like any of the Star Trek re-treads. The original Star Trek's characters got angry with each other, bickered, had terrible faults and angst. Even Spock fretted over and fought his human 'half'. They were more like real people with recognizable faults. And I love human frailty because it is our faults that lead to our greatest achievements.

Therefore, for me, the goody-goody characters in the more recent Star Trek re-treads were too nauseatingly polite and kind to each other to be sympathetic. They suffered from the dreaded disease: uber-goodness. Call it Politically Correct (PC) if you want. I call it emotional degeneration. It is a recurring nightmare of mine: that I'll go to sleep and wake up in a world where "we're all friends here, dear" and everyone spends their day smiling and doing good deeds for each other. It gives me the cold chills just thinking about it. It is so intrinsically revolting to think of humans falling into such a sheep-like, mindless state of perfection.

It is our anxiety, our fears, and our compulsive need to be better or have more than the next guy that makes us strive to achieve, makes us invent or discover the next miraculous thing. If Edison was perfect and had the perfect life, he'd have invented nothing. When you reach emotional and social nirvana, there is nothing more to strive for. You are, in essence, emotionally dead. Stasis is death.

I don't like characters who are emotionally dead. Who have nothing more to strive for other than some vague, morally righteous goal to do good.

Wow, that was a rant. Didn't mean to go there, but really, while the beginning of 'The Sleeping Doll' was perfectly fine, by the end, it felt like a lecture—with examples—on 'how we should all be PC'. The sad thing is, at the end, I prefer the character that is supposedly a horrible, vengeful person that the uber-perfect heroine wants to prosecute. (I'm not going to give anything away—read the book.) But Deaver is not alone in this. I've noticed a lot of writers seem to be using their fiction as a platform to show the rest of us low-brows what is PC and what is abhorrent in an enlightened human being.

So…I'm a knuckle-dragging caveman (cavewoman?) who prefers regressive, non-PC characters. Go suck an egg.

That sums up my first reaction. I just didn't like the heroine by the end of the book. I doubt I'll read anything else featuring her. She set my teeth on edge.

But there were a couple of other things that got to me, too. There were two instances where the author told you "such and such" happened. And then a chapter or two later, the author sort of laughs and says, 'Gotcha' and then tells you that "such and such" really didn't happen, something else did. I can't tell you how irritating this is. It's a slap in the face to the reader. First off, it's like the author saying: I'm smarter than you are and knocking you on the back of the head to prove it. Second, it violates that rule that Alfred Hitchcock put so well when he said, "knowledge is tension". If you see two men sitting at a table with a briefcase on the floor next to them, and the briefcase suddenly explodes, it's shocking, but there is no tension. If you see two men sitting at a table with a briefcase on the floor next to them, and you're told the briefcase contains a bomb set to go off in two minutes, you are on the edge of your seat with tension for those two minutes. And if you are introduced to the men and know all about their families, dreams and aspirations, you're screaming at the men to get out of there. There is tension.

By Deaver making you think that a situation was resolved one way and then punching you in the eye with a surprise a few chapters later—there is no suspense—there is nothing except irritation at his deliberate "hiding of the truth". I accepted the first time he did it. The second time, I wanted to throw the book in the ocean. And it's not like he just misdirected the reader the way a mystery writer will. He deliberately misstates the truth and then flips it around later. I suppose it's meant to be a surprise. It fails.

The sad thing is that I've read other books by him and he did not do this—at least I never noticed it before. But then, I've never read his more popular suspense novels like this one or his Lincoln Rhyme books, so maybe this is just his style for these types of stories. I've noticed that I tend not to like suspense, with a few exceptions, because of similar issues.

I'm actually glad to have read this book. I've had problems in the past really understanding what Hitchcock meant about tension. And a lot of my manuscripts lacked tension because I kept information "back" from the reader in order to spring something on them later. I never really understood how this affects the pacing and tension, but I sure do now. If you don't let the reader know what is going on, you may be able to surprise them later, but you also lose about 90% of the tension in favor of a surprise that lasts all of one sentence or two. Not a good trade-off. And you don't want to make your reader feel stupid. Or worse, make your reader feel like you think they are stupid and that you, the author, are so much smarter because you can throw them a curve ball from way out of left field.

Finally, the last thing that drove me absolutely up the wall was his constant use of the word "kinesic". He tells us what it is in the beginning and tells us that the heroine is very good at using this technique during interviews to spot lies, evasions, etc. It's basically body language combined with other language skills. So he gives us a definition and explains the heroine's job. Then a few pages later, he uses the word again, and gives us another definition. Then a few pages later, he uses the word again and in case we didn't understand the previous definitions, he tells us how his heroine is using it and how good she is at using it. And then, just in case we missed that, he tells us again a few pages later how the heroine is using kinesic techniques and how she knows what is going on because she's using them. He keeps on using that word over and over again, right up until the end of the book.

Now, I can understand the first few examples. But after the first 1/3 of the book, I think we've got the freakin' message. We know the heroine uses that technique. We don't need to be reminded of it on almost every page. Let the heroine just do what she does and spot the lies. It is unnecessary to keep defining it for us and reminding us that you, Mr. Author, know a fancy new term. Who cares? Would the heroine really be thinking: hmmm, I'm really good at kinesic techniques which I can use to spot liars and I can see, using my great kinesic skills, that Mr. X is defensive because his arms are crossed over his chest. And my kinesic training tells me he may even be lying when he uses evasive phrasing such as, "I was unaware at the time…". Or is it more likely that she would just think, he's being evasive when he says "I was unaware at the time"—I need to dig deeper…

And I see, now, why I've been drifting toward crime novels instead of suspense. Because in crime novels, pretty much everyone is a rotten, miserable, scheming individual (although one or two may have a few redeeming qualities like a macabre sense of humor). There's nothing like a scoundrel to make for interesting reading.

Hopefully, this blog won't aggravate too many people. If it does, well, it's completely unintentional. But hey, we're all entitled to our opinions and sometimes we need to blow off a little steam. I just hope I don't have that Perfect World nightmare tonight. ARGH!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


One of the toughest things writers have to face is fairly constant rejections. It can be devastating. Particularly after you've spent years working on a manuscript and have gotten through a couple of turnstiles. You're so close, but… And then, if you do manage to get published, that's not the end of it, either. I'm not talking about additional rejections from agents, publishers and editors. No, sir. I'm talking about the most devastating rejection of all, reader rejection. Yeah. Talk about messing with your mind. You got an agent to who liked the manuscript, an editor who liked it enough to buy it, and you got that sucker published only to get the ultimate slap in the face.

Well, buck up. What's the worst that can happen? So they don't buy your book. That's about it. No one is going to arrest you (unless you wrote something you shouldn't ought to have written) and generally speaking, no one is going to point with horror at you when you walk down the street. Granted, I don't know what you look like, so I supposed it is within the realm of possibility that they actually will scream and run away when they see you coming, but it won't be because you wrote a flop. And maybe it wasn't a flop. Who really knows? If no one bought it then no one knows what's in your book to judge whether it's a flop, so you do have that going for you. Okay, maybe that doesn't really help.

Right. It doesn't help. If you write a book, it gets published, and no one subsequently buys it, well, that is a rough one. Basically, your choice is to waste your time on promotion or get back to the job of writing. I'm not saying promoting your book is bad—you have to do that to some degree. You've seen all the blogs, websites, articles, and advice about promoting yourself. Yes, you have to do it. But if it's not working or if you're spending all your time on promotion you need to take a step back. You need to get back to work.

Sometimes, you are better off getting other books published then spending 80% of your time trying to promote a book that is just not selling. Yes, it is heartbreaking. Yes, it makes you feel like you are a complete failure and don't know what the heck you are doing. And it makes you ask yourself what you were thinking to believe you could write a book. All those terrible things and all those vicious voices in your head will ring loud and victorious. Your supportive spouse may even say, "Honey, maybe it's for the best. Just let it go and forget about it. I hate to see you suffer like this."

Eat chocolate. Watch mindless television.

Then go back and write some more. Because it's the only real choice you have.

Strangely enough, if you can write another book, and then another book, and somehow manage to get those published (despite your first-book-flop) you may find that elusive audience. You may find readers who do connect with your stories. And each book will be better than the last. And your audience will build. It may build slowly, but in fact, producing more saleable manuscripts and getting them out there is the best promotional move you can make. Don't throw money, time and sweat into past endeavors. Decide on a limit and then resolutely move on, even if it does hurt.

In the end, you'll have a backlist of books readers can choose from. And sometimes, having that list of publications gives you the credibility readers are looking for in order to make that first purchase and take a chance on an unknown author.

Writers write. Make your writing come first and all the other related tasks come second or even third. And strangely enough, you may find that writing is one of the best ways to cure the rejection blues.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Getting Characters Onstage

Started reading Jeffrey Deaver's The Sleeping Doll last night—I love his books. Although I've only read around 50 pages, I realized that I finally stumbled upon something that I may have done correctly and figured out for myself. It's the difficult process of getting a large cast of characters in front of the reader without hopelessly confusing them.

I wrote a manuscript—a Regency Mystery—a couple of years ago. It's called The Vital Principle. The first scene is a séance and there are 13 people present. One of them kills their host. So I had to introduce all 13 to the reader and not confuse the heck out of everyone. Initially, I had the heroine, Pru, study each participant as she glanced around the table. I made sure each character had some defining characteristic and hook the reader could use to identify the character. But it was still confusing—too many people and names to keep track of. Then I hit upon the idea of just saying, there are 13 people present. The people only get "introduced" as they are "needed on stage" because they are doing or saying something. Which stretched out the introductions over a longer interval so that readers could meet them "one at a time".

It seemed to work better that way.

Then low and behold, when I started reading Deaver's The Sleeping Doll and was relieved to see that I inadvertently stumbled upon an appropriate technique. There are a lot of characters that Deaver wants you to know about, right up front in this book. Most of them form the task force given the assignment of catching an escaped killer. And he did exactly the same thing I did. What a relief to discover that I was heading in the right direction.

So let's look at what Deaver did.

First: He introduces the bad guy and a surviving victim, the Sleeping Doll, in a "newspaper article" about the bad guy's murder spree and subsequent conviction. So we learn the bad guy's name and the fact that he committed Manson-esque murders, so we know enough about him to understand he's a really, really bad guy. We, the reader, have now "got him". We're also aware of the girl dubbed the Sleeping Doll, although we have not met her.

By the way, an important part of meeting a character is learning some basic traits or characteristics about that character. This lets you begin to build a picture of the character and gives you a "handle" for the character. Sort of like: Oh, this guy's an insane, Manson-esque killer with charisma. Okay, got him. The difference between this and the Sleeping Doll is that all we know about the girl is that she was asleep in a pile of dolls when the murders occurred and she escaped. So we don't know anything about her, per se. We know nothing about what she looks like, acts like or her character. So although we know her name, we don't know her. Yet.

This intro "newspaper article" runs for about 2 pages.

Second: Deaver introduces Kathryn Dance. She's the heroine who will have to recapture the killer, Daniel Pell. In this chapter, Kathryn is interviewing Pell. We learn all about Kathryn, her skills as an interviewer, and what she looks like. We get a closer look at Pell and learn more about his personality. We learn he is a powerful, in-control bad guy even though he's in prison. And we learn that Kathryn is just as smart and powerful in her way, so the "contest between them" is pretty evenly matched. This sets up tension because neither one is obviously weaker than the other. They are worthy opponents.

This section runs for about 6 pages. It "cements" the primary characters, Kathryn and Pell, and the reader now knows how each character talks, acts, and thinks.

I'm giving you pages so you can see how long Deaver takes to accomplish his introductions. It's not very long and you're given a lot of information about the characters. By the end of this section, you have a pretty good feel for Kathryn and Pell.

Third: Now the secondary characters start to roll in. But not too quickly. First we get Alonzo Sandoval. He gets a description and short exchange with Kathryn before we get the next character: TJ. He gets a longer paragraph of description, and a brief exchange with Kathryn. Then we get Juan Miller. He gets a very short description and a few words. Then all these characters discuss what is going on. That's three characters, but by now, we know Kathryn pretty well and we can pick them up pretty well.

Through the character interactions on the next couple of pages, Deaver feeds us tags to hang on the three new characters so we can remember who they are. Juan Miller is lanky and has a scar on his hand that is the remnant of a removed gang tattoo. TJ is unconventional and wears a T-shirt under a plaid sports coat. Sandoval is handsome and round with a thick black moustache.

These three get three pages of interactions with Kathryn. Not long for three characters, but he gives you tags and the reader is ready to move on.

Fourth: Back to Pell and his escape. We meet two guards but not for long. Although we get to know them well enough and for long enough to feel sorry for them. They get several pages though as Pell escapes. (And okay, it's not like I'm ruining the story—there wouldn't be a story if he didn't escape at the beginning and come on. You didn't think he was going to escape without bloodshed, did you? Come on.)

The next few chapters are the same—you get the point. He gives you a couple of pages as each new character is pulled into the drama. You get descriptions and interchanges with the main characters so you get a "feel" for how each character acts, speaks, and looks. You get tags to help identify the characters. A tag can be a personality trait like some weird speech pattern or a particular talent/skill such as Kathryn's interview skills. Or, a tag can be a physical trait like Juan's scar left from the tattoo removal. It doesn't really matter what the unique trait it, as long as it gives your reader a handle to remember which character is which. It helps if you also remind the reader about the relationships, as well, for example which character is a co-worker, which is a boss, etc, so the reader can establish those things as well. It lets the reader build the "society" of your story.

To summarize: If you have a lot of characters to introduce to your readers, remember a few things…

  1. Only introduce characters at the point at which they have something to do or say. Don't just introduce all the characters in the room if some of them are just sitting and listening. Only describe them when they actually take some action or say something.
  2. Try to give each main character a few pages so the readers can get to know them before moving on to minor characters. If you can do what Deaver did and get the two main characters interacting with each other for a few pages right away, it's even better. We can get the measure of the two characters and see if they are evenly matched, what their goals, strengths and weaknesses are, so the tension can begin to rise. It is the interaction between the two, and the relative strengths of the characters that will give rise to your reader's initial level of interest and tension. Tension is good but remember, you can't have tension in a situation where one opposing force is much stronger than the other.
  3. Make sure you give the reader handles for the characters. And try not to make the handles stereotypical. Like having a bespectacled librarian with her hair in a bun. Give us a librarian who looks like Arnold Swartzenegger. And is a woman. ;-) Repeat the handles when the characters are onstage so the readers immediately identify them. I'm not saying you should be repetitive and always say: "the muscle-bound librarian" every time you have the librarian in the scene. Vary the description—and toward the end, you can even let it go because by that time, the reader will know. But at the beginning, reminding the reader that the librarian's sleeves actually split when she nonchalantly picked up a carton of new books will remind the reader. Speech patterns are excellent handles because characters should each have their own way of speaking that should not be interchangeable with other characters.

That's it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Learning and Life

This evening while I was trying to figure out what the heck I was going to write about, I wasted an hour or so playing Age of Mythology (Gold Edition!). There is something about building up an economy for the express purpose of wiping your opponent from the map that is very soothing to my nerves, shattered by dealing with problems all day long. But I deliberately keep it at the moderately hard level because I actually want to win. For once. By the end of a long day, I need something to give me a boost of confidence. It's nice to think you can do something right, even if it's just creating monsters and killing off your opponent.

Anyway, the game gets my brain going. Or gives me confidence to tackle more problematic tasks like writing. I've often wondered how I come across in these blogs—I mean—how do I have the nerve to set myself up as if I know anything? One of the more disheartening aspects of getting older is that you actually begin to realize how little you really do know. All the confidence and assurance of your youth is gradually beaten out of you over the years until you realize how big and complex the world is and how very little impact you have on it. And how very little you truly know. Because there are vast mountains of knowledge out there. You can skim the cliff tops and you can explore a few of them, but for every mountain you scale, five more thrust their way up out of the earth's mantle. The higher you get, the more mountains you see. And that's good because one way to stay young is to keep on learning.

And that's what my blogs are really, truly about. They are not about me trying to give anyone else advice. They aren't about me trying to act like I know something. I know very little. In fact, I'm fairly shocked when anyone thinks I know anything. I know a little about a lot of things. I know a little more about a few things. But I don't know a lot about anything—at least not to the level I would like.

One of the things I have learned is that if I, personally, want to explore a new subject, whether it be writing, gardening or how ACLs get applied in Windows 2003 Server, what I have to do is pretend to teach it. Of course it's really better if I actually do teach it because people ask questions and force you to think. The prospect of questions will force you to learn more out of self-defense and the desire to avoid looking like a total idiot.

This blog is my way of teaching—me. If others benefit, well, goody for them. I actually hope people ask questions because that forces me to explore more, research, and find the best answers. Which is another opportunity for me to learn more. So, yes. It's all about me.

If you want to learn how to become a writer, then my advice to you is to write. And try to teach someone else how to write. And write about writing. The process of organizing your thoughts on various aspects of writing, e.g. structure, plotting, characterization, vocabulary, etc, will force you to learn it. Pick out examples from other books to show someone (even if you're just showing yourself).

I recently went through some of my favorite books and made copies of the pages where the authors introduce a character. I wanted to explore precisely how one character (the point of view character) describes another character to introduce the second character to the reader. How the descriptions stay in the voice and point of view of the POV character. How the POV character subtly inserts his or her opinions and prejudices into their descriptions and manages to convey the emotional climate of the scene through small inflections in the description. To me, the best descriptions are actually thinly disguised opinions by the POV character. The description is as revealing of the POV character as it is of the subject of the description. Double duty.

In fact, it is my conclusion that the best descriptions are not descriptions at all but internal dialog where the POV character is expressing an opinion about another character or subject. That's why some descriptions are dry-as-dust and skippable: because the author just wrote a technically accurate description without expressing any opinion about it. Scenery, whether it be a landscape, building, or character, is only interesting in the manner in which it brings out some emotion, feeling, or opinion in the person describing it. We really don't care if the room was 10' x 12' square with blue walls. We are interested, however, if the POV character observes a 10'x12' square room with blue walls and feels those walls closing in on him, suffocating him under depressing pall of sterile, pale blue.

So I blog to learn. Anything else is just gravy.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rejection Collection

Just because you get published doesn't mean you'll never see another rejection again. Or that rejections will get easier or that the proportion of rejections to contracts improves. Naturally, for some people, they are so talented that their first manuscript receives a contract and they never need to worry about rejections. Others work through the rejections, get that first contract and thereafter have only a few or none rejections.

That hasn't worked for me. In fact, I'm stumbling around badly at the moment, having just gotten slapped down a few more times and really wondering what path I should be following.

In my last few blogs, I've mentioned difficulties editing what I've written. I really do make things worse by editing them, more often than not. Especially if I'm trying to do what someone else tells me to do. And I've noticed this before. I don't know how unusual this is or if I'm some weird alien creature, but in almost everything I've tried, my first "cut" at it is the best. When I was learning the piano, the first time I played an unknown piece, it sounded the best. After that, the more I practiced, the worse I got. Same with cooking. The first time I made a recipe, it always came out extraordinarily well. Each subsequent time…a little less well. Practicing and repetition, for me, is not generally a good thing. I have no idea why and I fervently wish it wasn't true because a lot of things require practice. And yet instead of yielding better results, repetition and trying to build a skill, in my case, yields declining results.

So I need to learn to wield the editing scalpel a little less vigorously. In fact, I think it's safe to say that I need to not do a lot of editing—I need to add in the things I missed on the first draft (clarification of emotions & motivations and descriptions). Polish and remove actual mistakes. And leave it the hell alone.

I am totally taking Margery Allingham's method to heart.

  1. You write the first draft to get it all down on paper
  2. You add in what you missed or forgot in the second draft
  3. You take out all non-essentials in the third draft
  4. You polish

That's it.

So after the last destructive category 5 hurricane of rejections, I'm going to let some of my manuscripts rest for a while. I'm going to finish a mystery I've been working on, tentatively entitled: Whacked! (A computer geek girl, her elderly completely stoned uncle, a cop who wants to quit and be a writer, and the murder of a man who gist needed killin' in a little southern town called Peyton...).

And I'm going to try a new tactic. After I get most of the first draft done, I'm going to put a little polish on the first few chapters, draft up a synopsis, and send it to my agent to find out if she thinks it is something she can sell. I sure hope so. I may not even wait until I've finished the first draft.

That's my plan. It's the best I can do to avoid sinking into despair, although I'm nearly convinced at this point that I couldn't write my way out of a paper bag even if Margery Allingham dictated it to me. I can't plot, do characterization, or write a comprehensible sentence. But I am stubborn. Really stubborn. And I got one book published. By God, before I die, I'm going to get another one.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This and That

I'm deep in edits, trying to rework a story that is the first in a related set of Regency-set stories, so I'm a little harried this week. I don't have any new, brilliant words of wisdom. I'm just trying to keep my head above water. Mostly because, editing is NOT my friend. When I edit something, I tend to make it worse instead of better. Sometimes it's because I'm trying to make it something it is not. For example, "increase the sensuality". Well, if the story did not have that focus to begin with because it is not relevant, than just trying to shove it in is not going to suddenly make it 100% better and sell it to some editor 1/3 my age. I am so freaking sick of the whole subject of sensuality and the erotic trends in the market that I've basically stopped taking classes in writing or listening to any other writers because I really don't care.

What is this emphasis over one small, paltry aspect of the story?

And it's not that my stories don't sometimes include those elements if the characters "go there". In fact, I have one manuscript which I've hesitated to show to anyone, like my agent, because it starts out with "one of those scenes". Right in the very beginning. First chapter. Page one. But it was where the character was at the time. It is not the central focus of the story. It just happened.

Anyway, enough about that. It's a pet peeve of mine because I'm so sick of listening to everyone babble on about it, but it's like any other element of writing. You include what is necessary for the story and that's pretty much all there is to it.

So…whatever. I have discovered, though, that trying to trim down my already fairly lean-and-mean writing is not good either.

Brief descriptions for main characters does not cut the mustard. In fact, I've learned that the best way to create a cardboard character is to throw in a couple of lines about their physical appearance and move on with the story. It ends up sounding like a laundry list or wanted poster. What you really need to do is write a long paragraph that isn't so much a description as it is what the other character thinks about the one described. This means, basically, that there really are some rules:

  1. You can't describe your heroine until you are in the hero's (or some other character's) viewpoint. Because otherwise, you've got the heroine describing herself—which is never a good thing unless it's something like: she's in some store's dressing room trying on a dress and she can't get the zipper closed because she's gained about ten pounds over the Thanksgiving holidays. But for God's sake, don't have her stare in the mirror and itemize her hair, eyes and complexion. There is NOTHING worse than a mirror scene. It's lazy writing and it stinks. Never have a character describe himself or herself. Never, ever include a line like: She threw a lock of her golden hair over her shoulder. Just whose point of view is that in, anyway?
  2. Unless this is literary fiction, you—the author—can't just describe the characters, either. You can't play God for a few minutes and stare down at your characters and describe them to the reader. Unless you're a member of Monty Python and are being funny.
  3. So…one character has to describe the other. If it's your hero describing the heroine, he has to do it in his own words. Not in some poetic drivel, unless he's a poet. And don't use words like beautiful. It has no meaning—the word has lost its power due to overuse and just general malaise. Are her features perfect like Grace Kelly? Or does she have the exotic sensuality of Gene Tierney with her pouting mouth and hint of an overbite. That overbite has made millions of men lose it—and it's the kind of thing your hero should and would notice. Men often have a fixation with mouths because—okay, we're not going to go there… Anyway, more often than not, it's the small things that one person might consider an imperfection that drives another person insane with lust. A big nose on a man; an overbite on a woman; heavy-lidded, sleepy eyes. Whatever. But the thing to note is that it's not a description, per se, but the character's reaction to these attributes. What is it about the heroine that the hero really notices? What conclusions does he draw because of what he sees or smells? Is she a sloppy, rumpled dresser? Does he find it indescribably erotic that she's a mess, smells of warm, salty flesh, and looks like she just fell out of bed? Or…you tell me.

The best descriptions build up a picture from the opinions and reactions of the point-of-view character. The character doing the describing.

Yeah, it's a pain in the patootie. It means you have to think about it. You have to think about what the heroine sees, feels, and reacts to when she sees the hero. You have to use her words—not your words.

In essence, the author has to step out of the way and let the characters do the describing, reacting, and feeling. In fact, the author often needs to just step out of the way and let the characters tell the story.

It's not that easy to do.