Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The End of June

Wow, what a week. First Ed McMahon, then Farrah Fawcett and now Michael Jackson passed away. Guess that's one secret the health nuts forget to tell you when they insist that running that extra mile and eating that cardboard, uh, healthy cereal will keep you young. No one lives forever. And as far as I'm concerned, I'd rather die two days earlier than eat Kashi for breakfast. Not to pick on one brand or anything, you understand.

So anyway—it's a little scary when you start seeing familiar faces you grew up with dropped under six feet of soil. I'm really feeling that cold wind blowing up my skirt these days, particularly since all the parents on both sides of my family have passed away. The next row to be scythed by Death is mine. Brrh. Chilly.

And morbid. So enough of that, already. No more bad news, please. Nobody dies for the next few days. Promise.

Writing-Related Stuff

Romance Writers of America asked me to participate in a task force studying e-publishing with an eye towards preparing materials for writers considering publication with small press and e-publishers. There has been a lot of controversy about the whole e-publisher and small press issue as it relates to questions like: are small press/e-published authors really considered published since they don't typically get an advance for their books? You see, most writers' organizations have strict guidelines about what constitutes "being published" to distinguish serious, professional writers from your average Joe who self-published his memoirs. Most of the time, the dividing lines are drawn around the following questions:

  1. Did you get published by a "recognized" publisher? (Most of these are based in NY—and criteria for publishers to get on the recognized list is generally whether said publisher pays an advance to all of its authors and if that advance is of a certain dollar value…)
  2. Did you get X dollars for an advance? Some organizations set this at $3,000. Some set it at $1,000.

Most e-publishers use a different payment structure. They don't pay an advance, but they pay authors every month or every quarter after their book is released. Generally, authors don't make much with e-publishers, particularly with a first book, but over time, productive authors with e-publishers can make money. Some authors actually make enough to live on, so it can be a good avenue for authors with books that are just too different for the NY big boys to acquire.

Anyway, I'm working to avoid controversy and provide fair and honest information that may be of use to our authors. It's an interesting group and a very complex topic.

Good News (If Any)

Semi-great news: looks like my editor is preparing the contract package for my paranormal. And the fun thing is that my critique partner, Lilly Gayle, has a paranormal under contract now with my publisher, too! So I'm hoping we can cross-pollinate and make guest appearances on each other's blogs sometime next year when our books are released. This is a new genre for me, since I generally write historical/historical mysteries, but it was a fun change of pace.

Once I actually get the contract paperwork and sign it, I'll feel "set enough" to talk more about it. In the meantime, I'm pretty pleased.

Also, I was delighted with Long and Short Reviews nominated my historical short story, OUTRAGEOUS BEHAVIOR, for best story of the week last weekend. What a nice surprise! They also gave me a lovely review, which made my day.

And although I got two rejections for another historical mystery, one of the rejections said the editor would like to look at the manuscript again if I beef up the romance a tad. So I'm giving that a whirl. It would be super if I could have several books come out in 2010, what with this dry spell in 2009.

What I'm Reading Now

I just finished Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard. What a fun read! Here is a snippet of the review I wrote for it…

This is the first Elmore Leonard book I've read and I have to admit, I really enjoyed it. The characters were charming and funny, even when they were beating up folks. It is always interesting to me to see how an author portrays what are essentially very bad people in a moderately sympathetic manner and Leonard is very, very adept at this.

Jack Foley is a bank robber with a very interesting moral code. It's okay to rob banks, but not dupe people. He's honestly a bank robber, I guess you could say. While I find that sort of moral hair-splitting a little distasteful, for purposes of a novel where you don't have to actually associate with these people, it's okay. I like Jack. He's charming and he's actually honest. If you ask him what he does for a living, he's right up front about it. He robs banks and he's just out of prison. Take it or leave it.

Cundo Rey is a little more difficult as a character. He never really gelled for me, but I take it he "starred" in another book, so maybe if I read that first, I'd have glommed on to him a little better. The reader isn't meant to like him as much as Jack, though, and Leonard makes sure of it by Cundo's treatment of his girlfriend, Dawn Navarro.

And Dawn, well, if you think the other two characters are in a moral gray area, well, she's pretty well drifting as close to black as she can without actually being a mass murderer or anything. She dupes folks for money. It's interesting in that I suspect this moral hair-splitting may say a lot about Leonard's sense of morality. It's okay if you do bad things as long as you are honest about it and don't dupe people.

What I liked: Loved the characters' interactions and the peek into the lives of people I would never in a million years associate with in real life. J There's a sort of evil fascination to getting a glimpse of life on the wild side. The plot was twisty, although I have to admit there was an inevitability about events that made it somewhat predictable. This is good in the sense that what happened HAD to happen because of the characters', well, characters. On the other hand, this also made it a little predictable once you understood the characters. It had to go the way it did for better or worse.

What I didn't like: There wasn't anything I hated. But I couldn't really get into Cundo Rey or his backstory. There were just elements that didn't mesh for me, such as his previous existence as sort of a male exotic dancer. I could have wished for a little more of the unexpected, too, in the plot. Nothing really surprised me.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this book. It's definitely on my keeper shelf.

What I'm Writing Now

I'm redoing the historical mystery, The Bricklayer's Helper, to add a touch more romance for resubmission to my publisher, The Wild Rose Press. I'm really, really hoping they will ultimately accept it as they did such a good job with my previous historical, I BID ONE AMERICAN.

What—If Any—Thoughts I have

Writing is a difficult art to learn and requires constant care and feeding. One of the key elements, however, is discovering what gives you joy. For me, my joy in writing comes when I can come up with a humorous situation. The more humor I can infuse into a story, the more I enjoy writing it. The manuscript I'm submitting now, The Bricklayer's Helper, gave me tremendous joy in writing it. Each night, I would lay in bed thinking about what possible terrible—and terribly funny—thing I could do to Sarah and William (my heroine and hero) the next day. I could hardly sleep. I kept wanting to leap out of bed and continue writing. Only sheer exhaustion kept me from doing so.

And while some books I write are much darker, like my paranormals, I know that if I get stuck or depressed, all I have to do is think of the silliest, stupidest, funniest scene I can. My enthusiasm immediately returns, even if I later have to remove that scene.

If you can find what "turns you on" creatively, you can use it to drive yourself forward through all the roadblocks and deadends. Use what you can. You can always edit the junk out later.

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

June 2009

It's June already? What the heck is going on with time, anyway? It seems to compress at random; needlessly, too, I might add.

Good News (If Any)

I'm awaiting word on my paranormal manuscript with The Wild Rose Press. The editor who read the manuscript liked it and is recommending it to the powers-that-be for purchase. So that's a small, tentative hurray with hopes that the powers like it and buy it. That would be sweet! Especially since I got not-so-good news from another publisher who was looking at one of my historical mysteries. She liked it, but due to the current economic climate, the company is restructuring and may ultimately decide not to do it. But I was thankful to her for giving me an honest assessment of the situation. That shows true graciousness and thoughtfulness that is rare today. I hope they are successful at restructuring and that, even if they decide not to do historical mysteries in the future, there might another genre/place for me with them in a few years.

Still awaiting word on a few queries and submissions, but realistically, I doubt I will hear anything before August or September. In the meantime, I'm going to be bundling up query packets for a mystery I'd like to find an agent to represent.

Other good news: my dog Molly is doing fine now after getting bit on the upper lip by a Copperhead. And even better news, my husband and I saw a King Snake on the path and King Snakes eat Copperheads and Rattlesnakes. So I have every hope that the King Snake will eat the Copperhead that bit my dog. It would be so just if that happens!

What I'm Reading Now

Just finished Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn. Great adventure story with just enough romance to be really satisfying to me. When we first meet the hero, Harry Bennett, he's in a Caribbean jail and there's not much worse that can happen to him. Or so we think. But he gets sprung on orders left by a dead man, Sean Syrrell, only to be immersed in an adventure to find a treasure lost for centuries. Accompanying Harry is Sean's niece, Storm, and Emma—an FBI agent who can't seem to stay out of trouble, either.

There's a crafty and nearly unstoppable assassin on their tail and the FBI want to arrest Harry for the supposed murder of another person interested in the treasure they seek. After the first few chapters, Harry might actually have had a more restful and better time of it back in prison!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book—mostly because of good old Harry. The guy just can't stay out of trouble and that is my favorite kind of character. He was a little quirky and a little different and very lovable. Bunn did a fabulous job with Harry and I'm glad Bunn didn't stoop to the obvious and set up a romance between Harry and Storm. The two characters like each other, respect each other, and save each other's bacon, and I enjoyed the interplay between the two a great deal. The relationship was handled with grace and subtly—something rare in many of today's novels.

Storm Syrrell was less entrancing to me, and I have to say I'm a little sick of these "unique" and artsy-fartsy names. I class the name Storm in the same category as Hawk for a man. Get over it already—can't she just be a Jane or Mary? Maybe not Mary, because that rhymes with Harry, but Jane would do. And frankly, after a surfeit of these "romantic" names, Jane actually feels unusual and unique to me. It's even spelled properly.

Sorry, didn't mean to digress about the name. But Storm did seem a little less real to me than Harry—for whatever reason. But it did nothing to mar my enjoyment of the book. If you get a chance to read it, do!

And I just picked up Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard and am enjoying that. Nothing beats a good crime novel, especially with a delicious, understated sense of humor.

What I'm Writing Now

I'm struggling to write at the moment, mostly because I keep going back to edit things so I can do some more submissions. I guess that's progress, too. However, last night I wrote a few more lines in my Christmas novella. I won't make the deadline for it, but maybe that's okay and I can submit it for next year (Christmas 2010). If I can finish that, I want to write a mystery. Not sure if it will be contemporary or historical, but it will be one or the other.

What—If Any—Thoughts I have


What is backstory? It's when an author digresses from the current time/storyline to give the reader some background about something. Usually, it's junk that happened in the past that made the hero into the man He Is Today (or the heroine into the woman She Is Today). Everyone tells you to cut out all backstory. Obviously, you can't cut out all of it, otherwise the reader won't understand what is happening or why the character is acting the way he is. But you can certainly trim it back, usually to just a phrase stuck in where it is absolutely essential.

There is so much written about backstory already, but I think I can boil it down to a few salient points:

  1. Don't include backstory that's just history. That is, that has nothing to do with what is going on RIGHT NOW in the book. For example, Melissa Sue is facing a decision about whether to move to the country because she just inherited a huge house. Backstory would be: Melissa Sue was orphaned when she was seven and went to live in a children's home in the Ozarks. And in this instance, the fact that she lived in a children's home in the Ozarks is completely irrelevant and should be excised from this passage. It's only marginally relevant that she was orphaned, and that detail can be inserted in a small phrase, if it's necessary to know that the inheritance was a surprise because of it. That's all. There is absolutely no need to go on and on about the children's home and what the Ozarks looked like, etc, unless it has direct and dramatic bearing on the events at hand.
  2. Don't include characters (and character names) in backstory for characters who will never be mentioned again. They have no relevance in the current story. Do not take attention away from your main characters by throwing in a bunch of names/characters who aren't even in the current story. For example, if Melissa Sue inherited her house from her great-aunt, that's all you need to say. You don't even need to give the great-aunt a name and history—unless that fact has some relevance to Melissa Sue's current problems.
  3. Information must be critical to the current problem the character faces. See item 1. And only reveal that information when it is necessary to describe the character's immediate problem. Otherwise, the reader will just be jarred out of the story, tension will be lost, and your pacing will suffer.

That's about it.

Best wishes for a successful week!