`1` Romance worth killing for
Shattering Romantic Suspense
Author Websites
Elisabeth Naughton
Joan Swan
Linda Winfree
Author's Latest Releases

Coming Soon

AddThis Feed Button

Industry Blogs We Like
Agent Obscura
Anatomy of a Book Deal
Bookends Literary Agency Blog
The Bradford Bunch
Buzz, Balls & Hype
Jennifer Jackson, Literary Agent
The Knight Agency
Magical Musings
Mid-Willamette Valley RWA Blog
Kristin Nelson, Literary Agent
Jenny Rappaport, Literary Agent
Miss Snark
Murder She Writes
Paperback Writer
Romancing The Blog
Running With Quills
Working Stiffs
Samhain Publishing
Wine Country Romance Writers, RWA
Author Blogs We Like
Elisa Adams
Carol Burnside
Brenda Coulter
Tanya Holmes
Larissa Ione
Lydia Joyce
Elisabeth Naughton
Patti O'Shea
Edie Ramer
Kate Rothwell
Marissa Scott
Lynne Simpson
Amie Stuart
Joan Swan
Karin Tabke
Stephanie Tyler
Linda Winfree
Recommended Resources
Agent Query
Charlotte Dillon
Common Redundancies in Writing
Cop Talk--Karin Tabke
Crime in Mind
Cruisie/Mayer 2007 Online Workshop
Kiss of Death RWA Chapter
Publisher's Marketplace
Romance Agents
Romance Writers of America
Previous Blogs
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
What We're Working On Now

Elisabeth: Marked

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
33,126 / 95,000

Joan: Buried Secrets

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
68,000 / 115,000

Linda: Facing It

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
45,540 / 85,000

:~: Thursday, March 30, 2006 :~:

I Was an E-book Virgin

I have a true confession to make . . . until this week, I'd never read an e-book. Before anyone gets upset, this little fact had nothing to do with a perception that e-books might be of lower quality than traditional print books -- I have friends who are multi-pubblished in e-format, and Lord knows they're all enormously talented. It had more to do with the reality that I'd just never done it, the same as I've never downloaded music from the Internet. Because I'm busy, I tend to like things that are convenient -- to me, it's more convenient to punch in a radio station than it is to download music.

But I won a free e-book from Samhain Publishing in a contest at Writeminded. I was excited -- I like trying new things, I like a good deal, and what's better than free stuff?

I spent a couple days perusing my options at Samhaim, talking over possibilities with one of my CP's. The titles and excerpts were interesting, and although some of the covers were a tad hokey, who hasn't seen a hokey cover on a print book in Books-A-Million?

Finally, I decided on a book (which will remain nameless for now -- I'm going to review it later), went through the purchasing process and settled in to read.

It didn't take me long to realize that for now the e-book experience isn't for me.

This had nothing to do with the quality of the book -- the story was charming, and any grammar errors were nothing I haven't found in traditionally published novels.

I'd already noticed during the browsing process that prowling for an e-book simply isn't the same as looking for a print book. Buying books for me usually involves a trip to my local bookstore, where I chat with the owner about our mutual love of books and sample books from many sections. I pick them up, read the back blurb, check out the first few pages, flip to the end and look at it.

Can't do that with an e-book. I'll admit I had a hard time shopping without Leigh's conversation and the heavenly smell of her freshly brewed coffee hanging around me.

But I had my book, thanks to a handy .pdf download. So I got comfortable in my desk chair and began reading at my laptop.

Unfortunately, just as purchasing the e-book didn't measure up to my bookstore experiences, the reading experience didn't make the cut, either. First, I'm a fast reader -- I'd have to wait at the bottom of every page for the next page to load, which frustrated me. I wanted to turn the page, darn it!

Second, I like to write in books -- I know it's weird, but I think it's a holdover from my English major days. I mark passages I like, make connections, etc. Kinda hard to write on my laptop screen.

Third, every single time I've sat down with this particular e-book, I read a few chapters, and then the download freezes my computer. A good ol' Stephen King hardback sometimes freezes the breath in my throat, but I've never had it crash my hard drive, either.

So the final point is this -- I'm not an e-book virgin anymore, but I'm not about to have a wild fling with a series of them, either. Are there other books, other authors out there I'd like to read in e-format? Of course. But the reality for me remains that right now, the experience of an e-book isn't more convenient or more appealing than curling up on my porch, with the wind rippling the wind chimes above me, and devouring a great Monica Jackson or Tayari Jones read. If I can get my hands on one of the smaller devices that make it more convenient and more like a traditional reading experience, I'm all for it, baby!

What about you? Are you an e-book virgin? Or an e-book enthusiast? Any tips for improving my electronic reading experiences? Any must-read books or authors in electronic format?

:~: Tuesday, March 28, 2006 :~:

POV, Character & Voice

I didn't really understand the expression 'deep POV' when I picked up Suzanne Brockmann's Into the Night. But I definitely recognized something special about her writing, and it was more than tight suspense, 3D characters and compelling conflict and plot. It was the way she used deep POV to take character definition one step further than any other author I'd read (or at least any other author I'd noticed utilizing the technique).

It took me a while to figure out what that something was. And I finally had the 'aha' moment during a dialogue class with best-selling author Catherine Ryan-Hyde who wrote Pay It Forward, among other mainstream fiction. In that workshop we spent weeks on ways to make characters come alive through dialogue. What a character says and how he/she says it can make the difference in distinguishing between someone from Kansas and New York, someone with a doctorate degree or without a grade school diploma, or even work to identify differences as subtle as those between a mother and a teacher.

And while learning how dialogue could make characters unique and distinguishable from each other, I also realized I could apply these techniques in a character's internal dialogue, which, when utilized in conjunction with deep POV, becomes narrative in that character's viewpoint.

Up until that point, I thought I was the narrator, that I should be using my voice for anything other than dialogue. (Of course at that point I didn't understand the intangible, elusive element of voice either.) I thought the character's dialogue was the vehicle I was supposed to use to set each apart from the other.

What I learned from Into the Night, and what I wanted to share in this post, was that I could make an even greater impact if I stayed "in character" for the entire scene (or time) I'm in that character's pov, instead of only when they spoke.

I'm not sure if I'm making myself clear, but what I'm talking about is different than an author's voice, or even a style of writing. It's about staying in that one character's mind, seeing the world, others and situations through the same filter that character sees life through while you're in their pov.

I've put together some examples. Hopefully they will show better than I can tell. While you can hear the author's voice in each excerpt, I also think you can hear the individual character's voice as well.

Anyway, let me know what you think...even if that's that I'm a nut case!!


From: Into the Night, Suzanne Brockmann

MULDOON (Hero/Navy SEAL): He had his weapon held at ready as he kept his woolen scarf wrapped securely around most of his lower face. It wasn't a good idea to go for a walk in a crowd of Taliban-supporting terrorists with a clean-shaven chin, but there weren't a whole lot of options here.

The good news was that the Frenchman couldn't have weighed more than 120 pounds. It would have been laughably easy to carry him if he weren't trying his best to get away. Something solid kept jamming painfully into Muldoon's back, just hard enough to keep him thoroughly pissed off. It seemed improbable that the terrorists had let this guy keep his camera, but he couldn't figure out what else it might be.

There was no time for Muldoon's knee to still hurt like hell, but it did. God, it felt like it was the size of a watermelon, like it was starting to swell. But that was absurd. A banged funny bone didn't swell. You hit it, you writhe in pain and you scream for two or three minutes, and life goes on. But try as he might, he couldn't seem to get past the writhing part.

JOAN (Heroine): Joan looked up and there indeed was Muldoon. Silhouetted by the sparkling backdrop of sunlight dancing on the ocean, this Muldoon couldn't have made a more dramatic appearance if he'd tried.

He was all broad shoulders and wide chest and long legs, packaged neatly into the same gleaming white uniform.

The choir of angels missed their cue as Muldoon came close enough for her to see his face. But, hot damn, a face like that demanded a full forte gloria in excelsis deo.

Yes, as fit the pattern, Lieutenant Junior grade--which made him sound as if he were a Daisy Scout compared to the non-junior lieutenants--Michael Muldoon was more picture-perfect handsome than both Jacquette and Paoletti combined. Of course, he was also about twenty years old.

If the trend continued, within the next three minutes she was going to be handed off to a ten-year-old ensign, and then to that toddler seaman recruit she'd seen scrubbing the floor when she'd first arrived on the naval base.


FROM: Hard News by Jeffrey Deaver

NESTOR (Unsure of character role): Once you took the element of fear out of it New York was the biggest playground in the world.

He felt the excitement the instant he stepped out of the Port Authority bus terminal. The feeling of electricity. And for a moment he thought: What was he doing in wasting his time in piss-ant Florida?

He smelled: fishy river, charcoal smoke from pretzel vendors, shit, exhaust. Then he got a whiff of some gross incense three black guys dressed up like Arabs were selling from a folding table. He'd never seen this before. He walked up to them. There were pictures of men from ancient times, it looked like, dressed the same. The twelve true tribes of Isreal. Only they were all black. Black rabbis...

What a crazy town this was!

Nestor walked along 42nd Street, stopped in a couple peep shows. He left and wandered some more, looking at the old movie theatres, the live play theatres, the angry drivers, the suicidal pedestrians. Horns blared like mad, as if everybody driving a car had a wife in labor in the backseat. Already the energy was exhausting him but he knew he'd be up to speed in a day or two.

RUNE (Heroine): Rune had spent a lot of time trying to decide if she was in love with this man. She thought she was in a way. But it wasn't like the old days--whatever they were--when you were either in love or you weren't. Love was a lot more complicated now. There were degrees, there were phases of love. It kicked in and out like a compressor in an air conditioner. She and Healy could talk easily. And laugh. She liked the way he looked like the man in the Marlboro ad. She liked the way his eyes were completely calm and deeper than any man's eyes she’d ever seen. But what she missed was that gut-twist, that weight-losing obsession with the object of your desire which was Rune's favorite kind of love even though it was totally rare.

Rune stood at the round porthole, looking out over the water, at the way the lights in Hobeken made lines in the waves like runway approach lights. With her eyes she traced them to the land and back again. She watched them for a few minutes, until they were shattered by a passing speedboat.


And here is something from my own ms: The Art of Danger (although even when this technique is utmost in my mind, I still have an extremely difficult time executing it.)

CARSON (hero): And he'd learned all this in just a few days of knowing her. But there were several things about her that kept him from taking that next step. He glanced around the studio. If she had been an accountant, or an architect, or a school bus driver, he'd already have pursued the dating question further, maybe even bugged her until she'd relented and said yes. Gauging the attraction between them might have already slept with her.

TRE (2nd character; 16yo): "I don't know." As soon as the words were out, Tre squeezed his eyes closed. He knew some stuff, but not everything. He didn't get his mom and all her moods. A lot of the time he couldn't tell if she was frustrated with her work or their dad or Tanner or him. And, shit, he had his own crappy life to worry about. "She complains. I can't do anything right. She's always tired." His coach had that impassive but attentive look--the one that said he was listening, but that didn't give away any sign of sympathy for Tre's problems. "Did you ask her why she was tired today?"

JACKSON (2nd villain): Jackson turned the key and rotated his palms over the leather steering wheel, forcing the blood from his fingers. He was stupid, but he wasn't that stupid. He saw where this was going, recognized the ultimate plan. The mob had him. If he didn't go through with this, they'd release the tapes of him fucking Neva. It would cost him not only his reputation and his job, but his career. If he did this, they had him for drug trafficking. Considering his standing in the District Attorney's office, they'd have the next DA in their pocket.

And he hadn't seen it coming.

No, he'd been too busy fucking the DA's wife, riding the wave of high profile cases, fanaticizing about the power and prestige he'd have as the new District Attorney of one of the richest communities in California in six short months when Lionel retired. Dreaming of a judgeship one day.

:~: Sunday, March 26, 2006 :~:

The Writing Community

I discovered RWA over a year and a half ago when I was perusing the net looking for writing resources. Through the national website I learned there were local chapters where writers get together and talk about writing related topics. The idea inspired me. Imagine, meeting other writers, talking about books and learning how to get published! It sounded like something I needed to be a part of.

Never one to be afraid of a challenge, I searched out my local chapter, sent the president a quick email and found out the time and place of the next meeting. I couldn't wait to get started.

It was October. I remember well because I was hugely pregnant with my third child and about to walk into a room full of people I wanted to be. That first meeting, I didn't really know what to expect. I hauled my big ol' body into the room and looked around a conference table full of attractive, well-put together women who all looked and sounded like they knew a helluva lot more than me. And my first impression was - Holy crap. They're all published and I'm writer-wanna-be over here. I tried to chalk the queasiness in my stomach up to being pregnant, but the real truth was I was out of my comfort level, over my head, and pretty close to turning around and walking out.

Everyone turned and looked at me like I had something stuck to my face, and I tried to suck in my belly to no avail. The chapter President was very sweet, although I have to admit a bit intimidating with her blonde hair and skinny body. (All pregnant women notice other women who are skinny. And we hate them all, so, Genene, it wasn't personal.) She also had a very strange name which to this day I can't spell.

Now, I'm not an overly outgoing person. (Hard to believe, huh? Paty, stop chuckling over there.) The truth is I can be rather shy and quiet when I'm in a new situation. Once I feel comfortable with a group though, watch out. Not so shy and quiet anymore.

However, at that moment, I wanted to run out the door. What was I thinking?! I wasn't ever going to be a writer. Not a real writer. Not like these people! Luckily, common sense prevailed (Okay, good old-fashioned German stubbornness) and I didn't run. Instead, I sat and figured I'd give it an hour and see what it was all about. Some people might call that "goal-driven". I call it just plain nuts.

Well, that night (and I'll never forget this as long as I live) they had three guest speakers. Leah Vale, Lissa Manley and Terri Reed. All three are published authors who live in Portland. All three are CPs even though they write in different sub-genres. I sat - riveted for an hour (and that's hard to do when you are fat and pregnant) - and listened to the discussion about how their critique partnership works. But what made the most impact was when they each laughed and gave a quick rundown on their first sale. How they all sold within months of each other. How they all love what they do.

And I made a choice, right then. That was gonna be me.

I got real serious about writing after that. I mean, I had been serious already for about a year at that point, but after that meeting I talked more openly with DH about my dreams and what I wanted to do and how important writing was to me. I'd always felt funny talking about it before, like it was some pie-in-the-sky pipe dream I'd never really get even though I knew deep down I had the confidence to do it. That meeting gave me the external confidence even thought I'd had it brewing inside me for a long time. It showed me there are other people out there who think like me and want the same things.

So, as you probably already figured out, I went back to the next meeting, and the one after that, and the one after that (and I was wrong, not everyone in that room was published). I've made some great friends in my local chapter - both published and unpublished. We support each other in the little things. We chat writing on our e-group and also in person. We make a point to go out to dinner before each meeting to visit and talk about what we're each doing not only in our writing but in our lives as well. We celebrate each success and offer encouragement when our writing friends need it.

We're not all the same age. Some are older than me, some are younger. Some have grown kids, some have small kids, some have no kids. Some of us are single, some are married, some are divorced. But what we all have in common is that we write because we love it.

I have fabulous critique partners I chat with and email every single day. Without them, I'd be lost because they know not only my work, but me as a person. We bitch and brainstorm and vent and write. We support each other when we're down, kick each other in the butt when we need to get to work, and celebrate when we hit a high. What I have with them cannot be replaced. But I also have a wonderful local writer's group that meets once a month. I make a point to go to every meeting because just "being" with other writers is a thrill you cannot get online.

Of the three of us (Joan, Eli, Lin), I'm the only one who's active in her local RWA chapter. Actually, active is a pretty mild word. I'm more like knee-deep in it. Okay, hip deep. I'm now the secretary for the chapter and contribute to several committees, and over the past few years have realized I know quite a bit about this industry that I can share with others, enough that I was the guest speaker for my group in January, and will be one of two guest speakers next month. The Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter is the only chapter located between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California. We have members that span that entire distance. Several members drive 70 miles one way just to attend our meetings. Our chapter president battles mountain roads and icy passes and a three-hour drive ONE WAY, just so she can be with us. She is a saint.

I encourage you to join a local writer's group and immerse yourself with other writers. Meet people, make connections, talk. It will make your passion stronger. It will boost your confidence. It will make you want to write when you have those days where the television looks a lot more appealing than the laptop. If you're a romance writer, the best place to start is Romance Writers of America. Find a local chapter, give them a call and then get out the door.

Writing is often a solitary adventure. Just remember it doesn't always have to be.

:~: Saturday, March 25, 2006 :~:

Exciting News

Hi all,

Wanted to take the weekend free space to announce that HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT finaled in the 2006 Golden Heart in the romantic suspense category.


:~: Thursday, March 23, 2006 :~:

Got a Grammar Gremlin?

This week, I thought I'd go for an interactive Friday post . . . do you have an English conundrum? What my students call a "grammar gremlin?" Here's your opportunity to get your most vexing English mechanics/usage/grammar questions answered! Leave your questions in the comments section, and I'll answer as many as possible over the weekend.

As a little added bonus, here's a Compact Comma Summary, borrowed with great appreciation from one of my esteemed colleagues (also available HERE.)

1. Use commas between items in a SERIES.

A. Words: Bring your notebook, pen and textbook to class every day.
B. Phrases: You can remove the cover, adjust the drive belt and replace the cover with just one tool.
C. Clauses: We cannot decide what information we wil store, how we will retrieve it or how it will be used.

2. Use commas in COORDINATE situations.

A. Compound sentence with conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet): You must set the dial, and the ready light must be visible.
B. Compound sentence after a semicolon and conjunctive adverb (therefore, however, thus, . . .): The storm pounded against the shutters; however, no windows were broken.
C. Adjectives (only if they are reversible): It is an efficient, inexpensive unit.

3. Use commas after INTRODUCTORY elements in sentences.

A. Nouns of address: Thomas, the door is still open.
B. Mild interjections: Well, I didn't like the conference.
C. Groups of prepositional phrases: In a rush of anger without a second thought, he destroyed the experiment.
D. Participial words or phrases: Referring to the chart, you will note the clear results of the research.
E. Infinitive phrases: To install the screen door, remove the packing material and the trim.
F. Subordinate clauses (when, if, after, since, because, etc.): After he retyped the memo, Carl sent it to his boss.
G. Absolutes: Headlights piercing the fog, the ambulance continued its course.
H. Transition words or phrases: First of all, I want to explain the controls.

4. Use commas to set off INTERRUPTING ELEMENTS.

A. Nouns of address: In some cases, Mr. Jones, this rule helps.
B. Appositives (restrictive): He bought a new car, a compact station wagon.
C. Contrasting elements: The software, not the hardware, is the problem in this case.
D. Describing (but not necessary) phrases: We enjoyed the new van, painted with a bright mural.
E. Describing (but not necessary) clauses: We can't go to Tom's party, which will be held in a rented gym.
F. Absolutes: Matty McDougal, her fist clenching in anger, wanted only to be left alone.
G. Parenthetical references: The program, admittedly, is weak in some areas. He will finish the project, no doubt.

5. Use commas in STANDARD places.

A. Between and after parts of addresses in a sentence (not with zip codes): He was born in Phoenix, Arizona after the war.
B. Between and after parts of dates in a sentence: He won the race May 17, 1903, after many years of training.
C. In dialogue, to set off the direct words of a speaker: Tom said, "That is not true."
D. In a business letter after the close: Sincerely,
E. In a personal letter, after the opening and the close: Dear Matthew, Your friend,
F. Between and after titles in a sentence: William Phold, Jr., is the only son of William Phold, Ph.D.
G. In an alphabetic listing of names: Graves, Debbie
H. To change a statement into a question: Teresa is the boss here, isn't she?
I. In numbers: 1,256 421, 226, 500

So . . . have a question? Post away!

:~: Wednesday, March 22, 2006 :~:

Edits & Emotion

This post might be a little quirky, because I'm writing it on the fly. Just got back from taking a mini-sabbatical, and I'm running behind on just about everything.

One thing before I get started...The Art of Danger won the poll...so that's going to be the name of my most recently polished ms. One that should be headed for my agent by the end of the week.

Okay, so on this little get-a-way I did a lot of editing. One of my rough spots as a writer is being longwinded in the area of description...especially when it comes to emotion. I've got to describe the way someone feels in eight different ways to make sure my message came across, to feel like the reader can really tap into the emotions, conflicts and plights of my character.

The "experts" tell us that readers read for emotion, that they want to experience the rough ride from a safe distance. We've had "character driven books sell" hammered into our brain, and a well developed character means they feel the full range of emotions. In a well-written book, the reader lives through that character.

That's why I tend to go overboard on describing emotion.

My favorite avenue to do that: the body. Someday, when I'm feeling really snarky, I'm going to take one of my rough-draft mss and do a word find to see how many times I use the words (or forms of the words): clench, breath, tight, chest, throat, heart, nerves, smile, frown, pursed, narrowed, jittery, shimmer, tingle...yeah, you get the picture.

So, during the series of revisions my mss usually go through, these are high on my list for extraction. And without them my work reads tighter, faster and even stronger emotionally. Because, as with most things in life, I believe quality wins over quantity.

And because I'm not the best teacher, and I often learn better by example myself, I'll going to share a few examples from The Art of Danger.


"Let's do this fast." They traded envelopes in a smooth switch, and Saveli pinned the guy with his hardest look. "If it's not all here, I'll find you."

"Same here." The tattooed skinhead sidestepped Saveli, making to bolt. "Fuck." The curse came in a raspy hiss. "Cops."

A shock of fear heated Saveli's chest.

"Savi, cops." Fear vibrated in his brother's voice.

Saveli looked over his shoulder. A few blocks away a sheriff's cruiser slowly patrolled the street. The cop would spot this guy in a second.

Changed to:

"Let's do this fast." They traded envelopes in a smooth switch, and Saveli pinned the guy with his hardest look. "If it's not all here, I'll find you."

"Same here." The tattooed skinhead sidestepped Saveli, making to bolt. "Fuck." The curse came in a raspy hiss. "Cops."

"Savi, cops," Andrei called to him from the truck.

Saveli looked over his shoulder. A few blocks away a sheriff's cruiser slowly patrolled the street. The cop would spot this guy in a second.

Through situational description and Saveli's internals I think the urgency of the situation comes across just as well, maybe even better, because this is an action scene where you want it to move fast, and I've deleted emotional description that didn't add anything to the scene, only slowed it down. Here, pace serves as its own source of emotion.


"No." Her lower lip quivered and her eyes took on a sheen. "Dad grounded me. I mean, us."

Changed to:

"No." Her lower lip quivered. "Dad grounded me. I mean, us."

I don't think it loses any meaning, and it's tighter. That's what I go for in my edits.



"Straight As don't make for a well-rounded kid. If you raise the bar too high you're setting them up for failure. Why do they have to be perfect?"

"Perfect?" His brows rose, and a chuckle escaped his chest. He wiped his hands over his face. "I don't give a damn about perfect. But I do expect passing. And not with a D."

Changed to:

"Straight As don't make for a well-rounded kid. If you raise the bar too high you're setting them up for failure. Why do they have to be perfect?"

"Perfect? I don't give a damn about perfect. But I do expect passing. And not with a D."

We don't need to see his gesture or facial expression to know he's frustrated.



Tre groaned and rubbed his face. He felt hopeless, like he was swimming in a bog he couldn't break free of. He tosed his hands in the air. "I don't know what to do."

Changed to:

Tre groaned and rubbed his face, feeling hopeless. "I don't know what to do."

This is a great example of where I think telling works over showing--"feeling hopeless" combined with the gesture of rubbing his face while he's groaning tells it all. Plus I get rid of that cliched bog reference. :-)


They knew. Shit. They knew. Now what? How could he explain? Would he go to jail? Oh, God, Mom. She'd be crushed. Tanner would be alone.

Tony's eyes narrowed on him. "We just have a few questions, son."

Extreme panic pumped through him, heating his body and rolling his stomach.

No. No, this couldn't be happening. Tre looked around the locker room. Fixtures seemed to twist and sway. A fresh sweat slicked his forehead. "I...I...I swear it wasn't my idea. I swear."

Changed to:

They knew. Shit. They knew. Now what? How could he explain? Would he go to jail? Oh, God, Mom. She'd be crushed. Tanner would be alone.

Tony's eyes narrowed on him. "We just have a few questions, son."

No. No, this couldn't be happening. Tre looked around the locker room. Fixtures seemed to twist and sway. A fresh sweat slicked his forehead. "I...I...I swear it wasn't my idea. I swear."

We absolutely don't need to be told that extreme panic pumped through him because we already feel it, and the reference is repetitive, slows the pace and underestimates the readers intelligence.



Tony shrugged and pulled the sketches down from the window. "We knew they'd get Price eventually. They either blackmailed him or he's in it for the money."

Carson's shock solidified into a rock and dropped to his gut. He covered his eyes with one hand as the past few weeks with Tre filtered through his mind like snip-its of movie scenes--Tre relieved when he got out of seeing his dad, anxious and pissed when he couldn't, questions of rough sex and affairs, the incident at the firing range.

"Oh, my God." He groaned the words resting his head in his spread fingers.

Changed to:

Tony shrugged and pulled the sketches down from the window. "We knew they'd get Price eventually. They either blackmailed him or he's in it for the money."

The past few weeks with Tre filtered through his mind like snip-its of a movie--Tre relieved when he got out of seeing his dad, anxious and pissed when he couldn't, questions of rough sex and affairs, the incident at the firing range.

"Oh, my God." He groaned the words resting his head in his spread fingers.

We see Carson's distress in his thoughts and his reaction, we don't need to be told how he's feeling.


Well, I'm not sure how coherent this all was, but I hope you can see how emotion can be shown in a variety of ways: dialogue, gesture, facial expression, internals, telling, showing. The key is (IMVHO) to use the one that will give you the most punch in minimal space, don't repeat yourself and trust your reader's ability to connect the dots.

:~: Monday, March 20, 2006 :~:

Those #@%! Voices

There are days when I feel like I have multiple personalities. When The Voices in my head want me to neglect everything around me and sit and write. If I were getting paid for this gig at this point, I might listen closer to The Voices, but as it is, that is not the case. I can bemoan the fact all I want, but it's a fact nonetheless.

However, The Voices are strong lately. They call to me in the middle of the day, in the middle of the night, in the middle of just about everything. I'll admit it, it's irritating. There are moments when I wish they'd all just stop jabbering away in there. Since I'm a writer, I suppose hearing The Voices is a good thing. It means my brain is working, that stories are percolating, that characters are coming to life. It's when I stop hearing The Voices that I should be concerned.

Here's my problem though. I'm roughly 90% done with the WIP. I have about four plot points left on my plot list. Climax - action - resolution. Wham - bam - thank you, ma'am. That's where I'm at. And I'm so close to being done, I can taste it. I can't wait to finish, wrap it up and get this puppy out there.

But . . . (and there's always a big ol' butt stuck in the way . . .)

The Voices are interrupting my flow. For the last week (well, ever since we had our vacation in the mountains), I've had this story bouncing around in my brain. One that just came out of nowhere. The characters have come to life. They're jabbering at me when I should be finishing the WIP, when I should be doing things besides writing. And they're LOUD. So in my head, I'd resolved that as soon as I finish this book, I'm going to skip the project I'd planned to start next and work on this wonderfully terrific, exceptionally perfect new idea. It sounded like a plan. Until . . .

Today. When The Voices started talking again. But, oh, these weren't the same ones that had been chattering away. Oh, no. These were old voices. Old voices with a new twist. Ones I thought had died down and accepted their fate. But guess what? They haven't. And now, suddenly, I have a fresh idea for characters that had been floating around in there, waiting for me to come up with a new and exciting plot for them. In fact, these particular voices were so loud, I had to sit down and write the prologue for them today.

And it's good. And I like it. Even though there's a hint of unease in my stomach at what's brewing in my head.

Somehow, I need to quiet The Voices enough to finish the WIP. I will. I'm tough. I'll get it done. But then I'm faced with a dilemma. Who do I listen to next? Whose voice is stronger? And which story's going to be told next?

So I turn to you. How do you decide who goes next? And how do you keep The Voices at bay?

:~: Thursday, March 16, 2006 :~:

Unity of What?!

I've always been intrigued by the creative process of writing. Not just how I string words into sentences and glimpses of scenes into a plot, but how different authors approach the same tasks. I love words, I love writing, I love reading . . . no wonder I became an English teacher, right?

(Sometimes when I get a little too excited over some fantastic stylistic issue while teaching, my students look at me funny . . . they don't get my literary bubble, either, I don't think.)

Many of the writers I interact with love workshops and craft books. Me? Not so much. It's not that I don't think they have merit or that I already know all I need to know about writing -- far from it. I have a few books on writing that are ragged from my returning to them over and over, and stashed away on my hard drive are notes from a couple of workshops I found invaluable. But for the last couple of years, while I've been learning a new, difficult prep for school (you know, my paying job, the one my agent told me not to quit just yet), there simply hasn't been enough time for workshops or poring over craft books. Some days, I was doing good to find time at the end of the day to write.

I know what you're thinking -- we make time for what's important. If I'd really wanted those workshops or to read tons of craft books, I'd have made time. To a point, you're correct. However, what I've been able to do while mired in American Literature hell is study more closely the authors, classic and contemporary, that make up the diversity and genius of American writing. Along the way, I've picked up some interesting tidbits on those writings as well as some new-to-me techniques.

Here's two facts about Edgar Allan Poe: he's considerd the Founder of the Short Story and the Originator of the Detective Story. Perfect fodder for a romantic suspense author, right?

But I think the most important thing I've taken away from Poe's body of work is a little idea called "Unity of Effect." The idea is simple -- everything in a piece of writing works to create a single effect (we might call this mood).


Every plot point.

Every detail.

Every word choice.

Now, if you focus on this while writing, you risk driving yourself crazy. Or into a nice case of stress-induced writer's block.

It is, however, a great technique to put into place at two key points of your writing process: plotting and editing/revising. Poe was a plotter in a world of pansters. In 1846, he wrote "The Philosophy of Composition," in which he recommended that writers plot out a piece of writing completely before drafting. This was not the accepted method of writing during that period. However, if you read Poe's work, you can see the plotting at work -- despite the dense prose, the pieces are tight, with each plot element moving us toward an inevitable end. This is a technique I'm still working to master -- that everything ties together (E would call this plot braiding), with no nonfunctional tangents.

In terms of editing/revising, utilizing the unity of effect concept can aid in developing not only your individual voice and style, but the overall tone and mood of your novel. I would suggest undertaking this after any big picture revisions have been completed -- this is line by line, paragraph by paragraph, scene by scene tweaking. Pare out the non-essential details. Choose the words that convey the mood of the scene, the tone of the book. Decide what effect you want on the reader . . . and go for it!

:~: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 :~:

What's in a Title?

Apparently quite a bit.

Now, we've all heard (and some of you may have experienced this) that titles are often changed by the publisher. So why spend all that time trying to pick out just the right one? Well, before they buy you still have to capture their attention, and a title is an important aspect of that initial appeal.

Here are some tips I've gathered from various writing-related sites:

1. Make it exciting, intriguing, frightening, moving. Make the title elicite some type of emotion from the reader and you've got a better chance they'll not only pick it up and read the jacket copy (or query), but will open it up, become involved and hold onto it until "the end".

2. Make it fit. As you'll see below, my recently finished and finally polished manuscript has a working title of Love Sketch. Now, that's actually kind of a nice name given my heroine is an artist and meets the hero while freelancing as a sketch artist, but the book is also a single title romantic suspense, and there is no element of danger or suspense in that title. Likewise, Flight of Horror would probably not be a good choice for an inspirational romance.

3. Use key words (a.k.a. buzz words) from your book to brainstorm a title. I used: love, danger, death, threat, art, artist, draw, drawing, sketch, sketching, sketchy, etc. from this ms and came up with some great possibilities.

I'd love it if you all would help me choose a title for this ms. I've inserted a poll below...so take a second and vote, then take a look at how your vote rated against others. And if you've got a great idea, post it in the comments section!

Below is a list of my manuscript titles. Share yours with us!
1) Amazon Sunrise
2) Tangled Webs
3) Hiding in Plain Sight
4) Safe in Enemy Arms
5) Perfect Fit (working title)
6) Love Sketch (working title)
7) Dead Man's Hand


Okay, this is a lame little blurb for my ms, but I just whipped it up so you could have a bit of an idea on the content of the story to enable you to better choose a title. And remember, don't hesitate to add your own suggestions in the comment area!

Love Sketch:

Trista Cavanaugh's artistic talents as a freelance sketch artist have just landed one of the county's biggest Russian mob members in prison, and while the police insist Trista's roll was too inconsequential to warrant retaliation, she continues to receive vague threats from an unknown source. She's only weeks away from a make-or-break art show, one that will either earn her the validation she's sought for years or prove her parent's negative opinions true. Any distraction comes at an extremely high price.

As Sycamore Canyon's new chief deputy, Carson Denali is faced with a troubling obstacle when the conviction of a major Russian drug dealer pushes the mob from Santa Barbara into his sleepy suburb. And despite his intensely negative opinion of artists on both personal and professional levels, he'll employ every resource he has to stop this network, which means using an artist to pull indentification sketches from a confidential informant.

Working together, Trista and Carson break through long-standing hurts from their past while striving toward a common goal--safety and justice, and find love along the way.

(Oh, man, that's bad. If I weren't so darn tired, I'd rewrite it.)

Looking forward to your votes!!

:~: Sunday, March 12, 2006 :~:


I have three children, affectionately known as The Gremlins. You remember that 80's movie, right? Those cute little fuzzy creatures that looked so adorable, but turned into evil little monsters when they got wet? Ah, those are my kids. I love them dearly, but they have several sides.

Being the successful struggling writer that I am, my days are centered around my Gremlins. The oldest - who just turned seven - is in school full time, loves anything art-related, and is developing her own unique attitude (a bit early, I think, but then she's always done things early). The middle Gremlin goes to preschool two mornings a week (not long enough in my book) and loves some new show on Nick Jr. called Wonder Pets. (Um . . . don't ask. The show centers around what I think is a guinea pig that flies around rescuing other animals. Just forget the fact guinea pigs don't fly. We won't even go there. Friday's episode was about a cow stuck in a tree. How on earth does a cow get stuck in a tree???? And what the heck is a flying guinea pig going to do about it??? As much as I want to question the believability of this show, I don't argue with him about this because when he watches it I get thirty minutes of quiet time. And his science-teacher mama will set him straight about all this at a later date.) Did I mention he bounces off the walls? Yep. Definitely a middle Gremlin like his mother. And then there's the youngest Gremlin, a mere thirteen months, who likes just about everything and anything he shouldn't have. Of particular interest to him at this point in time are the kitchen cupboards - which he enjoys emptying - and my laptop cord - which he's always trying to eat. Go figure.

When I quit teaching three years ago to stay home, I *foolishly* thought taking care of the Gremlins would be a piece of cake. I mean, going from one hundred and fifty teenagers a day to three small kids was no contest. How hard could it be? Oh, I was so naive. It didn't take long for me to realize if I didn't do something creative with my brain, I was going to end up in a loony bin. Enter writing.

A lot of writers got their start this same exact way, so I feel I'm in good company. I also know reaching my goal of publication (Okay, that's not my real goal. Being a successful continuously published author is my goal.), is doable even in my situation. It's all about budgeting my time, going after what's really important and following through on my dreams.

Not exactly an easy thing to do when you have small kids, but just like everything else in our lives, if we want something strong enough, we figure out ways to make it work. For me, I manage to get most of my writing done in the evenings after the Gremlins go to bed. You'll hear writers say over and over that they gave up TV to write. I've done that. Most nights I sit in the living room with my laptop and work while the DH watches TV in the other room. Occasionally I'll sit with him if I'm researching or blogging or checking email, but for the most part I have to have a little quiet to be productive.

I'm not productive during the day. If I need to edit or print or crit chapters for my CPs, I can usually do that during the day when I have a free moment. But I can't write. I need a good block of quiet to get any serious writing done, and that just doesn't happen with my Gremlins. And now that the youngest is mobile and in to everything, even my occasional fifteen-minute quiet time is limited.

I also have to have at least thirty minutes of down time to get "into" my story again. To feel the flow and move forward. A lot of times I do that by playing solitaire on the computer after the kids go to bed, IMing with a CP or reading blogs. I can't just jump from chaos to writing like a lot of other people.

On an average writing day, I get about ten pages written, another twenty or so edited. Some days I can pump out twenty pages of new stuff. Other days writing just two pages is like pulling teeth. I stopped making daily page goals for myself a long time ago because I realized the muse flows when it flows and nothing I do or don't do changes that. I'm constantly working through my plot in my head as I'm going about my day, so generally by the time the Gremlins are all in bed, I can move forward on the WIP. But if I can't, I admit that and throw in the towel for the night. Forcing myself to write has never resulted in anything good. (And it usually results in lots and lots of cutting, hacking, slicing and eyebrow pulling.)

I have fantasies about what my writing life will be like as the Gremlins get older. Hours of uninterrupted writing time when they're all in school. I know that probably won't happen, and that my life will be filled with constant distractions - from sick kids to sporting events to volunteer work and field trips. The nice part about what I do is that I can do it at any hour of the day, and I can adapt my schedule to fit my goals. And the very best part about it is I get to be with my Gremlins and watch them grow up while I'm going after my dream.

It's a pretty cool thing to be a writer, even if you do have lots of little Gremlins running around wreaking havoc like me.

What kind of writing schedule do you keep? How do you stay focused with constant distractions? And if you have (had) young kids, how do (did) you make it through?

:~: Thursday, March 09, 2006 :~:

The Right Time

I tend to be fascinated by the concept of time. First, I'm a really visual person, so I see time as a line stretching forward or backward in my mind (much the way I see the book I'm writing, like a movie in my head). It's amazing how time can seem to flash by or creep along; although, I know it's moving at the same speed. Second, I learned a while back that there's never enough time in a single day to accomplish everything I need to do. Third, the timing of many things is simply out of our control.

Yes, I know. A tad philosophical, but I'm teaching transcendentalism . . . what do you expect?

A colleague of mine recently adopted a baby. This precious little boy has been much hoped for, following years of disappointments, including a failed adoption. This time two years ago, I sat at a picnic table behind the school and listened to my friend talk about her frustration at wanting something everyone around her seemed to have (we'd had seven pregnancies on staff that year!), something that seemed permanently out of her reach.

I smiled at her. "Let me tell you my story, especially what Kelli (a mutual friend) had to say."

She gave me that look, the one that said, You have two of what I want . . . how can you understand? But she listened anyway.

So I told her of six years of trying to have a baby. Six years' worth of false hopes and negative home pregnancy tests, of tests and doctors being unable to find anything wrong, of not having the money for fertility options or a private adoption. Of watching babies hungrily and looking at their mothers and wondering Why them and not me?

I told her of having Kelli come to me and tell me she was pregnant. We worked together, and she was unmarried, not a good situation in our corner of the South, even in the 1990's. The irony of our situation wasn't lost on her, either. I remember looking at her and thinking . . . you guessed it . . . Why her and not me?

Oddly enough, despite my own pain and disappointment, I was happy for her. She was my friend, and I was happy for her.

Well, a week later, it was me.

Six years of trying, and when I'd finally given up . . . I was pregnant.

Kelli and I went through our pregnancies together. Hers was troubled by health and workplace issues, and she told me later she believed there'd been a reason why I'd had to wait for my baby. My "right time" had been when she needed me most, to support her through an unexpected pregnancy.

So I sat in the sunshine and told my friend that story, told her that her own "right time" would come.

Her right time turned out to be February, with the arrival of a dark-haired, dark-eyed baby boy.

When I look at that timeline stretching out in my head, I can see how so many things throughout my life have fallen into place, how everything that occurs in our lives seems to be orchestrated to bring us to certain points at certain times.

I think there's a lot to be seen of that in the whole writing-for-publication deal. You know the drill -- getting the right manuscript in front of the right person at the right time. We can't know that right time, and we can't force it. We can work toward it. We can hone our skill. We can keep on going, even when we want to give up.

We get disappointed. We deal. We move on.

In the last week or so, three great friends have all gotten something I want very, very much.

The weird thing is that I never thought Why her and not me? this time around. I was simply excited for my friends who'd worked hard, persevered and hit that magical "right time."

Because it's not my "right time" yet. I don't know where on that imaginary time line it is or even if it's really there.

I just know I'm in for the whole trip, and I'm going to enjoy the ride, quit worrying so much about the map or how long it takes to get there.

:~: Wednesday, March 08, 2006 :~:

The Truth About Contests

Love them or hate them, contests are out there. Get on any writer's loop, and you'll be inundated with contest deadline announcements, calls for judges, notifications of winners. If you love contests, you search those messages looking for the final round judges - who's judging what and are they good enough to warrant you entering that particular contest? If you hate them, you may skim over the names of the winners looking for anyone you know, then shrug and tell yourself you could be on that list if you'd just entered.

Truth #1: For as long as I can remember, I have hated contests.

I know, I know, I know. Those of you who know me or read my blog are snorting into your morning coffee and calling me a hypocrite right now because I just won a contest. But the truth is I've had an aversion to contests for a long time. When I started writing I knew nothing about contests. I came across one on a loop I'd recently joined and decided to give it a go. I didn't look at the final round judges, didn't look at the prize or even the scoring sheet. I just figured I'd enter, win and prove what a great writer I was before I became published only a few short months later and turned into the next Nora.


Yeah. That happened.

What really happened is I got SLAMMED in that contest. Hard. And instead of realizing what I'd entered sucked, I figured the judges just didn't have a clue. So for a long, LONG time I refused to enter any other contests. Too many times on the loops I'd heard how fickle contest judges can be, which only added to my opinion.

But . . . then I heard about the Golden Heart. And I figured THAT was one I could definitely win. I mean, next Nora, right? Piece of cake. These would be real judges, who knew what they were doing. Not like that other contest. So I entered, and I waited, and I was absolutely convinced I'd final. And while I was waiting, I decided to enter the Daphne as well - with the same manuscript. I mean, final in two big contests? Easy.

Well, it didn't work out the way I'd planned. I didn't final in the GH. In fact, I didn't even come close. My scores were all over the map - some high, some low, some right smack in the middle. I was crushed. Until (yet again), I got on a few writers loops and read that if your scores are all over, it means you have a strong "voice". Hey! That sounded good to me. I liked that idea. Strong Voice. Yep, that was me. Plus, it has to be better than that little voice in the back of my head saying, "You really suck at this." So I ran with that idea.

Surprisingly though, I did okay in the Daphne - with the same manuscript that tanked in the GH. I only missed finaling by one spot (okay, one point!). But the reason I missed was equally heartbreaking - one judge marked me down for having a heroine that was too young. I was so upset because it felt like a personal bias toward younger heroines. Needless to say, I walked away from all three contests convinced they're all based on personal opinion and therefore, not worth my time or money to enter. (Never mind that the judges actually had some good ideas in there.)

And then I got hit with a cold hard fact:

Truth #2: Readers, like contest judges, have personal likes and dislikes.

Oh, man. How long did it take me to figure that out? For a long time, I wanted to blame contests for being, well, unreliable. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized contest judges aren't that different from readers. And along with it, they aren't that much different from agents and editors who also have their own personal likes and dislikes. It doesn't mean that all contest judges (or agents or editors) are right, it just means you have to take the comments you get with a grain of salt and dig through the feedback to find what works and what doesn't. It's the same with the feedback you get from agents and editors. Until I figured that out, there wasn't any reason for me to enter contests.

So why enter contests?

Ask this question and you'll get a multitude of answers: The chance to get your work in front of an agent or editor, the chance for recognition, the chance to meet other writers, the chance to get good feedback on your work, the chance to win a prize be it a crit from a published author or a wad of cash. They're all good reasons, but I'm going to tell you the truth about why we enter:

Truth #3: We enter contests because winning just feels good.

Let's be honest, every time you enter a contest, you're hoping you're going to win. It doesn't matter what the reason is for entering, we all want to win. And in this business, especially if you're an unpublished writer, winning feels pretty damn good. How many of us trudge through our writing with very little positives headed our way? We get rejection letters from agents and editors - form R's at that! We get comments from crit partners about what's wrong with our chapters. We struggle with our craft wondering when we're going to get it, and when someone else is going to get what we write. And when the only way to know you're doing something right is a publishing contract, life can get pretty hairy for a struggling writer. Contests are a way to receive a little praise now and then and boost your spirits.

I entered a contest last fall with absolutely no hope of winning. What drew me to the contest wasn't the final round judge, but the "grand" prize of a paid registration for the National RWA Conference in Atlanta. I have relatives in Atlanta I haven't seen in too many years to count, and I thought the conference would be a good excuse to see them. I also have two good friends in the state of Georgia I'd love to meet face to face, but I was wavering about going to the conference because of the cost to travel from the West Coast. So when I saw this contest, I thought, "Well, maybe if I win I could swing going," but I really didn't expect to even come close. I entered the WIP, which wasn't done and hadn't even been through my CPs yet, and I didn't tell them I was entering because I've jawed about the fact I hate contests to them more times than I want to remember. So, as I'm sure you can imagine, I was floored when I learned I'd finaled. And I was shocked when I discovered I'd won my category. And let me tell you, I screamed when I found out I'd won the grand prize.

For someone like me, who is struggling to find an agent, who feels like she is eons behind her writing peers who already have agents who love their voices and believe in them, winning is an amazing feeling. It's one thing for my CPs to tell me they like my work, but to hear it from someone who doesn't know me is an incredible feeling. I now get why people enter contests. I get why they enter again and again even if some of the feedback they receive isn't always helpful or they find themselves spending way too much money on contests. There's a feeling that comes from winning that is just out of this world. I can only imagine it's a fraction of what it feels like to get "The Call" and sell your first book.

Does that mean I'll turn into a contest junkie and enter a ton of contests? No. I sure hope not. (Someone smack me if I do.) Does it make me an expert on contests? No way. I've entered four. Definitely not expert material. But I have learned one thing. There are pluses and minuses that go along with entering any contest, and if you know that ahead of time, you can look at the results with a more objective eye. This year when I get my GH scores back, I'm not going to be crushed if I didn't do well. I'll know I did the best I could with my manuscript at that time, and that ultimately, everything else is out of my hands. Do I want to win? Of course. But I also want to be published. Winning the GH is one way to get your name out there to the people who do the buying. And the only way to win is to take a chance and enter.

And that, ultimately, brings me around to the only truth that really matters:

Truth #4: Anything you can do to reach your goal is the right thing.

Yeah. That sounds good to me. If I hadn't entered The Romancing The Tome Contest, I wouldn't be going to Atlanta. Contests or not, do what you can to get where you want to go.

A good article about contests (and what editors think) can be found here: http://home.comcast.net/~tracycozzens/Working/contests.htm

:~: Sunday, March 05, 2006 :~:

Success Secrets

The secret is...each success is as individual as each person is unique.

I've switched posting days with E because she's still recovering from "vacation". But we all know a vacation with the kids isn't really a vacation for the parents, right?

So onto the topic of success...

I have a different view of achievement and risk than most other people I know. And I think it comes from years of falling through the cracks, which could also be translated into perseverance against all odds.

I'm all for information and research, in fact I do quite a bit of it before I take on any endeavor, and continue learning along the path. But I tend to filter out the bad stuff and emphasize the good. I figure if someone else has done it, I can do it, too, despite what anyone else tells me.

I was told the college of my choice had high G.P.A requirements and low acceptance rates. I applied even though I didn't meet the requirements, was accepted and enjoyed a successful college career.

I was told there were few summer jobs in my field of study, that none of my fellow design students were able to find one. I doubled my efforts and landed a great summer job in a commercial firm, which lead to a permanent job offer after graduation.

My parents said I'd never make a living with an art degree. I knew my strengths and followed my gut. Of the nine careers I've ventured into since graduation, five of them have been art/design related. One of those was more lucrative than a beginning physician's salary. All the others have been, or still are, successful endeavors.

Others in the medical field told me I'd never get a job in ultrasound without going through x-ray training first. They said the school I was going to was worthless. I eventually landed a job at a premier institution working hand in hand with some of the most brilliant Radiologists in the country...unarguably, the greatest level of success in my professional life.


When every writer seemed to harp on how hard it is to get an agent, I tried harder, casting a wide net and sending out hundreds of queries and collecting hundreds of rejections. My efforts lead me to my current agent.

One of my CPs has researched the numbers regarding how difficult it is to get published in today's market--a very smart thing to do. But I told her I didn't want to know anything about those numbers, didn't want to see the wall I'm up against, because, for me, ignorance is bliss.

Call it stubbornness, perseverance, or just dumb luck, but focusing on and planning for success instead of worrying about roadblocks and failure has brought me a long way in whatever adventure I've chosen to embark on over the path of my life so far.

My secret to success: Ignore the bullshit, believe in yourself and just keep on going.

Here's another great article on the topic: http://www.lorraineheath.com/articles/hadIknown.htm

  • What successes have you had in spite of the odds, in writing or any other area of your life?

  • How do negative and unsubstantiated rumors like 'you'll never get published in romance with a manuscript over 100k' affect you?

  • What are your secrets to success?

:~: Friday, March 03, 2006 :~:

The Literary Bubble

Recently seen written on the board in my classroom:

Someone should have killed Shakespeare before he had a chance to write anything . . . or hung him by his toes and beaten him brutally.

(I chose not to comment on the fact that people are hanged and pictures are hung and that the graffiti artist had spelled brutally wrong.)

In case you're wondering, I'm in the middle of teaching Julius Caesar. Not my favorite of the Bard's works, but something my sophomores usually enjoy. I mean, come on, what's not to like? Intrigue, killer internal conflict, a murder plot, a sprinkling of the supernatural, strong characters . . .

Sounds like the elements of a blockbuster movie or a fantastic suspense, doesn't it?

One of my CP's teasingly and affectionately accuses me of living in a "literary bubble," probably because for the two years she's known me, I've been immersed not only in my own writing, but in teaching two new preps. That means instead of losing myself in the newest romantic suspense novels, I was exploring thousands of years of world literature and the four hundred years or so of American literature.

Now, we all know reading makes one a better writer. Reading in your genre is imperative. However, if you share the sentiments of my wayward student and think the writers of the past have nothing to offer the writers of today, I'd like to take my next few posts here to change your mind. Here's a sampling of what I'm planning:

How to Make Poe's "Unity of Effect" Work for You
Lessons from Shakespeare -- Plotting, Pacing and Puns
Arthur Miller's The Crucible -- Dialogue and Subtext
Syntax and Science Fiction Guru Ray Bradbury

I've been examining my own writing for evidence of my literary influences (and they're not all "bubble" influences, I assure you -- many are contemporary authors). What authors have had the greatest influence on your writing?

:~: Wednesday, March 01, 2006 :~:

An Analogy

I've been knitting a lot lately--'tis the season for scarves after all. Recently I was working with a gorgeous yarn I often use because it's easy to work with, and it's fuzzy. (Translate: it hides mistakes.)

I was on a roll, plotting and weaving away in my head, solving problems that had cropped up in revisions of my recent WIP, Love Sketch. By the time I stopped to take a look at the progress of my friend's scarf, I'd completed about two feet.

With a major boo-boo after about three inches--I had added and dropped several stitches so one side of the scarf had a little bump, one noticeable enough to make me swear.

I was really bummed. All that time wasted. It made me sick to my stomach to think about unraveling it and starting over. I showed it to a few different knitters who immediately saw the problem, but soothed me with the common, "You'll never see it." Or, "When it's wound around your neck, it'll be hidden."

I considered and continued knitting. But it didn't feel right. Every inch or so I'd stop and review my mistake, imagining it would somehow disappear or be less prominent than I remember. It, of course, never did.

It took me another eight inches of knitting to realize the enjoyment was gone, because I knew the result would be majorly flawed. I put it away for a while, unable to face what I knew I'd have to do--take it apart.

I finally relented, pulled the scarf back out, took a deep breath and slowly unraveled the entire thing.

And as I did, it struck me how I'd done the same thing with stories when something early on hadn't worked--the basic makeup of a character or a hole in the plot or a loose end had led me to unravel and rewrite. Whatever the problem was niggled in the back of my head and sucked the enjoyment right out of writing.

I also realized how similar casting on (the first row in knitting) is to a story's beginning, it's basic structure. If you're off there, the entire scarf turns out wonky, the way your entire story feels "wrong".

My yarn reminds me of my characters. I search for the coolest ones with deep, rich colors and interesting texture. And once I find a main yarn, I often look for an accompanying fiber, one that will accentuate the main thread.

I equate the structure of the piece to my plot: scarf, beanie, poncho or blanket, each will have a different pattern, each a different result. Stitch by stitch a piece is created, just as word by word, sentences build, then paragraphs, and eventually a robust story.

The pattern is the conflict, varied stitches providing texture just as conflict creates the peaks and valleys in a story.

And at the end of a knitted project, the special stitch you make to keep it from unraveling, the way you weave your leftover yarn through the item to finish it off, reminded me of the last chapter of a book, tying up all the loose ends to produce a satisfying story.

When I got down to my three good inches at the beginning of my troubled scarf, to a few solid and even rows, I started again. I paid more attention to making sure I had fifteen loops on each row, not fourteen, not sixteen. I paused every few rows to count and double check. And when I'd corrected my previous mistake and had nice even rows in my recreated work, I experienced a sense of accomplishment. I found I could actually enjoy the process again.

I cast off, wove my leftover yarn through and took a look at my finished work. It was a beautiful, satisfying piece I could be proud of.