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Elisabeth: Marked

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33,126 / 95,000

Joan: Buried Secrets

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68,000 / 115,000

Linda: Facing It

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45,540 / 85,000

:~: Friday, June 30, 2006 :~:

The Anti-Hero

Blame it on my English major . . . but I like flawed characters.

I love Agent Malone from Missing. He's screwed up in the past and he's paid for it. He's not perfect.

I love watching Hamlet and Macbeth and Othello struggle against their flaws. When indulging in the pretty non-literary addiction of watching Days of Our Lives on Soap Net, I root for the scheming and conniving characters, wishing the goody-goody ones would fall a cliff . . . and stay dead.

I like real characters. And that means I like characters with flaws.

Especially, I love writing heroes who aren't the perfect nice-guy-next-door (although I have one or two of those, too). I like guys who've suffered, who maybe question whether they deserve to have someone love them, who aren't always very nice people.

John O'Reilly, the hero of my to-be-published novel What Mattered Most, has issues. So many, in fact, that his existence helped get me kicked out of a crit group. Two of the members hated him. As in, "wanted to toss the book against a wall" hated him. There were times I hated him, too. He was living with the results of his less-than-perfect life decisions, and those decisions put both the heroine and his unborn child at risk.

But at the same time, if John had been any other guy, including "Mr. Nice-Guy-Next-Door," I wouldn't have had the story. And I do like the story, if I may say so myself!

Anyway, I'm looking for some of my reviews to be less-than-glowing, simply because John seems to be a love-him-or-hate-him kind of hero . . . there doesn't seem to be a middle of the road. I'm okay with that. He's not a middle-of-the-road kinda guy. His heroine's not a middle-of-the-road kinda girl. I'm hoping that makes for a good read.

So what about you? Who's your favorite type of guy to read about? Mr. Nice Guy? Or Mr. Anti-Hero?

:~: Wednesday, June 28, 2006 :~:

Various writing-related musings

I'm on vacation, visiting the cabin we own near Yosemite, CA. It took me a few days to relax, but I finally got into the swing of it. I'm often afraid to slow down for fear I might never get back into gear again.

Reading & storytelling:
I started reading a new book, although I had no inclination even though it was written by one of my favorite authors--Kat Martin. But, it was either read or work on my revisions for Safe. That was an easy choice.

I already knew I was difficult to please as a reader since I started writing, but I discovered as I started this book, that I really like the hero/heroine to meet early on in the book--something I would have never guessed would be important to me considering I often have my h/h meeting later (not really late--usually chapter 2 or 3). I was worried at first--too much telling, too much backstory we didn't need, characters a little too tired, used a little too often, very little unique about them. Just about the time I was ready to give up, chapter 5 (much longer than I give authors who I don't already know), she hooked me and I read straight through to 13 until my eyes wouldn't stay open any longer.

Isn't it interesting how we all have our own idea of what constitutes the correct pace and information delegation in a story? Our individual storyteller flow, I suppose. I'm thinking that the more in-tune your flow is with today's audience, the closer you will be to a sale.

Having said that these characters seemed a little...over baked...something that has been stewing in my mind for a while now bubbled to the surface. If you give your characters sufficient provocation, adequate history for their actions or emotions, you could get away with...well, murder. I believe that if your character's are drawn out well enough (backstory, conflict, characterization), so well that your reader can empathize with them--what it must have been like, was it might be like to walk in their shoes, what might the reader done in the same situation--you could get the reader to follow your characters (cheering all the way) to the ends of the earth.

Or at least through a trilogy.

Whenever I come up to the cabin, my mind drifts to a story I lined out last summer. The untamed setting, the natural beauty, leads me to a complex chase through a National forrest. H/h running from a corrupt sheriff after witnessing a murder at a local mini-mart. I think of a city girl forced to run with an experienced outdoorsman, forced to trust him with her life...

I could go on for about 10 pages...but my point is that various settings always bring to mind new, fresh story ideas for me.

Some people say they always start with plot, then the characters come alive or audition for the part. Others say their characters are vivid in their mind and the plot comes from them.

For me, ideas come from every direction. I don't start with any one element. Things come to me at random. A newspaper article on the screwup of a homeless man's murder has me considering a murder thriller with a corrupt forensic lab. A character taunts me to find the worst possible situation and test her or him. A setting ripe for conflict urges me to dump my h/h into the middle of it with five different entities chasing them.

Often I think...no way could I work a ST out of this. But sometimes one element is so strong, I try and twist and manipulate. Sometimes it blossoms into substance, sometimes not. When not, I find that I often piece several ideas together in a belated ah-ha moment.

My time at the library computer is over. But I'd love to hear some of your musings...any thoughts at all.

Open forum!

:~: Monday, June 26, 2006 :~:

It's Been A Year . . .

The RWA National Convention is nearly upon us. One month away. One month to get my agent/editor pitch polished and ready, one month to lose those last couple pounds, one month to prepare myself for the maelstrom that is Nationals.

I will admit, conferences are overwhelming. Reno was my first one, and I was not only starstruck by famous names and faces, I was dumbfounded by all the people who obviously knew more than me in this small writing world. Even though I was surrounded by two-thousand women who all write the same type of stories I do and have the same goals I do, even though nearly twenty members of my local RWA chapter were in attendance, there were moments I felt totally alone at that conference. Moments when I thought, "Holy crap. What did I get myself into?"

Reno was a learning experience for me. I'd heard that before - that your first conference is all about getting your feet wet, learning how things work, getting used to the environment. That was true for me. I didn't hang out in the bar and strike up conversations. I didn't put myself out there and introduce myself to everyone I saw. I hung back, I watched, and I learned.

It's now one year later, and as I look ahead to Atlanta, I'm thinking about what I want to get out of this conference. As most of you who read my blog know, I really hedged about going to this one. It's clear across the country. It's more expensive than last year. I don't have an agent or editor yet, so I don't really "have" to be there. And yet, here I am, about to go again.

Last year during the PRO retreat, we were all given an index card and asked to write down our goals. Now, anyone who knows me knows I'm not a goal girl. I set goals in my head, but I rarely write them down. My aversion to goals has nothing to do with being afraid I won't meet a goal, or a fear of success. Simply put, I'm a hard worker. I have an intrinsic drive to succeed, and I don't need to have that typeset goal in front of me to know what I want. It's with me all the time, but as a writer, I recognize there are only so many things I can do to get where I want to go. At some point, it's out of my hands.

So during the PRO workshop, I stared, pen in hand, at that bright pink notecard and tried not to let it overwhelm me. What did I want to put down? Finishing a book isn't a problem for me. I've done it, I know how to do it, I'll do it again. Putting myself out there isn't easy, but I do it. I query and query and query. I get requests and I send out submissions. I get rejections and I sent out more queries. Those are things I'm doing on a daily basis in addition to refining my skill and honing my craft. They are the things I have control over. But were they worthy of putting on my notecard?

My gut screamed no. What do I really want?

In preparation for Nationals, I dug out that notecard and looked at it, almost one year later. The one-year goal I wrote down was: Sign with The Knight Agency. Pretty specific, and a goal I (obviously) haven't met. Although at the time of this blog post, I have material with The Knight Agency, so that's one small step in the right direction. As I look back on this year, I realize that my biggest goal - finding an agent who loves my writing - hasn't happened yet. I know there's still time before Nationals, but I'm not getting my hopes up. I've chosen a competitive genre to write in, I'm only targeting agents on my A-list, and I'm competing against published authors to get attention. I'm doing everything I can to get where I want to go, and when I look back on this year, internally I know I've done a lot:

  • I've written and polished two 110K word manuscripts
  • I've developed my voice
  • I've honed my craft and sharpened my writing
  • I've learned about the business
  • I've met a lot of writers online and have worked at "getting my name out there"
  • I've participated in blogs and loops and know this time when I get to Nationals, I'll know a lot more people than I did last year

Instead of feeling depressed because I didn't meet my one-year goal, instead of ranting about the fact I'm spending all this money to go to Nationals again, I'm looking at everything just as it is: a learning experience. One step in a skyscraper of stairs toward my ultimate goal of publication. Nationals, for me, is one more step.

What steps are you taking to get where you want to go?

:~: Friday, June 23, 2006 :~:

What Keeps You Coming Back?

Cutting back my time on the Internet was something I found I had to do to get anything accomplished this year -- both teacher-wise and writing-wise (although there was a lot more of the former and much less of the latter . . .). I tend to be a tad obsessive, and there are too many distractions online. Basically, I cut my online time back to the following:

1) Emailing/chatting/brainstorming
2) Research
3) Blog-hopping/viewing author websites
4) Checking the news/weather

That's still a ton of time if I'm not careful. #3 definitely sucks me in every time I let it. I visit a blog, see a link, visit another blog, and the next thing I know, it's August. Bloglines helped with that -- it lets me read most of my must-visit blogs on one page.

I've been thinking lately, too, about what brings people back to an author's blog or website. My motives are completely self-serving -- I have my first book coming out next year and I want to build a buzz. I've had a website for a while, but I'm trying to figure out what I can do to make it stand apart and make people want to revisit.

What blogs and websites do I check often? Authors I know from loops. Authors others have recommended. Authors whose work I've read and enjoyed. Authors who talk about diverse and interesting topics in an intelligent manner, even if I don't always agree with their POV.

So my question for you today is, what keeps you coming back to particular blogs and websites? What are your daily can't-miss reads?

:~: Wednesday, June 21, 2006 :~:

RWA Chapters

Hi gals,

I'm considering starting up an RWA chapter in my area. I'm in California on the Central Coast about smack in the middle of Los Angeles and San Francisco. The closest RWA chapter north is 1.5 hrs drive one way. The closest RWA chapter south is 3-4hrs drive one way (depending on traffic).

I have a million things already on my plate, and I think I'm insane for thinking about doing this, but another part of me really wants that connection to others who write in this genre. I have a critique group I attend locally twice a month with a group of very helpful women, but sometimes I really want that feedback from other romance writers.

So, I've already filled out my request and sent it to RWA about two months ago. They have some strange rule that you can't form a chapter until you've been an RWA member for a year, so in June I passed that year and they should soon send me info on the RWA members in my area according to zip codes I've sent them already.

I'd really appreciate any input you girls can offer in this area--on RWA chapters or any other writing groups you may frequent. I have some ideas for meetings and guest speakers, etc., but not a lot.

So what groups do you all out there belong to? When/how often/how long do you meet? What do you discuss? What do you love about your group, about your meetings? What do you hate or find tedious? If you could change your group, what would you change?

Any and all suggestions/advice are welcome.

:~: Monday, June 19, 2006 :~:

And So It Begins Again

I started the WIP last night. What began as a simple first sentence I couldn't get out of my mind turned into three full pages of prologue. I finally made myself stop writing because I'd started late and was too tired to keep going. But the seed was planted.

Reflecting on what I wrote today, I realized I'd started in the villain's POV. You see what happens through his eyes, and he's not nice. I guess that adds suspense and danger and makes for a tense opening, but as I thought ahead to the first chapter, I realized in order to make the next scene work it needed to be from a secondary character's POV. So in essence, I could conceivably have the first 10-15 pgs NOT from either the hero or heroine's POV, although they're present in these scenes, we just aren't getting their thoughts.

In the back of my mind I hear loud sirens and see flashing lights. "Warning! Warning! Rule Breaker!"

While I've never been big on rules (and this is a pretty minor infraction), it got me thinking about all those things you hear you can or cannot do when writing romance. I realize there are certain things you can't do if you want to make it in this business. If you claim to write romance, you have to have a happy ending. (Don't even get me started on Nicholas Sparks or that movie Somersby.) While you can murder just about anyone, you can't "show" the murder of either a child or a pet. Multiple POVs are acceptable in single title, not so much in category.

But aren't all these rules just making us write the same old stories, the same old way? Rule breakers are the ones who take a common plot and shake it up, give us a new perspective, turn a story into something we didn't expect. Of course, by doing so, they also run the risk of alienating traditional romance readers.

Do you find rules stifling or necessary? What things do you expect in your romances? What makes you throw up your hands and toss a book aside? What can you live with, and where do you draw the line?

:~: Friday, June 16, 2006 :~:

Revision, Revisited

One of the most difficult skills I teach in my English classroom is the concept of revision. Teenagers hate to revise. They want to write one draft, call it done and turn it in, confident that it's the most perfect piece of writing ever. However, Evil English Overlord that I am, I require at least one round of revisions, I have to be able to see the revisions, and I teach several strategies for revising throughout the year and allow them to choose the method that works best for them.

Now, I can require them to revise, but I, of course, can't really control the depths of those revisions. Basically, I can divide my students into two groups: shallow revisers and deep revisers.

The shallow revisers go through a draft, change a couple of words, mark some spelling issues, place a couple of commas. The paper doesn't really change. They don't grow as writers.

The deep revisers delve into the draft, marking paragraphs to be moved or deleted, added to or changed. Their papers bleed with flourescent pink or sparkly purple ink. The papers transform. They grow.

I thought when I was in my writerly mode that I was a deep reviser. I've taken my second novel, Hold on to Me, and rewritten that sucker more than once.

Or rather, I thought I'd rewritten it.

I wrote several different endings, searching for the right one. I deleted the first chapter completely, cut a couple of major scenes that dragged at the pacing, reworked the first love scene, tried to deepen the internal conflict, made surface revisions based on my former agent's suggestions.

Sounds like deep revisions, right?


I was still playing in the shallow end, although all of that forced me to look at the manuscript, changed the manuscript, strengthened the manuscript. What it didn't do was fix what was inherently wrong with the story.

What it didn't do was fix the problems that have garnered rejections from eight major publishing houses.

Those rejections and the possiblity of still being able to sub the MS myself to a couple of other places before I run out of options with it have me standing on the shore of revising once more. This time, however, I'm looking way out to the depths of revising -- taking the book apart at its core and fixing what's wrong.

I'm scared to death. The easy thing would be to say, "Let the book die a gentle death. Move on to something new."

But the easy thing isn't always the best thing. If I commit to making this book better, I'm going to learn more about writing. I'm going to grow as a writer. Will I sell the revised version? Maybe. Maybe not.

But sometimes, it's not all about selling. Sometimes, it's about working to perfect the craft.

The year before last, I had the pleasure of having my students interact with Georgia author Janice Daugharty. She wrote for ten years before she sold her first novel, and when she talked with my students, she told them that the most important tool a writer had was revision. Not to be afraid to take something apart and rework it. I knew through talking with a fellow writer who's had the pleasure of having Daugharty read his work that she wasn't just talking the talk -- she walks the revision walk. I smiled and nodded in a teacherly fashion as Daugharty encouraged my kids to dive into the deep end of revising.

I'm just now beginning to see what she meant by that. Rewriting HOTM is scary to me. I'm afraid I'll fail. I'm afraid I'll do it and still not sell the book.


If I don't do it, I've already failed. If I don't do it, I'm selling myself short as a writer -- I'm denying myself growth that I think is at the core of the writing issues I've had the last year. Maybe that doesn't make sense to anyone but me, but I think of Fitzgerald taking Gatsby apart and I wonder what American Literature would be missing if he'd merely moved on to another work without looking back at what he'd already done. I think about my students who never move beyond a certain level of writing because they don't want to do more than get their toes wet.

I'm ready to get more than my toes wet. I'm ready to take a deep breath and dive into the waves, strike out for the deep end.

If I don't sell the book, that's not failure. That's life.

If I don't stop and examine the mistakes I've made in writing, that's failure.


That's self-sabotage.

So . . . I'm leaving the shore and heading into the water. Anyone for a swim?

:~: Wednesday, June 14, 2006 :~:

Write, write, write

If you're a blog-hopper, you'll have noticed a mantra lately..."The only way to be a better writer is to write, write, write."

I disagree.

If you write, write, write without stopping to reflect on your work, or look around the writing/publishing community, or get feedback, or compare yourself to other talented writers, you'll keep writing on the same level, keep making the same mistakes. Your characters might change, your plots may differ, but the depth of your work will stay the same. You'll reach a plateau and remain there. If you don't devote time to the other aspects of becoming a better writer...you'll just keep writing in a circle, never going deeper, never getting better.

There is soooooo much involved in becoming a better writer:
  • reading--fiction and non-fiction, in and out of your genre
  • learning the craft--books, articles, classes, discussion
  • reasearch--setting, psychology, speech patterns, history (this list could go on forever)
  • critique--of your work by others as well as critting other's work
  • knowing the market--agents, editors, trends
I agree that if you don't write, you won't hone your skills. To grow as a writer there is no way to get around the grueling work of getting from "Once upon a time" to "The End"--struggling through the plot holes, smoothing out the rough dialogue, deepening the character traits until the h/h/v jump off the page.

But I also know that if you write, write, write without stopping to give these other elements of writing time and attention, your skills will not progress as quickly or develop as deeply as they would had you paused long enough to nurish your growing ability.

As there is no substitute for experience, there is also no substitute for making time to study other facets of writing.

I've always been a proponent of education. I take 2-3 online courses on writing each month. I read several articles on writing each day. I participate in several writing-related message boards. I try to get out to the writing blogs to see what other writers/editors/agents are saying. I listen to my crit partners (most of the time). I participate in a local writing group. I critique others work. I enter contests. I judge contests. I pay attention to the market reports. I listen to my agent when she suggests changes.

Education comes in all shapes and sizes. And while the actual act of getting words down on paper (or screen) is vitally important (obviously), I urge you to make time to refine the other skills involved in taking your talent to the next level.

:~: Monday, June 12, 2006 :~:

Guy Talk

In case you missed it - and how could you? - baseball season's winding down. Well, for everyone but the PROs it's winding down. June means semester finals and, yes, for those of us worshiping the god of baseball, the College World Series. Being married to just about the biggest baseball nut on the planet, and considering the fact our alma mater - Oregon State University - was playing in the Super Regionals this weekend, I'm sure you can figure out what I was doing Saturday and Sunday.

Yep, you guessed it, sunning myself at the diamond.

I love baseball. It's practically a religion around here, indoctrinated to me by the DH when he swept me off my feet a gazillion years ago. Sure, PRO baseball's fun to watch. There's nothing like sitting in the stands at Safeco Field, drinking a beer, listening to the roar of the crowd, but there's something special about college ball, something you can't bottle at the PRO level. I think because it's not about the money. It means something special to the players and the fans that you'll never find in a world where players make millions of dollars regardless of whether they win or lose.

This year, it meant a lot to my DH, too.

The star pitcher for the OSU Beavers used to play for my DH when he coached high school ball a few years ago. In a way, my DH played a part in developing this kid who was recently drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks. That's a pretty cool thing to be able to say.

So claim to fame aside, our weekend was spent in Corvallis at the ball field. And it was great - I love Corvallis. It's the most charming college town. And I miss it. Especially great because the Beavers swept Stanford in two games and are now headed to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series. (And DH is still trying to figure out a way to go to Nebraska but that's the topic for another post.) I can't tell a fast ball from a curve ball when I'm sitting in the stands, and I never know what play the coach should call for next, but it doesn't dimish my joy at going to the games. I love watching the ball dart across the field, the crack of the bat, the scream from the crowd as the ball sails through the air, the smell of hot dogs and fresh roasted peanuts, the zip as the shortstop shoots the ball to the first baseman like a bullet from a gun. Mesmerizing. I once had a whole plot for a book zip into my head while sitting at an OSU game. Baseball, for me, does wonderous things for the muse. And yesterday was no exception.

We had great seats for Sunday's game. Premier seats 1/3 way down the first base line. And seated behind us? An unexpected treat. A group of 30-something guys out for an evening of fun. Now, get your mind out of the gutter. I was with my own group of 30-something guys. But considering I was with them, they were talking sports and nothing but sports. You know, pump up the image, show me what they all know about the game. But the guys behing me? No women with them. And since they were RIGHT BEHIND ME I could hear everything they said. I didn't eavesdrop - exactly. But I couldn't just ignore them. Especially when I realized it was great research.

Men, I realized as I sat there through three hours of baseball, are not all that different from women. Actually, they're worse. Those guys behind me gossiped about every person they knew. Every woman, every guy. It didn't matter that I didn't have a clue who they were talking about, I was simply riveted listening. Maybe because I've never heard my DH gossip like that. Maybe because I've never had the chance to just be a fly on the wall and listen. Of course, these guys did it in a slightly different way than we women do - they talked about who a mutual guy friend was currently dating, what a controlling chick she is and how they told said guy friend to cut her loose - then they chatted about the great play at first for a few minutes - then skipped back to the guy friend's ex and who she's seeing now. They threw in sports comment here and there just like all guys do, they cheered when the team made a good play, but for the most part, they were just chatting away about stuff we girls sometimes think guys could care less about. One guy - and I could tell from the sound of his voice - got all gushy when he talked about his fiance and their upcoming wedding this summer. That was sweet. One guy sounded a bit beat up when he mentioned he and his girlfriend had just broken up. I almost turned around and patted his hand. They didn't have a problem talking about babies or weddings or who was seen with whom at what party. For me, listening, it was surreal.

I've taken workshops on "guy speak". How guys talk and what they talk about. One author - and I can't remember who it was - said it was ridiculous to think men like to talk. I think that's totally untrue. My DH is a talker. In his job he spends all day shooting the breeze with people. He likes to talk to me about lots and lots of things. I'm sure he does with his friends, too. And - at least with me - he's not afraid to talk about his feelings. When I mentioned this in a roundtable discussion at a workshop, I was told "that's just one guy", but I don't think it is. The guys who sat behind me last night were a random sampling. Eight early-thirty guys - some married, some single - just chatting about any and everything. If they had problems talking, I didn't hear it. They might not talk like women all the time, but that doesn't mean they don't talk at all.

So what do you think about guy talk? How do you write your men? Talkative or clammy? What's your guy like and do you use him as your guide in guy talk areas of writing?

:~: Saturday, June 10, 2006 :~:

This week's winner....

Paty Jager!!

Paty, send me your email and I'll forward a hard copy of The Alibi by Sandra Brown--I love this book. A great read. Enjoy, Paty, and thanks for your participation on the blog.

A change in our contest schedule...we're going to post contests at varied times depending on our own schedules and prizes we have to offer.

Keep watching for more opportunities to win!!

:~: Friday, June 09, 2006 :~:

DIY: Doing It The Hard Way

For the last thirteen months, I've been involved in a full-house renovation that was supposed to take a year.

One year, and I would have a whole, brand-new house without the accompanying mortgage.


It's thirteen months later, and one-third of my home is new. We're still making progress -- the living room has had the carpet and fireplace ripped out, and my kitchen has been reduced to nothing but the refrigerator and a temporary sink. The plan was to complete the main living area this summer.


That plan tanked this week. Because we are behind schedule, we haven't put in the floor in the living room . . . and now we can't because that means covering over the return vent for the air conditioning . . . which I really need since the forecast is for 101 degrees tomorrow.


The new plan involves moving to work on the master bath and letting the living areas wait until after hot weather has passed.

This is what I've learned from my adventures in DIY-ville: (a) redoing a house is hard work (b) one learns a lot (c) nothing goes as planned.

I don't know about you, but I see a huge parallel to the whole writing business there.

(a) Writing is hard work.

Sitting in traffic today, my eldest Monster asked how much I would make off the book I recently sold to Samhain. Ever since I started writing and especially since I sold, he's been interested in writing his own book. It's real to him. Basically, I've addressed this by telling him that lots of people say they want to write a book, but few people actually follow through. It's not easy and some days it's so frustrating one wants to scream, but it's satisfying. Hard work, and the payoff, often is.

(b) one learns a lot

I can't even begin to tell you everything I've learned since I began writing as my second profession. Everything from POV control to methods of plotting. The great payoff is how learning through writing has affected my first profession -- I can look at a piece of literature I'm planning to teach and I'm so much more cognizant of the author's craft in the piece.

(c) nothing goes as planned

I was reading an article today (I've forgotten which article and what topic it was on, and it was completely unrelated to writing) and one phrase stuck with me: hope becomes expectation. Why did that strike such a chord? I think that sometimes we get sucked into the idea that "if I work hard enough, I'm guaranteed publication" and "if I can just find an agent, I'll sell." Those thoughts become expectations and when our expectations don't come to fruition in the time space we've set for them, we end up delving into a cycle of frustration, which oftentimes only damages the writing. The most important lesson I've learned to combat this? Take care of the writing. Do what you can to take care of the publication end. However, realize that although one may make all the right decisions and all the plans in the world, the publishing business is unpredictable. Maybe ultimately rejections and delays will work in your favor.

And remember, no one ever said it would be easy. In the long run? It will definitely be worth it.

:~: Tuesday, June 06, 2006 :~:

Writing Tip...Power Dialogue

Have you ever gone into a dialogue driven scene and found yourself several pages in and totally on the wrong track? Found that your characters, while talking, sometimes going on for pages and pages, aren't really going anywhere, aren't really saying anything?

You read back over the conversation and start asking yourself questions like:
  • Where did that come from?
  • Where is this conversation going?
  • Where did it veer off track?
  • How can I bring it back around?
  • What in the hell am I trying to say here?

And there are character questions:

  • Is that the way character "A" would act?
  • Is that really what he/she'd say?
  • Is that really the way he/she'd say it?
  • Is that really the way character "B" would react?
  • Is the conversation getting off track?

Then there are the deeper craft issues to consider:

  • Is the speech unique to each character?
  • Does the dialogue show each character's personality and/or conflict?
  • Is the dialogue realistic without the tedium of reality?
  • Does the dialogue further the plot?
  • Does it go on too long? Not long enough?
If you follow our blog, you know I'm working on revisions to Safe In Enemy Arms--specifically deepening my characters.

I've been trying to write a scene between my h/h. It's an important, tone-setting, character-revealing conversation filled with complex conflict and emotion on both sides. It occurs in chapter two, which spikes the demand that it be riveting, fast and spunky as well as informative. In chapter two there is no room to go off track and risk losing your reader. Or, in my case, since I'm unpublished, my agent or a potential editor.

Additionally, I'm not particularly good at spunky banter. Needless to say, this scene has been a bitch to write, and in fact I've rewritten it about six different times.

Finally, I realized my problem--I didn't have clear GMC.

No, not for my characters--their GMCs were intricately lined out long ago. The GMC I was missing was for the conversation itself.

Conversations can have GMC, you ask?

My mentor of sorts, Catherine Ryan Hyde, once said in a dialogue class that to make dialogue come alive, every character involved needs an agenda (or something to that affect).

And, in working out this conversation between Rio and Cassie, I've discovered not only do they have an agenda for the story--their goal and motivation--but they have an agenda for each scene. Furthermore, they have an agenda for every action they take, every reaction they portray, and every word they speak.

That's characterization.

So, I developed this outline specifically for this one conversation to help me decide on tone and direction. To help me portray their characters as well as their characteristics (yes, character and characterization are different--but that's a whole other post topic). To show their GMC, their internal demons and struggles.

For those pantsters in the audience, consider this a tool, not a worksheet, not an outline.

Here's an example: (This may seem like a lot of work, but consider how much time you waste writing and rewriting. This information only took me about fifteen minutes to type up, a fraction of the time I've spent rewriting.)

Situation: Cassie has come home to Ensenada, MX, to take care of final details regarding the deaths of her mother and stepbrother. She has to face her evil stepfather, Saul, who still lives at the estate which is Cassie's childhood home. Rio is acting as Saul's security. He provided Cassie with much needed compassion and support on the day of the funerals (a stranger to Cassie at the time) some six months back (backstory).

On Cassie's first day back in town, she goes to the marina to ask questions about the yacht explosion that killed her mother and stepbrother. Rio follows her, underestimating her intuition and experience, and she discovers him.

Conversation: Cassie ambushes Rio and confronts him on his surveillance activity.


Goal: (What does Cassie want out of this conversation? Why have it?)
  • Regain control by setting limits
  • Get a "read" on Rio
  • Get information from Rio
    ~Why he's following her
    ~Why protection is an issue
    ~What he is to Saul
    ~What he was to her mother and brother
    ~Is he the compassionate man she met at the cemetery or is he like Saul?
    ~Is he sincere or is he a fake?

Motivation: (Why does she want/need these things/this information?)

  • Her own safety. Rio's association with Saul is threatening; his surveillance is threatening.
  • The security of her estate.
  • Uncover Rio's true personality, decide whether he's friend or foe.
  • Know what she's up against with Saul and Rio.

Conflict: (Why can't she get this information?)

  • Rio is evasive and skilled at turning the tables on her.
  • She's unnerved by Rio's confidence and uneasy with his resemblance to a previous attacker (backstory) in size and appearance, making her somewhat resistant to push issues too deeply with him.
  • Her emotions are undermining her ability to think and behave with rational and control.

Emotion: (Adds information you'll need to create undercurrent in the dialogue--tone, mannerisms, facial expressions)

  • She's pissed that Saul has Rio following her.
  • She's pissed that Rio's working for Saul.
  • She's pissed and hurt/betrayed that he has turned out to be something other than what she thought.
  • She still wants to believe he is the man she thought he was when they first met.
  • She's scared of confronting him--lingering anxiety from her past and the rising suspicions over her mother and brother's deaths and his resemblance to the man who attacked her years ago.

If I'm Cassie--need to control, need for information/answers, angry and hurt, intelligent and street-smart but also personally insecure--how am I going to handle this?

  • Tone down my pissy, bossy attitude with cool sarcasm so as not to put Rio too deep on the defensive.
  • Ignore memories of the past with Rio and work to get a more objective gauge of his personality/agenda.
  • Ignore uneasiness from past attack but listen to my instincts.
  • Portray the image of total control, casual confidence. Show no weakness.


Goal: (What does Rio want out of this conversation? Why have it?)

  • Uncover Cassie's agenda--does she suspect something or is she here for the reason she says she's here for--to work on the clinic?
  • Roll with the conversation--answer as little as possible while gaining information from Cassie.

Motivation: (Why does he want/need these things/this information?)

  • His own safety
  • Cassie's safety--if she is an innocent bystander
  • The success of his mission

Conflict: (Why can't he get this information?)

  • Cassie is evasive, pushing for her own answers to questions he can't answer.
  • She's already suspicious. If he pushes too hard, she could ruin the entire mission Rio's spent a year working on because she has all the control--over the estate, over Saul, over finances.

Emotion: (Adds information you'll need to create undercurrent in the dialogue--tone, mannerisms, facial expressions)

  • Angry with himself that she caught him following her, that he underestimated her.
  • Angry she came at the worst possible time in the mission.
  • Angry with Saul for not giving him more notice of her visit so he could have prepared.
  • Frustrated with the assignment in general.
  • Frustrated that Cassie is so difficult to deal with.
  • Frustrated that he's losing control of the situation.
  • Confused over his attraction to her.
  • Confused over just who she is and isn't, curious about her true nature.
  • Afraid she'll get in the middle and get hurt.
  • Afraid she'll blow the mission digging too much.

If I'm Rio--an undercover ICE agent in a dangerous situation with an unknown and potentially volatile entity thrown in at the most dangerous moment--how would I react to Cassie's confrontations?

  • Evasion of her questions/acquisition of his own information:
    ~What is she really doing here?
    ~What does she know of Saul's crimes?
    ~How long will she stay?
    ~How much control is she looking for?
    ~How much trouble will she be?
    ~Will he be able to control her?
  • When Cassie proves to be a worthy adversary in the evasion department, he tries charm. When charm pisses her off, he tries sincerity.
  • Ultimately, he remains impassive to reduce the amount of friction between them.

My purpose for this scene (as the author):

  • Cement characterization
  • Add sexual tension
  • Further plot
  • Add story questions
  • Add touch of backstory

How I can accomplish that:

  • Mannerisms, speech patterns during dialogue--attitude behind words.
  • Internals--Cassie's thoughts of Rio, memories of Rio, emotions, attempts to control her frustration, reactions to Rio's comments.
  • Dialogue itself--lots of questions, few answers--both sides.

What elements I want in this scene:

  • A softening of their adversarial relationship.
  • A rekindling of the tentative bond they'd shared in the cemetery.
  • A grudging respect/admiration for each other.
  • A cat and mouse kind of banter, both holding back their emotions, but both brimming with similar feelings of anger, frustration and fear.

How I can accomplish that: (We're in Cassie's POV)

  • Show Rio acquiescing to Cassie (otherwise she'll only push back harder, but have to do it in a somewhat grudging/sarcastic/charming way or he'll look wimpy)
  • Show Cassie seeing something good in him
  • Show Cassie's attraction to him--wanted or not
  • Show Cassie's memories softening her toward him
  • Show Rio offering to help, displaying a concern for her safety (which is a core concern for her because of her past)
  • Show intelligent conversation. Banter.

Hope this helps any of you out there struggling with dialogue--moving the plot forward, keeping it interesting, fresh and true to your characters.

:~: Sunday, June 04, 2006 :~:


When we added on to our house two years ago, I had one requirement for our new bonus room: bookshelves. Lots and lots of bookshelves. DH wanted all those "guy" things - a rock fireplace, big flat screen TV, comfy leather couch, pool table, speakers in the ceiling, yadda yadda yadda. I only wanted bookshelves. I got what I wanted.

Our bonus room ended up being 20x26 feet, with the longest wall housing DH's rock fireplace and flat screen TV and my bookshelves that run from end to end on both sides. The bottom third have doors where the Gremlins store their books and games and crafts, but the top two-thirds are all mine. What do I have up there? Well what do you think? Books!

Actually, there's a lot of stuff up there - picture frames and plants, trinkets and crafts my kids have made prominently displayed for all to see. But there are also lots and lots of books. Leather encyclopedias, gardening books, history books, yearbooks, how-to books, my writing craft books and DH's sports books. My favorite part of the shelves though are those sections where I've displayed the special fiction books I've acquired over the years, the ones I consider "keepers". The ones I won't part with for anything. And surprisingly, I have quite a few.

Brenda Coulter recently blogged about Writing Ups And Downs over at Romancing The Blog, and her post got me thinking about what turns a book from a good read into a keeper. I pulled down a few of my keepers last night just for a glimpse, and you know what I found? The books I love aren't full of stellar writing and glowing prose. In fact, some have major flaws that, if committed by an unpublished author, would never see the light of day - things like too much back story, info dumps, head-hopping, repetitive dialogue tags, pages of description, and on and on. As a reader, I overlooked those errors. Even as a writer I overlooked them because the story and characters were so riveting I couldn't "see" anything else. It's only when I go back through and try to analyze the author's style that those things pop out at me.

Why is that? I can spot bad writing a mile away. Mediocre writing in an average book only holds my interest for so long. The key for me though is if I'm invested in the characters, the writing isn't nearly as important as what's happening between the characters. What makes these books memorable is they're full of deep, rich character. In this day and age where you hear over and over again about the "rules" every writer should know and follow and how good writing trumps all, the real truth isn't that phenomenal writing makes the biggest impact, it's that amazing characters do. Characters you can't stand to part with when the book ends. Characters you think about long after you've turned that last page. Characters who make you imagine "post" stories and adventures in your head. THAT to me is phenomenal writing. Not how many times an author used the word "that" or how many times they changed POV in a scene or the long passage of back story their editor didn't catch.

When it comes down to it, your writing is only as good as the characters you create. Perfect writing and average characters equals a book I'll never pick up again and won't recommend to my friends. I don't care if there isn't a single grammatical error in the whole book. I don't care if the prose gleams like a diamond. If the characters aren't special, it'll never be a keeper for me.

Make your characters deep. Make them rich. Make them so inspiring readers can't stand to part with them when the book is over. Do that and stop worrying so much about the rules.

What makes a keeper book for you?

Another Winner...

Mary F !!!

You are the proud new owner of a HARDCOPY of Alone by Lisa Gardner. I will send you an email to get your address and Linda will be shipping your new book out...just in time for a good summer read!!

This week's contest: features a HARDCOPY of The Alibi by Sandra Brown. A fantastic read!!

Comment on any blog between now and next Saturday to win!!

Good luck!!

:~: Friday, June 02, 2006 :~:

Goals and Beginnings

I have a fresh notebook . . . the cover is a bright Carribean blue, the inside folders are bold cabana-style stripes in blue and yellow, and the college-ruled pages are enticingly blank.

Ah, the sweet freedom of summer . . . all packaged in a single-subject notebook.

Yes, I have weird summer rituals. First, I don't make New Year's resolutions. I make summer goals. I mark time by the school year, and although I still work on school stuff during the summer, those eight to ten weeks of free time belong to me.

In the hallways during post-planning, I run into other teachers and always hear the same question: "What are you doing this summer?"

My stock answer: "Being a mom."

That's always my top summer goal . . . spending time one on one with my Monsters, hopefully building memories for their futures.

I'd like to say I set tons of writerly goals, like my friend Carol, but I've learned the hard, painful, frustrating way that trying to pin down a daily page count or a daily word goal is a good way to set myself up for failure. So I won't even let myself say, "A page a day" or "1000 words a day."

I do, however, make general writer goals, as well as other life goals, so I have something to work toward during those ephemeral summer days. Here's what I need to accomplish before early August:

1) kick start by exercise program again (good for my health and also helps me brainstorm)
2) be a better CP -- become more involved, not make people wait for crits (I pretty much abandoned everyone during the last two-three weeks of school)
3) get my promotion plans for WMM underway
4) write a short online serial to be used as a promotional tool for #3
5) prewrite/outline a new novel (or rework and finish MOU). I have two new ideas I've been kicking around for several weeks now.
6) complete kitchen/living room renovations by the time school begins
7) outline 9th grade Lit/Comp and tweak my existing 10th/11th units (this is a must do, as is working out a mentoring plan for the new English teacher we hired today)
8) maintain the pool (yes, a small goal . . . but it's the bane of my existence if I slip up)

I have other writer things I wanted to put on that list . . . revising, polishing, numbers of queries, etc., but I know #7 is going to usurp much of my free time. That's okay, because it's an investment that will make my life at school run more smoothly in the fall . . . which should mean I have more time for writing then than I had last fall as we implemented the new state curriculum.

So there are my summer goals. Do you make summer goals? Or yearly ones? Do you have daily/weekly/montly writerly goals? Share them with us, along with any tips you have for turning those goals into reality.