Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Evernote: Note Taking Made Easy!

Okay, I don’t typically endorse things unless I’ve tried them and they have some how made my hectic life easier. The other day, thanks to the one and only Shennandoah Diaz—social media extraordinaire and steadfast contributor to All Things Writing—I tried out a phone app called Evernote. Talk about my life suddenly opening up to a whole new world…

Evernote is software you can access on iPhone, Android, or whatever phone floats your boat, and of course, it’s easy to use from your home computer. It allows one to enter a quick note via text on an idea you might be having or photograph something that catches your eye. Evernote saves your info so that it will be available for later use. The voice recorder is probably my favorite thing since I have enormously fat fingers that have trouble with basic texting. With that little application, I can simply speak whatever brainstorm of inspiration I’m having into my phone and play it back when I’m ready.

Imagine the possibilities as a writer on the go! No more waiting till you get home to jot down that idea or stumbling around in the dark for your notebook in the middle of the night when the muse comes. Evernote keeps it safe for you!

I’ve been using it to organize thoughts on my new manuscript, but there are lots of other things this handy app can do. Check it out and let me know how it works for you!

Happy Writing!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Build Your e-Book Online

A friend of mine sent me a link recently to a web page about how to self e-publish books through Borders. The page is called “Borders Get Published™” and it can be found here: http://borders.bookbrewer.com/home?cmpid=SA_20101114.

The concept seems relatively easy and straight forward. They give you the tools to format, assemble, and test your eBook, all for free. You can “copy and paste content into the manuscript in Word or PDF, or import content from your blog.” They say there’s no obligation to purchase anything and registering is free, as is building your book.

The catch is that once your book is ready, you have to purchase one of their “self-publishing packages” for $89.99. They will assign an ISBN and distribute your book to online booksellers. They said it works with Borders, Kobo Books, Amazon.com, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble.

I haven’t tried this out yet, and I’m not endorsing it, but I wanted to get it out in front of like-minded individuals. I think it might be worth a little more research, especially with the eBook formats becoming more and more popular.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Post NaNo Edits and a Story Contest

After you have a first draft, you'll have to rewrite and edit to get to your second draft. And your third, and your fourth. Do you have an organized way of doing edits?

I incorporate all the comments from my critiquers that I think appropriate (that means the ones I agree with), then set about going through my stuff. Here are some of the tools I use.

Scene by scene, I make sure each scene has some sort of purpose. Either the standard goal and obstacle with either resolution or further complications resulting, or explanation of a character or his/her actions, raising the stakes, changing the tempo, or something. A good reason for being in the story, in other words. Chris Roerden has a good list of what scenes should do in her book, DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY.

At the beginning of each scene, I ground the reader. That is, let her know where we are, when it is, and who's there. This is especially important at the beginning of each chapter, in case the reader put the book down and went to sleep! Which, of course, we don't want him to be able to do.

I set hooks where I think they need to be, based on Chris's book and a course I took from Mary Buckham on pacing.

Mary offers interactive classes as well as lecture packets.

I also like to try to put each of the five senses in each scene. Taste is always the hardest for me, but it's surprising how often I can work it in if I try.

Eventually I go over my manuscript with colored markers and a summary from Margie Lawson's class called "Empowering Characters' Emotions". This shows me the balance I've achieved between dialogue, exposition, and description, among other things.

Also based on that course, I see what little tricks I can incorporate to wring the most out of my words. Backloading is one of these that is also recommended by many teachers. That is, rearranging a sentence so you're putting the most powerful word in the sentence last. There are several others that I learned from her that I like to make sure I'm using.

When the scene is shaping up well, I put it through some paces. I use wordcounter.com to see which words I've overused. My critique partners usually catch these, but not always. I seem to LOVE the word *little*.

The last thing I do is take each chapter through the free downloaded program, ReadPlease. After I paste in the chapter, I start ReadPlease, quickly switch over to the open Word document, and follow along. I'm watching for awkward rhythms, repeated words I haven't caught yet, typos of course, and anything else that just doesn't sound right. When I detect something I want to change, I pause the reading program, make the change in my document, then start it up again. This gives me a very clean final copy for submission. I'm sure some typos still get through, but I catch tons of them this way--words and phrases that my eyes and the eyes of my readers have skipped over, making them right in our brains, but leaving them wrong on the page.

I can't recommend classes by Margie Lawson and Mary Buckham too much. Nor Chris Roerden's books. The one she wrote for non-mystery writers is called DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION.

LASTLY, here's a fun short story contest using fairy tales for a basis.

Good luck if you submit here!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Editing Mayhem!

You’ve done it! You’ve completed a 50,000 word novel for NaNoWriMo and hopefully are taking a break from the manuscript. Once you’ve recovered from the craziness of writing as if your fingers were on fire, it’s time to think about editing.

Ugh! Editing. It’s so…uncreative. Or is it? I used think editing was just about fixin’ your grammar. In reality, your rough draft is like an unseasoned steak—not exactly the tastiest thing on the menu. But, add a little seasoning, a nice side of potatoes, a yummy vegetable and—presto! You have a meal fit for a king. Editing is sort of the same way. Add some character development, a side of plot, a really interesting world, and before you know it, you’ve got a tale fit for a reader.

Try these simple tips to get you started on the editing journey:

Write the dreaded synopsis before diving into the first draft. Keep it short and simple for the time being. Once the manuscript is fleshed out, then you can go back and re-work the synopsis. While not always the easiest thing to create, this tool can be an invaluable guide which keeps you on track as you tackle the editing process.

Here’s another little time saver: cut the words “that” and “was” where you can. “That” is a filler word. We use it all the time in every day conversation without really hearing it. Yet, in a novel, “that” really clutters up your word count and is often unnecessary. Many writers have a heavy “was” addiction, too. “Was” tends to lead to passive voice (though not always!) and is good word to try and distance yourself from.

Editing is a lengthy process, and as writers, we all use different tools to guide us. What do you find are your most common writing mistakes?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The NaNo's Over

I'm sort of waiting to hear from some NaNoWriMo writers about their experiences this year. I didn't do it, but only because of what I learned the first year I participated. I learned that I don't have wrists or fingers that can do 1666 words a day every day for a month. I succeeded in putting out the words for about a week and a half my first time, then had to resort to ice and NSAIDs.

But I got a cool spreadsheet out of it. NaNo no longer uses it, but I do. The writers that year were encouraged to borrow the spreadsheet, adapt it, and use it however they wanted to. I still use variations of it for my projects.

So my main takeaways were the knowledge of just how much I CAN write per day and survive--and the spreadsheet.

I'd like to know if anyone else gained insights, self-knowledge, practical tips, or a full novel from the experience this year.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Difference Between Bloggers

I follow a lot of famous and not-so-famous authors on the various social media sites. I notice that most of these authors frequently blog to drive traffic to their websites and ultimately, their books. And blogging is becoming more and more popular as a means to drive traffic to your website.

I’m also starting to notice is that there is a big difference between bloggers. Some bloggers are rising to the top of the blogging heap, not because of their writing, their words, or the way they say it. It’s in how their blogs look.

I know that sounds strange, but the blogs I like to visit most are the ones that are visually pleasing, as well as good to read. Take a look at the blogs you visit and see if it isn’t so.

So if you’re blogging to drive traffic back to you, take the time to see what you can do to improve the appearance of your blog. There are tons of themes and ideas available to you all over the Internet. And you don’t need to be a graphics designer to make it work. Just see what looks good to you and go with. Just don’t settle for what you have. Take a look at it from time to time and see what you can do to improve it. It just might make a difference.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Words of Inspiration for Writers (and others)

These keep us going:

"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working." - Pablo Picasso

"It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop." – Confucius

"You have seen, but you have not observed." - Sherlock Holmes

So all I can say is patience is the art of concealing your impatience, and, as always: "If you drop a dream, it breaks." – Denise Dietz

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

This one speaks to me, loudly:

"I have lost all sense of home, having moved about so much. It means to me now -- only the place where the books are kept." -John Steinbeck

A comment that seems to pertain to the publishing industry lately:

"Change is a dragon. You can ignore it, which is futile. You can fight it,
in which case you will lose. Or you can ride it.” -- Arianne Wing on the
closing of the world-famous Imperial Dynasty restaurant in Hanford, CA;
quoted in The Hanford Sentinel, Dec. 17, 2005.

And lastly, something to think about from the world of dance:

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” -Martha Graham

What's your favorite quote? Do you have one that keeps you going?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Internet Freedom

Have you ever had those days when you know you need to write, or work, or whatever, but you just can’t seem to pull yourself away from the Internet. Maybe you’re checking your Facebook page, tweeting on Twitter, IMing with your friend from Russia, or just surfing from webpage to webpage.

Well then you’re in luck, because there’s an app for that (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Seriously, there’s a program called Freedom that you can install on your computer that will block Internet access for the amount of time you specify, up to eight hours. It’s available for both Mac and PCs.

And you can’t cheat. You can’t just turn off the program for a second and then turn it back on. Once you set it, the only way to get back to the Internet is to reboot your computer. They say they do that to discourage cheating.

The program is available for download from http://macfreedom.com/ for ten dollars. But you know, if it makes you more productive, “Freedom might be the best 10 dollars you’ll ever spend.”

I haven’t personally tried this program, but I saw some favorable reviews out on a NaNoWriMo forum. It seems like if you’re going to try it, November just may be the month.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Backup that Novel

I hear about it every year during the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); someone slaves away on their novel for hours a day, days a week, and weeks a month. They are right there near the finish line, the anticipation of crossing over almost too much to bear. Their fingers are a blur, their mind is awhirl, and all they can think about is completing one of the most audacious challenges known to man (who in their right mind would agree to write a novel in a month?).

And then it happens, right there in mid-stroke of the keyboard, the computer decides that for whatever reason, it can’t go on. Maybe it was because the computer couldn’t keep up with the speed at which their fingers flew across the keyboard. Maybe it was because they were always out on NaNoWriMo.org updating their word count. Or maybe they should have updated their computer years ago but didn’t want to give up the last working copy of Windows 95.

Whatever the reason, whatever the excuse, they didn’t back it up their NaNo-novel and now their life is filled with anguish and remorse. But this sad story doesn’t have to happen to you. It’s not too late!

Backup that novel! Do it now. Don’t wait. And do it often, maybe, dare I even say it, daily. Backups are like insurance. You never need it until you need it. But when you need it, you really need it. Don’t be that one NaNo-Novelist who is on the outside looking in on November 30th.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Formula for Romance

While I’m not an author of romance novels, and probably never will be, I have heard that there is a formula for romance novels that must be followed. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I did run across an article on the Internet called The “Secret Formula” Revealed by Stephanie Mittman (http://www.booktalk.com/secretformula.html).

While it doesn’t get into the details that I’d always heard rumors about, like the heroine had to be kissed by page ten, it does give seven vital ingredients for the perfect romance novel. Without going into great depth, the seven elements are: a loveable heroine, a great hero, something that throws them together, an insurmountable object to overcome, a black moment (something that, once revealed, will keep the hero and heroine apart forever), a monkey wrench, and a happy ending.

That’s it. It seems pretty simple. I know it isn’t really, but it sounds easy. So I was wondering, what are the seven vital ingredients for your genre? Horror? Mystery? Science Fiction? Fantasy? Memoir?

Have you thought about it? I haven’t. But I might now.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo Rut

Are you stuck on what to do next in your NaNoWriMo? It’s a common problem. You’re going along, writing up a storm and then bam! Suddenly, you’re stuck! What should your character do next? Where should they go?

Don’t worry. That’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo! This is your chance to experiment. Put your character in an impossible situation and see what happens. More than likely they’ll discover a way to not only get out of the situation, but create an interesting new one.

Some possible situations:

Aliens land in your character’s back yard.

Two nuns get in a bar fight and it’s up to your character to stop the fight or dive right in.

Your character catches his/her main squeeze smooching with your character’s mother.

See? Anything is possible in NaNoWriMo, and you can always go back and change the story later. For now, don’t stress and just let the impossible flow into the probable.

Have fun! Now back to the writing….

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Service to Help You Through Nanowrimo: WritebyNight

In my many web wanderings this week I came across a new service for writers that comes just in time for Nanowrimo! The service is called Write by Night and I spoke to the Owner, Justine Goldberg,  by email. Justine was extremely helpful and truly has writers' interests at heart.

Write by Night offers workshops, one-on-one instruction and consultations, and more. They have locations in Texas, Florida, and of course online. You can get the complete lowdown on their website.

For those of you in Austin, Write by Night also has free meet up times available at their headquarters where writers can go and write for hours! This is perfect for Nanowrimo write-ins. Here is the blurb from their website.

Make WriteByNight's headquarters your own personal creative space during set times throughout the week. Come to write, read, collaborate or just kick back and dream. We've got a library, writing prompts, coffee and free Wi-Fi. What more could a writer ask for?
The best part: Write Here is free and open to the public, so bring your friends.
Wednesdays, 5 - 7 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
1305 E. 6th Street, Suite 4
They also have a blog with resources for those of you (like me) who can't seem to get enough info on writing and publishing. So, check them out and make use of their writing space and best of luck during Nanowrimo!

I hope this helps some of you. Happy Writing!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Introduction to Horror: A Tribute to Halloween

In honor of Halloween I thought I'd give a little background on the often misunderstood genre of horror. Many look down on it as low-brow torture porn full of nothing but oversexed teens and gratuitous mutilation. A look at many of the greats--Stephen King, Mary Shelley, and others--will show you that crafting a truly frightening piece of prose is an art form and one that transcends genres.

So what is horror? As Mort Castle so eloquently stated, horror is “anything that scares you.” Broad to say the least, Castle hits on a very important point—horror can be anything. Think about it. What frightens you? What keeps you up at night? Is it chainsaw wielding serial killers, or something more realistic like losing a loved one? I know that I have the occasional zombie nightmares, but the ones that really frighten me are the dreams where my family is in danger whether it be from zombies or tornadoes.

With that in mind it is easy to see that there is an element of horror in almost every genre. Nonetheless, some identifiable subcategories of horror have emerged as literature has evolved and no doubt the list will continue to grow. Here is a brief introduction into the many types of horror that can be found on the bookshelves.

Gothic: There is some debate within the genre as to what is truly “gothic.” Often times there are strong elements of both horror and romance woven with other themes such as the paranormal. Often, characters are placed in an oppressive setting where old dogmas reign and reason and logic are seen as threatening. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole is often credited as the first work of fiction in this genre. Other notable authors are Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Lovecraftian: Named after H.P. Lovecraft, it is often psychological work that is based on the premise that the world was once ruled by a dark and supernatural race that is waiting for the opportunity to reclaim power.  Misanthropy, a fragile sense of reality, and an antiquated use of terminology is often associated with the style. Many writers have developed works within this genre including Stephen King and Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Paranormal: Anything outside of the typical, physical world fall under this category including ghosts, werewolves, zombies, vampires, etc. Many sub categories have emerged under this group and it often overlaps with several other categories of horror and other genres. Dracula and Arabian Nights are often cited works in this category.

Dark Fantasy: Combines both horror and fantasy elements. It is often used to describe works that can also be labeled as paranormal since they both deal with forces or creatures that lie outside of humanity’s understanding of reality. Most comic books fall in this category such as Batman and The Crow, as do works from Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, and other fantasy writers.

Splatterpunk: Here is where the blatant gore and gruesome elements of horror come to play. There is nothing suggestive or hidden in this genre. Authors in this field take the “don’t look away” approach and reveal every horrific element to the reader in often sickening detail. Clive Barker and Jack Ketchum are famous for this type of writing.

Weird Fiction: Also known as “bizarro” fiction, it is a broad category that includes works with unusual structure and other weird elements. Essentially, it is any strange and outlandish fiction that seeks to provoke and challenge the reader and often contains a significant amount of humor. Noted authors include Jeremy C. Shipp and Eckhard Gerdes.

Psychological: Here the horror element is not so much a person or thing, but often the slow decay of reality or some other psychological bent. The antagonist in this genre is often the protagonist (man versus self) as he or she slowly succumbs to their own fears or other irrational beliefs. Lovecraft and Kiernan are again cited in this genre.

I hope you've enjoyed this basic introduction to horror. When you trick or treat this weekend be mindful of the many ghouls and goblins running the streets and be safe!

Happy Samhain!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Taking the Plunge into Kindle Land

My short story collection is doing better than I thought it would on Smashwords, but I keeping hearing and reading about the superiority of Amazon. Sales there are said to far surpass ebook sales anywhere else, even though the Kindle application is very limited.

I admit, there's just something about Amazon. I needed a cable last week and went first to Radio Shack, who doesn't carry that cable. I then went to the company who sold the product years ago, but they longer carry the cable. So, I went to Amazon, the WalMart of the cyber world. Yep, there it was, cheap. For less than $10 including postage, I had my cable within a few days.

Therefore, today I saved my Word file as an HTML file using Open Office, opened a DTP account (Digital Text Platform), and uploaded my cover and text. It will take 48 hours for my book to appear for sale on Amazon, but that won't stop me from checking every couple of hours, I'm sure.

I asked a couple of people why they uploaded to Amazon separately when it would migrate there eventually from Smashwords. I never got a good answer--well, I never got any answers, maybe because they didn't quite know--so I just decided to follow the herd. Knowing Amazon, I'm sure they like it much better if you jump through their--I mean go through their channels.

After having already spent a little over two hours formatting my document for Smashwords, it took about an hour to completely fill out the DTP information and load my files up. And that's because I first loaded a file that claimed the publisher is Smashwords, so I took that out and loaded up a better one. Luckily, I noticed this in the preview option before I pushed the final button. I'll bet it would have been harder to take it down and start over than to just do another upload before I finalized and published.

I'll report back in to let the readers of this blog know if sales are good at Amazon. That would be nice!

Friday, October 22, 2010

How to Get the Most Out of Nanowrimo (and Not Go Insane!)

Nanowrimo starts November 1st--at midnight for those of you industrious enough and with enough caffeine to stay up that late—and so begins thirty days of intense typing as thousands of writers strive to meet the goal of 50,000 words. Yikes!

At the onset it seems easy enough. You’re fueled by a new idea, inspiration courses through your veins, and the whole book unfolds in your mind with crystal clear precision.

Week Two: You’re brain-dead. The characters are flat. The plot is all wrong. You’ve hit a brick wall and don’t know what to do!

You want to know a little trick to avoid the second week of nanowrimo freak out? Plan ahead!

Nanowrimo is too intense and too fruitful of an opportunity to dive in willy nilly. You need to arrive at Nano with your plot outlined, your characters’ biographies sketched, and with as much pertinent research done as you possibly can. This way you really can spend all of that time writing and not thinking, researching, or screaming into oblivion.

To truly make the most of Nanowrimo, use the rest of October to do the following:
1.     Forewarn all family and friends that you will be mimicking a hermit/crazy person for the next 30 days. If this is your normal state of being, you can skip this step.
2.     Outline key plot points. These will be your guideposts and generally consist of items such as introduction to conflict, plot twist, false climax, climax, etc. This way you have freedom to “live in the moment” and take a scene where it leads you and still stay on course.
3.     Create a character sheet for each character. On this sheet you will include physical descriptions, important background information, motivations/goals, relation to plot and main character, and other relevant information. These are especially helpful once you get really deep into your story (you know, so you can avoid the changing eye/hair color syndrome).
4.     Research places, weapons, history, topics, customs or anything else relevant to your book. The internet and libraries are great for researching, but black holes in terms of time. Focus November on just writing. You can always go back later and do more research and add details while you’re editing.
5.     Form a support group of other completely, utterly insane and dedicated writers willing to suspend their lives for a collective sense of productivity. Hold each other accountable, cheer each other on, help each other locate viable meeting places that serve loads of coffee and have plenty of electrical outlets, and revel in the camaraderie!

Also, during Nanowrimo do not edit! This is writing time. Edit in December when the weather keeps you stuck inside anyway. Better yet, wait until January so that the gelatinous goo your brain has become has time to solidify and resume normal function.

Happy Writing!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Who Am I?

This weekend, at the Texas Book Festival, I mentioned to an acquaintance that Kaye George isn't actually my real name. She asked which name I prefer to be called. I said I answer to either.

"Isn't that confusing?" she asked.

You know, sometimes it is. But only in the sense that I sometimes don't know which identity is more real. I feel that I AM Kaye George. I've worked for years to establish myself with that name and I was first published under that name in 2005, five times. That was my birth as a published fiction writer.

My daughter said to me last month that I should not spend so much time in cyber space and should get back to the real world.

But which world is real?

The places I create are very real to me. Sometimes I imagine myself entering my worlds, like Alice entering the Looking Glass, or Flynn entering Tron. It's easy to see where those writers got their ideas. Sometimes a writer WANTS to be in the world she has created.

Am I crazy? Do other writers sometimes feel like this?

If I don't get any supporting comments, I'll see if I can crawl into the computer. I don't feel like getting therapy for this.

Image used under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Smashing Success

After being gone for a month, I'm dropping in with a quick note. I know, I know. And it's BSP, too. But maybe some readers can benefit from my experience.

I've just put out my own short story collection on Smashwords and they immediately started selling. If you follow the direction exactly, you end up with lots of different convenient formats. I even did a table of contents, which works in most of the versions. I'll warn that the rtf versions don't hold the formatting and I left those out when I redid my book the next day.

I'd advise publishing it, downloading all the formats you can, proofing, then re-doing. I found that I had left one story out of my table of contents, and my cover said there were 8 when there were really 9! It's simple to reload everything. When the book is as perfect as you can make it, then is the time to start publicizing.

You can peek at the first two and a half stories in my collection at
A Patchwork of Stories on Smashwords. The book will make it to Amazon in a couple of weeks.

If anyone is thinking of self-publishing for any reason, I'd highly recommend this site!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Big Hairy Toe In The Waters Of The Small Press

Well, I’m officially dipping my big, fat hairy toe into the waters of the small publishing press. Lyrical Press, Inc. has offered me a contract for my urban fantasy, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I have to be honest—this isn’t the way I originally imagined my first foray into the publishing world. I had hoped to start with an agent and then take the plunge, but after numerous rejections and great advice on this particular work, I opted for a new direction.

It’s not that I’ve given up on wanting an agent. That’s an avenue this author is still pursing, but after getting lots of mixed signals from agents, I decided that the best thing I could do was to pursue publishing my novel down a different path. Enter Lyrical Press, Inc. and their wonderful editorial staff!

Since this is a small press, there are no advances, but Lyrical authors do get paid royalties for their work. This house publishes in both ebook and print on demand form. They are committed to working with their authors on developing their novels to their fullest potential, as well as, helping to provide marketing opportunities.

As of yet, I do not have the official release date for my urban fantasy, Nephilim, but I will keep you posted. Curious about this publishing group? Check them out at

Friday, September 24, 2010

Never Whistle While You're Pissing

I blog a lot.

OK I never blog. This is my first blog. Literally, my very first, but I do like to write, and I do (for reals) write a lot. I thought I’d share a concept that helps me stay focused and get things finished in a relatively short amount of time. As the title suggests, that concept: Never whistle while you’re pissing.

I didn’t make that phrase up, it’s from the 1975 Illuminatus! trilogy, but I think it still holds true. Roughly translated, put everything you have into what you are doing, and do it well.

Having said that, most writers have other things going on in their lives – kids, spouses, ‘real jobs,’ hobbies, extreme sports, etc. Between all those moments, on the drive back from soccer practice, while waiting on the bus, as you walk the half mile from one end of the your office building to the other, you’ve got some free time, and I say why waste it?

For example, a friend of mine recently joked that I should write a Steam Punk novel. I think he was tired of reading the reams of writing I regularly put out, and was hoping by tossing a confusing new genre at me it might slow me down. I of course took it as a challenge.

First, I ordered some Steam Punk anthologies. Now right before drifting off to sleep or during my special alone time in the bathroom, I read about Steam Punk. I keep a notebook and pen with my anthologies, and I take notes on speech patterns, clothing types, and the world in general. I broke out the old Sherlock Holmes anthology as well for more Victorian Style atmosphere. And I took more notes. I found websites on Steam Punk names, Steam Punk art (lots and lots of Steam Punk art), Victorian Slang, Victorian habits and lifestyles. I even developed a monetary system based on the same unequal distribution of wealth as Victorian London.

I stopped short of Victorian London though. That’s a little too spot on, so I decided this would be a fantasy world, something Tolkien-like, but jump-started with Steam Punk technology. I added goblin professors, ork mercenaries, fairy messengers, four-foot-tall elf-type creatures with butterfly wings, and threw them all into a medieval city populated with Victorian style and sensibilities. I mapped out the city too, including the different sectors and important locales, and I hadn’t written a word yet.

All this occurred during breaks at work or while waiting for the bathtub to fill up for the kid. When I went running or otherwise worked out, I rejected the ipod and music and instead choose to listen to characters interact in the Victorian style, or to imagine their world, their style, other people they might encounter, and then afterwards furiously typed up notes before I jumped in the shower. Even during writing exercises with the other people in this blog, I took whatever writing start point they gave us, and put it in a Steam Punk world. I had a main character, a winged anti-hero named Gossamer, and a world for her, and I started writing.

I still needed to add details to the world, so I kept an eye out for them. What sorts of things we enjoy now might exist in a Steam Punk world, especially one with fantasy creatures?
I think the greatest example came while my wife and child and I were at the mall one day. They were picking out earrings. There is only so much I can do with a wife and 5-year-old choosing earrings, and wasted witty commentary and dry sarcasm hurts me in my heart. So I borrowed a pen, dug out an old grocery receipt from her purse, and wandered out into the main throughways.

The first person to walk past was a heavy woman wearing expensive sunglasses and headphones. She moved quickly, wearing tennis shoes, possibly working out. Hurm. Sunglasses = goggles, that makes sense. What to do with headphones? Ah, got it. I jotted down,

A thick upper class woman in bejeweled night-vision goggles almost knocked Gossamer down rounding a corner. As the woman passed, Gossamer noted the small fairy clutching her back, attached by a braided silver leash, singing soft melodies into the woman’s ears to drown out the cries of the unmentionables in the streets.

I wandered back into the jewelry store to check on the family. No change. Some sort of debate between silver studs or loops. Then I turned to see a mother and grandmother taking pictures of their baby getting her ears pierced, even as the baby screamed in pain. I pulled out the receipt and the pen again.

A shriek nearby startled her, and she shifted her focus to a toddler boy crying out to the gods while a group of men held his arms and a blacksmith branded him with a tiny guild mark. All while his father and grandfather toasted and celebrated this ritual with their tankards of cinnamon beer.

What about zeppelins? Gotta have zeppelins… Ah, there, advertisements hanging from the ceiling became hanging scrolls from tiny fairy-flown dirigibles, with massive passenger balloons hovering way up in the sky.

And so it continued. I kept writing even when I didn't have time for writing. A big flat screen TV looping video of Chinese female dancers became a steam-powered window looking in on the performing dancers in an extra-dimensional Aether. An electric train running up and down the center of the mall became a miniature steam carriage with a goblin coachman carrying noble children around the outdoor market. A blog request became a blog about Steam Punk.

Hey, never whistle while you’re pissing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sixth "Dear Literary Agent" Contest

The Guide to Literary Agent's blog is always full of great tips on how to find an agent as well as profiles on agents old and new. Now they present their Sixth "Dear Literary Agent Contest."

This installment of the "Dear Literary Agent" contest is open to works of Urban Fantasy or paranormal, both YA and adult. The submission consists of a log line and the first 150-200 words of your completed manuscript (read the guidelines included in the link above for full details). In addition to bragging rights, the top three winners get the first 10 pages of their manuscript critiqued and a year's subscription to Writersmarket.com (not a bad haul, if I do say so myself).

The agent judging this installment of the contest is Marisa Corvisiero of the L. Perkins Agency. Marisa is actively seeking works of science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance as well as YA and children's.

Don't miss your chance to test your manuscript's hook! Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writing Prompt--Reject a Hit!

Writer’s Digest is one of the most useful magazine subscriptions a writer can have. Not only does it keep one up to date on the current trends in publishing, but it also offers excellent techniques for improving your writing. Need to know how to capture the young adult voice? Curious about what agents want in a query letter? Interested in learning more about small and independent presses? Then check out Writer’s Digest!

One of my favorite columns in the magazine is called Reject a Hit. As a multimillionaire in rejection, the idea of writing a fake rejection letter for a well known novel, appeals to me on more levels than I can count. A few months ago, the magazine published a rejection letter to Bram Stoker in regards to his classic novel, Dracula, saying that such vile creatures as vampires will never sell. This month, some brave writer wrote a letter to J.K. Rowling, passing on Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone with the reasoning that no child would want to read about a dorky tween’s experiences in the world of wizards and magic.

So of course, I have to put it out there…

Who among us is brave enough to select a hit and then write the all powerful, evil rejection letter? Me! Me! Me!

Of course, there is so much to choose from. Faulkner? Hemingway? King? Meyers? After some thought, I believe Charles Dickens will be in my line of rejection fire. I’ve never been a fan of A Christmas Carol. Bah humbug!

I’ll be posting my completed rejection letter next week, but I’d love to see some others. Feel free to post your letter in the comments section of this blog, or if you’re super brave, submit it to Writer’s Digest at wdsubmissions@fwmedia.com with “Reject a Hit” in the subject line.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Although writers have always outnumbered publishers, it seems like today the supply of writers has far surpassed the demand for books. As more and more writers get fed up with the state of the publishing industry, there's a growing trend toward self-publishing. Yes, self-publishing does let you get a book "printed" faster than going with a traditional publisher; however, this does not mean self-publishing is the answer to your publishing problems.

Self-publishing is not right for everyone (neither is traditional publishing). There are many cons associated with self-published books:
  1. No barrier to entry: Meaning anybody willing to pay can get published (whether the work is good or not). 
  2. Negative stigma: Because there is no barrier to entry often times the editorial, print, and design of self-published books are of poor quality. As such, many retailers won't shelve self-published books and many media outlets won't cover/review them.
  3. Poor distribution: A printed book is worthless if you can't get it out into the retail chain. Often self-publishers don't have the contacts, reputation, or resources to effectively distribute their books.
  4. Cost: No advances here, the author foots the bill on the entire project as well as serving as project manager and marketer
Of course, there are some positives, like:
  1. Creative control: You can say how it looks, what it says, and where it goes.
  2. Ownership: You're not selling your rights to a publisher, so you get to keep full ownership of your material.
  3. Time to market: traditional publishing can take years to get a book to market, whereas most self-published books can get to market in a matter of months.
  4. Higher returns: There is no one else to pay but you, so you get to keep the money you earn on the back end. 
Traditional publishing isn't good or bad either--it's just a different model. Some of the negatives of traditional publishing include:
  1. No ownership or creative control: You sell your rights to the work, and often times your rights to final say in cover design and other elements.
  2. Time to market: As stated earlier, it can take years to traditionally publish a work.
  3. Barrier to entry: You have to go through an agent, which also adds time to the publishing schedule (and another mouth to feed).
  4. Small royalties: Most authors never earn back their advances, much less start earning royalties (if you think you can get rich as an author, you're in the wrong industry).
On the other hand, traditional publishing provides:
  1. Credibility: Traditionally published books are thoroughly vetted, so retailers and media know they are good quality.
  2. Strong distribution: Traditional publishers have established national distribution to all the major outlets.
  3. Small up front costs: You're still responsible for your marketing, but here you're not expected to make any other investment and often times you do receive an advance (though those are shrinking).
So, before you take the plunge into self-publishing, do a little research and get serious about what your goals are as an author. If you have the ability to market and distribute your book and the funds to invest to produce a high quality work and to partner with a distributor, then maybe self-publishing is for you. If not, you may want to stick with the traditional route. Either way, be committed and educate yourself on the process. It will make everything easier on you and the publisher.

To learn more about your publishing options, read this white paper.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pen Name Fun

I love standing in line at the grocery store and glancing at the names of the romance novelists whose books have been stashed there. Sure, there’s the readily recognizable ones like Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele, but I enjoy reading the names of the lesser known authors—Emma Darcy, Jeannette Diamond, and Suzy Stinger. It’s common for writers to write under different names, but my grocery line perusing got me to thinking about what my name would be. At a recent writing meeting, I found a link that generated pen names and after debating over a few (Adelina Burner, Zenaida Swonke), I settle on Xenia Zeminski.

But then the question arose: What does Xenia write?

Christian erotica, of course.

Now I’m not trying to offend anyone—far from it. Actually, I’m trying to stimulate your writing juices. See, Xenia got me to thinking about writing in a different style and certainly a different genre than I’m used to. While I don’t think Christian erotica is for me, coming up with a pen name and a author bio was a lot of fun.

So I have a challenge for you, Faithful Followers. Come up with a pen name for yourself and a short author bio( 100 words or so). Post it in the comment section of this article, and we’ll select a winner whose bio will be posted for all to see. Try to keep it reasonably clean! Funny is always good…

Yours truly,

Xenia Zeminski

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Author Submission Mistakes

We all know that there are major changes happening in the industry, many of which are working against authors going after traditional publishing deals. That's why its so important to take advantage of every opportunity you have to improve your odds. One mistake may not completely ruin your chances, but it can make the difference when you're competing with other authors for that coveted slot on the agent's or publisher's list.

Why am I able to talk about this, you ask? I sit in on book review every week. My desk is right next to the woman who receives the submissions. I hear all the mistakes author's make. Here are the biggest ones that come through on a consistent basis:
  1. Being rude. Our submissions team truly cares about the writer, not just the project. If you're kind, they'll go the extra mile to champion you in review. In fact, it is standard practice for them to reveal in review whether the person was nice or difficult. Who do you think we would rather work with?
  2. Not following guidelines. Agents and publishers clearly post their guidelines for a reason. Following them will boost your chances of getting a favorable review. 
  3. Not submitting to the right people. If the agent or publisher says they only represent nonfiction, don't send them an epic fantasy or book of poetry. You're just wasting everyone's time including your own. 
  4. Properly formatting your manuscript. Funny fonts, bizarre margins, or adjusting the font to skew page count only reflects bad on you. Look at Formatting & Submitting your manuscript for guidelines, but typically your manuscript should be double spaced, 12pt Times Roman, with one inch margins. Start each chapter 1/3 of the way down and put the page number and title/last name in the header of every page.
  5. No contact information. What good is submitting if we have no idea who submitted? Yes, it's that common.
  6. Promoting yourself. Yes include a brief bio, but don't say you are the greatest at anything, don't start with a sales pitch, and please, please, please do NOT mention the word bestseller. It's a four letter word in the submissions process. No one can predict bestsellers. Don't assume that your novel will be one.
  7. Don't respond negatively to rejections. Publishing is not a one size fits all venture. There are many factors that make an author a good fit for one house over another. Yes it's difficult getting rejection after rejection, but its much better to unleash your anger in private or at your writer's group meeting rather than ruining your chances forever with one or more publishers.
The laundry list goes on and on, but these are the big ones. Please do yourself a favor and keep these in mind when you submit. The gatekeeper handling submissions is a kind book lover scouring for the hidden jewel. Be kind and considerate of them. It will help you get through the gates. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Make Your Book Appealing to Publishers: Compelling Content

We wrapped up Austin Publishing University this past Sunday. Of the many topics covered was how to make the content of your book appealing to an acquisitions editor. Lari Bishop, the managing editor at Greenleaf Book Group said that in order to entice a publisher (and ultimately readers) the content needs to be compelling, marketable, and memorable.


In order to attract readers, the topic or hook of your book needs to be something people are interested in. If you are writing a business book, it needs to be a subject that can improve a professional's business. If you are writing a middle grade novel, the hook needs to be something an 8-12 year old would want to read.


There needs to be enough people interested in your topic in order to justify the cost of developing the book. Publishing and promoting a book takes a great deal of time and money. There's editing, design, printing, warehousing, shipping, publicity, marketing, etc. Be sure you are making it worth their while.


The writing needs to be good. Something about the book needs to stick with the reader after they're done, whether its character development, voice, setting, or a combination of many factors. This is what creates the desire in the reader to tell other people about the book. Word of mouth promotion is essential to the life of a book.

You need to consider all three of these elements before you even start writing. You need to develop your book with the reader in mind and you need to be able to clearly communicate to the publisher who the reader is and how many of them there are. Remember, publishing is a business. You need to approach it with both your business and your artist hat on.

Happy Writing!

Monday, August 23, 2010


Maybe I should call this INTERNET CONNECTIONS instead. But everyone is always saying "social networking," aren't they?

The basics, for me, are the conversation loops I belong to, almost all of them as Yahoo groups, and my webpage, KayeGeorge.com. Those can't be called social networks, but they certainly figure in and are ways for me to network.

Of the ones I use, I've been on Facebook the longest, since my son informed me all the grandkids' pictures would henceforth be there. He thought better of that after posting one batch, but by then I had been found by a co-worker from 12 years ago and my massage therapist who is remarried and moved out of town. I'd also discovered my cousin's wife, whom I have only met twice, is a hoot.

Soon, I decided I wanted a Facebook account for my family and another one for my writing life. This was easy for me, since I don't write under my real name. Now I use the writing account a lot and have met some interesting people there, too.

I made a New Year's resolution to start a blog in 2010 and, instead joined one and started two. So I'm firmly both feet into that world. I now follow a bunch of blogs and have made new friends that way.

Twitter? I resisted Twitter as long as I could. I use it less than the others, so far. Maybe I'm just too wordy to fit easily into Twitter. It's not for the verbose! Although, again, I made a valuable connection with some people interested in archeology and Neanderthals (I've written a Neanderthal mystery, still unsold).

I signed up for Goodreads and I thought I was on Shelfari, but I don't seem to have a presence there. I barely have one on Goodreads. LinkedIn is another one I recently joined and have no idea what to do with.

Why do any of these? As a writer, the idea is to get yourself known, and to sell books. For this, the connections should be with readers. Most writers I know are interacting mostly with other writers.

But making the connections with fellow writers is a good enough reason for an internet presence, IMNSHO, as they say. Writing is a lonely process and the friends and family of a writer aren't the ones who understand what goes on inside our heads. I'd hate to be without all my writer pals!

I'd love to hear what sites you use and how. Which are your favorites and why?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Create Your Book Cover Writing Exercise

Lari Bishop, the Managing Editor at Greenleaf Book Group, shared an exercise at Austin Publishing University that is designed to help you think about your book as a complete product, even before you start writing it. The exercise was originally developed by author and consultant Kevin Daum. Here is the exercise:

  1. Fold a piece of paper so that it looks like a book jacket (legal size paper works best, but anything will do).
  2. On the front, write the title and subtitle.
  3. On the inside flap write your elevator speech for the book. Keep it to 3 sentences max. 
  4. On the back, write 2 endorsements/blurbs for the book--what you would want people to say about it.
  5. On the inside back flap, describe why you are the person to write the book. 
  6. On the inside of the jacket, describe how you are going to structure the book to make it compelling to readers.
Try this exercise and see if it helps you think about the book in a way that lets you address not only how well its written, but who would be interested in reading it and why they would believe you are the best person to deliver it. 

Happy Writing!

Monday, August 16, 2010

One more post on short story structure

This one is the topper!

James Lincoln Warren has an audio link of his talk for Sisters in Crime, Orange County, plus some gorgeous charts. If you're a visual person, click over and take a look at his take on short story structure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Show and Tell for Grown-Ups

As a writer, you are always looking out for a new weapon to add to your literary arsenal. The well armed writer possesses the basic array of grammar and style techniques, the precision instruments of the craft, as well as grenades comprised of unique voice, character development, plot twists, setting, and dialogue. However, to become a true writing warrior, you must master the nuclear bomb of all writing techniques—the art of “showing.”

The writer’s job is to reveal a world to the reader. The setting should unfold before them, laced with larger than life characters, gut wrenching plots, and spitfire dialogue. Unfortunately too many of the submissions I review don’t show the world, plot, or character of the story. Instead they tell the reader what is happening.

Showing instead of telling means that the writer is describing behaviors, settings, or elements in a way that allows the reader to see what is happening and infer certain things like character conflicts, flaws, and emotions. Telling is simply dictating, and though at times it is unavoidable to tell the reader something, the less it is used the better.

For example, telling is something like:

Sarah was obsessed with Tom.

A more evocative method is to show the reader that Sarah is obsessed with Tom:

Sarah watched Tom from her perch across the cafeteria. He laughed, revealing a captivating smile. She imagined herself, sitting at the table with him and his friends, wearing his letterman jacket and a promise ring on her hand. She scribbled his name for the seventy-eighth time on her notebook. She traced over the letters, engraving Tom Peterson into the paper with her green pen. His laughter cut through the crowded lunchroom once more. Sarah smiled as she surrounded his name with a green heart. Beneath it she wrote Mrs.Sarah Peterson.

The reader understands that Sarah is obsessed with Tom because the passage reveals her obsessive behaviors. Her behavior carries more meaning then the statement “she is obsessed” and creates a more visceral response in the reader.

Dialogue is another great way to show elements of a story, especially back story and character conflict. For example, instead of saying Jennifer and Brian used to be lovers, you could do the following:

Brian closed the apartment door behind him. Jennifer emerged from the bedroom with a cardboard box in her hands.

“What are you doing here?”

“I live here. What are you doing here?”

“I came to get the last of my stuff.” Jennifer walked over to the book shelf and picked up a copy of Catch-22. She threw the paperback into the box.

“What are you doing with that?”

“Like I said, I’m getting my stuff.”

“That’s not yours, that’s mine.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is. I bought that at the bookstore while I waited for you at the coffee shop. You know, the day you were twenty minutes late.”

Crimson burned her cheeks. “Fine, keep it.” She grabbed the book and threw it at him. “Do you want any of this other stuff?” She grabbed a picture frame and tossed it across the room. “Because you can have it all. I don’t care.”

Brian dodged a well aimed bottle of shampoo. “Will you calm down? You can take the damn book if it means that much to you.” A pink gorilla from a travelling circus ricocheted off his chest.

“None of it means anything. It’s all a lie.” Jennifer slammed down the box. She yanked her purse down from the counter. Like a level five hurricane, she blew through the apartment, knocking off several picture frames as the door rammed shut behind her.

Much of the relationship between the two characters is revealed in the dialogue. The reader can sense the break up is recent and that it was not under good terms. It also makes the reader wonder what exactly happened between the characters and is it truly over, since Jennifer made a point of coming back unannounced. Such questions keep the reader interested, which after all is the writer’s big goal.

If you are still unsure of the difference between showing and telling, you may want to look into Jessica Morrell’s Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us. It’s a simple and easy to read guide that helps writers quickly identify missing elements and areas for improvement. It’s also a good practice to study the works of published writers. Read multiple passages and see how the author creates a balance between showing and telling. Ask yourself what makes that passage work, how did the writer convey certain ideas and emotions, and how can you incorporate those techniques into your writing. Studying (not stealing) published works is one of the best ways to improve your writing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Way to Go Kaye!

If you haven't already found out by reading her wonderful and insightful blog, Travels with Kaye, let it be known that one of our esteemed contributors, Kaye George, will have her first published novel coming out as a trade paperback in May of 2011 through Mainly Murder Press! I'm sure she'll be sharing more with us about the publishing process as the year continues, but I encourage all our readers to check out her blog and see how she succeeded in getting her novel, Choke, in front of the right people. Like many of us, Kaye has worked hard, kept her nose to the grindstone, and never stopped believing in her dream. Her success turns me pea green with envy and encourages me to keep trying! Congratulations, Kaye! Can't wait for your novel to come out!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Links from Kaye, third edition

Here are a few more links I found intriguing. If you've got time to go clicking around, something here might catch your interest.

For writers:

You have to see Marian's digital processor. Really cool piece of equipment, and versatile.

As a former computer programmer/systems engineer (note the "engineer" part), the steps listed in this next link are all things I do already, left over from my telecommuting jobs, for which I had to account for my time and report how much time was spent on each project. This is essential if you're ever audited for taxes, to show you are seriously pursuing a career in writing, since so many of us have so little published work to show for all our hard labor.

If you're self-publishing, it's easy and inexpensive to copyright your online work, and should be done within 90 days of publication. There's even a link to do this online, complete with a tutorial.

Not a link, but a quote by way of Hank Phillippi Ryan:
"Noting in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination and hard work make the difference."
Calvin Coolidge.

Read 'em and weep--the facts and figures laid bare at the Cozy Chicks.

For readers:

Sadly, the last issue of ThugLit, maybe.

For readers and writers, a couple pieces of news, signs of our times.

This image has been released explicitly into the public domain by its author, using the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Become a Better Writer Through Critique Groups

Today I want to talk about a subject that for some reason has become too complicated for writers to handle--the critique group. Everyone wants feedback on their work, but the idea of participating in a critique group has become too overwhelming. Among the excuses I hear are:
  • I don't have the time
  • I don't know anyone
  • I don't know how to critique
  • I wasn't happy with my last experience
I understand these issues, having participated in many failed critique circles before.Still, nothing beats having another set of eyes go over your work and its much cheaper than hiring an editor. So, if you don't have thousands of dollars to spend on a professional, critique groups are a great alternative and they can help you become a better writer if you find the right group and honestly assess their feedback.

There are several groups available on the Internet, but I suggest finding writers that you find writers that you connect with on a personal level first. Here are some general tips for starting or finding a critique group:
  1. Be realistic about what kind of time you are willing to commit: Do you only want to swap shorts, or are you willing to share and read a full length novel.
  2. Stick to your genre: I used to think that it wasn't a big deal working with others outside my genre until I realized how many conventions and standards are ignored or misunderstood because of a mis-communication between writers of different genres. It's just easier to work with someone who knows what works and doesn't work and who is aware of the trends and writers you are competing against.
  3. Keep to groups of 3-5 people: Just swapping with one other person is enough to get the ball rolling, but 3-5 gives you many perspectives without a heavy time commitment. I find three to be the best for time reasons.
  4. Use Review Tracker: Review tracker in Word is so easy to use and saves paper so you don't have to print and send full manuscripts. Plus, this way you can work with anyone anywhere in the world. 
  5. Like begets like: Find critique groups that cater to writers of your same caliber. If you are a newbie, stick to a newbie group. If you have been published and studying the art, you may be frustrated working with a young or aspiring group of writers. Keep  that in mind when reviewing groups. 
  6. Loosey goosey with a purpose: If you are starting a critique group or joining an existing one, you want to make sure there are some systems in place but you don't want something so rigid that its uncomfortable or difficult to work with.
  Now I want to talk about etiquette and methods when it comes to critiquing. This is so important. A critique groups should be a supportive environment for writers to learn and grow, not a bashing session. When you are critiquing someone else's work yo should:
  1. Remember its THEIR work, not yours: You should not rewrite their work in your voice or style, or completely overhaul it to the way you would produce it. Each writer has a unique voice, perspective, and style that should be respected at all times. Do point out what works for you as a reader though. Knowing what works is just as important as knowing what one is doing wrong.
  2. Use the "sandwich" approach: Present your comments as "compliment-constructive criticism-compliment." This softens the blow of the critique, because lets face it, we all hope we are perfect and its hard to hear when we are not.
  3. Focus on the big picture: Unless you make a living as a copy-editor, its best to focus on big picture issues when assessing another's work. This means looking at such questions as character development, plot, setting, style, etc instead of nitpicking word choice or grammar.
  4. Critique the work, not the person: It's about the document, not the person writing it so stay focused on the task at hand.
  5. Practice tolerance for differing viewpoints: Not everyone shares the same views on religion, relationships, politics, philosophy, etc. Respect the other person's beliefs and the beliefs of their characters. You don't have to agree with their point of view, just be able to see it unfold visually. If it bothers you that much, find a different critique partner.
Receiving critiques can sometimes be hard, especially for a work yo have put a great deal of time into. To make the process as beneficial and pleasant as it can be, when receiving critiques:
  1. Distance yourself: It's not a critique of you, its an honest opinion about the work in front of you.
  2. Maintain veto power: You don't have to accept every suggestion or change made. It is ultimately your work and should reflect you and be something you are proud of. If you truly want to keep something, then keep it, but do consider their reasons for suggesting changes.
  3. Recognize patterns: If more than one person says the same thing, take notice. If on every critique you hear that your characters are flat, you may have to accept that your characters are flat and strive to correct it. The point here is to improve as a writer.
  4. Respect their opinion: Show the one who critiqued you the same respect you expect by acknowledging and thanking them for their time and feedback. 
  5. Even Steven: This actually goes both ways. If someone takes the time to honestly and thoroughly look at your work, you'd better be willing and able to do the same in return. It's just as frustrating to receive little to no feedback as it is to receive too much, so don't send back one or two comments on fifty pages and think you've done your job when you're receiving more than that in return.
These are just some base guidelines. Becky Levine goes into greater detail on how to give and get critiques in her book The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide. It really isn't that complicated, and even if you just create an arrangement with one writer, the rewards are so worth the time.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Short Story Structure

This is also posted on Travels With Kaye.

Members of the Short Mystery Fiction list started a discussion recently about the structure of the short story. So much has been said and written about the structure of a novel, even whole books devoted to mystery, thriller, and suspense structure, but I hadn't ever paused to consider the structure of the short story before that.

But I'm sure all short story writers should!

The first posting gave the opinion that short stories have two forms: vignette and mini-novel. The vignette, Graham Powell contended, has its action in the same place and it all happens at the same time. The mini-novel would give room for more character and plot development.

Mark Troy gave his opinion that a vignette is an expanded scene/sequel combination with the sequel being the most important part. He considers them incomplete and not as effective as the other form. Although he says he wouldn't use the term mini-novel, saying any effective story of whatever length should have protagonist/antagonist, setting, theme, 3-act plot, conflict. He said he does something that I think I will start doing: he marks the places where the acts begin and end, and marks the crisis, where the antagonist appears, where the theme is stated. I would imagine I would have to give a story at least two readings to do all that!

Graham answered that he thought his definition of a vignette story might be a 1-act tale and the other a 3-act story.

Fleur Bradley chimed in with the opinion that the vignette are stories that are like a fly-on-the-wall experience for the reader. Almost like an overheard conversation.

Then Jack Hardway/Dan said there IS a conventional short story form that has five parts, although many mystery stories don't contain all five. They are found most often in literary stories. When asked, he gave these two references:
If you click on them, you'll see they both reference a Freytag Pyramid. The first states the five parts as exposition; complication and development; crisis or turning point; falling action; catastrophe. It goes on to talk about other structure points, too.

The second reference says the five parts are exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.

Wikipedia uses these latter terms for its illustration (I hope it's not illegal to copy wiki illustrations).

Then Chris Rhatigan posted this statement: A creative writing teacher explained another good five-part structuring technique for short stories similar to the one Jack discussed: 1) Action 2) Background 3) Development 4) Climax 5) Ending. One thing I like about it more--especially as a crime fiction writer--is that the reader gets dropped right in the middle of the story, then you get into the history of the characters, setting, etc. So in this case the piece would have two sets of rising and falling action.

I think I like this one best of all, at least for a mystery story. I'd love to hear from other short story writers and readers on this subject! Do you writers think you use any of the above structure devices? Do you readers see them?

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Few More Links from Kaye

Here are a few more good links since my last post.

An amusing grammar lesson. Don't click if language offends you.

Mostly of interest for mystery writers, an article for New Orleans LEOs on interviewing techniques from BJ Bourg, a writer I admire.

This was added to my last post in the comments, but I'll put it here in case you didn't click on those.

A simpler website that just counts repetitious words is here.

And a place to buy fancy software that might be even more helpful, but you have to watch your language here. Page down for an amusing pledge that prevents me from buying this.

Here's a somewhat pessimistic look at promotion with some interesting comments. This, BTW, is a blog worth following.

Get your flash fiction news (contains contest and market listings) here! And visit the companion blog for more flash fiction info.

That's what I gathered. Hope some of it interests or helps you!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Links from Kaye

I'd like to share some links I've run across in the past week or so. Either I'm paying more attention to links people send, or they're just more interesting lately. I was drawn in by all of these!

At this site, NPR wants you to vote for your top 10 favorite thrillers
I wish they'd limited it to ones published in the past year. The list too choose from is long! Some of these aren't really thrillers and they've left off a bunch!

This one is just plain fun.
And here's an article on the above link telling about the guy who created it, and his future plans.

What does your book smell like? New Yorker article on marketing book/perfume tie-ins. Who thought of this?

This Mysteries and Margaritas blog entry could be helpful for editing your first draft

Ever want to know how to use the mouse less and the keyboard more?

Part of a speech by marketing expert Seth Godin. He explains infinite shelf space and what's happening in the publishing industry.

Kristin Lamb gives a humorous view of being a writer at this blog.

Thinking about self-publishing? Here's a whole bunch of info on that.

101 ways to market by Joanna Campbell Slan, which is another name for the Energizer Bunny. I got the link from Victor Banis. He recommends using only the promotional tools you feel comfortable with, or those you enjoy.

Sandy Parshall says she picked up all the links below (except the last one) from a DorothyL post by a librarian. Interesting stuff. They're about to articles/blogs/e-books.

Why e-reader adoption will be slower than people think

Piracy of e-books

What if Amazon dominates the field

NPR on how reading and writing will be changed by e-books

A blog on issues re e-books for librarians and publishers, written by
Sue Polanka, head of Reference at Wright State University

AAA&S panel from Symposium on the Impact of Technology on Society,
entitled "Information Technology and the Future of Books, Publishing,
and Libraries"

Here's how to contact Sandy, author of the fabulous mystery BROKEN PLACES:
Her web site http://www.sandraparshall.com
Blogging at http://www.poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com

And lastly, this is a treat for mystery fans. Sir Arthur himself speaking about Sherlock! This comes via Janet Rudolph.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Three Act Play In Your Novel

Most of my writing training doesn’t come from taking English classes in college or creative writing courses on the side. Granted, I wish that I had taken more writing classes back in my days at SWT (I’ll never call it Texas State University, people), but I was too involved in my Theatre courses. While I loved acting, directing really became my passion (I knew there would be a use for my bossy nature!), and it was through studying the works of some gifted playwrights and their use of the three act play, that I began to learn about the process of creating conflict, drama, and characters people care about.

Three things beginning directors learn to identify when reading a play are the inciting incident, the crisis, and the climax. Usually the inciting incident happens in the beginning of Act 1 or thereabouts. The crisis can occur in Act 2 and, that’s right, you guessed it, the climax occurs in Act 3. In case you don’t know, the inciting incident refers to whatever event happens to get the party started—someone dies, a discovery is made, a wicked spell is cast that affects the chances of beauty pageant participants. The crisis is the action a character takes that will ultimately effect the outcome of the play—the hero decides to murder the bad guy, someone decides to stand up to the abusive husband. The climax, sometimes called the resolution, is how the problem is solved.

If you start to think about your novel in this way, it can really help keep your writing tight and on track. I like to write might first draft rough and loose so I can go back and identify those three things. Once I do, I separate my novel into chapter sections that represent Acts 1, 2, and 3. This makes for easier rewrites, and I can hone in on sections at a time, making sure they are how I want them to be.

A good rule of thumb would be to have your inciting incident happen within the first 50 pages. Exposition is important in a story, but it doesn’t always forward the action. Keep us in the moment and only provide back story when it’s necessary. Remember, those first chapters are what the agent will be reading and if the action isn’t moving, they won’t keep reading. Act 1 typically ends with a small crisis.

Take a look at your novel. What is the climax of your story? Where is the big event from which there is no turning back? Hone it, refine it and make sure it raises the stakes—this is your Act 2 section.

How does it get resolved? This is Act 3 and it wraps up the story. I usually find Act 3 the most exciting to write—it’s fast paced and the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.

If you are looking for more information on what should be included in your “acts”, check out Jessica Page Morrell’s book Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us. She goes in depth on the importance of the three act play style of writing.

Happy writing!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Well Read Writer

It's no secret that most readers are writers. What is frightening is how many writers aren't readers. Its a startling trend that has several in the industry asking questions.
  • How can you know what's selling in your genre if your not reading it? 
  • How can you grow as a writer if you're not exposing yourself to new styles of writing? 
  • How can you expect to be feed by a system if you're not buying in to it?
Reading is a MAJOR part of learning how to write. Not just passively reading or only reading books on writing either (though you can do both). You must actively read a novels, primarily in your genre but also others, and ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is this working for me? Why or why not?
  • What makes it fit into its genre?
  • What sets it apart from others in the genre?
  • What techniques are they employing (e.g. sentence structure, word choice, point of view, etc.)?
Understanding what those writers did to get published will help you improve your own writing. Read works from several different writers. One of my favorite things to do is to walk through my genre section in the book store and see what happens to catch my eye from writers I haven't heard of. If I like the cover copy and opening paragraph I buy it. I haven't been disappointed yet (though I did have to stop reading one because it was too disturbing--which is saying something coming from me). If you're not that adventurous, you can always as for recommendations from friends and fellow writers. I also follow two blogs/tweets that do book reviews and book recommendations:

The Book Smugglers: They review many of the latest and greatest in speculative fiction and paranormal romance. They are very thorough with their reviews and even participate in and share information from many industry events like Book Expo.

Flashlight Worthy Books: Flashlight Worthy covers all genres and gives great book recommendations for all age groups and interests. They compile handy lists based on themes and age groups, which have also been good for helping me find new books for family.  

Of course we are always making recommendations on this blog for great books on writing, because books on the craft are still important. However, it is the books in our genre of choice that we need to support most and that can teach us what we need to know to break into the industry.

Happy Writing!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Write Like

Here is a little weekend fun for you:

My boss pointed me to this website called I Write Like. You enter in a few paragraphs of your writing and the software compares your writing to forty well known writers to see which one you write like. The algorithm that runs the software makes the analysis based on sentence structure, word choice, and other factors. Once completed, you get a badge that you can place on your website, facebook, or blog so everyone will know who you write like.

By the way, I write like Stephen King.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Second Annual Austin Publishing University

For those of you who may not know, I started working for Greenleaf Book Group about two months ago. I have since taken over organizing and promoting Austin Publishing University, which is an annual event that takes place at Book People. The event occurs every Sunday in August from 1-2:30 in the 3rd floor class room of Book People located at 603 N. Lamar. There are five sessions total. The fees is $15 for one or $50 for all five (so  a nice discount if you want to attend them all). Tickets can only be bought in person at Book People. Space is limited to 60 people, so you want to hurry!

Here are the topics for each session:
Session 1: Industry Overview—How the industry works and publishing options available to authors.
Session 2: Content Is King—What editors look for in a great book.
Session 3: Killer Covers—What makes a book stand out and the basic elements of a cover.
Session 4: Storming the Market—Marketing and promotion before, during, and after a book release.
Session 5: Take Control of the Internet—How to build an online platform.

Each session features one of Greenleaf's experts. Session 4 and 5 will also have a publicist and Bookstore associate on hand to answer questions on placement and marketing. I will be presenting at the 5th session, but I will be on hand for all five to answer any questions and to also serve as a liaison for the Writer's League. We are creating downloadable one sheets on topics like how to query, getting an agent, putting together a book proposal, and marketing. Resources and links  will be available on the website in the next week or two and more will be added  throughout the year.

You can also follow what's happening by using the twitter hashtag #austinpubu or by becoming a fan of APU on Facebook. This is a great and affordable opportunity to learn about the industry and what publishers look for. You can also learn more by viewing our white papers on what publishers want and other related topics.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Spreadsheets for writers, part two--plotting

As promised, here's my second main use for spreadsheets. I know I've discussed this somewhere before, but can't find where. (If I could I'd copy it.)

I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my characters and my plot and don't know what I'd do without it. Probably make a lot of mistakes, like having a person's eyes change from brown to blue, having clues talking about before they're discovered, having them discovered twice--that kind of thing.

After using several methods, I've settled on this one. I label the first worksheet "names & desc". I could call it "characters & settings" because that's what it is, but that's long for that little tab.

I dislike reading books whose character names confuse me, whose characters I can't tell apart. One reason for this is sometimes that too many begin with the same letter. This is SO easy to avoid. See those columns labeled A to Z? (And beyond, but we don't need them for this.) I type "character names" on the first line, skip a space and type "first names", skip several spaces and type "last names". Then I slap the first and last names into their columns. If left to my own devices without this tool, many of my names end up starting with M for some reason.

I'm constantly collecting names, of course, as all writers are. Off signs, TV, radio, and I even look at the fictitious people who send me spam, trying to sell me watches and drugs and, well, that other product that, as a female, I don't really need. I collect these in a spreadsheet so I can alphabetize them and, when I see that I have names beginning with A, B, C, but no Rs or Ts, I can see if there's one on that list I can use.

Below those rows I have columns headed: complete name, description, age, role, vehicle, and other columns for more description if I need it. It's surprising how soon I can forget what vehicle I had a character driving, even though I carefully picked it to make a statement about the character, of course.

At the bottom I list the main settings and describe the main features in case I forget what I put where.

The second worksheet is the plotting timeline. But I do the third one first, plot beats. I use three acts and have three plot beats per act, sort ofin general. Act I has plot beat 1, plot beat 1, and plot point for the end of the act. Act IIa has plot beat 3, plot beat 4, and middle point. Act IIb has plot beats 5 & 6, and plot point. And Act III contains plot beats 7 & 8 and the end. These are just a phrase to tell me what important thing happens at that point. There are 12 items and, if I can get 5500 words for each one, I'll have a decent length novel.

I don't always have all of them filled out when I begin, but as the story unfolds, they all get filled in.

Then I put these on the second worksheet in RED. These are the writing points I'm aiming for. They can change, of course, but if I don't have something to aim for, I have a hard time getting started. The red events go down the first column under the heading "Events". The next column is "time" and the next one, for my current WIP, is "clue or suspect", that is what does this event relate to. Sometimes I color code by theme, by clue, or by suspect so I can see if too much of one thing is bunching up.

The rest of the columns have the names of the main characters, beginning with the protagonist. I fill in more detailed events leading up to the plot points, and put details about what separate characters are doing at that point in their columns. It's easy to glance across the sheet and see if I've been neglecting a theme, a clue, or a suspect for too long. It's also easy to see if I have a character doing two things in two different far-apart places in too short a time.

I like to bold the first column and unbold the event as I write it. It's very easy this way to make sure things happen in the right progression. Especially if you decide to make a big plot change and need to shift things around.

I used to have the characters on a different sheet, but decided that I'd like them all together. Just have to do control-page-up and control-page-down to shift between my worksheets. And I use other worksheets to keep track of things specific to that project.

That's how I do it! I'd love to hear other methods or ways this one could be improved.

[Image used under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation]