Monday, December 16, 2013

All Things Holiday Hiatus

Hello! It's that time of year! Holiday Hiatus!

What does that mean for you, faithful reader?

Just that All Things Writing will be taking a brief break until January. When we return, you'll discover a new staff member who brings her own brand of steamy romance and Southern charm to the blogger table. I can't wait to introduce you to Esmae Browder. She's a handful!

Have a delightful Holiday Season and see you in January!

Mary Ann

Monday, December 9, 2013

Writers' League of Texas Manuscript Contest

This just popped into my inbox today and I thought I'd share it with all of you out there in the blog sphere. Writers' League of Texas is opening up for submissions to its annual Manuscript Contest. Having been a past winner in the Sci/Fantasy category in 2009, I can tell you that this is a worthwhile contest. My urban fantasy, Nephilim, took first place! Did winning shoot me to new heights of fame and glory? Well, no. But it did help me make a lot of connections with agents and authors that have been invaluable! Check our the blurb below and then click on the link to get even more specifics!--Mary Ann

Been slaving away on an unpublished manuscript that's finally ready to see the light of day? Well, here's your chance! You are invited to submit a short synopsis and the opening pages of your unpublished work to the League’s 14th annual Manuscript Contest. The winner in each category will meet individually with an agent at the 2014 Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference, June 27 – 29, 2014. You do NOT have to be a member of the Writers' League to enter this contest.


This contest gives you the chance to…
• Attend a private meeting with a literary agent in your genre
• Have your work professionally critiqued by a published author
• Find out how your first ten pages rank against others in your genre
• Be recognized at the 2014 WLT Agents Conference

 What’s new for 2014?
This year, the Manuscript Contest has gone 100% digital! All entries must be submitted online, and payment must be made online via credit card at the time of submission. Checks and paper entry forms are no longer accepted.

Click here to find out more!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ghostwriters, Co-Authors, and Problem Clients

How important is the contract between a ghostwriter/co-author and a client?

It's vital. Do not work without one! I don't care if the client is your best friend. That contract is vital because it can save you from a lot of hassle and heartbreak in the long run.

Notice I've mentioned the words ghostwriter and co-author. They really are two separate things, but both require that you sign a contract.

But why? What's the big deal?

A contract offers you protection, as well as, the client. It helps you set deadlines, expectations, and payment amounts. That piece of paper can keep you and your client walking the straight path together and keeps everyone on the same page. It's a tool you can refer to when a client becomes demanding or wants you to do something that is different from your original agreement. Of course, there are times when you may need to stray from the contract or you find that whatever the client is asking is not something unreasonable. Yes, it's okay to do a verbal agreement in those cases, but I would suggest creating a short addendum to your contract that included the new arrangement. If nothing else, at least get it in an email so you have something to fall back on should things go sour.

If you are ghost writing, you want your contract to be clear on a few things. For example, you need to know when you're getting paid and how much. How long will the word count be? How many re-writes are you going to be expected to do? What is the time frame? How flexible is the client on that? The client will probably make sure the contract includes information regarding the fact that your name will not be anywhere on the final product nor will you receive royalties from future sales.

When you co-author a book, you will want many of the above things to be listed as well. However, I think the expectations for co-authoring need to be outlined even more. For example, how involved with the client be in the writing part? Is it just their idea and outline that they want you to turn into something more? Or are they going to write a few chapters, too? Again, the time frame question becomes very important here--especially if you are juggling other clients or work. Sometimes a client will stall and stall on that final draft, which means your payment is withheld. Having that contract serves as a reminder to the client that all good things must come to an end.

I've enjoyed working as both a ghostwriter and a co-author, but have found that having a solid written agreement about expectations is crucial. Several times, I could have been in a real bind if it weren't for my contract.

Here's a little red flag warning that I've picked up on: If a client repeatedly ignores a particular question in an email or in several emails, that's a problem. Something about the question bothers the client. For example, if you are asking when something will be completed or when you will get their revisions back and they never answer, that's not good. It means it's a question you need to keep asking.

If you find yourself with a problem client, be professional. Send an email that gently reminds them of the contractual agreement they signed with you. Try to be flexible--everyone has bad days or months. Hopefully, you can work this out. I find that the email communication is better than a phone call. It gets everything down on paper and allows you to keep your emotions in check. Remember, it's business. Always do your best to be polite, but lay it out so that the client knows exactly what the issue is.

Having trouble with a co-authoring/ghostwriter contract? I'd love to chat with you! Email me at

Monday, December 2, 2013

Editing Techniques

I hate editing.

Over the years, I've attended many writing workshops on how to best edit your work. As a teacher, I've had students ask me about it as well. What I've discovered is that one of the reasons I hate editing so much is that there are so many ways to do it. And what works for you one time, may not work for you another.

Editing is not just about the process of cleaning up ideas and fixing bad grammar. It's about delving deeper into your manuscript, deeper into the lives of your characters. It means giving good characters bad character traits to make them more real or providing tragedy in moments of comedy that bring the reader to tears.

Editing is a very emotional business!

So how does one go about doing it? Do you start with cutting the back story down? Do you work a few chapters at a time until you are completely satisfied? Should you put away the whole story for weeks before even starting the process? Is it the word count that must be trimmed before you can focus on the layers of the story? Does the time of day make the biggest difference to how much work you get done?

The truth is that it's different for everyone. I don't know one writer who has the same process as another. Despite what I may say to a student writer, the fact is that once you learn to self edit (catch the spelling, the grammar, the punctuation) as you go along, how you choose to your revise the manuscript or story is really your call.  Many writers use the techniques mentioned in the paragraphs above.

I've tried most  of the methods listed and really feel that editing depends on when you wrote the story, how long it is, how emotionally attached you feel to the characters. I hate editing a full manuscript after it's been put away for a long time--say a year or so. I used to write fast and hard and then shelf the manuscript so it could "breathe." However, I would often start working on other projects and not go back to the novel as quickly as I had planned. The result? I felt disconnected from the work and found it harder to edit, harder to know what had happened and when crucial plot points occurred in the story. When I work on this type of manuscript,  I find that I must to make the editing manageable by reading the whole thing, making notes, and then working in sections at a time. For me, it helps to divide the novel into three acts.

Manuscripts that I wrote and worked on immediately are much easier for me to edit, but require more discipline to finish. When I work on a project and strive to keep the word count around 80,000 words, I find that I can keep all my eggs in the basket. I don't lose sight of the plot points or the characters. They stay at the forefront of my mind. I do sometimes need to walk away for a week or two, but not for months at a time. I reread constantly, making notes on my phone or by hand, and I put it on my Kindle so that I am forced to read without instantly editing.

I mentioned that it takes more discipline for the above method. For me, ideas for stories are constantly jumping around in my head, tempting me to work on them instead of the task at hand. I'm at the point now that when I have a good idea, I may start writing pieces of it, but not the whole thing unless my other projects are done. I want to be able to devote all of my energy to the tale at hand--not only for creative purposes, but for editing, too.

Mary Ann Loesch is the author of the Bayou Myth series, Nephilim, and Even This Shall Pass. You can purchase her books at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. To learn more about Mary Ann, drop by her website: Mary Ann Loesch Website

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Stealing Jesus: Why I'm glad JCPenny's is bringing back Snow Globes!

I was distraught last year on Black Friday when JCPenny's stopped giving out their snow globes. My family and I have collected them for years. But I heard that, due to some awesome peer pressure, the JCPenny's group is bringing them back! In order to honor our Black Friday traditions, I'm reposting Stealing Jesus--a tale of snow globes, Yankees, and of course, the kidnapping of Baby Jesus.--Mary Ann


STEALING JESUS by Mary Ann Loesch


            Stealing Jesus was not my idea.  I could never think up anything so heinous on my own. No, Aunt Lynn is the one to blame.

            Aunt Lynn never cared for Aunt Sherry, calling her a Loretta Lynn wannabe with fat brown sausage curls and blue sparkle eye shadow.  Uncle Edward introduced Sherry to us on Christmas Eve when I was five years old. I still remember the way she looked that evening, decked out in a long red, glittering dress as if she was about to sing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Sherry was a Yankee and when I asked what that meant, my mother whispered, “It means she’s from up North and doesn’t have any manners, Maisy.”

            Something about Sherry—her Yankee ways, the loudness of her voice, her inability to cook with season salt, the domineering attitude she treated us with at family functions—got under Aunt Lynn’s tough Texas skin. So when Lynn suggested we steal Baby Jesus from Sherry’s yard one Christmas season, we weren’t surprised. Jesus had been a running joke in our family for years. The plastic one, I mean. See, Sherry lived in the country and when she and Uncle Edward originally moved to the property, they’d had to dig their own septic tank. The endeavor created a small hill and every year Sherry displayed her beloved and worn plastic light up Nativity scene on top of it where it shined brighter than a lighthouse beacon and could be seen by neighbors in two counties.

             We often wondered what Jesus would have thought about living on top of the septic tank.

Our Lord and Savior was only a small portion of Sherry’s overall lawn décor. Never one to be light on Christmas spirit, she decorated every inch of her place with holiday crap—Santa on a motorcycle, reindeer that played music, penguins popping out of present boxes, oversized Stars of David’s (although we were rednecks, not Jews).

“It looks like Christmas vomited all over Sherry’s lawn,” Aunt Lynn said every year.

            The kidnapping of Baby Jesus set into motion one of the most turbulent times in our family history. Sherry, deep in the throes of a midlife crisis, decided to throw herself a new wedding. Here it was twenty-five years later and she couldn’t be content with just a simple renewal of the vows. No, she just had to do the whole thing over, complete with the original wedding party, which meant the involvement of Aunt Lynn and myself.

            “Now, Maisy, you will have to get a new dress. You’ve gotten taller in twenty-five years and definitely won’t fit into your flower girl dress. You used to be so cute, too! But Lynn, I bet if you worked out at the gym for a few months, you’d still be able to fit into your bridesmaid dress,” Sherry told us, casting an appraising look at Aunt Lynn’s already rail thin physique. “Of course, you have aged a little…maybe you could buy some new makeup.”

            Lynn and I were not thrilled to be recreating the moment evil came into our lives, and Sherry, who had more blackness in her soul than I realized, took it to far, committing the cardinal sin of all time, the sin that brought me to the dark side, the sin that made it okay to steal one plastic Baby Jesus off of her septic tank hill. She scheduled the wedding rehearsal the morning after Thanksgiving.

            To some, that may not make any sense. Why would that matter? But if you are a hardcore purist like myself, the significance of that day needs no explanation. Black Friday. It’s the day the mall opens at 6:00am and widely considered by shoppers to be the most wonderful day of the year. The whole world is on sale or else free stuff is being given away.

            My family has participated in this rite of passage for years. We train for it, mentally prepping and honing our ability to snag free things. Three days out from the big day, Aunt Lynn will stake out the mall, getting the layout of things so we can hit the stores quickly and efficiently. A few years ago we really got organized and now have walkie-talkies in order to inform each other of ETAs (estimated times of arrival) and current location. We fan out in the mall, seeing what the deals are, reporting to each other in coded lingo hoping to confuse nearby shoppers. But the most important thing we do is determine which entrances of JCPenny’s we can enter to grab the free Christmas ornament they put out every year. The challenge is to get at least three ornaments per person as keepsakes.

             We all have our own technique for accomplishing this mission. My father likes to pull the confused man card, feigning befuddlement over where the ornaments are. Some kind sales person will send him in the right direction and before you know it, he has a coat pocket full of ornaments. No one plays confusion like dad. Personally, I find wearing a coat with big pockets especially effective. I can stuff about four ornaments in each side pocket without being detected.

            It was at my Grandmother’s birthday party that Aunt Sherry announced her intention to have her second wedding on Black Friday. She might as well have set a bomb off in the room. Shouts of horror, cries of dismay, profanity from Uncle Todd—it echoed around the room. Sherry listened, big crocodile tears welling in her eyes. She turned to Uncle Edward, put her head on his shoulder and said, “See, baby, I knew it would be like this. They don’t want us to be happy.”

            Edward glared at us. A Vietnam vet, he used to tell my cousins and me that he could gut us all with his hunting knife in ten seconds if we didn’t behave. One Christmas he informed cousin Leonard that he’d shot one of Santa’s reindeer in the haunch and that’s why Leonard would not be getting any presents.

            “Now, c’mon ya’ll,” Edward said, pushing his tobacco chaw down into his lip where it stuck out like a bee sting. “Sherry wants a nice ceremony with the family. I don’t think it’s too much to ask ya’ll to attend and help out a little. There will be other shopping days but only one twenty fifth anniversary.”

            For my Uncle Edward, that little speech was the equivalent of Mel Gibson rallying the troops in Braveheart. We were moved by it, just as those men fighting under William Wallace’s command were moved, and just like those men, we began thinking in terms of war.

             War against Aunt Sherry.

            We shut up, minded our business, and did as we were told because that’s the kind of family we are, though fear of being gutted by Uncle Edward was a factor in my compliance. When Thanksgiving arrived, anticipation was in the air. Sherry gave us strange looks as we sullenly munched on turkey and cranberry sauce. No doubt she was worried we were acquiescing to her plans too easily, probably having some anxiety that we would spoil everything as we perused the morning paper, which was heavily laden with advertisements for shopping deals that would not be ours.

 The following morning, Sherry furthered our disgruntlement by showing up late to the wedding rehearsal. Scheduled for 8:00am, it was another thorn in our side. Why did we have practice the wedding? It isn’t that hard to walk down the aisle. It’s a straight line for crying out loud! To top if off, we were dressed in our formal clothes so we could take pictures that morning instead of that night at the real ceremony. When Sherry swept in, a smug smile on her Yankee face, it only confirmed to us that evil lived deep in her heart.

It was the last straw for Aunt Lynn.

After indulging in five glasses of cheap champagne at the reception, Aunt Lynn revealed her plan. We were going to hit Sherry where she lived, taking one of her most prized and loved Christmas possessions—Baby Jesus. We were to kidnap him from the septic tank, take lurid photographs of him, and mail them to Sherry before demanding a ransom.

            “She doesn’t get Jesus back unless she collects ten of the Thanksgiving Day ornaments from JCPenny’s that we missed out on,” Lynn said.

            “Oh and they were so cute this year! Did ya’ll see? Little snowmen in a snow globe with cute hats on,” my mother said, her heart genuinely yearning for that lost ornament.

            “Ten? Where is she going to get ten? JCPenny’s will be out of stock by now,” Uncle Todd said.

            “Who cares? If she doesn’t get the ten, we keep Jesus.” Lynn splashed her glass in my direction. “You still got that car seat, Maisy?”


            “Good. We’re gonna need it to take ransom pictures in,” Lynn slurred. “The whole mission goes down this weekend. I heard her say that tomorrow night Edward has to pull all the lawn decorations from storage, so that means the septic tank will be graced with the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I say we go in and take the damn kid after midnight.”

            We nodded our heads, caught up in the moment, in the thrill of doing something totally despicable. As if one, we turned and looked at Sherry who danced with Uncle Edward. She glanced our way, little creases of worry crinkling her forehead as we raised our champagne glasses to her.

            “To the happy couple,” Lynn called out, a sentiment we graciously echoed.

            The next evening found Lynn, Todd, and myself at the septic tank, dressed in military fatigues. Sure enough, Baby Jesus was there, smiling adoringly up at his plastic mother and father. With shaking hands, Todd pulled him free from the manger and hurried through the maze of lawn blow-ups to Lynn’s jeep. Back at my house, we put Jesus in my daughter’s old car seat and photographed him with an old Polaroid camera I had.

             The next day the first photo was sent.

            Help…was all it said at the bottom of the picture, which showed Baby Jesus with his eyes covered by a blindfold and propped up in the car seat. The second note sent a day later indicated he would lose his plastic baby head if we didn’t receive the ransom listed in a timely fashion. The third letter contained a small piece of one plastic finger just to show our seriousness. It also mentioned that when the ransom was exchanged, Jesus would be returned.         

            We didn’t believe for one minute Sherry would have our ornaments. How could she? The stores usually ran out by 7:00am the day after Thanksgiving anyway. No. Jesus would find a new life in one of our yards, away from the bright lights of the septic tank. 

            December twenty-third was our exchange day with the location being at Cluck in the Bucket, the greasiest chicken place in town and totally despised by Sherry. The fourth ransom note had required Sherry to lay all ten ornaments out in the alley behind the restaurant’s dumpster. As the moment of the drop off arrived, I was shocked to see Sherry’s big white Oldsmobile pull into the parking lot and cruise to the alley entrance. Hunkered down in my recently acquired black minivan with Lynn and Todd, the smell of greasy chicken tempting our nervous bellies, we observed Sherry look around cautiously before entering the alley. A few minutes later she emerged grim faced and drove off, tires squealing behind her. Todd got out of the van and headed into the alley.

            He jogged back, a funny look on his face. In his hands were the ornaments and something else, which fluttered against his shirt. He flung open the van’s heavy side door, dropped the ornaments on the floor, and said, “Look at this!”

            It was a picture of Aunt Sherry. She held all the ornaments in her arms like a glass bouquet but somehow she’d managed to lift the middle fingers of both her hands in the time-honored salute of telling someone to go to Hell. Her tongue stuck out and as Todd turned the photo over, I noticed the writing on the back.

             Bring Jesus home, bitches!

            We stared in amazement at the little ornaments, wondering how she’d managed to scrounge up ten of them. She must have had to search everywhere, make deals, ask for favors—all for her beloved plastic Jesus.  Todd shook his head in disbelief and got in the passenger seat of the van. We prepared to take Jesus back, shocked we’d gotten our ornaments and even starting to feel a little guilty about the kidnapping.

            Well, maybe not all of us.

 A loud clatter outside the van caused Todd and I to look over at the open side door of the mini van. Baby Jesus lay cracked open on the pavement, his head a mess of weather worn plastic. The vicious, twisted look on Lynn’s face and her right foot still in kicking position, told us what had happened.

            “Oops,” she said without a drop of remorse.

            “Oh shit,” I groaned. “Get the duct tape.”

            “Lots of it,” Todd agreed and got out to root through my toolbox, where among other things, I had gray duct tape. After collecting the arm and leg of Jesus, which had also broken off, I scraped up as much of his head as I could. Under the fluorescent lights of Cluck in a Bucket’s parking lot, Todd performed emergency surgery. The end result was pretty horrific. Unless there was a miracle, Jesus would never light up again.

            We drove to Sherry’s house where the three of us begrudgingly put the maimed baby back in the manger and tried to quietly creep away. Lynn made a stealthy exit difficult by giving a parting kick to every lawn ornament in our way. When we got to the van, a photo fluttered at us from under the windshield wiper where it had been tucked. Someone had been waiting for our arrival. It was another picture of Sherry holding the ornaments but in this one she stood next to a worn out salesgirl in front of a small display table marked JCPenny. Propped up on the table was a newspaper dated the day after Thanksgiving. Pure, concentrated evil beamed from Sherry’s smile and we realized she’d outsmarted us. No wonder she had been late to the wedding rehearsal. That bitch had been out shopping. The humiliation, the anger, the defeat—it smothered us as did the knowledge that Sherry was rubbing our noses in it.

            Wild, maniacal laughter soared through the air. I turned to see Sherry on the septic tank, silhouetted by the glow coming from Mary and Joseph. She reached down, picked up Jesus, and held him high over her head.

            “The wicked will be punished!” Sherry shouted.

            A portion of Jesus’ duct taped skull fell off, hitting her right in the head. The arm slipped free from its tape restraint and before we knew it, the whole plastic baby broke apart in her hands, silencing the hellish laughter.

            “You bet your ass the wicked will be punished,” Aunt Lynn called. “It’s a friggin’ Christmas miracle!”

            The giggle built inside of us, bursting out, tinged with hysteria. Sherry headed towards us and knowing better than to stick around, we scooted into my van.  As I pealed away, a loud thump came from the back of the vehicle. Sherry had thrown Jesus at us and his remains bounced off the mini van, leaving a sprinkling of plastic all over the street.  We didn’t care. My family was good and right with the world.

            I knew Jesus would forgive us.



Monday, November 25, 2013

Nanowrimo Reminder!

Hey all you Nanowrimo people! There is only a few days left to complete the novel of your dreams. Or just complete a novel. Good luck to you!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK: 11/22/63 Book Review

11/22/63...a day that will live in infamy for many people in America. For those of you who follow this blog and don't live in the States, you may not know what I'm referring to.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination.

I was not alive in '63, but I honestly believe that many things changed for our country on that day. A strong sense of distrust was created towards our government that lingers and festers. I know people who could expound for hours (and have) on that very subject. Countless books have been written about President Kennedy and his life, and the History Channel has dug out every piece of footage it has on the assassination and broadcast it for the last three weeks.

Last year, I read and reviewed Stephen King's book 11/22/63. I thought today was a fitting day to reprint that review. --Mary Ann

Good writers are also readers. I firmly believe this. I think that it's just as important to make time for reading every week as it is to make time for writing. The more you read, the better of a writer you become. You start to notice the little quirks and nuances about other writers that either drive you crazy or make you fall in love with their style. If you've read Stephen King's book, On Writing, you'll remember that reading is an important thing to the Master of Horror. Because I enjoy Mr. King's work, I decided to follow his good example and read his latest novel, 11/22/63.

It's 900 pages. 900! I'm one of the fastest readers I know, but it took me three days to get my Kindle to show that I was even 50% done. 900 freakin' pages...Again, referring to On Writing by Mr. King, I seem to recall one of his mantras to be "Cut unnecessary words."


Well, despite the 900 pages, I have to say that this might be one of my favorite King novels to date. Yes, he could have cut a few words here and there, trimmed up the fat, but I didn't really feel that the pace of the novel was too slow. As always, Mr. King is a master storyteller, weaving magic with his characters and taking on the JFK assassination.

For those expecting a horror tale, you're out of luck (although there are some psycho creepy moments). This is a historical fiction with science fiction elements in the form of time travel. The basic premise is this: Jake is an English teacher who teaches adult education classes in the evenings. After school, he occasionally stops by the diner across the street, which is run by a guy named Al. Al has a big secret he wants to share with Jake. Turns out he has a time loop in his diner's pantry. If you enter it, you end up in 1958. Apparently, Al has been making quite a few trips to the past, but whenever he returns to 2011, only two minutes have gone by. Every time he goes through the time slip, it's always the same day, same time, same starting location in 1958. Al has become obsessed with the idea of living in the past with the hopes of making it to 1963 so that he can stop the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald. Unfortunately, he has cancer and is too ill to accomplish the goal. He wants Jake to continue the mission

Jake is hesitant to take on the task. After all, what about the butterfly effect? What will happen if history is altered? Can it be altered? Does he have the guts to kill Oswald? Al assures Jake that the great thing about changing history is that if it doesn't work out or things go wrong, one can always go back through the time slip in the pantry and effectively restart the whole loop. After a few test runs where Jake attempts to save the family of one of his adult students whose life was drastically altered in 1958, he agrees to live in the past long enough to stop Oswald from killing Kennedy in Dallas.

Of course, he hasn't counted on a few complications. Like falling in love. Or becoming part of a community. Or the fact that something in the past doesn't want the future to be changed and will fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening--even if it means killing those near and dear to Jake.

Cue the dramatic music please!

I love the idea of time travel, and this book does a great job exploring the concept with all its pros and cons. So many people wonder about JFK and what would have happened if he'd lived. That being said, anyone with a basic understanding of the "rules" of time travel will have a pretty good idea of how this whole business will go down.

One of the interesting things about this story is that it revisits the fictional town of Derry, Maine. If you are a fan of the novel It, part of this tale occurs right after the end of the child murders in that book. And of course, if you are a believer that Oswald acted alone, then you'll be intrigued by the second half of the book which takes place in Dallas, Fort Worth, and a little town named Jody.

We know a great deal already about the events that occurred in Dallas that day in 1963, but King explores the subculture of the area and paints a gritty, racist picture of the city in the 1960s. I suspect he wasn't too far off the mark. He includes a lot of things that native Texans would appreciate and find familiar. Of course, that can have its drawbacks, too. One flaw I found which really bugged me was his reference of the slogan "Don't Mess with Texas." That didn't become a part of Texas culture until the 1980's. Still, it's a small thing in the overall scheme of things!

All in all, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others. Make sure you have ample time to sit down and absorb the story.

900 pages...geez....

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Nora Formula

There are lots of great writers out there that I love to read. Sometimes I go for literary. Sometimes I need some down and dirty erotica. Often, I'm in need of thrills and chills, and occasionally, I want to my historical fiction. You can clearly see that I'm all over the place as a reader when it comes to genre.

As a writer, I can't help but pay attention to how some of my favorite writers put their stories together--particularly the ones who are very well established and have a niche in the genre world. What do they do that keeps their readers coming back? Is it just good writing? Are we drawn in to their character's worlds? Is it that these writers just seem to always know how to spin a good yarn for their genre?

I think all of the above things can be true, but for some writers the secret seems to be The Formula. They've figured out what "secret" formula works for them and they stick to it no matter what. This can be a good thing as far as book sales and pleasing both old and new readers. However, it can also be a turn off and leave some readers feeling a little cheated.

To illustrate my point, I give you The Nora Formula.

By Nora, I mean Nora Roberts.

I've been a fan of Ms. Roberts for years. She knows her stuff and can suck a reader in with a wave of her magical writing wand. Most people think she is strictly a romance writer, and while it's true she is known for that, many of her current stand alone stories are more in the thriller genre with a splash of romance thrown in. Even her romantic trilogies tend to have some thriller themes to them. I really enjoy reading most of her work.

And yet...lately, I've noticed that I'm disappointed in her newest trilogies. They still have the same rich descriptions about new and exotic locations. There is lots of humor and that sizzle of romance. But...I feel like I've heard all of these stories before. So I asked myself why that is? Why can I figure out by the end of Chapter 3 who will end up with who in subsequent stories and how the end of the trilogy will turn out? Why can I figure out too quickly who the bad guy is? Why can I see the twist coming? Has Nora let me down?

My realization? It's due to The Nora Formula. She has figured out a floor plan for her novels that she uses time and again. The only changes she makes are her character names, their location, and parts of their back story. But the basics remain the same.  Typically, her trilogies consist of the following things:

  • A new comer to a town or location who has been burned by a past relationship whether it be a family member or lover.
  • Something supernatural that may be a ghost or a witch of some sort that causes problems or has it's own love story to be solved.
  • At least, one story will have a single parent with kids.
  • There is always a dog.
  • One of the men will be super smart, one will be funny, one will be the sexy jerk that gets brought down to Earth by his compatible love interest.
  • One of the women will always be the more beautiful of the three and show an innate natural confidence that gets under some man's skin.
  • There is usually some jerky ex husband, boyfriend, or lover that physically threatens one of the women.
  • They all end up married.
  • You will meet the bad guy by the end of Chapter Three. He'll be the one she randomly mentions who doesn't pop up again until almost the end of the book. By the way, that's the bad guy for this leg of the story. There is also a three story arc bad guy, too.
  • Ireland will be brought up even if the story doesn't take place there.
  • Often there is a family matriarch who is a no nonsense type, but has no problem talking to her sons about sex and still bakes cookies. Eventually, you find out she's been having a quiet dignified affair with some minor character.
  • The words "roughshod" and "three fingers of whiskey" will pop up.
  • The sex will always be well written.
Am I wrong? Those of you who've been loyal Nora fans can probably think of several other pieces of the formula I've left out!

Does this make me like her writing less? Not really, but I do think she is very talented and it wouldn't hurt to get something fresh ideas going on in her trilogies. On the other hand, The Nora Formula works for her. It's kid tested and parent approved. It sells books. It generates new readers. Hell, I wish I had The Mary Ann Formula that did the same for me!

What do you think, fellow writers? Who else has their own writing formula that seems to work?

Monday, November 11, 2013

3 Tips for Authors and Reviewers to Remember

I've recently run across several review sites on Amazon and Goodreads were a book reviewer and the author of the book they reviewed was behaving badly. And by badly I mean, badly.  I'm pretty sure there was both virtual hair pulling and nipple twisting involved in several of these cases. While I admit that a part of me was intrigued and somewhat excited at this display of unprofessional behavior, I couldn't help but think, wow. That's so sad. In the end, it made me think that about the importance of being a good, but fair reviewer and how as an author, you have to not let a review or even a comment about the review, get under your skin.


Since I work on both sides of that slippery slope, I know how hard it can be!


So I thought about a few things that both reviewers and authors can try to keep in mind.


1. Opinions are like first time manuscripts. Everyone's got one shoved away in the back of their closet, and they can make or break any relationship. You don't have to like everything a writer has written. There is no rule book I've seen as a reviewer that says that you do. It's okay to write that you don't like something, but my opinion is that if you want people to respect your thoughts, think carefully about how you express them.


Authors, opinions are not the end all, be all, final last word on your book. It may sting to hear criticism but be professional. You'll get a lot more respect if you keep your mouth shut than if you start talking smack on the internet about the reviewer. That just makes you look petty.


2. What are the good things? I believe as a reviewer that there should be a least one positive aspect that you can write about the book. It may be the book cover. It may be a minor character that keeps you from falling asleep. Maybe it's the way the author handles the setting. Try to find something that sounds positive. Why? After all it goes back that opinion thing, doesn't it? Yes, but saying at least one thing that positive can make you not look like such a giant jerk.


Authors take the positive and learn from the negative. Better yet, take the negative and ask yourself if perhaps the reviewer is right. Is the pacing of your story off? Should you try to cut some backstory? Maybe hiring an editor isn't such a bad idea for the next book….


3. Genre can sometimes be to blame for a bad review for a good book.  Let's face it: I don't like erotic murder mysteries with a touch of steampunk in them. It's just not my thing. As a result, I try not to review the genre erotic mystery steampunk (I'm making that genre up, by the way). Surely, I'm not alone in not enjoying every type of genre out there though. Sometimes a reviewer's review comes off as negative because it's just not their favorite style of book--not because the writing is poor.


Authors, before asking a reviewer to read your book, make sure they understand what genre it is, especially if your book cover or synopsis is misleading. In fact, don't send it to a reviewer who doesn't like that style of novel. If you are part of a book tour and the tour manager sends it to a reviewer who gives it negative press, it may well be a genre thing. Don't worry about it!


A few weeks ago I read a book about how negative reviews can actually be helpful for the author. Sometimes a review suggests that something is bad that a reader has to see for themselves just how bad it is. However, sometimes negativity can be bad for the reviewer. If you are malicious or tip up a book just for the sake of doing it, then people won't see you as a credible source.

Now, back to virtual hair pulling and nipple twisting!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quirks, foibles and traits

Sounds like a collection of ultra-small physics particles, doesn't it?

In reality, the insertion of these idiosyncrasies into a book are a key part of what delineates a potentially great author from a mediocre one. If that sounds like an exaggeration, I'll say it again in a slightly different way - leave them out at your peril.

Let's look at an example. A typical breakfast scene where the main point of the act is the dialogue that's taking place between the principal characters. No doubt you've polished this and it works perfectly so I’m not going to consider the conversation, only the actions that are going on around it.

Thus, what you may not have done is to have considered the 'little details', such as having one or other of the characters:
  • Leave the milk out of the fridge so it gets warm
  • Burn the toast
  • Have an impromptu 'seconds' from the cornflakes box so that there isn't quite enough cereal left for the other person to get a full serving
  • Open their boiled eggs upside down
  • Make a ritual out of sweeping up every last crumb of toast
... and so on.

There's nothing particularly magical about this list and you could easily add hundreds more bits of human weirdness that regularly take place around any breakfast table. While those details recounted en masse might well be terminally tedious, scattered sparingly over the breakfast scene just like pepper over one's scrambled eggs, will 'pep it up' considerably.

In fact, that's the key to the correct use of these qualities. When you choose your book’s cast, pick on a selection of ones which you feel are both in keeping with your characters and which will also allow you to inject interest into scenes which might otherwise be too dry or complex.

If I've not quite convinced you of how relevant this is, I'd like you to think of another scene that occurs regularly in your life such as going to work, eating dinner, preparing for bed – anything like these will do. Now make a mental list of what you actually do on each occasion and then make another list of how many processes you actually need to do. For example, take 'going to bed'. You don't NEED to line up your watch, jewellery, wallet etc - you could simply just chuck them down on the bedside table or the dresser. You don't NEED to put both shoes together - as long as you can find them, that's all that matters.

... and so on.

Whether you choose to make your quirks, foibles and traits amusing, frustrating or plain irritating, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you have made your characters human and depicting their weaknesses - weaknesses which we all suffer from – will be a major influence in getting your readers to identify with them.

Now, where’s my protractor? I like to leave my laptop screen at exactly 115º when it’s not in use.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

National Novel Writing Month

Whew! I finally took a break from my Nanowrimo project and realized I hadn't updated the blog this week! But that's what happens when you start writing a 50,000 word project in November. You lose track of your friends, your family, your mind!

For those of you that don't know, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is every November. The goal is to write around 1667 words every day. If you stick to this, by the time Nov. 30 rolls around you should have a 50,000 word novel. This project has gotten more and more popular in the last few years and I think it's something everyone should try at least once.

What do you get out of it?

The pleasure of leaving all editing constraints behind! That's the beauty of Nanowrimo--you just write for the sake of writing and don't worry about commas or spellings. That will come later. For now, the joy is just in telling the story at a break neck pace.

Want to learn more? Then visit the Nanowrimo website and sign up! National Novel Writing Month

Back to my lap top!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Grammar Geek

Bad grammar detracts from good writing like an over-salted dish ruins a fine meal.  It leaves a vile taste in the mouth and puts you off going there again.   
Yes language evolves, yes dictionaries are regularly updated to reflect this and no I don’t want us to all speak like Shakespeare but the way we speak and write is still important.   
You may be the most fascinating, hilarious and kindest person I’ve ever met but if you smell it will put me off spending time with you.   
To me, bad grammar is the same.  If you can’t be bothered to clean up your language and to make sure it flows smoothly, then I don’t want to read your work.   
Here are some common pitfalls that have crept into accepted use recently: 
I am nauseous means I produce nausea in others.  You don’t mean that, do you?  You are nauseated.  You feel sick.  
Is not a word.  Marketing people – stop using it.   
Unless you’re quite literally in an episode of Made in Chelsea, you quite literally cannot afford to use this horrific word over and over and over again.  
Even Microsoft Word red pens this one.  It is not a word.  Stop repeating what you’ve heard other people say at work   
Lay and lie  
My chickens lay eggs.  You do not.  You lie down.   
You lay an object.  You lie yourself down.   
Lay and laid  
Laid is the past tense of lay. Lay is the past tense of lie.   
See above.  You laid down an egg.  You lay down on the bed.   
Is singular.  My team is. Not my team are.  I’m not a violent person but I have to restrain myself over the incorrect use of this.  Beware.    
Do not use when you mean his or her.  The word ‘their’ is plural. It is not a substitute for his or her.  Everyone (singular) must bring his or her (not their) own parrot to the party.   
Fewer and less  
One that is become less often used, fortunately.  For those still unclear, fewer is quantifiable, less is hypothetical.  I have fewer items in my bagging area.  I have less time on my hands.   
I’m sure you recognise some of these errors but now you’re aware of them, with a little care and attention, we can put this right together and make sure every sentence we create is a little thing of beauty.   
Katy Pollard 
Katy Pollard is a Communications and Engagement professional with more than 11 years’ experience and qualifications of a CIPR Diploma and an MA in Journalism.  The self-confessed grammar-geek lives in Leeds, UK with her partner Steve and pet pig Gwen. 
Twitter: @Trolley79