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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Publishing Making You Crazy? by; Jory Strong

2009. Did anyone see where it went? Seems like one minute we were ushering it in and the next it was gone. Over the last month I’ve been on a mission to clear out the stacks and stacks of magazines in my office. We’re talking years of Romantic Times and the RWR from RWA, on top of all the horse-related ones.

It’s amazing all the good stuff contained in those magazines! No wonder I put them aside to read one day, it just took a while for that day to arrive. But it did, and just in time for 2010.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I am a fan of reflection at this time of year, and of assessing where I am with my writing. In 2009 my 30th story with Ellora’s Cave was published and the first two books in my post-Apocalyptic urban fantasy romance series with Berkley hit the shelves. But looking back on it, it seems like I spent too much time on an emotional roller-coaster and not enough of it enjoying the ride.

There’s a Zennish saying to the effect that when the student is ready, the teacher will show up. Among the stacks of magazines, I encountered Why Publishing is Making You Crazy—and What You Can Do About It: The Tao of Publishing by Steven Axelrod and Julie Anne Long. It was in the December 2008 RWR.

I won’t attempt to summarize the article, I could never do justice to it. But I hope you’ll check it out. Give yourself the gift of sanity It’s a great way to start 2010!

Jory Strong has been writing since childhood and has never outgrown being a daydreamer. She has won numerous awards for her writing. When she's not hunched over her computer, lost in the muse and conjuring up new heroes and heroines, she can usually be found reading, riding her horses, or hiking with her dogs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Making the Time to Write by: Yasmine Galenorn

Here’s a little story I’ve told at several discussion groups and workshops on writing that I’ve led. It’s just as valid now as every time I’ve told it. Remember it—because it’s one of the few lessons I can teach you that I consider absolutely vital for aspiring writers. Or for anybody pursuing a career that takes practice, talent, and skill.

On December 17th, 1993, I was recuperating from pneumonia when I made the mistake of eating some popcorn. I coughed, inhaled an un-popped kernel, and couldn't breathe. My husband was at work and I was home alone.

Within seconds, everything started going fuzzy as I realized I couldn’t dislodge the kernel. Somehow, I managed to stand up and the moment I did, I promptly fainted. Luckily, when I hit the floor the popcorn dislodged and I started breathing again. A few minutes later, I regained consciousness.

I was okay, I hadn’t suffered any permanent damage. The only thing different about my life was that it had almost ended within the past five minutes. And that fact made all the difference in my world.

Shaking and crying, I sat at my desk, thinking about what had happened. I wasn’t afraid of dying, per se—years before I’d made my peace with the concept of mortality. What bothered me was that I began to think about what I would have regretted if I’d actually died that night.

And the one regret that cropped up—besides missing my wonderful new husband and my cats more than I could imagine—would have been that I hadn’t published a book yet. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was three. I had a number of novels in my closet that I’d written but never managed to get more than a nibble on from agents and publishers. And I goofed off more than I wrote, and made excuses for why I wasn't trying harder.

Right then, my priorities shifted. I strengthened my resolve that, damn it, I was going to get published and I’d do what it took to achieve my goal. I was at a crossroads in my writing and I knew it. At that moment, I decided that—no matter how many rejections I received—I had to persevere and to work toward my goal on a daily basis. That night was a turning point. It led me to realize this simple truth: if I wanted to make it as a writer, I had to develop professional writing habits and self-discipline.

I used to say, “Someday, when I publish a book—” but the truth of the matter is that someday almost never came. Someday might never come. People die every day. People get hit by buses, have car wrecks because of deer, drunk drivers, black ice. People have heart attacks, are random targets for road rage. People have accidents, get killed, people do choke to death. And I was almost one of the statistics. There’s no guarantee that any of us will be alive tonight.

A near-death experience or a loved one’s sudden demise triggers an awareness of just how quickly life can be snuffed out. It changes our perception. We no longer look at life the same again when we understand how fragile it can be. And suddenly, taking life for granted seems like a colossal sin. Wasted time is the one thing we can’t recover.

And so I began to live deliberately. No, I don’t treat each moment like it’s my last, but I make sure that I’m doing what I want to be doing, even if it’s sitting there, watching TV.

In the months following my near-death experience, I tried to become more flexible in what I wrote, I tried out new approaches, I quit saying “I should be writing this” and experimented with other forms, other subjects. I began to study the editing and revision process with renewed enthusiasm.

It took another three years but in April 1996, I sat in the car, hugging my first book contract to my chest, crying. My dream had been realized, I’d achieved a lifelong goal. A legitimate publisher wanted to publish my book. The fact that it was nonfiction didn’t matter. I’d moved from ‘aspiring writer’ to ‘author’ and there would be a book with my name on it, sitting on the bookshelves, and a publisher was going to pay me to write it.

I had manifested my dream. I also realized, in that moment, that I would never have achieved my goal if I had slacked off or made excuses for why I couldn’t write this or that day, or if I’d spent my time partying or shopping or goofing around rather than knuckling down to do the actual work.

Now, sixteen years after almost dying, and thirteen years since I received my first contract, I have fourteen novels, one anthology, and eight nonfiction books on the bookstore shelves and many more coming out.

I’m a New York Times bestselling author. I’m writing three books a year for Berkley. I've spoken at a number of conventions and groups. I’ve also discovered that the other side of publishing—the professional one—is a lot harder work than most aspiring writers ever want to believe it is. But it’s worth it because it’s what I love to do.

Nothing is more satisfying than sitting back, holding a new book or another contract in my hands, knowing that I put my heart, soul, and sweat into making the story the best I could at the time I wrote it. Or knowing that now, after all the years of writing midlist, I can support us if something happens to my husband’s job.

I receive letters from readers who love my work and they always make me smile because I love my career and communication is what it’s all about. I work 60-80 hours a week because it's part of the job, and while I bitch and moan now and then, the truth is: I love it. I love it all. The worst day writing is better than the best day at an office job. Well, maybe not, but hey, every career has it's downsides. ~grins~

But none of this would have happened if I hadn’t organized my priorities, if I hadn’t sat there that dark night, touching my throat where it was raw from the coughing and choking, and thought, “What can I do to make sure I don’t regret my life when my time really does come? I don’t want to regret things undone.” And then, I followed through.

So tell me, what do you want out of life? What are your priorities? Are you working to achieve your goals, or are you just daydreaming about someday? Because friend, sometimes “someday” never comes. You have today—this moment—it’s the only one you can be sure about.

If you don’t take control and make the time to write, then forget about it and go find something that’s more important to you. Because I guarantee you: You’ll never just ‘find’ the time. You have to make the time. You have to carve it out. You have to say, “I’m going to go write now and stop blogging about it, stop talking about it, stop whining about not being published. I’m going to: Make. It. Happen.”

So will this be a pep talk for you? Only if it works. I’ve told this to some people and watched a few of them take it to heart, take up the challenge and throw themselves into the work.

And some—some continue to make excuses for why they can’t write today…why they can’t write this week…why they can’t finish the story they’re on or can’t think of a new story or maybe their dog ate their manuscript or the clothes need washed or gee, time to polish the silverware that’s been sitting around for ten years unused.

Which side of the fence are you on? Are you willing to give up thirty minutes of TV or reading or solitaire a day so you can write? Are you willing to take charge or your life? Or are you going to let your life take charge of you?

Brightest Blessings, and go sit down and write. ~grins~


New York Times bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn writes urban fantasy for Berkley: both the bestselling Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon Series for Berkley and the upcoming Indigo Court urban fantasy series. In the past, she wrote mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, and nonfiction metaphysical books. Her books have hit the New York Times and USA Today extended bestseller lists numerous times.

Yasmine has been in the Craft for over 29 years, is a shamanic witch, and describes her life as a blend of teacups and tattoos. She lives in Bellevue WA with her husband Samwise and their cats.

Yasmine can be reached via her website, via MySpace and Twitter.

Bone Magic (Book 7 in the Otherworld Series)

Available Jan 5th from Berkley Publishing

We're the D'Artigo sisters: savvy--and sexy--operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. But being half-human, half-Fae short-circuits our talents at all the wrong times. My sister Delilah is a two-faced Were who turns into a golden tabby when she's stressed. And Menolly's a vampire who's still trying to get the hang of being undead. As for me? I'm Camille D'Artigo, a wicked-good witch who's learning death magic with my youkai-kitsune husband. Until now, the Moon Mother's pretty much ignored me, but she's about to take me on the Hunt of my life...

Another equinox is here, and life's getting more dangerous for all of us. The past is catching up to our friends, Iris and Chase. Smoky--the dragon of my dreams--is forced to choose between his family and me. To top it off, there's a new demon general in town and we can't locate her. And when the Moon Mother and the Black Beast summon me to Otherworld. I think I'm just going to reunite with my long lost soulmate. But once there, I'm forced to undergo a drastic ritual that will forever change my life, and the lives of those around me.

Etched in Silver by Yasmine Galenorn

In the Anthology Inked by: Marjorie Liu, Yasmine Galenorn, Elaine Wilks, & Karen Chance

Available Jan 5th from Berkley/Jove

Camille D'Artigo, an agent for the Y'Elestrial Intelligence Agency, is on the hunt for a sadistic serial killer. Trouble is: her boss is betting on her failure. She must find the killer by the deadline, or her only choices will be to either resign from her job or succumb to her boss's lecherous intentions. But she didn't count on help from an unexpected source. Trillian, a Svartan--one of the dark, Charming Fae, comes into her life. Everyone warns her against him but as her search for the killer intensifies, Trillian becomes her only ally--and potentially, a man who could break her heart as a magnetic, passionate force draws them together

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wild Rose Press and Callie Lynn Wolfe

Hello, and thank you so much for having me here today. First, let me tell you a bit about myself. My name, as you know, is Callie Lynn Wolfe, and I am the senior editor for the Black Rose line at The Wild Rose Press. Black Rose is the darker paranormal side of the garden. We handle all vamp, shifter, and other darker creatures such as demons, witches, warlocks, gargoyles—well you get the picture.

I have been on staff with TWRP for almost as long as they have been open. I began with their Champagne line but not soon after transferred to Black when an opening became available. Dark Paranormal is my thing and I have to tell you I love it there!

For those of you not familiar with The Wild Rose Press, we are strictly a romance publisher. Our stories always have a happy-ever-after ending and must contain at least 75% of the storyline pertaining to romance. We are going into our fourth year and continue to be “the gentler publisher.” We have one guarantee and that is never will an author receive a form rejection from our house. Our editing staff will always give authors an encouraging and constructive letter detailing why their submission was rejected. We pride our selves by not only giving all authors a chance but aiding in making their writing better.

Black Rose is always in the market for unique twists and fresh ideas when it comes to the traditional vampire, werewolf lore. We look for new creatures as well. So if you’ve got a darker, more imaginative take on these mystical heroes and heroines, we’re looking for you.

Black Rose submission information:

The Black Rose Line at The Wild Rose Press is actively open for spicy to very hot story submissions.

The darker side of the garden seeks steamy, Alpha male or female weres, to die for vamps, or any other delicious mystical creature you have locked up in your wildest imaginations. These stories should include vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, and mystical creatures of all types. The stories are darker, but must have a strong romance theme as the central story thread. We are open to a wide range of stories, and because these creatures tend to be sensual in nature, Black Rose accepts manuscripts that fit the Sensual, Spicy, and Hot ratings parameters, but sex should not be used as the main story thread.

In addition, please be sure your story is a romance before submitting. For more information on how we define ROMANCE, please read the articles listed in our FAQ section.

For more detailed information, please visit our Black Rose Submission Guideline page at TWRP.

Now down to the nitty gritty of what I look for in a submission.

The first thing I look for is that the author has followed submission guidelines. Then I assess whether the story is the same old story or a fresh new concept on the traditional lore. The next thing that stands out for me is the author’s execution, grammar and punctuation as well craft mechanics. If the copy is sloppy, no matter how good the story, the errors will be grossly distracting so an important thing to remember before submitting your heart’s work is to PROOFREAD or have a fresh set of eyes look over the story carefully.

My pet peeve is passive language. This is when the story is told more than shown to the reader. The use of words like was/were and ‘to be’ verbs slow the story down and contribute to its passivity. Also, beginning sentences with “there was” puts me over the edge, LOL. I want to feel like I’ve been dropped into the center of things. I want to see, smell, feel, taste the story as if I am part of it. Use of the senses and building wonderful scenes through descriptive imagery will accomplish this. If you keep this in mind and choose your words carefully, your story will shine.

Another important thing to keep in mind is the pace. If your story is filled with action and events unfolding all around your characters, you will want to keep the pace moving quickly with short sentences. If sentence length rambles on this will slow the story and in effect may tend to bore the reader. Passive/telling will also give the story quality a slow, meandering pace. Keep things moving. Avoid excessive information dumps/backstory and long descriptive narratives. Always try to find clever, active ways to give the reader information you want them to know. You can do this by dropping tidbits into dialogue between characters or in a quick memory, etc.

I hope this information has helped all you writers out there and I look forward to hearing from you.

I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a very Happy Holiday season, as well a Happy New Year. I will check in periodically so if you have any questions please do not hesitate to post them. I will also be giving away some Wild Rose Press bucks to one lucky poster. So, if there is a book you’ve had your eyes on be sure to post a comment.

Oh, and if you are looking for some fabulous last minute gifts, please check out our store for some unique ideas. Also, we’re now offering print bundles, which means you can save up to 40% on these groupings. Now that’s a great idea book lovers.

Where to find me:


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rewording the Conventional Wisdom About Structuring a Romance Novel by: Larry Brooks

Every genre under the writing sun has a rap against it. Something that folks who don’t write or even read within that genre use to make it, well, less than their own genre of choice.

In romance, it’s that a perception of story structure as formulaic. In essence, that all romances are the same skeleton stretched over a different skin.

In a word, that’s hooey. At least in the sense that this is a bad thing. Because if it’s true in romance, it’s just as true – if not more so – in detective thrillers, science fiction and horror, and nobody’s knocking the structure of those genres.

Predictability, to some extent, is what makes any genre work.

Perhaps it’s time to view structure through a whole new lens.

To better understand story structure in romance novels, we need to get the romance out of the conversation. We need a new language to get past the character-driven rhetoric and clarify what happens first, what happens next and what happens after that, and – here’s the value-adding part – why.

The problem is that, in almost all cases, structure in romance novels is discussed using soft-edged character-driven language. Such as…

… girl meets boy… boy doesn’t even notice girl… or girl finds boy repulsive… one does something that makes the other notice… he’s unhappy, she’s unhappy… he’s suddenly happy, she’s just as happy… third parties interfere… somebody pursues somebody else… somebody steps in to save the day…somebody learns a life lesson…

… and romance ensues.

This isn’t structure, its session notes from a relationship counselor. Rather than defining dramatic tension, it more closely defines character arc.

Your romance novel requires both character arc and plot exposition. But until the two structures untangle themselves, it can be tough to tell the difference.

There’s a better way to understand structure.

One that uses clear language that can be applied to any form of romance story, whether the love interest looks like Giles Marini or Seth Rogan.

Because here’s a little secret about any genre of fiction. This may blow away your belief that romance is somehow separate from other literary forms in terms of criteria for excellence, but it’s not, and here’s why: all commercial fiction is built on basically the same structure.

And that includes romance novels.

Once you understand the various parts and milestones of a story – any story – you are empowered to apply these elements within your storytelling.

The sequence is as generic as it is empowering. It’s all about pacing and exposition, which is precisely what makes a romance novel compelling.

Is generic a good thing? It absolutely is.

All stories – including romances – can be broken down into four sequential parts. They have nothing at all to do with girl-meets-boy, but rather, they are described as generic segments of the story in terms of storytelling context.

If you insist on thinking about your story in character-driven terms, these same four parts look like this: orphan… wanderer… warrior… hero/martyr.

But if you’re looking for a way to distribute your characterizations across a landscape of powerful dramatic tension, and if you can wrap your head around understanding the milestones that separate the four parts, try this instead:

- Part 1 set-up… wherein we meet our heroine and create the context for her forthcoming quest…

- First plot point (or inciting incident)… where something happens that changes everything and defines what she needs or wants in the story, as well as the obstacles preventing her from attaining it easily…

- Part two responsewhere we see what the heroine does as a natural response to the dramatic incident that changed everything…

- Mid-point… the parting of the curtain with new information that twists the story in a new direction…

- Part three proactive attack… where the character uses this information to get positively intense about conquering all obstacles, but the obstacles only seem to get stronger…

- Second plot point… the final introduction of new information, or a twist, that ignites the race to the finish…

- Part four resolution… wherein the hero conquers her inner demons to become the primary catalyst in the story’s ending.

Of course, all this is in context to the fundamental premise of fiction itself, which is as simple as it is obvious: stories are about a hero/heroine who is thrust into a situation in which she needs or wants something, facing obstacles in her quest to achieve that need, forcing her to confront both inner and exterior antagonistic forces in order to become the primary catalyst in the story’s resolution.

In romances, the quest is love. The obstacles are rejection, lack of confidence, treachery, competition, jealousy, or a host of other real-life factors that can get in the way of happy ever after.

It’s the same structure, told differently.

Structure is like a skeleton. Without a proper and healthy skeleton, what you have is something, well, very sad. But it’s not the skeleton that makes a body beautiful, mysterious and compelling. No, that’s the consequences of shape and texture and coloring, delivered with pace and nuance, and imbued with intelligence and humor and romantic mystique.

Without the skeleton, it’s all just a pile of wet mush.

For the most part, the oeuvre of instructional literature as it pertains to writing romances is all tissue and no bones.

Feel free to test this. Not only with the romance novels you read, but with any book or movie that you consume. You’ll see this structure in place, and when you do, there’s no going back.

Because then you’ll know what successful authors know. Even if they describe it all very differently.

Larry Brooks is a bestselling novelist and the creator of Storyfix.com, an instructional writing resource for authors of all genres. He is also the author of Story Structure – Demystified, an ebook available through his site.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

4 Reasons Every Fiction Writer Should Have a Blog By: Taylor Lindstrom of Men with Pens

Having a blog doesn’t seem like a high priority for many fiction writers. Some have personal blogs where they write about the frustrations and epiphanies of getting the right words on the page, and a few have business blogs designed to promote their other income-earning ventures. Not their fiction.

When your ultimate goal is to write and publish a full-length piece of fiction, is having a blog really valuable? Or is it just a waste of time?

There are definitely arguments on both sides, but I come down heavily in favor of fiction writers maintaining a blog for the following four reasons:

Your Blog Is a Place to Clear Your Head

In your writing career, you may have heard of a book called The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. While not all her techniques work for everyone, the exercise I’ve heard cited again and again as invaluable is the practice of morning pages.

The idea of morning pages is to write three pages every morning, first thing. They’re not supposed to be good. In fact, they’re supposed to be kind of whiny. “I hate waking up, my head hurts, I’m out of coffee, I don’t want to write, and my mother pissed me off last night when she called.”

They’re not supposed to be literature or fine fiction. They’re supposed to clear all the worrisome, fretful stuff out of your head so that you can focus on your real writing – the book you’ve been trying to move forward on for the last few months.

Often, we can’t focus because we simply have so much other stuff going on in our brains, and the morning pages are very useful for getting all that stuff thought out.

Keeping a blog has a similar purpose, but it can be much more directly useful to you as a writer. After all, a blog full of rantings about how lousy your day is and how bad your writer’s block has been doesn’t make for good blog material. You have to focus on one particular topic – writing – and you have to come up with valuable and insightful things to say on that topic.

“Wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “The whole reason I’m having a hard time moving forward with my fiction is that I don’t know everything I need to know about character development or plot formation or creating the right atmosphere in my stories. How am I supposed to write blog
posts on those topics?”

Good question, and I’m going to answer it with another question: Have you ever heard the old adage that we learn best by teaching?

It’s true. When you write a blog post on the best ways to develop a character, you’re going to start thinking about that topic a little more thoroughly. You might do some independent research on what other people have said about it, and you may try to combine several theories to come up with new insight of your own. You’ll think of new ways to achieve this goal simply by
trying to explain it to other people in a simple, easy to understand way.

And that means you’ll have new knowledge about the mechanics of writing a story that you can then put into practice in your own fiction work offline.

Blogs Keep You On a Writing Schedule

One of the major obstacles that fiction writers face is finding the time, every day, to sit down and pick up the pen. And yet your favorite professional writers, the ones you admire and aspire to emulate, all tell you that this is the only way to get anything done.

Sit down, they’ll say. Sit down every day and write.

Many of us who write fiction as a part-time endeavor, between picking up the kids and going to our day job and spending time with our significant others and getting to the gym, say that’s unrealistic. Maybe two days a week, we’ll say. Maybe three if we're lucky.

The only way to develop a habit is to do it daily or at least two weeks. “Daily” is non-negotiable. It doesn’t have to be for a long time – you needn’t write for three hours every day. But you do need to write at least every day, preferably at the same time, so that you get into the habit of producing writing.

Blogs help you do that.

The most popular blogs on the web are those are updated at least once daily. Since blog posts are brief and don’t require the same level of creative thought as a newspaper article (which must be backed by facts) or a fiction piece (which must have unique characters and story), it’s far easier to compel yourself to do a blog post.

And once you’ve started writing, you’ll find that you want to continue writing – perhaps on that much-neglected piece of fiction.

Blogs are invaluable because they start the ball rolling. A blog post doesn’t feel as scary as that story you’ve been longing to tell. It isn’t as close to your heart. It’s not the precious creation you gave birth to and want to protect. It’s just a blog post. It’s maybe 500 words. That’s no problem. You can do that.

Once you do, you’ll find that whatever you wrote about can probably be applied to that precious story of yours. And you’ll be feeling comfortable with writing. You won’t be afraid to keep going. Before you know it, you’ll have a daily writing schedule: one blog post, followed by another hour of writing, another five pages, another chapter in your book.

Blogs Give You a Platform

Self-publishing has a bad rap, and often for good reason, since there are definitely false publishers out there who take your money and give you very little in return. However, there are quite a few fiction writers who have risen to significant popularity after self-publishing their work and offering it free online.

To give just one example, the prominent sci-fi writer John Scalzi first published his novel Old Man’s War on his blog for download. Tor Books made him an offer and re-published it themselves in regular ol’ book format. That book went on to win a Hugo, and Scalzi himself went on to write many more books. He was also nominated for many more awards.

Now, you needn’t go the same route and offer your entire novel online. However, putting a few short pieces up for free download can definitely get you the attention you need to catch the eye of a good publisher or agent.

The more people you can get to talk about you and read your work online, the more likely it is that your work reaches the people who can help you get published.

Before you rush out and start a blog simply to get those fiction pieces up there, let me caution you against the sloppy approach: the reason that Scalzi was able to get such attention was that his blog was already quite popular by the time he put that novel up there. He had many eyes already willing to read his blog posts, and many of those eyes were also delighted to read his fiction. If he had started his blog and posted the novel that same day, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.

So don’t expect overnight success if you’ve put no effort into getting a good audience for your blog. Blog for its other benefits and be sure to let your readers know that your fiction work is available. Even if you still have to find an agent and a publisher the old-fashioned way, you’ll have all the resources you need to do so available from that attention… which brings us to our fourth point:

Blogs Give You Feedback

When you put your words in a public format like a blog, you’ll get constant feedback from people who have dropped by your site. Some of that feedback will be complimentary, and some of it will make you cringe.

All of it, however, will be useful.

You’ll be able to see what people respond to and what they don’t care for in your work. You’ll be able to have conversations with regular blog readers and ask them what changes they’d suggest. You’ll hear lots of insight on your work from people who have no connection to you – and who therefore have no reason to soft-pedal their critiques.

For some of you, that amount of criticism sounds terrible. But most writers rewrite the same story several times before they get it published – and they can’t rewrite it if they don’t know how they should rewrite it. By putting that criticism to good use, you’ll be far more likely to have a viable story the next time you go seeking an agent or a publisher for your work.

Both agents and publishers are looking for fiction that is already very good by the time they lay their hands on it. They don’t want to have to provide an editor to get your work ready for the rack. With all the free critics at your fingertips on your blog, you’ll have a serious head start on making your work good enough to publish from the moment they read that first page.

What are you waiting for? Blogs are free, they’re easy to start, and they can give you invaluable boosts in the process of getting your work published. Let your blog catapult you to writing success.

About the Author: Taylor Lindstrom is the rogue woman writing at Men with Pens, a blog geared towards the craft of writing, online success, and creating income from words. Visit the site for more words of wisdom on fiction writing at Men with Pens today - or click here to subscribe to their RSS feed.

An Officer and a Reader (Well, More Than One) By: Michael L Helfstein, USNR (Ret.) and Author Linnea Sinclair

I’ve always been a reader. The first series I remember is the Lensman (I know, that goes way back). I used to read under the covers with a flashlight when everyone else went to bed, and I’d always wanted to write. Of course, real life intruded with a family, and an IBM career concurrent with a Navy Reserve career both of which kept me fairly occupied. They were also a close parallel, clerk to advisory programmer in IBM, seaman recruit to Lieutenant Commander in the Navy.

Finally, as a retiree from both the Navy and IBM, I was able to take the time to try to write. I picked up one of Linnea’s novels in Borders (Games of Command) and fell in love with her writing. Her web site’s URL from the back of the book led me to her forum which BTW is full of terrific published writers and that really attracted me!

Somehow, the fact that I was a retired Navy mustang came to Linnea’s attention and she asked me if I could help her with Navy traditions in novel she was writing, Hope’s Folly (plug) I was delighted and Linnea started asking questions prompting research and my teaching her what it means to be Navy. It helped having been both enlisted and commissioned officer (that’s a mustang BTW). Traditions, procedures, daily activities, all the things that make up being Navy! I’m still helping as best I can. And I’m learning to write from her as well, she’s a wonderful teacher. -M.L. Helfstein, USNR (Retired)

I’ve always been a reader too, drawn in as a wee kidling by childhood books with their swashbuckling heroes. I grew older but my affinity for heroes—swashbuckling or not—didn’t change, though I soon realized that the boy with the magic sword or the prince with a white steed were characters I was unlikely to meet outside of the pages of a book.

But then there was my Uncle Andy, a retired US Air Force navigator from WWII who would patiently sit beside me in my nighttime back yard and point out the constellations. And my Uncle Lou, a retired US Navy sailor who knew all sorts of things about winds and tides—and had fascinating stories of fighting in the Pacific, and life on board the big ships.

Real heroes. No magic sword. No white steed, but real heroes all the same.

The first military hero I ever created was Admiral Branden Kel-Paten (Games of Command, Bantam Dell). Actually, I created him so long ago he was Captain Kel-Paten when we met in my imagination. He made me examine things like loyalty and duty. He made me fall in love with him…and realize that while magic swords are cool and white steeds set a certain fashion statement, the true heroism is something that comes from deep inside.

There’ve been other military heroes—male and female—I’ve created but none surprised me quite like Philip Guthrie, who first appeared (much to my surprise) in Gabriel’s Ghost, my 2006 RITA ® award winner. Philip was a minor character and I initially saw him as an antagonist, an example of the military mindset gone wrong. But there was a hero deep inside Philip and through Shades of Dark and then in Hope’s Folly that heroism grows—in spite of the best laid plans of the author and the questionable ethics of the military organization he originally allies with.

So what does this have to do with my world building and craft class on Building Your Space Military (or whatever you need in your created world)?

Characters are inexorably tied to their environment, just like vegetables, shrubbery, and real people. And the environment of a military (good or bad) inexorably molds those characters. It’s a unique one in many ways: size, scope, length of commitment, purpose. Your character could be a physician who’s taken the oath to heal. But if your character is a military physician, she’s taken not only the oath to heal, but the oath to defend and protect her galactic political realm. Double duty, pun intended.

It’s the oath to protect and defend (and yes, law enforcement shares that) that fascinates me. So the structure that creates that is the basis of this class. Space captains, lieutenants, admirals, and fleet doctors have long populated science fiction and its subgenres. With the able assistance of a real life (retired) US Navy officer, we’re going to work on ways you can build the best danged space fleets or fantasy armies or alternate-universe special ops divisions in, well, the galaxy. Complete with real heroes in whatever universe you want to place them in.

A-ten-HUT! Fall in, recruits. Class begins in January. -Linnea Sinclair

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Writing Fight Scenes by: Angela Knight

Fight scenes can be one of the most exciting in a romance – or they can fall completely flat. But there are some simple principles you can put into practice that will help your fights shine.

Since fight scenes are often the climax of a novel, or at least major turning points in the plot, if you can’t pull them off, your book won’t succeed with readers.

Fights have a simple internal logic. When someone launches an attack, there are really only two possibilities: either the blow lands, or it misses. Since a blow can injure your character, she’s going to want to do something to make her opponent miss, by either dodging or blocking it. Then she’ll want to launch her own attack. Again, it will either land or miss.

So when I’m writing a fight, I choreograph it by imagining each attack and deciding how the other character will react to it.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my novellas, “Vampire’s Ball,” in the anthology Hot for the Holidays, which is out now.

In the flashing instant it took her to register her lover’s injury, the werewolf was on Kat and the girl, snarling mouth gaped wide to reveal teeth the length of her fingers, clawed hands reaching. Kat shoved the girl clear and swung her sword with all her strength right at the monster’s torso.

He threw himself back, avoiding her stroke, then lunged again. She hacked at the clawed arm swinging at her face.

You can see the action here: the werewolf attacks, dodges the heroine’s initial swing, and lunges at her again. But there’s much more going on than just the physical action.

What really gives a fight its power is the emotion the characters feel – their rage, fear, and pain. Those emotions move the reader, making her anxious for the character’s safety. Because the stakes are so high – life and death – the scene can really engage her sympathies. Here my heroine and hero are trying to defend a girl from a werewolf, so the price of failure is really high. If they lose, all three of them will die horrible deaths, so naturally the reader is going to be really invested in what’s going on.

Think about those emotions, and try to make them as intense as possible.

I’m not going to get out of this alive. The thought cut through the furious blur of action. There was no fear in it, just cold reason. Just her brain’s calculation of the odds.

Fuck it. If I die, I die. But I’m taking this bastard with me.

Kat flew into full extension, the kind of fencer’s lunge she’d used in college, thrusting her blade toward the monster’s chest. And it bit deep.

He roared in pain and fury. She didn’t see the blow coming until it hit her shoulder. She went flying. Hit the ground hard, light bursting in her head as she struck. Blinking, Kat stared blankly at the moonlit trees overhead. She’d never been hit that hard in her life.

You can see the heroine’s despair and determination. Also notice that I keep the sentences short and clear. Long, convoluted sentences can be too confusing in a fight. Also, short, clipped sentences communicate the speed and desperate emotion more effectively.

Another important ingredient in writing a fight scene is sensation. Think about how fighting for your life would feel: the smell of blood, the pain of a blow making you see stars, the cuts and bruises, the desperation of exhaustion and blood loss, the way the character pants for breath. Make the reader experience being in a fight for her life.

It’s also important to give a fight scene enough page count. Generally, I like a fight to be at least five pages, usually ten. Often, with a novel, I’ll go as long as twenty pages building up. You need that length to build the tension and emotion, and to give the reader time to really feel the tension and fear. If the scene is too short, you’re going to risk an anticlimax. And an anticlimax is bad, because it makes your reader feel cheated.

Remember that you’ve been building up to this scene for the whole book, so it needs as big as possible.

Also, make sure your hero and heroine get hurt in the fight. Often romance writers love their characters and don’t want them to suffer. But readers won’t feel the characters are really in danger if they don’t get hurt.

Remember there needs to be a moment in the fight when all seems lost, when the villain appears to have triumphed. The hero and heroine are bloody, wounded, and in pain. It’s at that moment that they figure out how to win.

Right after that, they have to deliver the coup de grace – the decisive blow that takes the villain out. Think how the characters can turn the tables on the villain.

She could feel her muscles strengthening. Her skin felt hot, swollen. She lifted the sword and waited for her moment even as her heart screamed in terror of the risk.

Ridge swung his sword, leaving himself wide open. The Direwolf twisted just as it had before, clawed hand catching him across the chest, ripping through armor and flesh and muscle.

Kat stepped up behind the werewolf, leaped upward with the vampire strength Ridge had loaned her through the Truebond, and took the creature’s head with one flashing stroke of her sword. The fanged head hit the leafy ground and bounced as the massive body toppled in the opposite direction

The hero and heroine defeat the werewolf by combining their strength. Note that I make sure the heroine is involved in the climactic battle. You don’t want to keep her on the sidelines, because she’s the lens through which readers view the story. Readers want to imagine what it would be like to fight a battle to the death and come out triumphant.

Please note that the above applies to the climax of your book. If you’re writing a fight scene that falls earlier, your hero and heroine should probably lose. That’s because you want things to go wrong for your characters. Each defeat raises the stakes, and increases the reader’s fear for them.

I usually have four fights in a book: one in the first couple of chapters, acting
as the inciting incident that brings the hero and heroine together. Then I’ll
have two others, roughly every one hundred pages or so as the hero and heroine lock
horns with the villain and his flunkies. I may have the hero win minor skirmishes
with the villain’s flunkies to establish his combat skills: we don’t want him to
look too weak.

Then I use the final fight to build in the black moment so it looks as if all is lost.

Remember that by engaging your reader’s emotions and sympathies, you can make sure that she becomes your fan for life.


Angela Knight is the USA Today bestselling author of books for Berkley, Red Sage, Changeling Press, and Loose Id. Her first book was written in pencil and illustrated in crayon; she was nine years old at the time. A few years later, she read The Wolf and the Dove and fell in love with romance. Besides her fiction work, Angela's publishing career includes a stint as a comic book writer and ten years as a newspaper reporter. Several of her stories won South Carolina Press Association awards under her real name.

Vampire’s Ball,” a novella in the Mageverse series that kicks off a brand new story arc.

Kat Danilo’s childhood turned tragic when her sister become the victim of a serial killer. Years later, she gets a chance at justice when she discovers she’d the daughter of Lancelot, vampire knight of the Round Table. But first, she’s got to convince a handsome vampire warrior that she’s worthy to gain the magical powers that are her birthright – powers that might help her find her sister’s killer.

If the murderer doesn’t find her first....

HOT FOR THE HOLIDAYS made the New York Times mass market paperback list at #15. It's #6 on the B&N list and #20 on Bookscan.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter By Susan Sipal

Harry Potter. The very name conjures up images of magic and books, movies and fans, and the extraordinary midnight release parties that looked more like mega rock concerts than a mere book release.

JK Rowling. For fellow writers, this name brews up visions of wealth and prestige. Of an author so high in the publishing stratosphere that she can eschew review copies and demand security so tight for her pre-release books that stores must sign secrecy oaths in blood in order to stock her latest release on their shelves.

The popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series reached monumental heights of popularity, which were never before considered possible for a novel, let alone a children’s story. With the release of the final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in the summer of 2007, 8.3 million copies were sold in the first 24 hours in the US alone. The series as a whole, throughout the world, has sold a total of over 400 million copies and been translated into 67 languages. Think of where just a small smidgen of this magic “Floo Powder” could carry many of us more mortal authors in our own writing careers.

But, it’s all hype, isn’t it? Though many an envious writer would like to think Ms. Rowling’s secret to success is just a bunch of magical mayhem, we do ourselves a disservice by focusing on her writing imperfections and not appreciating—and more importantly learning from—the skills which have made her Harry Potter series more than beloved, but truly an absolute obsession among millions.

While I understand the desire to take apart and criticize a popular-selling work, and indeed there is much to learn from understanding the mistakes of others, I think that the greater learning experience is to understand the craft techniques that made any NYT bestselling author what she is today. After all, millions of people on various continents and across time zones do not plunk down their hard-earned cash solely because of hype. SOMETHING must ring true, emotionally true, to a wide band of readers in order to create this hype in the first place. And I believe that this something can be learned. All we have to do is delve into the pages of the bestseller with a writer's practiced eye and discover the techniques that we can then incorporate into our own work in our own way.

Writers learn first through imitation before practice and experience paves the way to developing our own unique voice. Since antiquity, apprentices have studied by the side of their mentors. Just as Harry Potter learns the power behind the magic from the greatest wizard in a hundred years, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, so too can writers worldwide learn the power behind their words, to tell their own stories, by studying the craft of the headmistress of bestselling fiction, JK Rowling.

The evidence is all there, in black and white, on the pages of the books so dog-eared and well read by millions. And yet, the first Bloomsbury print-run, back in 1997 for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was only 500. Yes, 500 copies. Obviously the now beloved Harry Potter series did not burst through the opening gate by way of a high-level marketing campaign and push from the publisher. JK Rowling gained her success the old-fashioned way—word of mouth.

Word of mouth comes from crafting a story so engaging that satisfied readers rush to tell everyone they know to immediately go out and purchase the book for themselves in order to share the same wonderful, emotional rush they just enjoyed. Word of mouth is born of the words on the page. With Harry Potter, I believe that there are three fundamental aspects that drove these fans to share with their friends from the very beginning--characterization, world building, and mystery.

First, JKR breathes to life a motley assortment of quirky people with varied emotions and viewpoints--such as a half-giant gamekeeper who drinks too much and greasy-haired, nasty old professor that hangs out in dungeons and antagonizes Harry. She sets these fun and engaging witches and wizards into motion against the backdrop of an extremely large, delightfully depicted world, so rich with details that we want to eat their cockroach clusters and visit their Leaky Cauldron. And then, to tie the whole series together, and keep the reader forever looking forward, she envelopes each story in an ongoing mystery, one that takes place both on the superficial level and as a massive iceberg below text. She enticed her fans, engaging their minds as well as their imaginations, to scour old myths and legends in search for clues that would guide them to who was the next to die, or what had really happened in Godric's Hollow. In all ways, she gave the reader more than they were expecting.

Indeed the greatest asset, I believe, that JKR had as an author was her reader involvement. From online searches for clues, to sharing their latest theories on forums, to fanfiction, wizard rock, and fansites, her fans were (and still are) completely immersed in her world. They felt compelled to continue living the wizard experience even after they'd put the books down. This level of reader enthusiasm is the result of a technique JK Rowling excels at—reader involvement. Indeed, this engagement of the reader by giving them more than anticipated, in my POV, is the ultimate secret to JKR's success.

Yes, there are many aspects JKR didn't do quite right. She may have used too many adverbs. She probably didn't think through all the ramifications of all the magic she created. And towards the end, she seemed to have bitten off a bit more than she could chew by leaving a few too many loose-ends untied. You can indeed go through her books and find countless problems that many writers love to jump on. But for me, this imperfection is vastly reassuring. That a book with flaws can sell so astoundingly well lets me know that my work doesn't have to achieve absolute perfection to sell a more modest amount.

What any book must have, however, is power. Some aspect must be so strong that it engages the reader and inspires them to tell their friends. It is my goal in A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter to nudge us all toward this empowering process in analyzing our own work. By dissecting JKR's series, and learning what we can from it, we hope to improve our stories in such a way that will engage and inspire our readers. Through twelve lessons, we will analyze how to not only keep your reader reading, but to draw them so deeply into your text, your world, that they become full participants in discovering and unlocking the mysteries and experiences you have created.

And then, go tell their friends!


Published in fiction and non-fiction through essays, short stories and a novel, S.P. Sipal is a professional writer who also happens to be a Harry Potter fanatic. She has worked seven years in the industry as a writer, editor, and marketing director and has presented multiple workshops, both at home and abroad, either to help writers develop their craft or to analyze the mysteries of Harry Potter. Her most recent release was “Grandma’s Cupboards” in On Grandma’s Porch from BelleBooks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Running in the Dark by Jodi Henley

I wanted to start this post with chaos theory, or maybe stuff about Chatman’s work on kernels and satellites, but after three beta readers gave me the virtual equivalent of a long, hard look I figured the best thing was to call this post what it is.

Three dimensional thinking for organic character-driven stories.

Structured pantsing works, but doesn’t go far enough.

Sort of like if I’d said, “I’m going to create this really fabulous character and shove him in a department store, with two floors and an escalator, so full of balloons, getting to the exit means he’s going to have to step on, shove out of his way, push, pull and pop hundreds of balloons.” The floating equivalent of a McDonald’s ball-pit--loose enough for your character to breathe, but tight enough to make “down” the only thing he knows for sure.

Organic writing is a little messy , not because it doesn’t have internal logic, but because it has chaotic elements. In other words, character-driven stories grow, using a non-linear system that’s easier to “see” in multiple dimensions--up, down, underfoot and rolling up the escalator in little ripples.

Whatever your character does--no matter how small--can make those balloons, like story events, move in significantly different ways. In a two character story like a romance, pushing the heroine in at another entrance creates more waves, ripples and eddies, all of which--in some way--will touch those of the hero.

A good example of this story-style would be Leon the Professional. A character-driven movie written and directed by Luc Bessom. Transporter and La Femme Nikita


Mathilda and her little brother live in New York with their dysfunctional family. Her father stores drugs for dirty cop, Norman Stansfield. When Stansfield takes revenge on her father for stealing drugs and kills the entire family, only Mathilda, who was out shopping, survives by finding shelter in her neighbor’s apartment. Matilda finds out Leon’s a hitman and asks him to teach her so she can avenge her brother.

….given Leon’s background as a hitman, tiny variations in his first meeting with Matilda have the potential to send balloons shooting off in wildly different directions. He’s on one side of a door, she’s on the other, and once the villains kill her family, they’ll find her.

--if he doesn’t let her in.

Because Leon is a fully fleshed character, he can only react to Matilda’s desperate whisper in ways which are true to his internal logic. He can shoot her and go back to bed, ignore her> and go back to bed, come out shooting and try to kill the bad guys…

...or he can open the door .

Each action is a thought away from each other and starts out the same—with Matilda
on the other side.

When Leon finally turns the knob, every action he didn’t take is still there, as things that “could” have happened, but didn’t, although “the path taken” creates ripples of its own. Just like in a real person, just the fact that Leon considered the other three options says something about him and enriches the emotional layering, because only “this” person, in this place at thistime can drive this particular story.

As a writer, I can focus on the plot as a whole and hit every plot point from A thru F in alphabetical order. An emotionally repressed hitman needs to open the door so he can connect with a little girl and kill a dirty cop.

Goal, motivation and conflict.

Part of the reason organic writers might run into a wall is because in a character-driven story overall GMC is easier to see “after” the rough draft. Initial goals don’t start out as the story goal, and motivation shifts and changes. If there’s conflict, it might be one of many conflicts or something that grows into “the” conflict.

Your characters choose, as a result of the actions they take…their own destiny--like life--free from caricature, archetypes, predictable drama and simple solutions.

Organic writing is a belief system--chaotic, unpredictable and personal. You are the only one who can define it. Believe.


Jodi Henley is a long-time member of the popular on-line writer’s forum “Romance Divas” here her craft of writing articles have been archived as downloads in The Place for Answers, Romance Diva’s on-line library. Highly sought after for her plain-English approach to problem solving, Jodi spends her time dissecting the craft of writing. Her obsessive Myer-Briggs INTJ personality drives her to explain her findings, and she considers herself lucky to have a receptive audience. A long-time blogger, her blog, “ Will Work for Noodles, is a popular writer’s reference for people in fields from play-writing to Christian magazines and newspaper journalism. She'll be teaching her workshop on Running in the Dark: Organic Structure for Character-driven Stories in June for FFnP.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Rules: When To Follow The Rules Of Writing And When To Go Rogue by: Larissa Ione

THE RULES. Yeah, you know what they are. Don’t write about musician heroes or sports stars. Submit your manuscript only in Courier font. No sentence fragments. Always do an in-depth character interview so you know your hero and heroine. Make sure none of your characters’ names start with the same letter. You can’t sell a book if you don’t include a synopsis with the proposal. Avoid using “that.”

Etcetera, etcetera, blah, blah.

Okay, that said, writing rules exist for a reason, exactly like laws. Many laws, including crazy ones,( http://www.dumblaws.com/) exist because someone committed an act that didn’t quite pan out. For example, in Texas it is illegal to shoot a buffalo from the second story window of a hotel. You just know that some idiot attempted just that, leading lawmakers to create a law.

In the writing world, the hotel buffalo might be character names that start with the same letter or romances with sports star heroes. Maybe historically, those sports books have not done well, leading to the “no sports star” rule you hear all the time.

But…Susan Elizabeth Phillips, anyone?

There are clearly exceptions to every rule. They do exist for a reason, but they can be broken by the right author, the right circumstance.

I’ve always been vocal about learning the rules. I truly believe that the how-to books can be a writer’s best friend. I tell all aspiring authors to learn the rules. Memorize them. Live and breathe them.

Then throw them all away. Following the rules to the letter can stifle your voice, your writing, and your creativity. But it’s important to know them because people who break rules effectively know exactly why they are breaking them.

If you need to use a “that” in a sentence for clarity, use it! I can’t tell you how many unpublished contest entries I’ve read where it was obvious that the writer went through the manuscript and eliminated them to the point that some of the sentences needed a re-read. Take out the second “that” in my previous sentence and you can see what I mean. The first instance can be deleted. The second? I wouldn’t. Yeah, yeah, call the rule police.

Remember this (ooh, it’s a rule!): Readability and voice trumps perfection. Sure, grammatical correctness is, for the most part, desirable, but sometimes your voice or your character’s voice demands a broken rule…a missing comma, a run-on sentence, a sentence fragment.

And your plot might require a sports star, cancer, or two-dozen different supernatural species (yes, I heard the, “Don’t populate your paranormal romance with dozens of species,” rule to distraction when I was writing my Demonica series – which, I’m happy to say, has more than two dozen types of supernatural species populating the pages.)

Or you might hate Courier font (I can’t stand it, and neither can some editors I’ve talked to,) so if it drives you nuts, don’t use it! More and more New York publishers are now using word count instead of page count (most of mine are,) so the old formula that required the use of Courier because it imitated typewriter font with constant size/spacing isn’t as important. Follow publisher guidelines for manuscript format, but generally, they just want your book to be readable. I use Times New Roman 14, double-spaced, with 1” margins. Contrary to popular belief, your book won’t be rejected because you used 1” margins instead of 1 ½” or vice versa.

Basically, use common sense when determining which rules to bend or break. Take some risks if you feel comfortable. “Safe” has its place, but the occasional risk can provide a lot of excitement, unpredictability and edge in your writing. The clever rogue can break the rules without anyone ever realizing it happened.

So what about you? Are you a rule-breaker? If so, which of the infamous writing rules do you like to break?


Larissa Ione, an Air Force veteran, has been a meteorologist, an EMT, and a professional dog trainer, often all at the same time. But she was always a writer, and her dream career became reality when she sold her very first story to Red Sage in 2006. She now a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author who writes for multiple publishers, including Grand Central Publishing, Kensington Books, and Samhain. She also co-writes erotic romantic suspense for Bantam Dell under the name Sydney Croft.

Ecstasy Unveiled

A Demon Enslaved

Lore is a Seminus half-breed demon who has been forced to act as his dark master’s assassin. Now to earn his freedom and save his sister’s life, he must complete one last kill. Powerful and ruthless, he’ll stop at nothing to carry out this deadly mission.

An Angel Tempted…

Idess is an earthbound angel with a wild side sworn to protect the human Lore is targeting. She’s determined to thwart her wickedly handsome adversary by any means necessary—even if that means risking her vow of eternal chastity. But what begins as a simple seduction soon turns into a passion that leaves both angel and demon craving complete surrender.

Torn between duty and desire, Lore and Idess must join forces as they battle their attraction for each other. Because an enemy from the past is rising again—hellbent on vengeance and unthinkable destruction.