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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Writing a Series

Please welcome guest blogger Donna Grant

I can count on one hand the number of times I've written a book where it wasn't part of a series. Most times I'll already know whether a book is part of a trilogy, quartet, six book series, or, like the Dark Sword series I'm writing now, going to be much, much longer. The one question I get asked most is: How do you keep up with all the characters?

Well, I'm here to tell you. J

I'll begin by saying that everyone has to find their own distinct writing style. What works for one may not work for you. Same with how you keep track of characters and important events in a series.

For me, I keep two spiral notebooks with me while I'm writing. One is where I keep track of my daily and weekly writing goals. I have a set number of pages I write daily, and so I know how long it will take me to complete the book. This spiral also has a running tally of chapters, because I cannot begin to tell you how many times I've had two chapter fives. Lol

The second notebook is dedicated strictly to the Dark Sword series. Since my series is a medieval Scottish paranormal there is a lot of data I need to keep track of. I list every Warrior, when he was born, when his god was unbound, what god he has inside him, what color he changes when his god is unleashed, what powers he has, what the colors/look of his tartan is, and I even make note of how/why they were taken by the villain.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. I also keep one page devoted to each book where I list the hero and heroine at the top of the page, their hair color, eye color, and any scars and other important information. I also once again list the Warrior's god and his color. Since I like to assign a special scent to my characters, I also make sure to list that so as not to duplicate later.

Below the hero and heroine I record where the book will take place. Sometimes they never leave MacLeod Castle. Other times, they are all over the place, and it's important I keep track of it so I don't have to go looking through the book later.

Next comes the rest of the characters. I inventory each character, how they are connected to the hero or heroine, any hair color/eye color I've given them, and why they are a part of the book. Oftentimes I'll bring back a character I've found interesting in a previous book, and having that kind of information saves me so much time.

Still, there's more. After I write my first draft when I go back through to do my revisions, I'll begin making notes of certain passages. For instance, in one book I have a character use her Druid magic to talk to the trees. It's the first time I've shown how she does it and what it is like. I make note of the passage so I know where to find it since it's too long to write down.

It was perfect when I went to write her story and I wanted to expand on how she spoke to the trees, but I had edited one book and wrote another in between that time. So, I had forgotten. Yet, I had the page number, and I just opened the book, found what I needed and was able to get on with the new story.

I'd like to say that I always write down what I need to know for future books, but the reality is not always. I've learned over the years to kind of pick up on what I think I might need. Sometimes I list things I never use. Other times I have to go back and skim until I do find what I need.

The lesson I learned is that the more I keep track of, the less time I spend trying to find what I had wrote before and can concentrate on the new book.

I'd also like to mention that as well as the notebooks, I keep an excel database with all the Warrior information because it's a bit easier to go in an delete a sentence and keep it all nice and pretty on the computer. J

If you're looking to write a series, or you are in the middle of one, try some different things and see what works for you in keeping all the information.

Peace and love!

To find out more about me please visit my website at www.donnagrant.com. To read more about the Dark Sword series, see pics of the Warriors, take the quiz, download wallpaper, or search characters, please visit www.donnagrant.com/darksword



Donna Grant is the best selling, award winning author of more than twenty novels spanning multiple genres of romance – Scottish Medieval, historical, dark fantasy, time travel, paranormal, and erotic.

Donna lives in Texas with her husband, two young children, three cats, and one long-haired Chihuahua.

Wicked Highlander


The most reckless and fierce of the MacLeod brothers, Quinn is a prisoner of the god inside him, tormented by his inability to save his family from slaughter. His fury governs him, and day by day he loses himself to the darkness in his soul. But Quinn has a profound yearning for a woman’s love...


Raised by Druids, the achingly beautiful Marcail is as spellbinding as the ancient magic that surges through her body. To Quinn, she is the most desirable woman he has ever known. But to his enemy Deirdre, she is the perfect bait to lure Quinn into her trap. Once the two lovers are in her wicked grasp, their passion will be put to the ultimate test...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Journey of a Thousand Miles . . .

Please welcome guest blogger Wendy Lyn Watson

Narrative arc is a funny thing. An arc is a smooth curve, a sinuous glide from beginning to end. The narrative arc of a story should appear smooth, too, but the reality is that it’s composed of discreet steps. The task of the writer is to craft each step but allow the reader to see nothing but the seamless motion of the journey. We have to tend trees lovingly so our readers can enjoy the forest.

The other day, I caught about 10 minutes of a movie called 16 Blocks. It stars Bruce Willis as a past-his-prime alcoholic cop who receives a seemingly simply assignment: escort a witness from the police station to a courthouse, a journey of only sixteen blocks. Needless to say, the task takes an ugly turn pretty early on.

I happened to tune in fairly early in the film. I missed the very beginning, but I’m guessing there was gunplay. When I clicked in, Bruce, the witness, and a bunch of cops are in a bar, catching their breath and talking about the witness’s close call. The new cops tell Bruce they’re going to take over the transport, and the witness seems pretty down with that idea (his confidence in Bruce is low).

Then another cop walks in, and the witness’s demeanor changes. Without a word, we (the audience) realize this cop is one of the bad guys. Bruce realizes it, too (again, without a word). And then the bad cops know that Bruce knows … and they offer him a bottle of booze and a chance to walk away. Heck, they even offer him a chance to look like a hero, the man who took down the rogue witness.

You can see the subtle change in Bruce’s face, the exact instant when he decides not to take that offer. He sets down the bottle, picks up a gun, shoots a bad guy, and—with the witness in tow—plunges through the door.

That’s when I changed the channel.

I’m sorry if I spoiled this movie for any of you. But that single scene elegantly portrayed a critical step in the hero’s journey—crossing the threshold from the ordinary world to the extraordinary world. I didn’t need any context to understand what had happened. In fact, from what I recall, Bruce Willis never said a word, and yet that step across the threshold was thundering.

If I had to guess, if I’d watched the movie from beginning to end, that scene would not have stood out with such clarity. I would have been swept up in the journey and not appreciated that one glorious step. But, as a writer, I’m glad I saw what I saw. Because my job is to create those glorious steps that keep my reader moving from beginning to end.


Wendy Lyn Watson writes deliciously funny cozy mysteries with a dollop of romance. Her Mysteries a la Mode (I Scream, You Scream (October, 2009) and Scoop to Kill (September, 2010)) feature amateur sleuth Tallulah Jones, who solves murders in between scooping sundaes. While she does not commit--or solve--murders in real life, Wendy can kill a pint of ice cream in nothing flat. She's also passionately devoted to 80s music, Asian horror films, and reality TV. (www.wendylynwatson.com)

Scoop to Kill

Tallulah Jones may be the proprietor of Dalliance, Texas’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor, but she’s no stranger to cold-blooded murder . . .

No one is more shocked than Tally when the local college serves up a double dip of death. During the annual Honor’s Day festivities, Tally’s niece Alice stubles upon the body of a graduate student. Suspicion falls on teh English professor he accused of sexual harassment, but a couple days later, she’s found dead too.

Tally steps out from behind the counter of Remember the A-la-mode to clear the professor’s name. But in an English department sprinkled with failing students, cutthroat academics, and extramarital affairs, the list of suspects rivals A-la-mode’s choice of flavors. When Alice gets chillingly close to a killer, Tally realizes she must act fast before someone else is put on ice.

The Heroine’s Journey: Adapting Four-Act Structure to the Character-Driven Story presented by Wendy Lyn Watson runs from October 25th through November 21st

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Story You Want to Read

Please welcome guest blogger Jesse Petersen

Often people ask me how it was that I went from writing dark, sensual historical romance (as Jenna Petersen) to writing a sarcastic, modern zombie comedy (MARRIED WITH ZOMBIES, available now!!) that is more fantasy than romance (though it does have a romantic element). A few people have even given me the “oh, well that kind of thing is hot right now”. This, of course, implies that somehow I saw that zombies were getting hot and just pumped out something in that genre in the hopes I could hop on a bandwagon and ride it off into the New York Times Bestseller sunset (HA!!).

In truth, my reasoning was far less nefarious or even well-though out. See, I just wrote a book I wanted to read.

Now if you follow me at my site for writers, http://www.passionatepen.com, you may already know how I feel about the whole concept of “Book of Your Heart”. I don’t really buy into that. I never write a book I don’t feel passionately about and love with all my heart when I start out into the adventure of writing it (although level of love may vary depending how the page count is going). And I suppose that means that every book is also a book I want to read. I write because I want to see how that story I thought of will play itself out. I’m the first reader and so I always make a valiant effort to entertain myself, if no one else.

But with MARRIED WITH ZOMBIES, the whole thing played out differently. I never set out to sell the book. I wasn’t thinking about market or trends or changing genres or what would happen next. I just had an idea for a scene where a man and a woman, drowning in a bad marriage, go to see their marriage counselor and it turns out she’s been turned into a zombie. And I wanted to write that. It made me laugh. It made me wonder what would happen next. So I wrote it. And then I wrote some more. And then some more.

At some point, yes, my agent did encourage me to finish what I’d started because she felt it was marketable. And I’ll admit that I did start looking at Publisher’s Marketplace at some point and see how stories with a zombie twist were selling. I had hopes (ones that ended up realized when the auction began on the book last December). But I truly wrote the book because I wanted to write it. I wanted to make myself giggle. I wanted to be sarcastic and swear and have my heroine make pop culture references that I never got to touch in historical romance.

In short, I wanted to entertain myself on a different level. And if you can find stories that do that for you, trends won’t matter. Your voice will sing, your passion and love will come through and the book will be worth more than any amount of money you receive for it in the long run.

Write the books you want to read. You’ll never regret it.

Jesse’s life as a writer began when her husband made the brilliant observation that she was much happier writing than doing anything else. So she took the plunge and decided to do that full-time. After many years and many books in different sub-genres, she was bitten by the zombie bug (not a zombie, but the bug) and took off on a zany adventure which culminates in the publication of the “Living With the Dead” series from Orbit.

When not coming up with creative methods of zombie disposal she lives in Central Illinois with her high school sweetheart husband and two cats. She spies on her neighbors from her office window, plays video games and obsessively practices Sudoku, even though she realizes none of these skills will help her in an apocalypse (well, maybe the video game thing). In addition, she volunteers at her local zoo where she feeds monkeys and creates enrichment for the tiger. Her “cat nip in a big bag” trick is a favorite amongst the big cats (and the small ones).

Oh and from time to time she even writes, which is still what she likes to do best. She also loves chatting with other zombie lovers and fans of her stories (if you don’t like the stories… well, why are you still reading this??). She encourages you to contact her at the various places listed on this fabulous website.

Married With Zombies

A heartwarming tale of terror in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. 

Meet Sarah and David.

Once upon a time they met and fell in love. But now they're on the verge of divorce and going to couples' counseling. On a routine trip to their counselor, they notice a few odd things - the lack of cars on the highway, the missing security guard, and the fact that their counselor, Dr. Kelly, is ripping out her previous client's throat.

Meet the Zombies.

Now, Sarah and David are fighting for survival in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. But, just because there are zombies, doesn't mean your other problems go away. If the zombies don't eat their brains, they might just kill each other.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

GETTING PERSONAL: Why Writing Conflict Can Get You In Trouble

Please welcome guest blogger Linnea Sinclair

“It’s all about me.” Isn’t that many a teenager’s mantra, many a parent’s nightmare? For a fiction writer looking to create gripping, realistic, and SALEABLE conflict though, it should be a requirement.

It’s all about me. Not me, the writer. But me, the main character. Because one very workable rule—okay, let’s not call it a rule. Let’s call it a TIP. One very workable tip in writing conflict is that conflict must be personal to the character in order for it to be effective.

For many of us raised on the big-screen disaster movies, that can be a somewhat hard tip to grasp. (And let’s keep in mind, too, that what works in movies often doesn’t work in written fiction. The two media are not the same, nor are they interchangeable.) Big screen action films almost always have cars sailing over cliffs, buildings exploding, tidal waves crashing, hurricanes roaring, and blizzards…well, blizzarding. Effective, eh? Certainly a cause for a character’s concern. Certainly a cause for conflict if one defines conflict as The Thing That Stops The Main Character From Achieving His Goal.

Trouble is—and yes, we’re talking about trouble—trouble is that trouble needs to be personal to reach maximum effectiveness. Trouble must have a reason to interplay with the characters.

Don’t believe me. It’s in the bible. In Matthew 5:45 we learn that rain falls on the just and the injust. Rain doesn’t care. Neither do blizzards. Blizzards blissfully blanket the antagonist and the protagonist. And a lot of other characters who might happen to be around in the chapter. The blizzard doesn’t care if it impedes the character’s goal or not. It just…blizzes. It’s what’s called Impersonal Conflict. The blizzard, the hurricane, the roaring forest fire doesn’t care about goals. It doesn’t have a goal of preventing another’s goal. It’s blind luck—or blind bad luck.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use impersonal conflict to create trouble in your manuscripts. It means you have to realize you’re using impersonal conflict, and realize that its overuse can get you into trouble. And not the kind of trouble you want for your story. Overuse of impersonal conflict leads to cartoonish conflict, a brand of TSTL plotting, if you will. You can violate the believability factor by overusing impersonal conflict. I mean, just how much bad luck can one character have? (Side note: in comedy, however, overusing impersonal conflict can be effective. But that’s a genre trope: the series of banana peels, the constant bad weather, the naked Chinese hit man in the trunk of the car…)

Personal conflict—conflict that has a specific if not thinking motivator behind it—is always the more effective. Sure, a blizzard that delays your hero from reaching O’Hare Airport by noon is certainly troublesome. But the Chicago cab driver who picks up your hero to take him to the airport—the cab driver who is actually a hit man hired by the antagonist—is some seriously scary stuff.

The blizzard is random. The assassin-cabbie is planned. The blizzard has no goal. The assassin-cabbie wants to get paid—and hence will act to keep his OWN goal from being thwarted. The assassin-cabbie will not give up. The blizzard will be in New Jersey by tomorrow.

The hero can wait out the blizzard.

The hero will have to out-run, out-gun, and out-think the assassin-cabbie.

Now, trap your hero in the cab with the assassin-cabbie in the midst of a blizzard…and you have a real fun story brewing.

Happy Trouble-making!


A former news reporter and retired private detective, Linnea Sinclair writes award-winning, fast-paced science fiction romance for Bantam Dell, including Gabriel’s Ghost, Games of Command, Hope’s Folly and her current best seller, Rebels and Lovers. Her short story, “Courting Trouble,” will be featured in Songs of Love & Death, an upcoming anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin (Simon & Schuster, Nov. 16. 2010). Sinclair splits her time between Florida (winters) and Ohio (summers)—and the Intergalactic Bar & Grille at www.linneasinclair.com.

If you’d like to cause some trouble with Linnea, join her upcoming CHARACTER TORTURE 101 workshop here at FF&P: http://www.romance-ffp.com/event.cfm?EventID=89

Thursday, September 16, 2010

When Did Scary Creatures Become Hot Instead Of Horror?

Please welcome guest blogger Kerri Nelson

I remember being about 6 years old when they aired Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot as a television mini-series. I was visiting my grandmother for the summer and cuddling up with her on the sofa to watch this movie. I remember her telling me that it would probably be too scary for me but I begged her to let me watch.

She relented and I acted all brave but I was secretly terrified. Vampires scared me to death and I had nightmares for a week.

Of course, years later when I watch that same version I laugh myself silly at the pitiful special effects. But at the time…I just knew that those vampires were real and that they were probably hovering outside my window as I slept at night.

Now, when I think of vampires…I think of hot and sexy. Creatures of the night who we fantasize about, fall in love with, and befriend in the fight against evil.

So, when, exactly did scary creatures become hot instead of horror?

I was recently doing some market research for a proposal that I was putting together. The sheer number of paranormal romances on the market is truly mind boggling. And note the key words in that last sentence “paranormal romance”…as in a romance featuring a hero who is typically a monster of some sort.

Then I started thinking, what really defines “a monster”?

Well, according to dictionary.com a monster is defined as the following:

1. a legendary animal combining features of animal and human form or having the forms of various animals in combination, as a centaur, griffin, or sphinx.

2. any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people.

3. any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal shape, behavior, or character.

4. a person who excites horror by wickedness, cruelty, etc.

5. any animal or thing huge in size.

As to definition #1: half man/half beast I think we’ve got that covered.

As to definition #2: ugly? Not anymore! Vampires and shifters are known as being some of the hottest characters in fiction today.

As to definition #3: I can see that I guess although “grotesquely” could be up for interpretation.

As to definition #4: There’s the horror mention but we see many more monsters in romance than we do in horror these days (or so it seems to me).

As to definition #5: Huge? Hmmm…well the erotic romance side of me could make a comment here but I’ll refrain. Typically, though, these characters appear normal man size.

I guess the bottom line here is that the romance market has basically redefined what a being a monster means to us. It just goes to show that women do truly love a wounded, imperfect hero. And romance writers can really turn a monster into pure hot magic.

© 2010 Kerri Nelson

Kerri Nelson has always been passionate about reading books but when she wrote her first poem in the second grade, she discovered her love of writing. At the age of sixteen, she became a columnist for her local newspaper as the high school correspondent for the weekly "Panther Tales" column. She won the Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year Award for her efforts.

After an education and career in the legal field, Kerri began to pen romantic suspense novels with a legal or law enforcement theme. She is a true southern belle and comes complete with her dashing southern gentleman husband and three adorable children. When she’s not reading or writing, you’ll find her baking homemade goodies for her family, feeding her addiction to blogging online or designing custom made book trailers. Kerri is an active member of Romance Writers of America as well as numerous Chapters including Hearts through History, Futuristic Fantasy & Paranormal, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers.

Kerri is a multi-published author of romance in every genre from romantic suspense and paranormal to young adult and inspirational novels.

Read more about Kerri’s books at her website: www.kerrinelson.com

Want to play, learn and compete with other authors in the biz? Visit Kerri’s industry blog here: www.thebookboost.blogspot.com

For the latest news and updates from Kerri, follow her on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/kerribookwriter

Vegan Moon

Book One of the California Wolf Code

When a vegetarian werewolf falls for a celebrity chef, will his appetite for her cause him to stray from his vegan ways?

Santiago Salazar is a reformed werewolf living in sunny Beverly Hills, California. When he catches sight of celebrity chef Gabrielle Connor on television, he’s soon drooling in his tofu burger.After they meet at one of Gabbi’s book signings, Santiago is thrilled to discover that the attraction is mutual. The two hit it off in a major way but when the night takes a dark turn…Gabbi must decide if she can live with the new world that she’s discovered and Santiago must ultimately answer to the werewolf code of conduct.

Take one hungry werewolf and mix with one lonely chef, stir in some hot sex and Vegan Moon delivers a tasty treat that will keep you coming back for more.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

7 Ways Scenes and Sequels Will Improve Your Writing

Please welcome guest blogger Kat Duncan

You've heard of Scenes and Sequels, maybe even bought or borrowed Dwight Swain's or Jack Bickham's books on the subject. You sat down to read with good intentions, but about a third of the way through you got lost. Maybe it was the long-winded explanation, or the amount of work involved, or maybe you decided Bickham and Swain's ideas were stuffy, old-style techniques suitable for snobby literary fiction, but not for your half-magic vampires with designs on stealing the dragon-queen's faerie slave.

Well, whether you never read the books, or tried them and abandoned them to the dusty piles beside your neat stacks of RWR magazines, I'm here to tell you that you're missing out. Here are seven ways that learning about scenes and sequels can help your writing:

1. You will understand what a story really is

Hint: it's not a series of events happening to a character

Hint: it's less about beginning, middle and end and more about conflict and how to present it

2. You will learn to shift your focus to the reader

Banish "author intrusion" and "too much backstory" remarks from critiquers

Learn how to get the reader to pass judgment on your characters

3. You will get a handle on story tension

Hint: not all tensions have the same effect

Hint: subjectivity is so important that it's like creative gold

4. You will select the right goal for your character

Learn how to make goals immediate and external

Learn how to keep goals from getting lost in the plot

5. You will develop an emotional compass

Learn to cue the reader how to feel

Capture the reader's response and use it to make connections to the story

6. You will know how move the story forward

Learn how to provide interest when there's nothing going on

Learn how to keep the plot from stalling out

7. You will develop logical reasons for character's actions

Learn the psychological action sequence that works every time

How can you do all this?

Join me for a month-long workshop on Scenes and Sequels. The workshop will explain how you can understand the principles behind these deep-level fiction techniques and use them in your writing. I've put together sensible, to-the-point lessons on these important topics and created templates for you to follow as you learn the techniques.

Who am I?

I'm Kat Duncan, RWA-PRO, New England Chapter RWA member, author of seven full-length manuscripts, a novella and several short stories. I'm published in poetry and about to be published in novella length fiction.

Come join me in October and November as we take our time to work through these important and useful concepts. We will have plenty of time to write new scenes and sequels or re-write existing ones and I will provide individual feedback tailored to your goals as a writer.

Head on over to http://www.romance-ffp.com/event.cfm?EventID=165 to sign up today. The workshop runs from October 24th to November 21st. See you there!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Please welcome guest blogger Marcella Burnard

If you’ve ever heard an editor or an agent talk about what he or she looks for in a story, you’ve heard the term ‘voice’ mentioned. Usually, the phrase is ‘a fresh or unique voice’. What does that mean? How do you know whether or not you have any such thing? How do you go about cultivating voice?

As the term applies to your stories, voice is technically defined as: How you construct phrases and expressions to impart more than the narrative line. Okay. You caught me. I did just make that up. Voice is the word used to describe how you say what you say when you are telling a story. The trick is that it conveys more than merely ‘A’ happened, then ‘B’ happened. Your voice clues a reader into an emotional response to story occurrences.

Think of your two favorite bands or musicians. If I pulled songs from each artist and played only the music, no words, chances are you’d be able to tell me whose work I was playing. Same with handing you the lyrics. You’d still be able to tell me who was who. Why? You’re recognizing each band’s unique sound – their distinct voices (and I bet you could assign an emotion to those voices – angry, brooding, etc). “I know these artists…I remember the songs”, you say. Doesn’t matter. Voice forms the basis for your recognition. That’s the point of voice – that you be recognizable as you when someone picks up your book.

How do you develop your voice? You can’t until you forget about it. Let it go. I want to make up a bunch of tee shirts for writers that say “Voice Happens”. Because once you’ve worked your craft and perfected your process, relaxed a bit into trusting that you know how to write, voice naturally emerges. It’s the flower that opens only after you’ve prepared the soil, planted the seeds, and watched the plant grow big enough to support a bloom.

Here’s the thing about ‘you can’t develop voice until you forget about it’. So long as you’re self-conscious and worrying about voice, you’re choking it off. That’s why when I write, I come at a story via character (as opposed to coming in via plot). I have to hear one of my protagonists in my head. Once I do, voice is taken care of. I needn’t worry because it *isn’t* my voice – the story is told in the character’s voice (yeah, okay, it is my voice, but leave me my little illusion). My background is in acting, so I can say that getting into a character is a matter of practice.

You know who your characters are. Pick the one with whom you most identify. Now ask a series of ‘what if’ questions. What if you had this person’s background and experiences? What if you were the one in the middle of the story situation? How would you feel? How would you respond? What would you say? Congratulations, when you’ve stopped saying “I don’t know”, you’re in character. (See acting books by Stella Adler for more in depth character work.)

Now. I’ll ask you to try doing what I do and as in all things, take what works – discard what doesn’t. You’ve spent time getting inside a character’s heart and mind. Write your story in first person from that character’s point of view and go fast – don’t try to flesh out your scenes, just throw the basics at the page. This is important AND it’s for draft purposes only. You’ll change the POV and add detail in your second draft, if you want. The point is to learn how to relay a narrative line from someone else’s eyes honestly and authentically. Speed is essential to shutting off the internal editor standing at your shoulder saying, “That reaction is so dumb! No one would do that!” In the case of emotional, knee-jerk reactions while writing from within your character, your first instinct is almost always real. Raw. Honest. You may feel exposed. Yay. That’s exactly right.

There’s a story that seems to be as much urban legend as anything, (debate on that: http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=32;t=000474;p=1) but I’ll repeat it anyway. During the filming of Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman arrived on set one day looking mighty rough. In the film, Dustin Hoffman’s character was supposed to be ragged and exhausted. The story goes that the Method actor went without sleep to immerse himself in the character. Laurence Olivier had trained in the UK and was a technical actor, meaning he spent his time working with the script and the words in order to understand his character and that character’s travails. The story goes that after a few hours of work, Laurence Olivier supposedly said, “Dustin. Try acting.”

Those of us coming at our books through character are the writing world’s Method Actors, I suspect. The writers approaching stories via plot are the technical actors. Neither is superior to the other. Both produce fine work, but if you are a plot-driven story teller, your chances of getting lost in a character are slim. Voice, for you, will come when you’ve peeled your narrative back to its starkest, most authentic through-line. You’ll find voice by focusing on goals. In every scene, make certain your protagonists have goals they must achieve and that they are driving hard for what they each want. Pay attention to what they’re willing to do to get what they want – especially when it’s at the expense of someone else. Do that, cutting away anything that doesn’t serve the conflict and you’ll have voice. No, you aren’t likely to feel the story the way your Method-writer fellows do. You may not feel exposed. That’s okay.

Another Laurence Olivier story: “It isn’t my job to feel anything,” it’s reported he once said in reply to an interviewer asking the actor what he’d felt while on stage. “It’s my job to make you feel everything.”

Writers, too. Bet you didn’t have any idea how alike acting and writing could be. Actors have words, intonation, and action to convey feeling via the body language the audience observes during a play. Writers have those tools, but they’re delivered via a much narrower sensory experience – the printed word. Your voice – the subtle, distinct, and individual way in which you express yourself – is the only substitute for body language you have. Relax. Trust that you know how to do what you do. Have fun. Listen and let yourself feel, if you’re character driven. Drive hard for goals, if you’re plot driven. You’ll be surprised at how effortlessly voice rises out of the confusion of the drafting process.

Marcella Burnard: I blame my father for my love of science fiction and fantasy. We watched many a late night science fiction movie together. I was five. By the time I was six, I was having raging nightmares inspired by The Omega Man, The Fly, and The Incredible Shrinking Man. The sum result seems to have been that I wouldn't walk into a dark room until well after I'd turned ten.

Growing up an Air Force brat, I moved often and traveled all over the US. We spent two years in Iceland, watching blue whales migrate, volcanoes erupt and geysers spew steaming, superheated water into the cold air. The whole family did plenty of reading. When the tiny base library ran out of interesting books in the kids' section, and wouldn't allow me in the adult section yet, I began writing my own stories. 

My family finally settled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Western Washington. I graduated with a BFA in acting from Cornish College of the Arts in 1990 and promptly went to work for a large software company.

I live with my husband and our cats aboard a sailboat on Puget Sound

Enemy Within

After a stint in an alien prison torpedoes her military career, Captain Ari Idylle has to wonder why she even bothered to survive. Stripped of her command and banished to her father's scientific expedition to finish a PhD she doesn't want, Ari never planned to languish quietly behind a desk. But when pirates commandeer her father's ship, Ari once again becomes a prisoner.

Pirate leader Cullin Seaghdh may not be who he pretends to be but as far as Cullin is concerned, the same goes for Ari. Her past imprisonment puts her dead center in Cullin's sights and if she hasn't been brainwashed and returned as a spy, then he's convinced she must be part of a traitorous alliance endangering billions of lives. Cullin can't afford the desire she fires within him and he'll stop at nothing, including destroying her, to uncover the truth.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pitch Perfect: How to Hook an Editor

Please welcome guest blogger Angie Fox

Want to stand out from the crowd? You’ll need a hook. If you handle it right, this will be your dream editor or an agent’s first impression of your book. It’s what sets you and your work apart from everyone else.

Sound good? It is. When your hook is both strong and memorable, you’ll have that editor thinking about your book and anticipating it long after your initial meeting is over.

So what makes up a good hook? Simplicity. You don’t need to recite a paragraph-long pitch to an editor. You don’t need to wow them with every nuance of the conflict between your hero and heroine. That comes later. What you want to do first is get them interested in you and your book’s premise.

For example, the hook for my first book (my entire series, really) is the gang of geriatric biker witches. When anyone asks me about the Accidental Demon Slayer series (and now it is booksellers), I tell them it’s about a gang of geriatric biker witches, oh and a reluctant demon slayer. End of story. Either they get the hook or they don’t. You’ll know right away whether you’re a good match for an editor, or in my case, potential readers.

So many times, authors will confuse their romantic conflict with their hook. It’s tempting to tell an editor that you’ve written the most touching love story of the year, or a suspenseful thrill ride that will keep readers up all night. That’s all fine. In fact, that’s what you want your books to do. But it’s not your hook.

To find your book’s hook:

Dig deep. Ask yourself:

  1. What is it that makes my story completely unique?
  2. If I could tell an editor or an agent one thing about my book, what would it be?
  3. What impression do I want to leave with my readers after they’ve read my work?

Another worthwhile exercise is to look at the books that you’ve bought. What about each of them hooked you? Chances are, it’s also what made that editor buy.

Sometimes, a hook is worked right into the title of a book. Think of Sally MacKenzie’s series: The Naked Duke, The Naked Earl, The Naked Viscount. Or it can be communicated in a simple sentence, like Colleen Gleason used for her Gardella Vampire series. “It’s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Regency England.”

Editors love strong hooks because it lets them know immediately whether your book will be a good fit for their line. And after they offer you that cushy contract, your publishing house will use those hooks to sell your work. Everything from Colleen Gleason’s covers to her official tagline, “belles, balls, beaux…and stakes?” fit with her initial hook.

It can be hard to find the hook in our own work, simply because we are so engrossed in our own stories. This is never an easy exercise, especially the first few times. But pulling back, discovering what makes your book unique and then being able to communicate that can make the difference between an engaging pitch and an unforgettable one.

Angie Fox is the New York Times bestselling author of the Accidental Demon Slayer series. While researching her books, Angie has ridden with Harley biker gangs, explored the tunnels underneath Hoover Dam and repelled down a wall. She thinks pitching is way harder than all of that.

A Tale of Two Demon Slayers

In the ultimate showdown for survival, may the best demon slayer win.

Last month, I was a single preschool teacher whose greatest thrill consisted of color-coding my lesson plans. That was before I learned I was a slayer. Now, it’s up to me to face curse-hurling imps, vengeful demons, and any other supernatural uglies that crop up. And, to top it off, a hunk of a shape-shifting griffin has invited me to Greece to meet his family.

But it’s not all sun, sand, and ouzo. Someone has created a dark-magic version of me with my powers and my knowledge—and it wants to kill me and everyone I know. Of course, this evil twin doesn’t have Grandma’s gang of biker witches, a talking Jack Russell terrier, or an eccentric necromancer on its side. In the ultimate showdown for survival, may the best demon slayer win.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Trouble with Angels

Please welcome guest blogger Claire Delacroix

We’ve all seen beautiful images of angels. They’re lovely, with white feathered wings. They’re innately good. Angels often are sweet, or helpful, or just dispense goodwill to all. The trouble with angels as characters is that they have no innate flaws or weaknesses. As a result, they have no character arc over the course of the story – if they know everything, what’s left for them to learn? If they’re already perfect and good, how can they change for the better? Although they are endearing characters, and many readers are fond of them, traditionally, they have appeared as secondary characters in romantic fiction. They have often been portrayed as cute little cherubs, maybe with a little bit of mischief in them. They have been helpmates and matchmakers, often appearing in romantic comedies.

But in recent years, with the heat of the paranormal market, authors have gone over to the dark side. Fallen angels are, by their very situation, much more interesting. They have surrendered perfection, for whatever reason, and chosen the pleasures of the flesh. They can have all sorts of flaws and weaknesses – although a weakness for sensation is a common choice – and they certainly have lots to learn. Or maybe they just have to remember what they knew before they fell. Fallen angels can be characterized anywhere on the spectrum from misunderstood to downright wicked.

This makes them terrific heroes in romantic fiction. When I started my Republic trilogy, I knew that the heroes would be fallen angels. I knew that they would volunteer to surrender their wings, in order to help humanity and try to stave off the Apocalypse. I had no idea just how much fun I would have with these characters.

The choice to sacrifice an exalted state to help others is fundamentally heroic. It’s a noble choice, selfless and typical of an angel. The problem is that in so doing, these angels become men. They become mortal and indistinguishable from humans. They lose their ability to telepathically communicate with other angels and even their connection to the divine. They become like us, creatures of sensation, who maybe lose track of their higher purpose in the heat of the moment. They are susceptible to temptation.

I had a lot of fun distinguishing the reactions of my three fallen angel heroes. Montgomery, the hero of FALLEN, simply wants to finish his assignment and return home. He’s not that interested in physical sensation and its exploration, and remains aloof from human society. That all changes when he meets Lilia, a woman who messes with assumptions and turns his mind in unexpected directions. She not only challenges him but irritates the heck out of him. (The feeling is mutual, just in case you’re wondering.) Lilia awakens Montgomery to a whole ‘nuther facet of existence.

In contrast to Montgomery, Rafe in GUARDIAN, was in his element in the physical realm. He’s my charming rake. He wanted to sample every sensation possible, master them all, then do it all again. Since he couldn’t remember his angelic mission, he simply pursued pleasure and didn’t care about the consequences. That all changed when he reluctantly decided to pursue his mission and met Delilah, a woman who shook his world. Just as Rafe is cavalier, Delilah is earnest and serious. She doesn’t even know how to play – she’s bent on doing whatever is necessary to fulfil her destiny. In order to win her, Rafe has to play by her rules and help her to succeed. Again, this angel is exposed to another world, one that urges him to change.

Finally, there is Armand, the fallen angel hero in REBEL. He’s the angry one of the three. In fact, Armand is livid. He’s sure that he and his buddy (the fallen angel Baruch, with whom he volunteered) have been tricked. Tricked by angels! How can it be their divine mission to assassinate someone? Now they’re trapped between heaven and hell –fulfilling their mission which will only condemn them forever. If they don’t fulfill the mission, though, they’ll be stuck on earth and mortal for the duration. And earth is the last place Armand wants to be. He misses being an angel. He’s not too enchanted with humans and what we’ve done with the world. When his partner is injured and he has to fulfill their mission himself, Armand turns to Theodora, a woman who seems to know how to navigate this sphere. With or without her willing help, Armand is determined to do whatever is necessary to save his friend. Of course, Theodora isn’t who she seems to be, and Armand is perceptive enough to catch intriguing glimmers of her truth. I enjoyed how these two understood each other and learned to work together.

What happens when fallen angels in my world complete their missions. Well, they have the chance to regain their wings and return to the sphere they know best. It’s not much of a spoiler (these are romances, after all) to tell you that these heroes decide to stay, that being “fallen” works for them just fine once each has won the heart of the woman he loves.

Shouldn’t angels be happy ever after, too?

Do you read or write about angels? Do you prefer fallen angels or those who are still living in the celestial realm? Wings or not? Tell me what you think about angels, fallen angels, and heroes who are less than angelic.

Claire Delacroix sold her first romance novel, a medieval romance called THE ROMANCE FO THE ROSE, in 1992. Since then, she has written over forty romance novels and novellas - contemporary romances, mainstream romances, historical romances, paranormal and fantasy romances - published under the names Claire Delacroix, Claire Cross and Deborah Cooke, and won numerous awards. Her first book to land on the New York Times list of Bestselling Books was THE BEAUTY, part of her bestselling Bride Quest series. In October and November 2009, she was the writer in residence for the Toronto Public Library, the first time that the library has hosted a residency focused on the romance genre.

She maintains two websites (http://www.delacroix.net and http://www.deborahcooke.com) and posts regularly to her blog, Alive & Knitting, at http://www.delacroix.net/blog Her current release is REBEL, book #3 in the Prometheus Project trilogy. This is a finite trilogy set in a post-nuclear pre-Apocalyptic future featuring fallen angel heroes. Visit her website for excerpts from all three books.)


Having sacrificed his wings in a bid save humanity, fallen angel Armand has a bold plan to assassinate Presidential candidate Maximilian Blackstone. When things go awry and his partner Baruch is gravely injured, Armand fears that he will fail in his task and forever lose the chance to rejoin the angels in Heaven.

Theodora is a wraith, a woman who officially doesn't exist. She lives in the shadows, taking risks to earn the bounty placed on dangerous assassinations - bounty that buys the chance at a new life for those she loves. Captured when her latest hit goes horribly wrong, Theodora finds herself the prisoner of a strong,
arrogant stranger.

Soon enough, these two solitary souls find their missions-and their hearts-entwined. But in their desperate attempt to save the world, will they be able to save each other?