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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spies by Candace Havens

I say this a lot, but I love spies, fictional ones that is. My fascination with the others began with James Bond, or maybe even “The Avengers.” Those British spies were always so suave and sophisticated. I always thought it was so cool how they could go into any situation and take care of business.

That love for the covert continued with the television shows “Alias” and “Burn Notice.” Come on, who wouldn’t want to be Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) on ‘Alias’ with that beautiful body, clever mind and hot handler Michael (Michael Vartan).

Then there’s one of my all-time favorite spies Michael Westin (Jeffrey Donovan) on “Burn Notice.” He’s a recently burned CIA agent, who uses his special skill set to help others in trouble. He’s charming and lethal, which is one of my favorite combinations when it comes to spies.

Michael is also the inspiration for Jackson in my new book “Take Me If You Dare.” I wanted to take that character a step further. What would happen if he didn’t have any friends around him and had to find his way out of Thailand? What if he ran into a sexy detective and saw her as an opportunity to make it out of the country alive?

That’s how “Take Me If You Dare” begins. Jackson runs into Mariska, who is trying to solve the case of a missing man. He realizes she has incredible resources and pretends to be someone else so that he can get close to her.

What I love about Jackson, and yes I know I wrote him, is that he has a heart. Even when he does bad things, he feels guilty about it. He’s also incredibly charming. This is a Harlequin Blaze, so I had to be a little careful about not doing too much spy stuff and keeping the focus on the romance. That was something a little different for me, but I can’t wait to do it again.

I mean, there are worse things that writing hot, sexy shower scenes for a spy and his girl.

Who are some of your favorite spies? Do you have a favorite actor who played James Bond? I’m kind of partial to Sean Connery with Daniel Craig running a close second. Tell me, I really want to know.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hot Words by Camy Tang

Hey gang! This is Camy Tang, and I’m an author with Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense. I’m going to be presenting a month-long online course on Critiquing (yourself and others) and as a teaser, today I want to talk about Hot Words.

What are Hot Words? They’re words you use ad nauseum in your writing. Most of the time, we don’t even realize we’re using Hot Words until someone points out to us that we’ve used the word “butt” about twelve times in one chapter (after all, the hero’s behind is quite magnificent), or we miraculously notice we described the heroine’s hair as “tawny” pretty much every time she touches her head, which adds up to about twenty times in the first half of the book alone.

This is the bane of my self-editing existence. Seriously. No matter how many times I have gone through revising a manuscript and removing my hot words, they still pop up in the next manuscript. I just can’t seem to make my brain stop using these words.

So, to try to at least mop up after myself, I made a list. My hot words are:










After I finish a manuscript, I immediately to a “Find” in my word processing program (I use Open Office) for my hot words and try to obliterate as many as I find. Because I always end up keeping a few hot words, if I’m as ruthless as I can be in eliminating as many of them as I can, then I’ll be reasonably sure that my prose won’t be too redundant. And repetitive writing is just annoying to a reader. And an editor.

A great program is Autocrit.com, which has a free Word Analysis wizard that will allow you to copy and paste a certain number of words into the field and it will give you a report of overused words and repeated phrases. The paid subscription service allows you to copy and paste more words and get more in-depth analyses.

So how about you? What are your hot words? Go forth to seek and destroy them!

Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Out now is her chick lit Sushi series (Sushi for One?, Only Uni, and Single Sashimi) and her romantic suspense, Deadly Intent. Originally from Hawaii, she worked as a biologist for 9 years, but now she is a staff worker for her San Jose church youth group and leads a worship team for Sunday service. She also runs the Story Sensei fiction critique service, which specializes in book doctoring. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels and ponders frivolous things. Visit her website at http://www.camytang.com/ and sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for more giveways!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sometimes it’s hard to write when you’re stressed.

Okay, when you’re stressed, it can often be hard to write. At least for me.

Lately, I’ve been coming up against a block. Don’t know what it is-it’s not writer’s block. I don’t really get writer’s block. What I get is stressed to the max, or frustrated, or just too depressed or too distracted to write.

That’s what I’m dealing with now.

I think I’m going to head out to Panera Bread and get some work done this week. We’ve been talking about that on one the writer lists I’m on and I need to just take that advice. Get out of the house.

Get away from the distractions. Just focus on the book and write.

It’s worked before.

It will work this time. I just need to do it. With the insanity of the holidays behind us and maybe now that this cold snap from hell has finally started to let up, I’m hoping life will return to normal. I can take my shiny new laptop to Panera Bread, be bad and have an asiago cheese bagel and some coffee.

I’ll forget there is other stuff a writer has to deal with…just focus on the story.

It’s so easy to forget that sometimes. We’re dealing with edits, and promo, and contracts, and taxes, and piracy, and revisions, and covers, and ideas, and plotting…and that’s just the writing related stuff.

That doesn’t include the other stuff-the stuff we’ve all got going on besides the writing. Many of us moms, and wives and daughters and sisters… or fathers, husbands, sons and brothers. Many of us are still juggling day jobs. There’s just so much going on besides the writing and it’s too easy sometimes to lose track of the writing.

I’m not writing as much as I used to and some of it is because of all of these things, and some of it is because I was just pushing myself too hard and I can’t keep that pace up.

I’m not writing as much and sometimes I’m losing track of the story because there’s so much other stuff that goes with being a writer.

I need to focus on that book again, and my first stop is Panera Bread. If I knock out enough words, maybe I’ll even treat myself to a shortbread cookie.

What about you? Do you find it easy to forget the story for the job? What do you do when you need to get back on track?

Shiloh Walker

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Develop “Mental” Editing

My work as developmental editor has shown me patterns in first-time-authors’ manuscripts. Many exercises such as removing excess “that” and substituting concrete terms for “it” are things authors can do before submitting a manuscript. Often, authors don’t see these items and don’t look for them, soaring instead on the emotional wings of story, description and plot—and having a finished manuscript to submit.

And so I say, authors need to develop mental editing.

Right brain creativity got the words onto the page to begin with, but at the revision stage, the author needs to use left-brain creativity. Make changes using logic and the known (and look-upable) rules of our language, rather than clinging to words with emotion born of admiring one’s own cleverness. Yes, you stuck words together in a unique way, but is that what’s best for the story? Repetitive or inexact words detract from the bigger picture.

If an author seeks revision advice from an outside source, the source must be weighed on a scale of relative usefulness. Suggestions from friends, family, and critique groups can often be refuted if the author’s inclination is to reject the advice. Take a step back and think about the suggestion before allowing the knee-jerk reaction to reject the idea. Suggestions for change handed down from an authority source such as a multi-published author or professional editor carry more weight. How do you react to any suggestion that your individual word choices may not be the most stellar?

Holly Lisle said it best, that “yeah, but…” will keep you unpublished. The “yeah” is your acknowledgement that change is needed. The “but” is your excuse for not making changes that could launch your writing career.

End the marriage to your words. Forgive me for using an emotionally-laden format, but the following is borrowed heavily from an online dissolution of marriage document:

I petition for a summary dissolution of marriage from my words and declare that all the following conditions exist on the date this petition is filed with the muse:

1. My words and I were married on (date): [enter completion date of first draft]

(A summary dissolution of your marriage will not be granted if you file this petition more than five years after the date of your marriage.) Don’t sit on your manuscript forever—get it revised and out the door. After five years, you are entrenched in the marriage to those words.

2. There are no derivative stories born of our relationship before or during our marriage or adopted by us during our marriage. The wife, to her knowledge, is not pregnant. [Is the author the wife or is the story the wife? Important to know who gives birth to new stories here—you or your work]

3. Continuity differences have caused the irremediable breakdown of our marriage, and each of us wishes to have the muse dissolve our marriage without our appearing before an editor.

4. Upon entry of judgment of summary dissolution of marriage, we each give up our rights to appeal and to move for a new trial.

Sign it.

This is your vow to hack and slash unneeded words or scenes as necessary. This includes heavy backstory set-up that explains anything.

As an editor at The Wild Rose Press, my responsibilities cover many stages of editing including rudimentary proofreading and copyediting (reading for grammar and syntax as well as brand-name usage, basic facts, etc.). The main joy of my job as editor, however, is developmental editing. Looking past the words on the page into the author’s intended meaning is my favorite part.

Sometimes the language used is…for lack of a kinder term…inadequate. My job is to flag areas where this happens in a manuscript and ask the author to flesh it out, beef it up, use a different word or phrase or…something else creative.

This is where editing from the editor must end and where editing from the author must begin. The author has to dig deep within and find a new way to express what he or she meant the first time but didn’t quite reach.

I’m also an author, so I know how this bit feels. No, No, NO, NO! you scream. The manuscript was perfect when I sent it to you—you contracted it, right?

Yes, the editor contracted the story—the plot, the characterization, the tone and voice, and the sheer beauty of the author’s imagination.

An editor wants writing to express the author’s meaning as clearly as the author wants it to. Emotional distance from the work allows an editor to see the holes and flaws the author misses. Your editing job as author is to consider each revision—even on un-contracted works—with the same objectivity.

When you receive official revisions from your publisher, decide if fighting over a particular requested change is worth breaking the contract and never being published. In that light, many requests to dismiss words or phrases in favor of others diminishes in importance.

Authors need not knuckle under and accept every suggestion—at TWRP, we are open to negotiation in most instances. But look at each suggested revision carefully. An editor ultimately wants the book to sell and produce good reviews, which will lead to more sales. An editor at a publishing house has seen many manuscripts outside of yours and can compare what works with what does not. He or she would not make suggestions to weaken your story or its chances of selling well—that would be counterproductive. Selling books is a business, and badly edited books lead to bad reviews, which is bad for not only the author but also for the publisher.

Here’s a trick I love, if your word processing program has this feature. In Word, at least, you can use the “find” tool to highlight every instance of a word or phrase. Use colors from the highlighting tool found in Track Changes to mark the words or phrases, or change the font color. I like to highlight all “that” in dark navy blue and read around them to see which are really necessary. Try this with –ly adverbs, exclamation points, “it,” junk words like “very” and “some”—anything you might want to reduce or eradicate. The multicolored highlighted words trick your brain into seeing individual words rather than reading the emotions behind them.

So to practice your mental editing, take a deep breath. Turn off the knee-jerk emotions. Turn on your left-brain. And revise like an editor.


Kelly Schaub has edited the Faery Rose line for The Wild Rose Press since September 2007. Books she has edited have gone on to earn high praise from reviewers and readers, as well as garnering multiple awards and contest wins.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Adding a Little Laughter to Your Love

Please welcome guest blogger Dana Marie Bell.

Writing humor can be a daunting task. Everyone reacts to it differently, and everyone has an opinion on it. For instance, my husband took me to see Dumb and Dumber when it first came out in theaters. He laughed until he damn near cried. I wanted to slink out of the theater and beg for mercy. And neither of us could understand the other's reaction.

Humor is a subjective thing. Some people will read the excerpt below, roll their eyes, and move on to the next excerpt. Other people will grin and reach for the author's webpage, hoping to see a longer slice of that scene. They might even check out the rest of the author's work to see if it too grabs their attention.

Here's an example of how you can use humor in a scene. It's from Steel Beauty, a part of my Halle Pumas series. Gina is trying to take Belle's position as not only Rick's mate but Luna of the Poconos Pack. Belle is understandably upset by this and, shall we say, takes steps. Some authors would use posturing, disdain, maybe even anger to get Belle's point across that Rick belongs to her. There's a lot ot be said for that approach. It's one I've used myself.

However, Belle likes to do things a little differently...

Gina howled in pain as Belle smiled vacuously. "I really wouldn't try to hit Graciela any more, okay? That's bad." She shook her finger at Gina, who was desperately trying to get her wrist out of Belle's curled hand. "Bad woof-woof."

Half the patrons of the restaurant had their faces buried in their napkins, their shoulders shaking. The rest were openly laughing.

Mocking your enemy. It's a tried and true tradition sure to get someone to try and kick your butt. It also lets you know exactly how Belle feels about Gina without coming out and saying, "I hate your guts you skanky ho."

Rick scented blood and realized his kitty had unsheathed her claws right into Gina's arm. Her pretty green eyes had turned bright gold. Her expression was still as vapid as she could make it. A cheery smile graced those full lips as she put her free hand in her pocket.

Gina managed to get her arm free of Belle's grasp. "Bitch."

"Oh, silly poodle. I'm not the bitch, you are, remember?" Belle shook her head sadly. "Didn't your mommy teach you anything?"

Sarcasm. Not only is she pointing out that she thinks Gina's an idiot, she's doing it in such a way as to humiliate her opponent. And Belle knows that if Gina is going to hold her position as alpha female the last thing she can handle is being humiliated by a handicapped cat.

Rick swiped at his mouth, desperate to wipe the grin from his face as Gina shook with anger. To be defeated by someone she considered inferior was bad enough, but to be defeated by someone who was acting like a complete imbecile was intolerable to someone like her.

"Why you little--" Gina lunged forward, losing what little self control she had.

Only to be brought up short by the air horn Belle pulled out of her pocket and set off right next to her ear. The alpha female dropped, hands over her ears.

Belle let up on the button. "Not done yet." Belle's cheery voice floated through the sudden silent, causing more than one patron to choke out a laugh.

Mental note: take Belle's new toy away. Rick's ears were ringing from halfway across the room. He could only imagine what Gina and her coterie felt like. With another quickly hidden grin he realized Chela had covered her ears, muffling some of the sound.

Belle is ready to drive her point home and she's not afraid to use weapons of mass destruction to do it.

"So, here are the new rules, okay?" Belle looked dementedly happy as she started ticking things off on her fingers. "No more trying to piddle on Rick's carpet. If anyone's going to mark territory there, it's me."

Gina snarled up at Belle but rapidly pulled back when Belle brandished the air horn.

"No more beating up on the other women or I will take you to the vet and have you tutored."

"Neutered." Gina corrected her with a frown.

Belle leaned down and patted Gina's cheek. "Don't worry, sweetie, someone would learn something."

Threats. Gina now knows where Belle stands without any doubt whatsoever. "You try and take my man and I will make your life hell."

Rick coughed as Belle straightened. He lost his fight with his grin as she winked saucily at him.

"And last, but not least, you will show deference to the Omega. Because if you don't, you will regret it in a very bad, no good, terribly awful way." She was really laying on the inane sincerity. Rick wondered what she was up to, and how much in damages he'd probably have to pay.

Gina bared her teeth at Belle. "Who's the Omega?"

"Me." Chela's grin was not in any way friendly.

"You?" Gina's laugh reminded Rick of a hyena, especially when her loyal minions joined her.

There was a gasp as Belle rapped Gina on the nose with...

Rick lost it. His Luna had just hit the alpha female with some rolled-up papers she must have grabbed from her scooter.

God I love that woman.

And finally, the coup de grace, using rolled up papers on a "dog's" nose, showing her complete disdain for her enemy. If she hasn't made her point by now, then Gina really is an idiot.

So. Did you chuckle? Or did you roll your eyes and skip to the end?

Still thinking of injecting that note of humor into you own work? Then here are a few things for you to think about:

  1. If you're not laughing, no one else will either. I chuckled gleefully as I had Belle torture Gina, and boy did Gina deserve it. If you're not grinning as you type then you might need to rething what you're doing.
  2. A little goes a long way. An entire novel filled with airhorn scenes won't really work, especially when all you start writing is airhorn scenes. It would be the same as a book filled with nothing but love scenes or fight scenes. It would get old pretty fast. And while I firmly believe in laughter in the bedroom I also believe that you shouldn't have the characters joking at certain critical points.
  3. Just like no one in real life cries and moans about fate all the time, no one laughs all the time either. Keeping it real will make those scenes more memorable to the reader. They have to live for the reader to identify with them. So have them laugh, have them cry, and let them have some quiet time, too. It will help the reader get drawn into their lives all the more.
  4. Listen to what your beta readers or crit partners have to say. You might not agree with everything they tell you but if they all say "this isn't funny", then you might want to revisit those scenes. Timing is of huge importance with humor, and if they're all saying "time and place" then they may be on to something.
  5. If you're not laughing, no one else will either. I'm not sure I can say that one enough times.
  6. Not everyone can write a humorous scene successfully. I've cut entire books to scrap because the humor didn't work with the rest of the novel. Don't be afraid to trust your instincts on this, because it could make or break what you're attempting to do.
  7. And most important of all? Be a duck. Once your novel is accepted and put into print, let the bad reviews flow off your back. Some of them will hate what you wrote because they don't like your style, your voice, or your sense of humor. Others will love it for those exact same reasons. As long as you love what you're doing, you're on the right track. And that will be true whether or not you try to inject a little smile time into your work.

Dana Marie Bell wrote her first short story when she was thirteen years old. She attended the High School for Creative and Performing Arts for creative writing, where freedom of expression was the order of the day. When her parents moved out of the city and placed her in a Catholic high school for her senior year she tried desperately to get away, but the nuns held fast, and she graduated with honors despite herself. Dana has lived primarily in the Northeast (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, to be precise), with a brief stint on the US Virgin Island of St. Croix. She lives with her soul-mate and husband Dusty, their two maniacal children, an evil ice-cream stealing cat and a bull terrier that thinks it's a Pekinese. She's a serial series writer with a bad case of, "I really wrote that?"
You can check out Dana's work at http://www.danamariebell.com/.
Shadow of the Wolf
Christopher Beckett is tired of being alone. His wolf is howling for his mate, and Chris knows it is only a matter of time before his needs override everything else in his life. He casts the spell all the Becketts have used to call their mates to them. What he wants is a woman of an older lineage, of power to equal his own. And she has to accept the one aspect that sets him apart from almost every other wizard: his wolf.
What Chris gets is Alannah Evans, a powerful witch of the Evans Coven. The petite, dark haired woman has no problems with the wolf. What she does have a problem with is the fact that Chris is a wizard. Since wizards and witches don't get along very well, neither should they, but the sparks flying between them can't be denied. Chris isn't taking no for an answer. When it becomes clear that an old enemy has targeted them both Chris will wind up engaging his enemy in a duel that could cost him his life.
Or worse: Lana.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to Get Your Heroine Out of a Headlock

Hi there! This is a special guest blog by Matt and Natalie Duvall. Matt was a pro wrestler for over ten years, including TV tapings for the World Wrestling Federation (now known as World Wrestling Entertainment). Natalie and Matt have also practiced martial arts and self defense for nearly four years. Both are writers, and met while completing their master’s degrees in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. Natalie is currently working on a regency historical romance, and Matt is writing something he calls “women’s adventure fiction.”

First off, we’d like to thank FF&P for allowing us to write this guest blog. It’s always exciting for us to talk about two things we love--writing and fighting. Often, writers and readers assume that there doesn’t need to be a lot of physical action in a romance. While they’re technically right, good action can build more believable characters, and make your story even more exciting. Think about the physical elements in a book like Jennifer Cruisie’s Getting Rid of Bradley. While Cruisie may have been able to tell the story without it, the action took the book from good to great.

The key is to make the action believable and pseudo-realistic. Much like great dialogue doesn’t mirror real-world conversation, great action doesn’t mirror an actual fight. For both, though, it’s important to know what things work, and what don’t, so you can give the illusion of reality (a paradox that is a whole other blog). We’ll go into greater detail about this during our workshop next month.

Until then, we offer you these quick tips for getting your heroine out of a headlock. Just in case you don’t know, a headlock is when somebody grabs somebody else around the head, and squeezes.

 • Scream. The first thing to do when you’re attacked is give a full-bellied holler. Man, woman, or child--we recommend screaming as a great attack icebreaker. It can startle your opponent, and it can be a great way to bring help. It can also be a great way to have somebody not respond--why didn’t the hero come when the heroine called?

• Hit the assailant in the groin. When screaming doesn’t work, or help is slow to arrive, your heroine should try to hit the attacker in the groin. If she’s in a headlock, she has both hands free, and is turned with one side toward the assailant’s body. So go ahead and give him (or her--it works on women too) a whack in the sac.

• Grab hair/nose/eyebrow rings. Your heroine screamed, whacked the baddie in the baddie, yet is still struggling to break free. Her other hand is available to pull hair (great if the attacker is a woman), lock a finger in the guy’s nose, or jab a thumb into the eye. If it’s a serious situation, any of these moves can help your heroine get out of there.

• High heels. If your heroine likes to wear high heels, she can scrape a heel down the guy’s shin or stomp her spike into (and possibly through) the top of his foot. Either of these techniques should make him release her from the headlock.

These are high percentage moves--they’re not guaranteed to work, but they have a pretty high success rate. There are also some things that probably won’t work so well.

• Reversing the headlock into a top wristlock. This may have worked for Hacksaw Jim Duggan when he was feuding with Andre the Giant, but those men are highly paid professionals. Plus, the attacker could reverse the top wristlock into a hammer lock (which twists the person’s arm behind their back), and then you’re back to square one.

• Picking the attacker up and suplexing (pretty much another word for dropping) him backwards onto his head. This is another pro wrestling move, and is possible, but make sure that you’ve established your heroine as a genuine bad ass with a strong wrestling/weightlifting/martial arts/other sport background.

• Sticking around to taunt the bad guy. Any of the moves listed above work to get your heroine free, but remember that they offer only a few seconds of reprieve. After that, your attacker is going to be pretty upset.

Hopefully these tips will give you some ideas for adding action to your work in progress. As a last bonus tip, we suggest you find a friend (or, if you’re really devious, an enemy) and role play your action sequence with them. See how easy it is to break free when somebody bigger than you has you in a headlock, or a bear hug. Try different techniques (with a lot of control and any necessary padding) to get loose, and see what actually works for you. Just remember, the simpler the better (plus the easier to describe!).

Have fun, and don’t hurt anybody – except for that fictional bad guy!

Matt and Natalie

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

World Building by CJ Lyons

Thanks to Sharon and everyone at FFandP for inviting me to join you today!

I know that you guys discuss world building quite often since people often associate world building with science fiction or fantasy. But I’d like to talk about a different way to world build, one that works for any genre by focusing on specific word choices and details.

In order to draw the reader into your story you need to create a universe where you both control the rules and where you make a promise to the reader to also follow those rules.

If the world you create is 1950's cold war Berlin, you'd better not have your hero pull out a cell phone. Seems obvious, but world building is much more than mere scenery. Every choice your characters make from what clothes they wear to the car they drive helps to create this alternative universe for your readers.

When a reader begins your book an implicit promise is made by you as the author: you will entertain without boring or insulting their intelligence.

This translates to the only two rules I follow when writing: Never Bore and Never Confuse.

You start building your world with the very first sentence--which is why so many books begin with descriptions of setting or weather. But there are other more dramatic ways to pull your reader into your world.

I'm going to share with you my favorite first line of all the books I've read this year. It's from Evan McNamara's FAIR GAME.

Ever since we shot half of the Mineral County sheriff's department, my deputy and I have been a little shorthanded.

With that one line, McNamara creates an entire world that he invites the reader to enter. And with a hook like that, what reader would refuse?

How does McNamara do it? He made sure his opening had three elements: it is visceral, evocative and telling.

Visceral: as in revealing the pov character's emotions.

Here we have a first person pov and we immediately see that he's laconic, that he's a man of action (shot half the department) and there's no remorse here, is there? Makes you wonder if maybe he's gonna get his comeuppance for those past actions during the course of the story.

Read that last sentence again--"Makes you wonder." You as in the reader.

McNamara creates immediate tension in the reader and involvement by the reader by making you care enough to wonder about something. It's what I like to call emotional velcro and is a great technique for any hook, whether it's an opening line, a pitch to an agent or editor, back cover copy, or a query letter.

This is the next element in world building: evocative. Using your word choices to elicit emotion in your reader.

We already discussed how McNamara created curiosity, but what other emotions did you experience in reading this one sentence? A feeling of kinship or empathy at a lawman forced to kill half his department? A sense of bravado? How about anticipation of what might happen next?

And lastly, to successfully world build, you need telling details. Every single detail you choose must do the work of creating your universe for the reader.

McNamara uses several telling details: half the department was shot (telling the reader that some survived), they were shot by "we" (telling the reader that it wasn't only the pov character doing the shooting), where are we? Mineral County--telling us the book will take place in a small town, rural setting. And who is the main character? The sheriff who's been overworked and shorthanded but still has at least one loyal deputy to help out.

Wow! Look at everything that one sentence achieved!

Okay, most of us won't be able to pack that much oomph in one sentence. But remember, book buyers make their decision whether or not to read your book in less than 3 pages, so you need to get those telling, evocative and visceral details up front.

Should you stop there with the first page? Heck no. Once you make that promise to your audience, you need to keep delivering, building that world brick by brick. And what are those bricks made of? Details. The decisions your characters make.

In essence, that means that you're not building your world alone. By choosing the right visceral, evocative, and telling details to color your plot and character, you are inviting the reader to join you.

Once your reader is invested in your story, you've got them hooked!

Anyone who wants to play around with seeing the effect their opening lines have on an objective audience, feel free to post your FIRST sentence in the comments. Then, let’s all try to find the Visceral, Evocative, and Telling details in them, see whether they hook us or not—and why.

I do ask that if you post your opening, that you comment on at least two others

Have fun with it!



About CJ:

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.

Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller. Her second novel, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, was released October, 2009. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to www.cjlyons.net

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jayne Ann Krentz on Surviving in the Writing Biz

When it comes to writing and getting published, I’m not the best person to ask for advice. I’ve shot myself (and my career) in the foot more times than I can count. I have, however, survived in this business so it struck me that the one subject I can speak to with some authority is reinventing yourself. Unfortunately, from the start of my career, I’ve had a lot of experience doing just that. Here are my handy tips for survival:

DON’T GET TOO FAR AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Trust me on this. I’ve been there and done that and it rarely goes well. Back at the beginning of my career I tried to do a futuristic/paranormal. That very first manuscript had all of the elements that I now work with freely: romance, suspense and a psychic twist. I can’t tell you how many rejection slips the manuscript garnered. They all had the same theme: “Really enjoyed the writing but unfortunately there’s no market for this kind of romance”.

Never one to learn from my mistakes, I tried more futuristic/paranormals again a few years later. By this time I had my Jayne Ann Krentz career up and running. But I killed it stone dead for a time when I finally succeeded in publishing those dang “books of my heart”: my futuristic/paranormals. Anyone remember Sweet Starfire, Crystal Flame and Shield’s Lady? Those are the books that did me in. Folks lined up around the block NOT to buy those books. My printruns crashed and burned.

With my Krentz career on life-support, I decided to retreat to a new pen name and a sub-genre I knew had an audience: Regency romance. That was when I fired up my Amanda Quick career.

The next time I tried the futuristic/paranormal genre I wised-up and did it under a name which had no bad printrun baggage attached to it: Jayne Castle (which just happens to be my birth name). This time it worked.

The takeaway lesson here is that it is very risky to be the first writer in a brand new fictional landscape. Editors look at the books and worry that there won’t be an audience. Readers look at the books and find the backdrops too strange and unfamiliar. It takes time and usually more than one author to create a new fictional landscape that a lot of readers will find comfortable. Today we are all at ease with alternate realities and futuristics that feature vampires, werewolves and the supernatural but it was not ever thus, believe me

KNOW YOUR CORE STORY: (and where it belongs!) My career has experienced several other harrowing near-death experiences but I’ll spare you the grisly details. What you probably want to know is how I survived.

The answer is that I followed one simple rule: Each time I found myself standing on the edge of the abyss, I went back to my core story and looked for a fictional landscape that could accommodate it.

Example: After my futuristic/paranormal career went off a high cliff I took a look at the basic story that I was trying to tell. I realized that if I stripped away the otherworldly settings, the exotic animals and the space ships what I had left was, essentially, a marriage-of-convenience plot. I realized right away that there was a natural home for such stories: Regency romance. That was the start of my Amanda Quick career.

The very best advice I can give you is to know and understand your core story. The themes, plot elements and the kinds of characters you love to work with will show up again and again in your books. They are the source of your power. There is usually more than one market for your core story but you may not realize that if you don’t recognize and comprehend the raw fuel that drives you.

DON’T GIVE UP ON YOUR SPECIAL WORLD: Yes, it took me a long time to publish the psychic and futuristic stories that I longed to do from the very start of my career but eventually I got where I wanted to be. I am now writing my books the way I have always wanted to write them.

I took a few detours before I reached my destination but I loved the journey at every stage because, when you get right down to it, regardless of the sub-genre in which I was working, I always found a way to tell my core story.


Jayne Ann Krentz

The author of a string of New York Times bestsellers, JAYNE ANN KRENTZ uses three different pen names for each of her three "worlds". As JAYNE ANN KRENTZ (her married name) she writes contemporary romantic-suspense. She uses AMANDA QUICK for her novels of historical romantic-suspense. JAYNE CASTLE (her birth name) is reserved these days for her stories of futuristic/paranormal romantic-suspense.

"I am often asked why I use a variety of pen names," she says. "The answer is that this way readers always know which of my three worlds they will be entering when they pick up one of my books."

In addition to her fiction writing, she is the editor of, and a contributor to, a non-fiction essay collection, DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN: ROMANCE WRITERS ON THE APPEAL OF THE ROMANCE published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Her commitment to her chosen genre has been strong from the very beginning of her career. Each year at the annual convention of the Romance Writers of America she participates in a special day-long workshop for librarians and speaks on the importance of the romance genre.

"The romance genre is the only genre where readers are guaranteed novels that place the heroine at the heart of the story," Jayne says. "These are books that celebrate women's heroic virtues and values: courage, honor, determination and a belief in the healing power of love."

She earned a B.A. in History from the University of California at Santa Cruz and went on to obtain a Masters degree in Library Science from San Jose State University in California. Before she began writing full time she worked as a librarian in both academic and corporate libraries.

She is married and lives with her husband, Frank, in Seattle, Washington.


Fired Up

The New York Times—bestselling author presents her latest Arcane Society novel and introduces the first book in the Dreamlight Trilogy—the story of a curse that spans generations, and the love that can heal it. . .

More than three centuries ago, Nicholas Winters irrevocably altered his genetic makeup in an obsession fueled competition with alchemist and Arcane Society founder Sylvester Jones. Driven to control their psychic abilities, each man's decision has reverberated throughout the family line, rewarding some with powers beyond their wildest dreams, and cursing others to a life filled with madness and hallucinations.

Jack Winters, descendant of Nicholas, has been experiencing nightmares and blackouts—just the beginning, he believes—of the manifestation of the Winters family curse. The legend says that he must find the Burning Lamp or risk turning into a monster. But he can't do it alone; he needs the help of a woman with the gift to read the lamp's dreamlight.

Jack is convinced that private investigator Chloe Harper is that woman. Her talents for finding objects and accessing dream energy are what will save him, but their sudden and powerful sexual pull threatens to overwhelm them both. Danger surrounds them, and it doesn't take long for Chloe to pick up the trail of the missing lamp. And as they draw closer to the lamp, the raw power that dwells within it threatens to sweep them into a hurricane of psychic force. Click here to view video

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year’s Resolution for 2010: Make That Manuscript Irresistible!

The 10-Step Website Tour for a Magnificent Manuscript Makeover

By Martha Engber

Martha, author of The Wind Thief and Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up, will teach The Art of Rewriting, a six-lesson course, from Feb. 1 - 15

You’ve just finished writing your story, which is not just okay, good or even very good. Rather, your tale is a scintillating gem of eye-popping proportions!

Now you’re dying to start the submission process.

But because it’s a new year — the year you get published — take the last step that will ensure your story flies off the slush pile and into the hands of an agent or editor:

Put your manuscript through the wringer one more time! You have nothing to lose but time doing what you love and everything to gain.

Recheck the story (yes, again!)

1. Scenes

The Five Ingredients of the Scene by writing coach Emily Hanlon

2. Plot

Plot Whisperer is the website of plot maestro Martha Alderson

3. Characters

Growing Great Writers From the Ground Up is my Q & A blog, through which I answer your questions regarding character development and writing in general.

4. Suspense

How to Create Suspense in a Story is an eHow article by Patricia Gilliam

5. Sex

How to Write a Great Sex Scene is a Suite101.com article by Nina Munteanu

Gather That Last Round of Feedback

6. Critique

EditRed.com allows you to upload your writing for peer review

7. Free Contests

FanStory.com has loads of free contests that will let you know if your writing is as eye-catching as you believe

Format for Submission

8. Proper manuscript format

Novel Format

Short Story Format

Poetry Format

Screenplay Format

(While you can format your screenplay for free, screenplay software like Final Draft and Movie Magic are easy to use and buy credibility in the movie industry.)

The Final Shine

9. Check your spelling (because a computer’s spell checker doesn’t catch most errors)

Merriam-Webster is the online version of the famous dictionary and thesaurus

10 Most Common Grammar Errors and How to Avoid Them is posted on Cengage Learning, an online writing center

The Final Destination

10. Don’t send your work of art to a bozo!

Predators and Editors is an excellent website that tells writers which agents and publishers are okay, and which are not.

Didn’t find the website you want? Try this one:

The Writer’s Resource Directory

Happy writing!

Martha Engber is the author of the literary novel, THE WIND THIEF (a great book club pick) and  GROWING GREAT CHARACTERS FROM THE GROUND UP: A THOROUGH PRIMER FOR WRITERS OF FICTION AND NONFICTION. A journalist by  profession, she’s interviewed former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos, Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell, actress Marlo Thomas and other celebrities. A workshop facilitator, lecturer and book editor, she’s had a full-length play produced in Hollywood. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Watchword, Iconoclast, Bookpress, the Berkeley Fiction Review and other literary journals. She maintains Growing Great Writers From the Ground Up, a site for writers. Martha lives with her family in Northern California.