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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Keeping New Year’s Resolutions: Breaking Things Down Into Threes Workshop

Please welcome guest blogger Beth Daniels, aka Beth Henderson, J.B. Dane

Only days away from the close of the year and so much to do, right? Well, when you get breathing room don’t forget that it isn’t the gifts, the cards, the meals, the parties, the kisses under the mistletoe or at the strike of midnight that is in your future – it’s planning what you’re going to do about the things you’d like to write in 2012!

They say that a bad, and easily broken, resolution is an unspecific statement. You know, something along the lines of “THIS year I will finish that book I’ve been working on”, or “I swear, I’m going to write SOMETHING every day (or week)”. While these sound like they are fixed on a goal, it isn’t nearly as specific as a New Year’s Resolution needs to be, nor as achievable because it is vague. Yes, even the one about finishing the book that has been in production for…well, for HOW LONG now?

Let’s focus on that story though. What’s the hold up? Is it that the characters aren’t acting as you expected or had planned? Trust me on this, they never do. At least really fascinating characters don’t.

Is it that you don’t know what happens next? Or that you do know what happens next but getting there is a problem?

So let’s settle on a better statement for this resolution, hmm? How about that you need a better game plan than in the past?

How about a resolution that says “I’m taking the BREAKING THINGS DOWN INTO THREES workshop at FF&P in February? Yeah, I like that one.

This workshop is a guide to help you along the way, whether when the story is running full out and your fingers are having trouble keeping up with it, or when it’s hit a quagmire and the rope you just tossed simply isn’t long enough to reach the floundering tale.

Have you tried breaking things down into doable or even changeable increments? The Rule of Three is a “law” of long standing and pops up in many disciplines, such as interior design, the composition of color (red, yellow and blue), the arrangement of scenes within plays, graphic layout, and even for Goldilocks and her view of the three bears’ beds (too hard, too soft, and just right). Heck, there are even three pigs, three golden apples, and third time’s the charm!

On February 6, the BREAKING THINGS DOWN INTO THREES workshop throws open the virtual FF&P classroom doors in welcome. Those doors will stay open and welcoming for three weeks (we have a theme here!) before coming to a close on the 26th. During that time we’ll be taking on the many stumbling blocks that pop up during the creation of a piece of fiction – rather like they were part of video game, really. We’re going to take pot shots at them, sometimes blast them all to heck, and stumble, fumble, and scramble our way into a better place when it comes to spinning this tale.

Whether you have a WIP that has been giving you fits or are just getting started on a new project and would like to overcome some of the hazards this time around or are about to launch into your first adventure in fiction writing, BREAKING THINGS INTO THREES could be the story building aid you’ve been looking for.
It sure was the first time I gave the “by the threes” plan a workout!

Breaking Things Down Into Threes, presented by Beth Daniels, runs from February 6, 2012 through February 26, 2012

Beth Daniels writes fiction as Beth Henderson and J.B. Dane and has seen 28 of her novels published. She is also the author of WRITING STEAMPUNK and numerous articles in various e-zines on writing fiction. She’s diversified because she gets bored reading or writing the same sort of tale. Therefore, while her career began with the publication of a romantic-suspense tale, she moved into historical romantic adventure, contemporary romantic comedy, YA, and more recently into the fantasy realm with “The Dragon’s Tale” written as J.B. Dane, which appears in the anthology MOTHER GOOSE IS DEAD from Damnation Books. She is the co-author of LOVING TRIXIE FINE, a Babyboomer fantasy where the heroine’s wrinkle reducer formula erases thirty years worth of hormonal rearrangement as well as those wrinkles. But currently Beth’s heart belongs to Steampunk where storyline deveopments require a gazillion bunch of threes!

Visit her at www.RomanceAndMystery.com.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

3 Characterization Tips I learned From Capt. Jack Sparrow

Please welcome guest blogger Mina Khan

First, I’m honored to be on the FFnP blog. I have spent many days & nights reading and learning from posts here. I hope my post gives back to readers at least a part of what I have gained.

When I think Pirates of the Caribbean, I think of Captain Jack Sparrow. While there are many twists and turns, snappy dialogue, and adventures in the movies, I would say what people remember are the characters, especially that of Sparrow. Actor Johnny Depp makes the character come to life and be almost more real than our next door neighbor, and as writers we must do the same for our protagonists.

Now Rukh, the hero of The Djinn’s Dilemma (my recent Harlequin release), is a genie assassin who can melt into shadows, fly through the ethereal plane, read his targets’ minds, and control the air. How do you make someone like that real?

After much head banging (my fellow FFnP authors I’m sure are nodding in sympathy), I went back to Jack Sparrow for inspiration (why yes, it involved popcorn) and he reinforced the following tips:

1. Don’t make your character a Mary Sue or average. While Rukh as described above makes for a very manly Mary Sue…he would still be overly-perfect if I left him at that. Readers would sneer at him rather than love him.

On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to make your character well-polished, but average. Imagine a morning commute in the metro in Washington D.C. packed with pleasant looking, professionally-dressed workers. Which Average Joe will you remember? The one that stands out. Your character should be unforgettable, exciting and unpredictable. Yeah, Captain Jack Sparrow is definitely all that plus more.

So here’s a description of Rukh from the POV of my heroine, Sarah:

Just a hint of his tattoos, a few blue-black tendrils, peeked from the collar of his periwinkle blue shirt. The darker gray silk tie, neatly knotted at his tawny throat, was the straw that broke her. The mix of cool refinement and dangerous wildness left Sarah’s heart beating in her throat, turned her knees weak. She grasped the counter edge for support.

And I gave him a sense of humor & surprising dialogue (Sparrow is a master of saying & doing the unexpected):

She(Sarah) jotted down the order, then forced herself to meet his gaze. “It’s going to be a bit of a wait, we’re short-staffed this morning.” The next words rushed out of her. “And breakfast’s on me.”

“Normally I wouldn’t protest,” he said, leaning closer. “But in public, I’d prefer a plate.”

An image of Rukh, hair untied, licking whipped cream off her navel flashed through her mind, left her staring.

2. Every authentic character –hero, heroine, villain etc. – must believe in something and live by a personal moral code. Sparrow is a pirate and embodies much of the ambiguity the term carries, yet he has a moral compass. That’s what leads him to rescue Elizabeth Swann in The Curse of the Black Pearl, and return to rescue his crew in Dead Man’s Chest, among other things.

Rukh sees himself as taking care of the world’s trash, i.e. taking out the bad guys. The problem is his latest target, Sarah, isn’t bad. That’s what makes Rukh an honorable assassin, that’s what leads him to find out more and more about his unsettling target (Sarah, the heroine) until he ends up falling for her.

3. A hero should be heroic –be courageous even when he’s afraid, do the right thing even if it hurts, and be loyal to his friends or the heroine as the case maybe. At times, Sparrow comes across as selfish or even downright cowardly…yet he always redeems himself. In At World’s End, Sparrow wants Davy Jones’ heart & immortality, but in the end he saves Will instead and gives him the infamous immortality.

In THE DJINN’S DILEMMA, at one point Rukh puts Sarah’s needs ahead of his own and makes a choice that hurts him, makes him lose the very person he wants the most. The man made me cry while I wrote that scene, and then again during edits. A character doesn’t get more real than that.

I’ll be popping in throughout the day and looking forward to questions, comments, and bonding over Johnny Depp!


Mina Khan is a Texas-based writer and food enthusiast. She daydreams of hunky paranormal heroes, magic, mayhem and mischief and writes them down as stories. Between stories, she teaches culinary classes and writes for her local newspaper. Other than that, she's raising a family of two children, two cats, two dogs and a husband.

She grew up in Bangladesh on stories of djinns, ghosts and monsters. These childhood fancies now color her fiction.

You can find her at:

The Djinn’s Dilemma

Rukh O'Shay, half-djinn and assassin, is used to taking out the bad guys. But his latest assignment, Texas Journalist Sarah White, is nothing like he expected. A glimpse of her bright aura reveals her gentle spirit, while her beauty makes him long for only one thing—to taste her.

Sarah shares the raw desire to connect with Rukh. He can turn her on with a glance, and satisfies needs she didn't even know she had.

But Rukh had been hired to kill her—and the only way to save her is to find out who wants her dead before someone else finishes the job….

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Author Branding 101

Please welcome guest blogger Kristen Lamb

Today we are going to talk a little bit about a writer’s brand. Want to become more than just an author? Do you want to be an icon, a household name like Stephen King or Nora Roberts? Do you want your name to sell your books so you don't have to? Well, first, write really, really, really great books. Excellent writing is the best thing to do to create an author brand. But, aside from that? To become an author brand, we must understand branding and how it is different for writers.

Branding is vital to any writer who wants to have a career in publishing, yet it often amazes me how many writers don’t understand the process. And that is okay in the beginning. I get it. You guys are writers, not Madison Avenue. But tempus fugit—time is fleeting. The learning curve these days is steep. I am here to show you that, if you grasp branding properly, every marketing effort, every social media endeavor will be magnified exponentially….leaving you more time to write great books.

I'm here to teach you how to work smarter, not harder.

Publishing is more competitive than ever. Agencies want to see strong writing, but they are now also expecting writers to be able to demonstrate an existing platform that can translate into book sales. The Digital Age has also opened up many new publishing choices, so for anyone considering indie publishing or self-publsihing, you guys really need to pay attention. This is one of the many reasons that the earlier you begin building a platform, the better. Yes, you unpubbed writers out there? Start now.

To make matters complicated, there are a lot of well-meaning social media folk happy to lend their services on-line and at conferences. Yet, many of these social media experts fail to appreciate that writers are different. Many practices that work great in Corporate America break down when used to brand an author. Writers are not car insurance and books are not tacos.

This is what makes my book, We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media different. I have been a writer and editor for going on ten years and appreciate the unique paradigm an author faces. Your brand will be your foundation, and no matter what anyone says, you are the brand.

This is the largest stumbling block for many writers and even social media folk. Your books are not your brand. Your NAME is the brand--the books are merely some of the ingredients that make up the brand. Prego is the brand of spaghetti sauce. Tomatoes, basil, oregano, etc. are what make up Prego. Make sense? Before social media, successful books were the only ingredients to an author brand. These days? Blogs, tweets, Facebook and all our interactions also contribute heavily to what we eventually call an author brand.

Yet, there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t see some well-intending marketing person advising writers to buy domains with the name of their books or have blogs or Twitter accounts from the perspectives of characters. Want the truth? None of that serves to build our brand as an author, and it is a formula to go crazy and spread ourselves so thinly that we don’t have time left over to produce the product…quality books.

Branding the title of our book whether published or unpublished is a bad idea.

Why do so many marketing folk assume writers need to brand a book? Well, plainly put, it is a really easy mistake to make, because in the traditional business world, these tactics work. Since these guys are marketing experts they frequently don’t understand how publishing works. Thus, they try to give writers the tools that kick butt in business, unaware that they are doing more harm than good. I have even been put in tight spots at conferences because I was teaching contrary to the other social media class down the hall. But that’s okay. We are here to learn.

Why is branding the title of your book a bad idea?

Mainstream social media folk think in business terms. They think, well if I am a business owner, I don’t promote my name, I promote my business. This tactic works great in Corporate America. In business, if I decide to open up a small business, I can go file for a DBA. I know the name of my business.

Say I want to open a dog grooming shop and call it Paw-parazzi. Once I have the green light on the name and the appropriate licenses then I know it is a good idea to go buy that domain for a web page. I also know I need a logo and to send out mailers and e-mails and flyers and Facebook fan pages all with Paw-parazzi. Why? Because I want Paw-parazzi to be the name that comes to mind when anyone needs their pooch shampooed. Paw-parazzi is THE place to give your doggie the treatment she deserves (brand).

Unless Paw-parazzi goes bankrupt, or I sell the shop, or for some reason decide to close the business (one too many dog bites), I know I own the rights to use the name Paw-parazzi. Thus I will promote this name (brand) until I retire, die, sell or go under.

As a writer, it is easy to assume that the book is the product. So, logically, I will want to begin building a platform and promoting my book. Ah, here’s the tar baby, though.

Unless you self-publish, you will have little to no control over the title.

For business reasons, a publishing company reserves the right to change the title at any time, right up to the minute before the book goes to print. Generally the decision to change a title is in the author’s best interests. Publishing houses do not make money unless we writers sell lots and lots of books. Thus, if they change the title, there is a strategic reason for doing so.

I see many unpublished writers running out and buying domains and building web sites for unpublished works. You guys certainly have the right spirit (ROCK ON!), but not the correct focus. If the title of your book changes before the book goes to print, that is a heck of a lot of work down the tubes.

And say the title of your book doesn’t change. If you want to be a career author, then it stands to reason that you will write more than one book. Now you are back at square one. Are you really motivated enough to build separate platforms for every single title you write? There wouldn’t be any time left over to write more books.

Think about your big name authors. Let's take Amy Tan. She wasn’t always a household name. Do you think it would have been a wise use of her time to build web sites and social media pages for Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Hundred Secret Senses, Kitchen God’s Wife…you guys get the point. She probably wouldn’t have had time to write all of these. She would have been too busy marketing :D.

What about self-published authors? Are they any different?

I once had a rather heated Twitter discussion with a person teaching social media marketing to writers. She asserted that if an author was self-published, then she thought it was critical to brand the title of the book. Fair enough. Self-publishing is certainly an option and a great way to break into a larger market. But we still need to look at long-term goals. If you are self-publishing with hopes it will ignite a career as an author, you still need to brand your name. Why? Well, let’s look at this logically.

A lot of self-published authors are going this route in hopes of demonstrating high enough sales to attract the attention of a larger publisher. So say you happen to be successful and sell a good amount of books.

NY comes calling.

If you branded the title of your book and not your name, then you are back in the same conundrum. The publisher reserves the right to change the title. Also, if you want to be a career author and write more than that one book, then you are back at square one for the next book and the next and the next and the...this is where you start drinking directly from the margarita machine.

Agents and editors want to see great books, and they really get excited when those books come tethered to people who understand how to correctly brand. So why aren’t more writers branding correctly? Misinformation accounts for a lot, but fear accounts for more.

Most of the time it is fear that keeps us from using our name. Because we fear failure, rejection, criticism, etc. we hide behind clever monikers, or we emotionally distance behind branding the title of a book. I say, name it and claim it. It is scary, but vital.

When we build everything on our name, we save time and we are also far more resilient when it comes to changes in social media.

Besides, If I told you today that I could hit you with super-duper writer magic dust and guarantee that you would be a huge success, would you still want a moniker or a book title as your brand? Stephen King, Stephenie Meyers, Amy Tan, Nora Roberts, James Rollins, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark are all very proud to use their names. If we want to one day be like them then we need to act like them.

Thanks so much for having me and I really look forward to helping each end every one of you reach your dreams.

Kristen Lamb is the author of the #1 best selling books, "We Are Not Alone--The Writer's Guide to Social Media" and "Are You There, Blog? It's Me, Writer." She is currently represented by Russell Galen of SGG Literary NYC. In her free time, Kristen trains sea monkeys for the purposes of world domination....when she isn't trying to saw through her ankle monitor.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Top 10 Things I Learned From My First Round of Edits

Please welcome guest blogger Ruth A. Casie

For a new author, the thought of publisher edits can be intimidating. Review, re-write, re-plot, re-align subtext, and forget if you have action scenes.

My first round of edits reached me while I was getting on a plane at the Las Vegas airport. Paul and I were returning home after a great vacation. The shows were spectacular. I was excited to see what my editor, Denise, had for me. I tried, without success, to read her edits on my android phone before I had to turn it off. I would have to wait another five hours.

Once back home, I read the message and instructions, made a large pot of coffee and dug in. To start, I read all the track changes and comments to get an idea of what lay ahead for me. After 13 days (one day ahead of deadline), I got the edits back to Denise. I found I worked hard, got frustrated, made changes, had several aha moments, and fell in love with Arik, Rebeka and their story, Knight of Runes, all over again.

Here are the top ten things I learned from my first round edits. Go get your coffee and enjoy.

10. Well-meaning friends, who are ‘in the know,’ sometimes don’t know. The advice of a good friend and published author was to remove irrelevant words in order to stay in the action and make things sound crisp and immediate. It’s the way to hold your reader attention. Not, however, when you splice commas. Words such as and and but, are essential, not extraneous.

9. Cut extraneous exposition and let the reader see it. What some people see as extraneous exposition (which I went through and deleted) my editor said was necessary to set up the next scene or action.

8. Don’t give your editor (and reader) a headache by head hopping. Head hopping, I mean real leaps in the same scene, may work for Nora but not for Ruth. Ever.

7. POV is an art. If your POV character can’t see it, hear it, and doesn’t know it then it doesn’t exist. Unless, the other POV character says it or (this was an eye opener) thinks it in his head. Cool heh.

6. Edits are a learning experience and my editor is a fabulous, and patient, teacher. I learned to see patterns, hear echoes, and feel rhythms. It only took the first 100 pages to get there.

5. Immediate voice is much more powerful and compelling than passive voice. Chopping ‘ing’ words makes the action sound immediate. It’s is essential, although, passive voice has its place, but only occasionally.

4. Filler words do not move a scene along. These words can usually be eliminated without changing the meaning and will also make it more immediate.

3. Questions in the readers mind can be provocative. Some of Denise’s comments were questions that were answered in the next paragraph or scene. I made my reader think. Not bad!

2. My deepest apologies to Mrs. X. My high school grammar teacher must be spinning in her grave. I won’t embarrass her family by mentioning her name.

The number one thing I learned from my first round of edits…

Call me crazy but I enjoyed working through Denise’s track changes and comments. She made me think, make decisions, see opportunities, and ultimately she helped me make the story the best it can be and isn’t that what we both want.

Get ready Denise, I’ll be sending a new book soon.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you learned about your edits. Please leave me your email address and one person will be randomly selected to win a $5 (US) Amazon gift card.

Ruth’s Bio: For twenty-five years she’s been writing for corporate America. Encouraged by her family and friends this ballroom dancing, Sudoku playing, aspiring gourmet cook has given way to her inner muse. She’s let her creative juices flow and started writing a series of historical time travel romance stories. Her debut novel, Knight of Runes published by Carina Press is now available. She hopes you read her stories and that they become your favorite adventures.

Ruth’s web site: www.ruthacasie.com
Ruth’s blog: www.ruthacasie.blogspot.com
Ruth’s Twitter: www. Twitter.com/RuthACasie

Knight of Runes

It’s the 21st century and time travel is still a Wellsian fantasy but not for Rebeka Tyler. While on an impromptu tour of Avebury, she takes a misstep at the standing stones, and finds herself in the right place but tossed back into the 17th century. When Lord Arik, a druid knight, finds Rebeka wandering his lands without protection, he swears to keep her safe. But Rebeka can take care of herself. When Arik sees her clash with a group of attackers using a strange fighting style he is intrigued.

Rebeka is desparate to return to her time. She poses as a scholar sent by the king to help find out what’s killing Arik’s land to get access to the library. But as she decodes the ancient runes that are the key to solving his mystery and sending her home, she finds herself drawn to the charismatic and powerful Arik.

As Arik and Rebeka fall in love, someone in Arik’s household schemes to keep them apart and a dark druid with a grudge prepares his revenge. To defeat him, Arik and Rebeka must combine their skills. Soon Rebeka will have to decide whether to return to the future or trust Arik with the secret of her time travel and her heart.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Truth Will Set You Free

Please welcome guest blogger Rory Miller

Just finished writing something and I am afraid that most people will see it as dark and depressing, but it isn’t. It, like many truths, is a key to a wonderful freedom. There are a handful of hard truths, very real, very powerful things and it seems that most people’s lives and civilization itself is often a sad and desperate attempt to make these truths less true.

The most famous? Possibly, from the Buddha: “Life is suffering.” Or, my favorite paraphrase from “The Princess Bride”: “Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell something.”

Maybe that’s a big truth and maybe it’s dark and maybe it’s scary, but it is profoundly liberating. Getting handed a shit sandwich with life isn’t that big a deal… but the idea that it’s not normal, that the sandwich of life is supposed to be roast beef with bacon and cream cheese lightly toasted with brown mustard… that’s the part that hurts. The suffering, if it is that, lingers in the gap between the expectation and the reality.

Most humans through most of history have had a pretty rough deal. You don’t see it in America much (no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that the country is awash in poverty and homelessness and violence- the math doesn’t work when the greatest health risk to the poorest Americans include complications from obesity). We are programmed, it seems, to think that our lives are hard, and they are, but only compared to an ideal that never really existed. Things, stuff, money, don’t mitigate suffering, they just focus your imagination on different things to suffer about.

I’m trying not to talk out of both sides of my mouth here. There is real pain. Tasers hurt. Old bone breaks and medically installed hardware hurts in your joints when things are cold and humid. You will lose friends that you love. But most of the suffering comes from elsewhere, from an expectation that joints aren’t supposed to hurt or that friends are eternal. That is the difference between grieving and wallowing. Both are about you, but one is honestly about what you lost and the other is about what you thought you had a right to.

Accepting this truth and a few others allows you to live…more? Harder? Better? It allows you to love harder because you are busy loving instead of whining that things aren’t perfect and love is ‘supposed to be perfect’. It allows you to play and learn getting better every day instead of wasting time and emotion trying to figure out how good you are or if you are ‘good enough.’

What do those phrases even mean? What is a ‘perfect love’? What would it look, feel, taste, like? It can’t be both perfectly smooth and exciting. And ‘good enough’? For what? To who? If you ever perfectly achieved it, then what?

Most of the big truths are like that: the totality of the statement is bleak: “Life is suffering.” “You will die.” But each of them is a key. When you quit wasting energy attempting to evade the inevitable; when you quit building a structure of lies to protect yourself from the truth, you can live at the level of truth.

Caveat emptor, though. It’s really not for everybody.

Weapons, Violence and Wounds, presented by Rory Miller, runs from January 2, 2012 through January 29, 2012

Rory Miller is a seventeen-year veteran of a metropolitan correctional system. He spent seventeen years, including ten as a sergeant, with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Portland Oregon. His assignments included Booking, Maximum Security, Disciplinary and Administrative Segregation, and Mental Health Units. He was a CERT (Corrections Emergency Response Team) member for over eleven years and Team Leader for six.

His training has included over eight hundred hours of tactical training; witness protection and close-quarters handgun training with the local US Marshals; Incident Command System; Instructor Development Courses; AELE Discipline and Internal Investigations; Hostage Negotiations and Hostage Survival; Integrated Use of Force and Confrontational Simulation Instructor; Mental Health; Defensive Tactics, including the GRAPLE instructors program; Diversity; and Supervision.

Rory has designed and taught courses including Confrontational Simulations; Uncontrolled Environments; Crisis Communications with the Mentally Ill; CERT Operations and Planning; Defensive Tactics; and Use of Force for Multnomah County and other local agencies.

In 2008 Rory Miller left his agency to spend over a year in Iraq with the Department of Justice ICITAP program as a civilian advisor to the Iraqi Corrections System.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a blackbelt in jujutsu and college varsities in judo and fencing. He also likes long walks on the beach.

His writings have been featured in Loren Christensen’s "Fighter’s Fact Book 2: The Street," Kane and Wilder’s "Little Black Book of Violence," and "The Way to Blackbelt." Rory is the author of "Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence" published by YMAA.