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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Backstory Breakdown by Shelley Martin

Every character has a backstory. The problem is: how do we reveal their past without info dumping or other blunders? This is something all writers struggle with, including me. Here’s a breakdown of different forms backstory can take, and tips to make it work.

The Prologue. Prologues in the past were a common occurrence. But now they’ve fallen into the backstory category. Most often than not, the prologue is backstory. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when it can be woven into the story instead of floating on its own, then do it. Yes, it’s extra work, but it’s always better to start with immediate action right out the gate.
The Info Dump. This is where something happens to a character, and the author breaks into the story to tell why what’s happening is important. For example- “George the Gladiator lifted his new helmet in salute before sliding it on. Little did he know, the helmet had been the downfall of every gladiator who’d worn it before. Malley the Masculine died from a blade to the eye, while the helmet simply slid off the head of Homer the Hairless…” I could go on, but hopefully you see that we went from the story of George, to a list of a bunch of other guys we’ve never heard of, or care about. George is about to go into battle and the reader wants to know if he’s going to survive, not how Homer the Hairless died. George could find out the info of the helmet by reading it in a scroll after the battle, or hearing about it from a friend. There are many ways to get this info to George and the reader. Be creative!

The Dream. Here’s where the character slips into a dream, and relives a traumatizing past (or silly, or revealing, you get the picture). Unfortunately, this technique has been overused in the extreme. While it can still be used as a valuable way to explore the past, I urge you to use this method sparingly.

Old Friends Reminiscing. This is one of my favorite techniques. Introduce the crazy friend from the past, or snarky ex, and open those past wounds. Two buds can share a glass of wine and say “Remember when you cast that spell that made your mom sneeze fire?” In that one line we learned the character is good with fire magic, and has a mischievous side. However, I urge you to avoid starting with “As you know, Maude, the new T-75 laser model fires at a bandwidth of…” If Maude already knew what bandwidth the laser fired at, then there’s no reason to share that information. The “As you know…” starter has also been used in excess in the past and should be avoided.
Paragraph Two. This is a pet peeve of mine. You’ve opened up with a great line, which turns into a fantastic opening paragraph. You’ve got me hooked. Then paragraph two starts with “Earlier that morning, as I ate my cereal and read the box, I would have never thought my day would have turned out like this. I brushed my teeth and chose my clothes, searching for my favorite shirt…” Anyone asleep, yet? It seems this most often occurs when authors start out with “I brushed my teeth and chose my clothes…” Then, someone tells them to liven it up. So they write this great paragraph of what’s going to happen at the end of the day, and stick it at the front to draw you in. That’s a no-no. Put in the elbow grease and rewrite the whole opener, please. I always walk away from stories like this, and they happen quite often, believe me.

Storytelling. What’s this? Using storytelling to tell a backstory? Yeppers! This works especially well in fantasy and paranormal tales. This is where one person relays a quick story of the whereabouts of a mythical sword, or the tragic life of a paranormal creature, etc.  It can be a bedtime story, a lesson, or a warning on a wall. The important thing is to remember to keep it short. One page is best (double spaced). If the story happens to be longer, then split it up. Have the storyteller get interrupted, then have the receiver of the story ask for more in the following chapter. These can also make great shorts if you want to release them in an extended version, separate from your story. Or it can be an added bonus at the end of a series.
Backstory is often seen as a villain, but it can be your friend, too. I hope these tips can help you beat that backstory into submission. And if it helps, write the backstory out on a completely separate page. Then break it up and weave it into your manuscript. Sometimes after you get it all out, you can trim the excess to make it quick, snappy, and to the point. And that’s usually what your reader wants: just enough to help them along, but not so much that it will yank them from the current story they are falling in love with.

Shelley Martin taught kindergarten and ran cattle; once upon a time.  She’s now an award winning author, mother and wife, and loves living in North Idaho.  Her imagination has always plagued her, the characters jumping into her head at some random song or thought.  She started writing when she was ten, finishing her first short story when she was eleven.  The paranormal has always fascinated her, and nothing draws her to the page more than the whisperings of fantastical creatures. Shelley loves to hear from her readers!  You can reach her at Shelleymartinfiction@gmail.com

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Life, the Directors Cut by Asa Maria Bradley

At a recent reading in my town, author Craig Johnson talked about how much he liked Robert Taylor’s audition for the role of Sheriff Walt Longmire in the A&E TV series based on Johnson’s Longmire novels (Viking). That is, he liked it until a breathy “Oh, my” escaped from his wife’s lips while she watched Taylor saunter across the screen. She quickly defended her reaction by describing Taylor as a taller and slightly better looking, “TV version” of her husband. (Nice save, Mrs. Johnson.)

This made me wonder what the TV/film version of me would be like. I pictured a polished version of me with better skin, thicker more lustrous hair, wearing expensive designer clothes and shoes. She would know how to walk in high heels, have an infectious tinkling laugh, and use a clever repertoire of insightful comments during conversations.

And she would look good in hats.

Later that night, I uploaded some pictures from the author event to social media and realized the edited version of my life already exists: Facebook.  

Here are some of the director choices I’ve made while presenting the Facebook version of my life:

Major Milestones:

My husband and friend arrange an amazing 40th birthday party—show pictures of guests, especially cute children of friends playing with dog.

After 40 I now spend an alarming amount of time I spend in front of the make-up mirror with tweezers—CUT!


Ziplining in Costa Rica—post photos of posting with hubby in matching helmets, include video of me whizzing down a very high line at fast speeds. 

Spending hours on toilet purging from both ends due to Costa Rican amoeba entering gastrointestinal system—Are you crazy?! CUT!

College Instructor Day Job:
Interacting with smart/clever/funny students—share quotes of tongue-in-cheek test answers, mention star students’ Ivy League acceptance, scholarships, and prestigious internships.
Grading for hours, sitting in office at 10.30 pm, shoving Dove chocolate in my mouth while mainlining Mountain Dew—Nope. CUT!
The truth is, my life appears much more interesting and fun on Facebook than what I experience every day. I’m not fabricating anything, but I choose on which scenes to focus the lens to tell my story.
In writing, we do the same thing. We select only the parts of a character’s back story that informs our reader about their goals and motivation. We show only the scenes and dialogues that propels our plot forward.
If I was a character and my life was a novel, I may include the scene of grading tons of assignments late at night to create sympathy for my character. Although, I probably would have made the chocolate stash smaller than it is in real life.

The toilet scene may be included too—a heavily edited version with a way smaller grossness factor. But the moments in front of the make-up mirror with tweezers would probably bore even the most valiant of readers.

What are some of the scenes you’ve cut from the Facebook version of your life that would work in a novel?


Asa Maria Bradley is working on a paranormal series featuring Vikings and Valkyries and their struggle to prevent Ragnarök—the god’s final battle and the end of the world. She grew up in Sweden, surrounded by Norse mythology and history apparent in archeological sites and buildings. Her essays and articles have appeared in a variety of magazines and the anthology FEMALE NOMAD AND FRIENDS: TALES OF BREAKING FREE AND BREAKING BREAD AROUND THE WORLD (Three River Press, Randomhouse). She lives in Washington State with her British husband and a used dog of indeterminate breed. Visit her at www.AsaMariaBradley.com.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Klutz Protecting the Laptop by Rebecca Zanetti

Hi all!  Our guest blogger today ran into a snag, so you're stuck with me.  I wrote a fun blog about being a klutz a while ago, and I thought I'd post it here today.  This one is for those of you who are a bit, um, clumsy.

A while back I sprained my ankle.  For the first time ever, and I have to say, it really hurt.  I had no clue.  Once my husband picked me up and tucked me into a chair with a pillow under my foot, he said something that really gave me pause.  After learning it was my first sprain, he scratched his head, and said, “That’s really surprising.  I mean, since you’re such a klutz.”

He said it thoughtfully, and I couldn’t take offense.  You know why?  It is really surprising because I am a klutz.  Nearly every pair of sweats, jeans, and nylons I own have an identical rip right above my left knee because I always get caught on this edge of a table nobody else gets caught on.  I’ve fallen down (and up) our stairs more times than I can count.  I trip over everything…and nothing.  Honest.
My mom, who really loves me, says that I could stand in the center of a round room and hit a corner. 

When our kid hits the floor during a basketball game, my husband always gives me the look that says, “That’s from you.”
When it starts to snow, he always gets out my strongest, best traction boots right away.  And I always end up slipping on the ice.  Every day.

You know that person that knocks over the pyramid of cans of corn at the grocery store?  Yeah, that’s me.

My mother in law gets a panicked look on her face when I touch her dishes.  And I can’t blame her.  I’ve taken out an entire saucer and cup display before.  Well, I did it three times. 
But the other day when I missed the bottom step, I sprained my ankle.  I had a diet coke (open) in one hand and my laptop in the other.  And I protected the laptop.  There’s something about being an author that instinctively had me clutching the laptop, even as my foot folded over into something unnatural. And when I hit the ground, yelping, I clutched that computer to me with both hands.

On the laptop was the next book in the Dark Protector series.  I hadn’t sent it to my editor yet.  In fact, I was on my way to do just that.  After a lifetime of falling, slipping, and tripping, I finally became injured.  From writing.

So when they tell you that writing is blood, sweat, and tears, there’s some truth to it.  As well as a whole bunch of spraying, spilled diet coke.  But you know what?  If I took that fall again, I’d protect that laptop.  J 

USA Today Bestselling Author Rebecca Zanetti's current series include the Maverick Montana cowboy series, the Dark Protector vampire series, and the Sin Brothers romantic-suspense series.  FATED, Book 1 in the Dark Protectors, is on sale for .99c for a short time.  Please visit Rebecca at: http://www.rebeccazanetti.com/

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Feed Your (Novel) Beast Every Day: A 100-Day Challenge by Tana Essary

After a year of saying I was turning my award-winning short story into a full-length novel, I found myself still floundering. I said I was working on my book, and I was at least opening my laptop and looking at the beast every day, but was not sustaining enough daily effort to keep us both happy and moving in the right direction. I would take it out and play with it a little, proudly tell all my friends about it, think about it constantly, but I was just keeping it barely alive. I was not feeding it generously enough with a steady diet of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Every. Single. Day. In that year, my poor novel shivered with emaciation, having grown by only 30,000 words or so. Not at all close to where I wanted the two of us to be by now.

About three weeks ago, I listened to an RWA conference download called The Do-Over: Five Authors Dish on Lessons Learned, available on the RWA website. One of the authors shared something that helped her develop a consistent writing habit and made the biggest impact on her now healthy career. Her RWA chapter started a 100-day challenge to write at least 100 words per day, every day. It worked like a champ for her, and became a life-changer.
When I heard this, I knew I had to suggest the challenge to my group, the Inland Empire Chapter of Romance Writers of America. As it turns out many of us needed a kick in the pants like this, and we’ve seen a huge spike in our productivity in the past three weeks because of it.
We check into our loop every day with a subject line that might say something like, “Day 3: 100+ Words. I finished chapter 3”. The body of the email can say more, but having the subject line with the pertinent information is considerate to those who may not want to read every email. We keep it simple with 100 or 100+. Although we occasionally share milestones or particularly exciting daily accomplishments, we don’t want to discourage anyone else with a feeling of “I did 3,000 today—what is wrong with the rest of you people?” The accountability factor has been really inspiring for all of us. We want to be able to check in each day with good news.

It’s a funny little phenomenon, this mind game of “just one bite” of 100 words. I can write 100 words in about five minutes, even if I have to hold my nose and close my eyes to take that first bite. If I literally have no time to write on any given day, I know I can take just five minutes to write 100 words before I sleep at night.

At this point my beast is a hamster—but it’s coming along just fine now.
Hamster photo credit: cuteanimalimages.com
But getting that first bite into the beast, makes it want another bite and then another. I have found my average daily output to be in the 500-700 word range since starting the challenge. Some days have been as high as 1300. My lowest, a particularly challenging day, was 124 words exactly. For a writer with a day job, I can live with that, and the book-beast is looking healthier than it’s been in a very long time. It grew by about 10k in 19 days.

If you extrapolate my output rate, a full-length, 80,000-word novel’s first draft could be achieved, from beginning to end, in about 5½ months. That’s a pretty respectable pace, especially for those of us who don’t have the luxury of writing full time. And that’s most of us, right?

If you are having trouble establishing a consistent writing habit, maybe you should give the 100 Word A Day Challenge a try. You and your beast novel will be happy with the results.
Almost three years ago, Tana Essary decided to take her writing to the next level by joining a writers’ group, and is now an active member in both Idaho Writers League and RWA. She has found she does well (so far, knock wood) in writing competitions. Her current project, As Long As There Is Chocolate, is emerging from an award-winning short story. It is a contemporary romance, with a just hint of paranormal. Her often neglected blog can be found at tanaessary.com. Her confusing twitter account is @nessessary. Her Facebook page is Tana Essary dot com .

Monday, September 9, 2013

No one ever told me I’d NEVER READ again! -- By Debra Elise

As you can tell by my title, I’m a little beside myself at the moment and I must confess, I’ve been lurking on the FF&P loop for the past couple months, so uh, Hi!

My current wip, and only, is a futuristic paranormal and I’m having a great time writing it, mostly. You see it has become increasingly clear that now that I’m writing seriously, as opposed to casually, I’ve become unable to read my beloved authors without having their voice throw me off my game.  Now I will confess I’ve made one exception.  I managed to finish one of Rebecca Z’s latest, but full disclosure I am a huge fan girl, plus she’s a member of our local RWA chapter (score!) and I think it’s in our by-laws or something *grin*. But I digress. My point, and I do have one, is that this has been a huge adjustment for me. Because… I’m an addict, a book addict.  Always have been, always will be.

 “Hi, my name is Deb and it’s been 53 days since my last book. I’m doing well, but some days, well let’s just say, it’s not pretty. Even the dog leaves me alone.”

In the good old days, about four months ago, as soon as I had finished one novel, I’m on to the next and the next. It was a feeding frenzy. And if I found a new author and she had any type of backlist, watch out.  My family ends up eating pizza and frozen dinners for days and the laundry piles up. Kinda like now, only different. But that’s how it is with me. Or was. I couldn’t stop reading.  Not until I decided to finally listen to the inner voice which said, “Yes you can.” Now I’ve had to rewire my brain, training myself to be patient and delay that need for instant gratification *wink* when a new Kresley Cole novel comes out.

Now like many of you, I’m guessing here, but think I’m pretty close to the mark. I think many of you, ok me, wants to be like Nora. Prolific, successful and so damn good! Isn’t she like the demi-goddess of art and literature? No? Well she should be. But as I’m now a self-proclaimed ‘serious’ writer, I must follow my heart and my muse. Nora’s latest releases are as we speak languishing in the nether world otherwise known as eBook purgatory. Sssh, don’t tell her. I think by now I must have 20, okay closer to 30, books waiting to be accessed nightly on my Kindle only to be forsaken for my wip.  Don’t get me wrong though, I am loving this new journey I’ve chosen. My people, I’ve found my people! However, no one warned me about the downside. I’ve been jonesing for a while now and get my thrills by reading book descriptions at Amazon and Goodreads. It’s been dangerous though. By feeding my addiction in this roundabout way, I’ve found a whole new group of authors and great books. Little gems twinkling brightly at me “read me, read me.” Some days I feel like a Valkyrie (or is it a Harpy?) entranced by the winking glare of yet another book diamond. Am I being a bit melodramatic here? Maybe. But as much as I experience great satisfaction (so cool) from writing a scene or two, or three, I miss my book boyfriends! Doesn’t matter that it’s a self-imposed hiatus either, I’m just--sad.

So I’ve decided on a new incentive program. This may work for you or maybe everyone else has already figured it out, and I’m just late to dinner. If so, I’ll bring the wine next time. 

MY SOLUTION: Alright, here it is – write 20k, read a book, but just one. Write another 20k, read one book, etc. I promise. Also, I must do it without guilt or worry that it’s going to affect my voice. Solution found, right?  But that leads to an even bigger problem—WHICH ONE? Will it be Nora, or Rebecca? Gena or Cherry? Kresley or Larissa? J.T. or J.R or ahhh. Whom I kidding? How do I chose between all my favorites?  In the old days, I’d just read them in the order the books were released. But now I have a backlog. I’m hoping my proposed solution could be just one more incentive for me to finish my book, right? You know besides getting an agent or a contract.

Okay, so maybe my solution is not realistic. After all who am I kidding? I start reading one and that will lead to “just one more” and BAM! I’m back on the sauce. Better that I have a book orgy when my first draft is done and call it good. Hmm, I like that idea, less of a chance for cheating. But what do I know, I’m just a newbie. Wait, does a novella count?
Which of your favorite authors do you think you could hold off reading when they release a new book, say for a week? Or, “No way Deb, you’re crazy!”

Thanks for reading.  I’d love to hear your comments!

BIO: I am a stay at home wife and mother, married to the super supportive Master Chief and momma to the Rooster and BubbaBoy. Two monkeys who keep me on my toes--hourly. We have a chocolate lab named Bell who follows me around the house begging for treats. In my previous life, in no particular order, I was a telephone operator, optometrist assistant, receptionist, executive assistant, ice cream scooper and bar maid (not a waitress, but an actual maid who cleaned a bar - very glam). I love coffee and reality TV. The latter reinforces how good a life I do have.

You can find me on:

  • Twitter: Debra_Elise
  • Website: Debraelise.com
  • Goodreads: Debra Elise

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sinking Our Teeth into Urban Fantasy Romance by Linda Thomas-Sundstrom

Question: What do you get when you stretch the boundaries of Paranormal Romance?

Answer: Urban Fantasy . . . romance.

Question: What the heck is that?

Answer: Unusual stories with a romantic core that don’t have to necessarily trend or end the way romance readers expect them to.

How much fun is that for an author?  Sheer creative bliss. And that’s exactly what lured me to write a new series of urban fantasy romance novels and novellas alongside my paranormal romance books for Nocturne. Pushing the boundaries just a little bit was the key to my love of the urban fantasy genre.

Hello to everyone. *waving* I’m Linda Thomas-Sundstrom, here to briefly discuss ways to stretch your imagination while still keeping the emotion, relationships, and inner turmoil of  the paranormal romance genre intact. Hence, my use of the word romance.

In a romance novel, it’s understood (and taken for granted) that there will be the development of a relationship between two people. The majority of the book deals with how those people meet and how the relationship escalates and expands through trials and a certain amount of angst. The culmination of a romance novel, paranormal or otherwise, is a satisfactory ending in which the reader will either know for sure, or assume that the two star characters will be headed down the aisle – or whatever their equivalent of that might be. Happy ending. HEA.

In a straight urban fantasy novel, there doesn’t have to be a viable relationship at all. The heroine can kill off the hero if she so chooses, or vice versa if the books stars him. It’s usually more about one character and their trials through a series of hardships. No HEA required, or even necessarily in sight.

But if we want an urban fantasy romance . . . we need two to tango. We also need a relatively decent culmination that I call the ITHEA, which stands for : Imagine Their HEA. Though I, as author, may not supply a happy ending in concrete terms, in writing, at the end of the story, I do always bring the story to that point, and allude to the possibilityof an eventual HEA. Although I might not take readers to the end game, I pave the way for satisfaction of two souls getting together.

So, in an urban fantasy romance, some rules of the romance genre would still apply. Two people (don’t have to meet up at the start/ we can drop into their lives) moving through the gyrations of a relationship, however flawed, but not necessarily tracked from beginning to end, with more of a fantasy plot mixed in to liven things up and take the headline . . . and an ITHEA at the end. Voila!

I’ve started a new series based on this premise, and here’s the blurb for the first one, releasing this September. Notice the key words defining this as a romance.

“Trapped In Stone”  The forces of Dark and Light are vying for the soul of one man op top of Notre Dame Cathedral, and the woman who loves him has vowed to change his fate.

Says it all, right, about the possibility of romance being an integral part of the story?

If you’d like to see more about this book and other ways I’ve twisted PNR into urban fantasy romance, visit my website: http://www.lindathomas-sundstrom.com  and look under the COMING SOON tab. Visit me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LindaThomasSundstrom

My short bio: Books published by Kensington Brava, Dorchester, Amazon Montlake, and I’m completing my 15th  book/ novella for Harlequin Nocturne.

Questions of your own? Ask away. Please do wave and leave a comment here. I’ll look forward to hearing from all my loop-mates. I’m really excited to be here, guest posting.