Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year!

I'm not one who normally makes resolutions, but I do set goals, and the new year is always a good time to refocus back on those goals.  So here is what I hope to accomplish in 2012:

  1. Finish my first novel already!  While I thought I was finished, since I haven't yet landed an agent, I figure I need to get a few more CPs and work out the last kinks before I start querying again in January.  Which brings me to my second goal…

  1. Land an agent!  This is the most important goal for me in 2012, but it’s also the one least under my control.  There’s nothing more I can do except write a kickass query (check) and start emailing.  Which brings me to my third goal…

  1. Complete the first draft of my second novel.  I’m so ready to get right on this one.  I have so much of the story worked out in my brain.  I’ll need to drum up an outline first then dive right in.  This time, I have several awesome CPs lined up from the word go, so hopefully, knowing what I know now, it’ll be a much smoother process the second time around.  If all goes well, or even if it doesn’t, I have one more goal…

  1. Attend my first ever writer’s conferenceBoucherCon 2012, a convention for crime and thriller writers, is being held in Cleveland, Ohio October 4th through the 7th.  I can’t tell you how excited I am to attend this, for obvious reasons, of course, but also because I will finally get the chance to meet my BFF, Lisa Regan, in person.  And I’ll also get to reunite with another wonderful friend, Jennifer Hillier, author of Creep and the forthcoming Freak, who just days ago, moved away from the Seattle area, where I live, back to her native Toronto, Canada.  If I haven’t bagged an agent yet, I hope I get the opportunity to make a few pitches. 

So that’s it for me.  What about you?  Have you made any resolutions or goals for 2012?  

Whatever they are, I hope you reach them.
Have a happy and blessed New Year, my friends, and thank you for hanging out with  me in 2011!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Season's Greetings

This is just a short post to wish
all my Blogger friends a merry Christmas
and a blessed holiday!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Déjà Vu Blogfest

Today, I am participating in DL Hammon’s Déjà Vu Blogfest cohosted by Creepy Query Girl’s, Katie Mills, The World is my Oyster’s, Lydia Kang, and Nicole Ducleroir of One Significant Moment at aTime.  This blogfest gives participants the chance to resubmit their best posts for the benefit of all those who might have missed it the first time around.  I look forward to reading as many of the participants’entries as physically possible, and maybe make a few new friends in the process. 

The posts I’m most proud of are those I wrote on craft:  One on setting and another tension.  But the one I’ve chosen to enter for this bloghop has received the most hits and continues to do so every week.  I first posted this on July 13, 2011, and while my perspective has changed slightly, I still believe in the message.

Stories Don’t Happen in a Vacuum

I knew I would have to come up with something to post about today, but when I woke up, I still hadn’t thought of anything new, that is until I read today’s post at BookEnds Lit Agency.  Today is Workshop Wednesday at BookEnds, the day agent Jessica Faust posts one of the queries she’s received for critiquing, kind of like Janet Reid does at Query Shark.

I love query critiques.  I think it is the single most effective way to know what does and doesn’t work in a query.  Now, I don’t always agree with Ms. Faust’s opinion.  Case in point, a few weeks ago, she critiqued this query and loved it.  I thought the query was vague, at best, and had many of the qualities that agents advise writers not to include.  But she loved the “southern rhythm” of the voice.  Yeah, I didn’t get that at all, and I lived in the south for awhile, but whatever, just like books, it’s subjective and if she liked it then kudos to the author.  Well done!

But this week’s critique struck a nerve with me because Ms. Faust alluded to something I hear over and over again when agents are critiquing queries.  After reading the first two paragraphs of the query, she more or less said, this is all backstory; the real story starts here.  In other words, cut all this crap out and get to the meat of the story.  While I agree the query needs a lot of work, I find issue with the fact that the agent automatically thinks the first two-thirds of the query, and therefore the book, is all backstory.

In my opinion, this is the story, at least part of it.  It is how the author wrote it to give it structure and body, a reference point from which to contrast the conflict.  It bothers me that the agent thinks that everything that came before what she considers the core of the story is somehow irrelevant or that the story goes off track.  Yes, the author should have written the query differently to show the progression of the story and the importance of that progression. 
She implied subtly that the story might be about something else, or perhaps that was just the agent inferring that idea.  But even still, that doesn’t mean all those points the writer thought important enough to include in her query are not crucial to the story.  Some of the commenters, in fact, seemed very interested in the writer’s story, calling out the fact that those first two paragraphs were simply acts one and two.

My point is that agents toss aside stories based on assumptions that the reader doesn’t want to know all that happened before, that they simply want to get to the meat of the story.  Well, okay, I don’t need to know everything that happened to the nineteen-year-old protagonist during her first seventeen or eighteen years unless it’s relevant to the story, but from age nineteen on, all the things that happen to her forge her into the woman she becomes and adds dimension to her reasoning, to how she handles the conflict.  Stories don’t happen in a vacuum.  We need to care about the protagonist and her journey and we do this through knowing and understanding their history. 

I often wonder why everyone is always in such a hurry to get to the end.  It’s all about instant gratification so we can move on to the next thing.  Why not savor the time spent with a story and let yourself get immersed in the simmering heat of the layers as they buildup?  I’m not saying that everything the query writer put in her query is essential.  Personally, it comes off more like historical romance, not historical fiction, and so definitely not my thing, but I get that those details are important to understanding why there even is a conflict. 

Could you imagine if Winston Groom had to query Forrest Gump in today’s market?  Some agents would likely say to cut all that backstory about Forrest as a small child or in high school, but it is those details in the early chapters that show how Forrest changes later in life, how he manages to deal with all the drama that’s thrown his way.  How can we know if we weren’t privy to the backstory?

All this relates to me personally because last week I rewrote my query, for what must be the fifteenth time, based on advice from Stephanie DeVita in her post last week titled Slow Summer, where she says, “In most of the queries that I read, the writer isn’t giving me the most thrilling aspect of their book, the crucial element that should make me desperate to ask for more pages. In other cases, it’s unclear if that pivotal element is even there.” 

So I cut all the “backstory” out of my query and just alluded to it, then got right into the major point of the conflict.  But now I worry that any agent who requests pages will think the first third of my novel is all backstory when, in fact, it is the story, or part of it anyway.  Since the story is all about a man who changes, who becomes a different man due to some pretty terrible things that happen to him, that first third of the book is the setup.  It determines what he was like at first and how those events twisted him into a different man, made him act a certain way and do that one awful thing that drives the story.  The rest of the book is how he deals with the repercussions of those decisions.  Why would any reader care about how he changed and what he did if they didn’t know his “backstory?”

And by the way, I hate that word, backstory.  It makes it feel like all those early words are somehow illegitimate, a bastard to be cast aside.  Yes, it matters how that information is presented, that we feel it is part of the actual story and not simply dumped there in a lazy attempt to give context, but I like to think of it as the ice cream in my sundae.  It’s all those yummy bits on top that make it special, but you can’t just eat the yummy bits.  You have to savor it properly with the ice cream set below.  Otherwise, it’s not a sundae.


As an aside to this original post, I’d like to say that backstory in a query, while important, should only amount to a few words in a single line, and only if the content is of the utmost importance to the heart of the story. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Notes on Craft: Setting

Yesterday, I was reading Natalie Whipple’s post on World Building where she discusses how to write about setting in a novel.  She suggests focusing on the most important details, those that have immediate relevancy, that matter most to the character, what stands out to them, or what might foreshadow later events.  I think her approach is right on the money, but I also think she left out an important factor:  Emotion.

Setting in a novel is more than just the physical surroundings.  It is the social and cultural aspects of the period, the fashions people wear and why they wear them, the ideas the characters draw upon, and the historical and spiritual perspective or lens through which they view the world.

Most importantly, setting not just the place or even the time, it’s how the characters of a novel are affected by it, how they feel about their surroundings.  They must have a functioning affiliation with it.  The writer should permit the character to both discover those emotions then infuse them into the story.  That is what makes the setting important, to have immediate relevancy.  It is also what makes the character’s world come alive for the reader. 

A writer can spend pages describing what the countryside looks like on a breezy fall afternoon, but unless I know exactly how the character feels about all those details, how those details are affecting them at that moment or relates to their past, it will fall flat.  Because while I do want to know where the character lives, I don’t truly care unless I know the character does.

I’m not the greatest writer of setting.  In fact, when it comes to description, I’m probably mediocre, at best.  The first few drafts of my novel had very little detail in regard to place, and virtually none on time.  But as I progressed, I kept adding layers, including details about San Francisco, where the majority of story takes place.  Yet I never really describe what The City looks like.  What I did do was infuse the protagonist’s feelings about the place in which he lives.  From that was borne a symbol that repeatedly popped up when the character was frustrated, melancholy, or facing disaster.  That symbol is fog.  It is a legendary pillar of San Francisco’s lore.  It is also cold and oppressive.

My protagonist is a Brit, a native Londoner whose parents transplanted him and his toddler brother to Melbourne, Australia when he was twelve.  As a young adult, he yearns to return to London, but is distracted by a beauty with whom he falls in love while traveling through San Francisco.  He also falls for with The City, whose climate reminds him of London, where his fondest childhood memories are grounded.

He revels in his new-found freedom, his emancipation from his family overseas.  San Francisco becomes a symbol of his liberty.  But that independence is curtailed when his brother follows him to the States.  He becomes saddled with the chore of caring for his irresponsible sibling.  The fog becomes a symbol of his loss of autonomy.  And when his brother’s life is jeopardized by poor choices, forcing the protagonist into a life and death struggle to save him, the fog evolves to symbolize his battle.  It’s not until the end of the story that fog burns off, allowing the sun to return to his life.

The setting in my novel evolved into a character, rich with emotion.  This is the only way I know how to write setting.  The steep streets, the cable cars, the sparkling Bay, the vibrant cultures, none of that means anything until it means something to the characters.

So what does setting mean to you as a writer?  How do you infuse the character of a time and place into your stories?             

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

IWSG: What Gives?

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, time for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  I’ve been participating in this group since its inception, and have written of my many frustrations and insecurities.  After last month’s post, I asked myself, “Do I complain too much?”  I thought I probably did and planned on writing about that today, but once again, I found myself discouraged by events, or the lack thereof.  So if you’ll be so kind as to indulge me, I’d like to get something off my chest.

As a writer with a novel ready to go, I’ve been busy polishing my query.  It’s been a while since I actually queried any agents, but that’s because I still have a few requests pending.  But even though I’ve emailed the agents who are currently reading my novel, I haven’t heard back.  And that’s discouraging.

I figure it’s because my story is not quite ready yet, not quite there.  If it was, wouldn’t they have called me by now?  So, since sending out those requests, I’ve further revised my manuscript based on feedback from other agents.  I feel pretty confident now, because I’ve been busy reading and studying books on craft.  The most recent two, The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel, were written by literary agent Donald Maass.  After reading them, I noted all the important factors that make a novel great, and I can honestly say, I’ve included most of those, at least the ones appropriate for my genre.  But even though I’ve made some important revisions, those factors were already in there, before my last round of requests.  So what’s the problem then?

I have a premise and plot that are plausible with inherent conflict and gut emotional appeal, and with my unusual twist, it’s pretty original.  It has high personal stakes that continually escalate, and I believe the reader can sympathize with the strong protagonist, who while is sometimes dark, he also has inner conflict, self-regard, and strong relationships with the other characters.  The voice is authoritative, clearly articulating a personal belief system through dialogue that snaps with tension and immediacy, and the setting is linked with emotional details.  And most importantly, from the word go, it’s filled with constant tension.

So what gives?  I can only surmise it’s the writing, though I’ve been told by my critique partners that it’s pretty darn good.  But is that enough?  Hmm, I wonder.  Maybe it’s just the timing and the fact that adult thrillers aren’t selling like they used to.  I keep thinking, if I just had more agents reading it, someone is bound to love it as much as I do, as much as my beloved and talented critique partner, Lisa Regan does. 

But to do that, I have to have a kickass query.  After Matthew MacNish critiqued my query last week, I worked every day to fine tune those points he and his followers commented on.  I feel I clarified those key questions and am now ready to go.  Of course, now it the holiday season, so I’d be crazy to start querying before New Year’s.  It’s just one more thing to frustrate me.  But I suppose, if I’ve learned one thing in the last twenty months, it’s patience. 

What about you?  What frustrates you about writing, querying, and publishing?  And what have you learned from your frustrations?                

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Maid's Here & She's Biting Her Nails

She looks just like me!

So normally you wouldn’t be hearing from me until Monday, but I have a few items I need to take care of, and I won’t be posting again until Wednesday, December 7th, which, as the first Wednesday of the month, is reserved for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. 


So I’ve done something crazy:  I gave my new query to Matthew MacNish at the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment.  He posted it yesterday, December 1st, and critiqued it today.  You might be wondering why I would put myself through that.  Well, I participated in a query blogfest last July, but the query that blogfest produced garnered not a single request, so obviously I needed to revise it.  I came up with a formula for a new one and sent the new query to literary agent Suzie Townsend last month.  She offered a critique as a form of celebration for her recent move to Nancy Coffey’s agency.  For one hour on November 1st, she accepted all queries via email with a specific subject line.  Then she spent a couple of weeks critiquing those lucky few.  I was one of them, and she gave me some great feedback.  That revised query is now up for  critique on Matthew’s blog.  I have further revised my query after reading Matthew's comments and those of his followers.  You can find that version here on my blog under the tab marked The Query.  And feel free to comment.  I can only improve with feedback.

On December 16th, Nicole Ducleroir,  Lydia Kang, D L Hammons, and Katie Mills are hosting the Déjà Vu Blogfest, which gives participants the chance to resubmit their best posts for the benefit of all those who might have missed it the first time around.  After all, it’s easy to miss some awesome posts when you’re away or simply unable to keep up.  Joining this bloghop will instantly connect you to many others who are interested in your writing.  So go to Nicole’s site and sign up using the convenient Mr. Linky’s Magical Widget.  104 bloggers have signed up so far.  Don’t miss out on meeting some fantastic new bloggers and the chance to gain a few new followers of your own. 

And lastly, Murees Dupe at Daily Drama of an Aspiring Writer has bestowed the Liebster Award on me.  And while I have received this award a few times, I never miss the opportunity to spread the word and introduce a few bloggers with less than 200 followers.  So go visit these wonderful folks and follow:

1.                    The hilariously cheeky Al Penwasser
2.                    My best friend and talented cohort Lisa L. Regan
3.                    The brilliant and insightful, Lora Rivera
4.                    The always fun and kind Carrie Butler
5.                    The brave and compassionate Julius Cicero


That’s it for now.  I’ll be back on Wednesday for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Notes on Craft: Tension

I love stories, whether they’re told by mouth, expressed through song, or acted out on film.  But more than anything, I love books.  I suppose the one feature that makes books different from these other genres is the pace at which the story unfolds.  I can read a book at whatever pace I choose.  Some books are only good enough for short bathroom breaks, while others are so well written I can barely put it down long enough to get my chores done.  So what’s the difference between them?  What makes a book a page-turner?

There are many elements that make up a good story.  While characters may or may not be likeable, they must be vivid and dynamic.  Dialogue must snap with electricity and be free of accompanying actions that bog down the pace.  Every scene must crackle with both inner and outer conflict conveyed through specific and identifiable turning points.  Setting must come alive not through eloquent writing, but through how the characters wrestle with their emotional ties to it.  The voice, more than just syntax, should sing clearly in detail and delivery, articulating a belief system and personal perspective while overwhelming the reader with authority and relieving us of skepticism.  So how does a writer accomplish each of these?  That’s easy.  Through tension.

As writers, we understand that a story has ebb and flow, a cycle of ups and downs.  But you cannot construct a story that is always on the upswing.  A reader cannot appreciate such an upswing unless there is a downswing with which to contrast it to.  And in order to keep the reader’s attention through a downswing, you must maintain tension.  Literary agent, Donald Maass, calls this micro-tension in his book “The Fire in Fiction.”  In it he says:

Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story, but in the next few seconds.

Maass portends that micro-tension is vital in all aspects of a novel, whether it be in dialogue, in action sequences, or in exposition.  And more importantly, “micro-tension...comes from emotions, and not just any old emotions, but conflicting emotions.” 

Dialogue in a novel should never be truly natural, which is often stilted with interruptions.  If dialogue in a novel were written naturally, we would all be bored to death, wondering if the speaker was ever going to get around to his or her point.  Maass writes, “In dialogue, it’s not the information itself, but the doubt about the facts and the skepticism of the deliverer.”  It is “emotional, not intellectual,” that as readers, “we don’t want to know if the debate will settle the point of contention, but whether the debaters will reconcile.”   Also important, dumping information via dialogue only works “if it is infused with tension, and even then, it must be a tug-of-war.”  

This element of emotion is equally important in action.  Emotion, especially contrasting emotion, is what provides energy for each scene.  The same can be said for exposition, where the use of conflicting emotion keeps the reader involved.  They want and need to know if the characters will resolve their conflict.  This is where we learn of their “contradictions, dilemmas, opposing impulses, and clashing ideas…It puts the character’s heart and mind in peril,” explains Maass.

One area in a novel that frequently looses steam due to a lack of tension is backstory.  This is at its worst when backstory is used up front, before the story even has a chance to get started.  We lose interest simply because we don’t care about all those bits the author thinks we need to know in order for the story to make sense.  James Scott Bell calls this a first page mistake and warns never to front load with backstory, noting it will only serve to stall instead.  Maass contends that backstory may be added as long as it is not the point.  The point, he says, “is to set up the conflict of emotions and inner tension.”  He suggests using the past to create present conflict, that this will “stir curiosity to find out what will happen.

So while tension is not the only aspect of a successful page-turner, it is of primary importance.  After reading “The Fire in Fiction,” I read through my own manuscript.  For the most part, I did have tension is every paragraph, but I where it lagged, I pumped it up using the techniques described in Maass’s book.  I highly recommend it as a necessary tool on craft for every writer. 

Read through your own manuscript.  Is tension present in every chapter, paragraph, or sentence? 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Giving Thanks!

            I had another post planned for today, but since it’s a short week, I thought I’d take this time to share what I’m most thankful for instead, aside from my family. 
First off, thank you to all those who offered me advice on last week’s post.  It has helped me a great deal.  Even more thanks to Lora Rivera for suggesting The Poisonwood Bible in her comment, and to Julie Musil for her post on the book, Hate List.  Both recommendations have helped me decide on how to proceed with my WIP.

Then there’s you, my followers and fellow writer-bloggers.  As writers, we know this is a rather lonely avocation, but we feel pulled toward it regardless.  Lucky for our generation, we have the Internet and Blogger, or whatever service you use, to connect with folks you’d normally never have the opportunity to connect with.  But just because they’re there, doesn’t mean there is automatically a connection.  You have to work at it.  And it’s not always easy either.  So for what it’s worth, I’d like to say how grateful I am that you’ve all allowed me to make that connection with you.  I feel blessed to have so many other writers who are willing to share, teach, advise, or just talk with me.  What would have been lonely is now anything but.  So thank you!  I really don’t think I could do this without you.
            Within my group of online acquaintances, I’ve made quite a few honest-to-God friends, people who exchange manuscripts with me and others who enjoy exchanging emails.  There’s even one writer I get to interact with in person!  *GASP*  Her name is Jennifer Hillier.  I won a signed copy of her book, Creep, last summer and quickly became a fan, but what’s even more remarkable is that we actually became friends.

She lives an hour away, so from time to time, we meet up somewhere in the middle and have lunch and chat about all things writing.  Since the Seattle Puget Sound Area is not exactly the friendliest place on earth, I was grateful just to have a new friend, but even more so since she was a fellow writer, and even more because we write in the same genre, so we understand each other in ways others may not.  But alas, as is my luck, Jenny is moving back to her home town and country, Toronto, Canada.  This saddens me more than I can say, but I’m grateful just to have met her and feel privileged to call her my friend.  That won’t change just because she’s moving away.

(God, I wish I had a picture of us together!)

            Last, but certainly not least, I am eternally grateful to God for bringing Lisa Regan  into my life.  Sure, she is a fellow writer, and even writes in the same genre, but what we share is so much more intense and profound than just our writing.  We share our lives, the nitty gritty, the happiest of moments, and everything in between.  Yes, it began as a critiquing partnership and I can honestly say we have helped each other become better writers, but even though we’ve never actually met in person, Lisa knows me better than just about any human being on the face of the earth, save my husband.  Then again, she knows things even he does not.  *Shhh*  I know I couldn’t have survived the insanity that is my life without her.  I love her like an identical twin sister.
            So for you, my followers and fellow writers, for Jenny and for Lisa, I am incredibly thankful and I want the world, or anyone who is interested anyway, to know just how much.



Monday, November 14, 2011

In Search of a Little Writerly Advice

So I’m super busy this week and don’t have much time to write or visit until later, but I wanted to ask you all for a little advice.  When you’re starting on a new project, a new book, how do you choose the point of view?  What’s your process?  I know a lot of you write YA and so first person is the preferable choice.  I feel the same way and greatly enjoy those adult thrillers written in the first person. That’s why I wrote my first novel in first person.  But now that I’m starting out on my second book, the choice isn’t nearly as clear. 
My first book was primarily about two people, so I chose to write in their voices.  This time around, however, it’s proving a little more difficult.  I really want to write about the whole family involved in this story, not just because I need all their POVs to tell the story, but rather because they each play a distinct role in how the story plays out, yet they are each unaware of the other’s role.  So they’ll each be holding onto their own pieces of the puzzle and will play each one according to who does what before them. 
So my question is this, because this story is such an emotional one, I wanted to tell it in first person, but I worry about having four voices and hopping back and forth between them.  Not that I haven’t seen this done, because I have, but I worry that it will be difficult for me as a still-unpublished-author to get this story publish.
Since the story starts out with one of the four main characters—the antagonist— having a mental and emotional breakdown and being hospitalized, I thought of just having the story unfold during therapy, but not just for him—for all of his family, since his problem is related to the family dynamic.  This can be supplemented through journaling, as well, and all the details are revealed to the therapist treating her patient and his family as a whole.  But once the main conflict is revealed, the action will be in real-time, so to speak.  Not in flashbacks, memories, or recollections. 
Or I can use the old standby and write in the third person from all four POVs.  But then again, I worry about all that head-hopping.  And since the conflict originates years in the past, I don’t want to tell the story in a purely linear fashion, but rather slightly out of sequence so the details can build until the story reaches the present day and the reader learns how the sins of the past have affected those living in the present.  
So I know most of you don’t write or perhaps even read adult thrillers, but I’d be interested in what you think.  How would you tackle it?  What is your process for choosing POV and revealing a series of events over a very long period of time while trying to keep everything in the moment?  Have you ever had to tackle a story like this?  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fiction vs. Reality

            I’ve been ruminating a lot lately about the market for adult thrillers.  This is something my friend, Lisa Regan, and I have talked about many times, as she also writes in the genre along with me.  Her book, Finding Claire Fletcher, has been on submission for thirteen months just waiting for a home.  And while it is still in the running with three major publishers, in the time she has been on submission, she’s seen few titles close to our genre sell besides cozy murder mysteries, which I just don’t understand.  Murder is anything but cozy.  It’s difficult to figure out why good thrillers aren’t selling when forensic TV shows are so popular and thrillers are a favorite in the movie theater.  So why aren’t adults buying and reading thrillers much any more? 
            Yeah, we have the same old, same old from the tried and true like Patterson and Cornwell, but publishers aren’t biting from newbies much these days.  A couple of editors who turned down Lisa’s book said they couldn’t believe that a young kidnapped girl wouldn’t try to escape her captor.  Uh, hello?  Ever heard of Elizabeth Smart?  Does Jaycee Dugard ring a bell?  Their true-life stories were more horrific than anyone could have ever imagined or written, and they didn’t try to escape.  That’s real life and it harkens back to that saying that life is stranger than fiction.  I’m beginning to think that it’s the selling of reality as entertainment that is desensitizing us to what might otherwise thrill us.
About a decade or so ago, the Writer’s Guild of America went on strike for better residual compensation.  That strike lasted a long time and the big TV networks had to come up with an idea to replace the scripted programs affected by the striking writers.  This is when we first started seeing a glut of reality TV programming.  And I’m not talking about shows like America’s Most Wanted or Cops.  I mean shows like Survivor, which were good ideas based on the question, “What if…?”  They were interesting and marked the first time Americans became fixated with other relatively unknown Americans, people whose lives were transformed overnight.  This was the beginning of our obsession with being famous. 
Since then, a plethora of reality programs have come onto the market, but these aren’t “What if…?” kind of shows.  They are simply tapings of average folks doing their thing, whatever that is.  It might be buying unseen junk left abandoned in a public storage unit, or maybe a mother’s consumption with getting her three-year-old daughter every pageant tiara in existence, or watching a Nazi-like dance instructor bully her students into performing better, or perhaps even following the lives of the relatively unknown, but totally spoiled step-children of former star athletes.  Whatever it is, these shows are all supposedly unscripted.  No writers had any part in the performances of the participants.  Yeah seriously, you couldn’t make that stuff up.  And frankly, would you really want to?  Quality it is not.
This fascination with reality TV has skewed the way we seek entertainment.  Gone are the days when we were fascinated by a story where dinosaurs are reanimated from DNA strands extracted from insects entombed in crystallized amber, or where an average married man is drawn into the intrigue of a long lost lover come back to haunt him.  It’s all about fame these days, about how a former Playboy bunny married a famous football star and had a baby, or the daughter of a prolific TV producer reflecting on her life as a “poor little rich girl,” or *gasp* an actual novel—yes that means fiction, baby—written by an overly indulged young woman whose drunken and promiscuous antics have proven fodder for public disdain. 
Man, do I ever crave a good, action and emotion-packed adult thriller where the protagonist has to overcome unbelievable odds to save his life and win the girl, where the woman FBI agent has to battle the misogynistic status quo just to get her boss to believe she knows what the hell she’s doing and can solve the serial murder case, where a newly-engaged, sex-addicted college professor goes head to head with her former student-lover who’s kidnapped her, or where a grief-stricken man seeks revenge on the woman who killed his pregnant wife only to discover he’s victimized the wrong woman, imperiling not only her life, but his own and his brother’s, as well.
Yes, I want reality, too.  I want real life, down and dirty and gritty.  But I also want real people.  Not homespun wannabe stars.  Real, authentic heroes who might be anything but, yet they still soldier on and at least try to save the day.           

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

IWSG: Dreams vs. Expectations

Today is another entry in

            I’ve been following a common thread lately in some of my favorite blogs.  It expands on an ideal most writers postulate:  Getting published will make me happy.  What’s not to believe about this statement?  This is our ultimate goal, is it not?  We write.  We edit.  We query.  We submit.  We get published…maybe.  We know the road is laced with potholes of disappointment, but we believe in ourselves and our stories, so we carry on. 
Keep the dream alive!  Yeah!!

            But what if the dream is not what we expect it to be?  I first pondered this a few weeks ago after having lunch with my friend, Jennifer Hillier, author of Creep.  Not only do I hold Jenny in high esteem for her talent and skill, she is someone I relate to on a personal level.  We’re both women writers who write similar stories in the same genre, and we live near each other, so we chat about writing and blogging and books and all that sort of thing. 
            At the time of our most recent lunch date, Jenny was in the final throes of her last edit before sending her latest manuscript, Freak, off to her agent and editor.  She expressed what a brutally difficult experience it was, nothing like the first time when she wrote Creep.  She lamented that it would never be as enjoyable as it was that first time around.  She was under contract now and had deadlines and expectations to meet.  As I listened to her, I couldn’t help but think of that old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.  You just might get it!
            Then on October 17th, Natalie Whipple wrote a blog post she called Smelling the Roses. Or Whatever wherein she bemoaned how obsessed she had been over the last five years with getting published.  More than merely driven, but rather “maybe more like desperate,” she wrote.  She said she had put all her “feelings of self-worth into publishing” and she “would never, ever be happy if I didn't sell a book.”  Then, almost immediately, Natalie said that selling her book, Transparent, didn’t make her happy after all.  It seems that publishing wasn’t all she had expected it to be, that in the end, it’s really all about the writing—the book itself—not the publishing of it. 
            On Tuesday (November 1st), Rachelle Gardner wrote a post called Writing Ain’t Easy.  In it, she wrote about one of her less-experienced writer friends who wondered if her “lack of confidence would dissipate as she gets more experienced in writing,” to which another, more experienced writer friend replied, “The complete lack of confidence will likely persist and even become worse as you progress.
So, in other words, unlike most jobs where people become better and more comfortable the longer they perform their tasks, writing will always be difficult.  It will always be rife with insecurities and self-doubt.  Even my blogger friend Joylene Nowell Butler commented on my Bad News Isn’t Always a Bad Thing post last week, saying, “One day there is that sale, and while you believe wholeheartedly that your life is about to change forever, it's not in the way you think.” 
I’m getting the message that having my book published might not live up to my lofty expectations.  It might not make me feel any better as a writer.  It might not make me feel successful.  And, in and of itself, it might not be what makes me happy.  Writers who have had the same dreams that I have, and who have achieved them, now tell me it only gets harder, and I might not ever feel what it is I want to feel when I’m done.
But I suppose writing is like anything else.  When we reach our goal, we bask in our success for a short time then move on to something else, a new thing that will challenge us, that we can enjoy for the sheer effort.  Being totally satisfied means not having the need to accomplish something else.  Well, that’s not me.  I am many things, but static is not one of them.  So maybe I’m a bit jaded now, but at least I know what to expect.  Or what not to expect anyway.          

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Little Halloween Housekeeping

This is just a quick mini-post since I will be blogging for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group on Wednesday.  Today I'm doing a little housekeeping.

First off, Laura Barnes over at Laura B Writer has graciously critiqued my blog this morning.  She’s a marketing consultant with loads of experience in writing, as well.  She was very complimentary and had some great suggestions on how to improve my blog.  Some I will definitely do.  Others I haven’t a clue on how to fix so I’m not sure what I’ll do.  But overall, Laura has been very helpful.  She does these critiques for free so contact her if you want any feedback on your blog.

Second, I’ve been very fortunate to receive a couple of blogger awards in the last two weeks. 

The first one is the Friendly Blogger Award from Gary & Penny over at Klahanie.  Thanks, Gary!  This is a new one for me.  Go check out Gary’s blog.  It’s both beautiful and inspiring.   


The second is the Liebster Award from Rebecca Kiel.  This is an award given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.  While I have received this award before, I still want to thank Rebecca for considering me.  I feel quite privileged!  Last time I received this award I think I had like 40 followers.  Now I have a combined 164 through Blogger and NetworkedBlogs so you can see it really works!  

In response to these illustrious honors, I will quickly list a few blogs I believe worthy of your attention:

Happy Halloween everybody!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Casting Call Character Bloghop

Cool, a good reason to come up with another blog post this week!  I’m lucky if I get in one a week, so this is a nice surprise for me.  It seems my good buddy Lisa Regan and fellow writer/bloggers Carrie Butler and Melodie Wright are hosting a Casting Call Bloghop in which we introduce our characters in whichever form we like best. 

Since I’m a film buff and have often visualized my novel as a movie, I thought I would use the actors I believe best embody the main characters in my book, THE MISTAKEN, a psychological thriller.

First, the pitch:

Vengeance tastes sweet the day Skylar Karras pledges his wife's killer to sex-traffickers in the Russian Mafia.  In exchange for the woman, they’ll let his brother leave the business for good—with his debt wiped clean and his heart still beating.  But when Sky mistakenly targets the wrong woman, deal or no deal, he’s forced to protect them all from the very enemy he's unleashed. 

Now, the casting:

The male lead, Skylar Karras, is really a composite of two people, a friend of mine and an actor, Andy Whitfield.  Sadly, Andy past away on September 11th at the age of 39, a victim of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

For the role of Skylar’s wife, Jillian, I think actress Jessica Alba would be perfect.

For Skylar’s brother, Nick, I like Michael Graziadei.  Doesn’t he look a lot like Andy Whitfield?

For Hannah Maguire, the woman Sky has mistakenly targeted, I love Mila Jovovich.

For bad guy and Russian mobster, Alexi Batalov, the suave and debonair Ben Gazzara fits like a glove.  

What about you?  Do you have anyone particular in mind for your characters?   

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bad News Isn't Always a Bad Thing

Being a writer is a tough gig.  There’s very little payback and we generally work alone.  Yes, it’s true, this new age of blogging has allowed us to reach out and connect with others, more so than we would have been able to at any other time.  But still, we are pretty much alone, stuck in our own heads, making up strange tales set in strange lands with strange people. 
            We experience minor victories from time to time.  We string together coherent sentences, then paragraphs and chapters, plots and subplots, until, finally, we have a book.  We are so proud.  Not many people even attempt to write a book let alone finish one.  Afterwards, we read and revise, edit and add content.  We scrub and buff until it shines like an uncut diamond.  Then, if we’re lucky, we find amazing critique partners who help us polish our gem until its sparkles like Edward Cullen on a sunny day. 
            When we’re ready, we go through the whole process again with our query letter.  Scribble, scratch, buff and shine.  We are not daunted by the research necessary to find the appropriate agents to send our query.  We compile our list and format our submissions, cringing with raw nerves when we hit the send button.
            Then we wait.  And wait some more—more and more and more and more.  Every time we get a new email, we wonder if it could be the one.  And when it’s not, when it’s nothing more than another rejection, we shrink a little lower in our seats, lose a little more confidence.  We may even cry. 
            But then we get one, maybe even two or three, or—good God almighty—four:  a request for pages, a partial or the whole damn thing.  A happy dance ensues, perhaps a bit of screaming and raising of one’s arms towards God in heaven. 
But not for long.  Gotta get those pages out.   
            Then we wait.  And wait some more—more and more and more and more.  We thought we were tense before, but now with our baby out in the big, bad world, we’re ready to spin like a top we’re so wound up.  Again, every time a new email arrives, we wonder.  But it’s been so long, we almost forget.  Until we see that agent’s name above the subject line with our book title right below.  Our hands shake, our breathing gets shorter and more labored as we open it.
Then the world comes crashing down around our ears.  Utter devastation.  That first rejection of our full manuscript is unbearably painful, but eventually, after days of tears and heartbreak, we brush ourselves off and move forward.
            The next rejection hurts, as well, but there’s nothing really to glean from it because, once again, it’s just a simple no thanks, but good luck to you.  Nothing to tell us we’re on the right track or not.  So, though our pride is stinging and our confidence is waning, we trudge onward, perhaps making a revision or two, just a tweak here and there to make us feel like we’re improving it somehow.  And out go more queries in sporadic bursts. 
            Then we wait.  Again.  But this time, we’re a bit numb.  Our skin is definitely getting thicker.  We’ve learned to put those queries out of mind and get on with life.  And so, when another request comes in, we’re excited, but wary, especially since we know this is likely just a favor from our friend’s agent.  But it’s a request nonetheless.  So out go those pages, one more time.  We sigh, thinking of the long wait before us, cringing at that stupid typo in the very first paragraph on the very first page that we didn’t notice until after we’d already sent it.    
            But then another request comes in.  Hope!  Pages go out.  Another long sigh.  Another long wait.  And then another request.  Even more hope!  Sigh.  Wait.  And wait some more.  And more and more and more.
            Then something remarkable happens.  It’s not a good thing, mind you, but neither is it entirely bad.  Yeah, it’s a rejection and so it hurts a little, but the skin is pretty tough now and the pain is just a tingle of disappointment rather than a ripping out of the heart.  It was improbable anyway.  This was, after all, that favor request.  But this time the email is not a one line denial of interest.  And while the agent is “just short of enthusiastic enough to take it on and fight for it,” she says “there’s a lot of wonderful stuff in there” and “goodness knows, it was very close.”  So even though she suggests a change in the protagonist’s name, it’s cool.  It’s an easy fix.  And if that’s the worst thing she can think of, there’s reason to feel good.  That’s the best rejection letter ever!
            My point here is that we get a lot more bad news than good, but bad news is not always a bad thing.  Sometimes it lifts our sagging confidence, offers a push back onto the road, granted with a little coarse correction.  We know we’re getting closer to our destination.  We can feel it.  The trick is to not give up, even when the bad news is really bad.  You never know when a little ray of sunshine will come along and brighten your otherwise dreary day.  And hey, there are still a few requested pages out there.  And after that, there are always more agents to query.  It’s not the end game yet.           

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay It Forward

Today, awesomely cool bloggers Alex Cavanaugh and Matthew MacNish are hosting the Pay It Forward Blogfest.  The idea is to introduce all of us to everyone else, to meet and follow as many other bloggers as we like. In our posts, participants are to list, describe, and link to three blogs that we enjoy reading and believe others would enjoy, as well. 

Hmmm…only three blogs, huh?  That might be a bit of a problem, but I’ll try to contain myself.

  1. Lisa L. Regan – Okay, for those of you who already know me, this is a given.  After all, she’s my very best friend and confidant, my number one critique partner, and a fellow thriller writer.  And while Lisa is a fantastic agented writer with two books currently on submission, she also has a lot to offer other writers.  Both her new blog and web page are filled with juicy bits of wisdom as she’s journeyed farther than most of us toward publication.  And what’s more, and possibly most important, is the fact that both she and her agent, Jeanie Pantelakis of the Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency, have teamed up to host a variety of book contests with a reading of the winner’s full manuscript as the grand prize!  That’s right!  No querying needed.  Just enter the appropriate genre contest and you have a good chance of having her agent request your full manuscript.

  1. Jennifer Hillier of The Serial Killer Files – I know Jenny is already well-known in the blogosphere, but if you haven’t trolled through her blog archives, you’re really missing something.  Not only has Jenny written a novel, she’s successfully landed an agent and sold her first book, Creep, which, I must say, I’ve read twice now and think it’s freakin’ fantastic!  I know I’m partial.  She’s also a fellow writer of psychological thrillers.  Her second novel, Freak, already sold, by the way, is due out sometime next year.  On a personal note, I’ve become personal friends with this lovely lady and I can’t say enough good things about her.  I owe her BIG TIME!  So here’s a tiny little bit of payback, Jenny!

  1. Julie Musil – There’s a reason Julie has so many followers and that reason is wisdom.  I swear, every time I tune into her blog, she teaches me something new.  Her archives are a virtual treasure trove of valuable literary insight.  She shares tip after tip on her blog.  I’ve taken to copying each one and compiling into a file I call “Great Writing Advice.”  And what’s even better than all that, if that’s not enough already, is that Julie personally replies to every comment I make on her blog.  She cares and takes the time to reach out and touch her followers.  In a word, Julie is amazing!

See, I knew I couldn’t keep it to just 3.  But I’ll make this honorable mention brief…er.

  1. Jami Gold – Now, I don’t know Jami like I know the ladies listed above, but what I do know is that this writer is smart as hell and gifted beyond all get-out.  Her posts hit on what every writer wants to know or really, really should know.  This gal does her research and delves deep into the issues that concern us writers the most.  And damn if she doesn’t manage pull shit out of me in my comments that I swore I would never talk about.  Like I said, it’s a gift.   

I love each and every blog I follow closely.  Why else would I list them on my blog roll?  If you’re a Pay It Forward Blogfest blogger who is new to my neck of the woods, scroll through the left sidebar of my blog.  They are all worth a look and a follow. 

Like me, once you follow them, they follow you right back.   

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fantasy Novel Hook For Your Book Contest

            Do you write fantasies?  Is your novel all polished and ready to go?  Are you ready to query for an agent?  If so, I have just the thing for you. 
My BFF, the lovely and talented writer Lisa Regan, is hosting another Hook For Your Book contest, this time just for fantasy novelists.  It will be judged by her literary agent, Jeanie Pantelakis of the Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency.
            The contest will run until October 17th. That means you have until midnight Eastern Time on 10/17/11 to enter your pitch on Lisa’s blog.

To Enter: 

You must be a follower of Lisa’s blog and provide a link to either a tweet or a blog post spreading the word about this contest.

You must have a completed novel. That means your novel MUST be finished to enter this contest.

Write a 50 word paragraph that is the hook for your book. Basically pitch your book in fifty words.

Post your 50 word pitch in the comments section of Lisa’s Hook For Your Book post with a TITLE and your contact info before the closing date of the contest.

The example Lisa used for the previous mystery/thriller contest was as follows:

Finding Claire Fletcher

Detective Connor Parks, newly divorced, with his career in jeopardy, spends the night with a woman he meets at a bar. The next morning Claire Fletcher is gone; leaving behind a hint of a decade-old mystery. Abducted when she was 15 years old, no one has heard from her…until now. Will he find Claire Fletcher?

Lisa L. Regan

Ms. Pantelakis will choose three finalists. The finalists will send her a synopsis of their book as well as their full manuscript. From those three finalists, she will choose one manuscript and that manuscript will get a full read and a possible contract with Sullivan Maxx.

The best of luck to you all!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

IWSG: Making Progress

           I am ashamed.  Deeply so.  I used to read the blog posts about other writers who just couldn’t seem to push through that wall, who weren’t inspired, who struggled with their plot, who wailed about not being able to create dimensional characters.  And you know what?  I just didn’t get it.  My experience, up ‘til now at least, was so easy breezy.  The words never failed to come.  The plot was clear as a sunny Seattle day.  (Yes, the sun does occasionally shine here and when it does, oh boy!)  And my characters were so alive, I cried over their tragedies on a daily basis. 
            Of course, I didn’t know any better at the time.  I didn’t write to be published.  I didn’t write for any other reason than I had this story in my head and it needed to be released for my sanity’s sake.  And then when I did decide to seek the road to publication, I muddled along and weathered the trials all writers stumble with.  But I never fell down without being able to get back up.  And I never doubted myself either.  I was too naïve.  For whatever reason, I felt there was someone or something outside of myself that wanted this done, who put me on this path with the notion that I would succeed.  A sort of divine intervention. 
            I finished my book and wrote my query and I’m doing pretty well, all things considered.  So now it’s time to move on from that project.  Time to prove it wasn’t just some fluke, that I do have another book in me.  As I was finishing up the first, I had a few decent ideas, one of which I picked because it was intriguing and I’d never read a story like it before.  But all the while, I was worried because, unlike the first time, those words weren’t coming, the plot was elusive, and the characters foggy. 
            Here was the doubt all those other writers wrote about, the kind I never had any understanding of.  I panicked.  I was desperate to prove I was, in fact, a writer with more than one story.  And I know the story is there, but I just can’t see the details clearly.  When I read that one writer I follow took four or five years to write his novel, I cringed.  How can anyone have the tenacity to work on something for that long and not give up, to not lose interest?  It seemed unreal.  Improbable.  The fact that nothing was clicking into place made me question if I could do it again.  Did I have that stubbornness to work through the difficulties month after month, possibly year after year?
            Well, what I have discovered is that, although the story hasn’t been dropped into my lap whole, as was the case the first time around, I do have small details that take shape a few times each day.  I write them down on my virtual “Brainstorming” notepad on my iPhone.  I scribble in my notebooks.  I keep reading in my genre, reading books on craft.  I keep blogging and making connections.  And I keep in mind that the process this time is the same, only slower, much, much slower, that this challenge is what will actually make me a writer, what will prove that I do have it in me. 
            It’s the difficult times that prove our true mettle.  If it was always easy, it wouldn’t be much of an accomplishment.  Am I insecure now?  You bet.  Do I doubt if I can really do this again.  Every single day.  Until the first draft is complete, I will always doubt whether I am a real writer or not.  But I don’t think there is a writer out there who hasn’t had the same doubts.  It’s a battle scar, proof of a hard-won personal war.  I guess I no longer feel like an untested rookie.  It might just take me a few years this time instead of a few months, but as long as I continue to make the slightest bit of progress each day or week, I’m good with that.  At least, I hope so.
            How ‘bout you?  You good with that?