Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Naming Resource & Other Updates

Tired of some of my usual character naming resources, I went on the hunt for a new website this month. I found one that has a few handy tools for expecting parents and authors alike! Babycenter's name finder may not be that special, but click on "Sibling Names" or "Suggested Names" next to any name for an interactive tour of complementary and alternative names. (Am I using the word "name" too much?) If your character has siblings or you're just searching for that perfect moniker, try this tool. It's awesome!

In other news, Dead Locked is now available as an ebook in several different stores. Here is the current list:
Diesel eBook Store
Barnes & Noble

And it's coming to print soon!

As a final note, check out the Eyecandy Blogfest going on this Saturday at Rambles & Randomness. I've got my pic lined up and I can't wait to see what everyone else posts!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Laying a Foundation With Character Interviews

I decided to write about character interviewing today after spending a while this weekend doing just that. I had two very murky characters in a new idea I'm developing and I wanted to feel them out. And let me tell you, it got the ball rolling. Who they are and their roles in the story are really taking shape. So where can you start with an interview if you don't know that much about a character?

I literally started with "Who are you?" and got writing without over thinking the response. Then I asked what they both knew about the situation that starts the story. After a few general questions like that ("Did you kill him?" "Do you know who did kill him?"), I had responses that led to more specific questions. It didn't take long to get the ideas going and by the end I had a much better idea of who I was dealing with. At times it felt like an interrogation, but it helped me to quit side stepping the tougher issues and face them head on.

At the end of it all, I felt I could move ahead with both people. I now know who they are (always a good starting place!) and how they play into the story. But the questions also revealed more about their personalities and personal issues. I still have a lot to learn, but the interviews gave me a foundation to build on. And sometimes that's the hardest part.

What sort of questions do you ask your characters?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Test Your Pirate I.Q.

For the final day of Pirate Week, I wanted to do something fun and interactive. So go ahead and test your knowledge with this short quiz!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tales of Real Buried Treasure

While the idea of buried treasure is mostly unrealistic (most pirates squandered what they stole), it's not entirely mythic either. There are some actual cases of buried treasure - or what is at least thought to be buried treasure. Read on and decide for yourself if it's real.

Captain Kidd's Buried Treasure
As mentioned in Monday's post, Kidd got into a little trouble with the government. Though technically a privateer for England, he had a misunderstanding with the British East India Company, and that coupled with political goings-on contributed to his downfall. Whatever led to his unhappy ending, Kidd discovered he was wanted as a pirate and took off for Boston to get the backing of influential friends in New York (where he lived).

He stopped in various parts of New Jersey first and then headed for Boston, Mass., to meet with the governor, who promptly arrested him when he arrived. Captain Kidd claimed he hid 40,000 British Pounds and he wasn't lying entirely. British authorities dug up nearly 10,000 Pounds of treasure on Gardiner's Island off of Long Island. Kidd insisted he had lots more buried where that came from. Unfortunately, he didn't get a chance to prove it and a quick trial and hanging proceeded.

Despite repeated attempts at finding the rest of Kidd's buried treasure, nothing but a few coins on Block Island (off of Rhode Island) has ever turned up. Did he bury more loot and we just haven't found it? Or was Kidd lying to save his own skin? It's too bad he didn't leave a map.

Treasure on Oak Island?
While a small island off of Nova Scotia may not seem like the place to find buried treasure, it was a hot spot for pirates in the 18th century. So in 1795 when Daniel McGinnis stumbled on a strange circular depression in the earth covered by some tree branches that looked like someone cut them to work as a pulley, he grabbed two of his friends and they got to work.

They and future treasure hunters dug and dug, unearthing flagstones, oak timbers, charcoal, putty, coconut fiber, inscribed stone, spruce, metal pieces. What does it equal? Basically, a clever safe equipped with booby traps. When the original discoverers returned to dig again eight years later with The Onslow Company, they sprung a trap and water flooded the pit. No matter what methods they tried, the pit always flooded and they couldn't pump it out fast enough to extract the treasure.

Later, in the 1840s, another company brought in a drill to see what was actually down there, pulling up samples of the items mentioned in the previous paragraph. They decided the wood and metal pieces were chests filled with money. After testing various methods and failing every time, The Truro Company discovered that the booby trap designer had created a drain system. Though this should have solved the problem, the company's two attempts to block the drain failed and they gave up.

But other treasure hunters followed through the decades, four of them losing their lives in the process. More recently, in the 1970s, treasure hunters discovered a human corpse and treasure chests using modern camera equipment. They tried to dive the site but strong currents and visibility issues inhibited any further searches. Even with modern machinery and technology, no one has unearthed whatever is buried. It's incredible that the booby trap is just as effective 300 years or so later!

Bonus Treasure
Before hanging for piracy, Olivier le Vasseur apparently told the spectators that he had buried treasure and flung a necklace into the crowd with a cryptogram that led to it. In the 1920s a woman found evidence that le Vasseur buried his treasure in the Seychelles. After decades of work and clue deciphering, nothing of real value was ever unearthed.

Get detailed info about Kidd and Oak Island at these wonderful websites:
The Mysterious & Unexplained
Mysteries of Canada
Kidds Island

Check back tomorrow as we wrap-up Pirate Week!

Photos from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Interview With Isaac Crewe From Dead Locked!

Even though Captain Isaac Crewe only makes a cameo in Dead Locked, his story affects Imogen Bell and her colleagues deeply. And because he's a pirate, I figured he's the perfect person to interview for Pirate Week!

Thanks for joining us!
My pleasure really.

Let's start with how you got into piracy in the first place.
Like most good pirates, I started as an innocent sailor on a merchant vessel. Sea life is grueling and harsh with little reward when you're on the lower rungs. Eventually, pirates attacked our ship and I was taken hostage. After weighing the life aboard a pirate ship versus a merchant ship, or any other kind really, I chose to stay. And within a short time, I became the captain of my own ship.

You must be good at what you do. And what exactly is that?
I overtake ships carrying gold, silver, jewels, or other precious items and plunder them. It's fun.

And rewarding apparently. Enough to balance out a life at sea?
Oh, a life at sea is still rough and not every person is cut out for it. The difference between sailing on a merchant ship (or for the Royal Navy) and sailing as a pirate is equality. We divide our loot relatively evenly so everyone makes out very well, especially with large takeovers. And we welcome anyone as a pirate regardless of race or ethnicity. The more of an outcast you are, the better.

You're compensated for losses I understand?
Yes. Life as a pirate comes with plenty of combat and danger. Most of us lose something eventually - a leg, an arm, an eye. But you're paid equal to the loss, if that's any consolation.

What types of ships are popular prey?
Ships traveling from the East carry great spoils. But pirates also favor slave ships because of the amount of money they have on board after they've finished trading.

So enough of the technical stuff. I hear you scored a giant, shiny rock in one of your escapades and gave it to your girlfriend. Is that true?
If you don't know than I certainly don't. Besides, wouldn't my answer give too much away about the storyline?

Oh, fine. I'll ask something non-spoilerish. How did you meet Georgiana?
I met her by chance when my ship made port in Newport. I was a young sailor, she was the daughter of a ship captain. I wrote to her after we left and the next time we had a chance to see each other, I had turned pirate.

And Georgiana didn't mind this or you just didn't tell her?
No, she knew. I never said it directly in my letters, but I think she guessed at some point. Then when I told her for the first time in person, she looked very serious and said, 'I suppose it's too late to worry about it' and that was that.

You give my heroine, Imogen Bell, a lot of trouble. Do you have anything to say about that?
Give my apologies to Mistress Bell. But since we live 300 years apart from each other, I had little control over what would happen. However, even if I had known, being that I'm a pirate, I doubt I would have changed my course.

Good to know. Any last words for our readers?
Beware of pirate ships disguised as innocent merchant vessels. And when you do face capture, save yourself and your crew, and surrender.

Duly noted, Captain Crewe. Just two more days left of Pirate Week! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pirate Week Day 2: Talk the Talk

There are lots of terms associated with pirates that you may hear, but do you know what they actually mean? Well, find out with this brief list of words and phrases so the next time you say it, you'll know its origin.

Jolly Roger - The flags pirates flew (or at least some did). Most pirates seemed to design their own special flag so you'd recognize them when they wanted you to. Pretty good branding tactic. The term may come from the French "jolie rouge."

Maroon - The Hollywood image of a man left to die on a deserted island may not be too far from the truth. Marooning was apparently a prime punishment for naughty pirates (especially for those who stole from fellow thieves).

Piece of Eight - Common currency - and therefore plunder - during the late 16th and 17th centuries (and still in circulation up to the 19th century). The term "piece of eight" comes from the fact that the coins were often cut into pieces to make payments, and because one piece of eight equaled eight reales.

Careen - Routine ship maintenance. A few times a year, ships needed to be beached and the hulls scraped. It prevented rot and made the ship sail faster. Even modern, non-wood vessels need their hulls scraped regularly.

Letters of Marque - Permission given to privateers from various governments, which basically let them steal from opposing governments - as long as they returned the loot to their employers.

Buccaneer - Comes from the word "boucans," which means smokehouse. These men had an odd start as pig farmers on the island of Hispaniola. At first, they traded their goods to passing ships. But after the Spanish attacked them, many fled to become some of the most vicious pirates of that time.

Galleon - A type of merchant vessel favored by the Spanish who used these ships to haul their loads of gold and silver from the Spanish Main back to Europe. And often got attacked by pirates en route until they smartened up and started traveling in packs.

East Indiaman - Eventually, the Spanish Main dried up and Europe looked East, especially the Dutch and British, and East Indiamen were there merchant ships of choice. And, consequently, became the choice target for pirates.

Bonus Material
Rob Ossian's Pirate's Cove is one of the most awesome pirate history sites I've found. I used it extensively while researching for Dead Locked. Learn everything you wanted to know and then some at that site.

Stay tuned for a special appearance this week from one of the character's in Dead Locked!

By User:Fred the Oyster [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pirate Week Begins!

I blame Disney World for my love of pirate history. I have vague images from when I was three of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and I'm almost positive that ignited my interest. And while movie pirates make better heroes than the real thing, the truth can still be fascinating. To kick off pirate week, let's explore a little about pirate history and the people who made it.

Not Just in the Caribbean
I imagine many of us think of the Caribbean when you think of pirates (or maybe you think Somalia). But piracy goes back to ancient times and covers pretty much every coastline. The Aegean Sea was a special hot spot for ancient pirates (and today is a hot bed of shipwrecks). The Vikings count as pirates. Corsairs from the Barbary Coast in Africa threatened the Mediterranean once upon a time. Farther east in the South China Sea, pirates were so prevalent that they had their own squadrons!

Booty Galore
When you think of pirates the obvious next leap is treasure. Pirate loot included cold hard cash, but they took almost anything of value, including necessary items like salt. Jewels and amphorae filled with olive oil also made good plunder. Corsairs especially valued the humans on board the ships they attacked - they used slaves as oarsmen for their galleys. (Wealthier captives were ransomed.) Basically anything considered valuable by the people of the time was fair game for pirates.

Famous Pirates
Some pirates are more famous to the general public than others. For instance, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach is infamous for lighting his beard on fire during pirate raids. Mary Read and Anne Bonny are probably more famous than the man they worked under. Henry Morgan may also be a familiar name thanks to a brand of rum.

You may know Captain William Kidd's name. What you may not know is that he started as a pirate hunter and was accused of piracy by the British East India Company while in this profession. It looks like a misunderstanding from today's perspective. But whether he was innocent or not, Kidd was promptly tried and hung, and they set his body up in a gibbet as an example to would-be pirates. Poor Kidd may not have been what he seemed to the government at the time. But it's rather too late to save his reputation now. (We'll see more of Kidd later in the week.)

"Black Sam" Bellamy is another name you may have heard but know little about. He has a love story attached to his name and supposedly returned to New England to marry his sweetheart after one last successful capture. Unfortunately, the poor guy sunk with his ship in a bad storm just off of Cape Cod, Mass. before that could happen. (Get more of his story in the Behind-the-Book section on my site.)

Not Even the Half of It
I could write pages and pages of info just covering the highlights of pirate history. I have a couple of favorite go-to reference books that are both fun and informative and not at all the dry pages of text often associated with history books. If you're a history geek like me who prizes an interesting read, check out Piratepedia and Pirateology. I know they seem like they're for kids, but they're really just as good for adults.

And thus begins Pirate Week! Stay tuned to get caught up on your pirate lingo, get the scoop on some real buried treasure, and find out how much you know about pirates!

Now it's your turn. Do you have any interesting tidbits about pirates?

Photos by Simon Carrasco & me

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Go Behind-the-Book With My New Website!

I just launched my website - - and it includes some cool features. Instead of just the basic book info, bio, and contact pages, you can peek behind-the-scenes of Dead Locked and find out who inspired Isaac Crewe and the story of The Freelove, learn how the characters came about, and read trivia tidbits about the story and characters. I plan to add to this section as time goes on so check back for updates!

I think it's time to shake things up a bit here at amy & the pen so next week is officially Pirate Week! From December 13-17, get the scoop on pirate terms, history, and treasure. Every day will feature something fun and different and there may even be a Dead Locked character appearance. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2011!

While following a blog trail last night, I found the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2011 hosted by Book Chick City. As this is my favorite genre, I had to join! Even though I love to read, I don't have as much time for it as I used to and I shy away from reading challenges because I doubt I'll succeed. But this challenge is relatively simple. You read 12 mystery/suspense novels between January 1-December 31, which (I think) I can manage. I can't wait to scope the shelves and pick my winners!

If you're interested in joining, you can sign up easily here. Also, I know many of you love urban fantasy and may be more interested in the Horror & Urban Fantasy Reading Challenge 2011.

Did you join any reading challenges in 2010? How'd you do? Have you joined any for 2011?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dance Opera Goodness

This is completely off topic, but it's Friday and a good time for randomness. I love dance and I'm a shameless addict of movies like Step Up 3D. So I was thrilled when my friend introduced me to LXD on Hulu, which I would describe as a dance opera. It's a good vs. evil with dance superheroes kind of story, featuring awesome dancers like Harry Shum, Jr. from Glee. Every episode I watch becomes from favorite, but the episode "Duet" is definitely at the top of the list. Enjoy and have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

3 Reasons to Publish With Smashwords

As a part of the "Spread the Word About Smashwords" campaign, I'm posting their little presentation today. And I thought I'd share three reasons to publish your own book through Smashwords.

1. Painless DIY Publishing. Smashwords founder Mark Coker provides lots of specific help so you're not in the dark about formatting or distributing or even marketing. A step-by-step style guide makes formatting simple, and once a book passes muster it's available (we're talking waiting hours at most). I was able to create my own cover, which helped, but Smashwords can offer references for cover artists too. (You can also check back for my "Design for Writers" series debuting this month where I'll show you how to design a simple book cover.)

2. Awesome Exposure. I was sold the minute I read that you can sell your book through major ebook retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. And I like that it's an umbrella deal. Instead of dealing with a bunch of places individually, you're distributing and receiving royalties through one place, which makes tracking it all much simpler. Plus, they always seem to be working to make things better for the author, which I definitely appreciate.

3. Cost-Effective. Self-publishing used to be a lot of money out the door without a guarantee it's coming back. It doesn't get much more cost-effective than free. You don't pay anything upfront to distribute through Smashwords. They take a percentage of the royalties and that's it. And author royalties are incredibly generous.

So that is my little rant about Smashwords. If you want to get your book out there and read, give them a try!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Self-Editing One Phase At a Time

Editing and revisions can be the most tedious tasks for a writer. With something the size of a novel, it can also be overwhelming. If you're facing this task, how can you approach it to make the transition from incomplete draft to finished product as painless as possible? Here are some tips to help you work efficiently and logically from beginning to end.

Start with the big picture. Don't immediately start fixing typos and grammatical errors. Take a step back and evaluate the plot and character development. I like to print out my books as it helps me see the big picture more clearly. I go through and scribble notes in the margins: need a scene here, this paragraph belongs somewhere else, that character need fleshing out. Those sorts of things. After you've made your changes, have a friend or someone else you trust read it. Make sure the story makes sense to someone not inside your head and find out what they feel is missing before you move on to the nit picky stuff.

Move in a little closer. Once you've got your big picture work done, it's time to pay more attention to your phrasing, transitions, and dialogue. Read how things sound (even out loud) and start smoothing everything out and tightening it up. Make passive sentences active, and choose words that pop and sing.

Attention aux details. I heard this endlessly from my French professor in college and now I get to say it to you. Yes, the details do count, especially when you've already invested all this time into your book. So proofread more than once, checking for typos, grammatical errors, spelling errors, and other minutiae that can help you look like the pro you are. If possible, have another person with fresh eyes check for you too.

It's the way of a writer to make changes down to the last second. But having a system and taking the editing process in steps will help you get your book from first draft to finished novel before you know it.

On a different note, today is the last day to download Dead Locked for free by using code KR98Q. Enjoy!

Photo by Nic McPhee

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's Coming in December

As November wraps up, I'm sure many of you are wrapping up your NaNoWriMo masterpieces! I have to say for what is usually my least favorite month in New England, November has been phenomenal this year. I hope December will prove just as exciting. Here's a look ahead at what's coming to amy & the pen in December.

Pirate Week! As 18th century pirates play into Dead Locked, I'm devoting an entire week to one of my favorite topics. Stay tuned for lots of swashbuckling fun!

Design for Writers. I'm experimenting with an article series idea, helping writers to tackle graphic/web design projects on their own, including covers, book trailers, and websites. I'll focus on design principles as well as the technical stuff. The first in the series debuts next month.

New Book Unveiling. The first details about my next novel happens right here.

Tomorrow, December 1, is the final day to download Dead Locked completely free at Smashwords. Enter KR98Q at checkout to get your copy today!

'Til next month!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lessons Learned From My First Novel

After a year and a half of false starts and missteps, revisions galore, and quite a few smackdowns from my sister, Dead Locked is finished and for that I am extremely grateful. I'm the first to admit my little book has a lot of imperfections - some bruising here, a scar or two there - but it came time to send it off into the world and now there's no looking back. Well, almost.

I still think of things I could or should have changed. But in the end, there's no denying (or faking) that I'm still learning how to construct a well-written novel. I keep reminding myself that I could rewrite for all eternity and it would never be perfect. And as it was, I was ready to take the hard-earned lessons from Dead Locked and share them with my next novel.

And learn I have. At times, I really thought Dead Locked hated me, which is absurd of course. (Books can't hate their authors - can they?) And the problems often came down to my own neuroticism. But I do love to write and I take a lot of pride in writing well. So though I know DL will hardly be my best work ever, I put everything I had (and more sometimes) into it.

So other than learning (again) that writing is hard, what else have I come away with? Well, I learned a lot about my novel writing process. I discovered (as a life long pantser) that a little plotting is a good thing, but too much plotting for me is very, very bad. I started walking the tightrope of tension and pacing. And unwittingly, I took a crash course in handling a heap of necessary background information in the form of flashbacks (hopefully with success!).

I am most proud, however, of my character development. With each project, I often have a focus, something I want to improve. With DL, I wanted to create the most alive, vibrant characters I'd ever envisioned. And I definitely succeeded in that department. Overall, I understand a lot more about how to make a novel tick now, and I'm looking to the future to apply what I've learned more fully. I'm also buckling down on things I know I need to work on.

My next book is already well underway and I'll unveil the details about that in December. Until then, there are still two days left to download Dead Locked for free by entering KR98Q at checkout. The response has been awesome and I appreciate all the fabulous support and encouragement. And I do hope you enjoy my first, slightly imperfect, novel.

Photo by Seth Sawyers

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Obsessive Proofreading Pays Off

I admit, I'm kind of neurotic about checking and double-checking...and work for errors. But for something important, say publishing a book, it can be a lifesaver.

While going over Dead Locked one last time, I saw double. Two chapters labeled "23." My heart froze. Did I seriously mess up the chapter numbering? Sure enough, I had managed to get the ordering out of whack earlier. Not surprising since the chapters weren't in order since my first draft months ago. So I fixed that problem but then I was paranoid and checked everything again to make sure I hadn't missed some horrible, glaring mistake. I didn't catch anything else and I hope you won't either.

So this is my advice for today: If you want to check that important document one last time, do it. It could very well mean the difference between catching a glaring mistake or publishing your book with two chapters 23.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dead Locked Preview Roundup

Over the last several months, I've posted a few excerpts and a character interview. Since Dead Locked is actually available now (phew!), I decided to corral all these posts into one for those of you new to my blog or otherwise.

In case you missed yesterday's post, you can download a free copy of the ebook edition of Dead Locked until December 1, 2010! Get the gory details here. For now, check out all these past sneak peeks!

Word Paint Blogfest Entry
Neverending Revisions and Dead Locked Snippet
Blogfest of Death Story
Book Title Announcement and Novel Sneak Peek
Character Interview Blogfest (with heroine Imogen Bell)
A Heroine is Born

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dead Locked Available Now!

I can't believe my book is done, but it finally is! After a year and a half, things sped up and came to a head, and as of last Wednesday, Dead Locked was officially finished! And now it is officially available to read as an ebook!

To start things off with a bang, I'm giving Dead Locked away for free from now until December 1, 2010. Here's how to claim your copy:

1. Go to the official Dead Locked page at Smashwords by December 1, 2010.
2. Checkout and enter promo code KR98Q in the appropriate box.
3. Download in the format of your choice (Kindle format included).
4. Once you've read Dead Locked, please leave an honest (yikes!) review.

Feel free to tell others how to get their free copy of Dead Locked on your blog or website. Along with the promo code, you can include an excerpt of up to 3,000 words from the free sample available. (See the FAQ for details.)

To whet your appetite, watch the official book trailer below. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Go NaNoWriMo Writers! The High of Week 1

This is just a shout of encouragement to all of you participating in NaNoWriMo this year! The first week is always thrilling as you pen those first few thousand words and start to see your ideas - vague or clearly defined - come to life.

If this is your first time around, I suggest you make this week count as much as possible. Circumstances differ, but I learned my first time around that aiming to get a little ahead the first week didn't hurt. Just stick to your plan and get as close to your daily and weekly goals as possible. Life will happen during NaNoWriMo but don't get discouraged. Just keep trucking.

If you know you'll have days when you won't have as much time - or any - to write, plan for it and set larger word count goals on days when you do have the time. While it may not matter so much this week, it can be a lifesaver in the weeks to come. Plus, as I said, life does happen. The more you write early on, the better off you may be at the end of the month.

Don't get stuck trying to make everything perfect. I loosened up as time went on but I found the first few days tough in that regard. I thought too much and wrote too little. Just relax and write. It's a first draft after all and isn't supposed to be perfect. You'll have plenty of time to revise after November.

How is NaNoWriMo going for you so far? What is your story about (if you know!)?

Photo by seyed mostafa zamani

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Fall-Themed Haiku for a Gray Monday

The gray, cold weather we have today (a foregleam of November I fear) made me think of this haiku I wrote several years ago. So I hunted through my files to read it and thought I'd share. It's a good day for some Fall-themed reading!

Hot Chocolate
Crippled leaves fly through
summer into frosty hours
of hot chocolate

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Get Ready for NaNoWriMo 2010!

It's hard to believe it's already that time again! I'm sure a lot of you are prepping - at least mentally - for NaNoWriMo this year. I'm not participating this time around, but I've tried two different approaches to getting ready to write a novel-in-a-month in the past. The first time, I got a concept the night before I started and winged the entire book. The second time, I did a little planning about two weeks ahead of time. How did each approach go?

Winging it landed me in some trouble. By the end of the month, I had plenty of words, but the last few days I was writing frantically just to finish the story! I kept writing and writing and couldn't figure out how to wrap things up. I did make it but just barely. However, I had such a blast the entire month that everything that went wrong with the story paled in comparison. If I had had time I would have started all over again the next month.

Planning certainly helped my story move along easier. I still had surprises but the plot was a lot more cohesive than my first attempt. So that was nice even though I had a lot more trouble making my word count last year. On the downside, I really didn't enjoy the process as much. I did have a lot of other things going on that month that kind of sapped my fun, but I do think part of it was that I was almost too prepared. I know that sounds odd, but I think the planning, while useful, diminished part of the fun - at least for me.

Now everybody's different and if I do NaNo again in the future, I'm not planning a lot beforehand. If you've done NaNoWriMo before, what is your favorite way to go about it? If you're trying it out for the first time, what's your approach?

Friday, October 15, 2010

What's On Your Music Playlist?

Music has always influenced my writing from helping me develop entire plotlines and characters to just getting me through a project. I usually get obsessed with a set of new songs, listen to them a million times over a couple of weeks, then move on.

My current playlist goes something like this:

"Cosmic Love" Florence + the Machine
"Round & Round" Selena Gomez and The Scene

"For What Reason" Death Cab for Cutie
"When Love Takes Over" David Guetta (feat. Kelly Rowland)
"To the Sky" Owl City
"Kings and Queens" 30 Seconds to Mars
"Secrets" OneRepublic
"DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" Usher

What's on your playlist right now?

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mood for Inspiration

We all know setting can add a lot of depth to a story. Sometimes it becomes more like another character! There's really nothing like working with a real place and using all your senses to bring it to life on the page. I recently walked part of the Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island. We didn't get the sunny, warm day we anticipated, but I enjoyed absorbing the ominous mood the clouds and wind created. And I got a few shots that captured the atmosphere to some extent.

What do these images make you think of? Could you spice up a scene or two in your story with some moody weather action? Of course, I thought it would make a good setting for a murder. But that's just me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Recycling Your Emotions

We all know characters need some level of emotional depth. But getting there isn't always easy, especially when characters may face things that we never have. Sometimes it's enough to just imagine how you would feel in that situation. Other times, you need more reality in your fiction. How can you create it? One way is by taking your own emotions and applying them to your characters.

What do I mean exactly? Well, we all experience a range of feelings, even on a day-to-day basis. And I think it's safe to say we've all experienced at least one heart pounding emotion, whether good or bad. So even if we've never gone through exactly what the character has (e.g. witnessing a murder), we have deep, raw emotions from other experiences that we can draw from.

Let me illustrate: In my upcoming novel, Dead Locked, a good friend of my protagonist is murdered. This along with several other scary events leaves Imogen following a trail of emotions as well as clues. Have I experienced these exact situations? Happily, no. But I did lose my mother several years ago, which led to other weird and somewhat scary events, and I was able to channel those feelings and direct them into Imogen. I even cried writing certain scenes. So while the event may be different, the emotion is very, very real.

This won't always work if the emotion for you is still too new. I could not have written like that right after my mom died. A little distance can help. It may also take practice. The idea of taking emotions out of context and applying them to fiction does not come naturally to me. I've had to work at it. My sister (a songwriter/producer) does this brilliantly and without thinking and always has. I've had to make a conscientious effort to learn. But my characters are two-hundred percent better because of it. And it's becoming second nature now, which is a plus.

If you're like me and have struggled to pull emotions from your characters, maybe it's time to put your emotions to work. The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron has a lot of prompts that help you to use your background and feelings in a fictional setting. A lot of these exercises helped me start making better use of my own experiences. Above all, keep writing! That's always the best way to improve.

How have your personal experiences enriched your writing? Do you find it easy or difficult to use your own feelings in a fictional context?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Huzzah for 50 & Pirate Week!

I completely forgot to mention this last week, but I just reached 50 followers. Huzzah! Thanks to everyone who follows and comments. It's much appreciated!

We are so, so close to the release of Dead Locked now! I can't believe how fast summer has gone by. I'm relieved to be in the home stretch, but it's a little scary too. So in anticipation of its debut, I'm hosting Pirate Week on my blog! Yes, friends, pirates will rule amy & the pen as well as the seven seas. I'm planning for it as we speak and will announce the dates soon. I can tell you there will be fun, prizes, and lots of swashbuckling! Stay tuned!

What exciting things do you have cooking right now?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rising to the Challenge

I am a sucker for competition shows. Project Runway started it and I'm still an addict, but it eventually spread to all manner of shows, regardless of the subject matter. This past weekend, I had a few mini-marathons of a few of the shows I like. And I realized that the people who seem to do the best are often the ones who do not gripe about the challenges. (I've also realized that contestants who specialize in certain areas always perform the worst for the challenges related to their field. But that's another topic entirely.) I'm always surprised by how many of the contestants get all in a huff when presented with a challenge. Isn't that the point of the contest? And, really, if you're never challenged, how can you grow?

So that got me thinking about my writing. When I'm thrown out of my comfort zone, do I complain and give up easily or do I get down to business and do my best? Of course, I can't say I never complain. I certainly do. But Dead Locked has taught me a lot about rising to meet challenges when it comes to my writing. I know I've done plenty of complaining along the way too, but I got it out of my system and kept pressing forward, which I'm very happy about now. Looking ahead though, I want to work on having a better attitude toward future challenges. Writing is more exciting when you're not complaining about it. And I know lots of challenges await me.

That is my revelation for this week. What writing challenges have you faced and conquered?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I'm a fan of placeholders while I write. I use them for names, scenes, moments, and pretty much anything else I'm not tackling right that second. For instance, you can't write everything at once but sometimes ideas come in clumps. So instead of either jumping around and finishing nothing or feeling paralyzed because I don't know what to focus on, I take a minute to write a brief placeholder. That way I don't forget about my idea, but at the same time, I can keep moving forward with what I'm already writing.

It's basically in-line note taking. It's right in the manuscript so I can't lose it. And I won't forget to work on it later when I have time. I write my placeholders in all caps because I've found they're easier to see that way when I'm scrolling through my book. It's also a handy method when you haven't named a character yet but you don't want to stop to figure one out. I often just put "NAME" as I write.

Do you use a similar method when you write or something totally different?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back to Business With Fresh Eyes

Getting back into non-vacation mode has not been easy this week. But I have loved getting back to writing. I could have technically worked on my book or another piece last week, but I chose not to. And I have to say I made a good choice. I had a long writing session on Tuesday and I felt looser and had more fun than I've had in weeks! I read last week so I know that's helped, but I do think just the break in routine has a lot to do with my fresh energy. It's time to get this thing done!

So I'm climbing back on the wagon and you'll hear a lot more from me next week.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

At the Beach

While I have a minute, I thought I'd share a few photos from my beach trip so far.
In the car after about 15 hours. Yikes!
My friends in front of the Medieval Times "castle." Great show by the way!

The beach as seen from my chair as I sat and did nothing for one glorious afternoon.
A funky pirate statue thing at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

People Watching

I'm using my beach vacay for some serious people watching. Between the beach, the pool, and the patio right below our room, I've already gathered some fodder for future characters or situations. I especially pay attention to the details. How people walk, gesture, carry themselves. I like to observe relationship dynamics, especially between family members. Public arenas like this are a writer's petri dish.

So that's my thought for this Tuesday. What do you pay attention to when people watching?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reading to Recharge

I don't have as much time to read as I used to, but reading fiction really helps me to refresh and write my own work with more energy. When I go too long without reading, I feel empty - like I'm out of fuel. So while reading is an important tool to learn how to write well, it's also an energy source.

So finding the time to read is really the trick. Once I started writing my book, all the spare time I used to read turned into my time to write. That's not going to change any time soon so it's time to find another way. I'm coming to a point where I need to read to keep sane. I haven't figured out what to do at home, but I'm using my upcoming beach vacation to read the first book in the Gideon Trilogy. It's taunting me from across the room as I write. Just a little bit longer, and it's all mine!

As a writer, how important is reading to you? What do you like to read? How do you make time for it?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What Writing Books Are On Your Shelf?

I originally planned to list all my writing books in this post, but after looking at my shelf, I realized that was ridiculous. So I'm hitting the highlights instead.

The Elements of Style by Strunk & White
Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz
The Synonym Finder by J.J. Rodale
Fiction Writer's Workshop by Josip Novakovich
The Art and Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis
The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron
The Writer's Idea Workshop by Jack Heffron
The Writer's Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts
The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King
Various literary magazines and issues of Writer's Digest and Writer Magazine.

What's on your shelf?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Word Paint Blogfest!

Today, I'm taking part in the Word Paint blogfest hosted by Dawn Embers. For my entry, I've snatched a passage from Dead Locked and improved it. Hope you enjoy reading it, and please visit Dawn's blog to read more entries!

Happy Friday!


The flowering trees planted every few feet offered welcome shade as she strolled towards the center of town. She admired the pink, yellow, and blue colonial town houses embellished with lions' head door knockers. Imogen imagined captains' wives and merchants stepping out onto the dirt road to go to church or down the street to visit a friend. She thought of ladies climbing out of carriages in their silk dresses and men strutting around in wool waistcoats and breeches. She imagined Isaac Crewe wandering through town, maybe to visit Georgiana for tea. She smiled to herself as she squeezed the brass handle of the coffee shop door, sweeping into the converted colonial. Things really hadn't changed so much. Instead of tea, she opted for an iced latte. But the principle was the same.

Inside, she ordered and stepped back from the white counter, ogling the brimming trays of scones and muffins out of reach inside a glass case. The plank floor squeaked as Imogen picked up her latte and waltzed over to one of the window nooks, relaxing into a wicker chair. The afternoon sun streamed over her hair, golden highlights peeking between auburn strands. She took a long sip of her coffee, relishing the chill that shot through her. Any other time she would have lost herself watching the queue of cars cruise into downtown and the friends chatting and carrying white shopping bags with pink ribbon handles. Imogen sighed. Too many other images pressed on her mind to let it wander.

Imogen abandoned her watching post and passed the cars and shoppers on her way back home. When she returned to her cottage, Sebastian sat on her stoop, his left eye red and bulging. Imogen expected him to fall off the radar for a while, and felt a surge of joy that he had come to her instead. She waved him inside to the kitchen to examine his eye, then wrapped ice cubes in a towel. She brushed his dark chestnut hair out of the way, stuck to his forehead with sweat, her index finger grazing his hot skin. She pressed the towel onto his eye while he leaned against the kitchen counter, not saying a word.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Going From Short Stories to Novels

It's funny to think that a couple of years ago I would never have thought about writing a novel. For years, I focused on writing short stories. I love the challenge involved in forming a complete story in few words (sometimes very few words). I also love how short stories are similar to photographs - they capture moments in time. But after I challenged myself one winter to write a novel in a month, I realized I couldn't turn back.

According to my sister, novel writing suits me well because I like to talk. (I swear, I have no idea what she means by that.) But I've had some issues making the leap. The whole length business - going from a few thousand words to tens of thousands of words - has been interesting. I've had to learn to search for expansive ideas instead of compact ones as well as conquering how to make a plot of that size work and make sense at the end of it all.

Novel writing, however, has improved my short stories. While working on a couple of new stories recently, I realized that my first drafts were stronger and the plots and character development tighter than before. As I wrote, I could even tell that my thought process was more organized. Ideas came faster, and without plotting, I still ended up with a cohesive first draft. Instead of one hot mess, I had one hot rough draft I couldn't wait to spiff up.

My conclusion is this: writing in new forms helps all of your writing. I've experienced this several times over. So write in new forms and styles once in a while. If you're scared, all the better. Learning a new form will bring something good to the writing you're most familiar with. And it's fun!

What different forms of writing have you tried, and what was the result? How did it help or enhance your favorite writing form?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Finding the Right Lit Mag for Your Story

One of my projects this week is submitting my short story, "Stained," to various lit mags. I'm beginning to think every topic and genre is covered by one or more journals. And it's amazing how many fledgling publications keep popping up! This is a good thing because every one's taste is different. But it can also be an overwhelming thing when you're ready to submit. As a writer, how can you filter through the options?

Look at searching for literary magazines like shopping. If you go to the market with no list and no idea of what you want or need, you may either leave the store with lots of unnecessary items or leave empty-handed because there were too many items to choose from. On the other hand, a list or some kind of plan will get you in and out of the store with items that you can turn into meals and snacks.

With that in mind, your list or plan is what piece you want to submit. When you head into an online or printed directory of lit mags, you'll have a direction and you can scan the markets to find one that sounds appropriate. Bookmark publications that look interesting but aren't right for the current story. That way, you can stay on track and use what time you have to find markets for the piece in question.

Once you have a mission, it's a lot easier to filter out what you don't need. For instance, start by searching for markets that publish the genre or theme of your piece. My short story is straight-up literary so I can skip over sci-fi magazines or publications that want experimental or edgy literature. Duotrope's Digest, a database of literary magazines, includes a search function with specific categories to hasten the process.

Check that the magazines you've come across are active and accepting submissions. Some close to submissions when they're overloaded. The final elimination round is to read the magazines before you submit. It sounds obvious, but with every editor begging people to do so, I figure many must overlook this step. I know I used to. But it's the only way to know if the magazine is right for your story.

Once you've done that, it's time to submit! Remember to follow submission guidelines for each publication to the letter. Every magazine is different, which is a pain, but it's necessary so they will actually read your work. A little forethought and prep work can go a long way to finding a publication that loves your piece.

How do you deal with the submission process in general? Do you have a system for getting everything ready to go?

Photo by bravenewtraveler

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Heroines

I thought I'd skip the serious topics for today and write something fun to start off the week. I've thought a lot about heroines lately (thanks to my own) and how sometimes it seems there aren't enough of them. Along that line, I thought I'd list some of my favorite heroines from various books, movies, and TV shows.

Ripley from Aliens. I absolutely love this character. She was the perfect balance between vulnerability and invincibility. My favorite scene is when she's in the elevator getting ready for her showdown with the queen alien.

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice. Of course, Lizzy had to make my list! No, it's not an action/adventure/thriller story by any stretch, but I've always admired Elizabeth. She didn't scare easily and she didn't mind giving Darcy a smackdown when he needed it.

Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle. I love her spunk and take-charge attitude in tough situations. And her refusing to take Howl's crap. Which he was full of.

Daisy Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard (the show, not the movie!). Laugh if you will, but I loved Daisy from the moment I became obsessed with the series in my mid-teens. She could drag race, fly a plane, and break out of jail - all in stilettos!

Arwen from Lord of the Rings. I appreciated her quiet strength and her refusal to give up on a seemingly hopeless situation.

Kathryn Swinbrooke from mysteries by C.L. Grace. I liked this female physician's independence at a time (around the 14th century I believe) when you don't really expect it. And she could keep her wits under pressure.

This is by no means exhaustive, and I'm always on the lookout for books with strong, likable heroines.

Who are your favorites and why?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

10 Reasons to Finish That Lousy WIP!

We all run into those pesky stories or novels that will not cooperate and go smoothly as ordered! But just when you've had it and swear you're not writing another word, you do. But why? Dead Locked has been the mother of all difficult projects in my book. But I've pushed on and will push on until it's done. And here are 10 reasons why I keep going and why you should too.

  1. You have put far too many hours into it already to give up.
  2. You love the characters and can't leave them hanging.
  3. The story keeps pulling you back.
  4. Any story worth telling requires work.
  5. If you gave up every time you hit a wall, you'd never finish a single project.
  6. People want to read your story!
  7. Every finished novel is another step toward your goals.
  8. You become a better writer with every story you finish.
  9. You'll never forgive yourself for giving up.
  10. You've made it this far. Keep going!
What reasons do you repeat to yourself when a project makes you want to throw your writing tools in the air and quit?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Writers' Meet & Greet and a New Blog

Happy Friday everyone! I thought I'd use today's post to mention two new things going on around here. First, I've joined the A Life of Crime bloghop hosted over at the Meet & Greet for Writers by Tessa. If you're a mystery/crime/thriller writer and have a blog, please join us! You can do so by using the tool on the left sidebar or by visiting the main page for the bloghop. If you're not in that genre, there is a new bloghop added about every week so check back until your genre appears!

Second, I've started a side blog called writerly. I'm using it to publish short and random things that don't really belong here like writing prompts, interesting news items, cool photos, and other blurbs. And I would like to make it interactive. So if you've thought up a fun writing prompt, stumbled across an interesting news piece, or have a favorite quote, you can submit it for inclusion on my blog! How cool is that?

What's new with you?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Neverending Revisions and Dead Locked Snippet

What stage is your WIP in? I'm completing another major swipe of Dead Locked. This should be (will be!) the last round where any major changes occur. I don't know what it is about this particular go around, but I swear it won't end. I work and work and work and at the end look to see how much I have left and it's always the same answer: a LOT! Sheesh! I keep telling myself it's downhill from here. After this, it's smaller changes and more focus on the details. We're almost done! I keep saying I'm taking a break when this is finished. I'm going on a mental vacation and not writing! But it's a lie. I have two other novels well under way and they won't leave me alone!

As a little reminder of why we write and what makes the pain and suffering all worthwhile, I thought I'd share another snippet from my book. This is one of my favorite scenes and hopefully you'll like it too. Enjoy!


Imogen Bell waited for Sebastian at his house, planning to attack him with good looks and charm. She propped open her pink cosmetic case on the toilet seat since he only had a pedestal sink, and examined her options for the evening. About the time she was sliding brown tinted mascara onto her eyelashes to accentuate her cat eyes, the outside screen door slammed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tips for Beta Readers

Yesterday I offered a few suggestions for working with a beta reader. I thought it would be fun to do the flip side of that and talk to beta readers today. How can you help out your writer? Bear in mind that everyone works differently, but here are four suggestions that should help in most cases.

Ask questions. If you're writer isn't forthcoming about what they want from you, just ask. I didn't used to be very specific and it led to frustration on both sides I think. Take the initiative and ask if you don't know.

Make notes. It's pretty frustrating if your beta reader tells you that 'something somewhere in the novel didn't quite work.' Yikes! Jot ideas down as you read in a notebook or directly on the manuscript if that's all right with the author.

Be specific. What exactly does or doesn't work? If you're not a writer and don't know all the lingo, describe what's missing, not working, needs improving in the best way you can. Even use examples from other books (or the one you're reading) to show what you mean.

Be honest. Beta reading is really to help the author improve the manuscript and that means pointing out what doesn't work along with what does. How you dispense your criticism will depend on the author. Some may be able to take it straight, while others will need a softer approach.

I value my beta reader and I can tell you an objective viewpoint is exactly what you need sometimes. Your feedback counts! So give it all you've got and the make the most of the experience.

Photo by moriza

Monday, August 9, 2010

Get the Most From Your Beta Readers

If you use beta readers, then you may know it's difficult sometimes to get what you need from them. It can be an interesting experience but also a frustrating one. My sister has been my prime beta reader for years, though I didn't always know the technical term. And though you'd think she'd be biased or hold back to spare my feelings, it's quite the opposite. Her feedback has been a major component in making my writing stronger, and getting Dead Locked up to speed. But it's taken some work on my part sometimes to get the information I needed to improve. What can you do to make the most of a beta reader?

Pry for information. Don't accept generalities. Ask specific questions to get specific answers. How specific depends on you, your beta reader, and how intense you want to make your beta reading. I'm usually interested in an objective viewpoint of the story and characters especially. But sometimes, I want to know about a certain scene, description, or section of dialogue. If you have a particular section of the story you want feedback on, ask your reader to pay special attention to it.

Write up questions. I tried sending a list of questions with the story recently and that helped us both cut to the chase a lot more quickly. Instead of spending a lot of the conversation digging for the right answers, my sister knew what I wanted to know and could pay attention to those things as she read and make notes. I based my questions, with quite a few alterations, on this set I discovered.

Listen! I believe one of the keys to a successful beta reading is not shutting down mentally when your beta reader is honest about something you need to fix. They could very well stop giving you much-needed feedback if you get defensive or act hurt when they tell you like it is. Remember, a beta reading is to improve your story, not just receive glowing accolades. Those are wonderful, but won't really help you to reach your goals in the end. This is easier said than done. But swallowing your pride and getting down to business with your story is the best thing you can do.

An objective reader is a blessing. It's hard to see the forest for the trees, or vice versa, after days, weeks, or months of writing and revising. So keep your objective readers close at hand. They will help you improve your current WIP and works to come.

Photo by Toms Baugis
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