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

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dead Locked Cover!

So today instead of talking so much, I thought I'd just post my finished book cover for Dead Locked! It's taken a few weeks, several fonts, and some helpful feedback from my friends, but I feel it's ready to roll.

The cover makes the whole process a tiny bit more real somehow. Now to finish my book trailer!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Waking Up From a Dream

I feel like I'm in a dream today! And it started because I had one of the most vivid and arresting dreams I've had in weeks this morning. I woke up out of it and absolutely had to know what happened next. It was time to get up so I couldn't just doze back off and hope it picked up where it left off. So I started writing. I started where the dream quit and worked forward and have pretty much blown off all my other writing projects today to write this. I'm a little sidetracked perhaps but I think it's worth it. It was one of those ideas that I had to start right then and there or it would never happen. I didn't want to over think it either by waiting to start. I just started to write and let things happen as they would. It's been wonderful!

How is your writing going these days? Had any new ideas that demand attention above all others recently?
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