Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Helped You Most?

Since I don't have any super-inspirational, wisdom-filled articles or guests lined up for today, I decided to let all of you provide those things for this Wednesday's post. The question is:

What 3 things have helped you most on your writing journey? 

You're welcome to mention more than 3, but try to give the top 3 somewhere in your answer.

For me, besides Molly, the author friend who kindly but honestly got me on course in the beginning and my retired English teacher mom, who is the source of my better-than-average grammar skills, my three would have to be:

1. Reading as much fiction as I can get my hands on - to get a feel for what does and doesn't work. (I've read well over 100 books in the last 15 mos, while writing 2 of my own.)

2. Learning and improving along the way, through critiques and articles like Final Revision Editing and The Verb Lottery. (I mean, seriously! I look at some of the first versions of my mss and shudder at how I used to write. And there's STILL room for improvement.)

3. Books on the craft.

So what about you? What has helped you most? And what advice would you give to a new writer just starting out?

*hands over the mic*
= )

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On E-Books & Self-Publishing

Well, whata ya know... you get two posts from me today. = P
Here are links to two good articles on self-publishing by Susan Kaye Quinn, author of Open Minds.

How Many Book Sales Equals "Success"?

&

How Do You Price an E-Book?


No More Moldy Berries



Okay, so this is totally not writing related, but so what.

Here in Houston, fresh berries have hit the produce aisle with their plump juiciness, their vivid colors, and their low prices tempting me to stock up. But they tend to mold before I can eat them. What's a girl to do?

My mom sent me this. It's as simple as vinegar and water - who knew?

For you busy blog skimmers, here's the quicker 'Just the facts, Mam' version...

Place the berries into a mixture of one part vinegar and ten parts water and swirl around. Let sit up to 5 minutes. Drain, rinse (optional), and put them in the fridge. The vinegar kills mold spores and bacteria on the surface of the fruit, extending their shelf life.

I hope you'll return tomorrow for a discussion on what helped you the most in your writing journey. See ya then. = )

###

March 23rd 


ETA: Just coming back to say the vinegar & water rinse trick worked. 
The berries are easily keeping a week and longer. YUM!!!  = )

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Writer's Blogs - Discussion

With all the traffic from the Campaign, I thought this might be a good time to start a discussion about writer's blogs (or is that writers' blogs?). I'm a blog newbie, but--visiting as many as I have--I'm quickly discovering what I like and don't like about them.

I want to hear what my fellow writers and writing blog visitors have to say on the subject. What do you like?  What don't you like?  What turns you off, and what keeps you coming back?  And my blog is fair game, so don't pull any punches on my account.  ; )

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Flash Fiction Challenege

This is the first challenge in Rach's fourth platform-building campaign.

The Rules: Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “Shadows crept across the wall”. These five words will be included in the word count.  

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), do one or more of these: 1. end the story with the words: "everything faded." (also included in the word count) 2. include the word "orange" in the story 3. write in the same genre you normally write and or 4. make your story 200 words exactly!

          Here's Mine:
          (According to Word 2010, it's exactly 200 words, not counting the title.)
          *Mild sensuality alert*

          'Til Death

          Shadows crept across the wall as Leah carried the lantern and set it on the bedside table. Nathan sat on the edge of the bed, watching her every move. The angles of his face seemed sharper in the low light, and his eyes glowed with hunger and her reflection.

          Husband. He was her husband now. How much difference a day made.

          Leah turned the lantern down and bent to blow out its flickering orange flame.

          “Don’t.” His kind request held an edge of...authority.

          “Very well.” She faced him and lifted her gaze.

          His eyes followed the path his finger made as it traced the curve of her face and trailed down the buttons of her gown. “You know what will happen now.”

          “Yes.” Her voice held steady. How, she did not know.

          Nathan stood before her, his towering frame dwarfing hers. “Do you trust me?”

          “Yes.”

          He lifted her chin and his eyes searched hers. “I promise to make this as painless as possible.”

          A slight smile. “I know.”

          He tugged at the ribbon holding her collar closed and wrapped his hands around her throat. “Wait for me, Leah. Wait for me on the other side.”  He squeezed.

          Everything faded.
            

          ~~~~~


           Okay...so I'm a little twisted.  = P 
          1 hour, 1 color, 2 phrases, and 200 words, and this is what you get. hahaha 


          If you want to vote for me, I'm #149 (hint, hint)  
          But, you'll have to scroll wayyyy dowwwwwn. *grins*


          Nancy Kimball on Pacing

          We have a guest today I know you will enjoyaward winning author Nancy Kimball. 

          I met Nancy on my writing journey and I'm glad I did. She's a talented writer and a wonderful person. And somehow, she manages to juggle a skyrocketing writing career with her day job. Hmm. Maybe we need to drag Nancy back sometime to talk about time management and career planning (...as if she doesn't have enough to do).

          Here's Nancy...

          ~~~~~


          Melissa, thanks for inviting me to talk about pacing, one of my favorite fiction craft principles. Pacing is one of those subtle elements of fiction the reader never quite notices, even when he or she is being completely controlled by it. So what exactly is it?

          Pacing is the speed at which your reader travels through your story. Notice I did not say the speed at which your reader reads, but the speed at which your reader travels through your story. This is controlled by the author and is very important because bad pacing will ruin the reader experience and keep your manuscript from being accepted by a publisher. Before we look specifically at what makes bad pacing, the new writer should understand that pacing is a byproduct of tension and mechanics (mechanics as in sentence and paragraph structures, word choice, punctuation, etc.)

          When tension is high, pacing is normally faster. The reader is desperate to know what happens next and devours the words as quickly as possible to find out. Some things, like dangling by a tree root over a gulley a hundred feet below, finding the front door kicked in, or a wife and mistress discovering one another, will drive the reader forward more quickly to see what transpires.

          When tension is eased, so is pacing. Depending on your genre, you don’t want to always keep the reader an anxious bundle of nerves on the edge of their seat. There are times you need to rest your reader, either after a particularly emotional scene or intense action sequence, or allow them a momentary respite, and you’ll ease the pacing deliberately. Take in some setting detail, reflect on a past event or character detail in a relevant way, or ease in some backstory. (A free tip for you here is this is exactly why a backstory dump is bad. If you know they are bad, but didn’t know precisely why, this is it. Backstory eases pacing so much it grinds your story to a halt and you don’t want that.)

          When your pacing is fast and tension high, you want shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, and familiar words—essentially easy reading. The more you study other authors and recently published novels, the clearer this will become.

          So now that we’ve defined pacing, buckle up and let’s see what it looks like in fiction. Remember that as the author, you are in the driver’s seat, and your reader is strapped in next to you completely at your mercy. 

          ·         Pacing too slow (Sunday driving in the far left lane)


          Readers don’t like this, except for a very select few I’m sure exist but I’ve never met. They dutifully read page after page waiting for the real story to begin or to get back to the story while the author waxes on and on about setting, back story, and historical facts or period detail (the usual culprits) in a way that doesn’t advance the story. 

          Reader symptoms are the urge to skim, or skip entire paragraphs or pages looking for dialogue or some relevant and specific action that trigger the start of or return to story. This shows up more prevalent in the scene level. 

          ·         Pacing too fast (The high speed chase)


          This is where knowing what genre and audience you are writing to becomes a factor in your pacing. If you haven’t identified those two things yet, genre and audience, I would encourage you to do so before finishing this amazing story of yours and finding out it’s going to be a really tough sell because it doesn’t quite “fit” anywhere if traditional publishing is your goal. If you write thrillers or suspense, you’ll actually need to be full throttle longer and more often than other genres such as romance or historical. Like a high speed chase, the problem with maintaining too much speed consistently for the reader is you will literally wear them out. If they’re being given too much information or action to process over and over it becomes overwhelming and if there’s no end in sight where they can catch their breath, it will spell trouble.

          Reader symptoms are having to reread sentences or sections, or refer back to a previous scene or paragraph, pausing to go “Wait, what just happened?” This will be the rarest of pacing issues and will occur most often on the paragraph level.

          ·         Pacing is erratic (Lost while late to an appointment)


          These are hard stops that send your reader flying into their seat belt, or gas pedal to the floor that throws them into their headrest, and not knowing what to expect next because it’s become apparent the author doesn’t know either and is trying to fake it.

          Reader symptom is abandoning the story. This will show up at the manuscript level most often, and a good, consistent critique partner who works with large portions of the writing will be able to pick this up whereas someone critiquing only a single scene or chapter cannot. A bonus tip is: this will usually be a flag for plot problems, and seat of the pants writers are more susceptible to this than plotters are.

          ·         Pacing is good but occasionally off (The student driver)


          There’s a speed bump that shouldn’t be there, a little too much acceleration too quickly, riding the brake or stopping too hard short of the line. This will be the most common pacing problem with new writers but take heart because the learning curve is very short for this, especially with a good critique partner. Often times the fix is simply relocating the offending sentence, paragraph, or scene.

          Reader symptoms are indefinable. They know every once in a while something is out of place or off but if the story is holding them, they’ll overlook it. This is going to occur in every level but most often in paragraph and scene. It’s fairly easy to spot in the sentence level for the newest of writers, and at the manuscript level, it’s more a style and voice issue that likely will take a multi-published author or editor and agent to suggest areas for improvement.

           

          Good pacing gives the reader a smooth ride, whether it’s in a race car tearing through a road track like the thrillers or the prettiest horse on the carousel like the literary works. A good eye for this will develop with practice and critiques as you write. Remember, pacing is a byproduct of tension and mechanics and depends on a solid plot unfolding well. As you master those elements, both your writing and the pacing of your work will improve together.




          Nancy Kimball is an award-winning author of epic historical heroes. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and an active member of their large online critique group, Scribes. Nancy wrote off and on for fun until 2010 when an online friend told her about this little thing called NaNoWriMo. The rest is history. Since then, she has won Bethany House author Karen Witemeyer’s 2011 Fan Fiction challenge, first place in the general fiction category of the ACFW Writers on the Storm Category Five contest, and placed fourth in the 2011 Christian Writers of the West The Rattler contest. At the top of her bucket list is visiting the Colosseum in Rome to be photographed holding her debut novel, which she hopes will be soon. You can visit her author page on Facebook or drop by her blog where you never know what author she’ll be interviewing or prizes she’s giving away. Everything from critiques to gift cards and of course, books, while she muses about her author adventure. http://www.nancykimball.blogspot.com

          ~~~~~

          Wow! That was a great article, Nancy. You did a super job of breaking down the issue of pacing and you infused a lot of helpful details to boot. Thanks so much! I'm sure writers of all skill levels will benefit from this post.

          And thanks to my visitors as well. Hope to see you back next week. = )

          Monday, February 20, 2012

          You Gotta See This Blog

          For some really great articles, like 'The Seven Deadly Sins of Prologues' and 'Don't Eat the Butt' parts 1, 2 & 3, check out Kristen Lamb's blog. You won't be sorry.

          Kristen Lamb is the author of the best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer and is represented by Russel Galen of Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary, Inc. in NYC.

          Wednesday, February 15, 2012

          Welcome Carrie Butler

          Today we have Carrie Butler from So, You're a Writer over to discuss the importance of first chapters.

          Carrie and I met a few months back via an ad I posted for critique partners.  I definitely hit the jackpot with her. Not only has she turned out to be a super critter—she’s an incredibly talented writer and a great friend, too. (I wasn’t kidding when I said she frequently causes me to spray coffee all over my screen. = P) Unlike me, Carrie’s many writing strengths include beginnings. ; )

          Here's Carrie... 

          ~~~~~




          “What is the first chapter, Mr. Trebek?”

          That is correct. 

          *Applause*


          …Okay, so I’m not Alex Trebek. I’m not a game show host. I never even knew Merv Griffin. But I do know this: If you don’t nail your first chapter, your book could be in jeopardy. (Oh, I went there…)

          Let’s say you have an MC named Jill. Starting out, you may feel tempted to lead with her backstory. After all, you need to explain why Jill doesn’t trust men, before she meets her love interest, right?

          Right?

          Sorry, but that’s incorrect. (Oopsie. Went Trebek again.)

          Well-written books hook you from the first paragraph. They drop you in the middle of the day things change. Something’s going on, and you have to know what happens. So, what does that mean for your hypothetical manuscript?

          Your readers want to tumble down the hill with Jill, as she curses her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Jack. They want to be there when she gets to the bottom and meets Julio—the sweaty, bare-chested groundskeeper. Show that pivotal moment. Entice them to read on. Give them a reason to turn the page!

          I wasn’t kidding about backstory in the first chapter. If you bog it down with an info-dump, people are going to drop your book faster than you can say, “royalty loss”. Ease those details in. Lay out the dots, but let the reader connect them. 

          All of that said, you can’t cheat, either. Don’t start dropping bombs on your characters, only to lead them into a sweet romance.  Give us unrealistic expectations and we’ll always be dissatisfied. Oh, and for the love of all that is right in this world, don’t start your book with a dream. They’re usually considered “false starts” and make the reader feel… well, cheated. 

          Let’s review for the blog skimmers. :)

          DO:
          • Start with a pivotal moment/the day things change
          • Provoke curiosity
          • Entice the reader
          DON’T:
          • Info-dump
          • Give unrealistic expectations
          • Write a “false start”

          Now get crackin’ on that first chapter! You can do it. I have faith in you. :)

          ~~~~~



          Carrie is an aspiring novelist who graduated summa cum laude in marketing...so let’s gang up on her and drag her back to discuss promotion sometime. = )   Here’s where she hides:

          Thanks, Carrie, for taking time to stop by and encourage fellow writers. 

          And thanks to all of you for visiting. 

          Be sure to join me next Wednesday. Author Nancy Kimball plans to visit with some tips on pacing.

          See ya next week. ; )



          Tuesday, February 14, 2012

          A Change in Plans

          Due to a minor scheduling snafu (which was my fault entirely *blush*), the next installment in the You Are Here tour is being posted a day early so that author and friend Carrie Butler can make a guest appearance on the blog tomorrow. But, hey. It's a 2-for-1 this week, so that's good for you.

          To see a list of upcoming guests and topics, go to: Upcoming Guests & Events. (This link can also be found under 'Page Index' on the right hand side of the blog.)

          Now for Wednesday's post...
          The next topic on the tour deals with fiction writing skills that are not as obvious or basic as some, but ones that are important if you want your writing to be the best it can be. You may not be ready to incorporate these yet, but it won't hurt to familiarize yourself with the concepts my next article touches on. This way, when you get critiques from more experienced writers, you'll at least be prepared...and you won't think they're writing snobs. ; )

          Please enjoy, one day early,  The Snobbish Rules of Fiction.

          And Happy Valentine's Day, by the way.

          Saturday, February 11, 2012

          11 Questions ...Make that 22 ...Er 33

          Thanks, Rachel Morgan, for tagging me in the 11 Questions game. We blog campaigners are having some fun playing the blogging writer's version of 20 Questions. So sit back and enjoy...and realize: I was answering some of these at 4:00 AM when I was just a little punchy.

          1. Describe yourself in one word.
          Practical

          2. What was your favourite book as a child?
          Little House In The Big Woods (Wilder)

          3. eBooks or paper books?
          Depends on price, but I prefer e-books (convenience, and storage issues)

          4. If you could go back in time and change one thing in your life,
          what would it be?
          Go away to college right after high school

          5. What song is currently stuck in your head?
          The annoying background music of the Wii on standby

          6. What fictional character do you most resemble?
          I'll let my blogging buddies decide that. (...or maybe not. = \ )

          7. If you could have any super power, what would you choose?
          I almost said 'to read minds,' but on second thought: the ability to heal. I've got enough voices in my head. = P

          8. What is your favourite quote?
          When 'An Honorable Man' is published, I'll tell you. ; )

          9. Are you a full-time writer or do you have some other day job?
          Ha! I wear so many hats the door frame knocks them off when I walk through. But seriously, I write and homeschool during the weekdays, and work 12-hour nights in the NICU every weekend.

          10. Which book would you pick up first: awesome cover or super cool title?
          Awesome cover. I'm totally a visual person.

          11. Cream or ice-cream?
          I'm appalled you even have to ask. Ice cream, of course. Namely, that new flavor by Blue Bell - Spiced Pumpkin Pecan.

          And, as if that wasn't bad enough...
          I was also tagged by one of my crit partners, Carrie Butler, whose clever comments frequently cause me to spray coffee all over my screen.

          1. What was the last song you listened to?
          Well, if you don't count the annoying Wii music...
          Probably something from the 70's

          2. Plotter, pantser, or non-committal hybrid? ;)
          Hybrid. Although Carrie might beg to differ after our last few email exchanges.
          = P

          3. There’s a new release from your favorite (living) author! Do you click
          to order the ebook or rush out to buy it in print?
          My favorite author? Hmmm. Neither. I've already read and critted it.
          (Carrie? ...Why are you putting on boots?)

          4. You’re stressed out. What snack do you turn to? (If you don’t
          stress-eat, we don’t want to know… you robot. *grins*)
          WD-40 (kidding) Nothing sweet and gooey is safe.

          5. Name two fictional characters you’d want to see get in a fight.
          Kermit the Frog and Pinocchio

          6. The animal you most identify with is the _______.
          Depends on which hormone (or lack thereof) is driving the mood swing.

          7. Two things within arm’s reach:
          My mouse and my dog.

          8. If you had to compete in the 2012 Olympics, which sport would you pick?
          Hmmm. Is computer chair sitting a sport?

          9. Do you kind of hate me right now? It’s okay. I would, too. ;)
          Nope. I don't get mad. I get even. *sly smile*

          10. Did you eat breakfast this morning?
          Is that the best #10 you could come up with? *rolls eyes* Yes.

          11. Describe your current book, MS, or WIP in three words.
          Scary, Sad & Sweet.


          Now it's MY turn to ask the questions. *Smug Smile*

          1. Natasha Hanova
          2. Morgan Shamy
          3. David P. King
          4. Kaylie Austen
          5. The Guardian Writer, Melissa Dean
          6. Lady Gwen
          7. Deniz Bevan
          8. Samantha Drane
          9. 'Born Bookish' Amanda
          10. Jessica Therrien
          and especially 11. Carrie Butler

          Consider yourselves tagged!

          Here's your 11:

          1. If you were given a yacht, what would you name it?
          2. If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?
          3. Where's your favorite place to write?
          4. Give us a sample of a conversation you might have with one of your characters:
          5. What punctuation mark best describes your personality? Why?
          6. Just like "Everybody Wang Chung tonight!", what action would your name be if it were a verb?
          7. What's one thing you'd like others to know about you?
          8. What's one misconception people tend to have about you?
          9. Who cares if the glass is half empty or half full. What's in the glass?
          10. Name one of your strengths when it comes to writing?
          And last, but not least...
          11. What's the most unusual or outrageous thing you've ever done to understand and perfect a character's POV? (Let's see if Carrie will answer this one honestly. *Gotcha Grin*)

          *When you've posted these questions with your answers on your blog, come back and leave a comment letting us know. ; )


          .

          Thursday, February 9, 2012

          We have visitors

          I'd like to extend a warm welcome to the OYANers. They're a group of home-schooled students using the One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) to hone their fiction writing skills. Hi, guys. *smiling and waving* Thanks for visiting the blog. And to my fellow writers: C'mon, you guys...post a comment and say hello to your future competition. ; )

          Wednesday, February 8, 2012

          Next Stop On The Tour

          It's Wednesday, and y'all know what that means - it's time for a new and clever post to magically appear. As promised, the next stop on the You Are Here tour is waiting, and it's only a click away. This week's topic is 'Showing & Telling.' Enjoy!

          Monday, February 6, 2012

          You Are Here



          You’re a writer. It’s just something one knows. I mean, the drive is unmistakable. It wakes you up in the night and makes you forgo sleep to get that scene down just right before the inspiration leaves—and leaves you wishing you’d struck while the iron was hot...those bursts of genius so incredible that—try as they might—your feverishly-typing hands can’t possibly keep up with your brain. You know what I’m talking about. You’re probably sitting there nodding your head and smiling one of those conspiratorial, smug smiles.

          But where are you in your writing journey?

          Anyone with a reasonable command of the language can write. The question is: are you writing something others will actually want to read?

          In the spirit of ‘paying it forward,’ I’ve decided to dedicate my first few blog posts to helping beginning writers find their way. If you’re relatively new to the game, you’ll likely find something here—hopefully a lot of things—to help you make the transition from scoff-worthy beginner to eyebrow-raising contender. And if you’re seasoned, then sit back and take a stroll down memory lane. It never hurts to look in the rear view mirror and remember from whence we came.

          First stop on the ‘You Are Here’ tour: What’s a Critique? a.k.a. What the heck is a Critter?

          Super Platform-Building Opportunity



          I'm popping in to let everyone know about a fellow writer's platform-building campaign. Want to meet other writers like yourself--people who want to succeed and help others along the way? Want to build your online presence? Check it out and tell your friends. Rach's 4th Writer's Campaign