Friday, July 31, 2009

Mr. Charming Releases!

Hi All!

I am happy to announce that my eighth book and first romantic suspense, Mr. Charming, is out today from The Wild Rose Press.

It is the story of a single mom who believes that hiding out in the suburbs will make her safe, but soon discovers that love and death can walk through your door at any time.

Go to my website to read an excerpt.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Simple Craft-Starting without an outline

In a recent seminar the speaker intoned the following words, "professional writers always begin with an outline."
Hmmm- so after nine books sold, I am still not a professional writer? Wait, what? Pronouncements like that are ridiculous. As I've said in past blogs, every writer has their own individual process. Even some NYT best selling professionals don't begin with an outline--imagine that.
The problem is that if you don't have an outline, your opening pages can wander and you can end up writing 10, 20, 50 sometimes even 100 pages that go no where, do nothing and must be cut. Which is okay if that's your process. I've learned a few simple tricks over the years that help me to avoid wandering. I'm going to offer them to you right now to put in your tool kit, play with and see if these tricks or some version of them work for you.

Trick one: Write down your character's full name and a brief description-plus one quirk and a secret fear. Ex. Jennifer Sumner is a single mom who works at home. She has blonde hair, blue eyes and an average build. She likes really spicy food--the hotter the better-- and is afraid of toads.
Trick two: Write down your character's most elemental story goal, their motivation and the story conflict. Ex. Jennifer wants a safe place to raise her son. Her divorce splashed across the tabloids made her vow to do whatever it took to keep her son out of pubic scrutiny. A favor for her brother, finds Jennifer tangling with a man whose life (and supposed death) is tabloid fodder.
Trick three: Create a simple W plot. (Nothing has to sparkle here-this is merely a general guideline which is fluid and can change.) A W plot is this~ opening incident. Then things go quickly downhill to plot point 1. Things improve slightly to plot point 2. Things get much worse to plot point 3. Finally conflicts resolve to end. W plots are great because you can connect a bunch of W's for longer plots or subplots.
Now with these three simple things you can start your story and see where it goes from here. The tricks are not too time consuming. They won't bore you and there is no outlining necessary.

The examples above were used for my book, Mr. Charming, which releases this Friday from The Wild Rose Press. Following is a small bit about the book:

After a painful public divorce, advice maven Jennifer Sumner vows to stay out of the glare of the limelight, but then she makes the mistake of saying yes to her brother’s request for assistance.
Kane McCormick loves his playboy lifestyle, using his fame and fortune as a barrier around his heart until the day the world assumes he’s dead. Then Kane learns that he had it all wrong.
As Kane discovers that Jennifer and her young son are the family he’s been looking for, his would-be killer discovers his whereabouts and threatens to kill them both. Can Kane convince Jennifer to step into his public life and escape the clear and present danger? Or will she stubbornly keep to her vow and take his heart to her grave?

Look for it at Cheers!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Randomness Rules Our Lives

Answer: Perseverance; doggedness;persistence; tenacity or in my case out and out stubbornness...
Question: What is the most useful tool in a writer's toolbox.

This week I pulled a nonfiction mathematics book off the library shelf and brought it home to read. Crazy- I know. The title of the book is "The Drunkard's Walk How Randomness Rules Our Lives" by Leonard Mlodinow. It is a book about probability and the rules of randomness. He starts off telling the reader something very comforting. "The human mind is built to identify for each event a definite cause and can therefore have a hard time accepting the influence of unrelated or random factors." (It's not you- it's your genetics.)
What does this have to do with writing? From page 9: "Suppose four publishers have rejected your manuscript for your thriller about love, war, and global warming. Your intuition and the bad feeling in the pit of your stomach might say that the rejections by all those publishing experts mean your manuscript is no good... But is your intuition correct? Is your novel unsellable? We all know from experience that if several tosses of a coin come up heads, it doesn't mean we are tossing a two-headed coin. Could it be that publishing success is so unpredictable that even if our novel is destined for the best-seller list, numerous publishers could miss the point and send those letters that say thanks but no thanks? One book in the 1950's was rejected by publishers, who responded with the comments as "very dull,""a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions," and "even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject (WWII) was timely, I don't see that there would have been a chance for it." That book, Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, has sold 30 million copies making it one of the best-selling books in history."

Are you smiling yet?

Page 10 of The Drunkard's Walk is full of examples of rejections for authors like Sylvia Plath, George Orwell and Isaac Bashevis Singer. "Before he hit it big, Tony Hillerman's agent dumped him, advising that he should "get rid of all that Indian stuff.""
Then there is the other side of the coin- the many talented authors who quit after 5, 7 or 100 rejections letters. Mlodinow gives the following example: "After his many rejections, one such writer, John Kennedy Toole, lost hope of ever getting his novel published and committed suicide. His mother persevered, however, and eleven years later A Confederacy of Dunces was published; it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and has sold nearly 2 million copies.
There exists a vast gulf of randomness and uncertainty between the creation of a great novel...and the presence of huge stacks of that the front of thousands of retail outlets. That's why successful people in every field are almost universally members of a certain set--the set of people who don't give up."

The upshot is those who keep writing-perfecting their craft- working through rejection- create more opportunity for success and those opportunities increase the probability of success. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, Act 5 Scene2:"...the readiness is all."
For every writer who tells you they sold their first manuscript there is another who sold on her tenth or 15th. For every debut NYT bestseller- there is another NYT Bestseller who toiled for ten years before hitting the list.
New York Times bestselling author and wise woman, Julie Garwood said, "Never believe your own press." That works both ways- don't accept the bad press or the good. Keep writing. It's what writers do.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The writer's journey

I was asked to write an article for my local Romance Writer's of America chapter and tell my journey to publication. So, I sat down and did my best to give the short version of a very long tale. It came out a tad bit tongue-in-cheek, but nearly accurate and it got me thinking about the subject.

Everyone's journey is unique- like snow flakes. Some people like to qualify and quantify them. It is human nature I suppose to put the journey into some sort of pecking order based on publisher, quantity of books sold, type of book, amount of money made. As in-so and so sold to Harlequin- 30 books, but everyone knows those are throwaway formula books, they don't count. So and so sold to Avalon- those are libraries books and there's no real money in them...they don't count. So and so sold to Kensington's debut line. Everyone knows that's not a career builder...and on and on it goes. Everyone comparing journeys as if this is some kind of hierarchy. (Ah, the human ego is a crazy thing.)

After reading my writer's journey piece a good friend of mine said the writing life is like a roller coaster, with great highs and plunging lows... some people come off the ride and say-"No way, I'm done." Others get back on. This time closer to the front of the roller coaster and as the cars start to climb think to themselves..."What the heck have I done?!"

I think the writer's journey is more like the original "Willy Wonka." You begin by being excited by the possibility of finding a golden ticket. Then you join in the hunt - working your craft, doing your best, joining groups.

Then you win the ticket!! Joy! Jubilation! All congratulations.

So you find yourself in the magical candy factory filled with wonders and oompa-loompa's and their fabulous warnings. It's fun, it's magical... until you get on the boat ride... and things get a little nuts. There are those crazy spinning circles and colors and noises and Gene Wilder's voice warning..."There's no knowing where you're going..."

Will you be dashed to bits on the rocks or make it safely to the fudge room? :) It truly comes down to the luck of the draw. (Wouldn't it be nice if all the bad "nuts" got carried away by squirrels leaving only the good writers? Too bad real life washes away the good and the bad the same.)

This is why long time writers tell newbies, if at all possible, do something else. If you can't--if you are compelled to tell stories despite the warnings--you will be far happier if you can hold tight to this sage advice. Don't take anything personal...and more importantly... enjoy the ride!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reading in Genre

Last week, I wrote about how a good writer can write in any genre as long as they read, read, read in that genre. I think it's true. As Mike Arnzen said if you read a lot in a genre you learn the "deep structure" of the genre. Or what I like to think of as the necessary story elements a reader of a genre is looking for.
Readers of a genre are voracious and exacting- you can surprise them a little, but they come to a genre read with certain expectations and those expectations must be met in order to be successful as a writer of the genre. So, let's say you have a fabulous idea for a novel, you're not sure where it belongs in genre-it could be horror or paranormal or steam punk or urban fantasy... how do you know what it is you're writing? The best way is to take six weeks and dedicate yourself to reading in those genres, say a book a day. By the end of that time you will have a better understanding of where your novel idea fits and what elements you will need to be successful.
While the bestsellers like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson can pull a reader into a genre. They are not who you want to read when studying a genre. Why? Because bestsellers can break genre rules. They can write how they want. People buy them not for the genre but because as readers they have developed a relationship with the body of the bestseller's work. As a new-to-genre writer, you don't have the advantage of relationship. You have to build it. The only way to build it is to write a solid novel following genre readers' expectations. You want them to finish the book and say- "Yes, this writer gets me. I want to read more of what they write."

If reading bestsellers isn't a help- then who do you read? Read every debut novel in your genre. I know, the writing will be debut level- but and this is an important but- these are the stories the editors are buying now. (Well, actually they were bought two years ago. But you can see trends in genres and what editors are looking for in debut novels like yours.) While you are reading debut novels, you might also want to slip in a classic genre novel or two to get a feel for where the genre started compared to where it is now. Where it may be going tomorrow. Revisiting classics like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Zane Gray's westerns can help you understand how genre elements evolved.

Most writers write in their favorite genre. So they have a background in the genre story elements. If this is you, then steep yourself in your market. Know the difference between a Harlequin American series and a single title romance. (It's a big difference in both tone and length and reader expectation.) A solid understanding of your genre can only come from reading. But reading can give you the leg up in targeting your work and in the end selling the work. And that's what writing is all about, isn't it?