Sunday, September 27, 2009

Finding Story

Where do you get your story ideas? It is the question most often asked of writers. I get story ideas from everywhere. I may be driving in the country and see an old cross of the top of a hill and suddenly I have to know the story of the cross and why it's there. But since I'm driving and may never come back that way...well, I make one up. I might pass an old run down house that looks haunted...yep, new story.
I might over hear a conversation on a bus or the train and suddenly a story comes to mind.
News stories can create stories-for example a man discovered an old Anglo Saxon treasure horde buried on a farm using his metal detector. Boy that's ripe with story- What/who left the treasure? How was it collected? Most of it is male oriented-belts, hilts and souvenirs. Suddenly a Saxon leader is born in my head and the story of how he gathered the horde and what eventually led him to bury it. Or a contemporary story of a treasure hunter who discovers a horde-then instead of turning it in-he hides it...until the bad guys discover what he's hidden...then you have a thriller-
Stories ideas are everywhere. They begin with the questions what and who--what would happen if she left he husband and took a journey around the world. Who would bury a can full of cash under a tree. What if you were the only person alive? Who buried a rune stone under a popular tree in Minnesota?
So, story ideas are everywhere. The key is to discover which ideas have the potential to become books that will sell. The only way to know that is to study the market place. Study the genres you love to read. Study the current trends. Research publisher's guidelines, editor's blogs, agent's tweets and pay attention to what they are looking for. Then figure out which story idea has the potential to sell. Write that story. Cheers!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Dreaded Synopsis

Let me begin by being honest...even after writing 36 novels, I stink at writing synopsis. When I googled "dreaded synopsis" I got 1,430,000 hits. I think I can conclude that there are a lot of writers out there who hate writing synopsis.
In fact, if you want to make a lot of money-figure out how to write a good synopsis and then freelance out the service. A mere classified ad would do: "Need help with your synopsis? Synopsis guru will write it for you for $x..." It's money in the bank. LOL
I think the problem is that there really aren't any guidelines for synopsis-hints and tips, yes-but no guidelines. One agent only wants a back blurb like paragraph. An editor wants a one page synopsis. Another editor wants "no more than five pages." Wait- two pages are standard. No... rule of thumb is one page per every ten thousand words... Then there's a publisher-one I haven't ever been able to break into- who demands a "detailed" synopsis of indeterminate length as long as every emotion, subplot and turning point is in there...(they don't bulk at a 20 page synopsis and in fact would like more detail please...)
These many different vague demands of what the synopsis "should" be have spanned all kinds of classes and workshops on how to write a synopsis. Seriously- google it. The sad part is every single person will tell you theirs is "the correct way."
So- what is a writer to do?
I wish I had the answer. What I do is write several synopsis of varying lengths...then send them out with a wing and a prayer. Yes, so much for my "important selling tool."
That said here are some tips that I use in writing various size synopsis:
1) Start with the annotation or tag line-a fifteen word sentence that tells your story. Think NYT Bestseller blurb.
2) Write a back blurb copy for your story-three paragraphs that sell the story. (A good way to practice this is to go to Amazon or BN and copy some of your favorite author's back blurbs into a word file and then use them as a template for your own story. It's not cheating-it's called practicing.)
3) Write the goal/motivation/conflict for your main character. Then add in your story's turning points and the resolution.
4) keep everything in present tense.
5) Go online and read your targeted agent/editor/publisher's synopsis guidelines. FOLLOW THEM.
Keep in mind that no one really knows what a "good" synopsis looks like. It is as subjective as writing a "good" story. The best thing to do is relax. Give yourself a break and simply write it.
Good luck!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Magical Thinking

Someone tweeted the following this week: "If anyone can talk you out of writing you are not a writer." I sent off an answer that I can't even talk myself out of, I must be a writer. (Which I thought was funny and a bit sad.) The whole thing got me thinking about the arts in general. Human beings are a race of story tellers and craftsmen. Each and every one of us dreams of being respected for our art-whether that is writing, teachings, pottery, singing, quilting or how we craft widgets at the local factory. So, why then do we create boxes in the sand and tell others that if they don't follow our "rules" they can't be "real" writers, crafters or artists?
The other day I turned on the television and watched the last hour of the old movie, "Field of Dreams." Now, let me just say that I am a complete blank when it comes to baseball. I simply don't "get" it. My father used to turn baseball on the radio on long drives to lull a car full of kids to sleep. It worked every time, except for me. Then it was long torturous miles of endless blah, blah,blah.....swing and a miss.... Ball two... statistics....all read in a flat radio voice....ugh. I am blessed to have been able to go to one live baseball game at Yankee stadium. When it was over, grown men wept. It was a close game won in the last moments. I didn't get it...but I thought the umpire was cute. I digress. My point being that I don't watch this particular movie for it's themes of baseball and simpler times. I watch it because I am awed by the magic of a dream. By the passion the lead character has for his beliefs-even in the face of bankruptcy and everyone else saying he was crazy. In the face of unrelenting criticism, he still moves forward until he hits the point where he says, "I've never once asked what's in it for me." "What are you saying, Ray?" "I'm saying, what's in it for me?" lol
With everyone telling you you aren't whatever if you don't whatever... you have to ask yourself...why am I doing this? What's in it for me?
I know the answer. It's simple really. It's finding those magical moments-when the dream swirls in front of your eyes. When you hear the voice and follow where it leads. When you discover other people who dream-other characters and get to, for one shining moment, follow where they lead.
And that- that is what it's like to have passion for a dream. That is what it's like to live a life of magical thinking. The world will tell you that you can't. You aren't. You're crazy. You're not good enough. No one does that. The market isn't ready. No one's buying. You don't have enough education, the right tool set, that no matter how much research you do it's not enough, blah, de blah, blah blah. You aren't a whatever if...
Here's a simple truth. Who cares if you don't do things "the right way?" Who cares if you write one book over 25 years? Who cares if you write 50 books and go bankrupt and never publish. It doesn't make you any less of an artist, any less of a person. So, quit or don't quit. Rest or don't rest. The key-the real key is to recognize the magical moments and revel in them. The world is not black and white but filled with color. Don't let anyone ever convince you otherwise.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Introducing Carolyn Brown and her Lucky series

Every now and again I am lucky to share with you some of my favorite authors and their latest books. Carolyn Brown is a good friend and a fabulous writer. (Isn't her cover wonderful? Sigh. I love cowboys...)
Following is my attempt to interview Carolyn and introduce you to her work:
New readers want to know about your newest book! Can you tell us the basic premise?
First of all, thank you for having me as a guest on your blog today, Nancy. It’s a pleasure to be here. Basic premise? The teaser on the back of the book pretty much sums it up. When hunky rancher "Lucky Beau" Luckadeau accuses spitfire Milli Torres of stealing his prize bull, she promptly shoots at him, triggering a feud that only gets resolved when they discover they share a steamy hot memory from a night long ago. It was a night of passion that has always haunted Lucky. The mysterious beauty he seduced at a cousin's wedding disappeared. He's always been lucky at cards, lucky with cattle, and lucky with land, but he's never been lucky in love. Now Milli Torres has come to southern Oklahoma to help out on her grandfather's ranch. A cut fence and a big, mean Angus bull in the pasture are bad enough, but then she looks up and sees Beau Luckadeau. Great God Almighty, how did he get from Louisiana to Ardmore, Oklahoma, and what in the hell is she going to do if he recognizes her?
Wow, sounds fantastic. What's one scene from this story you loved writing and why?
I loved the scene at the first of the book when they locked up horns over a bull that had wandered from Beau’s pasture over to Milli’s grandfathers because it shows both of their tempers. It lets the readers know that their journey searching for the Holy Grail of romance, which is happy-ever-after, is going to be an emotional roller coaster.
How about a little excerpt from that scene?
He pointed his finger at her. “Don’t you lie to me. You’ve cut this fence and thought you’d take advantage of my prize bull. That bull is worth a whole pasture of those ignorant cows and I don’t let him breed nobody’s cattle for free. Not even Jim’s — even though he’s my neighbor and friend. Either that or you’re lying your way through an attempted rustling.”
She slapped his finger away. “Get back on your land. And don’t point at me or yell at me again. I didn’t cut the fence, but I’m damn sure going to repair it so your horny bull won’t be on Lazy Z ground again. And I am not a cattle rustler.”
She shoved her hand in the pocket of her tight blue jeans and hoped it didn’t burn a hole right through the denim. Just touching him brought back memories she’d buried and long since tried to forget. It all went to show just how damn fickle her body could be. One touch and she was a melting pot of passionate hormones again.
“You ain’t repairing a thing. I’ll fix the fence as soon as I get my bull back in my own pasture.” He turned abruptly and stomped back to his three wheeler, crawled into the seat like it was a saddle and started toward the fence. Where had he seen her before? When she touched his finger, desire shot through his body like he’d only known one time before. But that wasn’t possible. That had just been a drunk man’s dream that set him firmly on the sober wagon for all eternity.
She pulled a .22 rifle from the sheath fastened to the side of her saddle and before he had gone ten feet, she fired twice, dusting up the gravel in front of him. That got his attention.
He growled deep in his throat. “You stupid bitch. You could have killed me. Put that gun down right now.”
There was no way that spit fire of a woman had been in his dreams. Maybe in his worst nightmare, but damn sure not in any sweet dream like he remembered when he thought about a night in paradise with a lady named Amelia.
“If I’d wanted to kill you, you’d be dead. And if you want to be dead, you just tell me what part you want shot first and where you want to drop and I’ll make it as painless as possible. And don’t you ever call me a bitch again. You get a warnin’ the first time but the second time I just let my anger have its way.”
(Love this!)
So, who comes to you first, the hero or the heroine?

In Lucky in Love they came to me at the same time. Together and arguing about who had the most important point of view. While I wrote their story, Milli sat on my shoulder and Beau stood behind me with his arms crossed over his chest. Imagine writing all day with that sexy hunk behind you! They lived in my mind while I wrote their story and believe me sometimes they were very vocal about the way they wanted it told.
I love funny romances and I happen to know you write with an Erma Bombeck sense of humor. Do you include humor in this romance? Can you give us an example?
I include humor in every thing I write. Laughter is good for the soul. Example? I’m thinking about one that wouldn’t spoil the story for the reader. How about this one?
One minute Milli was pushing Katy in the swing and listening to her squeal. At least she could enjoy the exuberance of her daughter, the sweetness of her grandparent’s love, and the mid-morning summer breezes. By afternoon it would be so hot the horny toads and grasshoppers would be carrying parasols and canteens. (LOL)
You’ve written a number of wonderful books for more than one publisher. What is one piece of advice you would give to a new writer starting out?
One word. Write! You can’t sell anything while it’s in your mind. It’s got to be written so write, write, write. Everyday! And when you get the rejection slips and they will come (I have enough to paper the White House and I’m not talking about that little two holer down at the end of the lot, either. I’m talking about the big one that has a Pennsylvania Ave. address) you are only allowed fifteen minutes to wallow around and whine in disappointment. After that you sit down and write some more. (so true!)
What is your favorite writing craft trick/tip?

I don’t know that I have a favorite. But I do urge new writers to never give up. That’s a major failing in the business. One rejection slip and they toss the rest of their ideas in a box and put them on the attic. Dear hearts, editors and agents don’t make house calls and scrounge around in your attic. At least they never have at my house. If they do at your house tell them to call me thirty minutes before they are due to arrive and I’ll make a chocolate cake and put the coffee pot on.
So true and the cake sounds great. I've never been able to choose just one favorite food, but what are some of the foods you love?
Oh, my, I do love food so that is a difficult question. More than just eating I love to cook. I love fresh yeast bread and the way it makes the house smell when it’s cooking. Then there’s cheesecake, blackberry wine cake, fried chicken, hash brown casserole, fettuccine alfredo, and the list never stops. I’m hungry now … I’ll be back later!
HA! Thanks for sharing. I am so looking forward to buying this new series.
You are so very welcome and I hope all of my readers enjoy reading the new series as much as I enjoyed writing them. They were a complete hoot to write. Remember when you get to the end of Lucky in Love that the fat lady has not sung yet … One Lucky Cowboy will be on the stands Nov. 1 and Getting Lucky, Jan. 1, 2010! I’d love to hear from those of you who read the series! Did you like Milli, Jane and Julie? How about Beau, Slade and Griffin? Did the children in the books make you laugh?
You can reach Carolyn at or e-mail her at

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day

This weekend is Labor Day for people in the United States. describes it as "the celebration of the value and dignity of work, and its role in the American way of life." Which is how it's viewed today.
But in reality, Labor day came from the struggles of workers in the late 1800's/early 1900's to demand better working conditions and a livable wage. "With the long hours and terrible working conditions, American unions became more prominent and voiced their demands for a better way of life. On Tuesday September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. Participants took an unpaid day-off to honor the workers of America, as well as vocalize issues they had with employers."
It's a different work force today. I don't think we can truly imagine the rough conditions. I know they still exist in many countries where people have no rights to protest. They even exist here in secret sweat shops staffed by illegal immigrants. But for the vast majority of our workforce, they are unimaginable. Labor day becomes an end of summer celebration, a bank holiday, the beginning of school and football and harvest. Perhaps that is a good thing. Better still to remember the history of the Labor movement, the struggles of the industrial revolution and those brave souls who spoke up, put their lives on the line and made a difference for all workers.

As writers we understand long hours for very little pay, but we do it out of love for our craft, love of story. We do it in comparatively cushy environments without supervisors standing over our shoulders docking our pay. We can take a day off (baring looming deadlines). We can get up from our work and return later. We can breathe clean air, take a sick day, have a life. Find balance when we remember there is more to life than catching the next trend, creating the next bestseller, following a dream. So, on this holiday perhaps it's a good time to stop, put down your work, look around and celebrate the fact that you have the freedom to do so.