Saturday, April 30, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday #4: Be careful where you kiss

This Sunday's six is from my Regency paranormal romance WIP, A Woman of Proper Accomplishments:

"Never had Helena expected something like this to happen. The seconds stretched into an eternity of bliss. Any thoughts of guilt, propriety, and anything other than the pleasure of the kiss were washed away into oblivion.

That made it all the more unfortunate when a familiar giggle sounded from near the door--Cassie!

She wrenched away from Mr. Morgan and turned toward the noise, her whole body burning with a mixture of suppressed desire and embarrassment. Cassandra stood at the entrance of the room with her hands over her mouth doing little to conceal her wide grin."

For six sentence snippets from other writers please visit:

Review of A.M. Kuska's Ordinary

Overall at Good Book Alert, I review A.M. Kuska's Ordinary.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Character Development: 75/25

Historical fiction author J.R. Tomlin had an interesting post in which she noted that after doing research for a book, it is often best to only include twenty-five percent of what you actually learned. Excessive detail tends to kill pacing and is, for the most part, is often unnecessary. The average reader (or even not so average) really doesn't need to know the exact weight and dimensions of all the weapons used in a fight scene, for example. However, it's still important that the writer know that other seventy-five percent. The details that they are not explicitly spelling out still influence how they write the scene and contribute to verisimilitude.

I also think this split works well for character development. A good, well-developed character who sticks in a reader's mind can make the difference between a book being good and excellent. Although various writers have their own strategies for this sort of thing, I'm a person who likes to build up a decent background for the character with some major life events, general personality, a couple of quirks, et cetera. A lot of this detail never makes it directly into the page, but the mere fact I've developed it allows me to write more natural reactions and dialog. In addition, I think it makes for characters that come off more inherently interesting.

In my YA WIP, Osland, there is a decent number of supporting secondary characters. Many of them have details of their lives that I've worked out but are not directly mentioned in the book. For example, I have a character of Afrikaner descent who fought against Apartheid. It's never actually explicitly stated in the book. Indeed, even her ethnic background is only hinted at as the main character can't quite place her accent. By developing that background for the character though and the experiences that went with, it colored all of my scenes with the character throughout the book in a way that I think (well, I hope at least) made her more memorable.

In a similar way, one of my other main characters has a very strained relationship with her parents. Although it is going to become relevant in a sequel, it isn't really spelled out in this book, but is, instead, reflected by her interactions with other characters and certain personality traits/psychological issues.

Whenever I design characters, I just think about how we interact with people in real life. Though some people like to yack at you and tell you their life story (like me, for instance!) often we have to learn bits and pieces about people over time. Before we know a lot about them, we still form judgments on them, learn to be able to predict reactions, and other things of that nature. 

What sort of methods do you use for character development?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday #3: Germany is just like an alternate dimension

In this six, I return to my YA urban fantasy, Osland:

 “Remember how we said the rifts linked our world to other realities, dimensions, that sort of thing?” Miss West said. “When Julia isn’t here, she is in those places. Can you imagine going to places so utterly alien to our ways of thinking and perception? Can you even conceive of the strain it would place on you?”
 “I went on a trip to Germany once,” Lydia said. “I totally can relate.”

For six sentences from other authors please visit

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I've written many books, but only the last couple approach publication quality. I guess that whole "you need to write 500,000 words before you can write something worth reading" thing is true. I'm now aggressively querying one of my novels. There is a LOT of waiting involved in this kind of process.

You query and wait for an agent to respond (if they respond). When they respond, you send a partial and wait for a response for that. If they like the partial, you send a full and wait for a response for that. When you land an agent, you have to wait while they try and sell it to a publisher. Even excluding all the back and forth between editing and revisions, it can take a long time for a book to come to the market. 

There has to be a better way, right? A quicker way? A way that doesn't involve so much waiting! A way that can get me the money I need to quit my day job and write full-time? (The last may or may not be a thought depending on how much you like your day job).

I've heard many people say they are interested in self-publishing because they don't like the waiting that accompanies traditional publishing. In this age of Kindle, Nook, and what not, why wait to trudge through the entire traditional publishing process when you can just upload your book to Amazon, Smashwords, or wherever and be off to the races? Part of this mindset often seems to be that self-pubbing is some road to instant success as an author.

Now, for the record, I'm not anti-self-publishing. Many of my author friends are pursuing electronic self-publishing. I'm strongly considering it myself (I don't like the query-go-round anymore than anyone else and can see the advantages of having personal control of every part of the process). Judging from a lot of things I read around on blogs and what not (yes, I know, excellent scientific survey there) I think a lot of people who are considering e-publishing their own books don't seem to understand that waiting is just as much part of the process. 

We've all heard the stories about the potential success that comes with self-publishing and how it's different than the old days because of the vastly expanding reach of e-books. Amanda Hocking made a million off her self-pubbed books and now has a two million dollar traditional contract because of her self-publishing success. Romance author Victorine Lieske may not be a millionaire (yet), but she has made over thirty-five thousand dollars on her self-published debut novel. 

In both of these cases, however, these authors didn't come out of the gate selling thousands of books a day. They had to put in the effort, the marketing, and most importantly the time. When you self-pub, if you don't already have a huge established platform, in the beginning you are going to putting a lot of time and energy into marketing. You'll be visiting websites, sending out requests to review sites, doing interviews, et cetera. Despite putting in all this effort, you may not see a lot of sales initially. Depending on your personality, this might be painful and hard to handle. There will be no agent, no publisher to buffer potential disappointment. Of course, there also will be no agent or publisher to threaten to drop you for not being a quick success, either. 

While self e-pubbing allows rapid adjustment of things like covers and pricing to evaluate marketing, this can create even more disappointment. I've seen many people bemoan the fact that they've polished a book for years and are having to creep along at a sale or two a day.

"I don't get it. I've done everything, yet my book is still only selling a few copies a day."
"I don't get it. My book is much better than a book written by [insert name of self-pubbed or published author you dislike here]." 

If we assume the person has truly done everything (a lot of self-pubbed authors seem to eschew serious marketing efforts, pretty much condemning their books to obscurity), this can seem tragic. All that effort for nothing? 

Now, if a person is putting in the proper effort (and their book is competently written and edited), I do strongly believe they will find success, but it still will take time. The big advantage of e-book self-publishing, in particular, is that because of the lack of shelf-space requirements, e-books can sit around on their virtual shelves for as long it takes to find an audience.

That being said, if you do choose such a path, remember that e-publishing may be changing a lot of things, but it's still not producing instant millionaires. The people who have achieved success, such as Amanda Hocking and Victorine Lieske, had to, over a long period of time, put in a tremendous amount of sustained personal effort. Also, despite what anyone says, no one really knows how the e-book revolution will play out in the long term.  

I'd be more impressed by publishing experts if the publishing industry didn't seem so defined by surprise successes and clumsy retroactive attempts to recapitulate such successes. I definitely think we're at a fundamental shift in how people interface with the written word, but I just don't feel anyone really knows what that will really mean in five years to readers, authors, agents, and publishers. 

Whatever path you choose, keep writing, revising, and dreaming in the meantime.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday #2

This is a six from my another of my WIPs, A Woman of Proper Accomplishments, a Regency paranormal romance. Here we have a bit of a world-building exchange between the hero and the heroine's sister.

“Even if you dislike spiritus,” Mr. Morgan said, “would you prefer the French have something we do not? Napoleon is dangerous enough even without the assistance of soul breathers.”

Sophia’s mouth twitched but did not break into a full frown. She took a deep breath. “I suppose when you say that, I find myself forced to agree with you. Shall we now also rely on witchcraft to battle the French?”

For six sentences from other authors please visit

Good Book Alerts: New Independent Self and Small Press eBook Review Site

After realizing that current internet review capacity isn't matching demand due to the torrent of independent self and small-press published e-books, author Cindy Borgne organized a small group of like-minded associates to start a new e-book review site.

I give you: Good Book Alert.

Just to get the full disclosure out there (though it's a bit obvious from the front page), I am also a reviewer at the site.

Given the number of submissions we've received in the last week, it's obvious there really is a high demand for e-book reviews.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yes, sometimes you're a hack (but that's a good thing)

You spent a week crafting a perfect chapter. You polish it, revise it, and even dream about it. You go to your critique group and submit it. You aren't an arrogant fool, you don't think they are going to drop to their knees and insist that your writing is worthy of a Pulitzer, Booker, or Noble Prize or anything, but you'd thought they wouldn't have much to say.

Maybe you thought you had evocative descriptions. No! They found them overwrought and annoying.
Clever dialog? No! Clichéd nonsense!
Taut pacing! No! A snooze-fest.

You're crushed. It was great! It was practically ready for direct submission to the senior editor of OmniWorld Publishing!

Are you nothing but a talentless hack? Why do you even bother? Must you continue in your incessant attempt to inflict your literary poison upon the world? Why you dare waste precious minutes of a reader's time with the tripe you keep insisting is an actual story?

Now, I think all writers have felt like this at one time or another. People are notoriously unreliable at self-evaluation. Chances are many of those same people in your critique group feel the same, even if they don't always admit it. You're probably better than you think, but that being said, I would argue, that as long as you keep it under control, feeling inadequate in your writing skill can be a very good thing. The realization that you're not a master of the craft can help continue pushing to do everything you can to improve.

What are the people you don't think are hacks doing that you're not? You can study their technique and the technique of other writers you admire. What are they doing? How are they doing it? This is another benefit of critique groups. The mere act of actively analyze someone's writings forces you to think about what does and does not work in a story. That sort of analysis can only serve to strengthen your own writing.

So, don't let those insecurities get you down. Just use them as fuel for your writing journey.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday

For my first Six Sentence Sunday (even if it's a bit early), I've grabbed an exchange from one of my WIPs, Osland, a YA urban fantasy:

"She told me it’s because they’re all so beautiful and angelic, they’re like angels flying over the rest of us mere mortals. Teachers believe the Winged. Diana tries to call everybody else the Kin, but it has never caught on.”
 Angels flying over us mere mortals? After hearing that, I regretted not punching her in the face. I think even Grandma would’ve understood. 

For more more excerpts from other Six Sentence Sunday participants visit

Weird Ways of Characters Getting Noticed

Forbes Magazines Annual List of Richest Fictional Characters

An investigation into Smaug the dragon's wealth

Sure, one can quibble with the methodology if one is bored, but the concept itself is amusing. Though I tend to prefer Businessweek in a lot of ways  (I read both regularly), I do have to admit Forbes does a lot more playful stuff like this list than BW.

It's also an interesting way of showing how memorable aspects of characters can linger in the culture even after their particular days of prominence are long past. Scrooge, for example. I have two kids and they watch the Disney Channel regularly, and as far as eccentric immigrant ducks go, Professor Von Drake shows up a lot more than Scrooge these days.

I guess after being on Real Houseducks of Duckburg, Scrooge just wanted to avoid anymore television exposure.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Are You Your Characters? Yes and no.

All authors will imbue their characters with some of themselves. If anything, it's just an easy way to add verisimilitude to characterization. Of course, a character shouldn't be a cheap author avatar (unless the story is basically your memoir or a roman à clef). In most cases, unless the story context is very similar to the author's life, it will come off unnatural. J.A. Beard would make a convincing protagonist in a story about a programmer-turned-scientist. Not so much in a story about a gentleman's daughter in Regency England.

When I construct my characters, I try to build them up from their own experiences and lives. I create extensive biographies with many events that won't show up in the actual story. My theory is that by creating these backgrounds and considering the realistic reactions to the events, the end product will be a character that will seem very real even if it takes a bit of work. As a very character-driven writer, I probably put more effort into my character building than almost any other aspect of my writing.

I often try to create a fully realized person that may be completely different from me. In most cases, the more different a character is from me, the more satisfaction I gain from creating them. There is also the useful side-effect of ensuring that all my characters are distinct from each other. If they all aren't me (and not just the opposite of me), they'll be more likely to seem more fully realized to the reader.

At least, that's the idea.

How do you construct your characters? Are they you or somebody else entirely?

Is it really a zero-sum game?

A great and balanced post by Robin Sullivan on the unnecessary rhetorical battle between the people supportng the new breed of indie e-publishers and those supporting traditional publishing:

Can't We All Just Get Along?

The summary version: There is no one 'correct' path.

I encourage you to check it out. Ms. Sullivan has experience with indie self-publishing, small traditional presses, and large 'big 6' traditional publishers, so she brings a nuanced perspective to the whole thing. I think it's a welcome, thoughtful post about a very divisive topic.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A good novel is not written by committee . . . but a few friends help

What's the purpose of a novel?

I'm sure there are many fine English graduate students who could pen entire books to answer that question in a thorough and intriguing manner. I, however, will suggest my simple answer: to pass along a story to a reader in an engaging manner.

What's an engaging manner? Yet another question that is fine thesis fodder.

For me, being engaged by the text often doesn't involve the story (though it helps) as much as the voice of the work. How can I blow off the story and characters? Aren't they important? Sure, they are, but let's face it, after thousands upon thousands of years of storytelling, truly unique stories and characters are a pretty rare breed. There are only so many plots that a human mind can generate, and I'd suggest they probably have pretty much been done in one form or another.

When I read a book, yeah, I appreciate a good story with an interesting twist on the subject and interesting, three-dimensional characters, but what really draws me is the voice of the writing.

So, what's my grand point in mentioning all of this? Well, it has to do with how people write. Though there are some people who are perhaps literary geniuses and can sit alone in a cabin and produce a work that requires no editing, the rest of us mere mortals need feedback. After all, how can one adequately judge if they are communicating a story in an engaging manner if they never actually test the ability of their novel to do so?

There are different ways of getting feedback, of course. Editors will obviously provide it, but critique groups and beta readers are often good choices before a piece even gets near the editor (and may be necessary for a writer to even have that opportunity). The latter two also generally involve more people, so isn't that the better option? Well, yes and no.

Reading, after all, is a highly subjective affair. Have ten people sit down and read a piece, and you'll end up with a lot of conflicting opinions. Now, obviously, ten people all agree on the same point (whether positive or negative) there's probably something to that. The troubling part is when they don't disagree.

When people aren't saying the same thing, if you address all their concerns, you run the risk of producing homogenized writing. Even if the interesting story and interesting characters are preserved (which is questionable), the story will likely be stripped of the unique voice that had previously defined it.

All your darlings can be killed. Your favorite sub-plots might be worthless and can be hacked out, but whatever you do, keep your voice!

Yes, seek out and appreciate feedback but always remember it's impossible to please everyone. I would direct anyone dubious of that idea to think of their favorite book (or a book that has won numerous awards) and then go to Amazon and read through all the one and two stars reviews.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Why did you write Book X?

All stories begin with an an initial idea. Whether the idea is a plot, a character, a theme, or something else entirely, a story can't be written without it. The idea may grow, mutate, and eventually become something else entirely, but that initial seed colors the entire manuscript. As someone who writes stories in many different genres, I've found that the sources of my initial ideas vary wildly.

Some of my stories are inspired by just a love of a particular type of book, a particular interest, an interesting concept. Whether or not these things can push forward to an interesting manuscript varies on a number of factors, but they are a good, solid framework to begin writing a story on. 

One of my current WIPs, Osland,  a YA modern urban fantasy re-telling of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, came from a much different place. A Broadway touring production of Wicked (great show, by the way) rolled into town earlier this year. I'd been waiting for a couple of years to see Wicked, so I snatched up a ticket and went to see the show.

Wicked the musical, of course, is an interesting case of setting and character reinterpretation. The musical is different in several key ways from Gregory Maguire's book but still obviously based on it. Mr. Maguire's book, in turn, is an even more extreme reinterpretation of Mr. Baum's original work.

What I find most fascinating is that the three different stories are so closely related to each other, yet different enough that consumption of any of the individual stories (even absent the medium differences) gives a totally different experience. Now, some people may enjoy one of those individual experiences better than the others. There were more than a few conversations in the audience about the relative merits of the plot differences between the book and the musical. 

After I left that theater, Oz haunted my brain for days. For the first time since I had started writing, I felt like a story was "calling to me" rather than waiting for me to carefully consider and construct it.  Whether or not my reinterpretation offers anything entertaining to readers remains to be seen, but I've really enjoyed writing the story nonetheless.

Obviously, I should go to the theater more often.