Friday, December 23, 2011

The Paris Wife

Like many of you, I'm off visiting relatives. Recently, my mom recommended The Paris Wife by Paula McLain so, of course, I read it. I enjoyed this quite a bit. It's the story of Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley Richardson. McLain does a really nice job getting inside the head of her protagonist; it's almost a stream-of-consciousness narrative. As a writer, however, the really fascinating thing here is seeing how all kinds of famous writers like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and many others operated. Hemingway basically threw caution to the wind and wrote full-time, and he did so for years before achieving recognition. How many of us are lucky enough to be supported by our spouses while we spend week after week, month after month, year after year, writing full-time with little to no success? That Hadley is a hero if you ask me; without her we probably wouldn't have some (any?) Hemingway classics.

Hemingway's story is a good motivator, despite it's sad ending. People that follow their dreams do sometimes achieve them! If he can write night and day despite barely having enough money for rent and food, surely I can write while I'm on holiday...

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

another new blogger!

Here at Seton Hill Writers, we're pleased to announce another new blogger joining our ranks!

I think Fran Van Cleave has agreed to step onboard. Fran has been publishing science fiction since the 1990s and is a member of SFWA. I'm not sure what all she'd like to tell you about herself, but I will say: Fran was awarded a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction in June of 2011. Maybe she'll tell us more...

Welcome, Fran!

Monday, December 19, 2011

character's voice

Voice is probably the most crucial thing for a writer to develop, and at the same time achieving it can seem very vague and amorphous. I blogged about this before V is for Voice, but I called it the writer's voice. I gave some intresting examples. I'd say Janet Evanovich has the strongest writer's voice of the authors I read. You can tell immediately when you read one of her stories. ;)


Over at Sisters of the Quill, they wrote recently about The Power of an Outrageous Voice and they made a very good point. The voice belongs to the character. Every character should have their own voice. An author who does this well is Charlaine Harris; all her series have totally different voices. You wouldn't mix up Sookie Stackhouse with Aurora Teagarden or with Lily Bard!

I'm off to work on my character's voice...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Tip from My Grandfather's Writer Friend

I thought I’d start off blogging for Seton Hill Writers with a bit of wisdom that’s helped me. My father has a lot of sayings. Some of them have proven helpful. Some not so helpful. But this particular one was passed down from my grandfather, and it sticks in my head every time I sit down at the keyboard. To me this means that it’s good enough to share with my fellow writers. So here goes.
             My grandfather was in the film business in Los Angeles during the silent movie era. (This goes along with my advice; I promise. Hang with me for a second.) He had three movie studios, was in a few of the Three Stooges flicks, and produced a slew of others. He did pretty well for himself until the talkies hit…and then the show was over for him. But in the process, he made some pretty interesting friends. One of them was John Steinbeck--author of such works as Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
             When I started seriously thinking about writing, my father reminded me of this particular quote. He spouted it often during my childhood when I was writing papers and struggling with where to start.
              “Aileen,” he’d say. “You have to do what Steinbeck said. ‘Write for the waste paper basket!’"
             As a kid, this would frustrate me. I’d want to scream at him, “How is that going to help me get my history paper done?” It wasn’t until much later that I realized the value in the saying and fully appreciated the person who said it.
             Writing is hard. If you’re anything like me, a blank page ties your stomach in knots. The blinking cursor on a white screen is the bane of my existence, mocking me with each passing moment.
              What if it’s terrible? What if I suck? Why am I even trying?
              The John Steinbeck gave my grandfather permission to suck. He even admitted that he sucked at first too. He threw pages fresh off his typewriter into the garbage. So, it’s okay if little ole me sucks today. If I end up throwing everything from the day away, I’m doing no worse than one of the great authors.
             To my fellow writers I say, do as John Stienbeck did: Write for the waste paper basket!
            Because writing is a journey, and it often starts out a little rocky. But you have to keep writing. Eventually, those pages won’t be for the waste paper basket. They’ll be for saving, building upon, and sharing with the world.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Card on fiction

In preparation for Orson Scott Card's 2008 novel Ender in Exile, I reread Ender's Game (1985). Ender's Game is a very good novel, which I'll discuss at a later date. Here, I want to focus on comments Card made in the Introduction:
  • In science fiction ... the whole point is that the ideas are fresh and startling and intriguing; you imitate the great ones, not by rewriting their stories, but rather by creating stories that are just as startling and new.
  • I knew it was a strong story because I cared about it and believed in it.
  • [I]n writing Ender's Game I deliberately avoided all the little literary games and gimmicks that make "fine" writing so impenetrable to the general audience. ...My goal was that the reader wouldn't have to be trained in literature or even in science fiction to receive the tale in its simplest, purest form. ...If everybody came to agree that stories should be told this clearly, the professors of literature would be out of a job, and the writers of obscure, encoded fiction would be, not honored, but pitied for their impenetrability.
  • Ender's Game disturbs some people because it challenges their assumptions about reality.
  • Why we read fiction, anyway? ...I think that most of you, anyway, read these stories that we know are not "true" because we're hungry for another kind of truth: They mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself.
  • [R]eaders have placed themselves inside this story, not as spectators, but as participants... This is the essence of the transaction between storyteller and audience. The "true" story is not the one that exists in my mind.... The story in my mind is nothing but a hope; the text of the story is the tool I created in order to make that hope a reality. The story itself, the true story, is the one that the audience members create in their minds, guided and shaped by my text, but then transfomred, elucidated, expanded, edited, and clarified by their own experience, their own desires, their own hopes and fears.
  • The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that we made together.

Wow. A lot of food for thought here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

new blogger!

Here at Seton Hill Writers, we're pleased to announce a new blogger joining our ranks!

Aileen Latcham was born and raised in Houston, Texas. After receiving her
Bachelor of Science in Radio–Television–Film from the University of Texas
at Austin, Aileen moved to Los Angeles and worked in editorial houses that
specialized in commercials. After a few years, she found her love of
writing and continued her education at Seton Hill University in Greensburg,
PA. Aileen will be awarded a Master of Fine Arts of Writing Popular
Fiction in January of 2012.

Welcome, Aileen!

Monday, December 12, 2011

cut yourself some slack

Ugh. Clearly Monday has gotten away from me.
In preparation for my holiday, I updated all my current projects taking into account comments from my critique partners. That took a while. My plan was then to print everything out in hard copy so I can get a fresh perspective on said projects and bring them with me on vacation. That took a very long while what with all the formatting issues, proofreading, etc. I'm still not quite done.

Factor in there, I got yet another story rejection this afternoon, and my writing day doesn't feel so productive.
I'm sure you all can relate. :(

But, as part of my New Month's Resolutions, I'm not supposed to feel guilty about such things. So, I'm going to cut myself some slack. I hope you do the same when you find yourself in similar circumstances.
Tomorrow is another day...

Friday, December 9, 2011

a book on every bed

Advice columnist Ask Amy is advocating "A Book on Every Bed" campaign again this year. This is a grassroots literacy campaign which she started with the Family Reading Partnership (, to foster a new generation of readers. The idea is put put a million books at the foot of a million beds for a million children on Christmas morning. You can read more about it in various papers including The Washington Post.

What an awesome idea!

Count me in! How about you? :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

pricing e-books

Many of you have been debating the pros and cons of e-publishing your books yourself. Author Elle Lothlorien has a fascinating guest post over at Joe Konrath's blog: "Why Your Novel is a Tall, 6-Pump Vanilla, Breve Latte Grande, Extra Hot, Heavy Whipping Cream, Extra Dry Cappuccino (Or It Should Be)". Her research showed when she priced her novel The Frog Prince at $5.99 she sold more copies than when she priced it at $2.99! Wowsa. Apparently customers expected a better book at that price and so perceived it was a better book, or something like that. :)

Joe Konrath chimes in at the end and says he's researched pricing and $3.99 to $4.99 seem to be generally reasonable prices. He recommends trying pricing your ebooks higher and seeing what happens. :)

I'm tempted to do the experiment myself. How about you?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Congratulations grads!

Today is a very special day for some of my fellow students: our last MFA assignment ever is due! So, after today, that will be it; we're done. We'll have fulfilled our obligations for our degree. (Okay, except for a little thing called a defense.) W00t! Huzzah!!

So, here's to Carla, MaryAnn, Jenny, Haleigh, Aileen, Anne, Kathleen, Aleasa and Serena. Congratulations!

Friday, December 2, 2011

rethinking book tours

The Wall Street Journal had a really interesting article this week: "Rethinking the Familiar Book Tour". Is the traditional book tour in which an author reads his/her work becoming a relic of the past? Certainly folks' attention span is much shorter than it used to be. As a reader, I'm not sure I'd miss these traditional readings. They can be a bit dull, even when I really enjoy the work. As a writer, I'm not sure I'd miss these traditional readings. They can be a bit dull, even when I really enjoy the work. :) Besides, I can joke around and give a powerpoint presentation with the best of them!

What do you think? Should book tours/readings change? To what?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Month's Resolutions

Doh! This week we missed our Monday blog post for the first time ever. Oops. Lots was going on: traveling, a big holiday, finishing up assignments for school (W00t!), job stuff--basically a lot of distractions. Suffice to say, some of us didn't get our new pages done last week. So, we could moan and groan and feel guilty that distractions got in our way. But, after many years of writing seriously I realize guilt is not productive.

Instead, let's move on! Today is a new day! The rest of this week is available for writing new pages and tackling new challenges, as is the rest of this year. In fact, forget New Year's Resolutions, I'm making some New Month's Resolutions.
This December I will:

  • write a few new pages every day
  • make a plan consisting of:
  • one small achievable goal every day (like write the first draft of half a new story)
  • put said goal on my calendar and check it off when done
  • not feel guilty if I don't reach my goal(s)

Obviously, your New Month's Resolutions will differ. :)

Good luck with them!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Give a book!

As we head into the holiday season, I can't help thinking that the ideal gift is a book! So, buy books for your friends and neighbors and family. And consider buying locally at that last surviving bricks-and-mortar store in your town.

I've been trying to come up with a cool name, like All Hallow's Read...

How about Winter Soul-stice? Because books lift your spirits and make your soul soar? Okay, it needs work. :) But, the idea is sound! I'm off to the bookstore...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This is admittedly too on-the-nose, but I feel like this time of year it's nice to pause and remember what we're thankful for. So, trying to keep a writerly orientation, I'm thankful for words and sentences and paragraphs and all the rest of our literal tools. And I'm very thankful for computers with word processors! Yes, I do remember typewriter days. I'm even a little thankful for blogs--they let us connect with other readers and writers.

But, I'm most thankful for awesome authors and their wonderful books. So many marvelous books have changed my life, transported me to other worlds or other consciousnesses. Ooh. And I'm also very thankful for libraries. Libraries rock!

How about you? What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 21, 2011


I know many writer folks are deep in the throes of NaNaWriMo, but I know of another project that's frankly easier, NaNoWriWee. Yes, you guessed it. Instead of National Novel Writing Month, it's National Novel Writing Week, and it occurs this week. Basically, it's the same idea in that you write furiously, trying to get the max number of words down that you can. I've done this in previous years and it is really liberating. It kills off the internal editor that can stymie writing progress.

For those of you who want to try NaNoWriWee, or those doing NaNoWriMo, or those just trying to meet their usual word goals, author James Preston has some good writing advice over at Writers in the Storm Blog: One Appproach to Genre Fiction, or "This Way to 'The End'". Check it out.

Good luck with your writing!

Friday, November 18, 2011

author opens bookstore

We've all be bemoaning the demise of bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Well, one author has done something about it: Ann Patchett has opened a bookstore in Nashville. Read all about it in The New York Times: "Novelist fights the Tide by Opening a Bookstore". Good luck, Ms. Patchett! This holiday season I'm going to have to buy some gifts at my local bookstore. How about you?

In the meantime, how's the writing going? I did get some pages done this week. I better go do some more. Good luck with your writing!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Back in June I talked about crowdfunding, of which, is considered a leader. Apparently some authors are having a lot of success with it. For example, author C.E. Murphy just concluded a very successful campaign. I recommend you go read about this if you are all interested. If you've tried it, I'd love to hear about it.

In other news, how's NaNoWriMo going? I'm not participating, but I've been trying to keep up my usual words-per-day and words-per-week goals, and honestly...I've been failing miserably. :( One reason is one of my critique group meetings got cancelled, so I don't have anything due. Okay, I know that's a lame excuse. I also had a lot of other writing-related obligations--also lame. So, that's it, no more excuses! I'm going to catch up on words this week! Yes, sirree! That is going to happen! Totally!

Did I convince you? :)

Monday, November 14, 2011

midlist publishers?

As many of you know, Publishers Weekly had a big article earlier this month: Whither the Midlist Publisher? that caused quite a stir. Did you read it? Basically it says there are the big 6 publishers in New York and a bunch of small publishers, but nothing in the middle for midlist authors. Check it out if you haven't read it yet.

No one ever said being a writer was easy...

Those e-book options are looking better and better.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

falling back

Our recent time change, falling back, is coinciding with a time of transitions for me. I finished a novel. I finished a degree. My day job is in a transition period. Everything is changing! It's rather disconcerting. One of our last tasks at school is to create one year and five year plans. This is surprisingly difficult.

What will I be doing in one year? What will I have accomplished? Hhm... How about in five years? That's even harder to imagine...

How about you? How do you deal with transitions? Do you have a one year plan? A five year plan? If so, how did you come up with them?

Monday, November 7, 2011

what's in store?

One of my teachers asked us what was in store for popular fiction.
I had to ponder that one for a while. Finally, I concluded popular fiction is in for more melding and fusing together of so-called genres. I've heard about many new and recent books that do this.

Thus, the genre conventions that have always been somewhat fluid are flowing more than ever and will continue to do so in the future. Yes, the typical settings, roles and events of a particular genre will occur but they will be coupled with those of other genres.

I think the demise of bricks and mortar bookstores will contribute to this, because genre distinctions were primarily a marketing tool enabling booksellers to identify shelves for p-books. As electronic bookstores rise in popularity, authors can post their e-books in every 'genre' that applies--thus leading to more potential sales.

All these opportunities and combinations will meld into an entertaining and powerful literary amalgam, taking our imaginations to new heights.
Readers are in for a treat!

What do you think is in store?

Friday, November 4, 2011

word count maximas

Okay, here's a new one. This week I've been struggling with a maximum word count. My piece is too long! And not by a little; it's three times too long! Doh! So, I had to take the delete key firmly in hand and go to work. I basically had to decide what points I absolutely needed to make and cut the rest. Phew. It was painful but ended up being a valuable exercise.

How about you? Have you ever had this problem? If not, how do you avoid it? If so, what did you do?

In other writing news, I haven't gotten my required new pages of fiction done this week. And, yes, I know it's ironic considering it's NaNoWriMo month. :(

I'm going to try to go get it done... BICHOK!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

writing by hand

Some writer friends and I were discussing e-books and e-book readers recently and it turned out a couple of them didn't have a e-book reader. Shock! Amazement!
So, you can imagine when one author said, 'Yeah, and I write my books by hand.' More shock! More amazement! :) He had several reasons why including, writing by hand worked at about the same speed as his imagination, and paper notebooks are more portable. He made some good points!

I only hit the paper when I have writer's block and/or just can't stare at the computer any more. Apparently, I also hit the paper when the power is out for many hours--as I discovered last week. But, honestly, a change of pace/scene does help when the writing is coming very slowly.

How about you? Do you ever write by hand?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Southern Witch series

In the spirit of Halloween and All Hallow's Read I have to tell you about a new-to-me author!
Kimberly Frost is the author of the Southern Witch series. I first heard of her earlier in the year when I went to a book signing. Suffice to say, I really like series; it's super fun and cute and very well-written. I highly recommend it.

In book 1 Would Be Witch The family magic seems to have skipped Tammy Jo Trask. All she gets in the way of the supernatural are a few untimely visits from the long dead, smart-mouthed family ghost, Edie. But when her locket, an heirloom that happens to hold Edie’s soul, is stolen in the midst of a town-wide crime spree, it’s time for Tammy to find her inner witch.

After a few experiences in dysfunctional magic, Tammy turns to the only one who can help; the very rich and highly magical, Bryn Lyons. He might have all the answers—and a 007-savoir faire to boot—but the locket isn’t the only legacy passed down in Tammy’s family. She also inherited a warning…to stay away from anyone named Lyons.
In book 2 Barely Bewitched Tammy Jo’s misfiring magic has attracted the unwanted attention of WAM, the World Association of Magic. Now, a wand-wielding wizard and a menacing fire warlock have come to Duvall to train her for a dangerous mandatory challenge. When a curse leads to a toxic spill of pixie dust, the town comes unglued and the doors between the human and faery worlds begin to open. To rescue the town and to face the impossible magical test, Tammy needs the help of incredibly handsome Bryn Lyons, but WAM has declared him totally off-limits. To avoid deadly consequences, Tammy probably ought to follow the rules this time…
In book 3 Halfway Hexed Tammy Jo Trask is finally ready to embrace her mixed-up and often malfunctioning magic. But... First, there are the local residents who form a scripture-spouting posse and kidnap Tammy to “defend” Duvall against witchcraft. Next, someone saddles her with a secret package chock full of dangerous visions, just as the president of WAM—the World Association of Magic—arrives with his entourage to investigate her. And who worse to examine Tammy’s entanglement with off-limits and drop-dead gorgeous wizard Bryn Lyons than his ex-girlfriend? Not to mention that the clash between the locals and the magical visitors leads to a series of unnatural disasters that may doom them all.

Check them out!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

All Hallow's Read

I'm sure all you wise writers out there know about All Hallow's Read, but just in case... Last October, author Neil Gaiman said on his blog:

You know, there aren't enough traditions that involve giving books.

I propose that, on Hallowe'en or during the week of Hallowe'en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they'll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they'll enjoy.

What an awesome idea!

Lots of folks did this last Halloween and even more are doing it this year. Let's give everyone a scary book! :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

be offensive

Some writer friends and I have been having a debate about cussing. One says it's bad, evil, a character shouldn't do it. One says some characters would cuss--so that's how they should be written. Clearly, the second writer's work has the potential to offend the first writer. This brings up the bigger issue: should we be careful NOT to offend readers? Should we write fiction that's acceptable to everyone?

I'm afraid I have to say: No. If we write bland, inoffensive, safe fiction, we run the risk of writing essentially ...nothing.
To write fiction people want to read, don't censor your muse; write what you need to write.

As NaNoWriMo fast approaches, I'm reminded censorship can play out on several levels. Some writers edit themselves to death; they can't make progress on a MS because they get bogged down trying to make it perfect. If you are one of these writers NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month is for you! Give yourself permission to write shitty first drafts.

Give yourself permission to be offensive.

Monday, October 24, 2011

story and setting

I saw a presentation this past weekend called "Rural/Urban/Suburban Fantasy" which discussed the location of modern fantasies. Questions included: "How do locale and setting shape fantasy?" and "Can you move a fantasy from locale to another?"

Leaving aside the whole point that the term Urban Fantasy was coined to differentiate a fantasy from Epic or High Fantasy...these questions were off-base.

This wasn't the first time I've seen setting emphasized. In some writing books on description (which shall remain nameless), I've read description should drive the story.

No. Both setting and description should serve the story, not drive the story.
This means the story comes first and then you ask what setting and descriptions does this story need?

How about you? How do you come up with your settings?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Distractions have been kicking my writing butt in the last week. They've been related to writing: homework, editing, querying, contests, getting ready for a conference, etc. But I haven't written anything new in days. :(
I'm going to remedy that ASAP with some BICHOK. So, short post today.

How do you avoid distractions and keep writing?

Monday, October 17, 2011

changing times

Times, they are 'a changing. :) It seems like almost every day there's some big new announcement or change in the publishing world. For example, there are a plethora of self-publishing avenues for both electronic and print books. Some writers swear by their agents, some eschew agents. I could go on and on. I'm sure you have your own list (feel free to comment!) of changes.

One interesting article I spied lately was from The New York Times: Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal. Wow. More changes.

What's a poor writer to do? Well, the number one thing is: Keep writing. Finish that work in progress. Because by the time you finish it...more changes will have occurred.

Where do you think we're headed?

Good luck!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Shaw Guides

Presently, I'm gearing up for an upcoming conference where I'll be on some panels. This is always an interesting experience and I highly recommend it. "But I don't know much about conferences," you say. Never fear! The Shaw Guides' Writers Conferences & Workshops are here! This is exactly what you'd think: a guide of writers' conferencs and workshops around the world. Among other things, they have listings by geographic regions. The conferences and workshops here are quite varied, so choose carefully.

Of course, one of my favorite conferences is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Colorado Gold but of course that's in September. --Keep it in mind for September 2012!

How about you? Any fun conferences coming up? Any you can recommend?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

chapter premise?

Elsewhere I talked about how every short story needs a premise, a one sentence summary of its essence. I just finished up some critiques and it strikes me that every chapter should also have a premise. This doesn't have to necessarily be a single sentence, but you should be able to state clearly the point(s) of the chapter. Ideally, it would address the inner and outer plot arcs of the character(s).

If you can't state the chapter premise you need to seriously consider if you need this chapter.

Actually, writing the synopsis can identify these flabby chapters. If you have little to write in the synopsis about the chapter in question, maybe it's time to cut.

How about you? Do you have any tips for avoiding flabby chapters? How do you make sure your chapters stay on track?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Amaz** Book Reviews

A certain gigantic on-line book seller is responsible for a new phenomenon, namely, reader-written book reviews. Many authors I know hate these Amaz** reviews; they focus on the bad ones, hardly even noticing scores of good reviews. (What is it about human nature that makes us do this? I guess that's a topic for another post.) Some authors hate them so much, they don't even read these on-line reviews any more.

As a reader, I have to say, I don't get much out of them. For every good review there seems to be a bad review that says opposite things. What a poor potential reader to do? :(

How about you? Do you read these reviews? Are they helpful?

Have you ever written any of these reviews? Why or why not?

Friday, October 7, 2011

popular fiction vs. literary fiction

I've come across a curious phenomenon. Some writers vociferously defend popular fiction while some others rigorously advocate for literary fiction. Popular fiction is deemed commercial and accessible for the masses. Literary fiction is art. Popular fiction is a fun, easy read while literary fiction requires deep concentration. Popular fiction is entertainment. Literary fiction illustrates all the complexities of the human condition.

Many authors are quick to self-identify their work as one or the other. Do you?

Any phenomenon that pits one author against another is not good. I don't think one type of fiction is better or worse than the other; this is not moral relativisim. Both popular and literary fiction are valuable aspects of our culture.

Can't we all just get along? :)

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

an unforgettable story

I read a story a long ago that made a huge impression. Sadly, I couldn't recall the author or the title (because I'm bad at stuff like that), but I recall thinking the story was great. I did recall it was about multi-dimensional beings that make contact with humans. :)

I accidentally reread the story last night. Huzzah! I've been reading a very long (990 pages!) short story anthology and there it was: "Tangents" by Greg Bear. It was even better than I remembered. Not only does it have the super-interesting multidimensional world and people, the characters are excellent. They're all underdogs: there's a brilliant WWII war hero persecuted for being gay, there's an unwanted Korean-American boy genius, and there's a female aspiring writer who takes care of them.

My point is, an unforgettable story has a great big-idea plot as well as empathetic well-drawn characters with internal arcs.
As writers we should aspire to that in all our work.

Are there any unforgettable stories stuck in your mind?

Good luck writing your own unforgettable stories!

Monday, October 3, 2011

agent info

Someone asked me recently if I had any info on how to find an agent. So, here you go:

Research agents and editors. You need to know who you're querying.

It's best to have a personal connection to the agent or editor, e.g. an author friend recommends you or you meet the agent or editor at a conference or book-signing.

If you don't have a personal connection, don't worry! There are many online resources, including:

Free searchable Agent database.:

Free searchable agent/editor database:

Free List of Association of Author's Representatives:

Free Absolute Write discussion forum:

not-free Publishers Marketplace where you can track deals, sales, agents, editors:

Always double-check agent's or editor's webpage to make sure what they want in a query now.

And the baddies are announced here:
Preditors and Editors

Some successful query letters with agent responses can be found here:
Chuck Sambuchnio's Guide to Literary Agents Blog at Writer's Digest.

Good luck!

Friday, September 30, 2011

truth stranger than fiction

Writing is hard. One of the tricky things about fiction is to write things that seem true but aren't. So, when truth seems fictional then we're really in trouble! This brings me to Improbable Research; they collect (and sometimes conduct) improbable research. Last night they announced the winners of their 2011 Ig Nobel Prize. Here are some of the real (!) topics that won:

  • an airborn wasabi alarm (to awaken sleeping people in case of an emergency)
  • how a strong urge to urinate affects decision making
  • the Theory of Structured Procrastination: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.
  • the discovery that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle
  • predictions of the end of the world teach us to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations
  • the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank

So, writers, beware: don't write about any of this stuff. :)
No one would think they seem true!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

character names

I went back to work on an older writing project recently. And, then, I went back to work on an even older project. (I like working on two projects at the same time. When I get stuck on one, I can change gears and work on the other.) Imagine my surprise when I realized both these older projects have a character with the same name. I also was surprised that one of them has the same name as one of the characters in the project I just turned in. Good grief! I'm totally in a character name rut!

A tool I like to use to pick names is the U.S. Social Security Administration's website: Popular Baby Names. I think using popular names helps readers identify with characters. The site is great, moreover, because you can input the year of birth and get the top names for that year. For example, in 1910, the top names were John and Mary. In 1960, the top names were David and Mary. And in 2010, the top names were Jacob and Isabella. Hhm... I'm starting to see why I have some character names repeated. :)

How do you pick your character names? How do you avoid repeating names?

Monday, September 26, 2011

The End

Are these the best two words in the English language or what? Today is the day the students in my MFA class have to turn in their thesis novels. Frankly, this is somewhat of a relief for me. This is the end of rewriting, the end of revising, the end of tinkering, the end of 'word-smithing', the end of... Well, you get the idea.

Deadlines are sometimes a relief.

Congratulations, fellow students, for all your hard work! Congrats on finishing your novels!

How about you? What do you think of deadlines?

Friday, September 23, 2011

all hail the muse

Recently, I went back to a project that's been on the back burner. This is not a project that had been going well. I think I've been working on it part time for two years. Ugh. :( The plot wasn't working and I had to backtrack twice and throw chapters out. I had hit on the idea of introducing a new pov character that seemed promising...

So, anyway, this week I forced myself to sit down and work on it (even though I didn't want to). Imagine my surprise when this time it's coming together beautifully! I'm thinking of all kinds of neat plot twists and fun supporting characters.

What can I say but: All Hail the Muse!

What can I take away from this? I'll tell you what worked for me.

  1. I discovered there's really only one physical location where I seem to be able to write a lot. This is somewhat illogical on my part, but there it is. I need to quit fighting it, and accept it. So, I need to use my limited time in this space very carefully. I need to turn off all distractions and just write. So, one reason it works is minimal distractions. Another reason it works: the physical setup of the computer keyboard and screen are very comfortable.
  2. I need to write regularly here--like every day--even when I don't want to.
  3. I need to think about the story/brainstorm when I'm not using precious writing time. For me, when I'm commuting to and from my day job seems to be a good time. (And I need to jot down ideas so I don't forget them!)

Hopefully, the muse will stick around for a while.

How about you? Do you have any tips for enticing the muse?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

fear and growth

A couple writer friends of mine have been instructed to utilize a certain new technology. They don't want to. As their complaints have grown more strident and unpleasant, I suspect their reluctance stems from fear. Personally, I was very uncomfortable when I had to try this particular tech. I often get that same uncomfortable feeling when I have to stare down a blank page or screen. Comfort is a key word here. At conference someone said something that resonated with me: you need to move out of your comfort zone to improve as a writer.
This adage really applies everywhere. It's only by being in our "uncomfortable zone", by facing our fears, that we grow as human beings. In fact, if something makes us uncomfortable or afraid, that's probably a sign we should pursue it. Fear should never stop us--with the obvious caveat of physical confrontations with wild animals, or similar!

What do you think? Have you faced down any fears lately?

Monday, September 19, 2011

book reviews

Book reviews of one's work can be tricky. There are those that say any publicity is good publicity. There are those that can't read reviews of their work. Certainly reader reviews such as on Amazon have made everyone a critic. I'm not sure if this is good or bad.

As writers, however, we should know how to write a good book review. The Los Angeles Review of Books is an example of how we should do it. See, for example, their article(s) on Kim Stanley Robinson's California trilogy: Pacific Overture. Interesting!

How about you? Do you read your own reviews? Do you write reviews?

Friday, September 16, 2011

writer plus readers

We had an interesting discussion of a short story this week in my writers' workshop. The reactions and interpretations to the story were all over the board. It reminded me of how subjective fiction is, like other art. A piece of fiction doesn't truly come to life until a reader perceives and interprets it--and readers always bring their whole lives/backstory to that task. So, a story is different for every reader.

More specifically, the story in question was Raymond Carver's Cathedral. We all agreed that the writing was masterfully minimal and the characterization was extremely effective. Most agreed that the protagonist was a bigot and appeared to experience an epiphany of compassion/understanding in the end. We disagreed, however, on what it meant. Did the protagonist act or react? Did the protagonist truly change? Or did he just change for the moment? Did he realize he'd changed? And if he didn't realize it, was it still meaningful? To whom? The protagonist? The reader?

Did you read it? What do you think?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I went to a writers conference this past weekend. This week it's been interesting to hear and see the 'post-game' analysis and reactions of my writer friends. After the initial euphoria and exhaustion wears off, a common reaction seems to be frenzy? consternation? Something along those lines. They seem to think: I have to do a bunch of things differently, and I have to fix a bunch of things, and I have to do it all RIGHT NOW. (And I admit, I'm not immune to such thoughts.)

I've been reading Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer and he has a section in the middle called "Gut-Check" in which he recommends writers eat, sleep, don't do drugs, take time to relax and exercise, etc. These are basically all common sense things. The fact that VanderMeer has to tell writers to do this, makes me think writers are in danger of losing perspective! Or maybe even our minds. :)

So, writers, certainly, try to improve your craft, but also live your lives. Try to capture the joy of creating new characters, stories, worlds. Remember why you got into writing in the first place. Keep your perspective!

I'll try. How about you?

Monday, September 12, 2011

manic monday

I had a super-busy weekend and didn't do any writing or revising per se. In a mere two weeks my final MFA thesis is due. Plus, I have my usual responsibilities like work and critique group, etc. Ack! I'm feeling a bit manic. Correction: I'm feeling a lot manic.

I know a lot of my fellow students are feeling the same. What we need are some stress management tips.
I looked around and here's what I found:
  • Reframe problems to view from a more positive perspective.
  • Look at the big picture and take perspective.
  • Adjust (lower!) your standards.
  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable.
  • Look for the upside, for the positive.
  • Share your feelings.

Well, I've got that last tip down pat. Ack. :)

Does anyone have any good stress management tips?

Friday, September 9, 2011

writers conferences

As you read this I'm at a writers conference, specifically, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' annual Colorado Gold Conference, held in Denver. I'll be volunteering, including running a short story workshop, hosting "Literature and Liquour" in the bar, hosting one of the networking dinner tables, and moderating some panels throughout the weekend. I'll be pitching my new book to an editor that would be a perfect fit. Maybe I'll hit an agent or two with my elevator pitch in the elevator. :) I'll be attending a number of informative panels and workshops. But, best of all, I'll get to catch up with a bunch of writer friends and meet some new ones.

I mention all this not to brag but to encourage everyone to go to a conference. Conferences rock! They get us away from our computers and into real-life human interactions with other writers! They rejuvenate us, get our creative juices flowing!

If that's not reason enough, they have awesome networking opportunities. You never know when you might help yourself or someone else along the path of success. Last year, for example, one of my critique partners sat at my networking dinner table and ended up having the agent ask him for his manuscript. Huzzah! I've even seen folks set up on-line critique groups in the bar!

There are a large number of conferences. To be the most effective do your research. Where will your ideal agent or editor be? Where will you be able to pitch to said agent or editor? Actually, for SF and Fantasy writers something to consider is: Nebula Awards Weekend. This is chock-full of industry professionals and for some reason few writers go.

Another tip: for the biggest bang for your buck, volunteer. Often this results in reduced or waived conference fees.

Anyone know of any good conferences?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

who's your demo?

I just discovered an awesome writer who seems to know a lot about social media: Kristen Lamb. Check out her blog. Recently, she discussed "the typical non-reader." She said, There is a misconception that non-readers don't read. They DO read, they just happen to be highly selective. Wow!

A couple weeks ago she said, what is our REAL demographic? Anyone in need of informing or entertaining. THAT demographic is MASSIVE and when we writers mobilize THAT sector of society—the fat part of the bell curve—this is when literary history is made.

The DaVinci Code, the Harry Potter Series, Twilight, Tuesdays with Morrie, Water for Elephants, The Help all ignited a passion for stories in people who normally would not have defined themselves as avid readers.
Wow again! This lady is smart!

Personally, I'm going to have rethink this whole demographic thing. How do we reach anyone/everyone in need of entertaining? What do you think?

Monday, September 5, 2011

don't quit your day job!

On this holiday it's fun to imagine what it would be like to be a full-time writer. But I know quite a few fiction authors and they invariably say things like "Don't quit your day job." (And not just to me, to every aspiring writer they come across.) The inconvenient truth is it's hard to make a living as a fiction writer. Agent Chip MacGregor posted a nice blog entry last summer about this very thing: Making a Living at Writing. He breaks it down into how many books you need to have in print or coming out, etc. Very helpful!

How about you? Do you have a plan in place? Will you, or did you, quit your day job?

Friday, September 2, 2011

the twitter experiment

I'm taking a class right now where we're actually required to sign up for twitter and follow some authors. Ultimately, we're going to analyze their tweets as to whether we thought they were effective or what. I got geared up yesterday (yes, I know I'm late to the party) and it's wild how different the various authors are. Some first impressions: One author tweets literally every ten minutes; she's very entertaining but I can't help thinking Get a real life, honey! One author only tweets quotes from her books. Oh, dear! This doesn't work at all. One author seems to only tweet commerical information about his books. Not good.

What might work to sell books would be to follow the actual fictional characters. I'll have to look some of my faves up to see if they tweet. Or, I could tweet one of my characters... That could be interesting!

Anyway, anyone have any good tweeting experiences? Know any good tweeters I should follow? (Feel free to include yourself.) Thanks!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writing on Reading: Eye of the Tempest

The fourth book of Nicole Peeler's Tempest Rising series is out. Eye of the Tempest continues Jane True's adventures in Rockabill Maine. There's lots of mysteries, attacks, weird creatures, sexual tension, and combinations thereof. Peeler says,
Nothing says “home” like being attacked by humans with very large guns, as Jane and Anyan discover when they arrive in Rockabill...Jane discovers ...Something underneath Rockabill is coming to life: something ancient, something powerful, and something that just might destroy the world.

Jane and her friends must act, striking out on a quest that only Jane can finish. For whatever lurks beneath the Old Sow must be stopped…and Jane’s just the halfling for the job.

I don't want to give away any spoilers. Suffice to say, Jane is more kick-ass than ever. If you like Urban Fantasy, you should definitely check this out!

To support this release, Dr. Peeler gave an interview over at Electric Spec. She discusses Eye of the Tempest, the Champion trope, sexual tension, the mythology of Jane's world, Jane's next adventure Tempest's Fury and much more. Check it out!

Monday, August 29, 2011

gender and pov?

I was reading a short story recently and was shocked when the protagonist mentioned a, well, I'll just come out and say it, penis. As in the protag had one of these! I'd thought the protag was female! And, no, it wasn't some Crying Game type of thing. It was in first-person-pov and the name was too unusual to indicate gender.

This prompted me to wonder: How do we know a character's gender? I'm not sure how I ended up thinking the protag was female. The author was female. The writing was thoughtful and verbose. There were several women in the story and the protag never noted their, ah, physical attributes. I'm not sure what I'm going to tell the author. Surely, her character shouldn't succumb to stereotypes...

Actually, one of my favorite authors, Connie Willis, has a gender-indeterminate novel Uncharted Territory. It was a bit challenging and unsettling to read. Apparently, humans like me prefer to know if someone is male or female.

Do you agree? Disagree?

Friday, August 26, 2011


I went to a writers workshop this week in which the critiquers were going off on tangents about where the work should go. The group leader said enthusiastic critiquers project their ideas onto the work being critiqued and that was a good thing. I have mixed feelings about this... On the one hand, I guess new ideas are always good. On the other hand, I think it's up to the author to create.

This touches on a bigger issue of what exactly should critique be? I often find I disagree with folks about this. I think critiquers shouldn't address WHAT is said, they should address HOW it's said--if it is effective. And is it internally consistent? For example, if you want to write about a flower-bedecked unicorn made of pink spun sugar who's a serial killer, I say: Okay. How does the sugar keep from dissolving when all the blood spurts on it? :)

What do you think critique should be?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

author persona?

One of my teachers recently asked us what kind of author we want to be, what do we want for an author persona. Leaving aside obvious answers like: "The best writer of all time!" or "Award-winning!" and other similar responses, this is a tricky question.

I know a number of authors who have quite strong author personas. For example, one stay-at-home-mom I know is always posting/twittering about flirting with handsome men, drinking beer, going to rock concerts, kissing strangers (men and women), and the like. This is very compatible with the sex-laden fiction she writes--so it works. :) Another writer I know cracks a lot of jokes and often talks about drinking, hanging out in the bar, appreciating ladies and similar at conferences, when he is in reality a very accomplished writer and artist. But again, his fiction is pretty humorous, so it works. Both of these example writers have taken a small part of their personalities and run with it. Kudos to them.

Sadly,if I was to take a part of my personality and run with it, it would probably turn out more like Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory fame. Yikes. On the other hand, he's pretty funny...

How about you? Do you have an author persona?

Monday, August 22, 2011


Have you ever met any writers that seemed pretentious to you? I must admit I think I have. These are the writers that name-drop the literary authors they always read or write like. These are the writers that automatically pooh-pooh genre writers or writers without MFAs or non-poetry writers (is that a thing?)or whatever. This bothers me. I was trying to decipher why and I think it's the insincerity. I'm totally fine with people loving James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, for example, as long as they're being sincere and not just trying to impress people.

Of course, judging other people is a whole 'nother issue. Clearly I have some of my own character flaws to deal with. :)

Have you come across pretentious writers? How do you deal with them? (Or your reaction to them?)

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Writers' Workshop

I started a new writers' workshop this week. The first session (before actual critique) is always a little--I don't know. People talk about their writing. I guess it's odd. Everyone is so subjective about their own work. Many writers (often women) denigrate their own efforts. :( At the other end of the spectrum, there's a fine line between being confident and bragging. In the interests of full disclosure I would be the one skirting bragging.

This time the workshop leader is probably the most accomplished writer I've had as a leader. So, I'm optimistic. I'll let you know how it goes.

Writers' workshops aren't the same for me since I read The Writing Class a novel by Jincy Willett last semester. This novel is a surprisingly spot-on description of the Writing Workshop experience...until the bodies start piling up! (Cue evil laugh.)

Obviously, I don't think anything like that will happen to us. :)

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

How about you? Any good or bad workshop experiences or tips?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quotes from Writers

I'm neck-deep, no eye-deep, no top-of-the-head-deep in revisions. :(
So, for today, I thought I'd share some quotes from writers:
  • "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."--E.L. Doctorow
  • "Art is not a handicraft. It is the transmission of a feeling which the artist has experienced."--Leo Tolstoy
  • "Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window."--William Faulkner
  • "I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there."--H.G. Wells
  • "There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be."--Doris Lessing
  • "For a creative writer possession of the "truth" is less important than emotional sincerity." --George Orwell

Urban Fantasy author Karen Duvall has some of her favorite writerly quotes posted today.

We could go on quoting for quite a while, so I'll leave you with:

"He is able who thinks he is able." --Buddha

How about you? What are your favorite writerly quotes?

Monday, August 15, 2011

novel first sentences

Like many of you have experienced I'm in the throes of revision hell. I rewrote my chapter one and gave it my critique partners and they ripped it up--and deservingly so. It's back to the drawing board for me, but as I look at the first sentence, I'm a bit intimidated. The first sentence of anything you write these days has to be really good. It has to grab readers. Many of my favorite books and stories have excellent first sentences.

Let's look at some examples.

  • J.R.R.Tolkien begins The Fellowship of the Ring with
    When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
  • Charlaine Harris begins Dead Until Dark with I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.
  • J.K. Rowling begins Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
  • Robert J. Sawyer begins WWW:Wake with Caitlin had kept a brave face throughout dinner, telling her parents that everything was fine--just peachy--but, God, it had been a terrifying day, filled with other students jostling her in the busy corridors, teachers referring to things on blackboards, and doubtless everyone looking at her.
  • Janet Evanovich begins One for the Money with There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever.

Uh oh. I better stop. Now I think I'm even more intimidated. :(

Studying these sentences, the main thing I glean is the reader is left asking "Why?" or even "Tell me more." Hhm. That's something to aspire to.

I also think these first sentences speak to the overall themes or ideas of the books. For example, Caitlin's experiences after this are going to be anything but fine. Hhm. This is also a good idea.

I hate to say it, but these sentences are also very "telling." The authors have stepped out of the here-and-now immediacy of the story. That's tricky.

Well, I can see I've still got a lot of work to do.

How about you? Any tips for first sentences? Any favorite first sentences?

Friday, August 12, 2011

marketing for pre-published authors

Today, I'm going to talk a bit about author marketing, specifically marketing for pre-published authors. My writer friends and I have been having a debate about marketing. Is it worth it? What works? What doesn't work? I asked some successful authors about this last weekend: selling without selling. The overall consensus seems to be: it's very difficult to tell what marketing efforts sell books.

Nonetheless, as far as pre-published authors go, it has been highly recommended that we participate in social media including Facebook and Twitter. FYI- TweetDeck is supposed to be very helpful. It's also highly recommended we have an author website and a blog (these can be the same page.) In my opinion, you do need to buy your author name URL as soon as possible. I was too slow and didn't get the URL I wanted ==> hence my author name isn't what I wanted. :(

A helpful article from Hubspot is: 9 Reasons Why Your Social Media Strategy Isn't Working.

Some other perhaps less obvious ideas: A GoodReads Author Page, and a tumblr account.

But you're saying "What a minute! I'm not published yet! What the heck am I supposed to be doing all this blogging and tweeting and whatevering about?" You communicate about what you're an expert at. Certainly, you know about writing and reading and trying to get published. You have favorite authors, and books. Talk about all of that. Also consider what's special and unique about your writing. For example, if your (prepublished) mystery series is set in a dairy-free bakery, you could communicate about dairy-free baking. :) Look at all of your work over the weeks, months, years: are there any common threads or themes or locations or insert-your-common-thing-here? Ta da! You are an expert on that, too. But note: your communicating should be about informing people, helping people, making connections, not about selling per se.
Whatever you decide to do, good luck with all this stuff.

I will be pursuing some new avenues here along with you and I'll let you know how it goes.

As far as published authors go, some people swear by in-person bookstore signings, some say they don't work. Some people say blog book tours are the way to go, some say no. I think this depends on how many followers the blogs in question have. Some people highly recommend some kind of interview and/or book trailer on YouTube, some say don't waste your money.

One potentially helpful site is Pitch Engine which faciliates things like press releases and promises "exceptional indexing in major search engines". I believe there's a free trial period and after that you must subscribe. (If you try it, let me know how it goes.)

I got a lot of ideas for this post from agent Rachelle Gardner's How To Market Your Book and links therein.

How about you? What have you tried? What worked or didn't? Do you have any good marketing ideas?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

series comparison: Plum vs. Dresden

I just finished two new books I've been dying to read: Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich, released June 21, and Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, released July 26. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them but I couldn't help noticing the authors' approaches to a series are significantly different.

Smokin' Seventeen is the 17th (duh) book in the Stephanie Plum series. Evanovich says,

Dead bodies are showing up in shallow graves on the empty construction lot of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. No one is sure who the killer is, or why the victims have been offed, but what is clear is that Stephanie's name is on the killer's list.

...With a cold-blooded killer after her, a handful of hot men and a capture list that includes a dancing bear and a senior citizen vampire, Stephanie's life looks like it's about to go up in smoke.
It's as funny as it sounds. Evanovich is one of my all-time favorite authors.

Ghost Story is the 13th book in the Dresden Files series. Butcher says,

...being dead doesn’t stop him when his friends are in danger. Except now he has no body, and no magic to help him. And there are also several dark spirits roaming the Chicago shadows who owe Harry some payback of their own.

To save his friends — and his own soul — Harry will have to pull off the ultimate trick without any magic…
It's as exciting as it sounds. Butcher is one of my all-time favorite authors.

Okay, I'll try to stop gushing.
If I put on my writer hat, one thing I've thought is while I love Stephanie Plum and her series, it's a little disappointing how she never changes. She doesn't seem to learn or even get better at anything. I also really enjoy all the supporting characters, Grandma Mazur, Morelli, Ranger, Lula and the rest, and yet, they never change either. As a writer, I can't help thinking it would be better if the series had a character arc. I've heard Ms. Evanovich speak and she says she doesn't change things because readers don't want her to change things. At book 17, I guess you can't argue with success.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Harry Dresden and his series; Harry changes a lot. In fact, at the end of book 12 Changes, Harry dies. It's difficult to change more than that! Ghost Story is tricky to talk about because I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I'll admit, I'm worried. It appears that Harry says final goodbyes to all the supporting characters (that I also love) Murphy, Molly, Bob, Thomas and the rest. Could Harry leave all his friends and family behind? Could the series do that? As a reader, I would be extremely upset. As a writer, I wonder if maybe Butcher is going too far. But, I'll let you know after I read book 14. :)

Thus, right now, I'm thinking a happy medium between static Stephanie and changeable Harry might be the best course for an author to take in a series. What do you think?

Monday, August 8, 2011

selling without selling

I went to a fun book signing over the weekend with 5 authors Kimberly Frost, Lizzie T Leaf, Melissa Mayhue, Nicole Peeler, and Jeanne Stein at a local independent bookstore Broadway Book Mall. They were there for the weekend for RomCon in Denver.
The ladies answered lots of questions and were generally charming and interesting. For example, they all said they do some combo of social media, like twitter, facebook, and/or blogging for their writing careers. They talked about what surprised them about publishing and discussed some bad experiences they'd had. All in all, it was very informative--especially for an aspiring writer.
I ended up buying a lot of books! It prompted me to think about book signings. Of course they are part of a long bookselling tradition. (I wonder what will happen to them in the electronic book age?) The idea behind them is indirect selling. The authors have to sell their books without ever actually saying "Buy my book."
They sell without selling by being charming and interesting.It's curious because public speaking, being charming and interesting, is a totally different skill set than writing. More power to authors who do it successfully. You go, girls! Keep up the good work.
If you are a reader (and aren't we all?) go to book signings and support authors! If you're a writer, do you have any tips for "selling without selling"? :)

Friday, August 5, 2011


I was planning on blogging about another non-fiction writing book I read this week but I can't. It was not a good book. Out of curiosity, I checked out some reviews of the book and they ran the gamut, some people really liked it and some really didn't. So, there you go, a lot of this stuff is subjective.

Some of my friends make fun of me for trying to stay positive on the blog, but it's my plan and I'm sticking to it! Interestingly, I'm taking a course this semester called Writing About Popular Fiction and one of our assignments is to create our author persona. My author paradigm doesn't involve scathing negative reviews or anything else that does more harm than good. Actually, this is reminding me of an argument I got in with an award-winning speculative fiction writer in which I said readers want something positive to hold on to in a book and he said, no, they want drama. Of course, he's much more successful than me ...

Ringing out my balalaika has interesting positive and negative editor Tweets That Open The Writing Door which include: I see "I really wanted to like this" from the editors a lot. They go in to submissions very hopeful! #editreport. (In the interests of full disclosure, most of the tweets aren't too nice.)

And this reminds me one of my writer friends got a "nice" rejection from an editor recently. She gushed about how much she liked the book, but since it was cross-genre, it didn't really fit their line, and she looked forward to buying it in the bookstore when another editor bought it. Good grief! Sometimes it is hard to stay positive. :( So this message is also for my friend and all the rest of us facing rejection over and over.

Stay positive!

How about you? Are you a positive or negative writer? Any tips for staying positive?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writing on Reading: Robinson's Science in the Capital

I just finished the final book in Kim Stanley Robinson's so-called Science in the Capital series: Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). Most of this work occurs in Washington D.C. at the N.S.F headquarters and features scientists. With its long lyrical descriptions of things ranging from nature to buddism to climate change, this series is quintessential Robinson. These books also have a strong message.

Yes, climate change is here and it has dire and long-ranging consequences for the survival of the human rance. The series strongly advocates humanity brush off their inactivity, inertia and complacency and DO. I, personally, did enjoy the extremely long descriptions of climate change effects, consequences, feedbacks, and mitigation strategies (which are all plausible). I enjoyed the extensive discussions of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson and their work. I also enjoyed the extensive explorations of Buddism.

However, I can see how this would not be to everyone's taste. In my opinion, the plot is meandering at best, and the characters are essentially the same: "the scientist". Therefore, I highly recommend it to folks who'd like to learn more about climate change, Buddism, Thoreau, Emerson, etc., but not necessarily to those who like a dramatic story.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Writing on Reading: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

I recently read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print by Rennie Browne and Dave King. It was recommended to me by a teacher, and I'd have to say it's an excellent resource for beginning writers. It wasn't what I expected from the title, however; I'd say it mostly contains tips for writers on how to make their work more professional. Here are some highlights:
  • Show and Tell: Writers should show and tell. I blogged about this section earlier in show and tell.
  • Characterization and Exposition: Don't tell about characters with exposition, especially when you introduce them.
  • Point of View: There are three basic points of view, namely first (the most intimate), third, and omniscient (the least intimate). Pick one and stick with it. This section had too much head-hopping for my taste. :(
  • Proportion: The amount of time you spend on something is someone is directly proportional to the reader's perception of its importance.
  • Dialogue Mechanics & Easy Beats: Don't use adverbs in dialogue tags. Use said in dialogue tags because they're invisible to the reader. Even better, try to eliminate dialogue tags by replacing them with beats, where a beat is a bit of physical action or internal monologue.
  • See How It Sounds: Read your work aloud to make sure it's smooth.
  • Interior Monologue: This is a great way to let readers know what characters are thinking. Incidentally, they say, One of the signs that you are writing from an intimate point of view is that the line between your descriptions and your interior monologue begins to blur. Notice, thus, no italics necessary for thoughts.
  • Breaking Up Is Easy to Do: Paragraph breaks, line breaks and similar can be powerful tools for focusing reader attention and adding tension.
  • Once Is Usually Enough: Generally, you don't want to repeat scenes, ideas, words, or anything else.
  • Sophistication: Generally, don't use as and -ing constructions. Don't use italics or exclamation points for emphasis.
  • Voice: Authors should cultivate a strong unique voice. They do give a couple tips for developing this.
So, there you go, the book in a nutshell. Be sure to check it out for more information if any of these topics interest you.

For me, the most interesting section was on beats, I'd never seen that discussed in a writing book before. In particular, using interior monologue as a beat is a neat idea. One thing I disagreed with was their recommendation to string together short sentences with commas to make your fiction more sophisticated.

How about you? Have you read any good writing books lately?

Friday, July 29, 2011

the dreaded synopsis

It's that time again, time to write another one of those dreaded synopses. Blech.
But this time one of my critique partners has given me some tips.
Here they are:
  • Start with a short blurb that grabs the reader. This is for the editor, to give him/her a sense of the book. It needs to be a kick-ass elevator pitch, not boring.
  • then describe/show/explain:
    • the protagonist(s)
    • the inciting incident
    • the setting
    • the protag's goal and motivation
    • the major conflict
    • the major turning points
    • the climax
    • the ending/validation

Thanks, Rebecca! I'll give it try. Does anyone else have any tips on this?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

first chapters

As I revise my WIP, I've been rereading my chapter one. I had totally rewritten it and it's better but it's still not good. :( I think I will throw everything out and start fresh again BECAUSE first chapters are crucial. Writers get agents and sell books based on first chapters. (No pressure!) Generally, authors must set the scene, introduce the protagonist, and hook the reader all in the first chapter (or page!). The first chapter also sets the tone.

How does one do all this? I highly recommend surveying first chapters in the public library, your personal library, or on-line. These days a lot of first chapters are available on-line. Ignoring the obvious large electronic bookseller(s), many newspapers have collections of first chapters (although you may need to be a member or subscriber.) For example, The Guardian in the U.K. has a website of First chapters. Picking randomly, Into the Silent Land by Paul Broks starts with:

'Why does raw meat give me a hard-on?'

This is Michael, chopping sirloin ready for the stir-fry. Typically, he is going to the trouble of preparing a good lunch: beef in hoi-sin sauce. He's bought some beer, too. We're drinking straight from the can. Amy, his girlfriend, sits at the kitchen table reading a magazine. This is intriguing and has a strong voice!

Another good site is Contemporary Literature First Chapters / Excerpts. Check it out. :)

Of course, at some point you just have to buckle down and write the darn things. Then give them to your critique partners or beta readers, listen to their comments, and rewrite. Repeat as necessary.

So, back to work for me...

Monday, July 25, 2011

changing conventions?

As I mentioned earlier, our English language keeps evolving, as does writing prose...
It can be hard to keep track of all the rules and their changes.
When you have a character ask a question in dialogue do you use the tag "he asked" or "he said"? I have a writer friend who insists on always using "asked". Is this the convention? I'm sensing this is a pet peeve of hers.

What's the current convention on italicizing thoughts? For a while there we were supposed to italicize thoughts but now it seems, not. What do you think?

I have a teacher who insists on "damned" as the adjective (rather than "damn"), which is technically correct, but the incorrect version is in common use.

One of my pet peeves is when people use "ok" or "OK" instead of "okay" or "O.K." Ugh! Again, this is super-common. Is it time for me to give up on this one?

How about you? Any pet-peeves? Any good resources for dealing with all these things?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

show and tell

I'm deep in the throes of revising my WIP. In fact I'm pretty bogged down getting mixed up about what I've changed already and what I have left to change. :( To take a break (I'm really not procrastinating. Really.), I've been reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King. Chapter one is "Show and Tell", a topic we've discussed here before, but it's worth revisiting.

Beginning writers often tell a story rather than show a story. I must admit I see this A LOT in ezine slush piles. :(
More advanced writers have been told "Show, don't tell." so they tend to do all showing.
However, some helpful words of wisdom I received were "Show the story, tell the backstory." Personally, I think this works well.

So, anyway, back to the book. I was reading all about how I should show rather than tell, except when I should tell rather than show. And I was feeling pretty smug, thinking I had a handle on all this. Enter my new critique partner with her Deep POV advice. What's this? New information? I even went back and looked at Browne and King's chapter one again and it was actually in there, too, but I hadn't even noticed amongst all my smugness. For example, they say, Keep an eye out for any places where you mention an emotion outside of dialogue. Chances are you're telling what you should show.

I guess no matter how long we write, there's always something new to learn.

How about you? Have you learned anything new lately?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Deep POV

I have a new critique partner and she's been telling me about Deep POV. This is an intimate or limited third person point-of-view in which telling is eliminated. Basically an author just shows the reader all the sensory information a character would experience and doesn't use telling words like "felt" or "heard" or "saw". Interesting!

Some really helpful links with more information are: and
Thanks, Jenn!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Writers Search Engine

Many of you may already know about this, but I recently discovered something neat:
Writer's Knowledge Base, The Search Engine for Writers. The Writer's Knowledge Base (WKB) is a searchable collection of articles that are highly relevant to writers. The articles are diverse and cover such topics as the craft of writing, getting published, promotion, etc. Notice the search engine only covers topics related to writing. If you do a search you won't accidentally get anything weird--like porn. (Why do so many innocent searches lead to porn?)

A little backstory...Elizabeth Craig supplies the links for the WKB. Elizabeth is a published author who monitors over 1500 websites for great articles on writing and then posts the links on Twitter. The WKB then archives the links for us writers to access to our heart's desire.

Does anyone else know of any neat writers websites? Please share!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

revision: unique body language

I continue to ponder the revision process...
The other day we talked about making sure each character has unique dialogue. What they say and how they say it should be exclusive to each person in your fiction. Similarly, every character should have unique body language. Look around your home or office, what body language do you see? That teenaged girl sighs dramatically and rolls her eyes. That mom can't seem to sit still. That older gentleman shuffles his feet and stares at the ground while he walks. You'd never mix up their body language! Similarly, in your work, strive for unique bodily diction. :)

Does anyone have tips or tricks in this arena?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

to grimace or not to grimace?

One of the best teachers I've ever had has a thing about grimaces. He says you should never use the word grimace in your writing because it doesn't mean anything. I would say a grimace is a frown caused by disgust. I looked it up in various dictionaries and they say a grimace is a facial expression, often ugly or contorted, that indicates disapproval, pain, etc. or a sharp facial contortion expressing pain, contempt, or disgust., etc. So, regarding grimaces, I guess: Caveat scriptor.

However, I think this points to a larger issue: the evolution of the english language. There's no question our language has evolved and is evolving over time. How much of this should we use in our writing? For example, in my work I would use "five finger discount", but not "index finger discount". Most people know the former but only a certain subset of folks know the latter (although we could probably figure it out!). Certainly, there are genre considerations here. YA should use a lot of slang. Techno- or geek-thrillers should also use a lot of jargon.

But, IMHO, we can go too far. 2MI can be 2M2H. IKR?

I think we should avoid text-messaging "words" in fiction.

What do you think?

B4N. :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

revision: unique dialogue

We all know dialogue is an important part of fiction. As such, it's worth taking a look at when doing revisions. First things first: dialogue tags should ONLY use said or asked. Don't get creative. In fact, the prevailing wisdom is it's better not to use dialogue tags; use body language, facial expressions, or other information to let the reader know who's talking. However, don't make your characters "bobble-heads". This is an expression from one of my writing professors and indicates too much head nodding or similar actions. Watch out for this. :) A tip: many published works put the dialogue tag or action between two sentences of dialogue rather than at the beginning or end.

Another important point is every character should have unique dialogue. If I'm honest, many of my characters talk like I do in my first drafts. So, when I revise, I have to get rid of this. Ideally, each character's dialogue is so unique you wouldn't even need a dialogue tag. In a long work, I keep a cheat-sheet of slang or special unique words for each character. For example, one character might use a lot of single-syllable words, another might not use contractions. Good luck with your dialogue!

How about you? How do you deal with dialogue?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

revision: minor characters

As I revise my WIP, I'm noticing I've given my walk-on characters short shrift. They don't get any names or physical descriptions. It's not even clear in some scenes how many of them there are. Ugh. I think I'm going to have to put this on my Watch List. ;) This is not good. Readers should always know how many people are in a scene.

However, while in acting "there are no small parts", in writing there are. Authors shouldn't give a whole big description of every walk-on character because it draws the reader's attention to them--like a loaded gun. (Of course, if the character is important later, then, yes, focus on that character.)

How about you? How do you deal with minor characters? Do you have any revision tips?

Back to the salt mines for me...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

revision: a watch list

I got some good advice about revision recently: create a watch list. What is a watch list in this context, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. :) A watch list is where an author examines his/her work and makes a note of their own common mistakes or repeats, writes them down, and then corrects them during the revision process. For example, my characters seem to smile or grin several times a page. Logically I know it's a bad idea to repeat actions on the same page, but when I go back and look: there they are. During revision, then, I need to get rid of most of those. As another example, I have a critique partner who always uses waive instead of wave. (Of course, spell-check doesn't catch this!)

How about you? Do you have anything you need to watch out for?

Do you have any revision tips?

Monday, June 20, 2011

revision: working on bad guys

My next big project (after I get home from school next week) will be revising my novel. Specifically, I have to work on my bad guys. I've been told they're too warm and fuzzy, not realistic, etc. So, obviously, I've got some work to do! I must admit I have trouble writing evil. It seems so melodramatic--maybe that's because I'm not doing it right! :)

Awesome Fantasy author Carol Berg discusses Writing Evil today over at her agent Lucienne Diver's blog. Among other things Carol says Something that bothers me our tendency to toss people ...into binary bins... as we mature, we know life is just not that simple...

Ah ha! Maybe I should quit thinking of them as "bad guys" and instead focus on them as guys who have different and opposing goals to the protagonist. Hhm... I may be on to something here.

How do you revise? Do you pick a particular area and focus on it (like I'm trying to do)?
Does anyone have any tips for writing antagonists?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Residency Schedule

All of us MFA students at Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction course have slightly different schedules while at residency. But, to give readers a flavor of how it works I thought I'd give some hightlights of what a typical student might be up to during the week:
  • orientation and welcome
  • first residency session, discussion of Common Genre Reading, Changes by Jim Butcher
  • Workshop: "Practice Reading Aloud"
  • Workshop: "What to Put In, What to Take Out"
  • MFA Thesis presentations
  • Mixed genre fiction workshop
  • Workshop: "Sense of Wonder and the Sublime"
  • individual meetings with faculty mentors
  • SF/H/F fiction workshop
  • luncheon with e-mail critique groups
  • Workshop: "Maintaining Narrative Tension in Fantasy, SF, and Horror"
  • MFA Thesis presentations
  • student teaching sessions
  • guest speakers Heather Osborn and Lucienne Diver present "Current Publishing Trends in Popular Fiction"
  • guest speakers Heather Osborn and Lucienne Diver run "Query Letter Workshops"
  • Alumni Panel Presentations
  • Workshop: "New Trends in Mystery"
  • Mixed genre fiction workshop
  • Graduation

In the fiction workshops we students submit our work and are critiqued by our peers.
In the MFA Thesis presentations graduating students defend their MFA thesis, which consists of a reading from their thesis novel and answering questions from mentors, faculty, and students.
The other Workshops are basically classes taught by the faculty, for example UF author and SHU professor, Nicole Peeler, will be teaching my "New Trends in Mystery" Workshop.
Generally, we have different guest speakers and they present different topics each semester.
As for Alumni Panel Presentations, I don't know what they are. I guess I'll have to wait and see!

Anyone have any different MFA experiences? Or MA, or BA, for that matter? :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


As blog readers may or may not be aware, SetonHillWriters bloggers are students or grads of the Writing Popular Fiction MFA program at Seton Hill University. This is a so-called low residency program in which we get together for a week, twice a year (June and January), and cram in a lot of MFA stuff. The rest of the year we do things via email, chat rooms, on-line classes, etc. I bring this up because some readers may be interested in how a low-residency MFA program works and I haven't really blogged about it before.

One thing I've noticed is we really don't seem to get any time off from school. :( The official semester ended in May, but since then we've been busy getting ready for residency. What, for example, have I been doing while "off"?

  • (re)read the Common Genre Reading novel Changes by Jim Butcher for our first session of residency. Incidentally, I enjoyed it so much, I've been rereading all the Dresden Files novels in the past couple weeks. Wow, they're good.
  • made a handout, including discussion questions and powerpoint presentation, with two other students for the entire program for the first residency session
  • prepared my lesson plan and handouts for my student teaching session. I will be teaching "How to Write a Query Letter."
  • wrote a new short story and submitted it for our workshop sessions
  • contacted my unofficial mentee (Hi, Kaelyn!) and welcomed her to the program
  • contacted my new critique partners (Hi, Jennifer and Kristina!) and said hi
  • critiqued 7 stories or chapters for workshop sessions (Okay, I'm not done with this yet, but I'm working on it!)
  • wrote a new draft of my thesis novel chapter one for our "Practice Reading Aloud" workshop session
  • and, of course, made or finalized all the travel arrangements

Phew! I'm a little tuckered out and residency hasn't even started yet.

Stay tuned this week for more info about Residency.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

surprise deadlines?

Ugh. I just had a professor give me one week's notice that I have to present a piece of writing. Nothing like a surprise deadline you had no idea was coming! :(

Instead of tackling the problem head-on, clearly, my first impulse is to procrastinate and write a blog post.
I realize I need to bite the frakking bullet and just write something to present. But...

Has anyone else ever gotten a surprise deadline? What do you do? How do you keep from letting panic overtake productivity?

Friday, June 10, 2011


I heard about something new (to me) recently... Would you like to sell your creative work before you create it? If so, crowdfunding might be for you. USA Today has a very interesting article on it: New grads, 'crowdfund' your career, according to which "Crowdfunding" means pooling resources from a network of people for a project.

A leader in the field is, supposedly the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Kickstarter is powered by a unique all-or-nothing funding method where projects must be fully-funded or no money changes hands. Creative folks basically share their project idea with the kickstarter staff and if it meets their guidelines, they're good to go within a few days. However, there's a twist: a project must include rewards for backers. What are rewards? For a writing project, it might range from a pdf of the completed work, to thanks on the acknowledgements page, to a character named after the backer, to a hard cover copy of the work with original cover art. I'm intrigued...

Has anyone tried this? What do you think?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

lost in the past

The New York Times had an article Tuesday: Tradition Trumps Twitter at Iowa Writers' Workshop. Apparently, things function much as they did in the past over there in Iowa City. One of the recent grads interviewed said he'll hand-write the first drafts of his stories or even use a typewriter. Like most of his classmates, he does not own an e-reader and prefers paper books. He says he was scolded by a tradition-minded instructor when he turned in his first workshop story for writing about a character that used Google. [He]...does not use Twitter. No technology: Check.

Eric Simonoff, co-head of the book department at the WME talent agency says Iowa's administration has long been conflicted toward the publishing industry, trying to give students access without taking their focus away from learning their craft.
"And I think that's right," he said. "It's useful to know that at one point one will have to market oneself, but I don't think the time to do that is when you are in an MFA program."
Ignore the entire concept of selling: Check.

I must admit, though, I enjoyed the sentiment of another grad who says of fiction it's such a slow-burning, heavy-attention medium that really demands someone who is mentally present and not just giving you superficial attention. I really love that aspect of it... I want to convince people that, in this world of beeps and tweets, spending meditative time with an analog paper book is a worthy pursuit. I want to write so well that I can convince others of that."

So, what do you think? Are the Iowa Writer's Workshop folks hopelessly, helplessly lost in the past? Or, is it working for them?