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?