Tuesday, March 31, 2009


C.H.A.O.S. - Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

Chaos is the word for our house, that is certain. I am about as disorganized a soul as you are ever apt to meet. I always mean to do better but I am too disorganized to find time to organize.

Worse, I have the memory of a goldfish, which has been scientifically established as being 30 seconds. Heaven knows why anyone would need to know that, however, there it is. I have a little piece of paper with my name on it pinned to my bra to keep track of my name. Well, maybe that is stretching it a bit.

Nevertheless, I am about to share my secrets on organization. As I remember, it actually works.
One of my problems with research is that I remember I read something somewhere but darned if I can remember where I read it. This has a truly disastrous effect on accuracy. Thus my solution of sorts.

I use a ring binder for each manuscript. At the top of each sheet of paper, I write a the question I need to research. I might have so many questions that I need to group the pages into sections such as: Scotland, heroine, hero, wars in 1430 etc.

I am writing a story about a Scottish heroine of the 15th century at the moment. She has inherited a horse farm and manor from her murdered father. The hero is the nephew of a laird named MacTavish and is his heir. At one point, the couple agree to hand fast while staying in a cave behind a waterfall.

I need to know if there were horse farms in the area. What kind of horses were raised in that time period. Could she in fact inherit from her father, or would it go to his nearest male relative? Was hand fasting done in that period? What are the exact words used to hand fast? Are there caves in that area? Each of these questions requires one sheet of paper.

Next, I start a bibliography and give each book a code name, e.g.
B1 is Strange Landscape
B2 is Medieval Women
B3 is A Short History of Scotland.

It is unlikely I would be using a newspaper or magazine, but if I did, each would also have a code name, such as:
NP1, The Star Phoenix, March 22, 2009.

Much of my research is done over the internet, so each web page I have read also needs a code:
IN 1, http://www.weapons.com./

As I go along, I expand the number of pages and the bibliography as needed.
As I research and come across a fact I need, I write it on the appropriate page and note that it came from B2 p. 204 para 5. And so a page in my binder might look like this:

Medieval woman’s right to hold land

1. The holding of land in a woman’s name solely, became more frequent during the Crusades, because many husbands did not return. B2 p98para 2 - 8.
2. If there were no sons in a family, a daughter could inherit in Scotland or England, but not in France. IN http://www.medievallaw.com,/ section 11para 7..

Another useful tool I have found is on the Linux operating system. I use the Umbutu version. In its directory under ‘Applications’ is a program called ‘Writers Café.’ It has a section entitled ‘StoryLines’ for plotting your novel. There is a line for each character e.g. Elinor, Duncan and Jock and there are ‘cards’ which each contain a few words about an action by one of the characters or a scene. The card can be pulled down to fit on a character’s line. Cards can be moved around. At the same time, this program draws up an outline for you, listing each card’s contents in order, e.g.
1. Elinor arrives at MacT’s and faces his anger
2. MacT has missed her point to her frustration.
3. Duncan tries to clear it up for him

Cards can be used for description, content, setting etc if you choose. You can also attach project notes.

Writers’ Café also offers: a notebook, a place to gain inspiration from other writers, a library, a word processor to use with Storylines, a journal, scrapbook where you can keep pictures, outlines of future plots etc. It even has a game for writers to play just before they start to tear out their hair by the handful. I’m still trying to master ‘Storylines’, but once I get better at it, it might even organize me.

Have a look.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Why Ebooks & Ebook Readers Are Here to Stay

In February Amazon launched its new ebook reader, the Kindle 2, at a retail price of $359.00 US. Amazon is betting that even in times of recession, the time is right for this new device.

Amazon has reason to be optimistic. Demand for the first Kindle, launched about 15 months ago, far outstripped supply. Amazon has a library of more than 250,000 kindle books on its site (at least three of them belonging to yours truly). With Google now making available 1.5 million public domain books, almost any book you want is available in electronic format.

But ebooks, as well as online newspapers and magazines, have been around for at least ten years and have remained on the fringes of the publishing industry. What’s different now?

In his article for Computer World entitled “Here comes the e-book Revolution”. Mike Elgan claims that several events will conspire in the next year to create a boom in ebook sales. To briefly summarize:
1. The economy – For a real book lover, an ebook reader pays for itself after the purchase of 20 or 30 books, and then starts saving money.
2. The environment – To many people, the idea of a daily newspaper that gets thrown out every day seems wasteful to the point of decadence.
3. A publishing revolution – People will start self-publishing books, much as they have self-published blogs. Blogs are now common and respected. The publishing industry keeps up or dies.
4. The rise in aggressive ebook marketing – Ebooks will soon be everywhere. Both Amazon and Google have applications that make it possible for people to read ebooks on their phones, particularly the Iphone. And a lot of people like to do everything with their Iphones.
5. A rise in books written for electronic publishing – Ebooks may become shorter, get published much quicker, and be more socially and culturally relevant, especially for young people. Young people will not only be reading ebooks but writing them on electronic devices.
6. The decline of the newspaper industry - Newspapers that embrace e-publishing will survive. Those that don't, won't. According to Elgan, the New York Times could buy every single subscriber of their newspaper a Kindle ebook reader and it would still cost them half of what it currently costs them to print the newspaper in paper for one year.

As a writer with books published in ebook format, I say, bring on the revolution.

If you decide you want to join the revolution, perhaps you’d like an ebook reader. Is the Kindle your only option?

Not at all. There are other models out there. I personally own a Sony E-Reader, the PRS-505SC model. There is now an updated P700BC model available. On my recent vacation, I took my reader with me after having loaded it with 16 free ebooks from Harlequin. My reader is lightweight, about the size of a paperback but only about a ½ inch thick, making it fit easily into my purse. In a week of reading I only had to recharge the batteries once. There is no way I could have fit 16 books into my luggage (I managed to read five). The reader is the perfect traveling companion for a dedicated book worm.

Most ebook readers – including the Kindle, Sony E-Reader, Cybook, ECTACO Jetbook and the Star ebook – cost between $299 and $400 US. Only the eBookwise at $109 to $140 US is less expensive. If you’re thinking of purchasing, keep in mind things like battery run time, file formats that it accepts, and memory, both internal and external. To date the Kindle is the only reader with wireless capability. This means that you do not need to go through a PC or Mac to download a book but can download directly onto the device. For RWA members, check out the article on ebook reader by Christine Kocourek in the January 2009 edition of RWR.

And my fellow Canadians, I’m afraid that the Kindle is only available in the US where the Whispernet technology that runs its wireless capability is available.

If you don’t want to purchase a device dedicated only to reading ebooks, you have the option of using devices that have other functions, such as your Iphone, Palm Pilot or one of the new lightweight mini laptops. My husband recently purchased the mini Acer Aspire. It has plenty of internal memory but can be easily boosted with the insertion of an SD card. It has a built in webcam, wifi, and a decent size keyboard and screen, making it the perfect companion to travel with you across the country or over to the coffee shop.

Have you ever read a book from a reader? Would you consider purchasing one? Do you think ebooks are here to stay? Do you think ebooks will someday replace paper books?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Welcome Courtney Milan

Selling the Unmarketable Transcript

Prairie Writers, thank you for inviting me to guest blog with you today! Janet asked me to blog about my call story. But I’ve written about that, and I wanted to come up with something special for you. I decided to share a piece of my call story that I haven’t talked about anywhere—how I wrote a manuscript that was so marketable that it went to auction among five publishing houses.

When I started the manuscript that would become PROOF BY SEDUCTION, I gave it the following working title: "Untitled Work of Ornithological Unmarketableness." I’m not making this up—you can see me call it that on my blog in 2006. I wasn’t calling it "unmarketable" to be cute. My hero was a Regency-era science geek (an ornithologist, in fact). My heroine was neither wealthy nor gorgeous, and more than one person who read the manuscript remarked that she was a little unlikable because she didn’t pay proper respect to the authorities.

I reached "THE END" and set it aside. I knew it needed revisions. When I came back to it in November, I’d learned a lot by writing another (unmarketable) book. I loved my characters from that first book, but I knew that I needed to up the conflict, raise the stakes, and bring the writing up a notch or five. By that time, I’d figured out that if I wanted to sell the book, I needed—drat it all—to think about the market. A geeky hero pursuing an unlikable heroine was not going to sell.Want to know how I fixed that unmarketable manuscript? I made my manuscript more unmarketable.

I moved my story out of the marketable Regency era. I deleted all the marketable balls and parties. Then I made my hero even geekier. I turned him into a man who embraced science to get away from all social interaction, a man who needed hard, rigid rules to function because he couldn’t handle the messy unpredictability of emotion.

My heroine had once been a fairly simple girl, a little unlikable because she waffled between her own happiness and what her parents wanted. I made her less likeable. In fact, I turned her into a con-artist who made a living pretending to tell the future.

I knew I’d made the manuscript less marketable, because I entered it in contests and got back a smattering of low, low scores complaining about my hero and my heroine. In one of the few contests where I finaled, an editor gave me a "one" for marketability. (To be fair, I also had my share of successes—but the low scores still smarted.)

When I submitted the finished version to agents, I expected to be smacked down. It was a shock when Kristin Nelson loved my manuscript. It was even more bewildering when she submitted it and we got offers.

But I think I understand it now. In the first version of my manuscript, thoughts of the omnipresent "market" lead me to tone down my hero until he was bland instead of different. They’d made me imbue my heroine with mouse when she needed to be full of fire. I needed to stop pulling my punches. The very things that made it "unmarketable"—the long journey my heroine faced to redemption and the amount of sheer social rehabilitation my hero needed—gave the book a power and an emotional complexity that I wouldn’t have been able to tap with characters who were more closely aligned with the market.

I just turned in a novella to my editor. It is actually going to be my publishing debut, scheduled for an October 2009 release. The novella also features an unmarketable hero. William White is not remotely wealthy. He’s not even the fake-poor of the aristocrat living in "reduced circumstances"—you know, the kind where the massive London townhouse leaks, and the poor earl is dressed by a loyal valet.

My hero is a glorified accountant. . . minus the glory. He makes eighteen pounds a year. This novella came together when I stopped hiding from his poverty and let that element carry the story. William is too poor to support a wife.

Impossible love. Can a romance ask for anything better? I desperately love this unmarketable story, and I hope you will, too.

So you tell me: What’s your favorite unmarketable romance novel? And why do you love it?

Courtney Milan lives with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat. Courtney wishes she could say she has lived in numerous fabulous places. But aside from her husband, there is a distinct lack of fabulousness in her life. Instead, she is happy when standards in the Milan household hover above mediocrity. Her husband attempts not to kill people for a living. In exchange, Courtney attempts not to do the dishes.

Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney experimented with various occupations: computer programming, dog-training, scientificating. . . . Having given up on being able to do any of those things, she's taken to heart the axiom that those who can't do, teach. When she's not reading (lots), writing (lots), or sleeping (not enough), she can be found in the vicinity of a classroom.

You can learn more about Courtney at both her website and her blog.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The First Page Fairy Godmother...

My eyeballs were drier than elephant skin. I had been staring at my computer for hours and I wanted out of first page hell. Pictures of my dog flashed over and over again as my screen saver kicked in. I folded my hands in my lap and wished for a miracle.

"What are you doing?"

I blinked. "Muse?"

"Muse and EE left an hour ago. They were tired of the dog and, well, dog show."

A short, feminine vision floated next to me. Sparkly and bright, she held a wand that she jabbed toward my computer screen. "Is that it?"

"Who are you?"

"I’m your First Page Fairy Godmother." She touched my laptop and it spit out a printed page. "Let’s have a looky-see."

I rubbed my eyes. There had been tea after supper, no wine, but here I was hallucinating.

"We may have a problem."

My body jerked in response. "What?"

She shook her wand and sparkles fell like big, fat snowflakes over my computer and me. "You already know that this page has to hook an agent. And Hon, a first page in manuscript submission form is only 16 lines, not 250 words."

"But a manuscript page is 250 words." I had done my research.

"Are you questioning my authority?" She began to fold my paper in half.

"No." This was the miracle I had asked for; I would defer and check her accuracy once she left. "Please, go ahead."

The bottom third of paper was ripped off and drifted to the floor. "There. Now, where was I? Sixteen lines – check. In media res – check."

"Pardon me?"

She spun to face me, waving her wand in fat figure eighths. "Latin for the middle of affairs, believed to have originated from the oral tradition of the epic poem. Action whets the appetite of your reader, pulls them into the story immediately and, if you work your 16 lines perfectly, forces them to turn the page to find out what happens next."

"And I’ve got that?" I craned my neck to read over her shoulder. Her presence rose out of range and I slumped back into my chair.

"Not too bad." She went back to the piece of paper, this time twirling the wand handle between her thumb and fingers. The movement was hypnotizing.

She smacked me on the head. "Pay attention. Starting in the middle of action does not necessarily make it a hook. And you shouldn’t start with your character waking up, looking in a mirror, or dreaming."

"I don’t"

"Yes, well, she is eavesdropping. A close call." She tapped her wand against the side of her head giving her more brilliance than she had originally started with. I squinted up at her.

"There are other things to remember as you craft your 16 lines."

I scrambled for a pen and paper, ready to take notes in case this was a one time only visit. "I’m ready."

"A clue to the genre. If it’s Science Fiction, there should be world building, some ‘out of this world’ technology, and perhaps an unusual character name. Fantasy, again world building and the tone of the language should suggest an element of the imagined and unique. The words you employ are very important. You have medieval names for your characters and you mention a solar, although most readers might not know what that is. Hmm."

"Should I change it?"

"Let’s just note that. Introduces main character – check. Your reader does come to love," she glanced down at the paper, "Willamena?"

"I think so. Those who’ve read it, do."

"Good, because as a story teller, you’re going to put your protagonist in peril, take her to the edge so she can grow, change, and become a better person. And gets what she most desires. Your readers won’t give a fairy’s tinkerbell that she nearly dies if they haven’t come to care for her. Your goal is to get them to cheer her on, stand in her corner, and bite their nails when she is poised on that edge and appears to be falling. So, you need to begin that relationship at the beginning. Introduce your main character and show your reader that this imagined person is interesting enough to follow for 400 pages, give or take."

A bell chimed in the distance. "What was that?"

"Another writer. Did you hear what I just said?"

I consulted my notes. "Yes. Introduce the character in a way that the reader begins to care for them immediately." As I spoke the wand danced in the air to the beat of my syllables. It stopped mid-air a second after I did.

My First Page Fairy Godmother stared at me and made a disappointed tut-tut sound. "And?"

That’s all I had written. I shrugged.

A short exhalation emphasized her annoyance. "What’s at stake? What did Willamena set out to get at the beginning of the story? You need to at least hint at her goal, establish a sliver of tension."

A chorus of tinkling bells filled the air. She rolled her eyes. "Must be a secret agent contest coming up on Miss Snark’s First Victim blog again. My beeper goes haywire when 70 plus aspiring authors start wishing for assistance on their first pages. I really need to hire some minions."

She stuffed my first page into the handle of the wand. The bells chimed again. "I’m coming!"

The wand undulated in front of my face. "The most important thing to remember is that the first page is a promise. A promise of a story filled with engaging, though somewhat flawed, characters. A promise of a story with action and adventure, that will take the reader to someplace different, someplace great. A promise of a desire fulfilled."

I closed my eyes, the sparkly wand too bright and too close for comfort. When I opened them, I was alone. My computer screen continued to scroll through pictures of Taz. That was the strangest dream I had ever had and I vowed to lay off caffeine. I touched the mouse to reactivate the word document, ready to tackle this re-write one more time.

Something nagged at the back of my brain. My fingers slid into place on home row just as the light reflected off a sparkle. Could it be? I re-read my first page. Of course, it was so obvious. Thank goodness for First Page Fairy Godmothers.

Janet (who’s looking for other pearls of wisdom on writing that first page…)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Courtney Milan

On Saturday, March 28, Courtney Milan becomes an Honorary Chick when she guest blogs on The Prairies. Courtney’s debut novel Proof by Seduction is set for a January 2010 release and her debut story, This Wicked Gift, will be published in the anthology The Heart of Christmas due out October 2009 from HQN (her story shares the pages of the anthology with Saskatchewan’s own Mary Balogh). Here’s Courtney’s biography in her own words:

Courtney Milan lives with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat. Courtney wishes she could say she has lived in numerous fabulous places. But aside from her husband, there is a distinct lack of fabulousness in her life. Instead, she is happy when standards in the Milan household hover above mediocrity. Her husband attempts not to kill people for a living. In exchange, Courtney attempts not to do the dishes.

Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney experimented with various occupations: computer programming, dog-training, scientificating. . . . Having given up on being able to do any of those things, she's taken to heart the axiom that those who can't do, teach. When she's not reading (lots), writing (lots), or sleeping (not enough), she can be found in the vicinity of a classroom.

So, come on back Saturday when Courtney talks about selling the unmarketable manuscript. You don’t want to miss this interesting look into writing a romance that breaks the rules. Until then, go check out Courtney’s website and her blog, where today she talks about word choice and historical accuracy.

Taking a Stand on Floating Body Parts

To start us off, here's a pic with Bill Pullman from Spaceballs.

The caption actually reads, 'Their eyes locked.'

Since attending the ACFW conference last Sept, I’ve attempted to improve my writing using the craft techniques I picked up there. I know my writing has improved because others - like my critique partners - have told me so. But there’s one part that I am really having problems with:

Floating Body Parts (FBP's)

I’ve been working on my entries for the ACFW Genesis contest this week and I noticed the judges picked up some floating body parts in Charley’s Saint:

- Hunger pangs sent her hand forward to pull a muffin out from the tin

- She saw his eyes drift out the window

- Her jaw dropped

- He lifted a hand

- Their eyes locked

- She drank in the sight of Henry in her kitchen.

And that’s only the first 15 pages.

I’ve revised my entry to either delete or change the above phrases but you know, I just can’t seem to cut out the last one. I love that line and couldn’t think of any other words to convey the same image. And so I say, The Story Rules! Hoo-uh!!! Yes, I’m taking a chance by leaving it in my ms, but it just feels right at this point.

When I started researching for this post, I realized most searches for ‘floating body parts’ brought up gruesome results. Pages and pages of them. But I just couldn’t find the floating body parts I wanted to discuss here.

So, without any professional refs to back this up, let me say I don’t see anything wrong with the statement: ‘their eyes met across the crowed room’.

I mean, I know their eyes didn’t literally jump out of their sockets and meet in midair in the middle of the room. And, you know they didn’t meet literally, so why can’t I use it? Isn’t that where creative license comes in?

Sure, I can use ‘their gazes met’ but what about the next time they look at each other? How many times can I say there gazes met in one book? I’ve tried to change it up with ‘they looked at each other’ or ‘they stared at each other’ but again, there are only so many way you can say it without repeating yourself.

I know if I spent hours at it, I could come up with much better ways to describe what their eyes are doing but you know, there are so many more important details in the book I’d rather be spending my time on.

Here are some examples of floating body parts. Can you picture these?:

- her eyes drew him forward until he stood but a breath away
- fall into his deep blue eyes
- his hands flew up as if to ward off her words
- she rolled her eyes
- his eyes caressed her
- her fingers flew across the keys
- her eyes flew open
- her eyes slammed shut
- his eyebrows knitted together or rammed together or slammed together
- her head swam with dizziness

But wait a minute, some of those aren't floating body parts, they're just doing other things.

And what about these:

- she took a bus to work
- she jumped right into the fray
- his eyes blazed
- he barked his reply
- she melted from the heat of his molten eyes
- she felt the sting of his words
- her skin crawled

Are they allowed? Should they be banned?

These are just metaphors, right?
According to the Owl On-line Writing Lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/gl_metaphor.html, Diomedes said:

A Metaphor is the transferring of things and words from their proper signification to an improper similitude for the sake of beauty, necessity, polish, or emphasis.

Have we come so far from the old literary masters in our drive for perfection that we’re robbing our writing of it’s voice? Draining it of all those delightful phrases that immediately bring an image to mind? Peeling back the layers until a child could grasp the concept while the rest of us tire from boredom? Stripping the beauty of our words for the sake of a new set of rules?

What do you think? Do you use FBP’s or other metaphors? Should they be banned or glorified?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Is It Getting Hot In Here?

“We’ve known each other for three chapters, so how about it?”

Depending on the level of sensuality you write, your characters may or may not be steaming up the pages by this point. Heat level is a hot topic these days and as erotic romance increases in popularity the discussion is bound to get hotter. But in romance, whether you leave the door wide open, even add a little kink, or keep the door firmly closed, it’s still all about the evolving relationship between the protagonists.

Guaranteed there is something out there to tempt every reader no matter your preferred heat level. But if you don’t want to end up with a book that makes you uncomfortable read a review first and check and see if the site gives a heat rating. Over at All About Romance they give their reviews sensuality ratings. Kisses are sweet romances, Subtle means no explicit sensuality, Warm is moderately explicit, Hot is very explicit and Burning is reserved for erotic romance. You can check in at All About Romance at http://www.likesbooks.com/ for a more extensive look at their rating system.

As a reader, I like sex with my plot. All I ask is that the sex fall within the realm of possibility. It is a rare thing for me to put down money for a book and then not finish it but that’s exactly what happened recently. I bought a book and I knew it was going to be scorching. It was a paranormal, one in a series, which involved protagonists with special powers, kind of like the X-Men. So far so good, except the special powers seemed to exist solely for the purpose of having sex anywhere and everywhere, not to mention anyhow. To call the plot basic would be generous. And I swear, some of the positions needed more than special powers to be possible. When you find yourself twisting and turning and grimacing while reading a sex scene, it’s not a good thing.

I know what works for me as a reader; I just wish I could turn that around and apply those things as a writer. ‘Cause let me just say, writing sex scenes is not as satisfying as reading them. You worry the emotional impact isn’t great enough, you’re concerned with plausibility, have you made use of the five senses, is the dialogue to hokey. Yikes. By the end of your scene you’re exhausted and not in a good way.

Do you have any great links or valuable resources that help you write fabulously sensual sex scenes? Do you have a favorite author you feel gets those sex scenes just right? Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to reading sex scenes?

“A terrible thing happened to me last night again - Nothing.” Phyllis Diller

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Self-Discipline OR Getting My Butt Into The Saddle

Well here I am, back in the saddle (we live in the Prairies, right? thus I reserve the option of breaking into western-themed cliches at the drop of a Stetson). The last three weeks have been a blur of travel/year-end overtime at the day job and volunteer/family commitments that have combined to give me another excuse to avoid getting down to the business of writing.

Another excuse? "Yes, " she said, head lowered to hide the wince. We've talked about this in our group so I take comfort knowing I'm not alone: when I'm struggling with a character (and I'm certainly doing that just now), or when I realize I'm going nowhere with a premise, or when I can plainly see that what I've written has to be undone, completely, the first thing I'm likely to do is get up from my chair. The second is to avoid getting back into it at all for days/weeks/(wince again) months at a time. Deadly in terms of output (marvelous, of course, for clean laundry, shining sinks, dust bunny removal, short grass, and so on).

So.... given that this is something I want to do for myself, and that I can happily spend hours at without so much as a nibble of chocolate when the words are flowing, what keeps me from making time for it on a regular basis come whatever? And frankly, not to mention more importantly, how can I change that?

I know full well that those last few words above are key--I have to change it; no one can do it for me. I've done the positive thinking thing, the affirmations, the visioning, and to an extent they work. One of the most productive writing exercises I've done involved envisioning my book on the stands, complete with back cover blurb, and lo--my 'write' brain came through with exactly what I needed to move forward with the story. I've had positive and encouraging feedback on my writing from my writing colleagues as well as two editors, mostly positive critiques (honesty compels me to add that in one case I was advised to join a writing group, and it was long after I had), and a rejection that included an invitation to send in the next manuscript. So now I have to get to it and write.

I've tried the scheduled time approach: every Monday is mine, I said. Seems everyone listened but me and the dust bunnies--amazing how unremarkable they are until Monday. I've also tried the "whenever the muse speaks approach", with paper and pen to the ready wherever I am--strangely, most of the paper is still blank, other than the assorted "to do" and grocery lists scattered about. Thus I conclude that everything is in place that needs to be with the exception of self-discipline. I have not, however, hung up my spurs.

I have promised myself that every Monday I will do one writing exercise not related to my current work, just to keep the brain muscle limber, and one hour every Monday, Wednesday and Friday entirely devoted to my current work. Baby steps, and I know I'll have to ramp it up to meet my public commitment to finish the first draft of my current work in progress by the end of September, of this year. But that commitment is my next strategy in sabotaging my habit of sabotaging myself. If anyone has any other suggestions that have worked for them I'll happily add them to my collection (along with the dust bunnies that should--no, make that will start multiplying again undisturbed).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Disaster! Don't Let This Happen to You

You think I would have learned by now. I came home the other day to discover my desktop computer had departed for the big motherboard in the sky.

In other words, she crashed.

I made the classic mistake of not backing up a couple of blog posts I’d written for Prairie Chicks, one of which I was hoping to post today. It’s not even so much the blog posts I’m upset about. I have so much information on my computer, from the site builder for my website to the library for my Sony e-book reader. So here I am, gentle readers, looking for answers and hoping my husband can retrieve the information from my dead computer. What are the best ways to back up my work? How can I make backing up as easy as possible so even an idiot like me can do it? And how do I back up non Word or Adobe files, things like emails and other important files?

The purpose of a backup is to protect data in the event of a harddrive crash, or a virus that renders your computer useless. For this, you need some form of external backup (ie: not on your harddrive) that allows you to get up and running on another computer as quickly as possible. Another question gets added to my list. What’s the best medium for storing your backup?

So the first place I turned was the Internet. A quick search on Google using “computer backups” brought up a plethora of information. One site I liked is here. I’m not a total idiot (well, that’s debatable). I’ve known for a long time how to back up individual files. Once I’ve saved a file to my harddrive I click File and then “Save As” and point the computer to my removable disk.

Another method of backing up individual files or folders is to right-click the file or folder you want to save and clicking on Copy from the menu. Then in My Computer, right-click the disk or external harddrive where you want to store the backup copy, and press Paste.

Lately I’ve been using a USB drive, also known as a jump drive, key drive or thumb drive, for my backups. I like its ease of use and portability, and you can get a lot of storage space for a low price. However I did read that they may have not as long a life as some other mediums.

External harddrives can be purchased at any computer supply store and will hold a lot of information. They plug into any USB port on your computer and are simple to use, and although they are more expensive than USB drives, they provide much more storage. They promise one button backup for the contents of the entire computer. This sounds kind of idiot proof, and the price isn’t horrendous at $100 to $150, so I’m going to check them out. I looked at this website after I saw the product recommended elsewhere: http://freeagent.seagate.com/en-us/hard-drive/portable-hard-drive/Free-Agent.html#

Several sources I read in my research recommended backing up on a regular basis using CDs or DVDs. Most computers have either a CD or DVD burner. DVDs are preferable because of their greater storage. CD-Rs (the kind you can’t rewrite) are simple to use and the cost is low enough that backups can be made frequently and simply thrown away when the information on them is no longer current. Most people make a fresh CD-R backup once a week, keep two weeks worth of backups in storage, and throw away the older ones.

What I didn’t realize before, and really should have, was that the contents of my entire computer can be backed up. My old desktop uses Windows XP Home Edition. There are instructions for how to backup the entire contents of this computer, plus other operating systems such as Windows XP Professional here.

It is also possible to backup the contents of Outlook Express, which is something that interests me because I have (or had) many, many folders of saved emails. To find out how to do it click here.

When I checked with fellow writers about how they do their backups, some mentioned offsite storage. This is when you pay a company to store your backups for you. One mentioned was http://www.carbonite.com A low cost method of storing files other writers mentioned was to mail yourself a copy of a piece of work at an Internet email address like Yahoo or gmail. That way if your computer fails, your work is still there for you.

I’ve learned my lesson. I swear I will do regular backups. Assuming, of course, that my husband finds something on the old computer to back up.

Have you ever had a major computer crash? Did you ever lose some of your writing? Or are you a fanatic about backing up? What’s your backup schedule?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

And the winner is...

Thanks to Marly Mathews, one of our lucky readers has won a copy of Marly's newest release Dark Phoenix. In Marly's own words:

"And the winner of Dark Phoenix is KAREN! Karen, please email me at marly AT marlymathews DOT com for your copy. Best,~Marly"

If you missed the lively discussion on author promotion, scroll down and have a read. If you're interested in Marly's newest release, or her other books, we've added her to our Honorary Chicks list in the sidebar. Click on her name and link to her website. And come on back to The Prairies tomorrow when our own Jana Richards will be blogging.

Again, congratulations, Karen and thanks, Marly.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Welcome Marly Mathews

Hello Everyone!

My name is Marly Mathews, and I am happy to be here!

Today I have the opportunity to say something I’ve never said before—I’m officially an honorary Prairie Chick. I’m also a Canadian Romance Author but I was raised in South Western Ontario, quite a ways from Saskatchewan.

In this blog post, I am going to talk about my newest release from New Concepts Publishing, Dark Phoenix, and I’m also going to touch on author promotion, and how an author can overcome their publicity shyness and dive into the deep end so to speak.

But first, let me share the cover of Dark Phoenix with you all.
I’m so delighted with this cover, as it captures the true essence of Dark Phoenix’s story. Dark Phoenix is a futuristic fantasy romance with all sorts of magical creatures in it. I won’t drone on about it, instead I’m going to now share the blurb with you. I will also include the link to Dark Phoenix’s page at New Concepts Publishing for you to read an excerpt of Dark Phoenix.

In shackles and destined for the intergalactic slave market, Alora Bishop is rescued by Immortal Garrett Firestorm, a Crimson Phoenix. An unbreakable bond—a psychic chain—if forged between them, but Alora has secrets that could mean their destruction.

Born with the magical soul of a Crimson Phoenix, Garrett Firestorm is a beacon of light in a dark universe. As an Immortal from the Hidden Realms of Magic, he and his star ship fleet of freedom fighters, roam the known galaxies fighting evil.

When he finds Alora Bishop in shackles and destined for the intergalactic slave trade market, he rescues her and brings her into his confidence, knowing that an unbreakable bond—a psychic chain for his kind, has been forged between the two of them, he sets out to win her heart. But Alora is a woman with a mysterious past, and the secrets hidden just might be their saving grace, or their total destruction…

Now, let’s move onto the promotion side of this blog post.

I’m not going to say I’m an expert on it, because I’m sure there are some authors that know more than I do, but I will share with you some tips on how to get your feet wet.

First off, get yourself a website. I think that’s the best tool an author can have. A good website will represent your books and you as an author. Think of how you want the public to see your little home on the web. My little home on the web was designed and is maintained by the ultra talented Rae Monet, and you can visit it by clicking on this link, http://www.marlymathews.com/

Now, let’s move onto the blog, if you are reading this post, you know what a blog is, and how it functions. It’s also free and relatively user friendly. Both Blogger and Word Press offer free templates that you can choose from once you sign up. Again, my blog matches my website so it’s a custom template made by Rae Monet.

Next, we move onto MySpace and Facebook, which are both excellent networking outlets. Facebook doesn’t require much time to set up, whereas with MySpace you do have to decorate your space with a template of your choosing. There are many different sites where you can find free templates, and you can also have custom ones made as well.

Goodreads, Shelfari, and Twitter are also good spots to promote yourself as a writer.
If you’re published, find out what review sites your publisher sends out to, and send out to the ones they don’t have on auto send.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about book videos. A book video gives the reader a glimpse into your book that the blurb and an excerpt can’t do. Many of us are visual thinkers, so many people benefit from seeing a book video and I believe it’s a highly beneficial marketing tool for your books.

You can make your own book video or hire someone to make it for you. Remember, if you are making your own book video you have to get your images from royalty free stock photo sites like Dreamstime http://www.dreamstime.com/or 123RF-RF standing for Royalty free. http://www.123rf.com/. You must also do the same for your music. Some good royalty free music sites are www.shockwave-sound.com and Kevin MacLeod’s music site, http://www.incompetech.com/.

If you’re on a Windows computer you will use Windows Movie Maker and if you’re on a Mac computer you’ll use iMovie to make your book videos. You can view my book videos by watching them on my You Tube page, http://www.youtube.com/user/MarlyMathews

I have had a lovely time blogging here today. I hope my blog post was both interesting and informative.

If you leave a comment for me here, you will automatically be entered into a contest for a download of Dark Phoenix.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Top Ten Reasons I Want to be a Romance Novel Heroine

10. Beauty. Sure, they may deviate one or two degrees away from ‘OMG, she’s so shiny I have to look away’, but they are always beautiful.
9. Long, flowing tresses – rich and vibrant in color. Oh, and so silky that the hero itches to touch it. No more short, fine, straight, can’t do a thing with it hair.
8. Witty, charming and verbose. It will be the end of constructing brilliant repartee a day (or week) after engaging in an intellectual conversation.
7. Fabulous career. CEO of a major advertising company, medical doctor saving lives every day, artist, pastry chef – and in a historical, a lady of leisure (that’s my real desire).
6. No chores. No vacuuming or washing dishes. Cleaning the toilet – never again. And dust seems to be non-existent in a heroine’s house. Oh, yeah, you can see why this comes before beauty on this top ten list.
5. Time. There is never enough time in the real world to do all the things one wants to do. There are books piled on the bedside table to be read, photo albums needing to be organized, chores (see above) to get done. And forget about time to exercise…
4. Never have to exercise again. Self-explanatory!
3. Adventure and excitement. Right from that first page (first page!) to the last chapter there will be thrills and action. Fast paced living at its best.
2. Sex. Even if it’s behind closed doors, you know she’s getting some and you know it’s good.
And the number one reason I want to be a Romance Novel Heroine –
1. She lives Happily Ever After!

Last week we talked about the men, today let’s open up the floor to the women who intrigue, tempt, infuriate, and eventually bring our hero to his knees. The heroine.

I mentioned before that over on the SRW’s private blog we’re working on character interviews. For the second part of the exercise, I chose to switch out my hero for my heroine so she could have her say and I could work on her POV. You may remember me saying in last week’s blog post that Gillian was a well-developed individual and she was simply waiting for Mac to figure himself out before the story could move forward. Well, that was a blatant lie (I apologize to the readers). And I’ve made a very interesting discovery. I write wimpy women.

Now, this shouldn’t be a revelation. My first four drafts of Lady Bells were horrific. Mena was weak, timid, anxious, afraid, and, well, boring. I was going for reserved, soft-spoken, gentle. I re-wrote and re-wrote and polished and polished. Every subsequent draft had her getting stronger, more secure in who she was and what she stood for. She emerged like a butterfly from the cocoon, beautiful and determined. She is still reserved, soft-spoken, and gentle, but now she also has a backbone. And she so brings Hugh to his knees as he professes his undying love and devotion to her and her alone.

My new heroine, Gillian, the yin to Mac’s yang, is an artist (see reason number 7 – I always wanted to be an artist). Mac is a hardened mercenary. Family means everything to her, so much so that she has given up her dream to paint abstract in order to sell landscapes to tourists to contribute to the family coffers. Mac would rather forget his family. She sees beauty and possibility everywhere. Pessimism and suspicion are Mac’s closest allies. White versus black, day versus night. See, fully realized – I know exactly who she is. But, on paper, she’s coming across as a twit!

Obviously, I need to go back to the drawing board. I found a fascinating discussion here. The article is short, but the comment section is jumping with people’s thoughts and ideas on the aggressive heroine versus the passive one. It’s a long read, but well worth it. And I’m going take some time and digest the companion read to last week’s link. Tami Cowden’s article – The Eight Female Archetypes gives definitions, examples from movies, and scenarios. It might be exactly what I need to re-write Gillian as I envision her. Strong, confident, loving – a woman with a big heart except when it comes to forgiving herself. Mac’s happily ever after.

So, People of Blogland, what kind of heroines do you write? What kind do you enjoy reading – softhearted, but strong-willed women or boisterous, assertive ones who kick butt? And which Romance Novel Heroine quality do you wish you had? Looking forward to a lively discussion.

Janet (who's a little afraid of the formatting of this blogpost)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Marly Mathews

On Saturday, March 21, Marly Mathews becomes an honorary Chick when she guest blogs on The Prairies. Marly writes romance, but does not limit herself to just one sub-genre. She has written historical, paranormal, fantasy, futuristic, and contemporary. Dark Phoenix is her newest release and is available this month from New Concepts Publishing. To learn more about Marly, check out her website where her book page shows just how versatile this author is. You’ll also discover a little more about Marly and her writing history (ah, damsels in distress and gallant knights), read excerpts from her books, and find the link to her blog.

Then, come on back to The Prairies on Saturday and learn about author promotion. Marly has some fabulous tips for how to get your name out there and information on book trailers (Marly creates awesome book trailers). You don’t want to miss this guest blog. And, if you leave a comment, your name will be entered into a contest for a download of Dark Phoenix. I know I’ll be here – bright and early.

Randy’s Motivation and Reaction Units

Another workshop I attended at the ACFW conference was entitled ‘Those Pesky MRU’s’ taught by Randy Ingermanson (Creator of the Snowflake Method of Writing a Novel). I’d heard the buzz about MRU’s on the web since Randy had first posted it on his blog but that only whetted my appetite so I was very excited when I was given the opportunity to see him present it.

The gist of this workshop is that for every motivation (what the character sees, hears or smells), there is a reaction (what he does).

Randy started by saying if it’s not a deep emotional scene, get over it as fast as possible. And even strike it out.

For the motivation, he says to imagine your character has a video camera stuck to his forehead and the reader will experience everything that your character sees, hears or smells. The motivation is external and objective.

In response to the motivation, your character will experience a reaction. This reaction has an exact sequence that is to be followed based on what is physiologically possible. The reaction is internal and subjective.

The sequence of events that make up the reaction are:

1 – Feelings – an instantaneous, visceral reaction

2 – Reflexive – an instinctive action

3 – Rational – Speech or internal monologue

Randy gave the example of a tiger coming towards you (the motivation) which could incite the following sequence of events:

1 – Feelings – Adrenaline surge, cold sweat, heart hammering, weak kneed

2 – Reflexive – You pull a gun in response

3 - Rational – You shriek or yell at the tiger and pull the trigger.

So the correct sequence is: Think, then act, then speak.

Every time your character does an action, start a new paragraph. It creates white space and speeds pacing.

Randy says:

"The Reaction is internal and subjective, and you present it that way, exactly as your POV character would experience it -- from the inside. This is your chance to make your reader be your POV character. To repeat myself, this must happen in its own paragraph (or sequence of paragraphs). If you leave it in the same paragraph as the Motivation, then you risk whip-sawing the reader. Which no reader enjoys.

The Reaction is more complex than the Motivation. The reason is that it is internal, and internal processes happen on different time-scales. When you see a tiger, in the first milliseconds, you only have time for one thing -- fear. Within a few tenths of a second, you have time to react on instinct, but that is all it will be -- instinct, reflex. But shortly after that first reflexive reaction, you will also have time to react rationally, to act, to think, to speak. You must present the full complex of your character's reactions in this order, from fastest time-scale to slowest. If you put them out of order, then things just don't feel right. You destroy the illusion of reality. And your reader won't keep reading because your writing is "not realistic." Even if you got all your facts right....

.... It is legitimate to leave out one or two of these three parts. (You can't leave out all three or you have no Reaction.) But there is one critical rule to follow in leaving parts out: Whatever parts you keep in must be in the correct order. If there is a Feeling, it must come first. If there is a Reflex, it must never come before a Feeling. If there is some Rational Action, it must always come last. This is simple and obvious and if you follow this rule, your Reactions will be perfectly structured time after time.”

He says the key to this Motivation and Reaction is that it’s repeated over and over and when you run out of motivations and reactions, your scene is over.

He also says, that if any part of your scene doesn’t contain an MRU, take it out. “You can't afford charity for a single sentence that is not pulling its weight. And the only parts of your scene that pull their weight are the MRUs. All else is fluff."

For more info on MRU's check out Randy's site at http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php.

This workshop really helped me write action scenes.

Do you write action scenes? Have you ever thought about the exact sequence of events involved? Have you checked Randy's blog prior to this? (It's on my bloglist.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Query Letters: The Business Side of Writing

Okay I admit it, I’ve never written a query letter. But since I need to produce one for an upcoming Saskatchewan Romance Writers meeting (I think) I figured now was a good time to learn.

Apparently agents and editors read these things and you need to be able to write one to grab their attention. Nothing like leaving it all riding on a one page letter. Yes, one page tops.

First off, ditch your creative writing hat and put on your business suit. This will put you in the right frame of mind. A query letter is the tool used to grab an agent/editor’s attention. Your goal is to illicit an invitation for further sample chapters or even a whole manuscript. Do yourself and your intended audience a favour by keeping it simple. No cutesy fonts or backgrounds. Resist the urge to scrapbook your letter. Keep it single spaced with a simple 12pt font, align paragraphs to the left, no indentations and leave a space between paragraphs.

Here is the information my query is going to contain, hopefully, along with some other stuff.

It will start off with a real name and a title. Keep it real people.

The first paragraph will be my introduction. If you are published offer your credits. Lying is bad and will get you nowhere. If you are unpublished now is the time to show you are familiar with your targeted agent’s/editor’s line and show you’re querying the right agent/editor for your work. Mention the title of your manuscript. If you’ve met the person you are writing to now is a good time to remind them.

Here’s where it gets a little queasy.

The second paragraph will contain the summary of my manuscript, preferably in two to three sentences. First sentence - give them the Hook. This is the one sentence tagline for your book. You’ve got the next two sentences to state your mini-synopsis which expands on the Hook. You may choose to mention the main characters, reference the conflict, and end by leaving the agent wanting to read more. Think of the blurbs on the back cover of your favourite book.

Miss Snark says to “answer these questions at this point in your query. Who is the protagonist? What dilemma does he face? How does it get resolved? Answer each question in less than 25 words. That's the skeleton for a good query letter. It may not be your finished version, but it will give you the bone structure you need. If you CAN'T do that...don't query me. Your novel needs the work then, not the query.”

Check out her ‘new’ blog at http://www.misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/. You can also reference her ‘old’ blog at http://www.misssnark.blogspot.com/. Both contain valuable information.

My final paragraph will contain practical information such as word count and the status of my manuscript. This goes to show two things. Stating word count once again proves you’ve done your homework and you are submitting to the correct agent/editor. The status of your manuscript states you’ve finished, proving you can follow through with a project. Mention any necessary enclosures such as a synopsis if one is required.

I’ll end by saying thank you for your time and consideration. Sincerely me and include my home address, telephone number and email address unless I’ve decided to provide the information as a header at the top of the page. I will not include a cc to other agents/editors to save time or/and postage.

Here’s where I get confused. Some sources said to query more than one agent at a time (up to 5 or 10) and some said to only query one person at a time. I have no idea which is the better advice. Please help. Me thinks one at a time would take forever.

The final bit of advice suggested you have someone critique your query letter but I was too chicken to post an actual query letter written by me here, so I didn’t.

Please help me out by offering further tips, advice or pointing out errors in my strategy. Do you enjoy writing query letters? Do you stress over writing them? Do you have examples of exceptional query letters you’d like to share?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Forks in the Road: One Writer's Journey

Recently the opportunity arose for me to participate (or not) as a regular on this blog. Me? I knew nothing about blogging. I doubted my ability to get up to speed. I hadn't even been reading the blog until one day in January when a minus 40 wind chill kept me home from the SRW meeting. Then I began dropping in daily to learn from the creative women who started this. I heard myself say that I would learn the ropes. A new door opened, and now I am delighted to call myself a Prairie Chick.

It got me thinking that we face choices all the time, as individuals and as writers. J.K. Rowling has said, "It is our choices ... that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." And we never know until we attempt the unknown, even if we think it will be difficult or scary, what the outcome will be. I want to tell you about some of the forks in the road that I have faced in my life and career.

When I was eighteen, a friend suggested that we study for a year at a university in England. I didn't have to think too long. My parents' permission helped, too. I'm grateful for her challenge and for what I experienced that year. There were complications that you wouldn't believe. But there was also a week in Scotland at Hogmanay, and we took a trip to Paris over spring break.Yes, April in Paris!

I pondered what to do after my general arts degree. My choices? Journalism or librarianship. I chose a library degree, followed by a long career in academic libraries. It was rewarding work. But what if I had taken the journalism route? For sure I would have had an early kick-start to my writing life. But on the other hand, I might not have been in the right place for my personal life to play out as it did.

I moved to a new city for my first library position (followed my boyfriend, if you really want to know). Within a month, I was dumped by the boyfriend, but almost simultaneously met the man I would marry. Full of European charm, he had an irresistible twinkle in his eyes. An engineer with a Swiss company, he installed turbines for a major hydroelectric project. Didn't even intend to stay in Canada, but then, that was a fork in the road for him.

As a teenager, I aspired to be a writer. My high school English teacher encouraged me to attend a summer writing workshop. I might have taken creative writing courses at university, if they had been offered. However, my life soon took over: I was a very busy wife, mother of three sons, and full-time librarian. Occasionally, I wistfully attended workshops, and once began a short story with a rural setting. I began to think about writing a romance novel about a young prairie girl who would go to university in Scotland and fall in love with a handsome Scot. Aye, I did. (Start working on the plot, that is.)

Why am I rambling on about my life story? Because I believe my journey has set me up for a rich writing experience. I lived in and travelled to a variety of places. Do I use them for my settings? You bet I do. I've met people from many different walks of life, witnessed their struggles and joys. I have experienced love, childbirth, grief, happiness, and disappointment. My characters and plots must be based on what I care about deeply; my own emotions and observations become the foundation upon which my imagination builds.

Soon after I retired, I was widowed. I stood at a crossroad where one signpost said: This way to a new life of imagination, creativity, and excitement. I embraced the world of writing, though tentatively at first. I joined organisations, writers' groups, and took courses. I dabbled in many genres. Poems came to me unbidden; I worked hard to perfect them. I wrote memoir/travel pieces about trips with my husband, and a hiking trip in Austria taken on my own after his death. Revision became my watchword.

In progress: both a memoir and a novel about studying abroad, set in the fifties. A short story about a retired widow(!) placed second in a manuscript competition, which motivates me to keep writing. A few poems and a short memoir about my prairie childhood have appeared in a small literary journal. Each new contest entered or submission made ... another fork in the road taken.

Oh, yes. I am still working on the romance set in Scotland. I have added a generational twist. I don't know if it will fit into a particular category or not, but I'm writing it anyway. I'll worry about target market later. I'm having the time of my life. I'm also watching for the next fork in the road. Where will it take me? I enjoy watching movies, but I don't know anything about writing screenplays ... Hmmm

What influences your writing? Is your life story reflected in your writing? Even if you write fantasy and make up a completely new world, do you draw on your own experiences and emotions? Do you crave adventures, grasp new opportunities when they appear at the fork in the road?

Monday, March 16, 2009

On-Line Classes

I love on-line writing classes. For a small fee, I can learn about an era in history, research a topic I want to write about, or hone my writing skills. I have the opportunity to ask an expert anything I need to know and I can participate as much or as little as I like. I can save all the lessons and study them again later at my leisure. I’ve taken classes on a wide range of subjects, from one that helped me set up my MySpace page, to ones that helped with motivation and goal setting.

The subjects offered in on-line classes are varied. Here’s a list of March 2009 classes from the February edition of e-notes from RWA:
- Mr. Ed tells all: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Horses
- The Power of the Dark Side: Create Great Villains and Villainesses
- Mastering Point of View
- Empowering Character Emotions
- Internal Conflicts; External Conflicts - The Essential Diagnosis, Treatment and Cures for All Conflict Ills
-Disaster! Beyond Goal, Motivation and Conflict
-Behind the Scenes: Cold Case Investigations
-Story, Theme and Idea
-Building Hot Sex Scenes
-Block Busting: Putting the Joy Back in Writing
-Behind the Scenes - The Research Before the Book

The classes listed here are put on by various RWA Chapters such as the Mystery and Suspense chapter (http://www.rwamysterysuspense.org), the Mid Willamette Valley Romance Writers (http://www.midwillamettevalleyrwa.com) or the Heart of Dixie Romance Writers (http://www.heartofdixie.org). I’ve also taken a class through the RWA chapter Passionate Ink Writers (http://passionateink.org). Classes are open to non-RWA writers, with discounts on the cost of the class given to members of that writing group. Though most of the classes I take are through RWA chapters, a quick search on Google using “online romance writing classes” came up with several viable options as well.

I’m also a member of PRO with Romance Writers of America. PRO puts on several classes a year, all of them free to PRO members. These classes offer an insider’s look into the publishing industry by interviewing agents, editors and published authors. PRO members get a chance to ask questions of these insiders, thereby getting a feel for what’s really going on in the book world. The latest class offered was “Deciphering Rejections”. For me, the information gleaned from these classes makes being a PRO definitely worthwhile.

So what makes a good online class? Affordability, for starters. Most of the classes I take cost between $15 and $30 US and last one to four weeks. Having a good presenter is another must. Someone who is an expert in her field, or has done research in the area she is presenting is critical. For instance, writer Alicia Rasley is well known for her classes on plot and point of view. As well, I’ve taken classes from prominent writers such as Shirley Jump. A class that actively participates in the exercises makes for lively and interesting discussion. From past experience, I’ve found that often someone else’s questions will shed light on a topic for me. A good presenter will always make sure that she keeps the discussion on topic and does not let it get sidetracked.

Most classes use Yahoo groups as their platform. If you don’t already have a Yahoo account, you’ll need one to take part. Once you pay for your class (you can usually pay with Paypal) you will be sent an email inviting you to join the group. Simply follow the links to join. You are given the option of which email address you’d like messages sent to and you can opt to receive individual emails or a daily digest of messages. Extra files and pictures can be uploaded to the Yahoo site. In the class I’m currently taking, students can upload a scene to the files section. Our instructor looks over our scene, and creates a new Word file containing her edits and suggestions. She then uploads the new file and the whole class can download it. We have the benefit of seeing not only our files but all our classmates’ files, giving us a wide range of perspectives and ideas. Once the class is over, the site is closed, so make sure to retrieve all the files and lessons you’d like before that happens.

On-line classes are a way for me to keep learning my craft and pick up new skills. I find them helpful and fun. The selection of available classes is always interesting and my biggest problem is not having enough time to indulge in as many as I would like.

Have you ever participated in an on-line class? Did you find it useful?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Welcome Lesley-Anne McLeod

Scheduling Releases

It's very nice to be here at Prairie Chicks! This blog is awesome and I'm so impressed by the Chicks' dedication to it, and their insights on the writing experience.

My fourth Regency romance 'Novel Byte', titled "Emilina's Conquest", was released by Uncial Press yesterday. A 'Novel Byte' is a piece of short fiction, 5,000 to 10,000 words long that is sold for a low price by the electronic publisher--quick reads for a small charge.

I will have another of these short reads, "Lost in Almack's", released by Uncial Press in the fall of this year, and in 2010, they will publish another full length Regency romance by me. I have seven 60,000+ word Regency romances 'in print'; that is, available as e-books. Three are sold at Awe-Struck E-Books and four are available at Uncial Press.

My production over the last eight years seems substantial but that is because I had three manuscripts in storage when I broke into 'print'. I was able to improve them and sell them after the first one was accepted. Since that initial burst of activity, I have produced one full length manuscript a year, with an occasional shorter piece thrown in.

That intense level of creation got tiring. So eight months or so ago, I had a serious think about the next two years. How hard did I want to work? How much time did I have? What could I produce? The author is always constrained of course by the process of her creation. There are slow writers, fast writers and phenomenally productive writers.

For an unpublished--pre-published--author the question is always: when will I be published? For an established author the question becomes, how often should I be published? (I am assuming here that you have a choice, that you are well-connected with a publisher who will go to contract on your proposals.) The really tricky questions are: how often do I need--as an established writer--to produce a new book? How long can an author be out of the new release spotlight, and still be recognized when she returns to it? Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? Conversely, is more really better, or does the reader become tired of the author if she releases too often?

My suspicion is that you really can't produce too much or have too many new releases. If readers like your work, they'll buy every book you release as long as the quality remains high. And with that in mind, you have to consider when crafting a novel becomes churning out a product. If you are working too fast for your own creative ability, the quality of your writing will suffer. Better to produce less than allow that to happen.

I don't have the answers to any of my questions. Maybe you can help me form
ulate some. But I did come up with a plan that worked for me. I decided to write two Novel Bytes for 2009 and a full length Regency for 2010. I quite like that schedule, and I may propose it to my editor again: two Novel Bytes for 2011 and a full-length book for 2012. But the writing might not all be Regency romance--I think I have some other stories in me as well!

See more of Lesley-Anne McLeod's thoughts on writing and regency romance at The Regency World of Lesley-Anne McLeod (blog). And be sure to visit her website for information on her published works, the regency world (great resources listed), articles for writers, a regency coloring book, free stories, and even a contest.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I Need a Hero...

On the heels of Anita’s post, I find myself writing about men. It ties in with what she talked about and I hope compliments the ideas and suggestions she shared with us. If you haven’t read her post, scroll down, it’s an interesting and enlightening read.

This past couple of weeks I’ve been busy creating a new blog for the SRW. This is a private blog so that we can post snippets of our work. Or work on writing exercises to improve our craft. It has been a busy, but wonderful two weeks.

The first set of exercises posted was a character interview. Suse has spoken about this activity in the comment section of her blog post “In the Corner”. An interview will help you discover who your characters are and perhaps dig a little deeper than just a surface sketch. So the assignment was to choose a character from a WIP and then answer the questions in that person’s point of view. Naturally, with a group of diverse and wonderful writers that make up the SRW, everyone came at this in a different way.

I chose the hero from a current WIP that has been plaguing me for far too long. My heroine, Gillian, is a fully developed, well-rounded individual, and does exactly what she’s supposed to do in her own klutzy, artistic way. My hero, Mac! Well, let’s just say he’s not cooperating. Hasn’t from the first time he introduced himself with Gillian! I’ve written him as a cop, as a drug enforcement agent, as a FBI agent, as a land developer. Every incarnation has ended in me staring at the blinking cursor, Gillian waiting for him to do something, and him crossing his arms over his chest and refusing to continue. Not my idea of a hero!

Even in the middle of this interview he surprised me. Karen (fellow Chick) asked an amazing question. “If you could pick one superpower, what would it be?” And Mac blurted out “Invisible.” Just like that. I sat there, fingers poised on the keyboard and stared at the screen. Now, what was I supposed to do with that? Is that hero material? How do you move forward when your hero declares he wants to be invisible?

All of this has got me thinking about what makes a hero. I could use the hero sandwich to discuss my idea of a hero, but when I thought about the meat and condiments, well, let’s just say my mind went in a very different direction. Then I thought about Bonnie Tyler’s song “Holding Out For a Hero”. I ended up with 80’s flashbacks – big hair and that awful dancing I used to do where my shoulders went one way and my arms went the other and my head bobbed side to side. Don’t look now, I’m actually doing it in order to explain it.

That leaves me with nothing. I needed help, so I turned to the web and I found this amazing article by Tami Cowden. She talks about the eight hero archetypes and provides examples from the movies so you really get a picture to go with the definition. And if you go here http://www.likesbooks.com/eight.html you’ll also be able to read what those archetypes would do if they were trapped in a basement with an unconscious heroine and a ticking bomb.

This looks to be an amazing resource and one I’m going to bookmark so that maybe I can figure Mac out. I’m also going to spend some time this weekend doing some free writing and see where Mac takes me. I’m curious about his need to be invisible and already my mind is envisioning how that will play out against Gillian’s need to be a people-pleaser. Perhaps this glimpse into his psyche will give me both his inner and outer conflict and strengthen the conflict between he and Gillian.

So, People of Blogland, what do you think makes a great hero? Who are some of your favorite heroes, either in books or in the movies? And because I’m still humming Born in the USA, what’s your favorite 80’s song?


Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Lesley-Anne McLeod

On Saturday, March 14, Lesley-Anne McLeod becomes an honorary Chick when she guest blogs on The Prairies. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – Lesley-Anne has been an honorary Chick since the inception of this blog. Check out the sidebar – she can be found under our blog roll and as a favorite under our favorite links. She’s a vital part of the Saskatchewan Romance Writers, holds us all together, and guides us not only during our meetings but between the monthly events as well. It thrills me to report that she has a new release out tomorrow. Emilina’s Conquest will be available March 13th, 2009 from Uncial Press.

Here’s what others are saying about Lesley-Anne’s writing:

"...the Queen of Historical Romance, her writing is spun in pure gold." --MyShelf.com

"Ms. McLeod pens an outstanding Regency" says Coffee Time Romance.

So come on back on Saturday as Lesley-Anne talks about Scheduling Releases. Published authors will relate to Lesley-Anne’s professional life of writing and unpublished authors will gain an understanding of the decisions professional authors must make as they continue to build their career and readership. Until then, go check out the website and blog of Lesley-Anne McLeod.

Write Like a Man!

Last Sept, I experienced one of the most satisfying weekends of my life when I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. Take 600 people, all connected to the book industry, put them in the same room and the place buzzes with excitement. If you ever have the chance to attend a writing conference, I urge you to take advantage of it. You will learn parts of the craft you probably never even thought about, like the one I want to talk about today.

One of the more interesting workshops I attended was put on by Rachel Hauck and closely supervised by the only male in the room, Randy Ingermanson who had taught a similar workshop in 2004. Realizing a need, Rachel used her notes from Randy’s workshop and presented this one. It was entitled, ‘You Write Like a Girl – Handling the Male POV’. The following is based on my notes of Rachel’s workshop:

Some things are the same for both genders, like wanting to be loved, safe, happy, respected, honored and successful.

But as writers who want to write using a male point of view (POV), we need to observe and listen to males in action. Some of the differences Rachel noted were:

- Men can be wounded and hurt but they won’t admit it

- Men are more visual. They’ll notice she’s wearing clothes but not the colors. And a style showing cleavage will arouse sexual thoughts at a glance.

-Men have more physiological sexual needs than women so they think about sex – a lot.

- Men have very strong egos whereas women have esteem.

- Men are thinkers whereas women are feelers

- Men want to fix things. He’ll see something broken and try to fix it. If he can’t fix it, he’ll ignore it. Women don’t always want it fixed – they just want him to listen.

Men are not complex. They are straight, simple and forward:

- a man will tell a woman he loves her only once in a scene BUT he shows her by touching, etc

- good guys will not get physical (kiss) with a girl if it seems her heart is in it while his isn’t

- If a man is really ‘into’ a woman, he’ll never be too busy too call.

- Just because a man’s been hurt before won’t stop him from going after a woman he’s really into.

When creating your hero, consider that men don’t:

- multi-task (3 things at once)

- sit on the deck and muse

- say ‘Fabulous’ or ‘terrific’

- talk more or have more internal thoughts than the heroine!

Create a hero who:

- is protector and provider

- needs to prove and express himself physically

- needs to be more aggressive

- needs adventure (Indy Jones )

- is strong (Hercules)

- has a soft/weak side (Achilles)

- reacts in a masculine way toward a problem or peers

- works through emotional scenes physically (by playing basketball)

- will give up his best friend for the love of his life

- isn’t afraid of intimacy

Research your hero:

- write a complete biography and back story

- interview men, observe and listen

- what is he afraid of and why

- give him a unique action or movement

- have him use direct dialogue

- read male authors who write romance (list at bottom of this post)

- create valid internal and external obstacles

- be careful with soft emotions like tears (3 crying scenes is too much for one book).

Use fun clichés

- likes cars, computers, sports
- forgets important dates
- make ways of men different than women

In your writing:
- use strong nouns and verbs (strut)
- use shorter words and paragraphs and sentences
- avoid flowery prose
- avoid him observing his ‘well-defined’ biceps

Know your audience:

- Romance – softer male
- Speculative – blue male with 3 eyes
- Suspense – hard and driven male

For further reading, Rachel recommended the book: ‘He’s Just Not That into You” by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo.

Here then is a partial list of authors and the men behind them:

Devon Vaughn Archer (Kimani Romance) = R. Barri Flowers
Jean Barrett (Harlequin Intrigue) = Bob Rogers
Monica Barrie (Pocket Books/Medieval Fantasy) = David Wind
Emma Blair
(Historical Romance) = Iain Blair
Jessica Blair (Historical Romance) = Bill Spence
Madeleine Brent (Fawcett Historical Romance) = Peter O’Donnell
K N Casper (Harlequin SuperRomance/Nascar) = Ken Casper
Jenifer Dalton (Historical Romance) = David Wind
Victoria Gordon
(Harlequin Romance) = Gordon Aalborg
Leigh Greenwood (Leisure Historical Romance) = Harold Lowry
Madeleine Ker (Harlequin Romance/Presents) = Marius Gabriel
Fabio Lanzoni (Avon Historical Romance)
Edwina Marlow (Berkley Historical Romance) = Tom E Huff
Dorothea Nile (Gothic Romances) = Michael Avallone
Vanessa Royall (Dell Historical Romance) = Mike Hinkemeyer
Gill Sanderson (Mills & Boon/Harlequin Medical Romance) = Roger Sanderson
Jessica Stirling
(Historical Romance) = Hugh C Rae
Dorothy Vernon (Silhouette Romance) = C L Pearce (Charles Pearce)
Jennifer Wilde (Warner Books Historical Romance) = Tom E Huff
Leigh Anne Williams (Harlequin American Romance) = Billy Mernit
Ailson York (Harlequin Romance) = Christopher Nicole

Can you believe that list? In researching this post, 2 names took me completely by surprise:

- Fabio Lanzoni – yes, he’s the cover model of so many romances

- Love’s Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde was an initiation for me and a guy wrote it???

Are there any names on the list that surprised you? Are there any character traits here that you don’t agree with? When was the last time you just sat there and watched a man – for research purposes, of course...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lessons in Critiquing

First off I feel compelled to state the temperature, which proves I’m a true Saskatchewian because we comment on the weather frequently in this part of the world. It is minus thirty-one degrees Celsius, minus forty-one with the wind chill. I can’t take it ANYMORE! Thank goodness for Chase and Lily (hero and heroine in my wip), writing exercises ;), and this blog because otherwise I don’t know what would happen to the last of my rapidly receding good humor. Is it ever going to WARM UP?

My apologies on the mini-rant, now on to writerly things.

At the last Saskatchewan Romance Writers (SRW) meeting we discussed critiquing portions of each other’s work. I’ve come to understand how important critiquing is to a writer’s work and how valuable a service it is to provide to a fellow writer. Feedback on your writing is invaluable when given correctly.

I have recently become a frequent visitor at Miss Snark’s First Victim and Flogging the Quill. Both blogs create an opportunity for writers to submit portions of their work that are then open to comments from readers and the blog’s founders. I’ve learned a lot about what needs to happen on that all important first page thanks to those brave posters. The commenters are by and large positive and honest. If someone slips up and posts a comment that is less then positive the blog bosses are quick to step in, restate the rules and get everyone back on track.

Critiquing is something I’m interested in but have never done so I decided to do a little research on how to be an effective and positive critique partner. Here’s what I learned from researching the Internet.

Be positive. Remember the old adage ‘If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all’? It applies to critiquing. Someone suggested starting with a positive comment and ending with a positive comment. Good point, the world already has Simon Cowell.

Honest commentary is crucial as long as it is delivered in a constructive manner. Do not write, text or IM a comment you would not say in a face-to-face meeting. Across the board, a good rule of thumb. Some of us are fragile, handle with care.

Remember you are speaking to an adult. Mutual respect is always a good thing.

Respect a writer’s voice. It is not cool to rewrite large chunks of text in your own words. A comment should never start with the words ‘I would write it like this’. Got it.

Do not pull out a magnifying glass and comment on every little thing. You are writing a critique not marking a test paper. Fortunately I don’t know enough for that to be a problem.

And finally and perhaps most importantly, ask. Is the person looking for general comments, grammar correction, or are they looking for you to be completely nit picky. I recently had a critique done and the person asked what I wanted, very wise of her, and she delivered exactly what I needed. She included lots of positive comments, pointed out weakness, corrected grammar but did not overwhelm me by commenting on every problem.
At a time when I was having trouble seeing the forest for the trees, the critique gave me a new perspective. It enabled me make changes and move forward.

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” Frank A. Clark, writer

Do you enjoy being a critique partner? Any tips or advice you wish to share on critiquing? Have you had a bad critiquing experience? Good ones? Share your stories with us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How I did not become a romance writer

I had a creative non-fiction book published about a Cree man shot in Prince Albert, by a neo-Nazi - who was actually an RCMP informer. I was a full-time newspaper reporter then and I had been following the story since before the victim died actually. The book won a Saskatchewan Book Award. It is still available after 15 years, which is really good.

Damn, I’m good, except, maybe, well consider.

I was a very good journalist. I learned $400 a month. One year, I won both of Canada’s top journalism awards. I earned $400 a month. I retired.

Being as I was a very good writer but hadn’t earned anything even Revenue Canada was all that interested in, I thought about writing romance.

One. This was going to be so easy! After all, I was a published author!
Two. I wanted to know if there was any money in writing. Ha!
Three. I didn’t sleep well in those days, so I made up romantic stories.
They put me to sleep. That should have told me something.

I think I have some newspaper ghosts to shed very first thing. Reporters do not have a point of view. Stories must be no longer than 10 column inches. Adding sexual tension will get you fired, (although it would add a certain ‘sine qua non’ to city council reports).

I started pounding out my favorite plot. Books don’t take long to write if you don’t have to spend time researching. Husband promised to take me to Scotland if I finished by January - which was three months hence. Nothing to it and I loved Scotland. Harlequin didn’t love the book, plot, title, characters or anything else about it. I have the mass produced letter of get-out-of-here in place of honor on the wall.

I joined Saskatchewan Romance Writers and as I listened to some real romance writers, something awful happened: I learned I’m not even a novice.

Crash and burn.

So, humbled in spades, I am going to start again and learn something..
Listen. Listen. Listen. Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write.

And someday, I may be a real romance writer - published even.