Friday, January 30, 2009

Killing Your Darlings...


I just spent an entire 7 days participating in Book in a Week. Now the premise is to sit your butt down in the chair, get your hands on the keyboard and type away madly – BIC HOK TAM. My writing group (SRW) uses BIAW as a January exercise to focus on writing, get back into the swing of things after the rush of holidays. A way to make writing a priority in your life and hopefully have the momentum to continue the challenge, the energy, the camaraderie, and the output.

OUTPUT?

No, this year I chose to edit/revise. I took time off work, rolled up the sleeves (OK, I put on long johns and wool socks to combat the cold basement office), focused on making my manuscript sharper, and got to work. BIC HOK KYD (butt in chair, hands on keyboard, kill your darlings). And I had help.

Muse raised her head from the notes she was taking. Her voice quivered as she asked, "What are you doing? I thought we were opening a new document this week?"
"No, sorry. We need to trim some fat." I double clicked on Microsoft Word.
She straightened her shoulders, her full attention on the laptop screen. "Fat? What fat? Oh, don’t tell me you’re revising Lady Bells?"
Evil Editor (from this point on to be known as EE) materialized on my other shoulder. He rubbed his hands together. "Oh, good. There’s lots of fat there to trim."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me."
"You and Janet have already had your way with my masterpiece. There’s nothing left to edit out." Muse sniffled.
"We took out all those adverbs and adjectives, pure fluff if you ask me."
"I’m didn’t and they’re not fluff. They describe things. They paint a picture for the reader." Tears pooled in her eyes.
"Yeah, the reader isn’t stupid."
Indignation halted Muse’s liquid sadness. "I never said the reader was stupid."
"Which is exactly why all those over-the-top dialogue tags had to go, too."
Her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes narrowed. "Said is a very boring word."
"Stop it, both of you. I’m trying to work."
Silence descended, but it was short lived.
"She’s done a good job tightening up the point of view."
"Why thank you, EE." I kept typing.
Muse harrumphed and turned away. EE stared hard at the screen, short chortles of glee erupting whenever I hit the delete key.
Hours later, Muse, tired of pouting, spun around to see what we were fiddling with. She shouted in my ear, "Oh, my, God! You’re cutting the entire scene?"
"Why do we need to keep it?" EE faced Muse.
"It’s a heart to heart with her father. They discuss her very bad habit of eavesdropping. They discuss her fear of intimacy. They discuss her anxiety of leaving home and moving to a place she knows nothing about."
"Blah, blah, blah!"
I highlighted the entire scene and hit the delete key. Muse gagged. EE danced a happy dance on my shoulder. I moved to the next section that needed cut.
"NO!" Muse held her hands over her heart. "You are not going to delete that."
EE stopped dancing long enough to check the screen. "Finally. I begged for the wedding scene to get cut 5 edits ago. It’s too long, too descriptive, too much in his head."
"But it shows longing, and describes her dress, and foreshadows how much they will love each other later." Big teardrops ran unchecked down Muse’s cheeks.
"And that part, too. Kill it. Kill it."
"I can’t believe you’re doing this, that you’re listening to him. My words, my beautiful, beautiful words."

And that was Day 1! I can’t say by the end of the week that my muse and evil editor were getting along any better. Some days I found myself siding with EE, ruthlessly cutting and tightening. Other days, Muse and I had some bonding moments and we worked together to combine scenes to make the story better. To move the plot forward! Because that is what ‘Killing Your Darlings’ is all about. And throughout the bloody mess, I believe the three of us have created more believable, angst-ridden characters. Their goals, motivations, and conflicts are clearer and that makes the black moment that much more sweet ("In a really sinister, heart wrenching way," Muse adds).

No questions today, but feel free to comment on editing, BIAW, or what you plan on working on over the weekend.

Janet

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Sparked My Fire...

Since I volunteered to round up some guest bloggers for Feb, I’ve been ‘talking’ with my author eFriends about content for their posts. All the talk about their writing journeys has got me thinking about mine. A lot. So, for this post I thought I’d let you know how I became interested in books and the impact they had on my life.

My favorite all-time book is The Poky Little Puppy (A Little Golden Book). Why this book? After a lot of introspection, I think it’s because the poky little puppy was different. When everyone else was playing together, he was doing his own thing... alone. That’s me. I spent a lot of my childhood in my room reading or making notes in a scribbler.

The next book I remember made a huge impact on my life. I wish I knew the title and although I’ve searched, I don’t have enough information to identify it. Maybe someone here will recognize it and let me know. It was the story about a young girl 8-12ish who lived in colonial America. Captured by Indians, she is taken to their village. I can’t remember if she was adopted by a family or worked as a slave. However, in one of the scenes, another child gets badly hurt but just sits there – stoically without expression. The girl captive asks why he’s not crying and he answers something like 'it serves no purpose except to show weakness' or something like that. As you can see, the details are sketchy after 40 years (ouch!) but that simple thought was a ‘light bulb’ moment. It had never occurred to me that you could hide your emotions. What a concept!

But, the other big thing about that book was that it sent my imagination soaring. Suddenly, I was reading every book on Early Americana that I could find. And when I’d read everything about the subject in our school library, I thought I’d burst... until I found an outlet by writing stories using that knowledge, with settings like historic Williamsburg and the wagon trains heading west, etc.

At the age of 14, I started my first book. It was the story of Mary-Anne (14) and Bruce (16) who were travelling west with their respective families. One day, the wagon train is attacked by Indians while Mary-Anne and Bruce are out exploring away from the camp. They are the only survivors and the book is how Bruce must now take on the responsibility of a man while they find their way back to safety.

Since I was writing in long hand in scribblers, I was still working on my story the following year when my Gr 10 teacher asked us to write a short story. That was easy. I imagined what would have happened if Bruce had still been in the Conestoga wagon when it was attacked. I set the time for night and wrote about Bruce hearing a noise outside and then the ensuing struggle with an Indian inside the wagon. Invariably, Bruce overpowered him, set off the alarm and saved everyone. After polishing my story, I handed it in along with 2 dozen other girls in my class. For some strange reason, my homeroom was all girls that year.

Anyway, a few days later, my teacher said normally she’d have marked our short stories herself, but that week, the school had the benefit of an 'Official Marker' and she had sent them all to him. She started calling out names and when she got to mine, she said, ‘The cream of the crop’. I’d never heard that expression before and said, ‘What?” She said she wouldn’t have given it a very good mark but he (the Marker) had so she couldn’t do anything about it. However, she told me I should have written a romance like all the rest of the girls. Well, truth be told, I had written romantic scenes between Mary-Anne and Bruce, but I wasn’t going to bring them to school! Anyway, the teacher made me stand in front of the class and read my ‘Attack on the Conestoga Wagon’ story while the class tsked and twittered.

It was the last time I showed my writing to anyone until I took a Creative Writing course almost 8 yrs later.

Is there a book that had an emotional or psychological impact on you? Do you know when you started writing? Do you remember what sparked your genre?
.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Show, Don't Tell

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader--not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon." E.L. Doctorow
Show Not Tell

It’s a daunting task to train one’s self to the mindset of showing versus telling, at least for me. But one day last week I looked at a sentence and I knew. I clicked to the fact the sentence did not provide the reader with an opportunity to feel or experience the event for herself. And I figure if I spontaneously recognized the problem once, the chances of it happening again are good.

Maybe going through the first three chapters and highlighting all those passive verbs paid off. I rewrote and reworked sentences in an effort to create a more active experience for the reader. I did pardon a few of those offending verbs and adverbs, probably too many, but I’ll get to them. Another valuable writing exercise might be to skim each page and note how often I used the five senses and in what spots I can make more use out of the four I’ve surely neglected. Hearing, touch, taste and smell are valuable tools in creating vivid imagery.

Movies are prime examples of how to show emotion. I read an interesting idea once which suggested watching your favorite movie for facial expressions, actions, gestures, etc. and recording them. I decided to give it a try. I pulled out my Pride and Prejudice DVD (the Keira Knightly version), loaded it in the machine and prepared to dissect Mr. Darcy’s and Miss Elizabeth Bennett’s every flutter, flinch, or frown. In retrospect, I spent a very enjoyable afternoon watching one of my favorite movies. I just forgot to record any observations. Darn, I’ll have to watch it again.

I’ve learned dialogue is key in show, don’t tell. The Pledge - I will not overstate or be verbose and I will not use it to reveal unnecessary and boring back story. I will appreciate the simple elegance of the word “said” in dialogue tags. I want my reader to feel involved not sleepy or uncomfortable.

Of course, as in life, balance is required. It is not possible to show everything; sometimes telling is the shortest distance between two points.

Does the 80/20 rule apply to show, don’t tell? Do you have a favorite author you admire for their show, don’t tell technique? Have you watched a movie to study how they show emotion?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” - Jack London


Where do you get your ideas from? I’m sure most writers have been asked this question at least once. The likely answer is probably a question: “Where don’t I get my ideas from?” We don’t wait for the ideas to appear; we go looking for them instead.


Just this past weekend, I drove over two and half hours to a meeting and then another two and a half hours back. I had lots of time to think and wonder “what if”. My sister-in-law suggested I listen to CBC radio when driving alone for long periods of time. She was right. The music radio stations play great tunes, but they don’t keep my mind from becoming sluggish. CBC radio has lots of interesting shows and topics that get me thinking. Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone listen to CBC radio, but that listening to a radio station with a similar format might spark story ideas.


Listen to the news or read newspapers or magazines; these are a wealth of information to spark great ideas. For example, a family had lost their home this past week in a house fire. What kind of memories would a little girl have of being rescued from a burning inferno? Would she be terrified of fire for the rest of her life? What if she fell in love with a firefighter?


At our SRW meeting, Hayley brought a book, The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara and Allan Pease. She read to the group the clues women put out when they are interested in a man. Wouldn’t it be fun to create a heroine who’d read this book and tried to use these tactics on a guy she was interested in, but he is clueless to her clues?


Writing magazines and books quite often provide great suggestions for story ideas too. For example, in The Writer, January 2009 issue, the article, “Tantalizing Warm-ups” gives some exercises taken from Naming the World by Bret Anthony Johnston. One such suggestion had me thinking what if: “Two old friends unexpectedly meet in a store. Have each of them shopping for an item that reveals something about their present situations.” What if these two people had a one night stand with unprotected sex a couple of months before while the guy had been in town for business? Perhaps he’s back in town and gives the gal a call to meet up for the evening. What if before the date, they run into each other at the pharmacy – he’s buying condoms and she’s buying a pregnancy test. What happens next?


Songs give me lots of ideas too. Several years ago, a country song called “Sacred Ground” by McBride and the Ride made me think about writing a romance about a married couple that had drifted apart, but they hadn’t realized it until they’d become empty nesters. Do they still have anything in common? Does a new man in town make the guy realize that he still loves his wife, and he needs to show how they still have a marriage worth saving? Or vice versa?


Photos are another important source for story ideas or character development. How many of us have used pictures from magazines to remind us what our characters or settings look like?


Have you ever ripped a page out of a magazine in a waiting room at the doctor’s or dentist’s office because an article sparked an idea for a story or character? I admit I’ve ripped out a recipe for my son’s birthday cake and a table decoration for my daughter’s wedding, but I actually asked the receptionist at my massage therapist’s office to photocopy an article about a school for butlers. Some day I will write a story with a butler character.


The Darwin Awards fascinate me. In the future, I hope to write a story that’s based on one of these awards. Check out the following website for some laughs and maybe a story spark or two: http://darwinawards.com/


Every year Time magazine puts out the top ten lists for several different categories. Surely one of these items would have writers thinking “what if”. Check out the following link for ideas: http://www.time.com/time/specials/2008/top10/


Obviously, I could go on and on about where to get ideas. I haven’t even talked about taking personal experiences and using them in stories.


What sparks story ideas for you? Do you record these ideas as soon as you can or do you hope to remember them when you’re ready to write the story? Do you have more ideas than you could ever use? Do you have a story idea that you’ve carried around for a long time, waiting for the right time to write?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dealing with Rejection

I received a rejection the other day. The acquisition editor was extremely polite, apologizing for taking so long to get back to me with her decision. She said it had been a tough choice for her, but in the end she decided that my novella was not right for her publisher.

Although the editor replied within the time frame she had earlier promised, I began to suspect that the answer was no when I didn’t hear from her right away. But seeing the “no” in black and white made it painfully real.

I’ve had my share of rejections. In fact I could probably paper a room with them. Some were mere form letters (“Thank you for submitting but your project isn’t quite right for us at this time”) and some were “good” rejection letters, in which an editor gave encouragement and perhaps even offered suggestions for improvement. But none offered me the thing I wanted most: a chance to hold my published novel in my hand.

A few years ago, my usual reaction to rejection would be to wallow in self-pity for several days. After a sufficient period of mourning and telling myself I’d never be published, I’d dust myself off and start writing again. The depth of my angst was usually in direct proportion to how much hope I’d placed on a particular project. The more hope I had, the harder the fall. A couple of times I came close to letting rejection stop me from writing and submitting again.

Finally I came to the conclusion, probably out of self-preservation, that I should expect a rejection every time I submitted something. That way I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high and it would be less painful when I was ultimately rejected. The first time I employed this tactic, my current editor emailed me to offer an ebook contract. It came as a pleasant surprise. It’s a backwards kind of coping mechanism, but hey, it works for me.

I’m not alone in being rejected. Some of the best, most commercially successful writers out there have been rejected numerous times. With a short list lifted from www.dailywritingtips.com here are some famous rejects. The number of times the book was rejected appears in parenthesis:

Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis (15)
Carrie, Stephen King (30)
Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (140)
Diary of Anne Frank (16)
Dr. Seuss books (15)
Dubliners, James Joyce (22)
Dune, Frank Herbert (23)
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (38)
Harry Potter book one, J. K. Rowling (9)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach (18)
Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl (20)
M*A*S*H, Richard Hooker (17)
The Peter Principle, Laurence Peter (16)
The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot (17)
Watership Down, Richard Adams (26)
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, (26)

For more inspiring looks at rejection, check out the following links:
Debbie Ridpath Ohi on RejectionRejection is a Drag (Pen on Fire)

From the posts I’ve written so far you’ve probably (rightly) surmised that I am not a tower of confidence. But despite all my angst I’ve found the inner strength to keep on writing and submitting. I’ve learned that the best way to deal with rejection is to just keep writing. Writing my next novel, or even writing this blog helps me work through the disappointment. While painful, I have to remember that editors and agents are not rejecting me personally. It’s just business for them. All I can do is write the best novel I can.

With this latest rejection came an unexpected offer – if I make some suggested changes she will look at it again. She also offered to look at anything else I had. So if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.

How do you deal with rejection? Do you burn your rejection letters in a bonfire, stick pins in a doll resembling an editor, or write a gracious note thanking the agent for her consideration? What was the worst rejection experience you ever had? What was the best?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Flip-Side of Contests


I’m told I get to be the Guinea Pig today…the first guest poster on Prairie Chicks Write Romance. It’s kind of a flip-side from a little over a year ago, me being a first for this group of writers, because back then they were a first for me.

I first met Anita Mae and friends at a workshop for the Saskatchewan Romance Writers. A workshop *I* was giving. It was my first all-day workshop and I was nervous as all get out. My publishing credits said I was qualified. But inside I was just little ol’ me, hoping that somehow something I was going to say would make sense and maybe help someone a little bit. I know getting on the plane to fly from Calgary to Saskatoon felt a little odd. I had been a stay at home mom for the 8 years before selling. Now I was getting on a plane to go talk to people about what I did for a job. WEIRD and surreal.

So when Anita Mae e-mailed and asked if I’d be interested in guest posting, I said you bet! After all, this group made my workshop debut not only painless but FUN!

In an effort to give this group of writers their money’s worth, one of the things I offered was a synopsis critique. Each registrant could send me a synopsis which I’d look at, offer input, and give back at the workshop. It was great, seeing them hit my inbox. Sometimes my critique wasn’t necessarily about the story, either. In one case, three of us ended up in a hotel room talking about not giving up and the business in general. What I took away from the weekend wasn’t just that I could get up in front of a room and talk for five hours (FIVE! ACK!) but that the experience would also teach ME things.

As an author, I never stop learning and yes, many of those lessons come from unpublished authors who are untainted by the business of deadlines and revisions and the other details that bog us down. When you are unpubbed, your outlook is pure – it’s about writing the story, and writing a story that someone will want to read. You are not jaded (except for the rejections). It is so affirming.

That experience with the SaskRomWriters is part of the reason why I’m running my current contest for aspiring writers. I had a lot of help before I sold – from my critique partner Michelle Styles, and from other authors who saw something in me and were willing to take their time and expertise and help – Trish Wylie, who critiqued my harlequin debut, as well as Liz Fielding and Kate Walker. To this day they are my support core. And so this is my chance to pay it forward a little bit – to help YOU and to help ME too (after all, I’m not completely altruistic).

Aspiring romance writers (no matter what the subgenre) have until Jan 31 to send a short pitch to me at donna@donnaalward.com . I will pick five pitches to send me a first chapter, which I will critique. Then I’ll pick a winning chapter and that writer will get a critique of the partial of that manuscript as well as me for a sounding board/mentor for the remainder of the year. I know I’ll get as much out of it as the winner will.

I did have some questions asked over at my blog about what constitutes a pitch, so here’s the link to the post where I gave some helpful hints.

A huge thanks to the Prairie Chicks for having me over for a visit! But now I need to get back to that crazy deadline that is tapping its foot at me….
_____________________________________

Thank you for being an Honorary Prairie Chick today, Donna.

Donna has another contest going on: Sign up for her newsletter and you can win a prize. The signup box for her newsletter is on the sidebar of her blog at http://www.donnaalward.blogspot.com/
and on her website at
http://www.donnaalward.com/ .

As well as being published by Harlequin Romance, Donna Alward is the author of books published by Samhain Publishing and Thorndike Candlelight Romance. A complete list of her books is available on her website.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Back to the Drawing Board...

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the road to publication. This week I want to talk strategy (and it’s interesting after reading Anita’s post yesterday that everyone has a plan for making it in this business – this is mine). For those of your submitting, ready to submit, or thinking about submitting, I’ll post links (at the bottom) to blogs and websites that offer great information.
First up, finding 100 agents. Yes, according to the late Miss Snark(and I reference the fact that the blog is no longer active, not due to a death), dated 03/09/07, she suggests querying 100 agents that represent work similar to yours. So I began my research and created a spreadsheet (The Husband was so proud). And I decided to split my agent list into 3 categories.

Why? Let me explain.

A query letter is usually the only piece of correspondence you will send to a prospective agent. Some agencies allow the inclusion of the first five pages, but not many. A query letter is a one to two paragraph pitch of your book. Agent Nathan Bransford suggests that pitch should come in around 250 to 350 words. Now my manuscript is 100,000 words (I write long). Hmmm, condensing might be a difficult task (Reader’s Digest, eat your heart out). A lot of pressure is hanging on that one page letter and if you can’t squeeze the gist of your book into that tiny word count, you’re going to get rejected. Thanks, but no thanks.

I tried writing that letter – over and over and over again. I would scribble ideas on scrap paper at work, on napkins at restaurants, on my hand if no paper could be found. I searched the web, researching and reading until my eyes felt like sandpaper. Query letters, pitches, premises, themes, and then I tried again. I think the various members of SRW would cringe when they saw e-mail from me with another request for a critique. And poor Arty, she knew that our coffee time would be spent discussing my query letter. I thought a sounding board would help me focus. I knew that letter was the proverbial foot in the door, and it had to be good.

It did not take long to realize that if it was such a difficult task and I wasn’t sure I was doing it right, then it would make sense to not send it out to everyone on my agent list. Imagine sending out 100 dreadful queries – 100 rejections on that horrible summary and you’re done. You don’t get second chances. So, I split my list into "OMG, She’s the Bestest" Agents, "I am So Proud to be Represented by" Agents, and "Look at me, I have an Amazing Agent" Agents. If any one of the 100 agencies picked me up as a client, I would squee with delight.

Then I picked two agencies from each category and sent out my query letter. All rejected.
Back to the drawing board. My second round of queries, with a much stronger letter, did better – a request for a partial (synopsis and first 3 chapters). So, I sent out another round. Another request for a partial! Then despair – both partials rejected. Something wasn’t working. So, what did I do? Yep, back to the drawing board.

I took a four-month hiatus from submitting. I have re-worked my query letter, again. And after posting my opening scene for a critique on RWA’s Online Chapter (and receiving some excellent comments/suggestions/concerns), I rewrote the first three chapters. I can see the difference. It’s tighter, cleaner, and ready to go. I was pumped, so I opened up my spreadsheet and chose an agent from my first list (daring, I know). I sent that query off and within 24 hours had a request for a partial. You have no idea how excited I am (OK, if you’re a writer going through this process, you do. OK, if you know me personally, you do. OK, that probably involves everyone reading this…)

My partial is on its way. I’m reworking the rest of the manuscript this week for BIAW (and it’s almost done). And I’m getting ready to send out 6 more queries. Perhaps that drawing board strategy is working after all. Or, I’m wasting my time and will look back on this experience and go "What was I thinking?"

Great links: Nathan Bransford has a FAQ sidebar that is amazing for those with questions about the submitting process.
Miss Snark’s blog is a wealth of information about agents, queries, and submissions. And it’s funny – go look around, you’ll love it.
Bookends Literary Agency blog is a must read for new writers. Go back in the archives for the pitch sessions – and right now, Agent Jessica Faust is doing a query letter session, with great comments and insights into what works for her.
Nelson Literary Agency has a pitch workshop in their archives. As well, Agent Kristen Nelson posts queries from her clients and tells us what drew her attention, what made her request more.
Query Shark is the brainchild of Janet Reid of Fineprint Literary Management. If you’re brave, send the Shark your query and be prepared for critiques. Not so brave, go have a look around, you’ll learn a lot just by lurking.
Evil Editor is another blog where you can post your query (and beginnings) for a critique from EE himself, and from those that call themselves his Minions.
There are tons more, but these will get you started. If there’s interest, I’ll hijack the blog one Sunday and post some more links to sites I found invaluable in my education.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Donna Alward Comes to Visit


This Saturday, Harlequin Romance author Donna Alward becomes our first Honorary Prairie Chick when she stops in for a visit.

Donna will be sharing her memories of her 2007 visit to Saskatoon where she presented a workshop entitled, ‘The Business of Writing’ which was hosted by the Saskatchewan Romance Writers (SRW).

Donna will also be telling us about the contest she’s running on her blog right now until the end of January.

So come on over on Saturday and let Donna know you’re here.

Trolling for an Agent?


Some people use the trolling method of acquiring an agent. Others try the dartboard method. And, still others use the buckshot method.

I use the marriage method. Maybe you’ve never heard of this approach? Well, it’s straightforward. Really. It’s kind of like the dating game. There are lots of agents out there but surely you don’t pick the first agent you see. Do you?

Pretend you are single. If you walked into a room of men, would you marry the first one you saw? Or, the first one who asked you? Well, maybe you would, but I would peruse the room carefully...see if there was one among them with that special...something.

Then I see him. He might not be the best looking, but the way he’s looking at me is curling my toes. Mmmm-mm. But just because we connect on that level doesn’t mean I’m going to marry him. What if he laughs like a donkey. Or makes me gag from his manly...aroma. That wouldn’t do at all. So, I meander over, pleased to see him saunter toward me. He says hello. My ears don’t hurt from his voice. His cologne is fresh and outdoorsy. His smile draws mine out. I’m definitely interested. But is that enough? No. And, so it goes until I find the man who fills my ideal or as Shania’s song says, “I don’t want a man I can live with, I want a man I can’t live without.”

When you marry, you give your spouse your trust. You are now in a partnership. You trust him to do what’s best for you and the marriage and he trusts you to do the same.

I liken an agent to a spouse. When you find your dream agent, you sign a contract, enter into a partnership and trust your agent to do what’s best for you and your agent needs to trust you to do the same.

When an agent decides to represent you and takes you on as a client, you are giving him or her control of your writing career. From that point on, your agent will decide what’s best for you.
This was made clear to me last fall when one of my writing friends commiserated that she’d just finished writing a 75,000 word novel yet, after reading it, her agent said it wasn’t ‘salable’ and to start over with something new. I was stunned. My friend – who pours her heart into everything she writes - spent months writing this story and her agent squashed it flat.

But you see, that’s what agents do. They are the experts in what the publishing houses want. They have the experience to know who wants what, what has a good chance of selling and what would only fit a niche market.

When you sign with an agent, you are giving them the license to decide what you need to write to become published.

My friend had 2 choices at that point. She could have said, ‘Stuff it! You’re my agent and this my project, so sell it!’ Although this might have worked, the ‘trust’ part of the relationship between agent and client would have been breached. What follows after the trust is gone is not a healthy relationship as anyone in a broken marriage can attest.

Instead of taking that option, my friend tucked her wip away and started another one. She’s jealously hoarding this new wip and hasn’t even sent me one chapter to read yet, but from what I’m hearing, she’s very excited about it.

As for my own quest...I found my dream agent. I read and comment on her blog and I think she’s wise, considerate and compassionate. I even had an appointment with her when I went to a writing conference last year. She was charming and witty and even remembered me from my comments on her blog. And best of all, she wanted me to send her a proposal and partial of my Inspirational Historical. Wow. I think we could write great things together.

But once I got home and thought about it, I couldn’t send it out to her. I want to but I’d be giving up a dream. You see, there’s only one problem with my dream agent – and it’s a biggie - she doesn’t represent category books. I write category books. Harlequin Romances are category books and I’ve dreamed of becoming a Harlequin author since I was 14 yrs old and read my first one.

My Inspirational Historical is the right length for the general book market that my dream agent represents so, I could send her my proposal and partial. Then, if she liked it and wanted to represent me, I would become her client and we’d enter into a partnership with the understanding that I would only write books for the general book market.

And my dreams of becoming a Harlequin author would be tucked away in some back corner of my mind. Just like my friend's unsalable novel is tucked away in a ‘forbidden’ file on her computer.

Now, you might be sitting there saying, ‘There are other agents’. Well, yes, and there are other guys, too.

I met other agents at the conference, read their blogs and listened to other writers talk about their favorite agents. But, none of them have inspired me. Yet.

And that’s okay, because while I research for another dream agent who will fill my publishing dreams, I’m learning more about my craft and the industry. Publishing a book from conception to the shelf takes years. I can wait.

Do you have an agent? Or wished you had one? Am I missing the point? How long does an agent/client partnership usually last in your opinion anyway?

Have you used one of the above methods to find an agent? Which one do you think works best most of the time?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What's In Your Office?




What’s in Your Office?

I am fortunate enough to have space I can call my own. It’s a little bit of a room on the second floor of our house that belongs to me. The door has a lock. I use it to keep people out. This applies mainly to my twelve year old daughter who has special needs and loves photographs. My scrapbooking side of the room, with its tempting piles of pictures, calls to her. The devastation she can cause to my stacks of carefully sorted photos is heart attack inducing. Don’t feel sorry for her either, she has them all at her disposal on the main computer in the family room.

My office contains many things. Most of them inspirational or educational along with some clutter. It is divided into two halves; one side for writing and one side for scrapbooking and crafts. The wall on the writing side of my room has bits of paper and pictures plastered over it. One of the pages is an email I received from a member of our SWR group, the New Year’s Resolutions for Writers by Dara Girard. I tried to find a link to the list but failed. I hope I don’t get in trouble with the copyright police for including the first resolution: JUST FOR TODAY I will write. I will not think about writing, dream about writing, read about writing or talk about writing. I will not brood about yesterday’s writing or obsess about tomorrow’s efforts. There are six other resolutions. Every time I read it I feel inspired.

I have pictures of Jonathon Rhys Meyers taped to my wall. Those reasons should be obvious.

I have a quote from Richard Curtis, screenwriter – Notting Hill. “When I was lying sleepless at nights I would sometimes wonder what it would be like if I just turned up at my friends’ house, where I used to have dinner once a week, with the most famous person at that time, be it Madonna or whomever. It all sprang from there. How would my friends react? Who would try to be cool? How would you get through dinner? What would they say to you afterwards? That was the starting point, the idea of a very normal person going out with an unbelievably famous person and how that impinges on their lives.” Thank you, Richard Curtis, for one of my favorite movies.

I have articles that I’ve cut out of newspapers for story ideas. I only bore you with one. The headline – “Woman seeks pardon for grandma’s witch sentence”. This woman’s grandmother was convicted and jailed in the 1940’s under a law that came about in 1735. Seriously, the possibilities are endless.

I have a sheet of descriptive words my teenage son received in grade seven titled ‘Be More Descriptive’. Example: instead of ran, use: hurried, raced, scurried, dashed, galloped, trotted, bolted, darted, sped, jogged, sprinted and rushed. It reminds me to be, well … more descriptive.

I can’t forget my muse with the ideas sparking out of her head.

So, where do you write? Is it an office, corner, closet, or cave? Is anyone else allowed in? What do you surround yourself with to inspire you?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Setting Achievable Goals

I have two challenges this week: Neither one allows me to achieve great numbers in the other if I try to do both well. The first challenge is the BIAW (Book in a Week) that several of us are participating in. My second challenge comes through work – a three-week Pedometer Team Challenge where our goal for each person is to walk at least 10,000 steps per day. I’m trying to do both this week, knowing that my goals for each will suffer .

I’d gone for a walk the other day to tally some steps and to think about the blog I had planned to write – How and Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas? However, as I walked, another idea came to mind that tied together my two challenges – writing and walking. So the “ideas” blog will probably appear next week, UNLESS something sparks a different blog subject.

I have had several years experience using pedometers, so I had an idea what I needed to do to obtain at least 10,000 steps per day. My two teammates did not. We only have to record one of our steps per day for the challenge, so obviously we will take the team member who has the highest step count for the day, unless that person had the high score the previous day (Pedometer Team Challenge rules). Many of the challenge participants didn’t seem to understand that they should try to obtain their goal every day whether their scores were going to be recorded or not. The pedometer challenge is to encourage people to get moving and to keep moving to improve their health, and to continue this pattern after the three weeks are up. One day every once in awhile will not achieve this.

The same applies to our writing. If we achieve our writing goal for one day, do we not also try to achieve the next day’s goal? Of course we do. It would take a very long time to write a novel or short story if we only aimed for a certain number of words or pages per day just whenever the muse was in residence or when we’d feel guilty we hadn’t written for awhile. Perhaps, BIAW's goal is to show us we can set a goal to write something everyday, and that we could actually achieve this goal.

As the 10,000 steps is the minimum goal for the pedometer challenge, so is the word or page count goal important to our writing. When I know that I need to walk 10,000 steps per day to maintain my level of fitness, I will do the extra walking to get those steps in. I might walk an extra ten minutes on the treadmill, or maybe I’ll take the stairs whenever I need to go to a different floor at work, or I’ll walk the long way back to my office after being somewhere else.

The same would be true if I or any other writer had a word count goal of 1000 words per day. Whether we were close to that word count or not, would we not try to write those extra words to achieve our writing goal? Maybe we could fit 10 minutes of writing in during our lunch break, or get up a half hour ealier or stay up a half hour later to get those 1000 words in. Or if it’s not 1000 words, maybe it’s one page per day or some other writing goal we’ve set. Wouldn’t we also make that extra effort to achieve our writing goal?

Of course, there will be times when the 10,000 steps per day or the 1000 words per day won’t be achievable for various reasons. Does this mean we won’t try again the next day? I hope we will. The main thing to remember is to make the goals achievable and reasonable. Maybe for many of the pedometer challenge participants, 10,000 steps will not be achievable until they learn to add extra walking to their days.

Maybe 10,000 steps per day is too much for me to hope for this week while I also work on BIAW. It isn’t easy to accumulate steps while sitting at a laptop trying to finish my 5000 word short story (my goal for BIAW).

When you set specific goals for the day (writing or otherwise), do you try to meet them? What extra steps have you taken to meet your goals? What do you do if you consistently miss obtaining them? Do you reassess to determine if the goal is not achievable or do you try harder to meet your goal? Do you start with small goals and work your way up to higher goals?

“Know what you want to do, hold the thought firmly, and do every day what should be done, and every sunset will see you that much nearer to your goal.” - Elbert Hubbard

Monday, January 19, 2009

Me, Myself, and My Inner Critic

As part of my 2009 promise to myself, I’ve been doing my best to write something everyday and to refrain from watching TV when I should be writing. To assist me in my endeavors, I’ve signed up for an online class on motivation, hoping that it will be the jump start I need to keep my butt in my computer chair and increase my writing output.

We started the class by identifying where we are in our writing at this moment, our “here”. I was astonished by the number of writers whose stories sounded much like mine. They were frustrated by the lack of time for their writing, by how all the demands of life conspired against them to keep them away from their computers. But most, like me, were even more frustrated by their lack of production when they did have uninterrupted time to write. And like me, they couldn’t always identify why they weren’t writing.

Our instructor, a life coach, asked us to identify our goal for the course. I wrote “To write more and to write more quickly.” Although I have had some success with my writing, completing six novels, three of which are available as ebooks (the fourth is being released as an ebook on March 6, 2009), I have many, many more half-finished books sitting around in paper form or on my harddrive. I am the Queen of the first three chapters. What typically happens is that I start a project with great enthusiasm and the first three chapters almost write themselves. Then I start to second guess my original vision and the novel comes to a crashing halt at about chapter four. This has happened whether I have completed a detailed outline or have tried to fly by the seat of my pants.

And the books I have completed have taken a really long time to finish, the result of many critiques and countless rewrites. I began to wonder: is there something besides the TV that keeps me away from my computer?

Sometimes if I’m stuck on a project a little voice inside my head convinces me that this writing thing is just too hard. “Forget about writing,” it tells me. “It’s not very good anyway. Why waste your time?”

Yes, I have a voice inside my head. No, I’m not delusional, at least not most days. This voice is my Inner Critic and it can be pretty mean to me. Often it tells me I look fat, and when I make a mistake it tells me how stupid I am. But it really gets going when I try to write.

When I think of a great plot twist, it doubts it. And when I read a particularly good book by someone else, it tells me to just give up all hope because I’m never going to be able to write like her. Who do I think I am anyway? It’s enough to make me walk away from the computer.

Is my Inner Critic is undermining my confidence? Am I my own worst enemy?

The instructor says that when I hear my inner critic bad mouthing my writing I should tell it this: “I am a writer working on my next novel so shut the hell up and leave me alone.” Hmmm… I don’t know. Is being a more confident, productive writer as simple as telling the voice in your head to shut up?

As I told you in my first post, being published in ebook form has increased my confidence, but I don’t think I’m all the way there yet. How can I become a better writer, and a happier writer, if I don’t think my writing is good enough?

My questions for today: Do you have a mean Inner Critic that’s undermining your confidence? What do you do to shut it up? Are there things you do that boost your confidence and make you feel good about your writing? Can you really shut off your Inner Critic by telling it to shut up?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Way to Go...

I was going to talk about queries and submissions, but had a change of heart. Today, I want to talk about support. It’s Thursday night and I am officially on holidays. Yippee! It’s the middle of January, on the prairies, so some would assume that I am heading south for warmer weather, sun, sand, a margarita or seven. After all, we’ve been having horrendously cold conditions here for over a month, with wind chills that could freeze skin in less than 5 minutes. Cold! A tropical vacation would be just the thing for my 10 days off. But, nope, I’m taking 6 working days off to write. At home! In my pajamas!

Friday midnight is the start of the SRW’s BIAW. That’s a lot of initials. SK Romance Writers’ Book in a Week happens every January. A way to jump back into writing after a hectic holiday season and way to kick off the New Year with writing as a priority. This will be my third year and I love it. And I’ve taken time off to participate. Now the support that coincides with this event is tremendous. We have a coordinator (shout out to Muriel) to whom we e-mail our goals and then our daily results. She cuts and pastes various parts of those e-mails and sends them back out to all those who’ve joined the madness. Instant motivation – we can see how others are doing, celebrate their achievements, commiserate with their struggles, and get our butts back in the chair for another day of writing. The enthusiasm is contagious. When we gather at the end of the week for our monthly meeting, the topic of BIAW is usually lively and inspirational.

Group support is invaluable for a writer. The SRW was the first group I joined after I decided I wanted to take my writing to another level. They welcomed me with open arms, read my manuscript, offered advice, and have become my writing family. Then I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America). A huge group of writers, both published and unpublished. Through that group, I learned of an online chapter (RWA Online Chapter #136 - http://www.rwaonlinechapter.org/index.htm) and decided to sign up. You’re counting now, right? Three groups all requiring yearly fees? OK. The online group is amazing. Message boards keep you up to date with releases, industry news, weekly challenges, and birthday announcements. They have a critiquing thread, a plotting thread, and classes from legal issues to characterization to POV. There’s also a chat room where I’ve met wonderful people. I highly recommend joining a group – writing is a lonely occupation. Finding like-minded people makes it a little less isolating.

I have other support besides my writer buddies. My family is behind me 100%. Sister-in-law #1 was the first person to read my manuscript. She’s also read versions 2,3,4, & 9. Sister-in-law #2 wants to know when it’ll be published because she has a list of people who would love it. Mum tells everyone that her daughter is a writer, although she will never read it after I told her it had sex in it. My friends ask me about my writing, how it’s going, what I’m working on. They don’t find it strange that I’m taking a holiday to write. But my number one supporter is The Husband!

I’m taking holiday days to write! Paying for three yearly memberships! Spend my entire free time (well, not all of it) sitting at my computer working on stories that take up space on my hard drive! Some weekends, we eat cheese and crackers for supper because I was in the middle of a scene and couldn’t stop to cook supper (before any one gets the wrong message on that one – The Husband cooks all of our meals during the week, weekend meals are my responsibility)! I’ve needed help formatting and he’s stepped in and saved the day. He even read my medieval romance and offered suggestions from a man’s point of view. Now with support like that, how can I not succeed?

So, People of Blogland – who’s your biggest supporter? What groups do you belong to and how have they helped you meet your goals? And what’s a better choice that cheese and crackers when you’re in the middle of a scene, but your stomach’s demanding food?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Emma's Kit: Pencil, Paper, Penknife


For my post today I thought I’d show you some of the things I’ve had to research for my historical novel, An Outlaw for the Lady which is set in 1875 Wyoming Territory.

When Emma, the heroine, was still a child, her older sister was stolen and they never saw her again. Her father is determined to give his surviving children skills they might need if history repeats itself. So, hidden in the folds of her petticoat, Emma carries a small kit. The kit itself won’t keep her alive, but if she uses it, she might be found faster.

The kit contains a pencil, a small packet of papers and a penknife.It sounds simple but did they actually use pencils back then? Emma’s been carrying this kit around for about ten years so I needed to know if a pencil would have been readily available in 1865. I mean all those old western TV shows had the school children using chalk and a slate. Well, a google search led me to http://www.pencils.com/ which is a fantastic resource site on pencils.

Did you know that ‘The first mass-produced pencils were made in Nuremberg, Germany in 1662.’? Obviously, I didn’t. The first wood pencils in America were made in 1812 by necessity when war with England stopped the importation of them from overseas.

So yes, in 1865, pencils were readily available although the wood casing was unpainted until the 1890’s. That's good to know - I wouldn't want Emma to whip out a yellow painted pencil out before they even existed.

Now that Emma was allowed to carry a pencil, I had to think about her sharpening it. I couldn’t have her carrying a sharp knife in her pocket because surely it would have ripped a hole and threatened to fall out after all those years. And although this would add a touch of suspense to my story when she goes to reach for it and it’s not there, that wasn’t my intention.

No, I wanted her to have a small jackknife. My research led me to http://www.etymology.com/ where it gives this description for a penknife: ‘early 15c., so called because such small knives were used to sharpen quills.’

Okay, so Emma has her penknife to sharpen the lead. But wait – was it really lead? Back to the research.

Numerous references cited the fact that lead went out of fashion once a huge deposit of graphite was found in 1564 in Borrowdale, England. This I did not know. For some reason I’ve also thought it was a lead pencil.

Anyway, my research into Emma’s kit was complete. In my book, Emma carries her small kit containing a pencil, a penknife and a small packet of papers measuring about 2 x 2 inches. With these instruments, she writes brief coded notes to her Pa and leaves them in all sorts of imaginative places for him to find.

Next, Emma enters a small farmhouse and sees a cast iron wood burning cook stove in the kitchen. Or does she? Hmmm...back to my research...

Have you ever thought where something as simple as a pencil came from? Did you know they didn’t contain lead? Should I have gone the suspenseful route and given her a small sharp knife instead of a penknife? Am I being too thorough?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Am I Editing To Death?

In trying to achieve the perfect first chapter have I lost my editing way? It is a very likely possibility. I'm not even going to admit how many times I've reworked the first chapter or the amount of time I've spent on it. Suffice it to say, a few times too many and way too long.

The answer lies in the fact that I have no solid editing plan. I hate to admit it but its true. I wrote a manuscript then I started to rewrite it with no idea how to go about the process efficiently. So no big surprise I got stuck on the beginning chapter. I was obsessed with perfection. After all, it needs to be perfect. Doesn't it? I have come to the conclusion it does not. It only needs to be as good as I can make it at this point in time. Its a lightbulb moment when you believe this to be true. It took me a while but I've finally got it.

I didn't always know this to be true. Months ago in an effort to find place to begin editing I searched in cyberspace for common mistakes made by first time writers. I learned I should be showing not telling and what words to avoid. I needed to avoid phrases including the words "she thought, she wondered, and she felt". Let's not forget "was" and "that". I highlighted them in one color. I got a list of overused words and highlighted them in another color. I also needed to eliminate all those "to be" verbs and highlighted them in yet another color. And then there were the "try not to use words" because it had suddenly seemed like it appeared as though I was using them too frequently. I highlighted them too. My novel was turning into a novella. I had head hopped all over the place inside of scenes. This is bad unless you are Nora Roberts, who is the queen. There were other infractions but I won't bore you.

I became bogged down trying to fix it all. I'd plug away a little at a time. I'd switch around a couple of words, change a verb and rewrite the sentence again only to eliminate it in the next glance over. I will never be a successful writer if I continue down this path. While I realize I need to put "perfection" in perspective I still need a concrete action plan for revising my work. My goal is to come up with a plan by Friday and start implementing it next week. I'll let you know how its going next Wednesday.

I imagine the process of developing a system of editing is unique to each writer. Do you read the entire manuscript, taking notes as you go, before you begin revising? Perhaps you edit blocks of text or a certain number of chapters at a time. Are highlighters and coloured pens involved?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One Plot Idea – Many Stories

One Plot Idea – Many Stories



“The story is not in the plot but in the telling.” – Ursula K. LeGuin



Most writers have probably heard that there are no new stories or plots. So does that mean we as writers cannot possibly write a story that no one has ever written or read before? Take heart – new stories are written all the time. The plot lines may be the same, but different writers bring their own writing styles and voices to these stories, as well as populating them with different characters and different settings.



Mary Balogh, New York Times bestselling historical romance author, had wondered if it would be possible for four authors to use one story idea and come up with four different stories. She and three other regency/historical romance writers each wrote a novella using the same premise: “A man and a woman, who have neither seen nor heard from each other in ten years, meet again when they first find themselves staying in the same inn for a twenty-four hour period.” The only restriction these writers put on their stories was that each story take place in a different season. I encourage you to discover for yourselves the four very different novellas written for It Happened One Night by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Alessandro, and Candice Hern.



I imagine if any one of us took the same premise from above and wrote the story with our own characters and settings, our stories would all be different as well. For example, Mary Balogh’s characters had eloped ten years ago and had a chance to consummate the marriage. But before the night was through, the heroine’s father and brother had caught up with them. They sent the heroine to pack her bags while they laid a licking on the hero. The heroine only discovers this ten years later. All these years she had harboured resentment towards the hero for not coming after her. She didn’t realize that he hadn’t been able to travel immediately after the beating to come after her. Even if we took Mary’s scenario developed further than the basic premise from above and placed the characters in the 21st century, the story would be much different.



Now compare Romeo and Juliet to West Side Story, two stories based on the same premise of a hero and a heroine from feuding families/gangs. The premises are similar but the stories took place during two very different time periods and locations. How many romances have we read based on the same premise, thankfully without the tragic endings?



In fact, aren’t all romances based on the same plot premise: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, and they live happily ever after?



Yet these stories are all different because of the characters, their personalities, their backgrounds, their desires and their greatest fears. These and the writer’s voice make the stories new, different and refreshing. It’s our job as authors to tell these characters’ stories in as compelling a way as we can.



Have I oversimplified this or do you agree that romances are constructed on the same basic premise, taking into account subgenres? If you agree, what do you think makes each story written unique? If you don’t agree, what is your opinion about the premises that form romance stories?