Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Jess Granger

On Saturday, May 2, Jess Granger becomes an Honorary Chick when she guest blogs on The Prairies. Jess writes futuristic romance and her debut novel, Beyond the Rain, will be released in August of this year. We’re lucky enough to have Jess guest blogging twice. On Saturday, she’ll be sharing her amazing world building skills and in August, right before her release date, she’ll be sharing her writing journey with us.

Here’s a portion of her bio –

My imaginative childhood grew into a thirst for knowledge and adventure that I’ve kept to this day. I love to travel and try new things. I worked as a balloon artist in restaurants, rehabilitated injured hawks and owls as a volunteer at a raptor management center, traveled all over the country during my trumpet playing days with the Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh, managed to wander to Europe to explore Germany, France, and Spain, and finally settled down with my wonderful husband to raise a couple of kids, a couple of cats and one fantastic All-American mutt.

World building is very important in fantasy and sci/fi novels and I think our non-romance readers will be thrilled with Jess’ visit. I also believe that world building is important in any genre and I know I can’t wait to hear what Jess has to say. Take some time to check out her website where you can read her full biography, read an excerpt from her debut novel (and some great early reviews), and there’s a link to her Butterfly Blog. Then come on back here on Saturday to welcome Jess to The Prairies.

Brenda Novak's Here. Squee!

Today, the Prairie Chicks are totally thrilled to welcome New York Times best selling suspense author, Brenda Novak.

Brenda, my first encounter with your books was when I read your Harlequin SuperRomance book Sanctuary. The fear, fascination and satisfaction that came from reading Sanctuary put you on my autobuy list. I also remember closing the back cover of your latest book in the Dundee, Idaho series and bemoaning the fact I’d have to wait months for the next release. I’d love to continue talking about your books, but today you’re here for a very special purpose so let’s talk about the auction and then we’ll see what the readers have to say.

This is your 5th Annual Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research. What sparked your idea to hold that first auction and how did you go about getting donations and organizing it?

When my son was diagnosed with diabetes at five years old, I was familiar enough with the disease to know that he would require constant care, and that he'd have to take many injections a day. I was not aware that he'd have to prick his finger just as many times a day, and I had no idea of the terrible side effects that go hand-in-hand with this dreaded disease. Once I learned, I just couldn't settle for that kind of a future for my son, so I decided to fight back. I just wasn't sure how to go about it at first--not until I attended a silent auction at our local elementary school. There, I saw just how difficult it was to get a large number of people in one place--and then it occurred to me that I could do something similar at my Web site, where I could take advantage of the traffic I'd already established there and wouldn't face the same strictures--as many people who wanted to participate could do so and they wouldn't have to show up at any specific time and place. I decided to hold my auction every May, in honor of Mother's Day and to have it last the whole month. Then I turned to my friends, fellow authors, diabetes enthusiasts, and publishing contacts to see if they'd support me in this endeavor and, being the wonderful people they are, they supported me from the beginning by donating various items for the auction block.

Did you have a timeline in mind from the start or has the auction’s growth and expansion in such a short amount of time been a surprise to you?

I had no timeline in mind and have been absolutely astounded by the auction's success. I ran it the first time just to see if it would work. I raised $34,000 that year, which sounded like a lot to me, so I dug in and worked even harder to grow it bigger the next year. The second year, I raised almost double that amount, and in Year 3 I nearly doubled the amount raised in Year 2. In Year 4 (last year), I raised $252,300, so you can see the amazing growth. In 2009, I'm hoping to break $300,000.

Your website says the funds raised in 2009 will be split between the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami. Do you change every year, and how do you choose?

This year the funds will be going to the Diabetes Research Institute, simply because I think they're our best bet for a cure. They're doing some amazing things there. If you'd like to read more about them, please visit their Web site at http://www.diabetesresearch.org/

Your current interest is with the Juvenile branch of this disease. Do you see that changing as your son grows into adulthood?

I don't see that changing because he will always have Type 1. Type 1 is different from Type 2. You don't get it by being sedentary and overweight and eating the wrong foods, and you can't avoid it by losing weight and changing your diet. Your pancreas has no insulin-producing cells (a trigger, usually a virus, causes your body's immune system to turn on itself), so you must take insulin daily for the rest of your life. But the research we fund will help everyone who suffers from diabetes, regardless of type, because so many Type 2 diabetics become insulin-dependent and suffer the same side effects.

How do you decide if a donation is suitable? Or, do you accept all offerings? Have you ever turned down a donation?

I accept most offerings. The only things I turn down are used items but I've even made a few exceptions there (if the item has good value and is in great condition). This auction is really a grassroots effort, a coming together of so many generous individuals. I'm grateful for whatever anyone is willing to give.

What single item has raised the most money since the auction began in 2005?

The editor/agent reads consistently raise the most money. While many go for a great price, there have been some pricey ones. One editor read went for $6,000.

What item(s) usually receive the most bids?

Again, it's usually the agent/editor reads or the items that can be used to advance a career. It's easier to justify spending money for that reason--and it's tax deductible, too! LOL

What is the most unusual or unique item you’ve ever listed?

I think that would have to be from this year. NYTimes Bestselling Author Steve Berry has generously donated a very unique item--a chapter of his original manuscript of THE TEMPLAR LEGACY, Autographed.

If you were bidding in this year’s auction, what would be your ‘must have’ item?

I would bid on the Lunch with Diana Gabaldon and the Lunch with Janet Evanovich. I would also bid on the quilt by NYTimes Bestselling Author Anne Stuart. :-) I'd also try to win the bookstore in miniature created by Anna Stewart. Pictures don't do this item justice. It is so cute. The auction is a readers and writers paradise, so there's a lot more I want, but I'll stop there. LOL

Have you used an auction setting in any of your books based on the experience and knowledge you now have of the event?

I used the motivation I felt to fight back via the auction in my Last Stand books. The heroines of the first three books meet at a victim's support group (they've all been victimized in one way or another in the past) and come together to form a victim's charity as a way to fight back. I channeled my drive right into those stories. LOL

With the auction starting tomorrow, and your inboxes overloaded with mail (I know because I got the automatic response for one of them), I can't begin to imagine how hectic today is for you, which makes your visit here all the more precious. You are a gracious lady who deserves being on the New York Times best sellers list. Thank you for making time to visit Prairie Chicks Write Romance.

Brenda is picking one lucky person to win a tote full of her books as well as a $25 gift certificate to her online Diabetes Auction. Just leave a comment and Brenda will put your name in for the prize.

Don't miss NYTimes Bestselling Author Brenda Novak's 5th Annual Online Auction for Diabetes Research, where you'll meet and greet with your favorite authors and find gift baskets, autographed books, trips & stays, jewelry, quilts, opportunities for aspiring writers and more. Help Brenda make a difference to her son and others. Visit http://www.brendanovak.com/ and register today. The first 500 to register will receive a free copy of TRUST ME, Book 1 in Brenda's popular Last Stand series.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Although Brenda Novak’s newest release, THE PERFECT COUPLE isn’t available until August, you can pre-order it now and Amazon will ship it as soon as it is released.
Brenda’s books are also available a month ahead of the release date at http://www.eharlequin.com/.
And, her books are available in eBook format here as well as at Amazon.
You can visit Brenda Novak at http://www.brendanovak.com/.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Suspense and Brenda Novak


We can’t talk suspense without mentioning NY Times best selling author Brenda Novak and her books. Her Last Stand Series, The Stillwater Trilogy and numerous single titles have kept us on the edge of our seats and left us waiting for her next book. And we also cannot mention Brenda Novak without drawing attention to her efforts on behalf of Diabetes research. For the month of May the suspense exists in the form of an online auction that raises awareness and funds for Diabetes research and gives people the opportunity to bid on some fabulous prizes. To date Brenda Novak’s online auction has raised over $500,000. Tomorrow, the day before her month long online auction begins, Brenda Novak will be guest blogging here at the Chicks and she’s giving away goodies.

I don’t pretend to know all the tricks or tactics involved in crafting a riveting romantic suspense. I do know it involves creating a chilling sense of foreboding, nail-biting urgency, and the clear perception of what is at stake. My current work-in-progress is supposed to be a romantic suspense. Halfway through revision number one, I felt additional research was in order.

The following are some suggestions I came across on creating chills, urgency and learning to turn everyday places into death traps.

Create a worst case scenario. You know your protagonists best, you know how to hit them were it hurts. It’s our job to create the most authentic monster under the bed for each character.

Foreshadowing is a tool in which the writer lays out clues and gives hints of what is to come. Who can forget the soothsayer in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the grave warning “Beware the ides of March”? It can be a valuable tool used to lead (or mislead) but only when applied correctly. It is not to be overused and it’s important to let the reader be allowed to figure things out for themselves.

The power of the anticlimax. Lull those poor characters into a false sense of security. Have them hearing noises, seeing things, or imagining the worst and then … nothing. Until the next time.

Cast the suspicion of guilt on more than one person. Perhaps your plot allows for the possibility of two potential villains.

Going, going, gone. The practice of killing someone off and escaping sagging middle syndrome. I bet those scenes are fun to write. Time to break out the nasty.

Seldom does a character meet their untimely demise on a brilliant sunlit day. Use the weather to your advantage. Nothing says plunging knife alert like thunder and lightening, an empty house, no power and a character all by his or her lonesome. Cliché but effective. We equate weather with mood, danger, and a host of other things.

Queue the dark, dank, rat infested alley. Or the grain field with it’s shimmering rows of wheat running long side the deserted gravel road. Ah, the setting. Be it scary or innocuous, make it work to your advantage.

Don’t forget sound effects. They function as the soundtrack would in a movie. Don’t neglect any of the six senses.

There are other ways to create suspense. These are but a few. Combine these ideas with the ones from last week’s post and see if you can craft a cunning romantic suspense. Or stop by on Thursday and ask one of the masters of the genre how she does it. We would love for you to stop by and leave a comment so your name can be entered into a draw for free books or a $25 gift certificate for the online auction. Maybe you or a loved one’s life has been touched by Diabetes, come, join our efforts to raise awareness.

Do you have a favorite Brenda Novak book? Do you, like me, have the desire to write a romantic suspense? Do you prefer to read them? Do you get your suspense fix from other romance sub genres? Or other genres altogether? And, as always, share any resources on the craft of writing you deem deserving of mention.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The World of Writing: Strategies for Staying in Touch

I have just returned from a conference put on by a writers’ organisation that I recently joined. It was an opportunity to mingle with writers, listen to a keynote address by a "big name" author, and to participate in workshops. I heard some of the writers in attendance read from their work. It all took place in a venue usually associated with vacations, with fabulous scenery, good food, the whole enchilada. Best of all, I feel rejuvenated, excited about some writing projects that I have let slide, and I have a whole new set of ideas to work on in the future. Plus, I have a great new group of contacts in the writing world. Wow! What a weekend.

Without telling you the name of the group, the topics discussed, the identity of the guest speaker, or even my destination, doesn’t it stir your interest anyway? Apply the name of your favourite writers’ association, get involved in some of its activities, and you too will go home refreshed in your own writing life.


I know this is not a new idea. Other Chicks have referred to conferences that they have attended. Benefits to our writing health can be huge. So much can be learned from other participants, sometimes more than from the content of the program. You recognise the universal emotions of despair from rejection and joy over work rewarded. If you exchange business cards, addresses for e-mail, web pages, and blogs, some will become valuable resources. If it’s difficult to get away, look for workshops and courses offered locally. When groups of writers get together to learn and discuss, many of the same benefits follow.


What else can we do to stay on top of the information that would be useful if only we knew about it? Here are a couple of my favourites. Each deserves in-depth treatment, but for today, just some cursory notes:


Blogs:
It wasn’t until I began visiting Prairie Chicks on a regular basis that I really became aware of the wealth of insight that can be gained through writers’ blogs. I hope you visit the blogs listed on the side of this page. Some give us personal glimpses into the life of a writer, while providing tips; others impart information in a more formal, instructional fashion. Both types are useful and interesting to other writers. I regularly check the blogs of about a dozen writers of various genres. Some don’t post every day, so I just do a little tour through the Favorites I’ve marked to see if there’s anything new. Another half dozen or so are more topical, on genre and other aspects of writing. Go to http://www.murderati.com/ where a number of mystery and crime writers write on mysteries, murder and marketing.
I rely on http://www.eharlequin.com/ and the blogs of romance writers for my connection to the romance writing world. I also like to keep up with news from the writing world at large. I follow http://www.bookninja.com/ which is a daily compilation of references and links to articles and reports from newspapers, magazines, and other sources. Here I get news about award winners, new books published, interviews with writers, articles on technology, etc. A must from the Canadian publishing world is Quill & Quire at http://www.quillandquire.com/blog/


Magazines:
The Writer and Writer’s Digest are my personal favourites for magazines about writing. The May/June issue of WD contains the annual list of "101 Best Websites for Writers" as well as a section called "Stand Out to Editors and Agents: get visible, get marketable, get known, get published."


*** By the way, on the inside cover of the same issue there is a full-page glossy promo of Brenda Novak’s online auction to benefit Diabetes Research that runs the whole month of May. Don’t forget to visit Prairie Chicks on Thursday when Brenda will be guest blogging with us.***


I peruse magazines that publish stories and/or poetry. I like to read the work, but it is also about being familiar with what editors are choosing, to get ideas of where to submit my work. Depending on your genre, those titles could include: The Walrus, Geist, (both of which contain fiction and creative nonfiction writing), Grain, Prairie Fire, The Fiddlehead (these three are literary journals publishing poetry and fiction).


So, now I’m all fired up from attending a conference and tucked next to my laptop are issues of magazines. I spent some time Monday reading my favourite blogs. These activities feed my appetite for information about writers, writing and books. At the end of the day if I have not spent an equal or greater length of time on my own manuscripts, what’s the point? Well, I hope I am more informed, but my greater hope is that I am better prepared to write when I sit down in front of the blinking cursor on the blank screen.


How do you stay connected to the world of writers and writing? What new activities have you become involved in lately that will help you in your own writing experience? Do you have a conference, group activity, publication, etc. that as a writer you simply cannot live without?

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Organized Writer: The Battle Against Clutter

“Being organized is not an end in itself – it is a vehicle to take you from where you are to where you want to be.” Stephanie Winston

If you came to my house, I’d be embarrassed to let you see my writing space. I have a serious clutter problem. My desk is piled with books, pens, pencils, miscellaneous pieces of paper, and general junk. The bed (my writing space also doubles as a spare bedroom) has stacks of paper on it waiting to be filed, somewhere. I have a box full of stuff on the floor because I don’t know where to put it. The clutter is starting to interfere with my writing because aside from not being able to find anything, I find it distracts me and weighs me down.

What can I do to battle the clutter in my writing space?

For help I turned to “Getting it Together” by Patricia Katz. For desktop disorder Ms. Katz says to start by cleaning everything off your desk. Then be very selective about what gets to return.

I took everything off the top of my desk. What should I pitch and what should put back on the desk?

One good rule of thumb: Keep only the things you work on daily on the top of your desk, the things you work on weekly in your desk, and the things you work on monthly around your desk. Toss or archive the rest.

So that’s what I tried to do. I took back library books (apparently I had exceeded my limit of renewals), and neatly put away books that belonged to me. I pitched scraps of paper and assorted junk (not sure why I was keeping them), and sorted through my bazillion pens, pencils, markers etc., throwing out the ones that were broken or dried up. I put away some things that really didn’t belong on my desk, some earphones and other computer paraphernalia that I’m sure my husband tossed there. Ms. Katz says to avoid desk organizers, especially the tray kind. It’s too easy to turn an “In/Out” box into the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Instead I got a stand up file to hold items I’m currently working on. The stand up file limits the amount I can place in it.

The next thing I dealt with was all the paper and “stuff” on the spare bed. I again turned to Patricia Katz and her section on filing tips. Here are some of the tips that resonated with me:

1. Patricia says to keep the titles on file folders brief and always start with the noun, not the adjective. So instead of “The Royalty Statements”, I should file under “Royalty Statements”.

2. Put labels on the outside of the filing cabinets so you know what’s inside.

3. File frequently! Digging repeatedly through a “To be Filed” pile wastes time. Make the time to file every day or every week. I set up a reminder in Outlook Tasks to nag me every few days.

4. When you file a new item, examine and toss papers that are no longer useful. That way your filing cabinet will not be so overcrowded that you constantly give yourself paper cuts while you file.

5. Before you file anything, ask yourself if it deserves to be kept at all. Is this information online somewhere? Then maybe it’s not necessary to keep a printed copy.

6. Adopt the “touch paper once” rule. As soon the paper comes into your space, file or toss, but don’t let it languish on your desk. Still working on that one.

For more resources on organizing and decluttering, the Internet has a myriad of information. I Googled “organizing your home office” and got many hits. One I enjoyed was iVillage

My writing space looks better and I can breathe a little easier. But I still have a long way to go. I still have that box of stuff on my floor that I haven’t dealt with. And I admit I returned a box of old floppy disks to the top of my desk (there might be a hidden gem of writing in there somewhere!). I’ll try to do a little organizing everyday; organizing guru The Fly Lady encourages us to take baby steps to avoid burnout. Maybe someday I’ll even tackle that box of old floppy disks and see what can be tossed.

Do you have a problem with clutter in your writing space? How do you organize your space? Do you have favourite books or websites on organization? How do you deal with “I can’t throw that out because I might need it someday” syndrome? Is there a 12-step program somewhere I can join?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

To E-publish or Print Publish...Which is the Best Option?


Lesley-Anne McLeod has been writing for thirty years, around motherhood and a ten year career in bookselling. She free-lanced in business writing and published articles on antiques and collectibles.

For the past fifteen years Lesley-Anne has been able to focus her attention on fiction writing. Though she has written in a variety of genres, among them science fiction, contemporary and western, she has always been drawn to historical fiction. A life-long Anglophile, it seemed natural that she should write Regency romances, those uniquely English historical romances. She takes her inspiration from the work of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.

Lesley-Anne is married and has one daughter. She belongs to the Saskatchewan Romance Writers and treasures the support and friendship that group offers. She lives on the prairies of Canada which are distant from Regency England in time and thought, but her world retains an echo of Great Britain in history and tradition.


When I was pre-published, I knew one thing for certain. I wanted to be in print. Of course, I also wanted to be rich and famous and on the best-seller lists. But most of all I wanted to hold my printed book in my hands.

I had one or two problems with that. The biggest problem was that the genre which I most loved writing was disappearing from print. About the time I was ready to seek publication, most publishers were discontinuing their traditional Regency romance lines. They had been done to death, the quality of writing--and editing--had deteriorated, and publishers had other more lucrative fish to fry.

So my path was clear. If I wanted to write traditional Regency romances--sweet, historically accurate comedies of manners in the style of Jane Austen--I was going to have to e-publish. That is, seek an on-line publisher for electronic release only. Which I did, and I have been very fortunate with the result.

But it is a difficult question--whether or not to e-publish. And one that requires careful thought. The print publishing world is very small. There are fewer and fewer print publishers all the time as they merge and evolve. With that comes the challenge of finding the right place for your story, and often you need an agent to help. The e-publishing world is very large. With that comes a lot of uncertainty--fly-by-night operators, inexperienced business people, inadequately trained editors and publishers. There are no guarantees in either publishing world; it is up to the author in both cases to consider prospective publishers very carefully and sign with the one with the best reputation and track record.

I think I would encourage everyone to try for print publication first before attempting e-publication. For one thing print submission is an excellent exercise in networking, self-promotion and presentation. You have to (in many cases) find an agent, submit and submit and submit, and learn how to accept rejection. For another thing, the monetary returns will always be larger in print. And a third thing--people will understand what you are doing. If you can hand them a print book, they will understand you are an author. If you tell them you are electronically published, they will say "huh??"

To become print published you need drive, determination, resilience, and energy. And you need time and patience. This cannot be overstated. The quest for print publication is an arduous, time-consuming, stressful process. The waits are long, the rejections are many, and when you succeed the pressure is often (I am told) intense.

With e-publication, the road will not be so arduous, if your writing is strong and saleable. The response time from e-publishers is not so long, you don't need an agent, the hoops are not so many, and the time from acceptance to publication is about half that of print publishers.

Having said that, electronic publication is not second best. It is just different from print publication. If you want your story out there now, being read and showing a modest monetary return, consider e-publishing. If you have an intense desire to be print published, go for it. I would still like to be print published, but I don't think I have the drive and I know I don't have the energy.

E-books are rapidly expanding in popularity; e-book readers are improving and getting cheaper all the time. Print books will never disappear, but e-books will soon become a common option. Which publication route will you choose?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Internet Versus Writing - Round One...


Once upon a time I got a laptop from The Husband. Now, before you get on the "What a great husband you have" bandwagon, you should hear the real reason behind my gift.

I wrote Lady Bells by hand – pen and yellow legal pad paper! I was inspired and I wrote like a mad woman. Let it be known that up until that point all my scribbling had been done by hand on yellow legal pad paper (I have plastic containers full of my scribbles). But this one was different. This felt – good! So, I decided I would attempt a second draft. And if I was going to write a second draft, like a real author, then it should be on the computer. Now, follow the logic – a second draft meant I was serious. A second draft would probably turn out perfectly and thus require printing in order to send it away to be published. First draft, second draft, print, mail, publish – so naïve.

So, I started to transfer my first draft onto our computer. I quickly learned that this would not be a simple matter of typing up my beautiful prose. I began changing things immediately. I could spend hours on the computer, happily typing away, and making handwritten notes on the changes taking place or the ideas that I would incorporate later. It was brilliant. Until my time on the computer interfered with The Husband’s.

The solution – get The Wife a computer of her own to get her off mine!

I, of course, was thrilled. I copied all my files over to my new, blue laptop and began working on subsequent drafts of Lady Bells. Did you catch that? Drafts! Yeah, the naivete didn’t last long. But, I was happy. I was writing. I was focused. I opened other files and started writing other stories on my trusty laptop. My fingers flew over the keys, words filled the blank white screen – this was what being a writer was all about. Then, The Husband surprised me with another gift. Wireless Internet!

Again, wait for the real reason he did that before you pat him on the back for his generosity and consideration. Since I write historical romance, I needed to do research. And to do that research, I needed to use his computer. That’s another two-minute penalty for interference. Solution – wireless. I was thrilled. Now my computer was complete, my own little office. I signed up for my own e-mail (what author doesn’t have one?), picked a color scheme to my liking, and created a screen saver and wall paper with images I loved (screensaver – my dog, Taz, wallpaper – from Imagechef an old book jacket with The Seduction of Lady Bells on the spine). Perfect.

Not.

The Internet is sucking the life out of my writing! How? Well, here are some of the issues:

Blogs. Wow, do I read a lot of blogs. I love blogs, especially industry blogs. Oh, and new author blogs because I so want to know how they’re feeling, what they’re working on, how much they’re enjoying the life of a newly published author. There’s also the blogs of unpublished authors, just like me – I want to read their struggles, share with them the dream to some day be published. These include the blogs of our dear friends who visit this blog everyday. And with every blog I read I find new blogs to link to through the comment section. Just reading blogs could fill my day completely.

E-Mail. How many times does one have to click on the ‘send/receive’ icon to be considered OCD? If I walked to the post office to check my mail box as many times as I click that silly little button, I’d be in tiptop shape. And then if I get an e-mail, I have to read it, and then I have to answer it – immediately.

Research. I know – that’s why I got wireless. And I’m grateful. But the problem is when I start with one question, one curiosity, the Internet leads me on a journey with no end. Hours can be spent learning a multitude of useless information, link after link after link. And just when I think my head will explode with all that knowledge, there’s one more link!

Games. Staring at a blank, white screen waiting for inspiration is not fun. So, while I’m waiting I’ll just click on the Internet and play a game of Suduko – the number cousin to crossword puzzles. But maybe my mind isn’t into that, so an actual crossword puzzle will satisfy (and I can justify this one because I’m expanding my vocabulary and discovering synonyms that will make my writing more exciting – you know, when I get back to writing). Sometimes, though, I just need a quick fix, so I go to the old standby – Solitaire. And I hate it when I can’t finish, so I keep re-dealing until I can.

Then, there are my good friends here on the Prairies. They offer up suggestions like Random Generators, Readability Stats, Online Classes, Self-Promotion (for when I get published), Research Sites (over and above those I have bookmarked), Inspirational Quotes (thinking I’ll be motivated to go back to my word document), Organizational Tips, and Idea Sites (in case my problem is a lack of ideas). Yeah, with friends like that…

So, People of Blogland, does the Internet suck the life out of your writing? How do you manage your time online? What are some of your favorite online time wasters? And how many of you click that little ‘send/receive’ button compulsively?

Janet (who thanks Anita for inspiring this blogpost idea – Readability Ease: 74.7, Grade Level: 5.9)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Lesley-Anne McLeod


The Prairie Chicks welcome Regency writer Lesley-Anne McLeod on April 25. In her encore appearance on the Prairies, Lesley-Anne will talk about choices – is print publishing or epublishing the right choice for you?

Lesley-Anne McLeod has been writing for thirty years, around motherhood and a ten year career in bookselling. She free-lanced in business writing and published articles on antiques and collectibles.

For the past fifteen years Lesley-Anne has been able to focus her attention on fiction writing. Though she has written in a variety of genres, among them science fiction, contemporary and western, she has always been drawn to historical fiction. A life-long Anglophile, it seemed natural that she should write Regency romances, those uniquely English historical romances. She takes her inspiration from the work of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.

Lesley-Anne is married and has one daughter. She belongs to the Saskatchewan Romance Writers and treasures the support and friendship that group offers. She lives on the prairies of Canada which are distant from Regency England in time and thought, but her world retains an echo of Great Britain in history and tradition.

Is Your Writing Readable? You May Be Surprised


All this talk lately about 50 cent words and texting horrors has me thinking about readability stats and scores, in particular. Have you ever checked the readability score after you finished writing something? Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read on...

Readability tests are just that – they test the readability of your writing. Then, they give you a score. Plain Language goes into the history and explanation of these tests, but here’s the gist of it:

- Reading Ease – ‘measures reading from 100 (for easy to read) to 0 (for very difficult to read). A zero score indicates text has more than 37 words on the average in each sentence and the average word is more than 2 syllables. Flesch has identified a "65" as the Plain English Score.’

Wikipedia shows it this way:

90.0–100.0 easily understandable by an average 11-year old student
60.0–70.0 easily understandable by 13- to 15-year old students
0.0–30.0 best understood by college graduates

Here are some Reading Ease stats:

Reader's Digest - 65
Time magazine – 52
Harvard Law Review- in the low 30s
Gettysburg Address - 46
Anita’s blog (eff Apr 22nd) – 60
The Prairie Chick’s blog (eff Apr 22nd) – 56

Juicy Studio, talks about the other 2 readability tests, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score and the Gunning-Fog Index:

- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score ‘is a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. Negative results are reported as zero, and numbers over twelve are reported as twelve.'

According to Freelance Writing Success, Michael Masterson talks about the success rate of newsletter subscribers: ‘There was a direct relationship between simplicity and success. The writers who had the lowest Flesch-Kincaid scores had the highest renewal rates.’

He goes on to say, ‘The best tool I’ve found to measure simplicity is the Flesch-Kincaid grading scale. . . . Most magazine and newspaper writing falls between grade levels 8.0 and 12.0. Academic and scientific text is generally in the 10.0 to 14.0 range. Dialog tends to be graded at the 4 to 6 levels. The text you have been reading so far in this rewritten article, for example, achieves a grade of 7.8.’

Flesch-Kincaid stats - ideally 6-7, the lower the score, the more readable the text:
- Gettysburg Address - 13
- Anita’s blog (eff Apr 22nd) – 5.82
- The Prairie Chick’s blog (eff Apr 22nd) – 6.53

- Gunning-Fog Index is a ‘rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. The lower the number, the more understandable the content will be to your visitors. Results over seventeen are reported as seventeen, where seventeen is considered post-graduate level.’ According to the Using English website, you calculate the Gunning Fog Index like so: - take your avg nbr of words per sentence and add your percentage of words containing 3 or more syllables. Multiple this nbr by 0.4. Gunning Fog Index Stats (Using English) Ideally, web page text should be between 11 and 15 on this scale. The lower the score, the more readable the text.:

- The New York Times – avg index of 11-12
- Time magazine – avg 11
- most technical documentations – between 10 and 15
- Gettysburg Address - 20
- Anita’s blog (eff Apr 22) – 9.25
- Prairie Chick’s blog (eff Apr 22) – 10.1

And finally, anyone who uses Microsoft Word has the tool for gathering the readability statistics:

1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
2. Select the Check grammar with spelling check box.
3. Select the Show readability statistics check box, and then click OK.
4. On the Standard toolbar (toolbar: A bar with buttons and options that you use to carry out commands. To display a toolbar, press ALT and then SHIFT+F10.), click Spelling and Grammar .

Because I use contractions and fragmented sentences, it takes a while to go through a complete chapter, so I check small amounts at a time. Here are my readability stats for the first page of my novel, Charley’s Saint:

In the Absolute Write Forums, James A Ritchie says, ‘The thing to remember is that grade level score does not mean your fiction is written for that grade level. A grade level of 5 does not even mean a fifth grader can understand the content, only that a fifth grader can actually read the words. The typical newspaper is written at grade level six or seven, and the average pro writer writes at about the same level. Hemingway typically wrote at grade level five, and most of Stephen King's work I've run through WordPerfect come out about grade level seven. Writing at a grade level of ten does not mean you're writing well, it means it takes a tenth grader to read all the words. Not usually a good thing for fiction. For most fiction, I would be a bit worried with a grade level below five, just as I would a grade level above nine. I think it's a good thing to run books by writers you like through the Fleisch-Kincaid test on your word processor. Fleisch-Kincaid can't tell you whether you write well or write poorly, but it is a good indicator that some problems exist.’

So, here’s your assignment - do the spell check on MS Word and tell us what your Readability scores are for the first page of your current wip.
If you don’t have MS Word, go to Juicy Studio and type in your blog address.
If you're not a writer, google your favourite author and look for an excerpt of the first page and do the same thing.
What do you think about readability tests?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Running in High Heels


You hear high heels clicking, you see the young wearer of the heels stumble and twist her ankle while glancing back, terror etched on her face. She valiantly tries to escape the evil entity pursuing her, darn those three inch stilettos. And you know without a doubt - she’s a goner. She’s destined to go down in history as a plot point.

Suspense is what keeps us turning the pages. As readers or the audience we are being craftily manipulated by various techniques. For instance, the writer can stack the odds against the protagonist, think Rear Window, The Shining, or The Silence of the Lambs. The stakes are clear from the very beginning and there’s nothing we like better then rooting for the underdog.

In a romantic suspense we the reader need to feel emotionally connected to the main characters. We need to sense their worry, their fear, or their terror. We need to be able to taste it, smell it, hear it, see it and touch it. As the writer, we need to make them afraid. We need to be nasty and send them running. We need to create a sense of urgency. One way to do this is to use the ‘what if’ technique.

You start with an everyday situation. Lily, a teacher, is leaving school. Her objective is to get to an important doctor’s appointment.

Now add a ‘what if’.

What if you raise the stakes? Lily is in a bad mood because she was forced to suspend a student and she doesn’t feel like hearing more bad news.

What if you add a source of annoyance? It is unbearably hot outside and it’s making her tired and sick.

What if you add an element of danger? The suspended student is hiding in the bushes.

What if you add time constraints? Lily is already behind schedule because she had to deal with the suspended student and his parents.

What if you add the unknown? The suspended student has tampered with her car rendering it useless.

What if you add some dramatic irony? While Lily was meeting with the Principal, student and the student’s parents, she missed a phone call from the doctor’s office giving her good news.

The possibilities abound. You can generate a sense of urgency and the promise of conflict over several pages by asking yourself ‘what if.”

Alfred Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature films over six decades. He was a master at crafting suspense.

“There’s two people having breakfast and there’s a bomb under the table. If it explodes, that’s a surprise. But if it doesn’t …” Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock calls this the ticking time bomb plot. There’s a bomb underneath the table that the characters are unaware of but the audience is and the audience also knows when the bomb is due to go off. Suspense is created by the gap of what the audience knows and the characters do not. Anyone watched Psycho lately? He was skilled at creating worst-case scenarios which he call “frightmares”, nightmares that happen in our waking lives.

He also used anticlimax as a conclusion to the ticking time bomb scene. Think of a movie where the main character is about to enter a room containing the knife-welding villain but is called away at the last second therefore narrowly escaping disaster.

In romantic suspense plots we include a hero or heroine figure who can defeat any peril. To me, you just can’t beat the romance/suspense combination. More next Wednesday on creating suspense.

What’s your favorite Hitchcock film? Favorite author of suspense? Got any tips or techniques? How about suggesting a book or a movie?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where will all the words go?

I worry about the English language.
In recent posts and comments, fellow chicks have used words like: funnily, imprecations, maledictions and execrations. How many people under, say forty, know what those words mean and use them in their own speech or writing? Not a majority I am willing to bet. (Hayley is an exception and there are others under forty too, but the majority?)
Would the ‘victims’ of my derision recognize a simile or a metaphor or heavens above, an onomatopoeia? Do they know a word that describes precisely what they mean?
I visited a specialist awhile back. He had a medical student question me first and then she reported back to him. I tried to explain to her that the pains were in my eye and then straight back to a spot on the back of my skull. I told her that it was LIKE a knitting needle in my eye and pushing straight back to “here”. She told the doctor my complaint was that I thought I had a knitting needle in my eye. Simile? Metaphor? She obviously wouldn’t know one if it bit her. (By the way, it turned out to be a symptom of a silent migraine).
Two of my sons often said to me, “You know how you always use big words Mom?” They and their friends used ‘little words’ because vocabulary was not a subject taught to them nor emphasized in school. They both, at one time or another, tried to use a big word in a sentence and asked me if they had used it correctly. It killed me to have to say, “No, that’s an adverb. You need an adjective there.” I hated to disappoint them but I was delighted that they were trying to gain some vocabulary. They are not stupid men, but they were not learning in school how to use the language in its full glory.
English is a wonderful language with words that give precision to description.
Obvious are the various words for vehicle: car, carriage, truck, conveyance, cart, wagon etc. Each can be described more precisely, e.g. instead of the word carriage, we can use: landau, phaeton, four-in-hand, chariot, rig, brougham, surrey, buggy or shay. Most of us wouldn’t know a landau from a Lamborghini but a landau gives a sense of elegance, wealth, gracefulness and is much more descriptive and evocative than carriage. “Every evening, the elderly duchess was seen sitting alone in her landau as it moved slowly around the square.”
A heroine can be beautiful, pretty, cute (arghh), or, she can be vivacious, inimitable, attractive, alluring, a goddess, a knockout, a Venus, handsome, lovely, beauteous, exquisite, becoming, ravishing or even pulchritudinous. A hero can be handsome, beautiful, imposing, large, vital etc. (They are hardly ever pulchritudinous). There are so many words that strike a picture in the readers’ mind.
During one of many ‘discussions’ I have had with Youngest Son, I mourned the seeping away of the richness of the English language through disuse. He had no sympathy for me. It is modern usage, I was told, and it isn’t necessary to use words that create a precise understanding of a concept. Nowadays, they simply ‘get it’.
Is it modern usage or is it modern abuse.
By the way, my sons now use ‘big words’ too.
All is not lost.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What's In a Name?

Recently, a couple in New Jersey was surprised when their request to have their local supermarket decorate their three year old son’s birthday cake was refused. Why did the supermarket refuse this request? Because of the boy’s given name. The store felt writing “Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler”, on a cake was in poor taste and just plain wrong.

Obviously, little Adolf’s parents don’t understand the power of a name. But writers need to realize that a name is not just a name. If it’s done right a character’s name will be unique and memorable. Who can forget characters like Scarlet O’Hara, Atticus Finch, Holden Caulfield, or even Harry Potter? Here are a few things to consider when naming your characters:

Make sure the name you choose reflects the era your story is set in.
You wouldn’t name the heroine in your medieval novel Debbie or Jennifer. Pick a name appropriate to the time period by doing some research on names common to that era. Be careful that the name you choose for your heroine was not a name exclusively used for males during that era. If you are writing a contemporary, and your characters were born in the US in the last century, check out the Social Security Name Popularity List for that year.

While you want to be authentic to the period, don’t forget that modern readers are going to be reading your story. The names must be something a modern reader can relate to.
Anne Marble in her article for Writing World says that Egbert was once a popular Anglo-Saxon name meaning “bright spear” but a modern reader might think that your warrior sounds like an accountant.

Choose a name by meaning.
J.K. Rowling is very good at giving characters names that get meaning across without being too obvious. Names like Sirius Black and Remus Lupin let us know instantly their relationship to dogs and wolves. The Weasley family name sounds rather like the middle class, average, slightly bungling family they are.

If your character is a medieval warrior you’ll want to give him a name that reflects that. And if he’s a modern warrior, such as a police officer or a soldier, a strong heroic name is in order. Think about names that reflect not only who your character is in the story, but also your character’s background and the background of your character’s parents. In my novella “Burning Love” I named my female character Iris because her parents were free spirits. The flower child name Iris seemed to suit her.

Avoid weird names, cute spellings and uncertain pronunciations.
Some writers, in an effort to give their characters unique names, may push the envelope a bit too far. Characters end up with such unusual names that they jar the reader every time she reads it. Or perhaps the name is ordinary but the spelling unusual, such as Dyanah instead of Diana. Anything that takes the reader out of the story should be avoided.

One of my pet peeves, especially in science fiction or fantasy, is an unpronounceable name. I judged a futuristic contest entry once in which the main male character’s name was so unusual that I stumbled over it every time I read it. A way to come up with a unique, but still pronounceable name might be to combine two common names. For instance, combine Donna and Veronica to create Donica. However unique you make a name, be sure that it is easy to pronounce and spell. A good example is Bilbo Baggins from “Lord of the Rings”. Unusual name but still easy to say.

Avoid names that sound the same.
If all the characters have a name that starts with the same letter, it’s going to be distracting to the reader and hard for her to tell them apart. The same is true of names that sound the same, such as Craig and Greg. In real life people may have six kids whose names all start with T but don’t do it to your characters.

Choose surnames that fit.
Genealogy sources can be a good place to look for surnames. The phone book is also a good place. I can find a surname from almost any ethnic background in my city’s phone book. If you have an unusual first name, try pairing it with a common last name, and vice versa (eg. Indiana Jones). Say the first and last together a few times out loud to ensure they sound good together. For more information on selecting surnames check out the Google directory of surname sites.

How do you choose your characters’ names? What is the worst character name you’ve either read or written? What’s your pet peeve about character names?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

And the Winner Is...

Thanks to Vicki Bylin, one of our lucky readers has won a copy of In Her Mother’s Arms. In Vicki’s own words:

"About the book drawing…The names went into a hat and the winner is…drumroll…Karen. Karen, if you’d email me at VictoriaBylin at aol dot com I’ll get the book in the mail to you."

If you missed Vicki’s wonderful guest post on her five best moments as an author, scroll down and have a read. We’ve added Vicki to our Honorary Chicks list in the sidebar. Click on her name and link right to her website. And come on back to The Prairies tomorrow when our own Jana Richards will be blogging.

Again, congratulations Karen. And thanks to Vicki for visiting.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Victoria Bylin’s Five Best Moments as an Author


Many thanks to Anita Mae for inviting me to join the Prairie Chicks today! It’s a pleasure to be here. Since this blog is geared to the writer’s journey, I thought I’d share my five best moments as an author. They may not be what you’re expecting. Believe it or not, getting the call isn’t on the list. That’s on a list called “My Five Scariest Moments as an Author.” In fact, it’s No. 1.

For today, I want to focus on the fun stuff, the things that I hope will encourage everyone who has ever sat in front of a keyboard with a story in her heart. Here we go with my list of “Best Moments.”

No. 1: Finishing My First Book. I will never forget printing out my first-ever manuscript. It was called The Safest Place and I’d poured my heart into it. I loved this book. I believed in it. And most important of all, I’d met my goal of finishing a book-length work of fiction. It didn’t matter if it sold or not. (It didn’t.) For those moments, the book was real.

No. 2: Mailing a Finished Manuscript. I love taking a ms to the post office. It’s the one time I don’t mind waiting in line because it gives me a chance to be grateful. Whether a book is under contract or not, finishing the story is pure joy. The book is done and it’s ready to go. We have no control over what an editor buys, but we do control our own efforts. I love that feeling of accomplishment.

No. 3: The Rita Awards! Abbie’s Outlaw finaled for the Rita for Best Short Historical in 2006. I was stoked! That book is still my personal favorite. To receive respect from others meant the world to me.

No. 4: My First RWA Conference. I’d never been to an RWA event in my life, but my husband encouraged me to get on the plane to Denver for the 2002 national conference. I’d just sold my first book to Harlequin Historicals and was as green as a newbie could be. I met so many wonderful women . . . fellow writers who became good friends. That conference changed my life. I can’t wait for Washington DC this year! If you’re going, come and say hi at the Literacy Signing. I’ll be there!

No. 5: Email from Readers. There’s nothing more satisfying than an email from a reader saying that one of my books helped her through a hard time. One reader said Abbie’s Outlaw made her want to go back to church. Another reader asked to read the closing letter in Of Men and Angels at a friend’s funeral. Most recently, a tired mom found encouragement in In a Mother’s Arms. Those emails are humbling and encouraging, and I’m honored by them.

So those are my best moments. What about you? What was your best moment as a writer? Was it writing a great scene? Finaling in a contest? Maybe you got a request from an editor or an agent. It’s all exciting and it’s all progress.

While we’re all here, let’s do a book drawing! Anyone who comments will be eligible to win a copy of In a Mother’s Arms. Let’s talk!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I first heard about Vicki during a discussion of Historical authors. Intrigued by this author whose logline is: Highly Spiritual - Deeply Human, I bought a used copy of Abbie's Outlaw and lost all sense of time in a story that enthralled me with it's gritty realism. It received my highest book review rating. Soon after, I snapped up a copy of Of Men and Angels which also received my highest rating. The intensity and depth of emotion in Vicki's characters reasonate with me long after I close the book.

Vicki can be found at http://www.victoriabylin.com/. She keeps a current blog at http://victoriabylin.blogspot.com/.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, April 17, 2009

Oh, Sugar!!

Confession time – I have a potty mouth. From the middle grades right through to the present day, I have utilized curse words in my vocabulary. Now don’t think for a moment I could compete with any tar worth his salt (ha) on a dockyard in New York, but I can hold my own with the men I work with (mechanics, parts guys, service writers). In fact, some days my profanity seems to be the only thing that stirs them to react and gets me the answers I need to get my job done.

Whew, glad that’s out in the open. After that disclosure, it should not come as a surprise that I include choice curse words in my writing. Wait, you say. Don’t you write medieval romance? Yes, but I’m also working my way through a contemporary/suspense. So, let’s stick with the contemporary (swearing in medieval times could be a whole blogpost itself).

Profanity in a contemporary is fairly straightforward. Words from my own vocabulary work in my writing, no research necessary. Surprisingly, considering my affinity for swearing, it’s my hero who does all the cursing. Mac is DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). The people he had been investigating are not happy and are looking for him. He’s hiding out in Canada, recovering from a gunshot wound and trying to stay in touch with the case through his contact back in the office. Oh, yeah, he’s also been placed on leave for not following orders. Is he angry? You bet! Does he swear? Naturally!

Or at least I think it’s natural. My mother? Maybe not. Funny story about my mom – who uses ‘darn’ and ‘heavens’ when she’s upset (and you better skeedaddle if you hear those words coming from her mouth). She loves to read. And she has favorite authors. We were discussing one of those authors a while back as we were having lunch. I asked her what she had been reading and whether or not she needed something new. Well, heavens! Did I open a can of whoop darn! Here’s kind of how the conversation went:

"I picked up the new _____________ on the weekend."
"Yeah, I heard she had a new one out. How was it?" I sipped my coffee waiting to be told the entire plot, the characters, the setting.
"Page two, Janet, page two!"
I put my coffee down. "Page two, what?"
My mom leaned forward, her eyes flitting from left to right to check for eavesdroppers. "The f-word!"
I grimaced inside. This wasn’t good. "Really?"
"I gave her that one, not happy mind you, and kept reading."
"And?"
"Page three. And twice on page four."
Uh-oh! "Did you finish the book?"
"Heavens no!"
I love my mom!

Will she read my book, the one where Mac uses the occasional F-word? Probably not. How do I know? Because she hasn’t read Lady Bells. She’s very proud of me, tells everyone about her daughter the writer, and then explains that she really doesn’t want to know how my mind works. Ah, my mom knows me so well.

So why would I include profanity in my writing if my own mom won’t read it? Because, to me, it’s natural in the world in which I live. No, I don’t live with or work with agents from the DEA, but I do work with men. Would I let my female characters utter vulgar words in their dialogue? Maybe, maybe not – it depends on their character. But anyone who picks up a new release from Janet C. would know what kind of dialogue to expect.

And I think that’s where a certain type of branding comes in to play. The author my mom loved (and, yes, that is past tense) never used vulgar language in her books. My mom depended on that author to tell a story without the use of cuss words. Can a story be told without swearing? Of course, just like a love story can be told with behind closed-door sex scenes. But if you’re going to write books like that you need to be mindful of your reader.

As an avid reader, I’ll read anything. Sexual content, swearing, violence – none of it bothers me if (and this is a big if) it comes across as authentic and organic. I’ve read plenty of books where I’m sure the author threw in a choice cuss word for shock value. Or, a third of the way through the book the main character starts swearing. I begin to question the motive behind the decision. I end up having to reconfigure the character in my mind because he is no longer the hero I had envisioned when I started the story. My trust in the writer changes, I wonder what else she’ll throw at me that will take me completely out of the story.

Just like my mom – on page two – and twice on page four!

So, People of Blogland, do you condemn a writer for including profanity in her work? Do curse words show up in your writing and, if so, how do you justify them? Would you create a pseudonym if your writing changed course and it had the potential to shock your loyal readers? Do you even notice profanity in the books you read – does it add to or take away from your reading pleasure?

Janet

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Victoria Bylin Coming for a Visit

This Saturday, one of my very favourite authors, Victoria Bylin, will be guest blogging here on Prairie Chicks Write Romance.

I only 'discovered' Victoria Bylin a year or so ago after hearing a discussion about Historical authors who wrote the most emotional, 'feel it in your gut' stories. Victoria's name and her book, Abbie's Outlaw kept coming up. I started scouring used book stores for a copy but couldn't find any at first. This lead me to believe I was on the right track, because usually the books that are super good don't sit in used bookstores - they're sitting on someones bookshelf. Finally after months of searching, I found a copy of Abbie's Outlaw and Of Men and Angels, both Harlequin Historicals. I took them home, read them, and posted the reviews. I gave them both my highest rating because they simply blew me away. If I could write like anyone in this world, I'd want to write like Vicki Bylin.

Stop by for a visit on Sat when Vicki will be giving away one copy of her new Love Inspired Historical release, In a Mother’s Arms.

And yes, with Vicki's logline being Highly Spiritual - Deeply Human, whoever wins this book should have their tissues ready.

Jazz Up Your Writing


When I write, I sometimes use rhetorical devices without thinking about them. However, two of those instances were brought to my attention by other people who suggested I change my wording.

The first instance was when I wrote about my heroine driving over the hose at the corner gas station and hearing a ‘bing, bing’ sound. The person reading my ms said the words were called onomatopoeia and were meant for comics, only, not romance books.

The second instance was in An Outlaw for the Lady where I purposely ended 3 consecutive sentences with the word 'privacy'. I did this for emphasis because my heroine just realized she was alone on the prairie with four outlaws and nothing to hide behind. In one contest, the judge highlighted the word privacy and said, ‘You are going to have to find another way to say this.’ I disagreed and so I kept it. After all, 5 previous judges hadn’t mentioned it. Then at a workshop I attended at the ACFW conference in Sept, the instructor said it’s called an epistrophe (also called antistrophe) when you repeat the same word at the end of consecutive sentences. Maybe the judge wasn’t aware of this?

The topic of the workshop was how to liven up your writing. How to make it more interesting and literary. I discovered the six most common rhetorical devices. This term was unfamiliar to me as were half of the devices on the list. These definitions are courtesy of the Encarta Dictionary that comes with Microsoft Office:

1. Simile - a figure of speech that draws a comparison between two different things, especially a phrase containing the word "like" or "as," e.g. "as white as a sheet"

2. Metaphor - the use to describe somebody or something of a word or phrase that is not meant literally but by means of a vivid comparison expresses something about him, her, or it, e.g. saying that somebody is a snake

3. Hyperbole - deliberate and obvious exaggeration used for effect, e.g. "I could eat a million of these"

4. Personification - the attribution of human qualities to objects or abstract notions

5. Alliteration – a poetic or literary effect achieved by using several words that begin with the same or similar consonants, as in "Whither wilt thou wander, wayfarer?"

6. Onomonopiea - is a word or a grouping of words that imitates the sound it is describing, such as animal noises like "oink" or "meow", or suggesting its source. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onomatopoeia)

The instructor said you shouldn’t riddle your writing with rhetorical devices, but when you did use one that the reader recognized, it was like finding a treasure.

Along with the six above, she mentioned:

Anaphora - the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences, commonly in conjunction with climax and with parallelism

Epstrophe - the counterpart to anaphora, because the repetition of the same word or words comes at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences

Symploce - combining anaphora and epistrophe, so that one word or phrase is repeated at the beginning and another word or phrase is repeated at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences

Polysyndeton - the use of a conjunction between each word, phrase, or clause, and is thus structurally the opposite of asyndeton. The rhetorical effect of polysyndeton, however, often shares with that of asyndeton a feeling of multiplicity, energetic enumeration, and building up. ie They read and studied and wrote and drilled. I laughed and played and talked and flunked.

Asydeton - consists of omitting conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses. In a list of items, asyndeton gives the effect of unpremeditated multiplicity, of an extemporaneous rather than a labored account: On his return he received medals, honors, treasures, titles, fame.

Litotes – a double negative.

Anadiplosis - repeats the last word of one phrase, clause, or sentence at or very near the beginning of the next. It can be generated in series for the sake of beauty or to give a sense of logical progression. Ie In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. --John 1:1

Conducplicatio - resembles anadiplosis in the repetition of a preceding word, but it repeats a key word (not just the last word) from a preceding phrase, clause, or sentence, at the beginning of the next. Like anadiplosis, conduplicatio serves as an effective focusing device because with it you can pull out that important idea from the sentence before and put it clearly at the front of the new sentence, showing the reader just what he should be concentrating on.

These aren’t the only rhetorical devices, either. Virtual Salt at http://www.virtualsalt.com/rhetoric.htm has an on-line handbook which it says ‘contains definitions and examples of more than sixty traditional rhetorical devices, all of which can still be useful today to improve the effectiveness, clarity, and enjoyment of your writing.’

You might also want to check out English Grammar on-line where the rhetorical devices are also called Stylistic Devices.

So, there you go. All the tools you need to enhance your writing.

Do you use rhetorical devices in your wips? Do you feel there’s a place for them in the modern fast-paced 55,000 word romance books? What’s your favorite rhetorical device?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Vibrant Imagery or Mashed Potatoes With The Gravy


“The warm sun is failing, the bleak wind is wailing,
The bare boughs are sighing, the pale flowers are dying,”

Taken from the poem Autumn: A Dirge written by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I find the imagery in Shelley’s poem Autumn: A Dirge very compelling. I am by no means an authority on Percy Bysshe Shelley or poetry. I only became familiar with Shelley after watching a documentary on Mary Shelley, his second wife and the author of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. So I did a little research, found this poem and enjoyed it for the striking imagery (and because I was able to understand it, which doesn’t always happen when I read poetry).

I think it’s safe to say poets and writers use the same literary devices to create imagery and produce mental images for their readers. Imagery paints pictures of characters and scenes, which allows the reader to experience place and time. It appeals to and involves the five senses (touch, sight, taste, smell, and sound).

But how do I make it happen? How do I go about painting a picture in words? Let’s look at some of the literary devices used to create dynamic imagery. Of course there are many one could employ but I think I’ll start with understanding the following three.

Metaphor: a comparison in which one thing is said to be another.
You’re all familiar with this example. ‘All the world’s a stage,’ – From As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Simile: figure of speech involving a comparison between unlike things using like or as.
This exchange from the movie Shrek gives an example of a simile and an explanation.
Shrek: Ogres are like onions. Donkey: They stink? Shrek: Yes. No. Donkey: Oh, they make you cry. Shrek: No. Donkey: Oh, you leave ‘em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin' little white hairs. Shrek: NO. Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers. [sighs] Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions.

Personification: a figure of speech that gives human actions or sensibilities to inanimate objects or ideas.
Example: ‘Google is my friend.’ Line from last week’s post.

Chances are you’ve used these devices without bothering to name them. I mean, you don’t start typing away then suddenly stop and decide you need to insert a simile or a metaphor or decide you need to add some personification or symbolism. I think it’s more a mindset thing. You know you need a certain amount of imagery to create a dynamic story. So put a name to your tools, be familiar with how they can enhance your work. That way they’re be rolling around in your head waiting to show up in your manuscript when you need them.

Apparently one of the top ten errors new fiction writers are guilty of is dull writing. I say, Moi? A dull writer? Am I in imminent danger of becoming mashed potatoes without the gravy as Billy Bob Thornton would say? My pages like a forest barren of any greenery. (See how I inserted that not-so-clever simile. No, wait. Yep, a simile.)

I found three suggestions on how to start using imagery.

Be specific. Don’t say it “tasted good”. Tell us what it tasted like, use a simile or something.

Use animal words. I read this suggestion and I was like, huh? Then I took the bull by the horns, stopped horsing around and with a cat like grace began pecking out sentences. Oh yeah, beware of overused clichés.

Use electrifying images. Think stimulating and bursting emotion.

I’ll leave you with this final example.

"And they came in waves. Streams of animals pouring like some liquid over the hilltops, expanding, contracting, spreading across ridge crests and passes. We followed for as long as we could each day, were overtaken when we camped for the night, and dragged our leaden limbs out of frosted sleeping bags in the mornings, to start a day of trying to keep up, all over again." -Karsten Heuer from first weeks "Being Caribou"

Wow!

Do you have a favorite literary device? Want to share the name of an author or poet you feel masters imagery? Want to try your hand at one of the three devices I mentioned and share?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How Dramatic Do I Need To Be?

In my current work in progress I'm still exploring the tone of the story, and in doing that I've been circling around in my mind, wondering if I have enough dramatic tension in the story, probably because I'm still exploring the characters themselves. The books I reach for first myself have what I've always thought of as a level of personal intensity and drama in the protagonist’s interactions rather than, or as well as, in the action, and I don't think that's coming through in my current ms. My reading experience tells me the level will be different if I pick up a romantic suspense versus a sweet romance versus a hot category, but how do I get to where I want to be with my story? I’ve wondered if it’s simply a function of the conflict between the characters, in which case should I just get to know them better and wait for the level of dramatic tension to determine itself in conjunction with the story as it appears? Or is it something I should be planning for consciously from the start and keeping in mind as I write so my muse (sub-conscious, write-brain, what-have-you) will produce accordingly?

Just to see what's out there on the net (I'm trying to practice my surfing skills, or more accurately, develop some), I Googled "dramatic and tension". [You know (and I'm sure most of you do know), a body could get lost for days following the pages that came up.] I checked out a few results, and though I came across a couple of sites I'll go back to for general info, I wasn't any further ahead than when I started. Also, it wasn't quite what came across in the discussions I read on MacBeth, Checkov, or The Terminator.

I decided I'd better refine what I meant by dramatic tension before I searched further. I went back to my dinosaur ways and pulled out a dictionary and a few books. The dictionary got me started with drama: noun – a series of striking actions or events, like those in a play. Then dramatic: adjective - vivid, intense. And finally tension: noun - the act or process of stretching something tight, the condition of so being stretched, tautness. Well, dramatic and tension fit with what I want to achieve, and I can consider plot as another word for drama, but I wasn't any further ahead in figuring out why I wasn’t feeling confident that I’m getting them in my story. The how-to texts I had didn’t get me on track so I “surfed” my bookshelves again and came up with Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Seemed to me that if I could pin down what appeals to me when I read I might have a better idea of what’s missing in my story, and obviously something is or I wouldn’t be circling instead of moving forward.

I’ve read each of the essays included in the book before, of course, but not for some time, so I went back to two written by authors who write with an intensity I enjoy, Elizabeth Lowell and Robyn Donald. I don’t think I have a definitive answer yet, but I do have more to muse on, as it were, while I’m working through this. Lowell says “...in romance novels alone, love between a man and a woman is affirmed as an immensely powerful constructive force in human life.” She says, however, that “Sweetness and light is wonderful in life and deadly in drama.”, and goes on to note that with “heaven foreordained” the intensity a romance reader takes comes from the journey itself with “the formidable hero who puts the heroine at risk of losing her future and herself to a man who does not believe in love.”

Okay, that resonates with me, as does the essay from Robyn Donald. Donald writes about the “mean, moody and magnificent “ hero. Her essay discusses our historic past and the benefits of having a mate that provide and protect his mate and children. She relates that to why women who are happily married to men who don’t resemble the typical romance genre’s Alpha males as a function of what she refers to as the “seductive fantasy at the core of all romantic fiction”, i.e. the powerful male needs the female and “comes to realize that the only thing that will satisfy him is her admission of love for him, her equal commitment to a shared life.”

Both Lowell and Donald elaborate on those comments, of course, and they were writing on specific aspects of the appeal of romance, i.e. the warrior hero and the affirmation of love, and the hero in romance literature, respectively. And neither essay intimates that the heroine needs a man to feel complete, just the opposite. But after reading their comments I realized that at least some of my current unease with the ms is because in my hero isn’t acting consistently as either an Alpha or a Beta male—he’s a mix. Now, I don’t think every hero has to be a warrior type, or completely self-confident and in charge of his world. But maybe I have to make up my mind, or more to the point, learn which characteristics are predominant in him before I can feel confident that the tension is there. (Have I come full circle here, as it were, from my question at the beginning?) I’m reminded of advice I read some years ago on writing short stories: choose one trait that is strong in each story character and always keep that in mind as you write. Then if he turns out to be more Beta than Alpha, I'll have to put more thought into how that translates to “dramatic”.

Any words of wisdom from those of you who’ve gone around this circle too? And any ideas on creating intensity for a reader when the journey involves a not-so-formidable hero? (I know, I know -- that's probably an essay or book chapter in itself and I should get busy doing more research.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Everything I Wanted to Know About Writing Sex Scenes - Part Two

Last week when I left you, my hero Jack was undressing my heroine Bridget while my instructor Delilah Marvelle (www.delilahmarvelle.com) in her on-line class “Building Hot Sex Scenes” critiqued their every move.

So back to Delilah’s critique of my WIP “Welcome to Paradise”.

Delilah continued to point out places where I neglected to use the five senses to layer in sensuality. How does Bridget’s skin feel against Jack’s fingers? What does her perfume smell like? In a love scene, every emotion is heightened and every sense is heightened. It is not enough to simply say, as I did, “He ran his finger over the swell of her breast”. I need to show how it feels to Jack.

Delilah encouraged us to become sensualists and to find our “inner French girl”. “Slow your thoughts and your writing and your body down. In order to get your characters in the mood, you should be in the mood. Light a candle. Play soft music. Make out with your boyfriend or husband.” Because the sex scene was difficult for me to write, I often ignored it for as long as possible, and just tried to “get it over and done with”. But Delilah says this is the absolute wrong attitude. “The love scene is PIVITAL. It is what changes the relationship between the hero and heroine on a physical and emotional level…You should be savouring that special moment between them. If you don’t respect their moment, no one will.”

Delilah also took me to task for repetition of the word “smile”, and encouraged me to find another way of showing that Jack, my point of view character, is happy. She also warned me about having Jack laugh too much. “Laughing requires energy…and if he’s slipping her blouse off, you don’t want to take away from that action by weighing the sentence down with a greater action.” In other words, keep the focus on making love.

That also brings up another point. Dialogue within a sex scene. I love dialogue, so I had quite a bit of it in my scene. Unfortunately this is not the place for long speeches. “Less is sometimes more. Especially when it comes to dialogue in a love scene. The rule Me Tarzan, You Jane applies.” Humour is good. It helps the characters fall in love with each other and helps the readers fall for the characters. But again, keep your witty banter short and sassy. And just a little naughty.

I had several spots where I unintentionally switched POV. I wrote “Bridget slipped her hands under his shirt,” and Delilah remarked “this feels like a POV change. Mostly because you aren’t describing what he feels when she touches him.” Staying deeply in my POV character’s head and describing how he feels and what he feels, sees, hears, smells and tastes, will avoid these unintentional switches. Delilah encouraged us to stay in one character’s POV throughout the scene. Unless you’re Nora Roberts, don’t head hop.

Aside from the points Delilah made in my critique, these are some other things I learned in her class:

Have a plan for my love scene. I need to know what kind of mood I want to evoke with the scene. Will it be playful, funny, kinky, rough, sweet, soft, emotional? I need to plot out my love scene so I know where it’s going. It also needs to be well motivated. I can’t have my characters having sex just because it’s page 170 and it’s time they did it. Everything has to build up to this scene, because their relationship changes after they make love.

I should be original. That’s a given for any writing, but one of the reasons I took this class was that all my sex scenes were starting to sound the same to me. Delilah told us to step outside the box. My characters don’t always need to be in a bed or to be completely naked. For my contemporaries I can use technology. They could have phone sex, or text sex. For historicals, I can use clothing or masks or food, anything that’s available. Making each scene unique will keep readers, and me, from getting bored.

I should exchange something unexpected between the hero and heroine as they are making love. Delilah says this is how readers will draw closer to the characters. For example, in one of my fellow classmate’s scenes, the heroine shows the hero a scar she has never revealed to anyone else.

I took away a lot of things from Delilah’s class, including a really excellent critique that I will use not only to make this scene better, but hopefully every sex scene that I write in the future.

Which author do you think writes the best love scenes? Do you always read the love scenes, or do you sometimes find yourself skipping over them? Which POV do you enjoy more in a love scene: the heroine's or the hero's?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Map of Charmangea


DunKhan, handsome hero, loses his argument with the lovely Princess Floranza. She won't leave her father's castle despite hearing that enemy forces are almost at the gate and are bent on killing her entire family. Unable to convince her that he only has her safety at heart, he rides across the landbridge and gallops off into the dark night, alone.

My fingers stopped flying over the keyboard. The newly begun adventure, and DunKhan’s horse, came to an unpleasant and jerking halt. He asked, “Where exactly are we going?”

I suffered dreadful embarrassment under DunKhan's unimpressed glare as he waited, struggling to control his impatient steed. In a moment of inspiration I replied, "You can't leave Floranza. Kidnap her if you have to. By the time you reach this spot again, I'll know what to tell you."

He kicked his horse and swooped back into Castle Cavernot. Whew! And while DunKhan was convincing Floranza, I knew I'd better get busy drawing.

At first the thought of completely abandoning the project crossed my mind. I could hear peers and teachers exclaiming loudly that I deserved this humiliating experience. There was no rough outline of plot. There were no character sketches. Heck, I hadn't even seen this story coming. How dare I violate all I have been taught, simply to satisfy the craving to create on a whim?

But brave DunKhan and beautiful Floranza would brook no such betrayal. Theirs was a love story needing to be told. But where to start? I am no artist, and I’m certainly no cartographer.

The paper remained blank for some time while I chewed the end of the pencil. I needed a much larger piece of paper. Out came the flip chart. More pencil chewing ensued. I reached for the atlas. Africa loomed before me. I traced it, then proceeded to re-invent the entire coastline.

My pencil scratched away for three wonderful days. Totally engrossed, grinning widely with the adventure of it all, I placed the warning or message beacons that surrounded the continent; named waterfalls and lakes, mines and capital cities; developed religious beliefs; located the mystical whirlpools; conjured up mythical beasts; established naval and army bases; determined ferry routes and dangerous shipwreck sites; made lists of characters and characteristics of people from each country; and finally unearthed the ‘bad guys'. Africa became completely unrecognisable as it morphed into Charmangea with its eleven countries.

Meanwhile, DunKhan saved Floranza from a midnight marauder. While attractions and conflicts deepened in Castle Cavernot, I had other problems. Here’s a few and how the map helped solve them:

I asked myself, “What do I know about this story and its characters, and how does that affect the map?” “How does the map affect the characters?”

I knew: that Floranza was the first child of Ferrisan of Libona and Evelina of Belladiz.

I discovered: that these two most powerful countries were at opposite ends of the ‘continent'. The marriage of Ferrisan and Evelina resulted in the ending of bitter feuds.

I knew: that DunKhan was a member of an intelligence network called the Nongris.

I discovered: that the Nongris functioned under the umbrella of the Brath; that they were not allowed to marry; that DunKhan was actually crown prince of the legendary Paxarterra and was in the Nongris under false pretenses.

I knew: the map would enable me to give DunKhan his much-needed directions.

I discovered: I had to trust the map completely; that I would be allowed to modify the map at any time; that if I ever didn't know what came next, all I had to do was look at the map.

For instance, as DunKhan languished semi-conscious in a dank dungeon cell, I asked him, "What are you going to do now?"

His lips twitched - in pain or annoyance, I couldn't tell. "I'm going to do what all good natives of Paxarterra do. Have you even studied my country, my upbringing, my beliefs?"

"You rest," I said. "I'll be back. I just have to sharpen my pencil."

The next day, DunKhan was released, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

More important to my career as a writer, I discovered a marvellous, if somewhat psychologically dangerous method for story development. I've never been much inspired by traditional outlines and character sketches. But this Map of Charmangea taught me to rely on my muse, to put myself right into the setting and main characters much more than for any novel I have previously written. Blood Tapestry refused to be rushed. It demanded a precision I hope I provided.

As writers we are privileged to be allowed into the realm of wonderment now and then. We may not immediately realize the key to the kingdom when it is handed to us. We may not recognize the vehicle. So, keep your mind open. Wonderful magical experiences await. They may require you to experiment with your writing methods, or to - say - draw a map.

First draft of the manuscript of Blood Tapestry is finished now and is scheduled for November, 2009 release with Eirelander Publishers, and in case anyone is wondering, it ended with a twist on Happily Ever After! I have begun work on the prequel, The Ice King’s Chalice, and yes, I’m working on the map.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Muse Blogs...

Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Janet’s Muse. She calls me Muse, so I guess you can call me that, too. And you probably want to know why she’s not here today. She had a couple of ideas for a blog post and had done some research so links could be added for extra enjoyment and education – then disaster hit. Someone had to step in and we certainly didn’t want Evil Editor on the keyboard. Ha, this page would be blank because he’d type something then erase it, searching for a better word or phrase. Then he’d change subjects thinking another idea would be more exciting. I’m surprised everyday when the ink is allowed to dry on my ideas!

Just a minute. EE is sitting next to my, commenting on my horrific grammar and overuse of flowery adjectives. What?

Fine, I’m sorry. Yes, you have wonderful revision skills.

And they say I’m temperamental.

Where was I? Oh, yes, disaster. The partial out on submission came back rejected on Wednesday. I was with her when she went to the post office. We’re busy plotting Gillian and Mac’s story and I’m with her 24/7 as we bounce ideas around and work through to the black moment. But I digress. We’d all been expecting news since it had been 11 weeks, the agent’s guidelines listing 8 to 10 weeks for partials. I believe Janet was going to send a follow up e-mail this weekend. No need now. As soon as she pulled the mail from the postal box, we knew. An envelope addressed to her, in her own handwriting. The dreaded SASE.

Now a little part of me – because I am an optimist – thought no worries. Just because her own envelope came back there could still be great news in there. A letter to inform us that, yes, the partial lived up to the agent’s expectations and she would love for us to send the full, ASAP. I was excited. Janet? Not so much. Her shoulders slumped. But, I give her credit; she stood at the counter and opened that envelope. Pulled out the original letter she had sent and then the form letter from the agent. Sadly, it did not express excitement and a demand to see more.

I expected a little down time, a little wallowing in self-pity. But then we would continue on. Work, work, work. After all, this is the woman who talks about getting back to the agent quest, send out another batch of queries. She spouts the theory that you should celebrate a rejection because it means you’re sending stuff out there, actively pursuing publication. But this rejection has hit her hard. And she’s seriously considering shelving Lady Bells.

My work! My beautiful, well thought out, carefully plotted work – shelved! I don’t think so! I slaved over that manuscript and there’s no way it’s getting shoved under a bed or stored on a CD to collect dust.

What?

Sorry, EE would like to add that he, too, spent a considerable amount of time editing and polishing this novel. We both have a great deal of time invested in Lady Bells and we both believe it’s great. And she promised us 100 tries. A hundred query letters sent to agents and publishers. We’ve read the statistics, we know about the Stephen King’s of the world. Rejection is a given. Quitting is not!

So, I need to get her back in the query saddle. I need her to get over this pity party and get back to business. This is where you come in – oh, I’m sorry, did you think I was writing this to get sympathy for Janet? Well, you were wrong. There will be no blowing sunshine up her skirt in the comment section – we already know who the brilliant writer is – moi.

Yes, yes, and EE.

We’re not giving up. So, your job is to offer suggestions to get over rejection (or even writer's block). What do you do to traverse the bump in the road and move on toward your destination? Do you give yourself a set number of days (I’ll average them out and give her that time, but no more, neither one of us is getting any younger)? Do you have a special place for rejection letters? Any rituals that EE and I can help Janet carry out (keeping in mind there will be no sacrificing of anything)? Perhaps an indulgence reserved for this special occasion only?

I look forward to your advice – and remember, don’t join the pity party. Thank you for your time.

Muse.

What?

Oh, and EE.