Saturday, October 31, 2009

We Have a Winner

A winner has been drawn from the list of Saturday's commenters for Laura Breck's goodie bag of promo items and the winner is:

April

Congratulations, April. I will pass your email address along to Laura Breck.

For more information about Laura Breck and her new release Secret Vegas Lives visit her at www.LauraBreck.com.

Laura Breck Talks E-Publishing

Never Thought I’d E-Publish - Book Release and Trick-or-Treat Prize!

Happy Halloween, everyone! After a week and a half of being officially a published author, I have to admit, I never thought I’d e-publish a book. I had visions of me at a quaint little bookstore, sitting behind a table signing my newest release whilst overflow crowds waited in line, chattering excitedly and taking photos of my smiling face.

Alas, my vision changed quickly when Red Rose Publishing contracted my first novel, Secret Vegas Lives, in January. Now I’m published electronically, and loving it! Wonderful international blogs like Prairie Chicks Write Romance (okay, I’m in the USA, and you’re in Canada, but technically it’s international!) invite me to blog with them. The hero of my novel is Italian, and an Italian blog site will be featuring my book in November. Wow, my book is being sold in countries around the world. How exciting!

Could e-publishing take over the industry some day? E-readers (Kindle, MobiPocket, etc.) are coming down in price, and the convenience of instantly downloading a book is very tempting. But friends still say, “I like to curl up with a book, though.” And I love that too. In a world going Green, and with younger generations expanding the book market, e-publishers just might be the future of publishing.

True, in a few months, my book will be available in paperback, and I intend to shamelessly beg for a book signing at every bookstore within a thousand mile radius, but right now, I’m enjoying the challenges and rewards of marketing an e-book.
· I learned how to maintain my own website, so I could make changes in a matter of seconds
· I learned to blog - something I hadn’t explored until I contracted my book
· I’ve learned the importance of taglines for Search Engine Optimization (to get my website and blog noticed by people searching for a romance writer)
· I’m happily settled in the social networking sites Facebook and LinkedIn
· And I Twitter, and automatically have my tweets post to Facebook and my website
· I host two monthly contests on my website, and send a newsletter to announce the winners, and I include other interesting information
· My press kit is online, and not in a pink pocket-folder, as I’d always envisioned
· I even learned to make a video trailer using Microsoft Movie Maker - take a look at it on my website, I’m especially proud of it
· I’m making banners and attaching them to e-mails, and I’m creating favicons for the tab that appears on my internet tab next to my website name
· I’ve planned a blog tour instead of a book-signing tour
· I’m researching review sites that deal with e-published books, and I ask them to review Secret Vegas Lives
· I’m offering myself for live interviews on radio and television - and because I’ve been a Toastmaster for many years, I’m comfortable with public speaking
· My branding promo items and book-specific promo items are geared toward e-publishing
· I’m entering published author contests, and for those that require a paper-copy of the book, I’m using Lulu.com to print my book - for about $8 each (shipping is extra)
· I’ve found out where my book is available, and I’ve signed up for that site’s author promotion opportunities (Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, etc.)

It’s amazing how much I’ve learned, and am learning every day. In all varieties of publishing, we determine how far we will go to market ourselves. I’m pushing myself - stepping beyond my comfort zone - because I am totally committed and childishly excited to make writing my full-time career. It’s been my dream for decades, and with the help of friends and family, I will achieve that goal.

Thank you, Prairie Chicks, for having me here today! I get re-invigorated just talking about promotion. I’d love to hear your favorite ideas for marketing - either e-books or paper-copies, or if you’d prefer, tell me what your Halloween costume is this year. Or both! I’ll randomly draw the name of one commenter to receive my goodie bag of promo items.

Happy Halloween!
Laura Breck
LauraBreck.com
Secret Vegas Lives is available at RedRosePublishing.com

Friday, October 30, 2009

WIPs - My Head Hurts...

My works in progress are split between my two favorite sub-genre – medieval romance and contemporary. Thus my continued discussion here on The Prairies about branding. And if I find a blog that discusses branding, I’m usually reading avidly and returning to the comments all day to hear what others have to say about it. After all, how is a girl who loves to write all kinds of romance supposed to pick just one and stop those other stories from making my head hurt? Obviously, I haven’t found the ultimate answer, so I continue to write and think of stories that cover both contemporary and historical.

Everyone knows my WIP, The Seduction of Lady Bells. I like to think of it as my WIF (work is finished), but we all know that until a story is published, there is no ‘finished’. Even now, I’m looking at reworking my beginning pages to bring in more conflict and tension. The information gleaned from the Surrey International Writer’s Conference showed me that that conflict really needs to be front and center at the beginning of my work – a hint for the reader as to what trials and tribulations Lady Bells will face throughout the book. Of course, you don’t want to give away everything, but you want to seduce (ha) the reader into turning those pages.

A follow up novel, because who doesn’t dream of a sequel to their first novel, is Hugh’s brother’s story. And, you all know that my creativity in titles is amazing, it’s called "Ranulf’s Story". This story has been percolating in my head since I started writing Lady Bells. There’s a document open with a first chapter, but nothing more. The reason – if I can’t sell Lady Bells, then Ranulf’s Story is dead in the water. The story arc over the two books is the subplot – sheep stealing around the English/Scottish border back in the fourteenth century.

A big discussion in Surrey is the love of trilogies in the publishing world. The first workshop I attended (panel discussion on romance) talked about how imprints want/hope that an author is coming to the table with at least an idea of two other books related to the first. So, my third in the Lady Bells’ trilogy would focus on Hugh’s best friend, Thomas. Now Thomas has a special place in my heart and everyone who reads Lady Bells enjoys Thomas’ antics. His story will need to be very special and I’m going to do some free writing over the next couple of months in order to bring his story to life.

My other medieval romance, already started, is Grayce and Droyn’s Story, tentatively titled Have No Mercy. This is the story I’m sharing over on betabloggers 500 words at a time. Grayce is a troubadour and Droyn’s task is to kidnap her and bring her home in order to hold her for ransom. Her father is a nasty man and Droyn’s family can think of no other way to save their land from this greedy baron. Grayce has her own agenda that will conflict with Droyn’s, of course.

I have one other historical, set in tudor times, that I’ve dabbled with over the last couple of years. I haven’t figured out the entire plot in my head, which is why I haven’t continued working on it. The characters are there – they sneak into my consciousness every now and then and I know their story will have to be written.

Now, onto contemporary – Gillian and Mac’s Story. I’ve re-titled it The Art of Betrayal since Gillian is an artist. Everyone knows of the problems I’ve had with this story, but I think I’ve made some progress by working backwards. I really want to finish this story just because it’s been with me for too long. An interesting workshop at the conference sparked some thoughts. Bob Mayer’s workshop, The Warrior Writer, gave a wealth of information on being a writer – from the writing to the business side and everything in between. He moved rather quickly, cramming a 9-hour workshop into an hour and a half discussion, but during that time he mentioned writer’s block. In the same breath came the word ‘laziness’. Of all the information he shared, that stuck with me. Is my block with Gillian and Mac really about not knowing my story – or am I being lazy with my writing? Or is it that I just don’t feel passionate about these characters anymore?

Next up – a romantic comedy which I used for my Blue Pencil Session with Eileen Cook (if anyone loves to read romantic comedy, Jennifer Crusie great, you MUST read Eileen’s book Unpredictable – can’t say enough about it). I’ve almost finished this manuscript – and really love the characters and the story line. With Eileen’s encouragement and enthusiasm, I plan to go back to this, finish it, and polish. I think this will be my next manuscript that I will send out on the query trail. It’s about a woman who has been cheated on and has used food for her salvation. When she discovers that her cheating husband is about to marry the bimbo she caught him with and they’ll both be at a high school reunion, she is determined to show that she, too, can go on with her life – accompanied by a hunky piece of arm candy.

So, for my final WIP – and I count those stories I’ve spent my sleepless nights thinking about as a WIP even if I haven’t written anything down – is a combination of contemporary and historical. This one scares me because of the amount of work, structure, and risk involved. It’s a contemporary suspense about a woman who is a writer. The historical romance she’s working on parallels her own life without her realizing it. The hero solves the mystery with the help of her finished manuscript. Again, I’m plotting in my head and can see the story – writing it down is going to be a big job and I’m shying away from it due to lack of confidence in my ability to explain my vision. I’m sure, at some point in time, the characters will get their way and I’ll have to write it down.

Oh, yeah – forgot about the Sci-fi Romance I plotted at the conference. Jana, Suse, and I spent an hour or so discussing it, plotting some of it, coming up with some wild and crazy ideas, and laughing so hard our stomachs hurt. Of course, it has a major element of comedy and not really sure if there’s a market for such a wild and crazy story. But now that it’s in my head, it’ll plague me constantly. Just what I need – more voices in my head.

So, People of Blogland, what’s up with your WIPs? Does your brain storytell during sleepless nights? Do you write all over the romance genre or are you focused? Do you read more than one sub-genre, or genre? When do you consider a work finished? And if you know how to stop the voices in my head, I’d appreciate your advice.

Janet (who's Internet-less for another week or so - I'll try and check back today and then tomorrow)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Laura Breck to Visit

Join us this Saturday, October 31, when our guest blogger will be Laura Breck.


One of the primary goals of my writing is to give readers a world into which they can escape the stress of life. And a fun read for lounging on the beach or cuddling up with a blanket and a cup of tea. Another goal is to make a difference in the world. That is why each of my books will sponsor a community program, and a percentage of my proceeds will be donated to that organization.


~Smart Women ~ Sexy Men ~ Seductive Romance~


Her new book, Secret Vegas Lives, is available at Red Rose Publishing.

Mistaken for a blackmailer, socialite Valerie Kane will do anything to keep sexy Italian crime writer Antonio Daniato from publicly exposing her, and Antonio is wickedly intent on seeing how far Valerie will go to protect her reputation.

Bestselling author Antonio Daniato sets a trap to capture his blackmailers, and is surprised when well-known psychologist Valerie Kane stumbles into his arms. She swears she’s not involved, but he threatens to expose her unless she reveals her accomplice. When she bares her soul to prove her innocence, Antonio is fascinated by her honesty, but shaken by the intensity of his desire for her.

Surrendering to temptation, Valerie defies her family’s wishes and risks her reputation to let hot blooded, enigmatic Antonio into her life. But she uncovers evidence that he’s staging the blackmail scenes as research for his next book – and casting her as the blackmailer. When she confronts him, it’s his turn to convince her of his innocence.

Their outrageous sexual attraction keeps them in each other’s arms, but mutual distrust prevents them from admitting their deeper emotions. When the true blackmailer threatens to reveal Antonio’s double life, Antonio yields to his guilt and chooses to let Valerie go. But Valerie discovers his secret, and will fight for Antonio against an addiction whose hold on him may be stronger than their love.

For more information on Laura Breck and her writing visit http://www.laurabreck.com/.

Nanowrimo Tips

In less than 3 days writers all over the world will poise their fingers above their keyboards waiting for the stroke of midnight. At 12:01 AM on Nov 1st the race to complete a full length novel within 30 days will officially begin. Yes, it’s National Novel Writing Month otherwise known as Nanowrimo or affectionately as Nano. I’ve done it. And from my experience, I’d like to share tips where you can successfully do it too.

Before Nanowrimo:

Talk to Your Family
This is one of those things that may seem impossible to some writers because life and family commitments go on regardless. But they don’t have to go on the same way. If you sit down with your family in October and tell them exactly what’s expected of them in November, and stress that it’s temporary with lots of treats in December, you may be able to squeeze out some extra hours of writing. It’s certainly worth a try. Go here for more tips on family life during Nano.

Envision Your Novel
You do have a clear idea of what you’re going to write, right? Even if you’re a pantser, there are things you can do to hasten your Nano journey and these should be done in October:
- Detailed character sketches incl’g quirks
- Map your location
- Draw floor plans for your setting
- Provide photos of the season
- Write an outline – can be as simple as beginning, black moment, ending

Set up Daily Charts
- Nanowrimo Tracking Chart
- Daily Report (see below)

Ready Blank files
These are files you create but will stay blank until you need them:
- Discard (in case you change your mind – again)
- Additions (things thought of after the fact)
- New characters from teachers to dogs
- New scenes (ideas that come as you write)
- Research - you’ll come across things you may need to research. YOU DO NOT WANT TO STOP WRITING and do the research during Nano. Once you get on the net and start surfing, your day will be shot. Trust me. Instead, open your research file, type in what needs to be researched, save it and get back to writing.

Register
This is the single most important thing you will do. The whole concept of Nanowrimo is for writers to take the journey together. It promotes accountability and camaraderie. As writers, we try to keep a word count goal but when the time comes to choose between writing for that extra hour or watching a favorite TV show, most times we choose the TV. Because Nanowrimo is a race against time and you need to report in daily and tell all the other writers how well you did, you’re more apt to choose the extra hour of writing. When you report in, you see how others have done. Some totals will be really low due to life interference. Those writers need your encouragement. Other totals will be so high you’ll wonder if they’re fudging it. But those writers will inspire you. Give and take. Encouragement. Writers helping writers. I love it!

I know of 3 places where you can register for Nanowrimo:
- Nanowrimo - the official site
- Nanowrimo - the official kids site
- eHarlequin - for new novels and more

During Nanowrimo:

Daily Reports
I wrote Charley’s Saint start-to-finish during Nano 2007 using the eHarlequin Nano board because it’s where my friends were. Since I’m working on additions and revisions to Emma’s Outlaw this time around, I’ll register again at the eHarl site because it promotes working on your own needs which may not include a brand new book. I’m not sure how the official Nano site reports in, but at eHarl we go to the Nano board and leave a comment which looks like this:
Title: (working title)
WC: (daily word count)
FW: (first word of the day)
LW: (last word of the day)
Fav Line: (Favorite line)
Total: (Words so far)
Percentage: (of book completed)
Treat: (for yourself)
Tips: (for other writers)

Although this format isn’t mandatory, most eHarl writers use it. The first and last words are for interest only as is the favorite line.

Favorite Line: The fav lines can get very funny and provide insight into other wips. They stress the fact you’re not writing alone. As you write, be aware of sentences you really like. Highlight them. At the end of the day, it will be easy to pick out the highlighted lines. Choose your favorite. Most often, those writers who think they’ll look later are too tired at the end of the day and don’t bother.

Treat: This comes after you reach your word count for the day. It’s a time to sit back and watch the tape of the fav show you missed earlier. Take a bubbly bath. Surf the net. Or relax with a bowl of ice cream. Deciding on a treat at the start of the day will give you a goal for later when you’re most tempted to quit. And relaying your treat to others may encourage them to push out those extra words.

Tip: Anything you found that may help other Nanoers. You cannot believe how much the sharing of like information encourages the next writer.


The Actual Writing
During Nanowrimo, we write at a hectic pace. We’re supposed to shut off our internal editors and go strictly for word count because ‘we can’t edit a blank page’. For my first Nanowrimo, I was told to ignore spelling errors, capitalization, grammar, etc. Anything that slows down your writing. One person even said she uses the Word strike-out feature when she wants to erase a word and sentence. By striking it out, it’s ‘gone’ but the words are still counted. I tried that for one day. It may have worked for that person but I found it time consuming and redundant. It took precious seconds, if not minutes, to go up, click on the feature, strike it out, and click off again. Then I had to rethink what I was going to write. Ugh. And those extra words may have counted at the end of the day but did I really do myself a favor? If I need to write 3000 words a day to reach my goal of 90,000 words at the end of Nov, will the word count be accurate if I count all my strike-outs and other garbage? No.

I also found that trying to remember not to capitalize or use dialogue quotation marks screwed up my timing since they are second nature to me. However, I do ignore the red spelling and green grammar lines when I’m on a roll. And because I enjoy the spirit of Nanowrimo, I write everything that comes to me and let my imagination reign. If I think of something that needs to be added to a previous day or something I have to research, I quickly go the file I’ve previously opened for times like these, note the appropriate page numbers and what needs to be done later.

I’d like to continue this post next week as we’ll be on Nano Day 5 by then. If you have tips you’d like to share, let me know in the comments section and I’ll incorporate them in my post.

What works or doesn’t work for you? What tips do you have to share? Does anyone know what the official daily Nanowrimo report entails? Any other sites you can register at?

Click NaNoWriMo under Labels in the left column for more info.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Believe It or Not ...


It is very seldom that I get totally caught up doing research as it’s not exactly my favorite thing to do. But type in the words unexplained phenomena into Google and it provides you with hours of entertainment. I decided to go one step further and add the name of my home province, Saskatchewan, to the search and Google came up with a host of interesting sites related to mysterious paranormal activity right here in my own province.

It all started with the approach of Halloween, a thought about world building, and my desire to tell a tale of my Grandmother’s. The story occurred on one of her return trips to the country she immigrated to Canada from, she and my Grandfather had the opportunity to tour a house she had visited as a child. The house was under renovation and being painted top to bottom, including some of the floors. As they passed one the rooms, my Grandmother saw a gentleman lying on a cot in the corner. She remembers his chest moving like he was breathing. The unfortunate part - he was being painted into the corner. There was no way for him leave the room without crossing the freshly painted floor. My Grandmother looked around at the other people touring the house expecting to see looks of confusion only to see nothing of the sort. No one else had seen him.

I believe the story for two reasons. First, my Grandmother was the least likely person to say she’d seen a ghost and secondly she would never have told a lie. I may have to take Connie’s advice from yesterday and incorporate this real life tale into a novel.

I learned a couple of other interesting facts surfing around the net. For instance, I learned there are people you can call if you are experiencing strange happenings in your home. We are home to a society of Ghost Hunters and a paranormal research center. My brain is being pummeled with ideas for future stories.

Further investigation proves Saskatchewan is a hotbed of paranormal activity. There are ghosts spread out all over this fine prairie province. In fact, one of Canada’s best ghost stories revolves around the Fort San Sanatorium in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.

The Fort Qu’Appelle Sanatorium opened in 1919 and was Saskatchewan’s first healthcare center built to combat the contagious disease, Tuberculosis. At its peak, it accommodated 358 patients. By the time it closed in the early 1970’s, thousands of people had passed through its door. Tragically some never left.

Fort San is said to be the home of Nurse Jane who was often seen folding linens or pushing a wheelchair down the hallways. It is also said to house Mr. Stiff, the undertaker who attended to cases at the sanatorium. Whether these two are the cause of the slamming doors, loud noises, missing or moved articles – no one knows.

In later years Fort San became the Echo Valley Conference Center and was open to groups. Both my husband and son have participated in overnight trips to Fort San without incident. It is now scheduled to be demolished.

This province is also home to Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa and its mysterious, curative waters. It comes with a beautiful Cree legend called the Manitou Legend that explains why people believe the waters have healing powers. My Brotherhood of the Arrow series will have a lake or special pool of water said to possess healing powers. Water from this source will also be used in certain ceremonies.

We also have more than our share of crop circles. Crop circles have a way of appearing in Saskatchewan farmers’ fields. The Canadian Crop Circle Research Network’s blog shows a picture of this year’s second crop circle reported outside of the city of Moose Jaw. We’re becoming known as Circle Central. Some day I will have a heroine or hero that works for the CCCRN.

Hope you enjoyed your peek into a few of the examples of unexplained phenomena that occurs in my neck of the woods. How about you, do you have any ghost stories? Have you experienced an unexplainable phenomenon lately?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You should write a book

There are a number of reactions to a writer's confession that they are a writer:
1) yawn. (yawn yourself you illiterate hedgehog)
2) oh really? (yes really. Nobody makes up stuff like that)
3) what do you write? do you make it up or do you write fiction? (ahhhhhh)
4) the Great Canadian Novel eh? (ah. ha. ha.)
5) I'd like you to write about my life. (called over shoulder - sorry. can't.
emigrating today).
6) are you still writing for the paper? (no, I retired in 1995).
7) I'm going to write my biography (well why not? why wait until somebody writes it
for you?)
8) I think I'd like to write about things that have happened in my life. (YES!!!)

Now that is my kind of response!
In my weekly column for a local newspaper, I often wax poetic or rant and rave on why people should write about themselves. (I didn't lie above. I retired in 1995 from that Other Paper).
Writers don't retire from writing. That's like sharks no longer chomping down.I suspect some writers want to be buried with their laptop.
But, back to where I was. What if your grandfather had written about what he did as a youth? What if your mother had written all that stuff down about herself, her family, your Dad and/or about you kids as you grew up? If she did, get down on your knees and praise the lord!! even if you are an arthritic atheist.
My mother-in-law kept a diary. After she died, I settled in for a wonderful read about her life, grandpa's and my husband's. She had recorded the weather - sporadically - since 1929! She also recorded when my husband had chicken pox and measles and that was it for the 1940s. I guess war was getting him to sleep at night.
Telling you or I to write about our own lives - ah gee - is probably a waste of good blog space. A diary or a journal is the extent we will go to and maybe not even that.
But what if it wasn't an "I was born in 1941 in Niagara Falls." What if it was complicated to compose as a novel? What if you wrote it the way you would write a novel? And no, I don't mean you can fictionalize your brother's life to get even. He will do hideous and horrible things if you blame him - in print - for setting fire to the front door or something equally heinous, when you know darn well who really did it.(My brother actually did set the front door on fire, but we don't mention that anymore - than is necessary).
You have choices: memoirs or novel. If you choose the novel, be careful what you say about others; especially if he was not convicted. Changing names won't help. Your relatives will filter out everything about them. If they don't see it that way, you may be in trouble. At best, they will be flame-throwing angry. At worst, they actually can sue. Make sure your book will not cause a rift in the family that rivals Africa's Rift Valley.
Will your story embarrass someone or make them feel betrayed becuse only you knew. Delete some stories if prudent. The relatives' first reaction to your novel should be, "Whew!".
To write a novel about your recollections, you might take an incident and weave a story around the bare bones. The story doesn't have to be true - just a darn good story based on your anecdote.
This is not a weekend project obviously. You know how to write a novel but your memoir shouldn't be any different. You need to develop characterization, plot, POV, ORDER, structure and a starting point that gives the reader some focus. Start with order and whisper 'POV' like a mantra. Even if cousin Liza was not happy to be left out, if she wasn't a part of a story, leave her out.
I am 'praying to the choir' here. You know how to write. These are just some ideas.
And who says your heroine's story can't have some of your's?

I will be out of town, without internet probably, so it will take awhile, but I will answer all your comments. Thank you for your patience! connie

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Work in Progress - Adventures in Research

Let me tell you a little about one of my current works in progress. It’s called “Twice in a Lifetime” and it’s a time-travel about an old man who is visited by an angel who offers him a chance to go back in time for a second chance at love. The angel (who is my angel Angelica from “Burning Love”) takes Frank Brennan back to 1944, to wartime Plymouth, England, just before the D-Day invasion.

This is my first attempt at an historical. And I’m finding the research somewhat daunting. First of all, this is a setting I am not at all familiar with. I have never been to Plymouth, and certainly not in 1944. I know a fair bit of the history of World War 2, but I’m not an expert. And I’m really not an expert in military affairs. My character Frank and his friend Cal are members of the 116th regiment of 29th Infantry, which is an actual American regiment that fought in World War 2. They were some of the first troops to land on the beaches of Normandy. I don’t have a military background so a lot of the terms are unfamiliar to me. I also need a fair bit of medical information and history.

I actually started this story a few years ago. I love the idea of a person being able to go back in time to “fix” the mistakes they made years ago. But I got bogged down and scared off by the amount of research needed and I quit writing. I have no qualms about reading books or searching on the Internet for information. My problem is asking real live people, experts in their fields, for advice and information about the things I need to know. I interviewed two policemen, one RCMP and one Winnipeg City policeman, for my romantic suspense “Seeing Things”. I had to force myself to do both of them. I was nervous, shaky, sweating. They both turned out fine and I got a lot of good information, but I was glad when they were over. I think this fear stems from lack of confidence. It’s hard for me to say “I’m a writer and I need this information.” I think people will say “Really? You? Who do you think you are?”

But I’ve decided I’ve got to get over this. It’s holding back my writing. So after finding the website of the 29th Infantry and emailing their historian, I was a little nervous when he emailed me back and invited me to phone him. It was with shaking hands that I dialled his number.

He couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. I did experience a moment of hesitation when he asked me what my novel was about and I had to explain the fantasy elements of the story to him. I told him that while the story is not strictly about the 29th Infantry, I want the military and historical elements I’m using to be true. He also invited me to phone him back if I have any further questions.

I am in awe of writers who fearlessly interview subjects, who participate in police ride alongs and do all sorts of inventive things to research their stories. I’m not sure I could ever be that brave. But I’m learning. A long time ago, Melvia Fonstad, a member of the Saskatchewan Romance Writers who passed away several years ago, told me that people love to talk about themselves and what they do, and I shouldn’t feel as if I’m imposing on them or bothering them. I’ve always remembered what she told me, but never taken it to heart before. So thanks Melvia. I’m finally listening.

Am I the only weird one who has a phobia about live research interviews? Do others really enjoy this type of research? What advice do you have for helping me to get over my nerves when interviewing?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

We Have a Winner!!!

Kate Bridges has picked a winner for her book giveaway. The lucky winner of Kate's upcoming November release, Alaskan Renegade is:

Suzanne Dietze

Congratulations, Suzanne! Please email me (Karyn) @ kjgood (at) sasktel (dot) net with your postal information and your email address.


If you're stopping by and you want to check out Kate Bridges go to http://www.katebridges.com/ and learn more.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kate Bridges Talks Screenwriting

Using Screenwriting Strategies in Your Novel – by Kate Bridges

It’s great to be here! Thank you to the Prairie Chicks for the invitation.

I’ve been using screenwriting techniques in my novels since the beginning of my published career. Initially, I found the three-act structure of a movie helpful in reducing my novel into manageable chunks of writing.

Now that I’ve completed postgraduate studies in comedy screenwriting, I’ve discovered many more similarities and differences between the two art forms. Here are just three things you might consider when writing your novel, whether it be a romantic comedy, Western, paranormal or thriller.

1.) Movies often cheat in their openings. They disregard chronological order and often start at a high emotional moment in the story, sometimes even the climax, and work their way backward to explain how this moment came to be. “Mission Impossible III” did it, and we could all probably name several others. These movies try to hook the audience by starting with a moment filled with tension and conflict. I’m not saying a novel should start at the climax – but perhaps we can take a cue from this.

Julie Garwood uses this nonlinear technique in one of my favorite Westerns, ONE RED ROSE. Her opening sentence is “He found her in his bed.” Then she backs up in the story and tells us how that moment came to be – the hero returns home for a family reunion unexpectedly in the middle of the night, undresses in the dark...and eventually gets to the funny moment where he unknowingly slides in next to a sleeping warm body....

I am not suggesting that in your novel, you must start at a later point and work your way backward. What I am suggesting is that wherever you start, make the opening sentence and opening paragraph emotional, and hint at conflict.

2.) What’s that you say? Is your dialogue exciting, witty, filled with subtext and hidden meaning? Even if on the surface the dialogue seems mundane, perhaps the body language of the characters is at complete odds to what is being said, thereby making the interaction entertaining. Ask yourself this: If you happened to be walking by your characters while they were having a conversation, would you want to eavesdrop? If no, rewrite it. If yes, good job.

You’ve probably heard the term in screenwriting that dialogue shouldn’t be on-the-nose. This means screenwriters should avoid writing dialogue where characters always say exactly what they think or mean. It’s more interesting if things are said in a different way than straight-on. In novels, too, there should be wiggling and squirming and inability to communicate directly and hidden agendas and sarcasm and sometimes, plain-out lying. Not all the time, but it is entertaining fiction, after all. However, after the hero and heroine have gone through their transformational arc, they will have grown as people and in their ability and desire to communicate with each other.

About endings: In romance novels, we usually like to see some sort of conclusion where the couple has an honest moment where they disclose their feelings. Most of us, as readers, like to see the conflict resolution unfold on the page. In Hollywood, writers are sometimes encouraged not to end it with characters directly saying, “I love you.” (Thereby avoiding on-the-nose dialogue.) The characters may say it instead in their actions, or a funny remark where the audience gets the idea. I heard Carrie Fisher stress this in an interview once about how she writes screenplays. It’s an interesting technique you might want to try in your ending. Or not. Or use in some combination.

3.) Do you button your scenes well? In screenwriting, a button is the final joke or line of a scene that gives the scene a feeling of completion. If you’re good at it, this means ending the scene on a moment of suspense, or a moment of high emotion, or a moment of comedy.

Have you ever tried screenwriting? Do you prefer seeing a movie or novel open chronologically in time, or does it matter?

Post a comment or question today for a chance to win a copy of my upcoming November release!

ALASKAN RENEGADE. When the Skagway town nurse, Victoria Windhaven, sets off on a dangerous medical journey across the Alaskan wilderness, she’s forced to ride with a man from her past - bodyguard Brant MacQuaid. Five years ago in St. Louis, Brant left her sister standing at the altar and Victoria has never forgiven him. They’re accompanied on the trip by a young medical student who has a crush on Victoria, which further complicates the arrangements.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kate Bridges' first historical romance novel was published in 2002. She grew up in rural parts of Canada, although her home now is the city of Toronto. In her books, she shares her love of wide-open spaces, country sunshine, and the romantic tales of the men and women who tamed the West. Her novels have been studied in over a dozen colleges in their commercial fiction writing courses and translated into nine languages worldwide. Recently, she took up screenwriting, which adds a new twist to her career. Find out more about Kate and her books at http://www.katebridges.com/

Friday, October 23, 2009

ACKKK...

I am a nervous wreck! Oh, I should preface this by saying that as you read this I am in Surrey, British Columbia for the Surrey International Writer’s Conference (SiWC). And that I am actually writing this post on Tuesday. And I’m still a nervous wreck!

Time has crept up on me and I’ve done the usual "Oh, I have plenty of time, no worries" only to discover I’m two days away from a major writing conference. Did I mention I’m a nervous wreck? I’m not sure why I do this to myself – I’ve always been a ‘cliff-hanger’. Unless there’s an imminent dead line, I find other things to do. I always seem to do my best work under pressure (Muse suggests I do my only work under pressure and if I spent more time, my work would be even better – I’m going to get Muse some chocolate, be right back…)

So, I’ve worked my butt off to get ready. One-sheets, business cards, 3-pages for a blue pencil session, (a romantic comedy that no one’s seen), workshops decided, blog posts scheduled. I really need to go back and re-read those time management posts the other Chicks have posted. And through it all my anxiety has escalated. We’re all writers here so playing the ‘What if...’ game is common practice. Here’s a list of some of my ‘what ifs’ in regard to the conference:

What if – I draw a complete blank when the editor asks me about Hugh’s motivation/Mena’s conflict/plot points/etc?

What if – I throw up a little in my mouth before I begin my interview?

What if – the person before me goes long and I get a measly 3 minutes to sell a 100,000-word novel?

What if – my feet hurt so badly from wearing actual shoes versus slippers and runners I can’t walk, trip on my way into the room, fall on my face, break my nose, am rushed to hospital…?

What if – the editor gets so fed up with all of us wannabes that she quits seeing us right before my interview?

What if – the hotel catches fire and I have to race back to my room, dodging a buff firefighter (wearing nothing but coveralls and suspenders – the firefighter, not me), to get my laptop and getting trapped in the elevator because I had a TSTL (too stupid to live) moment?

Well, you can see where my ‘what ifs’ have taken me. You should hear my ‘what ifs’ about the actual plane trip! So, I turned to a man who’s wisdom is Oprah-worthy, Eckhart Tolle . These are two quotes I found this summer and they were so profound I just had to write them down. Now, I want to share them with you.

"Focus your attention on the now and tell me what problems you have at this moment."

Now this is interesting. As I was writing this, I stopped to focus my attention and realized I have no problems at this moment. I’m typing. I’m exercising my mind by choosing words and sentences to relay a message. Not one single problem is at hand.

The follow up quote really drives home the message:

"It's about realizing that there are no problems. Only situations - to be dealt with now, or to be left alone and accepted."

Hmm, interesting. I have a situation – conference. I either deal with it, or leave it alone. End of story. Putting it in that perspective really takes the nervousness away. There is only the now and the now is not sitting in front of an editor hawking my story. The now is finishing this blog post. When I get there, when it becomes the now – then I’ll panic!

I love inspirational quotes. Especially those that make me stop, think, and re-evaluate my life. I usually come away inspired and/or thankful for the life I have, the friends I cherish, the opportunities provided. Today, as you read this, I’ll be at a conference drinking in every sight and sound, learning things about a passion I want to make into a career, sharing and laughing with good friends, making new friends, and discovering that this now is pretty darn spectacular.

I’ll also be trying really hard not to be a nervous wreck. Change doesn’t happen overnight; blogposts maybe, one-sheets perhaps, but not change.

So, People of Blogland, what do you do to calm your nerves? Do you live in the now or worry about the future? For fun, give me another ‘what if’ for my situation – I might just pick one and write a short story for a future blog. I’ll try and check in when I can, don’t know about the Internet availability.

Janet

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kate Bridges to Visit

This Saturday, Oct 24, Kate Bridges guest blogs here at Prairie Chicks Write Romance.

Kate writes historical romance novels and comedy screenplays. Her first historical romance novel was published in 2002. She grew up in rural parts of Canada, although her home now is the city of Toronto. In her books, she shares her love of wide-open spaces, country sunshine, and the romantic tales of the men and women who tamed the West. Her novels have been studied in over a dozen colleges in their commercial fiction writing courses and translated into nine languages worldwide. Recently, she took up screenwriting, which adds a new twist to her career.

On Sat, post a comment or question for a chance to win Kate's November release, Alaskan Renegade.

ALASKAN RENEGADE is about the Skagway town nurse, Victoria Windhaven, who sets off on a dangerous medical journey across the Alaskan wilderness to make her medical rounds before the snow hits. She’s accompanied by a bodyguard, Brant MacQuaid, but doesn’t like him. Five years ago in St. Louis, he left her sister standing at the altar and Victoria has never forgiven him. They’re accompanied on the trip by a young medical student who has a crush on Victoria.

Find out more about Kate and her books at http://www.katebridges.com.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Keeping Track of Nanowrimo


Since many writers will be attempting to write their novel during National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), I thought I’d let you know my biggest headache afterward – finding my scenes.

I made a chart the first year I attempted Nanowrimo and I still use it, except I’ve tweaked it over the years to make it more efficient. The chart shows my daily progress and lets me know if I’m on track to complete the manuscript (ms) by the end of Nov which is when Nanowrimo ends.

My final change to the chart was to add a column where I use a few words to describe the scene I’ve just written. You could do it at the start of the day, but usually filling in my word count is the last thing I do before I go to bed and dream about the next day’s scene. I used to just log in my daily progress by word count and page number. But then hectic December rolled around and I started editing the ms and all I had to refer to was a sheet full of numbers. I couldn’t find a scene in a hurry. And remember, during Nanowrimo, your scenes won’t always be in order. You may run into writer's block and not know what comes next. The best thing is to start somewhere else. So you write the final chapter on day 14 and the black moment on Day 23. By adding a column with a few word description, you can tell at a glance where that scene is located in your file.

I would love to show you the chart here but there isn’t enough room for it and I don’t know how to link to it. But if you leave your email address in a comment, I'll email the chart to you. Or, you can make your own chart using an Excel spreadsheet. I usually just use a Word document so I don’t have to open another program and stress my aging laptop.

So my columns headers are:

1st – Date (The day of the month)
2nd – Pages (Use 1-10, 11-24, etc. Easier to know where to start.)
3rd – Word Count (Daily Word count)
4th – Total (Running Total)
5th – Scene (A few words to jog your memory)
6th – Percentage *
7th – Goal (Day 3 will be 10%, Day 6 = 20%, Day 9 = 30%, Day 12 = 40%, Day 15 = 50%, etc)

* The formula to figure out your progress percentage is this:
Your daily total divided by your book length goal, then move the decimal 2 to the right.

Some days I write more than I need and some days less so my goal isn’t written in stone. However, if I’m only at 13% by Day 6, I know I’d better get a move on or it will be too demoralizing to try to catch up. And that is my voice of experience speaking.

When I start my ms, I set up the page with the nbrs on the top right side of the header just like a regular manuscript. You’ll need it to keep track of the scenes. But I don’t keep track of chapters. It would slow me down and it’s not necessary at this stage.

Then when I save it, I’ll name it under the day like Day 1, Day 10, Day 19, etc. This makes it a lot easier to find if you need to refer back to a name or something in a rush. Trust me, during Nano month you don't have time to be looking for information. You'll need it within a couple clicks. At the end of the day, once you've actually written the scene(s) you can rename your file to reflect that. Sometimes I'll give the scene a name at the start of the day, but more often than not, what I end up with isn't what I planned.

So there’s my Nanowrimo tracking chart. If you have found something else that works for you, please share it with us here. And remember to leave your email address if you want to see mine.

Next week I'll pass on all the Nanowrimo tips that work for me as well as others that I may or may not agree with.

More writing comics can be found at http://www.inkygirl.com/

-

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Might I Recommend ...


“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” Julia Child

We’ve been talking a lot about pitches, blurbs, taglines, one-sheets and how to successfully navigate agent/editor appointments lately as some of my follow blog partners and fellow Saskatchewan Romance Writers members prepare to travel to the prestigious Surrey International Writers’ Conference. But we haven’t talked about what happens if you aren’t going. What if you’re staying home? Like me.

Staying home also requires careful thought, planning and preparation. If you’re like me, you’ve got some pretty important choices to make to have a great weekend, like what are you going to drink, what are you going to eat, and most importantly what are you going to read. Deciding what goes best with what. Well, I’ve got a few suggestions.

I could go with a dark, rich ale whose slightly smoky complex flavor goes well with an assortment of foods. But the heck with that idea! Choose a medieval romance or a highland romance to sip your ale by, perhaps while snacking on some chicken wings, nachos, or some other type of delicious finger food. No haggis allowed here however.

Might I point you in the direction of a Chardonnay, the Queen of the whites, with its wider-bodied, rich citrus flavors? Recommended pairings are fish and chicken. I say pair it with a contemporary romance. There’s got to be a Nora Roberts book out there I haven’t read. Sushi anyone?

Then there’s the wine that goes with anything – a Merlot. Its round texture and black cherry and herbal flavors suggest a partnership with a riveting romantic suspense along with a gooey, oozy, cheesy, spicy pepperoni pizza.

How about the granddaddy of them all, a Cabernet Sauvignon? Full-bodied, firm and gripping. To be enjoyed with red meat. Permission granted to sink your teeth into a paranormal romance. Might I recommend a perfectly grilled steak?

Is there anything better then a straight shot of Canadian whiskey? Aged, typically lighter and smoother, you can’t help but marry it with a historical. So grab that jar of fire roasted peanuts for yourself and saddle on up to the couch with a historical.

What weekend is complete without a trip to your favorite coffee shop and a frothy cup of Chai tea latte? Or a London Fog, I can never decide. Back home again with a bag full of ginger cookies and a regency romance and you’ve have all the makings for tea in the afternoon.

If your tastes run more to a sharp, tangy lemonade or sweet iced tea might I propose a traditional romance or an inspirational romance. Enjoy them alongside a slice of a real deal, homemade chocolate cake smothered in rich, creamy chocolate icing.

Or mix and match any of the above!

Are there any other romance sub genres I’ve left out? What about other genres? What would you pair them with?

Pst – I’m actually overjoyed at having to stay home this weekend as my daughter is being confirmed on Sunday morning!

Oops...

Due to circumstances beyond our control, Tuesday's blog is unavailable. The Chicks apologize for this oops, but welcome you to have a look around. There are some amazing craft posts (check the label bar on the left hand side) and some fabulous guest blogger posts (see author names again on the left hand side under Honorary Chicks - click there and you'll be taken to their website, use the blogger search with their name and you'll be taken to their guest post). Of course, you can also check out our favorite blogs and weblinks.

Come back tomorrow when Karyn will be posting as usual.

Have a great Tuesday :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Website Contests


The Wild Rose Press will be sending my novella “Burning Love” out into the world on January 20, 2010. This release date is crucial. Readers are most likely to buy a book around its release date. But they can’t buy a book they don’t know about. One of the ways to let readers know about your new book is to hold a contest on your website.

Readers love contests. I’ve held a few contests before, but as I was thinking about what to do for the launch of “Burning Love” I started to wonder about the best way to run a contest. And what are the kinds of prizes that draw readers to your website and entice them to buy your book?

The first place I turned to was to an article written by Honorary Prairie Chick Courtney Milan (http://www.courtneymilan.com/) in the September 2009 issue of RWA’s Romance Writers Report. In her article “How to Run a Web Site Contest (Without Going to Jail)”, Courtney explores some of the legal dos and don’ts of running a contest. For instance, Courtney says some authors have set up the following contest: Buy her book, send her the receipt, and you’ll be entered for a prize. Unfortunately, this could land the author in a heap of trouble. Courtney says that by conducting such a contest the author is guilty of a “misdemeanor offense in California, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and a multitude of other states, punishable by up to two years in prison.”

Yikes! Good to know, Courtney. The funny thing is I was just reading some information on a promotional site and they were urging authors to set up that kind of contest.

Courtney offers the following advice to keep the author out of the slammer:
1. Provide the odds of winning. If you are giving a book to one commenter on your blog you should state that “The odds of winning depend upon the number of participants.”

2. State what the prize is upfront. You can’t just say it’s a surprise package. If you are giving away a book, give the name of the book. I suggest that you also state the book’s format (hardcover, paperback, ebook download) so the person entering the contest knows what to expect.

3. Don’t make it too hard to enter. If your entry requirement is too difficult the reader may not bother entering. And if she can only get the answer by buying the book, Courtney says we’re in a gray area, legally speaking. You should not require a person to buy something in order to enter the contest. The best practice is for the answers to be somewhere on your website, usually in the excerpt for the book.

4. Courtney also states that to avoid problems, it is wise for the American author to limit participation to U.S. residents. Since I am Canadian, I will have to leave that advice to my American friends.

I scooted around on the net and looked at several authors’ contest pages. As an example here’s Historical author Kathryn Caskie’s contest page. The page is attractive and Kathryn makes it easy to enter her contest. She gives a link so that the answer can be easily found. The prize is shown and the times of the draws are also listed. One other thing that Ms. Caskie does is to state that by entering in her contest the reader is also signing up for her free newsletter. Since getting the word out about your books is the whole purpose of holding a contest, and a newsletter is a great way of connecting with readers, this is a great idea. But she makes sure she tells people what she’s doing upfront.

Sometimes authors can band together to hold a contest. Author P.L. Parker says “I think the ones where it’s sort of a scavenger hunt and each day another author has a clue to the next blog spot. They're fun for everyone and get a lot of hits.” She also says that the ones with a holiday theme do especially well.

What kinds of prize should an author give? Perhaps it depends if you are targeting readers or writers. I recently entered a contest at C.J. Lyons’ website where the prize was a critique of a query letter, 2 page synopsis, and first 3 chapters by an agent. My focus is on getting readers to know me. I have given away jewelry and chocolates, but I think books make the best prizes. Author Beth Trissel agrees. “For me, it (the best prize) has to be where the prize is a signed book or books. People do like those signed author copies.” If the purpose of my contest is to introduce new readers to me and my work, then it makes sense to offer my books as prizes. I can only hope that having read one of my books, a prize winner will come back for more.

Have you ever entered an author’s contest? What enticed you to enter? Do you think contests get readers to buy an author’s books? In a move of shameless self-promotion, I will tell you that I have a contest running at my website to celebrate the arrival of “Burning Love” in January. I hope you’ll enter.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Honorary Chick Mary Balogh's Winner

This is too funny . . . I emailed Mary this morning and asked who won her book giveaway so I could put up this announcement post.

Mary's answer was that she always used her husband to do the actual picking and he wasn't home but would be back soon. The reason this is too funny is because I do the same thing and can relate. I chuckled as I read her email saying she had to wait for him.

And so, the person who has won a hardcover edition of Mary's book SEDUCING AN ANGEL is . . .

Lynnette Baughman

Lynnette, if you could email me with your postal address, Mary can get that book mailed out to you.

The Chicks would like extend a warm thank you to Honorary Chick Mary for the encouraging post which sparked such a lively and entertaining day. Mary, please keep us in mind for future posts.

If you would like to discuss Mary's books, visit her at


For more info on Mary and her books, go to http://marybalogh.com

Thank you everyone who joined us yesterday. I had a grand time.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Welcome NYT Bestselling author Mary Balogh


THE WRITER'S VISION

I am delighted to do this blog with writers and readers so close to home—I live in Kipling, Saskatchewan, during the summer and in Regina during the winter. Which makes me a prairie chick, I suppose. The suggestion has been that I tell you about my "call." Quite frankly, if you are a writer trying to be published, you wouldn't want to know. I was a total greenhorn at the time and did everything the wrong way—and got away with it. You can read the story on the personal page at my web site if you wish, but please, please don't hate me!

I am going to share some thoughts about the importance of the writer's vision—the artist's vision, if you will. We must not undersell ourselves if we are writing romance and believe it is presumptuous to call ourselves artists with a vision. That is what we are, or should be. There is nothing trivial about love in any of its many manifestations. It has been the subject of great art (not to mention religions) down through the ages. We are merely carrying forward a time-honored tradition in writing stories of romantic love.

One thing always bothers me when I talk to writers at various conferences and other gatherings—especially new writers. Many of them feel that they need help with their writing and seek it through writers' groups, critiquing groups, conference gatherings, etc. Don't get me wrong—I am not against any of those groups. What I am against is using them to bolster a lack of confidence, or perhaps a lack of vision. I can remember once at a conference banquet sitting next to a lady who told me she had two manuscripts on the go. One was always with her critiquing group while she worked on the other. When she had back the manuscript from her group, she would hand over the other and then work on all the revisions they had suggested until the next meeting, when she would repeat the process. I can't remember how many years she had been working on the same set of chapters in the same two books, but it was plural.

It seemed to me that any artistic vision she had started with, as well as her all-important unique writer's voice, had long ago been leached out of her work. Maybe she finally ended up with two books that were published, though I doubt it. But would those books have ended up as works of art with her own very precious vision of life and love stamped upon them? Would they have ended up being art—or hack work?

The advice I gave that lady is the same I would give to any writer. Lock yourself up in a private room and don't come out until you have a completed manuscript in your hands! All right—that is a bit extreme and not very practical. But I do believe strongly that if a book is to be vibrant with life, it must proceed from deep within the writer's own soul. If you feel that you are an artist, a writer, then have the confidence to produce art in the form of a story. This does not mean that you cannot seek advice or help or even inspiration when you feel you need them (you are reading this, after all!), but don't use other people's ideas and opinions as a crutch.

Incidentally, from the moment I started writing, I have never shown any of my work to anyone until it is complete. My editor is the first person to read my books—after they are finished.

And do feel free to disagree with everything I have said! These are only my opinions. I never presume to tell any writer how she should write. We are all different. We must all find what works for us and never mind what all the "experts" may say to the contrary.

Mary will draw one name from those leaving a comment today to win a copy of the hardcover edition of SEDUCING AN ANGEL.

Oct 1, 2009 . . . . . . . . . Nov 24, 2009 . . . . . . . . . . Dec 29, 2009


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Mary Balogh is a NYT bestselling author with more than 80 historical romances to her credit. For more info on Mary and her books, visit her at http://marybalogh.com/
Or you could join a discussion on her books here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MaryBaloghfans

Plotter Vs Pantser - A Race to "The End'...

Well, it’s a beautiful day here on Computer Lane where our contestants are lining up for the first annual Race To The End. I’m Charlie Chapter welcoming you to our telecast of this most literary event. We’re minutes away from the starting gun so let’s go down to our track side correspondent, Bonnie Blurb. Bonnie, how are the contestants handling the pressure?

Charlie? Wow, it is noisy down here. The eraser mascot has the crowd on their feet. Let’s take a listen.

"Where are we going?"

"The. End."

"Where are we going?"

"The. End."

"Louder! Where are we going?"

Bonnie, let’s get back to the race.

Sorry, Charlie. He’s just so cute and so pink. The race co-ordinators couldn’t have picked a better cheerleader. Our race today is between two novelists. Pantser is jumping up and down, swinging her arms, working out the kinks in what looks like a pre-race ritual. Plotter has gathered a variety of materials with her at the starting line and looks to be going through a checklist. I’m going to try and get over there and have a closer look. Excuse me. Oh, he’s kind of rubbery.

Did you just goose the eraser, Bonnie?

Of course not. Here we are. Looks like she’s checking off various file folders. Plotter? Plotter? What’s your strategy going into the race?

Slow and steady. The trophy’s mine.

Oh, did you see that? Pantser just scoffed Plotter’s way. Pantser? Do you have any last minute words for your competition?

Eat my dust, baby. Eat. My. Dust.

What have you done to prepare for the race?

Prepare? Prepare? OK, I have a character in mind, but anything more would just be a waste of my time.

There you have it, Charlie. Should be an interesting event.

Yes, indeed, Bonnie. The starter is calling the racers forward and there’s the gun. Pantser’s off like a shot, fingers flying across the keyboard. She’s definitely out to win this race, I’ve never seen a writer jump from the blocks with such speed and enthusiasm. Looks like Plotter is indeed eating her dust as that writer has yet to step over the starting line. Bonnie, has Plotter misunderstood the intention of the race?

No, Charlie, she’s started, you just can’t see it from where you’re sitting. She has a file marked character information and is right now listing traits for her heroine. I believe she has a couple of categories, let’s get a closer look. Very detailed, very organized, Charlie. There’s a column for eye color, hair color, goal, motivation, conflict, quirks, family relations, friends, and even one for most embarrassing moment. I can see that the file also contains bio sheets for the hero and secondary characters, too.

She’s going to be there for a while, Bonnie. This doesn’t look good for Plotter. Pantser has finished 30 pages already and it looks like there’s no stopping her. I swear I’ve never seen such keyboard dexterity. Impressive.

Charlie, Plotter’s taken a step forward. She’s written a first paragraph and is off the startline. Wait! She’s pulled out another file folder, this one marked Outline. Wow, this girl’s done some preliminary work. I believe she’s pulling out a scene/sequel file folder now and highlighters. Wow, this is organization at it’s finest.

Organized or not, Bonnie, she still hasn’t moved far from that starting line while Pantser is on her hundredth page. Has anyone seen a chapter heading? Anyone? Someone check the tape, see if we can pinpoint a place in the manuscript where she’s finished chapter one. This could be a setback, folks. No chapters mean she’ll have to stop and reread to determine where her chapters’ should start and stop.

As you can see, Charlie, Plotter has finished her first chapter in the ‘three act’ formula. She’s checking another file: synopsis. Color coordinated to match the outline and scene/sequel work. Very meticulous and –

Sorry to interrupt, Bonnie, but Pantser has stalled. She’s come to a complete stop, her hands poised over her keyboard. This doesn’t look good. Let’s get a close-up. Ouch, mid-sentence stall no less. Not sure what she’s going to do – oh, no, she’s opened up a new word document with a tracking note on the original about twenty pages back. And she’s off again. Whew, I thought she was dead in the water, there.

ClichĂ© aside, Charlie, it still has allowed Plotter to gain some ground. She’s on a roll, pounding out some impressive page numbers. She, too, is using the tracking feature, making notes at various stages with reference back to her files. I love how she’s explored her options in the pre-writing stage. She’s definitely come to win.

Bonnie, this looked like a runaway, but Pantser has stopped mid-type again. She’s re-reading her entire work, right from the beginning. This is devastating. She’s looking over her shoulder and she can see that Plotter is closing in. There’s no room for error if Pantser wants to win this race. But she’s still reading. Another dead-end. This will close the gap and may prove to be the RITA turning point. Bonnie, can Plotter see how close she is to overtaking Pantser? Bonnie?Bonnie?

What?

Did you just write your number on that eraser?

Maybe. You certainly don’t call anymore.

You’re never home. If you spent more time there than in the bars trying to pick – what? Oh. Ahem. Looks like Pantser has found her stride and is racing to the end full speed ahead. Judges are going to have verify, but we may be looking at our winner, folks. Plotter doesn’t seem ruffled, still moving along in a very structured way. Here it is…The race is still going, folks. Pantser has a disorganized, messy first draft and will need to spend time revising in order for our judges to claim the novel finished. Looks like Plotter knew that all along as she managed to make up some ground while the judges deliberated.

This is going to be close, Charlie. As Pantser revises and edits, Plotter continues on at a slow and steady pace. I see her strategy is working after all. She’s pulling up along side and you can see the smile blossoming. She knows she has this thing in the bag. Well played.

Don’t count Pantser out just yet, Bonnie. She’s done some quick reading and I’m amazed at her post-it note talent. Wow, she’s working hard obviously not willing to concede to Plotter. They’re neck and neck down the backstretch. This is going to be close. Both of them are writing like crazy, both re-reading to check for continuity. What started out as a run away has turned into a nailbiter.

The crowd is on their feet, Charlie. You can barely hear yourself think as they urge the writers on. Plotter is doing one last check of her files and laying down the final scene. Pantser has flipped back to the first chapter, now that she has chapter headings, and is making a small change there. Looks like…could be…there it is…

A TIE!

Bonnie? Bonnie? Can you get a word from our winners?

Pantser? How was it? What’s going through your mind right now?

Wow, that was intense. But I went with the flow and had the freedom to explore my characters and plot and I’m pretty proud of my game. I don’t like to be that rigid.

Plotter? Come on over. How about you, how are you feeling?

Tired, but excited. I stuck with my game plan of structure, structure, structure and I’m happy with the results.

Back to –

And I’d also like to say that I, too, allowed for some exploration. I had to deviate from my original outline at the 2/3rds mark due to a plot point I hadn’t thought of. I’m not that anal.

Have you ever used storyboards?

Ooh, I have a great storyboard template that would work really well with your writing style…

Well, there you have it, Charlie. Seems Plotter and Pantser have some after race tips to share with each other. Oh, and there’s eraser waiting for me. Back to you, Charlie.

That just rubs me the wrong way. Well folks, that’s it from me, Charlie Chapter. Happy writing.

So, People of Blogland, plotters or pantsers? Or a combination of both? For those who aren’t sure, here’s a link - the bottom of the post there are two schools of thought and an exercise for both methods. See which one works best for you – could be a combination (see Fiction Groupie to see if you're a 'clark'). And because we’re doing sports analogy – what’s your favorite sport?

Janet

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mary Balogh to Visit This Saturday

This Saturday, the Prairie Chicks want to give a huge welcome to New York Times Bestselling author, Mary Balogh.


Mary says on her website 'I knew that if ever I wrote, it was that romantic world of Regency England that I wanted to recreate.'


And recreate it she did with over 80 historical romances to her credit.

Mary can often be found answering questions at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MaryBaloghfans/

But on Sat, Oct 17, Mary will not only be giving us her attention, she's giving away one copy of the hardcover edition of SEDUCING AN ANGEL to one person who leaves a comment.

So come on back on Saturday, bring your questions and spend some time with this fascinating author.

For more info on Mary and her books, check her website at http://marybalogh.com/ .

My Agent Pitch and a Free Book Draw

For the benefit of those about to pitch, I thought I’d tell you about my recent pitching experience while at the American Christian Fiction Writer’s (ACFW) conference. Laugh at me or cry with me but please, learn from my experience and excuse the quality of my photos.

My first pitch session of the confence was with an agent who handled everything that I wrote: secular, inspirational, contemporary and historical. I thought this agent was the perfect match for me. When I sat down for my appt, I was confident I could handle anything she asked me. And like I mentioned in my previous ‘
Pick One’ post, she asked me to pick one story to pitch to her.

All my stories were in a multi-sectioned folder with the one sheets on one side and the synopsis and sample pages on the other. I opened the folder and slipped out the one sheet for my contemporary inspirational, When You Least Expect It (When) which happened to be the first section in the folder. The agent quickly read the one-sheet and then relayed the story back to me as she understood it.

Now for those of you in the dark, When is the story about Bobby and Hannah, two single parents, unknown to each other, who move their kids to small town North Dakota to get away from big city crime. Their instant attraction takes a detour when Bobby recognizes Hannah’s daughter as the delinquent he arrested just months ago in Denver.


So, back to my appt, the agent wanted to know how Hannah and Bobby end up in the same town. I was going to say coincidence, but BAC's (born again Christians) don’t believe in coincidence, so I shrugged and said, ‘God led them there’. After all, everyone knows it’s a small world, right? Well, I guess the agent doesn’t believe that because she said that wasn’t good enough. She said there has to be some reason for Bobby to take a job in North Dakota (ND). I said I thought having Bobby want to leave Denver for his child’s safety was good enough. No, she said he could’ve moved anywhere. Why would be move to ND? As the author, I had to make it believeable. She then gave some examples that could work making sure I knew they were just examples and that she wasn’t suggesting I take them as actual advice.

She then said, “You’re not ready. Work on it and keep in touch.”


I thanked her and left.


And I felt devastated. I wasn’t ready? That hurt! My self-confidence didn’t just flag, it dropped to the floor. In a daze, I went down the elevator and through the hall. I was supposed to be in a workshop but it was half over by this time and my heart nor head was in it. I spotted Squirrel (aka Cheryl Wyatt) and followed her into the restroom. She asked what was wrong and I told her. And right there, with women coming and going around us, we bowed our heads and she prayed for me. (This is a very common occurrence at the ACFW conference.) We then split up because it was one of the lunches where you sit with an agent or editor. (See my last blog post to find out how the lunch went.)

But that wasn’t the end of the story because I spoke to many people later on that day and night about my appt. And do you know what? The general consensus was that particular agent has told many writers their work just wasn’t good enough. And the writers went back, revised, and resubmitted to her. Sometimes up to three times. And when it was good enough, that agent took them on and sometimes within hours had a book deal on the table.


You see, I’d listened to the first part about not being ready and missed the parts about working on it and keeping in touch. When I walked away from that appt, I felt the door had closed. But it hadn’t. It was open and waiting for me. All I have to do is try again.


So what I want to tell you conference attendees, or anyone else getting ready to pitch, is that it’s not always a straight yes or no. Listen carefully. Memorize it. Write it down. And then re-read it hours later. Because what we hear in the heat of the moment isn’t always what was said. ‘Cause sometimes it’s a maybe.


For those working on pitching, you might be interested in these posts:

- Mary Connealy (one line book blurbs)

- One Sheets in One Shot
-
One Author, One Brand

Okay, I’ve spilled my guts here, now it’s your turn. Tell me about an embarrassing moment when you thought you heard one thing but found out later you were way off base. And if you can’t think of anything, tell us something your kid did to embarrass you. Anyone who comments today will get their name thrown in my hat for a copy of Anna Meets Her Match by Arlene James.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Price of Magic


Couple of weeks ago on a private blog, Ban commented on the snippet I had posted from my paranormal work-in-progress, Outcast. It’s stayed in the back of my mind ever since. “You can't have 'magic' without a price! For every super-power, there must be a weakness”. This was in regards to my vampires and their Achilles’ heel, which I gave them not so much by design but by accident. What she said made complete sense and I decided I needed to investigate further.

It turns out fantasy and science fiction writers follow the logic of The Price of Magic Rule. It’s the cost of doing magic business in which the price must be seen at times to outweigh the benefits. This puts limits on magic use. Which makes great sense as there’s not much of a story if the good guy has all the power or all the answers or unlimited ability to amass all the power and discover all the answers. At least that’s how I interpreted it, not being an authority or in anyway knowledgeable about writing fantasy or science fiction.

But the Price of Magic Rule crosses over and applies to my vampires and their strengths, which must be accompanied by answering weaknesses. Meanwhile a light bulb went on in regards to my hibernating Brotherhood of the Arrow series. My story of three witches and their warriors who find themselves pitted against a powerful, evil warlock. This project has been stalled for a while and now I know why. I had not applied the price of magic rule. What’s more, I had failed to do some very major legwork in setting up my world and it’s magical legacy.

I had not laid out the basic rules for the magic in my story early on. I hadn’t figured out what the characters can and cannot do. The reader has the right to know what’s realistic in my world and what’s not. It ensures I can’t write myself into a corner and decide to solve it by having a character pull off some mind blowing, mega-sized magic spell with no history to back it up.

I had not been clear on the ramifications of using of magic or the price to be paid for using it. Wikipedia lists an Achilles’ heel as a fatal weakness in spite of overall strength, that can actually or potentially lead to downfall. No one in my story has a well-developed and believable Achilles’ heel. They have strengths but no weaknesses. Pros but no cons. This is especially true for Blair, and as she possesses the greatest strengths and the most power, she should take the biggest risks and stand to lose the most.

There must be a balance. The antagonist feels he or she has just as much right to the magic as the protagonists. If it’s all one sided there is no story. Daman Finn, my warlock, needs to be at least as powerful as Blair, his nemesis.

Magic should bring about or conjure up as many problems as it solves. There are several ways to accomplish this. The idea of absolute power corrupting absolutely and what happens when the seductiveness surrounding the use of magic creates it’s own undertow. Its use can mean the loss of something, so that the user has to carefully weigh the benefits against the pitfalls. Perhaps the user engages in the use of magic without knowing or appreciating the risks or the consequences.

I love stories involving witches who are healers. If the healer ends up transferring some of the pain or symptoms to themselves, I’m even more engrossed in the story. Likewise stories where the magic drains the magic worker’s physical and/or mental energy. What if every time a spell was cast, a year of life was forfeit? A piece of memory was lost? A piece of history was changed? An existence or life form extinguished?

For my Brotherhood of the Arrow series I’m drawn to the idea of casting spells and using magic for the greater good and at the same time creating an opportunity for evil in the form of a physic window or connection. My spin on every action having an equal and opposite reaction. Ah, the possibilities …

Do magical stories appeal to you as a reader? Are you fond of witches and wizards? Does magic factor into your world building? How about paranormal characters with great physical powers? How do you balance out those powers?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"What If ..."; the Great Story Launcher

A few years ago, my mother celebrated her ninetieth birthday. At the informal family event that was all she would allow us to organise in her honour, I looked around at all the family members who had gathered to celebrate with her: her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren It was quite a large gathering. My father, her husband for almost 64 years, had died four years earlier, but his influence and spirit were very much with us that day. The thought occurred to me: what if they had not met, fallen in love, and spent those many years together? Every life decision has consequences of great importance to subsequent generations.

This weekend, as many of the same family members gathered to share Thanksgiving dinner, my mother (now 94) was among those enjoying the turkey and reminiscing as we tend to do when we get together. One of the comments she made was to my brother, the youngest of her four children, whose house we were at and whose own family counting himself, his wife, children, spouses, grandchildren adds up to twelve. She said, “Just think. If I hadn’t decided almost sixty years ago that I wanted another baby ....” Well, it stopped us all in our tracks as we all contemplated one of those great “what if” moments. I can think of twelve people giving thanks for that decision!

Probably the first advice I ever heard about getting story ideas was to let your mind wander along the path that begins with that sign post: What if ...

What if two people happen to meet on a train station platform (back in the days of coal-fired steam locomotives)? One of them is a doctor, a married man with a family, who helps the other, a young married woman, get a piece of cinder from her eye? And what if it turns out that they both take trains from the same platform once a week? Yes, you have a story idea developing.

What if a young soldier is wounded in battle and a pretty nurse looks after him during the long months of recuperation in hospital? But what if his fiancĂ© from home, who has joined the women’s air force unit, is posted overseas and drops in unexpectedly to visit him? Conflict simmers.

Using "what if" as a starting point is common with science fiction writers, but is useful for other genres of writing as well. The possibilities are endless, of course. And some of them can be much stranger than the brief examples I’ve given. Even a bizarre situation can become a credible story line when taken to its inevitable conclusion. Or maybe it’s not so inevitable. The “what if” can result in several alternative endings, some may tie up all the stray ends, others may be more ambiguous. Either way, the reader can be taken on a breath-taking journey as you tell the story.

When I was younger, much younger, and aspiring to be a writer, I had difficulty conjuring up plots for stories. In those days I was interested mainly in short stories. Later in life, I placed the blame for my difficulties on my youth, my lack of life experience. But now I think it was more likely I did not know of the technique of looking around my world, and saying to myself, “What if the people in that situation did such and such, what would happen?” And then imagining the consequences. And writing a story around the situation.

Carol Rzadkiewicz suggests writers can use what she calls “story prompts” to get started with stories or to overcome that phenomenon known as “writer’s block.” These can be bits of conversation, a narrative line, or a series of “what ifs” that will jog the imagination.

What techniques do you use to either break out of a stall in your plot, or to initiate a new story idea? What advice would you give a new writer who is having difficulty generating fresh story lines with creative twists and unexpected situations?