Friday, April 30, 2010

Encore Presentation...

I do apologize, but this move, which should have gone much smoother, has delayed my return to both the Internet and my computer. I am reposting an article from early last year, when we didn't have 102 followers (102 - WOW, thanks for following us, People of Blogland). I'm hoping that the article is beneficial - I know that it's going to remind me of my goals and give me a big kick in the butt to get back in the Query Saddle!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Let’s Play a Game… (first posted Jan. 9, 2009)

Remember the game – you would roll the die and count out your number, hoping to land on the apparatus with rungs. It would lead you up the game board faster, get you closer to that win over your brother, who always seemed to win anyway. Then, your next roll, more counting, and uh, oh, a serpent. You’re going down, baby. You can only hope it’s not a long one, taking you all the way back to the beginning (or that your brother’s not watching and you can get off your serpent earlier, say mid-back instead of tail end). Well, let’s talk about getting published! It’s very much like that game of Serpents and Apparatus With Rungs.

Before I thought about being a published author, I was a reader (still am). I went to the library, browsed or perhaps used the card catalog, read the back cover, made a snap decision as to whether or not that story sounded good enough to take home, signed it out. Or, did the exact same thing at a bookstore with the exception that I was now paying for the book to come home with me. I knew someone wrote the book, but had no idea of the process between "writer puts pen to paper" and "Janet buys/signs out book".

So, after finishing my novel (I’m talking way past the first draft, with many people reading it and offering advice, critiques, and encouragement), I decided to take the next step. WOW (I would offer an expletive here, but I’ll keep it clean)! After tons of research, I discovered that the path to publication is one of persistence and fortitude. The necessary steps fit nicely into a flowchart (and mine looks fabulous), but the flowchart and Blogger didn’t get along. As I was writing out the steps I’m taking in my quest for publication (and cursing Blogger), the premise of a board game came to mind. So, let’s play…

1. Research Agencies (at least a 100). Open up the board – 100 squares!
2. Write a stellar query letter (personalized for each agent). Roll the die!
3. Submit and wait…wait…wait (check e-mails compulsively). Count and move!
4. NO? Wallow in rejection and misery. Down that serpent – back to #2!
5. YES? Squee with Glee, call all your friends, pump fist in air, dream of your big advance. Up the apparatus with rungs – to the next step!
6. Prepare partial submission package (usually synopsis & 1st 3 chapters) Roll the die!
7. Submit and wait…wait…wait (check e-mails compulsively). Count and move!
8. NO? Wallow in rejection and misery. Down the bigger serpent – back to #2!
9. YES? Squee with Glee, call all your friends, pump fist in air, dream of your big advance. Up the apparatus with rungs – to the next step!
10. Prepare entire manuscript for submission (follow all manuscript formatting rules). Roll the die!
11. Submit and wait…wait…wait (check e-mails compulsively). Count and move!
12. NO? Wallow in rejection and misery. Down the biggest serpent – back to #2!
13. YES? The final Squee with Glee! A YES from a full manuscript submission means you are now an agented author. Whew! Up the final apparatus, taking you right to the winning square!

My limited experience sees me wallowing in rejection after partial submissions. No one’s asked for the full thing yet, but I am determined she will. And I’ve read enough to know that if you get past the manuscript submission and squee with glee, the process starts all over again (from the editing stage) as you and your agent begin submitting to publishing houses. WOW!

So, People of Blogland – has there ever been anything in your life that you’ve wanted so badly that you’ve ignored the enormous obstacles (not to mention the workload and setbacks) standing in your way? New writers, at what stage would you give up and move on to another story – 100 queries? 50? 20? Words of wisdom from published authors would be greatly appreciated. And for fun – what’s your favorite board game from your childhood?

Janet (who'll check in when she can - or when Internet will let her :)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ashlynn Pearce is Guest Blogging on Saturday

Join us this Saturday on The Prairies when author, Ashlynn Pearce, joins us to talk about her debut novel, Rough Edges, and her love of writing.

About Ashlynn: I’m a wife, mother of two teenagers, graphics business owner, work as a secretary during the day, serve as vice-president for my local chapter and…write romance. Needless to say, I wear a lot of hats. But that’s the boring stuff. You want to know what makes me tick? Immersing myself in characters. Getting down and dirty with them. Finding all the grit that makes them so fascinating…because let’s be honest, it’s the grit that makes us come back for more. There is nothing better than losing myself in my stories.



Jake Korte is emotionally broken. Angry. Hurt. Worthless. Fearing that he will become the abuser his father was, the last thing he needs is a woman in his life. He feels like a virtual time bomb just waiting for the internal explosion. So when tiny Rebecca Saylor “chats” her way into his life and then crawls under his skin, panic descends. He can’t seem to stay away, but is terrified to be with her.

After surviving an abusive marriage, Becca isn’t looking for love, only safety. But through her research for her column “Chat Addiction”, she meets Jake who is anything but safe. He’s the one man who can make her feel alive again. But can she overcome her own fears to claw her way into the heart of a man so fractured?

For more info visit her at website: http://www.ashlynnpearce.com/
You can find Ash on Twitter: Ashlynn_Pearce
At her blog: http://www.ashlynnpearce.com/
On Facebook: Ashlynn Pearce

Same Window, Different View

by Anita Mae Draper

This week I started on another segment of my writing journey . . . I'm a judge in a writing contest. Yes, I know, I can feel you cringing. Trust me, I’m doing the same.

Although I want to take this next step in my evolution, I don’t feel qualified. I pity the writer whose work I’m judging. However, I’ve entered many contests these past few years and expect others to judge my work. For the most part, those first-round judges started out just like me. And so when the call came and the need arose, I stepped forward to accept my responsibility.

I now have 3 entries sitting in my laptop. And the weight of those words are heavier than I ever imagined.

But I'm not alone. Other writers, more experienced than I, are just an email away. And I have a judging package with all the information I need.
I just need to go down the list and give each aspect of the story a score like so:

1. Excellent, ready to submit
2. Almost there, needs only a little polish
3. Average, shows promise
4. Below average, needs work
5. Poor

It seems so easy and it would be if I had an entry that was off-the-top stupendous or below-the-belt bad. Except my entries are middle-of-the-road average. Nice stories but they don't take my breath away.

When I was an entrant, the scores showed me where I needed to improve. But as a judge, there seems to be one huge jump between:

2. Almost there, needs only a little polish; and

3. Average, shows promise.

If I judge on the high side, am I helping the entrant, or am I giving her a false sense of her writing ability? And if I judge on the low side, I'm basically saying, "You look like the other chunks of coal. Keep brushing the dust off and one day you'll shine. Maybe."

Along with the contest entries, though, I’ve been thinking about the Saskatchewan Romance Writer’s (SRW) meeting I attended last weekend. The planned exercise was to critique snippets of stories posted by members on the SRW blog (private for members only). I waited until the last week to read the blog. My excuse being that I wanted the words to be fresh for the meeting. But then our internet service failed repeatedly over a four day span and the most I was able to do was skim through the offerings. So, I was inadequately prepared for the critique session. (Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your copies with me.) As anyone at that meeting could tell, I’m not a fast thinker and my mind went blank a few times. Later, I realized my criticism may have been constructive, but I sure didn’t pat anyone’s back and for that I’m sorry. Because I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t able to help others.

So that’s been on my mind this week as I read over the contest entries. I don’t want to rush them. I don’t want to judge them against each other. I don’t want to let my biases influence my judging.

As well as giving back some of what others have given me, this is supposed to be a learning experience all around. Other writers have said how much more they learned while judging, so I’m hoping some of that will rub off on me.

Here is a checklist I made to reinforce the one I received with the judging package:

- refer to the judge’s checklist often

- set aside my own personal biases

- encourage often (smiley faces help)

- don’t assume the green squiggly lines are correct

- don’t assume a red line is a misspelling

- check facts before making a comment

- clichés are allowed in dialogue

- incorrect grammar is allowed in dialogue

- remember being on the other end

- and again, encourage often

This post was written over a couple days, interspersed with reading the contest entries. I’ve remembered that while I may not be an expert grammarian, I am an experienced reader and book reviewer. I may not know the proper names for the parts of a sentence, but I know if a sentence flows with rhythm and grace or is stilted and awkward. Come to think of it, here’s a few more if’s:

- If I’m falling asleep by the second page while drinking my third cup of coffee, there’s a good chance the story starts with an info dump.

- If her hands are flying and his eyes are burning, I’d say body parts have escaped.

- If every sentence ends or starts with ‘he said’ or ‘she said’, the characters should learn to keep quiet.

- If my head hurts after jumping repeatedly from one point of view (POV) to another in the same scene, I know I’m a victim of head-hopping.

- If my mind has wandered while reading the first paragraph or two, I know the story is lacking a hook.

On the other hand,

- If my cheek aches from pain and there’s a metallic taste in my mouth, I probably wish the story was longer.

- If I’m out of breath but haven’t gone anywhere, the story is action-packed.

- If my hair is standing on end or I'm trying to hold it in, I've suffered a fright.

- If I turn the last page and my shoulders slump because I’ve reached the end, I'll give high marks for plot. And entertainment value. Maybe charaterization. And probably setting since I completely forgot I'd been about to head to the bathroom when I started reading and now I'm in dire straights...

Question for the day... What do you think I need to know to judge effectively?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Alpha Male Toolkit

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.” Thucydides

We’ve talked a lot about alpha males here on the Prairies. When written correctly they are incredibly sexy. It’s essential to state there’s a difference between a fantasy alpha male and a real life alpha male. We’ll leave the dilemma of real life bad boys to the experts. I’m here to talk about the fantasy version and my penchant for the fictional rogues and bad boys. I love to read about them and to write about them.

But the last thing I want is for my hero to come across as boorish, or --shudder-- abusive. Alpha is spelt A L P H A not B R U T E. So, what can I do to create a hero who is fantasy worthy? Who embodies the qualities that would keep a reader turning the pages?

The Alpha Male Toolkit

Sense of Honor: If I were to pick one must have trait for my ideal alpha male it would be a sense of honor. A strictly held to Code of Conduct. If honor is synonymous with honesty, fairness, and integrity in one’s beliefs and actions than the alpha male must be honest, fair, and true to his beliefs. And, above all, he had better back it up with his actions.

Set of Core Values: These speak to what the hero wants. To his motivation. These could be, but are certainly not limited to, power, glory, freedom, or revenge. Ideally, one or more of his beliefs will have to change in order for him to have his happily ever after. Conflict, conflict, conflict.

Exemplary Hero Credentials: I might show him saving someone, or performing an act of heroism, for which he takes no credit early on in the story. I might create a situation revealing his ability to love and commit, even if he would shudder at the thought. An alpha hero needs to prove himself worthy of sympathy by the reader.

Respect for the Heroine as an Equal: They may butt heads. They may clash. They may disagree. They may not treat each other as inferior, weak, or stupid. They are partners. Boundaries must be set and often by the heroine. The only match for an alpha male is an alpha female.

Stamina and A Very Specific Skill Set: Yes, I do mean sex. This may be one of the areas subject to the largest level of poetic license in the romantic fantasy. The ability to make love all night long. Over and over again. Always putting the pleasure of the heroine before his own. But whatever the type of sex, it must be mutual. There is no “you know you want it” type thinking. No means no. Any alpha male worth reading knows this. Choice offered. Answer respected. No qualifiers.

Physical Strength: My idea of the perfect alpha male involves muscles, and lots of them. Frankly, I’m not so much about physical appearance, beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that, but I’m a sucker for a six-pack. I recently read a wonderful book by Eloisa James called A Duke Of Her Own. It is the Duke of Villiers story. The Duke, who is not thought to be especially attractive, knows it’s his money that draws women to his bed. However, he is equally aware that his physique and his skill keep them there.

Natural Leadership Qualities: Who isn’t drawn to these? To the alpha in the pack who doesn’t second-guess? Who leads instinctively? Part of the fantasy remember? Confident and sexy. Smexy. (Apparently, this is a new word for smart and sexy.)

Feelings: He has them. He does not discuss them. Unless. Absolutely. Necessary. An alpha male needs a strong voice. He needs to use language and descriptors appropriate to an alpha male.

Courage: I think there’s a quote that goes something like: Courage is not the lack of fear, but rather it is taking action in the face of, and despite, fear. My idea of the alpha male psyche includes a healthy sense of fear accompanied by smart action in the face of it. Their physical strength must match their inner strength.

A Serious Flaw: Or two. Previously, and as part of her world-building series, Hayley has blogged about the Rules of Magic. I think it should apply to alpha males, too. Just as magic can’t do anything it pleases, neither can alpha males. You can’t just bandy about all that testosterone without limits and repercussions. They need a weakness. To be vulnerable. How else are you going to make him suffer? Have the heroine make him suffer? Create conflict? And more conflict?

“A man’s chief quality is courage.” Cicero

Are you drawn to alpha males? What qualities and traits would appear in your Alpha Male Toolkit? Do you have a favorite alpha male character?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

World-Building 201: How to eliminate the info-dump

Now you've got your setting, your thinking about the appropriate mood and tone to bring it to life, the details that make it ring true, all the ways to build the world your characters will take action within. How do you do it? How do you take the whole depth of a created world, or the rich history of a city, a small town -- a character, for that matter -- and pass everything on to your reader so they know it as well as you do?

This, in my opinion, is the greatest skill one can learn from world-building. One can't go hurling an entire fantasy world, its cultures, histories, and beliefs at a reader alongside the background, temperaments, and goals of half a dozen characters all at once. This very problem can be blamed, in part, for fantasy's reputation for the dreaded long-winded prologue spewing out Everything You Need to Know before you actually care about it. At the same time though, the need to learn so much creates in both fantasy writers and readers a fine sense of the subtle cues and hints one can find in the text. There's a joy to developing a world-building skillset, to finding puzzle pieces and putting them together to build the whole. It's a skill that transfers to absolutely every genre of fiction.

Burying and Scattering
If you've got something you need to explain, especially if it's lengthy, start early and plant many seeds. Drop remarks, narrative asides, hints of history or context, into the narrative action. Embed them in what's going on rather than stop to mention them, and while the reader won't even notice them, they'll remember them. Or rather, they'll notice them and know they're being told something, but they're also being told something when you say "Alice snatched the kitchen knife and thrust it into the empty space between them." That is important information, relevant to the scene and necessary for the story. If you say Alice snatched her favourite kitchen knife, or that she thrust it up as she'd seen him do numerous times before, that's a remark that will stand out and stick with the reader. That's something worth knowing. If you decide to expound at length on Alice's history of being on the other end of such knives, hoping to add resonance to this scene, it will in fact do the opposite. To see the hint and wonder carries so much more power -- and tension. Now you've given us something else we want to know and we'll keep looking for hints, and keep reading, to find it. Scatter enough of these seeds around, and within a few chapters we'll know everything you do, or enough to fill in the blanks according to our own tastes, and look, we never even got lectured at!

Character context
How you plant your world-building seeds may be the difference between lecture and hiding in plain sight. Remember, even in a third person narrative, your characters already know things. In a contemporary setting, you wouldn't describe Alice getting into the car, putting the key in the ignition, and then pause to explain how a car works. We know it, and more importantly she knows it. Or, more accurately, we probably don't know the fine details of how, but we know it does, and we accept it as fact and don't think about it. The same is true of things we don't know, if the character still believes them. If you're introducing a new concept, culture, vampire healing factor, or just something you didn't know but the character did and now you've done tons of research on it, think about it from the character's point of view. Dashing alpha cops don't think about what's going on inside a pistol when they fire it, they just aim and shoot.

If Alice's fantasy counterpart goes to hire a scribe, she won't pause to think "We need scribes because not everyone can read and write on their own." She might, however, think the scribes in this part of town are growing mighty fat because they're the only ones who can read and write. One throws information at you, the other slips it in amid other narrative. Actually, that example does two jobs in one by slipping in info about scribes and also that the uneducated class live in a different part of town than those who can read. Both are world-building info, but together, they don't feel like info, because they come from the character's own voice and views.

Dramatize
If you really need to get a chunk of vital information across, either about your world, your characters, or both, you can always dramatize it. Make it a scene, make it a character changing moment, and it will have value. Alice can watch the vampires at their rituals rather than telling us about them, or perhaps she can perform a little scientific analysis on their tissue and discover for herself how they heal so rapidly. Likewise, Alice could have a spitting and snarling fight with her old flame about the way he used to treat her and why she'd be compelled to pull a kitchen knife on him now. Again, remember to hang on to character context. Alice and her former flame won't stop to explain details, they'll make references to events they already know exist. Likewise characters in a fantasy novel won't talk about famous events, cultural lore, or religious tales as something that needs explaining. You can reference Romeo and Juliet, I can reference Cyreon and Amaris, and through the context of a conversation (a couple, love, potential loss) we'll both know the meaning. If it's an unknown reference, you just might want to drop another line or two in elsewhere to flesh out the context if a reader might be curious.

The big thing to look out for with dramatizing information is the verbal infodump: As you know, Bob. The proverbial Bob, it seems, knows enough about everything, but people keep feeling the need to remind him. Although Bob already knows it, they'll explain to him how a shotgun works, or how bone priests work their magic, or where the Vega planet orbits within the solar system and how long ago it was discovered. I fell into a similar trap a while back, working on a scene ostensibly about a job offer, but also helping to shed more light on a significant amount of information readers need to be armed with soon after. The first draft of the scene wandered horribly off the mark as one character dispensed information left, right, and centre, regardless of whether my protag knew it or cared. It's one thing to write a long-winded character who talks without caring whether someone wants to know. It's another when it's obvious Mr Long-Wind is talking to the reader. After a bit of fighting I realized the problem: I was focusing on the info, and not the scene. The purpose of the scene was negotiating the job. All I needed to give was info relevant to the job. If it's not enough, in the end, I'll have an entire draft to go scatter more hints through, and I bet I won't even need them.


The Iceberg Effect
By now you might be thinking, "But I put so much time and effort into building these characters, this world, how can I possibly show it all to my readers this way?" It's simple -- you can't. And really, you shouldn't want to. If the reader knows everything you do, suddenly they'll see the boundaries of your world and the extent of your character. As I discussed in World-Building 101, the key is to make the world feel alive, as though it will just keep going after you close the book, and those characters will go on with their lives. I think this is also why some HEA endings fall flat, when it feels like not just the story, but their existence as people, ends at that last page. You want to bury your seeds throughout the book, drop hints in narrative, shed light in scenes and dialogue, but let the fine details rest with you. You'll talk about it knowing there's more, and the characters will convey the same feeling, so your readers will be left with the feeling they've only scratched the surface.

Think of it like an iceberg. If we see the whole mass, it's big, and that's about it. If we see the tip floating above the water, and that hint of how much more might be lurking beneath, it becomes ominous, unsettling. It's the same reason good horror movies don't show all of the monster (including the zipper running up its back). As soon as you show it all, you've got nothing left. The loss of mystery takes away some of the magic, the alchemy of taking text and ideas and turning them into living, aching, intangible beings. More than that, only showing your readers hints of the world you've built, the parts that poke through the soil, allows them to connect the pieces together. The same as spelling out every detail of a character's appearance can alienate a reader from identifying with them, laying down every nuance of a world, or a backstory, removes the reader's chance to interpret for themselves. Show us what we absolutely need to know, and let us draw the pattern of things according to our own preferences. We'll become invested in the story for it.

Next time, I'll share some examples of seeding your world-building into the narrative, since showing always surpasses telling. For this week, I'd like to hear your world-building (or character building) quandaries. What's a tough challenge you overcame without infodumping? What about information you just don't believe there's another way to dispense? Share your problems and let's find some solutions!

**

Missed the earlier posts?
~The Rules of Magic
~World-Building 101

Angela Picks a Winner...

The winner of Angela Breidenbach's e-Cookbook, Creative Cooking for Colitis is...

Gwen!

Congrats, Gwen. Hope you enjoy the healthy recipes in this fabulous cookbook.

Monday, April 26, 2010

When Bad Endings Happen to Good Stories

We’ve all read them. Novels that are ticking along, drawing us in. Then we come to the end. And we’re left hanging, or wondering, or just plain miffed.

Sometimes writers don’t realize that their endings are just as important as their beginnings. Recently I talked about what goes into a satisfying ending. This week I’m looking at endings that have gone wrong and what can be done to fix them.

Problem: The story ends with a whimper instead of a bang. You’re reading a mystery or romantic suspense and the tension is building. The author has promised a big payoff in the climax; a secret will be revealed, a quest will be completed, the lovers will reunited. You wait with bated breath for the explosion in the climax and – nothing. It turns out the fight is settled peacefully, or the villain isn’t as evil as we thought. You, as the reader, are left disappointed and are feeling cheated out of the story you’d been promised.

The Remedy: If you promised to give readers an exciting, dramatic story with thrills and danger around every corner, then your end better deliver. The more dramatic the beginning and the middle are, the more dramatic your climax must be. If you’ve spent two hundred pages tormenting the reader about the strange noise coming from the secret room in the cellar, don’t end the story with the discovery that the sound came from the wind blowing a branch against the house. Give the reader the big payoff! Give her at least a demon or two!

In his article “How to End a Novel”, Edward C. Patterson calls this kind of ending anticlimactic. He believes this happens when the scene before the actual climax is more exciting and dramatic then the climax itself. This scene will have to be rewritten to gradually build tension up to the climatic scene. Another problem I’ve seen in romantic suspense is when the romance plot is resolved before the suspense plot. If there’s no tension about whether the two lovers will be together in the end, the story often fizzles once the bad guys are caught.

Problem: The ending goes on too long or the story ends too abruptly. In the first case the author wanted to let everyone know what happened to the characters after the events of the climax. Unfortunately, she took it too far. We don’t need to know details about the rest of their lives. In a romance the reader only wants to know that the lovers are together forever at the end of the story.

In the second case, two things could have happened. Either the author said to herself “I want to finish this novel already! I’m sick to death of this thing.” Or perhaps she wants to leave the future of the characters to the imagination of the readers.

The Remedy: Work on the denouement, that is, everything that comes after the climax. In the first case where the ending went on forever, remember that the denouement needs to be brief. Just give enough information so the reader is provided with closure and knows the characters have made it to their happy endings. In the second case, where the story ends without warning, remember that readers need closure. They want to know what happens to their favorite characters. Give your readers what they deserve in a brief, dramatized scene.

Problem: The Ending is illogical or contrived. It seems to come out of left field and doesn’t feel related to what came before. It’s as if the author had an ending in mind and stuck it in without regard for the rest of her story.

The Remedy: Your ending always has to come from the beginning and the middle. The only solution here is to rewrite your ending so that it feels totally inevitable, given the characters’ personalities and the conflicts and actions of the rest of the story.

Problem: Loose ends aren’t tied up or conversely everything ends too perfectly. If an important secondary character falls ill in chapter ten of your book, but is never mentioned again, that’s a big loose end that needs to be tied up.

The Remedy: Readers are going to want to know if the secondary character lives or dies, so make her part of the denouement scene, and show her on the road to recovery.

Or not. Not every aspect of your novel has to end with a happily ever after. Bad things happen in life and in romance novels. Friends and family pass away. Beloved pets are lost. Sometimes what is lost is a character’s innocence. Depending on the type of book you’re writing, the loose ends do not have be tied up in a happy, perfect bow. Sometimes a somewhat unpredictable ending will give your book what it needs to be special.

But whatever you do, make sure your denouement does not become a long, boring monologue by one of the characters, explaining the ending. Both the denouement and the climax need to be dramatized in scenes with plenty of action. Minor loose ends need to be tied up before the climax. In “10 Problems with Story Endings” Marg McAlister says “Go back over your novel and decide how you can satisfactorily let the reader know the whys and wherefores without dumping it all in at the end.”

Problem: The Hero doesn’t fight his own battles in the end. The cavalry rides to the rescue, taking the ending out of the hero’s hands.

The Remedy: A hero needs to be active. No one wants to root for a passive hero who lets others fight his battles for him. After feeling his pain and cheering him on throughout the story, the reader wants the hero to pick himself up and solve his own problems. Go back and rewrite your climax and make your hero the star of his own novel.

Your novel’s ending requires patience and perseverance, and it is just as important as your beginning. Think about it; would you read a second book by an author who disappointed you with the ending of her first book? Do you have trouble with endings? Do you have examples of other troubled endings?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

And the Winner is...

Nina!

Nina wins a prize package from Laurie Schnebly Campbell for offering one of her tips on handling revisions. Congratulations Nina!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Revision Heaven

Not every writer has to worry about revisions. We all know people who sit down at the keyboard, blithely type a story (maybe taking a break for hot chocolate when the going gets tough), and print their pages without ever having to fix so much as a comma.

Of course, those writers aren't the ones everybody loves to read.

The rest of us DO have to plan on revisions, at least once in a while. Whether those are prompted by an editor, by a critique partner or beta reader, or even just by that inner voice whispering "better take another look," we all know what it's like to embark on the revision process.

Some people love it. Some people hate it. Just about everyone has developed techniques to make it easier...and just about everyone has come up against questions like these:

* How long will my revision take?
* How extensive does it need to be?
* What made me think I could write?
* How important is this, really?
* Can I ignore that suggestion?
* How can I make it work better?
* When can I say "yep, it's finished"?
* Whose idea was this, anyway?
* Is she nuts, or does she just hate me?

You can see why so many writers talk about Revision Hell. But we can also make a case for calling it Revision Heaven.

Here's what some writers say:

* I love the brain work of figuring out how to change something. What I don't like is when I feel no brain power at all and have to do a major rearrange.

* Sometimes I am afraid if I tinker too much with a manuscript that I will ruin it. I love it when a revision makes the story so much better than it ever was as a draft.

* it's harder to measure progress, since the wordcount usually goes down instead of up -- it feels like "extra" work at the end

* Revisions...a feverish love hate intoxication for me. Love because the fever creates so much possibility. Hate because such possibility creates so much havoc. Perhaps the only cure for Revision Fever is a deadline.

* as necessary to the writing process as giving blood transfusions to a patient who has an active bleed.

* Once I get over the "it sucks" feeling, I know that I will produce a better novel.

Others note that it makes a difference who requested the revisions:

* If I'm doing it because someone ELSE demands it, then I'm trying to keep MY vision while I try to make the story reflect theirs. That's stressful.

* I like the word tracking system for editing, if the editor gives comments as to why I should change something. Some still edit with pen/highlighter and make notes in the side columns. I dislike that...

* How can you spot revision requests that may totally change the book or your voice -- have heard horror stories about that -- even have a couple of my own.

Then there's the problem of how much revision is enough.

* I'm a perpetual reviser ... it "stalls me" and sometimes it's hard to move forward if I get stuck in revising mode.

* When is it time to STOP doing revisions, take a deep breath and say FINI?

* I call myself a serial-editor because "just one more round" of edits couldn't hurt...I know there is a point where that is no longer true.

* When to stop revising, when to just say, "Enough already."

Finally, writers always appreciate more information on what WORKS when it comes to doing revisions.

* I would like to know what process other pantsers use, if they have one. I'm always open to trying new methods for making the tidying up process easier.

* What I'd love to know is how to make the process go faster.

* How do other authors do it? Do they go through a list of things to look for, one by one, so -- several times through the MS?

* Probably the most useful tips I find are hearing other writers speak about what works for them. Sometimes it gives me an idea for something I never thought of trying.

These comments are from people who've published extensively, and from people at work on their very first book. (Not to mention everything in between.) So no matter where you fall on that spectrum, your comments MATTER.

Why?

Because any tips you can share on revision techniques you've used will help someone who hasn't yet tried that idea. It doesn't have to be the Greatest Idea Ever...think brainstorming, where the goal is quantity. The more possibilites a writer has to choose from, the better the odds of finding something perfect for that writer.

Of course there's a prize for sharing, as well -- somebody who posts a tip (or more) on revision will win free registration to my August class on "His Personality Ladder" or my February class on "Plotting Via Motivation."

So...what's your experience with revisions? What do you love about 'em? Hate about 'em? What have you discovered as you revise?

(And, by the way, I'd love to use your tips in my Revision Heaven class next month -- but if you'd rather not be quoted, just mention that when you post.)

Meanwhile, thanks to Alexis, Jeffe, Nina, Kathleen, Eve, Donna, Kris, Mary, Kathy, Laurie, Sharon, Joan, Kath, Ann, Nana, Charlotte and Bonni for sharing their revision thoughts last week -- and thanks to all of YOU who'll share yours here!

Laurie, visiting the Diabetes Expo today but checking in whenever I get a laptop break because I can't wait to see what people are saying

~ ~ ~

Laurie Schnebly Campbell chose her http://www.booklaurie.com/ website so people would find it easy to Book Laurie for programs...because there's nothing she loves more than working with other writers! After winning "Best Special Edition of the Year" over Nora Roberts, she began writing about how to create believable characters and teaching workshops like "Revision Heaven" -- May 3-28 athttp://www.writersonlineclasses.com/?page_id=205

Friday, April 23, 2010

Julie Garwood to Visit - We'd Love Your Help...

New York Times' Bestselling Author Julie Garwood will grace us with her presence on June 16th and we're looking for questions from you, our readers, to include in our interview. Please click here and leave your questions for Julie in the comment section of THAT post. Or, send your questions to prairiechickswriteromance at hotmail dot com. We need the questions by April 23rd (soon) so we give Julie lots of time to prepare (she's one busy author).

We can't wait for Julie's visit to The Prairies. We hope you mark your calendar - June 16th - and maybe she'll be answering your question!

Welcome Angela Breidenbach, Win An e-Cookbook

by Anita Mae Draper

I met Angela Breidenbach last Sept at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference when she was parading around in her Mrs. Montana International sash. I was hanging out with the writers from Seekerville and Angela gave us a mini-play-by-play about her Mrs. Montana experience. I don't remember the story but I do remember laughing so hard my cheeks hurt.

I also remember how great she looked. Yet I didn't realize until lately that her figure came (at least partly) at a price - colitis. So today, I'd like to introduce Angela and together we'll discover more about her and her e-Cookbook, Creative Cooking for Colitis.

Anita interviews Angela:

I have an extensive cookbook collection and yet this is my first e-cookbook. Where did you get the idea?

The idea for the cookbook came mid-January when I realized how many meals I'd built up in the six months prior. Making it an e-cookbook happened because I wanted it to be loaded with photography and that is so hard to get done in print. I just hate it when I can't see what a recipe is supposed to look like. I decided that could be something special from me to the reader.


Is Creative Cooking for Colitis only for those with digestive problems?

Not at all. It's especially created to help the families and friends of someone with colitis, IBD, UC, and any other digestive problem. Eating together loses so much joy with the limitations of the dietary needs. I'd lost hope that I'd ever have big joyful meals with my family and friends again. All of these recipes are friendly to anyone, simple to make, and elegant to set on your table. But I also included recipes that are helpful for celiac and weightloss. No one else in my family has any digestive aliments, but they all love these recipes :-)


The book is studded with photographic gems. Who took the pics?

I took all of them except one. My husband grabbed the camera and snapped away several shots of Jude, my grandson, and I making home made noodles for our chicken soup recipe. It was so much fun!


Do you have any stories about testing the recipes?

Oh yes! The funniest was to watch my family for 2 months have to wait to eat. They'd stand over the food. Within a short time I'd hear them saying, "Don't touch, mom has to take pictures first!" After the book was done, they were so in the habit that they all kept asking if they could eat yet.


Do you have any ideas for another cookbook?

Actually, I'm going to publish this in another version. We're going to have Creative Cooking: Simple Elegance. Same recipes with tips on how to simplify cooking. And both will be out on Kindle!

I have 2 more cook book ideas after that. Both will fall in the Creative Cooking brand :-)


What's your current project?

I'm switching to fiction now. I'm starting on a young adult story for teens. I do believe my miniature horse may make an appearance in that story as may a few new recipes ;-)


Do you have a question for our readers?

Great! Would you all tell me what kind of recipes you'd love to see in a Creative Cooking series?

Would you consider tweeting, facebooking, or goodreads about this cookbook? Especially if you try and like the Spanish Tortilla recipe posted below?

Thank you so much, Anita, for having me. If anyone would like to purchase their own copy, here's the sales link:
http://www.mygemofwisdom.com/products-page/books/creative-cooking-for-colitis-e-cookbook/

Creative Cooking for Colitis: Beautiful cook book with simple to simply elaborate recipes sure to thrill you and your family. 25 Tips and Recipes on how to start living and eating confidently again! Full color photos for every recipe. Insider tips on cooking, eating with families, colitis diet, and shopping. Lovely recipes for elegant parties and holiday treats.


Angela is giving away one copy PDF download of Creative Cooking for Colitis to one person who leaves a comment.

And here's a sample recipe from Angela's e-Cookbook:


Spanish Tortilla+*  
by Angela Breidenbach, Creative Cooking 4/2/2010

A tasty, mild egg and potato omelet some might call a frittata. There’s no flour. This is not bread like Mexican tortillas. I learned this traditional Spanish tapas recipe from Maite’ Pressler when I lived in Spain. Tapas are small snacks served in pubs. It’s modified for simplicity and easy digestion. Bonus: add ingredients as you build your food list. The trick is two eggs for every potato in case you want to expand the recipe size. Important: Standard potato—the size of a light bulb for two eggs.

Serves 8 as tapas, 4 as the main entrée.

2 large potatoes, washed, peeled, & bite-size
4 eggs or the equivalent in egg substitute
1 tsp. water
½ tsp. salt
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped Garlic
¼ Cup chopped onion
2 Tablespoons Sun-dried tomatoes, julienne
4-5 large mushrooms, sliced
Chives to taste
4 thinly cut slices of ham
1 thinly sliced fresh tomato
1 cup grated medium cheddar*

Additional sharp cheddar, grated for garnish

In heavy frying pan coated with olive oil, sauté potatoes over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. If you are able to tolerate onion, cook with potatoes. Lower heat to low and cover. Allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until soft. Test for doneness. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees and begin eggs.

Whisk all eggs, salt, and water. (The water fluffs the eggs when cooking.) Oil or spray a round pie glass-baking dish. I prefer not to use non-stick or dark pans to avoid overdone edges and tough bottom. The traditional round shape doesn’t matter as much as the depth. This recipe will puff. I make this for large family gatherings of 10-12. Then I use my largest glass-baking pan and multiply by three.

Add the mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic to the potatoes and sauté for one minute. Pour vegetable mixture into the glass-baking dish. Pour the whisked eggs over the vegetables. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes. The goal is to set the eggs hard without turning them overly brown. If the eggs set well on the bottom, but still too much liquid on top, turn on broiler 5 min. to finish.

Top tortilla with cheese. Spread ham to cover the round tortilla, and place sliced tomatoes around the top. Return to oven. Broil for 2-3 minutes to heat the toppers and melt the cheese. Sprinkle with chives for garnish.

Serve warm or cold. We eat it fresh out of the oven for a dinner and then eat it cold the next day for lunch or breakfast.

* Insider Tip: Medium cheddar is important for flavor and melting ability. Sharp is fantastic, but doesn’t melt well. Mild cheddar is too bland when paired with potato and egg. So put the sharp on last for decorative visual appeal as an option for more flavor.
Optional additions as you add foods to your diet. Each addition makes this dish more complex and more nutritional. But the colors make it beautiful and a highly sought after meal.
Time Saver Tip: Microwaved potatoes speed up this recipe by almost half the preparation time. Microwave washed potatoes the night before. Then it’s easy to slip off the skin and chunk into bite-sized cubes. Saves at least 20-30 minutes of prep time, possibly more. Still sauté in the olive oil for a few minutes for the flavor and the oil is an important part of the recipe.

Thanks for sharing with us today, Angela.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Angela Breidenbach is Mrs. Montana International 2009, author of Creative Cooking for Colitis, works with Hope’s Promise Orphan Ministries, the American Heart Association, and the Jadyn Fred Foundation. Angela also teaches online classes and coaches one-on-one in courageous confidence, personal growth, and powerful living. She’s certified in mentor/peer counseling as a Stephen Minister and Assisting Minister. She serves as the American Christian Fiction Writer's Publicity Officer and is a multi-award winning inspirational speaker and author. Not only did she walk the hard line of deciding to donate her mom's brain, but she is also on the brain donation list at the Brain Bank-Harvard McLean Hospital. She is married, has a combined family of six grown children, one grandson.

You can find Angela Breidenbach online:
http://www.mygemofwisdom.com/
http://www.angelabreidenbach.com/
http://godusesbrokenvessels.blogspot.com/
http://colitiscooking.blogspot.com/
http://twitter.com/AngBreidenbach
http://www.facebook.com/AngelaBreidenbach
http://writingbyfaith.blogspot.com/ every Wednesdays.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Laurie Schnebly Campbell

Laurie Schnebly Campbell loves giving workshops for writer groups about "Psychology for Creating Characters," "Making Rejection WORK For You," "Building A Happy Relationship For Your Characters (And Yourself)" and other issues that draw on her background as a counseling therapist and romance writer. In fact, she chose her website (www.BookLaurie.com) so people would find it easy to Book Laurie for programs.
But giving workshops -- for students from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York -- is just one of her interests. During weekdays, she writes and produces videos, brochures and commercials (some of which feature her voice) for a Phoenix advertising agency. For several years she would turn off her computer every day at five o'clock, wait thirty seconds, turn it on again and start writing romance. It finally paid off. Her first novel was nominated by Romantic Times as the year's "Best First Series Romance," and her second beat out Nora Roberts for "Best Special Edition of the Year."
But between those two successes came a three-year dry spell, during which Laurie discovered that selling a first book doesn't guarantee ongoing success. "What got me through that period," she says, "was realizing that the real fun of writing a romance is the actual writing. Selling is wonderful, sure, but nothing compares to the absolute, primal joy of sitting at the computer and making a scene unfold and thinking 'Wow! Yes! This is great!'"
After six books for Special Edition, she turned her attention to writing non-fiction -- using her research into the nine personality types to help writers create plausible, likable people with realistic flaws. Her other favorite activities include playing with her husband and son, recording for the blind, counseling at a mental health center, traveling to Sedona (the Arizona red-rock town named for her great-grandmother, Sedona Schnebly) and working with other writers. "People ask how I find time to do all that," Laurie says, "and I tell them it's easy. I never clean my house!"

On Assassinated Medieval Women

I did it. I killed her.

I knocked off my heroine because I didn't like her. My ms is currently sans heroine. Joanne and Janet pointed out that actually, a romance needs a heroine. I assured them one would arise from the ashes.

Alas, no ashes were involved.

So I looked to some of the Masters. One doesn't confer with the mistresses because such ladies don't usually spend their spare time writing novels. At least I have never heard of one doing that sort of thing. I thought they painted their bedrooms red and did their nails.

I digress.

The first writer I heard on the subject of characters was W.O. Mitchell. "Write what you know", he said. Alright for him to say. He grew up in Weyburn and none of my characters came from Weyburn and none had ever seen the wind. I taught in Weyburn and I didn't see it either. Who has seen the wind? It wasn't Elinor or I.

I digress.

Frankly, I don't know much about living in castles. It would be a mere pas de qua to fall in love with a hunk. It's not going to happen though. I am 68 and I snore. So, no hunk; I must depend on Husband. But,I just can't see him riding off to behead the neighbours with a broad sword, at least not during the NHL playoffs. I can't see him placed on the hall table and allowing me to sew up dreadful wounds with my sewing kit (no anesthetic) while he lies there without saying a word. Most medieval hunks do that, whereas Husband, I assure you, would run from the room screaming for Dr. Surkan.

Mitchell was no help.

Donald Maass is the last word in experts on this kind of thing or so one would believe. He sells books to publishers, so that makes him an expert in my book, um, mind. However, he requires a character in the first place so that a writer can then make said character larger than life. Sans heroine, I didn't get much help from him.

Many of you have said that your charcter tells you all about themselves and therefore, they are a breeze to put down on paper. That's part of the problem. Elinor was a bore and you know bores are boring. She just rode around boring people. And Hunk was no help.

Last resort: Vanessa Grant. She uses pme and pmf. All romance writers shorten everything into just first letters and then I have to phone someone and ask what they mean. Wip had me going for awhile.

Here's me digressing again.

Anyway, Grant has several ways of doing this. One is to start with the question: what is his/her personality? Well, if I knew that, I wouldn't need to read up on forming a personality would I?

Under that bit of news, she has two columns for each character. One column lists relationships and the other about roles. Zebadiah's parents need caring for even after they are dead. His mother forever needs bailing her out of problems and, with resignation, he expects she never will be able to do anything for herself. His father is dead but his business still needs caring about, and so on through siblings, friends, employees. Zebadiah is a very busy man. And then along comes Misty. She is insecure and doesn't trust anyone. She has a whole list of relationships and roles too. And clearly there is a major conflict between them. They don't make me care but Zebadiah spends twenty chapters caring for her and her problems. By the way, she is scared of his house.

Next chapter: Grant offers eleven topics and the reader/writer is to write down ten things about each character for each topic. Some topics are: ten people she loves, ten people who love her, ten regrets, ten dreams and so on. Whoa! There are only eight characters in my book. And, if a guy is about to skewer her with a sword, she hasn't time to go through the list of ten people she loves and ten who love her. Obviously, he is one who doesn't love her, nor she him. The other eighteen points don't matter at the moment. She might work in a couple of regrets before the deed is done, but that's all.

Now what? Assuming your heroine isn't speaking to you, how do you build a character to love and not murder?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Friday: Angela Breidenbach e-Cookbook Giveaway

I don't know if it's because I'm on a health kick and am finally losing weight, or because I met Angela Breidenbach in Denver last year and I think she's a wonderful person, but this Friday, I'm going to help Angela promote her e-cookbook, Creative Cooking for Colitis.

On Friday, I'll have an interview with Angela and I'll post a recipe, Spanish Tortilla, from her e-cookbook for you to try.

Also, Angela is going to give away an e-copy of Creative Cooking for Colitis to one person who leaves a comment.

Here's the summary of Creative Cooking for Colitis: Beautiful cook book with simple to simply elaborate recipes sure to thrill you and your family. 25 Tips and Recipes on how to start living and eating confidently again! Full color photos for every recipe. Insider tips on cooking, eating with families, colitis diet, and shopping. Lovely recipes for elegant parties and holiday treats.

Angela Breidenbach is Mrs. Montana International 2009, author of Creative Cooking for Colitis, works with Hope’s Promise Orphan Ministries, the American Heart Association, and the Jadyn Fred Foundation. Angela also teaches online classes and coaches one-on-one in courageous confidence, personal growth, and powerful living. She’s certified in mentor/peer counseling as a Stephen Minister and Assisting Minister. She serves as the American Christian Fiction Writer's Publicity Officer and is a multi-award winning inspirational speaker and author. Not only did she walk the hard line of deciding to donate her mom's brain, but she is also on the brain donation list at the Brain Bank-Harvard McLean Hospital. She is married, has a combined family of six grown children, one grandson.

You can find Angela Breidenbach online:
http://www.mygemofwisdom.com/
http://www.angelabreidenbach.com/
http://godusesbrokenvessels.blogspot.com/
http://colitiscooking.blogspot.com/
http://twitter.com/AngBreidenbach
http://www.facebook.com/AngelaBreidenbach
http://writingbyfaith.blogspot.com/ every Wednesdays .

So, join us this Friday and if you know someone who may benefit from this e-cookbook, invite them to visit Prairie Chicks and maybe win a copy for themselves.

Stamp out Stereotypes

The big-busted blond with a ditzy giggle.

The tough Irish cop who’s seen it all.

The downtrodden single mother.

The Italian mobster in the dark sedan.

The wise old man.

The black rapper on the street corner.

The smart Asian kid.

The fashion wizard who is gay.

The above are descriptions of common characters we see in fiction. These descriptions are also stereotypes. We probably all learned about stereotypes in elementary school - stereotypes are generalization about a group of people. We assign a set of defined characteristics to this group and label them.

Stereotyping is a common everyday occurrence. We evaluate one another based on the stereotypes we have formed from the experiences we have had or from the portrayals we have seen on TV, in the movies, or in the books we read. It is our brain’s way of organizing information.

Stereotypes can be helpful. The stereotype that tall people need longer pants may be helpful to a salesperson in a clothing store when he sees six foot tall man looking frustrated as he sorts through a pile of pants. Stereotypes can be humourous. Scott Adams’ comic Dilbert pokes fun at people who work in cubicles. Often, stereotypes can be harmful. We see this demonstrated frequently in the form of discrimination.

When stereotypes find their way into our writing, it can make the story boring.

When you create a character based on a stereotype, the character doesn’t have individual traits like a real person. They are actually a composition of generalizations of many people. Using stereotypes instead of fully developing characters strips the story of its originality. In doing so, you are saying that any individual from that group will act in the same way and make the same decisions resulting in the same outcomes and thereby creating the same story.

A predictable story is a death sentence in the publishing world.

People are complex. They are unpredictable. They can be illogical and inconsistent. Characters are fictional people and have all the complexities and paradoxes that real people have. Think about your best friend, someone you know really well, remember a time when they surprised you by doing something really ‘out of character.’ It caught you off guard; it made you look at them in a new way. I bet you learned something new about your friend.

I have a friend who is shy, quiet and studious. She completed nine years of university and now that she is done, still spends a considerable amount of time with her nose pressed between the pages of a text book. She is just as serious about her job. She can also be the silliest person in the room and snorts when she laughs too hard. She is also never on time for anything and loves baseball. If she was a character, think about how boring she would be if she was constrained to the ‘bookworm’ stereotype?

Look at your characters. Are they real characters or have you used stereotypes? What makes your character unique? What is your character’s paradox?

Also consider how your story contributes to the formation of stereotypes. How diverse are your characters? Is everyone in the story white? Is that typical for the genre you are writing? For the period? Location? How can you make your setting and your characters more realistic? How can you make your story more interesting and complex by including a diverse cast of characters? (And make sure you don’t make your diverse characters victims of stereotypes!!)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Secondary Characters: Buddies, Boyfriends and Wingmen


Back-up cops, spunky sidekicks and the busy body next door – these sideline characters can create some major dilemmas for an author. Even though they’re supposed to be secondary to the protagonist, sometimes they become larger than life, and if we’re not careful, they can eclipse the main character altogether.

Occasionally secondary characters expand as we write, especially if we’re a “pantser” (flying by the seat of our pants). There’s nothing wrong with this happening, but it does require us to carefully consider how to best use the character to further our story.

We should place these characters under a high-powered lens to ensure that the amount of “air time” they’re getting is truly integral to the story. If it seems like their character has gained so much momentum that they have truly obscured the protagonist, we should take a step back and examine why, and more specifically, what the main character might be missing. There’s always the possibility that the secondary character should be the focus, under which circumstance we should consider starting over (Wait! Don’t delete that file!).

We should take care not to overrun our stories with too many secondary characters. Too many names and behaviours can become dizzying, not to mention confusing the heck out of our readers. If this happens, consider combining the purposes of characters so that one person can take on the roles of several. This way, both the author and the readers will be able to follow those important characters without getting bogged down trying to sort out who is who, and who did what.

In my novel Indigo Blaze, superfluous characters were repeatedly pointed out to me. For some reason, I was resistant to getting rid of them, due to the fact that they each played a role (albeit, sometimes small ones). So I went back to really scrutinize what those particular characters were doing in the novel and considered combining the roles of two or more characters. At the end of the day, it wasn’t the characters that were important, but rather their effect on my protagonist and the story itself.

Even after I came to the conclusion that I needed to combine some characters and eliminate others altogether, I had a hard time taking that next step to make it concrete. Why was I holding on to characters that were unnecessary? It certainly wasn’t because I was trying to add pages to my novel (at 143,000 words, the opposite was probably true). It was because I felt attached to them. They were my babies; made up from my own thoughts, my own blood, sweat and tears. I had nurtured them, woke up with them in the middle of the night and provided tender loving care twenty four hours a day (in my head), all so that they would feel like real, living, breathing people. And they did.

The problem was, they had outgrown their use, but I wasn’t willing to give them up. What did I do? I put them in their own special little home I called “Side Characters”; not to neglect them, but just to foster them out temporarily, with every intention to breathe life back into them in another novel. That spiky-haired Tinkerbell sister and the red-haired, freckle-faced wingman are still waiting in their special little home, hibernating until I invite them out for their special moment to shine.

Have you had this much difficulty cutting secondary characters?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Books in My Life

Instead of writing about Script Frenzy, because in the last two weeks my writing has gone off the rails, I am talking about books and reading today! My whole life has revolved around books. I’m sure I couldn't live without them. I’m also interested in the synergy between the activities of reading and writing. Perhaps talking about reading might help me get back on track.

Experienced writers often make a point of advising beginning writers to read, LOTS. It is advice that is not hard for me to follow! I expected reading would play a prominent role as a leisure activity in my retirement. On the contrary, I’m finding that retirement is not so leisurely after all. I have thrown myself into the world of writing with great enthusiasm, only to find that there are not any more hours in the day than there were when I worked full-time as a librarian. There are many days when the only time I can find for reading is at bedtime when I’m already having a hard time staying awake – just as I used to do before I retired. But that’s not the focus for today, so I will put that particular conundrum into the goal-setting basket or slip it into my next attempt to come up with a schedule that I can actually follow.

I have several different categories of reading that I try to mesh with everything else I do. They are sometimes in conflict with each other, so I often find myself with several books on the go at the same time.

Book Club

I joined a book club eight years ago. It's a very rewarding activity, requiring me to read a specified book every month. As a result I have read many books that I would never have chosen on my own and have enjoyed most of them. We meet at the library to discuss the book chosen by one of the members. That member leads the discussion and provides refreshments. We always have a good time and the discussions are lively. The books are usually fiction, but we have also read some memoirs. The books are fairly current, but at least once a year we choose to read something older, often a classic novel. These have included Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, and The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence.

The last book I chose for book club was Ian McEwan’s Atonement. We also watched the movie that night and discussed both afterwards over cake and ice cream. Last month we read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, written by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows, who completed the book after her aunt became too ill to finish it. Because this book is about a writer trying to find something she could be excited to write about and also about a group of people who meet to discuss books, it's an excellent choice for both writers and book clubs. This month’s selection is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Similar in theme to Angela’s Ashes, the book is not as well written. Walls is not as good a writer as Frank McCourt, but her memoir is a compelling read nevertheless.

Romances

Every few months I go online to eHarlequin and order a selection of books. I read romances for enjoyment, but also it is a form of research into one genre of writing that I have attempted. My favourite line is SuperRomance, and at one time I thought one of my current works in progress would fit there. I’m no longer so sure about that, but I continue to read from that line and others to remain familiar with what is currently being accepted. C.J. Carmichael and Donna Alward are in my latest order. I read romance between book club selections and titles from the next two categories.

Research for Writing

My most recent work in progress, which is in the roughest of all possible first drafts (in fact it is in several first drafts that represent several attempts to write the novel in different ways), is a story set in the nineteen fifties. That decade is very familiar to me, but I discovered as I wrote that I would need to do a lot of research. Currently, I am reading novels set and/or written in the Fifties, as well as nonfiction titles for information. I am reading a collection of articles published in Maclean’s, called Canada and the Fifties: Canada’s Golden Decade. One example is “Going Steady: Is it Ruining our Teenagers?” from the issue of January 3, 1959.

I saw the movie Revolutionary Road recently, and have started reading the novel which was written in about 1958. I am re-reading On Chesil Beach, a novella by Ian McEwan set in the early sixties, about a newlywed couple who were at university in the late nineteen fifties. I have a list of Canadian novels written during that time, some of which I studied at university, which I intend to re-read.

My To-Be-Read List

The largest category of all. It includes books I’ve bought, and others I’ve heard about. My favourite novelists keep writing books! Ian McEwan (Solar), Margaret Atwood (Year of the Flood), etc. etc. Recently I attended Anthony Bidulka’s launch of his latest Russell Quant mystery Date with a Sheesha, set in Saskatoon and Dubai. Quant is a gay private detective who leads a fascinating and dangerous life solving crimes that lead him to many destinations around the world. The latest titles by Louise Penny and Gail Bowen are on that list. Oh, and I can’t forget the "Canada Reads" selections! Or the winners of prestigious awards. Too many books, so little time.

Yann Martel will be a presenter at the Festival of Words in Moose Jaw in July. I would like to read his new, long-awaited novel, Beatrice and Virgil before then. The list will grow longer when the complete program is announced.

I thought this would be a short blog post, but .... (Don’t get me started talking about books!)

What are you reading these days? Do you read different books for specific reasons? Can you recommend novels written in or about the Fifties that I should know about?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

And The Winner Is...

The winner from last Saturday's giveway by Anna Small, author of Tame the Wild Wind, is:


Paperback: Heather (you can send your mailing address to prairiechickswriteromance at hotmail dot com


ebook: Lynnette labelle (I have passed on your email address to Anna)


Congratulations ladies and enjoy your prize!



Saturday, April 17, 2010

Warm Welcome to Anna Small

Since about the age of 4, I have always had my nose buried in a book. I never thought about writing a book, however, until the summer I worked on our military base (my dad was stationed in England). There was little work for me to do, and my boss didn’t want the colonel to come in and see their “summer hire” teen with nothing to do. So he gave me the gigantic IBM Selectric typewriter and a stack of paper so I could write letters to my friends (we’re talking 1984, folks). This got boring after awhile, and I started thinking about an English pirate in love with a French governess, during the French Revolution. I don’t know how this story popped into my mind, but it overtook me until I had to write it down. I wrote 3 chapters that first day, and completed a 100,000 word novel by the end of the summer. I was almost 17 years old.

Before long, I completed two more novels before I graduated high school, and then two more in college. At first, I kept my writing to myself – embarrassed that people would ask how I dared presume to write novels! Only my family and close friends knew. Later, when I was 23, I joined the NJ chapter of RWA and made my first pitch to a genuine editor. After that, I gained the confidence to tell people I’d written six romance novels and was actively seeking publication.

Marriage and kids followed, and I stopped writing for a number of years. About three years ago, I realized I missed writing. I dusted off TAME THE WILD WIND and joined the Tampa chapter of RWA. About a year later, I contracted that book with The Wild Rose Press. Finally, from those early beginnings of sending hand-typed manuscripts with handwritten cover letters, I am proud to call myself a published romance author.

I don’t know where my ideas come from. Songs and movies and other books, most likely, but sometimes, a word or phrase, or even a pair of dark, handsome, haunting eyes will fill my head until a story forms. I recently finished a contemporary romance and am awaiting a (hopefully, positive!) response from a large publisher. I can’t seem to stick to one genre, either. My first seven novels are historical, and I have other works in progress that run from erotica novellas to steamy paranormals, with lots of romance, entanglements, and intrigues. I’ve watched the romance market bloom from a handful of large houses in New York to e-pubs and other publishing possibilities available to authors now that were only a dream when I was a kid. The constant changes and wide open market make it possible for an author to write every story she wants, instead of sticking to a formulaic story for one publisher.

My dream and goal is to write romance fulltime. I try to balance that goal with working a day job and raising two beautiful children (yes, they’re brats, too – and don’t know how to put an empty candy wrapper in the garbage!), along with being married to the coolest man I know. Seriously, he has “hero hands” – you know what I mean – big, strong, wide hands that never sweat, are always warm, and hold our family together. We live on Florida’s Gulf Coast next to a nature preserve, and I’ve recently heard that two pirate graves were discovered not far from our house, dating back to the 1700s. Hmm…pirate ghosts lurking about in my backyard? Sounds like a great story to me.

I always enjoy sharing ideas, thoughts, and dreams with aspiring or published writers, or just people who like to talk! You can write me at Anna_Small34667@yahoo.com or visit my website, www.annasmallbooks.com. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment! I appreciate it.

Anna has generously offered to award one free download of her book (pdf) and one paperback to two lucky commenters. Please include your email with your comment (using AT, DOT, and spaces to fool the trolls). Anna will pick one name for each prize and pass it on to me and I will post the names of the winners.

Anna Small, author of TAME THE WILD WIND, a western historical now available from www.thewildrosepress.com, amazon.com, or barnesandnoble.com


Spirited Cassie Gibson journeys west to the New Mexico ranch she inherited from her father. She is dismayed to find a hard-edged, blue-eyed stranger already staking a claim to her land. Since neither of them has any money to fight in court, they are forced to become reluctant partners.

On the run for a crime he didn't commit, Jed Hazard only wants a quiet life. But Cassie's arrival changes everything.

Anna Small can be found hanging out at www.annasmallbooks.com and www.annasmallbooks.blogspot.com

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Drafts and Running...

A while back, 7 years to be exact, I took up running. I had always wanted to be a runner, but never had the nerve to try. I was your typical non-sporty individual – the last picked for any team sports in school, bowling was my only claim to a sport. But I’ve always been a walker and figured how hard can it be to go from walking to running. OK, hard…but I digress.

So after that year where I focused all my energy on becoming a runner, I experienced the Runner’s High and ended the summer with a 10K run under an hour! I was very proud of myself and promptly sat on my butt for the winter and turned my attention to writing. Writing is not conducive to maintaining weight or physical stamina! But I did experience the Writer’s High – finishing a novel, working hard at revisions and sending it out for other people over and above myself to read. And they liked it, they really, really liked it.

Lately, with all this BICHOK I’ve been doing (both with writing, blogging every day and The Day Job), I’ve noticed a lethargy and weight gain. Of course, I could also blame the aging process or the food and wine, but I’m sticking with the BICHOK excuse! Time to get back on some kind of exercise program and why not running. I laced up my shoes about 3 weeks ago and have been working at getting back in shape.

Like. Not easy!

And for the first two weeks, I kept berating myself for getting out of shape and not being able to run for longer than a minute when I had ran for 10K seven years ago. Then, this week, as I was stumbling along, I connected my running with my writing. Especially writing a first draft.
  • My running is awkward. My stride isn’t long nor are my arms pumping back and forth in perfect unison. I put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. Just like a first draft. It’s not going to be pretty. And it certainly isn’t going to be perfect. No one expects it to, so stop beating yourself up.

  • Go for as long as you can. Don’t try to run the 10K the first time out. And don’t try to get that first draft done in 3 months. Baby steps. If you can only write 500 words at a time, then do it. Soon, like running, you’ll be adding to that word count because you have the drive and stamina to do so.

  • The more you write, the better you’ll get. Same with running. As mentioned above, my running is awkward and gainly. I stagger over the road, shuffle my feet, drop my arms, raise my shoulders, move so slowly sometimes I think I would get there faster if I walked. But over the last 3 weeks I’ve noticed improvement. Just like writing – you’ll improve the more you practice.

  • Your technique will not be the same as other writers. Or runners. A lady ran past me the other day, her head held high, a bounce in her step, arms pumping rhythmically. I never looked like that even when I was running constantly during that year. The same goes with writing. I can never write like Karyn or Jana or Hayley or any of the other chicks. And if I try to copy them, I’ll end up failing. Just like if I tried to mimic that lady runner. Number One I would be dead on the road after only 10 bouncy steps because I’d be out of breath. And Number Two I’d look like a goof – she didn’t look like a goof, but that’s her style. Running like her would only contribute to me failing. Writing like someone else would only result in me getting frustrated and quitting.

  • And just because you’ve run the distance you set for yourself, doesn’t mean you’re finished. A first draft requires revision, critiquing, more revision, and submission. And/or you start again. If you stop after that one manuscript, when you go back to writing, you’ll be starting from scratch. Don’t stop. Set new goals. Strive for longer distances. Keep moving the finishing line so that first draft becomes the first of many! And that first kilometer ran in one shot becomes 2, then 3, then 10!

So start. Go slow. Be OK with your technique, no ones watching. Set small doable goals. When you reach them, set new ones. Put one word in front of the other, one sentence after the other. And don’t stop and go back – why would I now, after working my way up to running a kilometer without stopping, go back to running between one set of telephone poles? And most importantly, be kind to yourself – you’re not going to keep at something if every time you try and work at it your inner critic ridicules your efforts.

Ooh, that hit home. Right there – smack up the side of my head. I’m my harshest critic when it comes to writing. When I run, I ‘coach’ along the way – "Great job! Just over the hill! You can do it! You’re almost there!" Why don’t I do that with my writing?

So, People of Blogland, any runners out there? Any other sports analogies – share them with us in the comment section. And, finally, do you ‘coach’ yourself while you’re writing or are you your harshest critic? I’ll be back to read comments after I go for my run!

Janet (who has many first drafts languising on a hard drive because she's being too hard on herself)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Anna Small Joins Us This Saturday

We are happy to have guest blogger Anna Small, author of Historical Romance, join us on the Prairies this Saturday. Anna is celebrating the release of her debut novel, Tame the Wild Wind!

Anna Small, Historical Romance Author

Anna wrote her first novel on the backs of military memos when she was 17. Her intent was to write a sweeping historical novel with passion, intrigue, and a pirate or two. Since that auspicious beginning, she has completed eight novels with several works in progress.

Anna is excited to announce the release of her first published novel, TAME THE WILD WIND, a western historical romance, to the Wild Rose Press. Release date is April 2, 2010!

Her inspiration comes from movies, historical places, books, and the world in general. She writes novels with realistic characters facing extraordinary circumstances. Favorite authors are Jane Austen, Lisa See, Diana Gabaldon, Virginia Henley, Betina Krahn, and J.K. Rowling.

She may be found blogging at www.annasmallbooks.blogspot.com and also on the Wild Rose Press Cactus Rose Authors blog, every last Saturday of the month.



Also, look for her at http://www.annasmallbooks.com/

Matching My Photos with Google Earth

Here’s a glimpse into my latest research…

I'm writing a scene in Emma's Outlaw which entails traveling through a web-like system of ravines known as Pine Tree Draw. There's going to be a bit of excitement happening to Emma in this setting so I needed to get the vegetation down accurately. Except, I've googled for hours and can't find any kind of reference to Pine Tree Draw. And the botanical sites needed more info for identification than I could provide.

I could just say she's hiding behind a pine tree but I need a more accurate descriptions so I'm not repeating 'pine tree' all the time. And anyway, I like using details.

Now, picture this… Emma and the outlaws are standing on a ridge above Pine Tree Draw which is a huge web-like system of ravines and valleys which follow ancient water paths. The total system is over 20 miles long and 4 plus miles across at its widest. Here’s a Google Earth (GE) image looking straight down at a portion of it:
  


Now look in the center of that photo where I've added a red push pin at the heel of that L-shaped boundary line. That's where I've zoomed in for this next shot:
  


The trees look like conifers and it is called Pine Tree Draw, but what variety of pine? This next photo is taken while standing on that bare patch of high ground. Okay, maybe I'm not standing on the ground since GE says my elevation is 1782 m high, but it's the lowest I can go and even at this altitude, I lose all definition.

  

So my next step was to look through my photos and see if I actually took some of Pine Tree Draw. Wyoming doesn’t allow stopping on the side of the hwy unless it’s an emergency, so most of my photos were taken on the go with my outstretched hand holding the camera toward the open window and clicking away every few minutes. Using this technique, I was able to capture about 1200 photos. I took photos of every sign for reference but when I looked at the maps, there was no corelation between the green sign with 118 that I had in my photo to actual numbers on the maps. However, the good people at GE have taken camera shots every 75 ft on hwys all over North America. (They were here in Regina a couple weeks ago.) In this next photo, the white line between 2 camera icons is where I used the GE measuring tool to measure the distance between them.



Then it became a game of sleuthing to pick the place where I thought I took a photo and go down and look at it through the GE camera lens. As in the case of the above photo, I started way back and moved in closer and closer, camera by camera, until I found this next view...


... which matched this one I had taken:


Except I hadn't taken any others of Pine Tree Draw. Probably because I wasn't aware of where I was. Like I said, I wasn't allowed to stop and look at a map. I would have if there'd been a wide enough shoulder but without that, I didn't want to take the chance of getting a ticket out of my own country.

But back to my research, while still 'in' the same GE camera above, I turned left to look south and this is what I saw:


It proved to me the magnitude of Pine Tree Draw. But it still didn't identify the pines. So, I started checking out Google Images for 'Wyoming trees'. All sorts of images showed up from golden aspens to metal artwork. Very few identified the actual trees. But I kept searching the images until I found one that talked about 'Historic Repeating Photogrpahy'. This type of photography has always fascinated me because it shows you two photos - before and now. The photos I found show the rates of growth and spreading of tree species in Wyoming between landscapes from early in the 20th century and what those same landscapes look like today. The website listed a contact person for more information.

So, I sent a couple emails off to Prof Stephen Jackson at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and included many of the pics I've shown you above. And in the ensuing emails, Prof Jackson was able to identify Pine Tree Draw thusly:  'Everything I see in the PTD  (Pine Tree Draw) images is Ponderosa pine. It’s certainly the dominant conifer throughout that region. I would expect to see – on closer inspection – some RM (Rocky Mountain) junipers scattered about. And limber pine occurs in the area too, sometimes intermixed with the Ponderosas. Limber pine would have occurred mainly on the rockiest, gnarliest spots – butte summits, etc.'

Here's a photo of a Rocky Mountain juniper...

I asked Prof Jackson if they called them junipers back in the late 19th century. He confirmed that Emma would have known this tree as a cedar or maybe even a red cedar.









... And Limber pine.

I was worried when I first saw the Ponderosa pines because they don't bush out until a couple feet above the ground and I need places for Emma to hide behind. But now that Prof Jackson has said their should be some Limber pines and Rocky Mountain junipers mixed in there, I can go ahead and write my scene and still maintain the accuracy of Pine Tree Draw.


It's been about a year since I first introduced you to the wonders of Google Earth.

So tell me, have you checked it out? Have you used it for research? Recreation? Shown it to your kids? Or have your kids shown it to you? For a neat destination in the 'Fly to' box, type in 'Dubai' and look at the 8th wonder of the Middle East. My youngest showed me that one. : )