Saturday, July 31, 2010

Welcome Amber Leigh Williams

Writing Axioms That Work
Amber Leigh Williams

I’ve been writing for a total of fourteen years, six years full-time. Many of these years I had nothing to show for the work I was doing. At times, it even seemed like I was the only one who understood that I was actually doing any kind of work at all. Hard work with no reward at the end of the day has discouraged stronger individuals than me. When trying to distinguish what kept fueling me forward on my path to publication and dreams of representation, I realized it was a series of writing axioms I repeated to myself every single day, rain or shine, good day or bad, whether the words were flowing or not, no matter stack of rejection letters growing out of the corner of my eye. Here are the five adages that have shaped my writing journey and never fail to preserve what I think of as a healthy work ethic:

#1 – NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP
One afternoon while working at my local bookstore, I was dusting a sales rack littered with desk doodads and a small, gold plaque caught my eye. As soon as I read these words, my heart gave a little skip and I had to have it. Right then, as a matter of fact. I took it off the shelf and placed it in the employee reserves cabinet behind the register. At the end of my shift, I didn’t think of waiting as I did for my favorite romance paperbacks until the first of the month when my storewide discount would drive the price down thirty percent. No, I paid the list price of $9.99 + tax and rushed home to place the plaque on my desk where it has been every day since. This is the most important axiom of my career. I started my journey in 2005 with two clear-cut goals: a) I wanted to be published and b) I wanted an agent as passionate about my work as I am. There are hard days in publishing. It’s inevitable. Everyday that I opened a letter of rejection at my desk or in my inbox, this adage was all but staring me in the face, slapping me back into focus. And it made all the difference in the world.

#2 – "PLOTS ARE LIKE SHARKS…"
This awesome quote comes from New York Times bestselling author J.R. Ward: "Plots are like sharks. They keep moving or they die." These words may not be stamped on a plaque on my desk but they’ve been on the dry erase board in my office so long, they’ve dried there and will probably be stuck forever as a result. This doesn’t trouble me in the least, however, because this quote has saved every story I’ve written since I came across it in The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider’s Guide. Before, I would write and write and write and a good third of my manuscripts would eventually die off. I’d lose interest or write myself into a corner. In either case, I wasn’t passionate enough about the stories themselves to go back and fix whatever mistakes I’d made. In retrospect, it all boiled down to one vital thing: zero plot momentum. Nothing made that as clear for me as Ward’s shark analogy. It’s the writing adage that I pass along most often to writing friends.

#3 – "SCIENTIFIC WORKABILITY!"
I borrowed this one from Julia Child who was not only a dedicated chef but an incredibly disciplined writer. I’ve learned over the years that the writing is never perfect. Something can always be tweaked, whether it be plot or grammar or wording. I began writing my historical romance, Forever Amore, in 2002. I completed the first draft in December 2004. After a series of rejections from editors and agents, I decided to revise. The book was not published until September of last year after six revisions—two of which were major rewrites. The manuscript has been through so much proofreading and editing, it would make my high school AP English/Language Arts teachers—the ones with the merciless red pens—beam with pride. But when flipping through that polished paperback at any point during the last year, I’ve pursed my lips over wording I’d tweaked a hundred times before. The editor in me is merciless and never satisfied. I content myself, however, that when I turned the manuscript into my publisher, it was as polished and professional as I could make it at that time and put my red pen to work on the next.

#4 – DON’T SHY AWAY FROM NECESSARY CHANGE
With change comes growth. As a child whose family moved around quite a bit, I resented this saying more than any other. Writing, however, taught me just how tried and true this particular axiom is. Going back to the early days of my historical romance, the original manuscript was a whopping 140,000 words. In my mind, a masterpiece. For targeted editors and agents, a monster. Industry professionals kept telling me it was too long and I blatantly ignored them. At the core of this stubborn refusal was the fear of losing sight of the story vision. After a year, the truth began to sink in. This was my first baby, however, so cutting into it was something I tossed and turned over for another year. By the third revision, I’d cut that baby down to 75,000 words and had to admit it was sharper, more succinct. Still, the rejections continued to trickle in, this time focusing on the "cardboard" hero. I may have learned to revise story structure, but I’d never dreamed of touching my characters. After studying this particular character, however, then what made great romance heroes so beloved, I realized what I needed to do. After another two revisions, I finally shaped him into the hero the story needed and—by extension—the man the embattled heroine deserved. The story changed exponentially without ever losing clear sight of its original vision and was ten times stronger and tauter and a better read because of the change. Madeleine L’Engle’s said it right in A Circle of Quiet: "Experimenting is the only way a writer grows."

#5 – NEVER LISTEN TO CRUEL CRITICISM
This is the adage I have most trouble taking into account. If there’s one blessing of rejection, it numbs you to things that would’ve really hurt or frustrated you beforehand. But sometimes those cynical voices in your head or on the physical plane unexpectedly manage to wing past this careful armor. These are the ones that have the best chance of hurting us, unfortunately. After six years of rejection and publishing ups and downs and the occasional biting criticisms, I thought no cruel bystanders or bout of melancholy could ripple the surface of my clear-cut resolve. In March, however, an anonymous commenter on my personal blogsite informed me in no uncertain terms that I needed to get a life, a real job that makes real money and, condescendingly, included that growing old with no money is not pretty. I’d heard it before, but something about the wording or the timing arrowed straight through my heart. I stopped writing for three weeks before my husband finally gave me the motivating kick that I needed to get back on the production wagon. Less than a month later, an agent called with an offer of representation for my paranormal romance series. If I had continued to let this mean-spirited individual interfere with my work, I probably wouldn’t have fulfilled my second career goal. Now I cannot stress enough the importance of never listening to cruel criticism. Another quote I’m fond of along the same lines is this one from Sinclair Lewis: "It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write." Amen!

Amber Leigh Williams is a multi-published romance author, a member of Romance Writers of America, former Secretary of GCCRWA, and a reviewer for The Season. Her first western romance, Blackest Heart, placed 1st in the 2009 More Than Magic Contest’s novella category and her historical romance, Forever Amore, was nominated for Best Book of 2009 by Long & Short Reviews. She is represented by D4EO Literary Agency and lives on the Gulf Coast with her husband and three labs. Learn more about her books and her journey to publication at http://www.amberleighwilliams.com!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Twitter: An introduction

After Helena's great run-down on the hard questions of platform building on Monday (and hey, Christina Katz showed up too!), I'd thought I'd offer up an introduction to what seems to be the most confusing option for a writer: Twitter.

Twitter is one of those things that seems incredibly strange when you haven't tried it, can be difficult to explain to others, and feels hard to get going on. Taking thirty seconds to stop drinking coffee so you can tell people you're drinking coffee? Why on earth would someone do that?

The thing about Twitter is it's exactly what you want it to be. If you don't want to sit in on a conversation about what you had for breakfast in real life, you don't need to do so on Twitter. I for one would rather go talk about writing, or get a little industry insight, or even talk tea!

Content, however, is easy enough to figure out once you get going. It's the getting going that can be so daunting. So here's a quick overview of some Twitter basics to help you get oriented.

Getting Started:
You sign up. You pick your name. You're taken to your new home page. That's great! You have 0 followers, 0 following, 0 listed, 0 tweets. Not so great. What do you do?

First, some terms. Followers: the people who want to see what you're saying. Following: the people whose messages (tweets) you want to read. Listed: lists made by other Twitter users grouping together similar people for following convenience (more on this later). Tweets: Everything you say, in 140 characters or less, posted to Twitter.

What do you do first? Tweet! You made the account, try it out! Show the world you're alive, and that this account is real. Don't like what you said? You can always delete it.

Next: find people. There's a metaphor in here somewhere about tweeting in a forest with no one around, but let's not mix birds and trees here. There's no sense sharing your musings with an empty void, so go follow a few people! You've got a few options here.


1] When you make your account, you can allow Twitter to search your email contacts for any friends who are already online.
2] You can click the Find People link at the top of the page and search for people, groups, topics, etc.
3] Six degrees of Twitter separation -- check out who the people you follow like to follow, who they mention in tweets, or look at their lists (again, I'm getting to this.)
4] Off-site links from your favourite authors' pages, from blogs, from Facebook, etc. You'll find people all sorts of ways.

Now that you're tweeting, and following a decent number of people (no need to overkill right from the start), it's time to get a handle on the lingo.

@ - Appears before a user's name, such as @hayleyelavik or @PrairieChicks. If you type someone's username in this format, it will alert them that you're talking to them. Click on the @yourusername link on your homepage to find any time someone has mentioned you on Twitter.

Retweet - A term for the reposting of someone else's message. People may do this through Twitter's Retweet button or may use the abbreviation RT, followed by the user's name (with the @ in front), to prefix a reposted message. Always cite your sources, it's just good etiquette!

Lists - Any user can create lists grouping people of a similar category together. This can be anything from "People living in Saskatchewan" to "My favourite romance authors" to "The Prairie Chicks" (a group we would create if more of us were on there... hint hint). If you're following someone whose tastes you share and whose opinions you value, take a look at their lists (or lists they've been included in) and see if you can find anyone else you like. You can also follow an entire list for convenience's sake.

# - A prefix used for tags. The same as we label our blog posts 'writing,' 'networking,' and the like, you can label a tweet using #topic. For example, if you search #rwa10, you'll find up-to-the-second discussions from people visiting the RWA conference--right now! You can also follow impromptu #askagent sessions. Tagging a topic also helps people outside your followers see your messages, if they follow those threads. A tag can be absolutely anything you want, and through the people you follow, you'll learn which ones are frequented.

And finally, a note on third party applications: if you use Twitter from the website, all the tweets you follow will appear in one long list (newest to oldest). If this is a bit much for you, there are lots of good applications (apps) out there to help organize and sort Twitter, including apps for smartphones. I use TweetDeck, and I see a lot of people use HootSuite as well. You can organize your incoming tweets into separate sections so you can keep friends, writer types, celebrities you're stalking, etc, apart. Apps also allow you to mark things as read, so you can keep up with what you're doing.

So now you have some basics. Go sign up, try out an account, and get tweeting! The worst that can happen is you don't like it and delete your account with an easy click. Share interesting links, follow discussions on writing craft and the publishing world, connect with your favourite authors. Play around, and you'll figure out what you enjoy reading, and what you enjoy tweeting. If you wouldn't be interested in reading it, don't feel obliged to tweet it. We'll only care as much about what you had for breakfast as you do!

Honestly, if you're daunted by the time and effort required for social networking, Twitter is your best bet. It can take as much or as little time as you want, and you only need to jot down a sentence or two now and then! Micro-blogging indeed.

What questions do you have about Twitter? Post your thoughts, concerns, and curiosities, and I'll do my best to answer them!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prairie Chicks Welcome Amber Leigh Williams

Romance writer Amber Leigh Williams joins us this Saturday for a wonderful guest post on "Writing Axioms That Work"! Here's Amber's bio:

Amber Leigh Williams is a multi-published romance author, a member of Romance Writers of America, former Secretary of GCCRWA, and a reviewer for The Season. Her first western romance, Blackest Heart, placed 1st in the 2009 More Than Magic Contest’s novella category and her historical romance, Forever Amore, was nominated for Best Book of 2009 by Long & Short Reviews. She is represented by D4EO Literary Agency and lives on the Gulf Coast with her husband and three labs. Learn more about her books and her journey to publication at http://www.amberleighwilliams.com

For more about Amber's journey to publication, check out her full bio on her website - and have a look around, it's a great site with some fabulous articles for writers, too!

Blog Block Blah

I have a capital case of blog block at the moment. I am not facing a blank screen, I am facing one with a big sign on it saying : "Time is running out and you don't have anything to say do you?"  Scary.

Sometimes I imagine myself racing down the Lower Niagara River, a very fast river which screeches to a halt in a polluted lake. I am in a tub and as I race past the shores, I see all the things I want to see, do, read, write, talk about, write about, things I have to do short term and long term, joys headed by House Work. I whiz by. I miss it all. It's disorganization, frustrating and Stress. And it ends in a polluted lake no less.

My mind, during this joy ride, is stuffed with mental sticky notes to myself on everything I have read, heard or talked about to do with writing. These have been scattered all over hell and creation by a nasty cross wind. I'm stressed.

Hayley has issued a challenge - a Kick Ass Movement involving all Saskatchewan Romance Writer Guild members. It involves us all because we are all too ashamed of letting go for awhile, laxing and relaxing and altogether having to admit we aren't doing much writing these days. Nothing in an organized anyway.

 I fell for it. I set a goal of finishing a manuscript, synopsis and pitch before the Surrey International Writers' Conference to be held in October. Hayley has volunteered to Kick Ass. She is going to need a darn fine pair of kicking shoes to keep me in line.

Eye on the ball, ear to the ground, nose to the grindstone and how are you supposed to get anything done that way? That is about how I feel.

What's wrong? Well, all those sticky notes need to be dwelt upon. There is information from conferences, meetings, blogs, books, magazines, the vast vast internet, conversations, workshops - it's endless and it's all swirling around inside exhausting me. Do you ever feel like that?

So what am I going to do besides change my email address so Hayley can't get me? (Actually, it's okay if she finds me - in fact I hope she does. I have a lot of respect for Hayley's mind and writing skills - and kicking shoes).

I prefer hatpins as motivational tools myself.

I am going to take a few days to find all the 'sticky notes' - ideas -  I need and put them in loosely designated piles. Then, I am going to read a book and try to capture all this loose stuff so it doesn't scare me in the night.
I saw a tiger in a museum when I was small. It moved in under my bed and had me terrorized for years. I saw it again several years ago. It is faded, dusty and the hair is falling off. I can but hope the sticky notes moaning and screeching and scratching under my bed nowadays are found either, to be scared of sensational over-size dust bunnies or faded, dusty, hairless and ORGANIZED.

 I hate that word. But the fact is: we all need to obey it now and then or sink like rocks in that polluted lake.
My apologies to the Ontario Government which has been successfully working at cleaning up Lake Ontario for decades, but I fear it is still one of the few places where one can still walk on water.

The book I have chosen to help me stack the stickies is called "Fiction Writer's Workshop" by Josip Novakovich. I have chosen it because it is highly readable and because the Contents page is- (ughh)- organized including all the stops from finding an idea to cashing the cheque. With thoughtful reading and contemplation, it should help me get all the ideas corralled. Contemplation. It tried it once. It's okay I guess.

Anyway, once I dispense with the cherry, berry and weed picking with grandchildren, a couple of days at the lake with them getting worn out by all that energy, keeping up with my kick ass duties, buying a used rowboat, decorating it for the Regatta, painting the cabin, walking to lose weight (it's working), cleaning out the garage at the lake of junk so I can reorganize the cabin contents and store the junk in the garage, get some volunteer work out of the way, and read for ME, I am going to put my tentative plan in action.

I refuse to promise to report back because my Guilt Allowance is already tied in with Kick Ass.

In addition to "Fiction Writer's Workshop, I am going to take, "Pride and Prejudice", some romances, Vesey's Seed 's, Landsend's, Regal's and Bits and Pieces' catalogues and may the book marks fall where they may.

Giggle quietly, if at all. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why your main character gets their own book

My main character and I have been locked in a staring contest for a while. I've taken a good look at her and some time to think about why she gets her own book. Why her adventures should be considered worth reading. The truth is: no matter how exciting her journey may be, it isn't worth reading about if she isn't worth reading about.

Take a look at your main character. What is so special about them?

Think about it.

Something is special.

Small clarification: That special something does not include superpowers (if they have them). I mean that part of them that is inherently good / the reason they are able to push past their fear / that thing that makes them a hero. For example: Superman has superpowers, but that is what makes him remarkable, not what makes him special. His desire to help those in need makes him special.

Think about a friend of yours. A newly acquired friend. One where you can remember the moment you decided you liked them. When was that moment?

Was it the moment you realized they had beautiful, shining hair that rippled in the breeze? The day they wore an amazingly fashionable outfit to work? The time they recounted what they did over the weekend with people you don't know.

I bet it wasn't.

I bet it was the moment they showed something about their character that you admired or could relate to. They expressed interest in a charity or they recommended a book for you to read and it was already your favorite or they endured kryptonite to save a cat from a burning building. Sometimes there are a few little moments before you can make up your mind. Every now and then, all you need is one big one.

In a novel, the clock is ticking. The reader needs a reason to be interested in your main character. It is up to you to provide that reason. Early. As in, during the first chapter. The first pages.

Give your character an opportunity to prove themselves. To show who they really are. A big opportunity.

The world's best opening sentence is a great goal, but keep this in mind: Your reader wants more than a good pick-up line. They want someone to care about. A reason to read.

Give them that reason.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Opening Scene


How do I craft the perfect opening scene to hook a reader? This is the question I’ve asked myself for months, and unfortunately, I haven’t figured it out.

My first five opening scene versions have been given the thumbs down for various reasons (too scary, too creepy, not enough action, prologues are out of style, etc), so it’s back to the drawing board.

As I endeavor to write the opening scene for the sixth time, I’ve gone back to research to ensure I understand the necessary ingredients.

Pose an Indirect Question
Some say the hook is an indirect question to the reader to keep them reading in the hopes of revealing the answer.
An example from my personal favorite is Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris:
“I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.”
Right away, I’m wondering: Why would she be waiting for a vampire for years? Who is this vampire? What is she doing at the bar? What is a vampire doing at a bar?

Set the Tone
The first chapter should set the tone of the book. If it’s a romance, opening with something too comedic will confuse and potentially turn off a reader. If the story is horror, starting with something mundane will be frustrating. Give your reader insight into what they can expect for their journey. This is where I stumbled—do I want to highlight the dark edge in my story? Or do I want the romantic elements to be more prominent? Several of the first drafts were far too dark and perhaps even gory, and really didn’t convey the romance.

Introduce Characters
I like to have a general idea of who the main characters are when I start a book, and as a rule, I think most editors do too. This doesn’t mean the opening scene has to have the protagonist front and center; sometimes starting with the villain can introduce the hero or heroine in a roundabout way.

Introduce the Setting
In addition introducing the main characters, we should introduce the time and place of the story. It’s not necessary to actually state a fact (London, 1967), but we can provide details so readers can make inferences about the where and the when of the story.

Give clues about the magic in your story at the outset, otherwise your readers will be confused when it suddenly pops up.

Engage the Reader’s Interest
What makes an opening interesting enough to grab a reader? A few options might include:

  1. Start with a melodramatic situation or life-altering event.
  2. An interesting question (as mentioned before). What are vampires doing in a bar anyway?
  3. Sometimes a wonderful turn-of-phrase can entice readers to read on. One of the reasons I was reluctant to cut my original opening scene was because of the turn-of-phrase I loved:
“I saw my little doll-shell of a body lying on my kitchen floor in a crumpled heap.”
Then it’s up to us as the writer to determine which opening is most suitable for our story.

Conflict
Beyond that first line, the conflict has to hook the reader to continue until the final sentence. Hint at the main conflict in the first five pages—the inner turmoil, the difficult decision that the reader can expect to unfold and be resolved.

Polish
Above all else, ensure the first ten pages are perfect. Check for grammar, punctuation and spelling and make sure there isn’t an over reliance on adverbs and adjectives—otherwise, invariably, your manuscript will end up in the dreaded slushpile.

So far, I’m three pages into my opening scene. Again. I’ve introduced my heroine and hero, I’ve begun in the middle of a fight, I’ve introduced the setting, I’ve given hint of the paranormal and magical elements and I’ve shown the inner conflict. So far, so good. I think.
Any further advice on writing the opening scene? Pitfalls to avoid? Formulas for success? Help! I obviously need it!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Musings about Social Networking, Author Platform ... and When Do I Write?

I just came back from an inspiring SRW meeting on the weekend in which topics ranged from how we can support members who have reached an impasse in their writing life to an enthusiastic discussion about all the ways that published and unpublished writers can become known to the world by creating an online presence. Known as a "platform", this can include having a website and/or a blog, being on Facebook or My Space (which seems to be less used nowadays), and last but apparently not least, joining the world of Twitter.

I was away from the connectivity of the Internet for about a day and a half, and returned home to read the post by our guest blogger who talked on Saturday about the valuable contacts she has made at such gatherings as the RWA conferences. Mimi Barbour definitely made a case for the value of face-to-face encounters with other writers, imploring us, it seemed to me, not to ignore this type of networking, as we launch ourselves into the various resources available in the cyber world.

However, it was a lively session at our meeting as our members shared their experiences. Those of us who have not yet taken the leap asked many questions and learned a lot. It was strongly recommended by the members presenting the information on creating our Author Platform that we spend adequate planning time up front to get it right. This translated for me that I should consider very carefully how I want to present myself and my work to readers, other writers, and the world of editors, agents, and publishers. I need to decide whether I want a website, a blog of my own, a Facebook presence, and if I want to start tweeting. Choosing the right time to add these elements to my writing life will also take some thought. One of our members has decided to begin her own blog about the time that she begins to send out queries to agents. She feels this will help her to establish herself as a serious writer.

It has been not much more than twenty-four hours since we had that discussion and my mind is still a-buzz with all the possibilities. I am also feeling a bit overwhelmed as I consider this aspect of my writing life. It is not that long ago that I began to feel comfortable about calling myself a writer. As Mimi Barbour said, it's no longer a secret! But to have the audacity to promote myself on the web ... surely that's not me. Or is it? Apparently, in the current world of publishing, it is expected that writers will do all of this. Publishers no longer promote their authors in the way they used to, with extensive book tours and such.

What are the steps I need to take? My first step should be a checklist of things to do which I will try to sort into priorities. On the list will be such things as registering a domain which will reflect the name I choose as author of my work. Some writers write under different names for the various genres they write, yet they want to have links that will connect these. Choosing a host for a website should not be done without careful consideration of cost and quality of the product. There are many resources to help me do this. I just have to get busy and do some research, and also develop a clear idea of what image I want to project of myself and my work.

A huge concern for me is the amount of time it will take, not just to get set up, but also to maintain and stay current with whatever it is I choose to do. We were told it can become almost addictive, though tremendously rewarding, and even fun, to be in contact with so many people with similar interests (once the contacts have been established through Facebook and Twitter, for example, or the followers on a blog). That told me that there would have to be a checklist item for deciding how much time to allot to this particular aspect of my writing life.

I want to acknowledge that the following articles about writing were recommended by Hayley. I include them here because I feel it is especially important not to get caught up in the promotion activities to such an extent (or perhaps prematurely for those of us with little to promote yet) that we neglect to focus enough time, energy, and thought on the act of writing.

The first is Writing or Talking about Writing. I have to be careful that I don't get the feeling that I am doing a lot of writing simply because I talk about it a lot!

Next is an article that Janet also linked for readers of Janet's Journal last week. Well worth reading this one.

Final item on my checklist may well have to be: Find a way to balance all these elements of my writing life. And enjoy!

What have you chosen from the various options for establishing an online presence for yourself? And how do you make your platform work, considering that you must also produce that which you wish to promote? I would love to hear your perspective on this.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Mimi Barbour

Old-School Social Networking

Like many in the romance genre, I started my career as a secretive writer. It wasn’t until I’d written my first full book— and had no idea what to do with it— that I decided I had to come out of the closet. Seek help. Admit to the world that I wrote love stories. Confess my passion out loud to my family and friends. Do you know hard that is to do? Put yourself out there like that? Especially without any idea of ever getting published, even if you secretly believe one day you’ll be giving Nora Roberts a run for her money. (Sorta, kidding here!)

At that point, I had a million questions. And, it was essential for me to be with other writers to get the answers. I searched on Google (love that Google) and found the closest RWA (Romance Writers of America) group. My first step in social networking had begun.

You can get on a multitude of websites, many of them brilliant— with wonderful workshops and a gazillion ideas on writing. But nothing gives you the support like a person can. A hug when you get a rejection. Or a high-five, from a colleague, when you get a contract. A pat on the back for every step on that tortuous rode to becoming multi-published. Writers need the affirmation that they aren’t wasting their time and their talents in a profession that’s so difficult to achieve and conquer, and who better than from a person travelling the same path.

When I went to the RWA convention last year, I found myself wandering alone into the pub area, and without hesitation, I approached a lovely lady sitting, reading her e-reader and enjoying a glass of wine. Within moments, I sat there with her and we were deep into a discussion on which genre we wrote, and where we were in our respective careers. (Funny about when authors meet, their first questions aren’t usually about where each other comes from, but rather what genre they write and if they’re published.) I left her after an hour feeling much richer for having shared that time together.

During those days of workshops, every seat I went to sit in, someone just like me was anxious and happy to talk about the profession, trade secrets we’d learned so far and everyone was gracious with sincere good wishes. I met a girl who seemed to be stalking me—since she had chosen to sit up front (as did I) for most of the same workshops. We became so intuned during those days that we’ve carried on our friendship by corresponding, and supporting the successes of the other. It’s heartening to know someone out there cares and is experiencing the same hopes and dreams of getting a contract. Those links can mean so much, and meeting up with her again, hopefully at another convention, is something I’m looking forward to.

Also, being a part of the RWA group, as a networking choice, has worked out brilliantly. Not only have I made wonderful friendships, but also, through these ladies, tentacles from my career have interacted with theirs and reached much further than if I had travelled alone. We’ve done workshops together, book signings and took in local conferences—brainstorming the whole time. I can’t imagine this harrowing, uplifting, tortuous journey without their support.

And, I hope that all of you who are reading this blog are enjoying the same sort of experience—that for you social networking isn’t only Facebook, Twitter, My Space…

Hugs…Mimi
(Who is ecstatic because she just found out that her fourth in the Vicarage Bench series – Together Again – has been contracted and will be released soon with The Wild Rose Press.)


Mimi Barbour lives on the beautiful west coast on Vancouver Island and writes her paranormal romances with tongue in cheek and a mad glint in her eye. Asked why she prefers paranormal, she answers - chuckling.
“Because it’s fun! Imagination can be much more interesting than what happens in real life, to so-called normal people. I love my characters, and my goal is to make the readers love them also. To care about what happens to them while the story unfolds. If I can steal my booklover’s attention away from their every-day grind, absorb them into a fantasy love story, and make them care about the ending, then I’ve done my job.” Mimi can be found at http://www.mimibarbour.com/

Friday, July 23, 2010

Welcome Luanna Nau

Thank you so much for having me visit today. And a special thanks to Janet for unselfishly giving up her spot to make room for me.

Ever since accepting the invitation to blog here, I've been wracking my brain for a topic. A new, fresh topic, done in a new, fresh way. Those seem to be watchwords lately in the publishing world, "new", "fresh", and the ever-popular "high concept". What these words mean in the real world, I have no clue.

So at the risk of writing "old", "stale" and "boring", I give you five things I've learned since I decided to be a writer.

1. The work doesn't end when you type "the end". First drafts are just that, drafts. Rough first run-throughs to get the story on paper (or screen). Then the hard work of revision, editing, and critiquing begins. And is repeated as needed, often ad nauseum. Even when you think you're done and your story is as perfect as it will ever be, some contest judge will point out that starting your story by describing a rain storm is a bit cliche. And that the story doesn't really get going until chapter two, so you should cut out chapter one, entirely. The same chapter one you spent hours polishing to perfection.

2. GMC is not a car company. Goal, Motivation and Conflict, as explained by Debra Dixon, is brilliant. As a concept. Putting it into action is hard. Goals are fairly easy, i.e. save the farm, catch the bad guy, prevent Armageddon. Conflicts are a bit more difficult, particularly since current wisdom dictates having conflict on every page. (Wait...what?) My poor "go along to get along" brain quails at the thought of making things nasty for my heroes. And finally, motivation, which requires digging deeply into character and back-story. For me this is like bamboo slivers under fingernails.

3. The rules of POV (point of view) are the few that absolutely, positively cannot be broken, lest you be accused of the dreaded head hopping. It seems that only Nora the Great is allowed to switch POV within a scene. The rest of us have to stay in one head for the entire scene, and some powers-that-be even suggest staying in one POV for the whole chapter! My very first critique session taught me about POV, a tough lesson.

4. You can't sell a story unless you put it out into the world to be laughed and sneered at. Oh...sorry...my personal insecurity was showing. Hitting that "send" button is terrifying. And rarely do you sell on your first try. Or second. Or tenth. This is not a profession for the thin-skinned. Getting a rejection hurts and there's no way you can't take it personally. The urge to call up that silly editor and tell her why she's wrong may be all consuming, but it must be ignored. You don't want to piss off editors.

5. Selling a book to a publisher may feel like you've reached the pinnacle atop cloud nine, but its only half the journey. You still need to work with a professional editor, copy editor, cover designer, and marketing team. Lots of fun stuff. Oh, and you have to wait. Checking email every five minutes to see if your editor has sent another batch of edits is fine and dandy, but it won't get your next book written. And you do need to write a next book; otherwise you'll be a one-hit wonder. (Cue the laughing and sneering.)

There you go, a few of the nuggets I've learned along the way. No doubt there are a few mineshafts full of stuff I'll learn as I go along. In the meantime, my first book has just been released from The Wild Rose Press and I'd love it if you'd take a look, read the excerpt and admire the beautiful cover.


Lu's debut novel, Where There's Heat, was released Wed, July 21st by The Wild Rose Press. Check out the cover and read an excerpt here: http://www.thewildrosepress.com/where-theres-heat-p-4137.html

And check out Luanna's website here: http://www.luannanau.com/

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Welcome Saturday's Guest Blogger Mimi Barbour


Mimi Barbour will be joining us Saturday, July 24, 2010 to talk about Old-School Social Networking - meeting and talking with other writers in person. What a concept! Here's Mimi's bio:

Mimi Barbour lives on the beautiful west coast on Vancouver Island and writes her paranormal romances with tongue in cheek and a mad glint in her eye. Asked why she prefers paranormal, she answers - chuckling.
“Because it’s fun! Imagination can be much more interesting than what happens in real life, to so-called normal people. I love my characters, and my goal is to make the readers love them also. To care about what happens to them while the story unfolds. If I can steal my booklover’s attention away from their every-day grind, absorb them into a fantasy love story, and make them care about the ending, then I’ve done my job.”


Mimi can be found at http://www.mimibarbour.com/

Heading to RWA Orlando

by Anita Mae Draper

This week, I’m gearing up for the Romance Writer’s of America (RWA) national conference in Orlando, Florida. It’s such an exciting, dreadful time. Exciting because I’ll get to see so many writing friends. Dreadful because there’ll be over 2000 attendees and this little, ol’ Canadian gal will get swallowed up in the crowd. Exciting because we get to fly to Orlando in July. Oh, wait—that’s dreadful—oy vey, the humidity! Exciting because I’m going with my husband and son. Dreadful because I’ll only see them at night. Yes, it will certainly be a dreadfully exciting time.

A bit of background… this year’s RWA conference was scheduled to be held at the Opryland Gaylord in Nashville, Tenn until that southern city flooded out three months ago. The RWA conference team scrambled and within days, arrangements were made to move the annual event to the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in the middle of the Disney World Resort, Orlando.

When hubby Nelson heard about the new location, he said he and our tween, JJ, may as well go with me since I didn’t have a roommate yet. We’ve been to Disney World once—in 1997—the year before JJ was born. Because JJ has always felt he missed out on something special—which he did—we haven’t been able to hang any photos taken of that magical time.

Nelson took a vacation from work so he could be with JJ while I skedaddled off to Nashville alone, so he is free to accompany me. Our other son, 15 yo Nick will be on a mission trip in Australia during the same period so he didn’t begrudge his baby brother seeing the big-eared dude. It’s like a dream come true for all of us.

Then came room reservations, flight bookings and new passports for the boys, as well as the itineraries. I needed one for the Disney trekkers and one for me.

My itinerary includes workshops and networking. The choice whether to make an editor/agent appointment was taken out of my hands when the RWA conference committee reminded the attendees an appointment hierarchy is in place. Authors get the first pick. Second choice goes to writers who have proof of a manuscript (ms) submission. Finally, at the conference, writers who may have completed a manuscript but haven’t submitted it anywhere can wait around to see if there are any open slots. I have submitted partials but never a full ms so that left me in the standing-around-and-waiting realm. Since I have an agent and editor interested in my work-in-progress (wip), I’m going to forgo the appointment scene for this conference and make it a priority for the next one (Indianapolis in Sept).

For the RWA conference, workshops don’t need to be decided in advance. This leaves a lot of flexibility in my itinerary, especially for those extra get-togethers and networking sessions we discover along the way. For example, early this week on this blog, we were talking about Margie Lawson’s workshops and classes. Well, I received an email from Margie on Tues saying she’s going to be at the RWA conference and anyone who she’s taught on-line or in a workshop is invited to join her in the lounge to ‘meet, kick-back and chat’ after her Sat workshop. Are you kidding? Chat with the master of Deep Editing? Oh, yeah.

Allowing flexibility in your schedule is the most important thing I’ve learned while attending writing conferences. Yes, the workshops are important—but you can buy the CD and hear any workshops you missed. The chance to sit and chat with someone of experience in the publishing world may never come again.

Likewise the parties. I don’t know about other publishers, but Harlequin has one huge pajama party for their authors, but I know several people who crashed it in other years. Although I don’t make a habit of crashing parties, I can’t say I’ve never done it. And, I’m bringing a very nice pair of brand spanking new pretty PJ's to be on the safe side. Heh.
* Facebook pal and SuperRomance author Holly Jacobs just answered my query... the Harlequin pajama party is for members of the eHarlequin community and since I've been a member for years--and was March 2009's Member of the Month--that qualifies me. Yay! Gotta go shopping...

One advantage of attending a conference of this magnitude is the professional services offered. For a fee, you can have professional portrait taken, suitable for publicity shots. I don't know how much the RWA fee is, but it's only US $40 to sit for one at the American Christian Fiction Writer's (ACFW) conference which is being held in Indianapolis, IN this year. Since I'm still losing weight, I'll wait and have it done in Indy.
Other sessions I’m looking forward to:

  • The luncheon and awards ceremony of the Faith, Hope and Love RWA chapter
  • The RITA awards ceremony
  • Free books on the seats from keynote speaker (Nora Roberts)
  • Free autographed books (long waits and line-ups but FREE)
  • The Goody Room (Free books, promo material and giveaways)
  • Literacy Book Signing (500 romance authors, proceeds to charity)
  • Breakfast with the Steeple Hill bunch
  • Meeting all my writing eFriends

There are two things I know for sure…  

1. I'm going to leave lots of room in my suitcase on the off-chance I'm blessed with some of those free books.

2. The sheer size of the event is mind boggling. How will I ever find my friends? 

So, are you going to RWA Orlando this year? If you’ve been before, do you have any hints, tips or stories you’d like to share?


Photo Credits:
RWA logo and RITA award: http://www.rwanational.org
Swan and Dolphin Hotel: http://www.swandolphin.com  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Prairie Chicks Welcome Luanna Nau...

I am so excited to introduce Luanna Nau to all you Prairie Chick readers. Of course, most of us know Lu, she's been a member of our family from almost the beginning of the blog! Those who don't, let me tell you she's a wonderful person - and a new author! Lu got 'The Call' about two months ago and when she shared the news, I did a little happy dance around my office. She works hard at her craft and I'm so excited for her and the release of her debut novel Where There's Heat (written under the pseudonym Grace Hood) coming out today, July 21st, from Wild Rose Press!

Here's Lu's bio in her own words:

Luanna S. Nau has been creating adventures for her imaginary friends since childhood. As soon as she discovered, and devoured, her grandmother's stash of medical romance novels, all plots had to lead to a happily-ever-after.
Luanna writes full time, concentrating on sexy, steamy contemporary romance, and hot paranormal romance.
Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Luanna now lives in Maine with her dear husband, two teenagers, two cats, one budgie, one surviving gold fish, and six hens. When she's not torturing her heroes and heroines, she can be found either in her kitchen, whipping up something chocolate, or in her garden, tending to her robust weeds.

Lu will be here this Friday with a guest post on what she's learned along the way. Until then, check out Lu's fabulous website http://www.luannanau.com/! And we'll see you all on Friday for Luanna Nau's guest blog here on The Prairies!

Summertime Fun

Yes, summertime fun! But it’s interfering with my regularly scheduled writing patterns. However, when I look at the calendar date and see it’s the twenty-first of July already, I think, oh no! The summer is almost half over and the guilt dissolves. Okay, I feel a little bit guilty. I have got to finish the final revisions on Common Ground. Got. To. I have plans for it. Big plans.

How long have I been saying that for? Forever it seems! I've also been playing with taglines, as you can see from the image (maybe). Emotional. Fierce. Now. I've been doing a lot of playing.

In truth, I’ve been plugging away at Common Ground. I’m at the tail end and the end needed some work but the good news is I’ve figured it out. Figured out where to take the ending of the story but also how to subconsciously let it go once I’ve completed the planned revisions. Talk about being a slow writer. And a slow learner.

Then it’s on to the next stage: agents, queries, and the really big contest, oh my!

More about the submission process in the fall. But about the really big contest? I’ve always imaged entering the Golden Heart. From the moment I heard of the RWA and the contest's existence, I’ve pictured myself entering it. I don’t know why I feel I must, but if I must, I must. My creative visualization didn’t see me winning, just entering. Okay, that’s a lie. I have imagined being a finalist. Oh, who am I kidding, I’ve imagined winning. I’m certainly not going to image myself losing!

As an unpublished writer I image or visualize many things: book contracts, cover art, spines with my name on them, those books resting on the shelves of a bookstore, etc.

Visualization:

1. the act or an instance of visualizing


2. (Psychology) a technique involving focusing on positive mental images in order to achieve a particular goal

We’ve all done this in one form or another - used our imagination to envision the completion of a goal, the granting of a wish, or the realization of a dream. Writing is a hard business and we all need to create a source of visionary fuel to battle the doubts, ennui, distractions and disasters.

I tend to go more for the third person technique of watching the action unfold, much like watching a movie of me. Ha. But I recently read, like five whole minutes ago, it’s more powerful to visualize in first person; to watch your dream unfold through your own eyes, to participation in the action. Feel the pen in your hand, the coolness of the paper, as you sign the contract versus watching yourself sign it.

Furthermore, play it out high definition movie style with sound and color and applause. Ah...that was a lovely evening experience.

So, congratulations to all the 2010 Golden Heart and Rita finalists. The big day to announce the winners is Friday, July 30, 2010. To those of you attending the RWA 30th Annual Conference have a wonderful time! See you in New York in 2011!

What I’m listening to: The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert (my new FAVOURITE song)

What I’m reading: Delicious by Sherry Thomas (my new-to-me favourite author)

Latest movie seen in actual theatre: The Twilight Saga - Eclipse (last night in fact!)

Latest movie seen on TV: Sahara (took me back to a time when I liked Matthew McConaughey and thought he could act – snarky, but true)

Pages left to revise on Common Ground: 55 pages (Woo-hoo) (I have to admit when I see that low number I feel a bit pathetic, as in what the heck are you thinking, get your butt in gear girl and finish it already)

Words Count on Story for Writing Group: 509 words (and a theme and a plot and everything, which makes me glad because it was driving me nuts that I couldn’t come up with a decent short story idea, not even one, but now I’ve settled on one so it’s all good)

What do you visualize achieving or doing or completing? Tell us what you’re up to writing-wise this summer? Summer music, reading, movies...fill me in!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Too Much To Say

I've been back in the country for six days now. My sleeping patterns are gradually slipping back to normal, although still much earlier than I'm used to. I get hungry at all manner of unexpected hours, we still have things to unpack (or put away, rather), and sentient collections of cat hair emerged from the flooring while we were gone (and had no cat in the house) to float around and greet us upon our return.

This post marks my return to the normal routine. My first blog back, my first day back at the regular routine today. Hopefully not the exact same routine as before, but that's another matter.

In the six days we've been home, we've told perhaps four people total anything about the trip, and most of that has been brief. Of the most detailed I've gotten, I've shown pictures, and elaborated on a few of the details worthy of note in certain photos. I'm sure we'll have a lot more recapping to come, as we get back in touch with family this week, see friends. The SRW meet this Saturday, so I will try and get them all in one group before getting into it.

There's simply too much to say.

What does any of this have to do with writing?

In some ways, it's a bit like describing a novel. When a person asks "How was your trip?" it's akin to saying "What is your book about?" Answering "It was excellent" or "It's about a thief" is technically an answer, but conveys next to no information. On the other hand, rambling for ages (sorry Lesley) about disconnected bits and pieces, or everything all at once, does no better job of capturing the subject and will likely put the listener into a coma.

While we traveled, we found the best way to explain our trip was to say, "It's our 7th anniversary." Not much of an answer, but it offered some context, an immediate explanation for the length and breadth of our trip (which soothed Customs in London considerably) and offered room to fill in blanks and perhaps ask more questions.

So too for summarizing a work. Context and questions are a heck of a lot more useful.

Now that we're back though, answering the trip question is a little tougher. People don't want the reasons, they want the experience, and there's simply too much to summarize in one or two sentences. I've tried, on occasion, and the words always feel lame. You don't go to a 5,000 year old stone monument and say it was cool.

What the heck, I thought to myself. You're a writer, you should be able to do better than this!

Ah, but of course. I never go into a scene and write, "It was exciting and action packed! And there was lots of blood! And they were really afraid, and then they ran!" It's the details that make it, and help someone experience the same thing as the character/traveler.

Take that first picture I posted. It gives you absolutely no sense of the London Eye, nor of the Thames beyond and what might be nearby. What it gives is atmosphere. A sense of time and place, a certain quality of light, a moment, as one might experience in that same place. Those are the things that matter. I took hundreds of reference photos on this trip -- architecture, scenery, rooftops, patterns -- but none of them will evoke much for others save for a bit of context. They've no detail, no atmosphere, no experience.

Between these two photos of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, I'd wager I know which one the vast majority of people will be drawn to. Both offer setting, weather, time of day, context. Only one brings an atmosphere and emotion into the scene, a sense of being in it and feeling those ruins rise up above you.

Those are the things that bring scenes to life, and those moments are the best way to recount an experience. Simply pointing your camera/narrator at a scene and saying "This is it" doesn't cut it. So if I see you and you ask about the trip, I'll try to give you something specific.

Since we're taking a break from world-building today, share with me a travel story. What's a moment from a trip, or other event, that sticks out in your mind and captures the mood for you?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Graduation Day


My husband and I recently attended our oldest daughter’s university graduation where she earned her Masters degree. There was much pomp and circumstance, lengthy speeches, and really cool robes. We watched, along with other proud parents, family and friends, as hundreds of graduates marched into the auditorium. I don’t know exactly how many students convocated, only that it took over a half an hour for them all to enter the auditorium and get seated.

Aside from being lengthy, most of the speeches emphasized making the world a better place. I certainly hope my daughter and her fellow graduates reach that goal.
So what does graduation have to do with writing, aside from giving me a chance to brag? If I were making one of those speeches, I would have told the graduates that just because they’ve graduated, the learning doesn’t stop. In these days of rapidly changing information, lifelong learning is essential. Writers need to embrace the concept of lifelong learning as well. The writer who thinks she’s “graduated” when she finishes a book, wins a contest, or is published, misses the point. We never really graduate. We can always learn, always get better.

Here are a few ways writers can keep on learning:

Online classes – One of my favourite ways to continue to learn my craft is to take online classes. I’ve participated in classes with subjects such as how to conduct historical research, plotting (many of those), and creating sexual tension. Many well known authors, who’ve learned a thing or two about their subjects, host these classes. I’ve saved the lectures from many of the classes I’ve taken and refer to them often. If you’re a member of RWA, check out their website for classes being offered at http://www.rwanational.org/ Another good source of classes is the Mystery and Suspense chapter of RWA. They offer a wide range of classes, from police procedures and weaponry, to information relevant to any writer working in any genre.

Conferences and Workshops – We’ve talked here a lot about the Surrey International Writers Conference that many of the Chicks attended last October and some plan to attend again this year. The conference was a valuable place to network with other writers, learn more about the craft of writing, and meet editors and agents. Because I’m epublished, I’ve also attended EpiCon, the conference put on by EPIC or Electronic Published Internet Connection. This conference concentrates on some of the special needs of epublished authors as well as topics of interest to all writers. The conference I attended had a special emphasis on promotion. Whether you decide to attend a large conference such as the RWA Conference, (2010 and future sites of RWA conferences)a regional romance conference, or a conference like SIWC that caters to many genres, you’re sure to learn something new about writing.

Judge a contestThe Saskatchewan Romance Writers, the writing group that many of the Chicks belong to, ran the “We Dare You” contest for several years. I learned a lot from judging the work of other writers. I learned what worked and what didn’t. I discovered which openings grabbed me from the first page, the first paragraph, or the first sentence. My critiquing skills improved, and hopefully I was able to offer good advice on how the writer whose work I critiqued could better her work. Judging also gave me a little insight into what editors and agents go through. I could often tell from the opening lines whether the submission would grab me and make me want to read more. Sometimes I was able to apply those insights to my manuscripts. However, the biggest lesson I learned was that it is much easier to pick out flaws in someone else’s work than it is in your own!

Join a writing group or critique group – There are many reasons for joining a writing group. Writing is a solitary pursuit, so finding like-minded people to share the frustrations and successes is a joy. Writing and critique groups also provide learning opportunities for writers. Many groups provide critiquing for its members, and as I said, critiquing the work of other writers helps you learn lessons you can apply to your own writing. Receiving a critique is a learning experience as well. The insight of other writers can take your work in directions you may not have considered on your own. In addition, many writing groups offer information and workshops on a vast array of writing subjects. The Saskatchewan Romance Writers also maintains of library of writing books that can be borrowed by any member. And if you live in an area with no RWA chapters, or other like-minded writers, you can always turn to the Internet. RWA Online is a chapter of Romance Writers of America, and like it says, it's open 24/7.

Write a blog! – I’m sure the other Chicks will agree that we’ve learned a lot by creating and maintaining this blog. Not only have we learned the technical skills necessary to operate the blog, we’ve learned how to meet deadlines, how to promote ourselves, and how to come up with a post when the well feels very dry. I know my research skills have grown since I became involved with Prairie Chicks, and I also know that the more I write, the more I write. It’s given me extra confidence. Through my work on the Prairies, I’ve learned I can meet produce stories and articles others want to read. If I can do it on the Prairies, I can do it in my other writing as well.

These are some of the methods I’ve used to continue to learn, beyond my “graduation”. How do you continue to grow as a writer?


I'm a participant in the Long and Short of It Third Anniversity Party, August 2 to 29. LASR is giving away three Nook ebook readers from Barnes and Noble. Please go to http://www.longandshortreviews.com/promo.htm for more details.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Welcome Valerie Mann & Kate Richards of Got Romance Reviews


Kate Richards ~

FREE BOOKS – Well, it caught my attention too. As a reader whose habit was exceeding her budget, and since my picture was still on library Wanted posters in three counties from my teen years when books would disappear into the maelstrom that was my bedroom and I couldn’t afford to pay for them, the words ‘free books’ sent me into a tizzy. Reader review sites! Pick a book, read it, share my opinions (who doesn’t love to do that anyway) and get more free books. What a concept. I signed up at a large, well-respected site, entered their probation period, and followed their review format to the letter. I looked over the lists and made my selections, trying to be very careful not to enter the ISBN numbers incorrectly on my review and to meet the minimum number of words required. I wanted to be the best reviewer I could be. The oddest thing happened. Not only did I get all the free reads I could ever want, thrilling my husband at the dip in my monthly book budget, but I started writing again myself. Magic words, free books. For me they were the words that led to the following of a dream and the unlocking of a place in my mind that I didn’t even remember was there. Got Romance Reviews is a part of my dream. A year ago, I was a reader-reviewer. I’m still that, but I’m also an author and review site co-owner, with what I think is one of the best groups of reviewers out there. Many of them are authors also, and as busy as we are with our own writing, being reviewers give us a chance to do one of the things we love best…read!


Valerie Mann ~

I started reviewing on a whim too, to help a friend who was starting a new review site. A month later, she became ill and the entire website was dumped in my lap. At first, I was terrified. I’m an author but that doesn’t mean I had a clue how the publishing industry really worked! I had to hack into the email account, contact publishers and reviewers, put together a spreadsheets (ah, lovely spreadsheets, you’re my BFF) and pretend I knew what I was doing and convince others of that at the same time! Within a few days, I realized I loved what I was doing! How can it not be fun to give away free books in exchange for an opinion? And I made some great friends, including my partner, Kate, who I love even more than spreadsheets!

When the owner of the review site couldn’t come back, Kate and I decided to start a new review site, Got Romance Reviews, which we launched December 2009. We have fun, we’ve met some fantastic authors and dedicated reviewers and I like to think we’re respected in the review community. Sure, we’re minnows in the big review pond, but we like our little corner of the pond! We review all genre of romance, from sweet to erotica and encourage authors to email us about having their works reviewed at gotromancereviews@gmail.com.

Thanks for the opportunity to pick our reviewing brains!
You can find Got Romance on the 'net at their blog and on their Facebook page. You can also read my blog post of June 7 where I interviewed Valerie Mann about the review process.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger, Elana Johnson


Elana Johnson is a young adult science fiction and fantasy writer and contributing author to the QueryTracker.net blog. She is represented by Michelle Andelman of Lynn C. Franklin Associates, Ltd, and her debut novel, CONTROL ISSUES, will be published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) in summer 2011.

Elana is also the author of From the Query to the Call, an eBook on how to write a killer query letter, research and query literary agents, submit requests and how to handle "the call" when it comes.

The following is an interview with Elana.

Where do you get your ideas?

From much stewage. Some people dream. Some people just have things come to them. I think and think and think. I ask myself “What if?” And I don’t forget to live. The last idea I got came while on a visit to the Hansen Planetarium, a really cool place with tons of science gadgets.


Tell us about getting the process of getting a book deal for Control Issues.

Oh, the process. I could go on and on, and every journey is different, so keep that in mind. I signed with my agent in November, 2009. We did two rounds of revisions and she sent my book out in early February, 2010. I pretty much Googled every name and stalked them on twitter and stuff. I mean, that’s totally normal, right?

Two weeks later, my agent called, saying we had interest and that my book was going to acquisitions at a big house. I had no idea what that meant, even though I’d heard the term before. It’s basically a meeting with everyone (marketing, sales, publisher, editorial team, etc.) where the editor who wants to buy your book pitches it to the committee.

My editor must’ve rocked the pitch, because she made an offer on my book!

After that, my agent notified all the other houses and we waited another week for them to read and acquisition themselves. Then we accepted the first offer.

Then I waited to announce the deal, and that took a while too. Doesn’t everything in publishing? *nods*


How important is web presence?

Depends on who you ask, and you’re asking me, so I’m going to say it’s important. I think you should be Google-able, at the very least. Someone should be able to put your name and novel title into a search engine and find you.

That said, everyone has to decide what they can do with where they are in their lives. I’m online a lot, but that’s my choice and it’s something I love. In the end, great stories and great writing land agents and sell books. At least in the fiction market.


How would a writer know that their query is completely polished and ready to go out?

There’s always going to be something you can change. Even now, when I’m presenting to a room full of people, I look at my query and go, “I should’ve changed that.” Or “Is that confusing?”

You know?

For me, it’s a mental thing. It’s knowing that you’ve taken the time to research queries, write and polish your query, get feedback on it, and then rewrite it and get feedback on the rewrite.

It’s mental. Once you’re to 100% mentally, you can send it out and when the rejections come, you won’t have any doubt.

If you get a rejection and wonder, “Should I rewrite my query?” that’s a glaring red flag that you’re not at 100%, and therefore, probably shouldn’t be sending your query out. Remember that I had 142 rejections on my query alone – and never once did I think I needed to change a single word in it. It’s mental.


Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?

From one unpublished author to another, keep going! Learn more. Work harder. Give it all you’ve got. And then more. Learn, work, improve, persist. You’ll get there.

Oh, and sign up for WriteOnCon! (http://writeoncon.com) It’s going to be awesome, with many literary agents, authors, and editors. Best of all? It’s free.


Thanks for hanging out with the Prairie Chicks today, Elana. Good luck with Control Issues, we look forward to it's release!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Welcome Saturday's Guest Bloggers from Got Romance Reviews

Our guest bloggers on Saturday, July 17 will be Valerie Mann and Kate Richards of Got Romance Reviews. They'll talk about their start in the reviewing business. Please stop by and ask all the questions you've ever wanted to ask about reviewing romance novels. Or just stop by and say hello!



You can find Got Romance on the 'net at their blog and on their Facebook page. You can also read my blog post of June 7 where I interviewed Valerie Mann about the review process.

See you Saturday!

Play it again Sam

Oh No! Anne wrote about my topic yesterday. And worse: her blog is better than mine was going to be - I planned to  whine .

We have all the same problems, she and I. We haven't written in months, have several stories going at once and none are a flaming passion or they would be written by now. Family problems, in my case - autism, a down and dirty divorce, (not mine) a sociopath (mine) and, chronic depression. Interesting perhaps but somewhat distracting, not to mention debilitating. Anne and I apparently both have absolutely no interest whatsoever in cooking or eating.  She mentioned dismal spring. One more raindrop and all our flowers are going to succomb.

One more raindrop and frankly my dear, I won't give a damn.

Anne provided the answers for most of us to overcome the blocks that hold us back. I read all the links she gave us and picked up approximately 34 tips. Several things jumped out at me. I am going to try now to ask the questions Anne has answered.

Do you need a goal? I have been thinking about this for several months. It seems to me that Husband and I don't have any goals anymore except to golf every day the temperature is above zero, (him) and (for me) to hang out at the cottage and berate myself because I have all sorts of great ideas and no motivation. We need goals to work toward. On the other hand, we achieved our professional goals and retired. I have a wip or five, but at 69, I don't hope to see any published unless I can shake the lassitude, fire up the computer and make darn sure I do it quickly before I end up in a place for the badly bewildered - or worse.

Part of my problem is chronic depression.  That keeps me from revving up and accomplishing so much in a day, my sneakers start to smoke. Part is not turning things upside down. I don't see any point to setting a goal to write and have a book published. Why can't I see that as a goal? So what if it is published posthumously? What if it never gets published at all and the descendents pitch it?

Frankly, my dear, I won't be in any position to give a damn.

So, I need a goal.  Do you? Some people putt along steadily, without a goal and one day, the book is written and they are just as satisfied as they would be if it was a goal accomplished.

Are you afraid of failure? Or success? You have to think that one over carefully. It is amazing how many people are parked because they are afraid family, friends, neighbours, taxi drivers and grocery clerks - even the goldfish will know they failed. They didn't fail. They finished the project didn't they? They can always bury it in the backyard and never tell a soul that they wrote a book. That works.

Fear of success is another problem altogether because many people don't realize that is what is holding them back. What will happen after 'The Call'? All of us have worried, scurried and been awed by what all it takes to get a publisher to say yes, without considering if the outcome is too scary to face. Will you be embarrassed? Will people expect more of you?

Is it enough to have a goal of being published? Should you also set yourself to feeling accomplishment, pleasure, enjoyment of all the little high points along the way?

Do you ask yourself questions? What would happen if your character did this instead of that? What if your character demonstrated a whole new approach to solving the problems everyone has? Do you consider multiple solutions to your characters' conflicts? Will that kind of think session power you up?

Some people are journal writers who reflect on their work and all the ideas that pop up. For some people, that works. They open their journal and bingo, they see  something they wrote that sets them off in a burst of creativity. Some people carry a notebook at all times and jot down notes which may later be the kicker to a great book. If nothing else, it will remind them of all the funny people or situations they have seen and noted. Journal keeping is not for me. As a journalist, there wasn't time to note all these things and reflect on them. Hence, I am not one to keep a journal now. I have scraps of paper noting ideas all over the place and that is as close as I want to be toward contemplation and horror of horrors - 'Organized'! The very word is foreign, and as far as I am concerned, it is also a nasty thing that would keep me from knowing where I'm at and where everything else is at. There is no hope at all that I ever will be 'Organized', so I consider it an unnecessary word - dirty even. Just because I wrote a blog on organization doesn't mean I actually DO it if there is any way to wiggle out of doing it.

There are a couple of 'write-em-down and organize-them methods that I have tried and they worked for me, but not as motivation. I put a big piece of paper on the wall and scribble key points of the plot in some kind of order (not organized mind you). Looking at them and mentally taking them out or rearranging them helps.

Do you draw mind maps? You start with a theme or an idea in the centreand then you write down everything that comes to mind about that central theme and draw lines from each new idea to the central idea. Further ideas about each of the notes you just made are joined to it by lines and so on. For example, the theme is murder and that leads to ideas around that word, such as knife, dark, known, rain. Known may lead to old friend, fear, shock, disbelief. Shock can lead to cold, relative, sudden. You end up with a more or less circular drawing with progressive ideas branching out as far as you want to go. A flow chart allows you to see the ending and eliminate errors before you make them. Would that help you?

Successful writers have all said the same thing. Specify a time period that will be the same each day and darn well sit down and write during that time. I got the impression that using a set time period to write has to become a habit that you don't break unless the house is on fire or you are dead at the time.

Your internal critic has got to go by whatever means it takes to shut him/her up permanently. Shooting same is not a good plan. That critic has been so busy making you feel badly, it hasn't had time to keep up with the latest developments in its field. Therefore, it doesn't know what it is talking about. Who needs a critic like that? Dump him/her.

There are endless ideas to help get a writer get writing. I talked all this over with Husband this afternoon while we neglected the yard work. He said, "Just do it!" I think, now that he knows I haven't accomplished anything in months, his not-all-that-musical voice is going to ring in my ear. "Get at it and just do it" over and over and over and over.

He is very motivational.