Friday, August 30, 2013

First Page Friday

So glad it's Friday and we get another installment of First Page Friday!  Today we are talking a bit about hooks and backstory, something we can all work on I think. 

As always, thank you to our editors and authors who go to so much time and effort so we can all learn the craft of writing.

If you would like your first page critiqued by our amazing editors, submit your double-spaced, 12 pt font, first page to  We have two openings left in September, so hurry and submit! Critiques are scheduled in the order in which they are received.

See you next week!

The Entry
The Night is Gone

by A.R. Talley

Tristan didn’t remember his driveway being quite so long. The last time he had seen it, the trees lining the pavement were gray and bare. Now the oaks were in full bloom and alive with the green of a warm, wet summer. Tristan wondered what the other kids at the Midpoint Center for Drug and Alcohol Addiction would think of his home and his life here. Most shared a life similar to his—wealthy, respected in the community—the illusion of perfect families.

Even considering their shared backgrounds and addictions, Tristan had been different from the rest. Most of the kids were bored—turned to substance abuse for entertainment or rebellion. Most of them had come from broken homes where parents tried to make amends with money and leniency. Tristan’s home wasn’t broken—at least not in that sense. He had been raised in an atmosphere of family devotion and religious straightjackets. But, perhaps straightjacket was too harsh a word.

As all 7000 square feet of the brick colonial that he called home came into sight, Tristan knew on some level he had taken his privileged life for granted. His family was better than what most of those kids had. And he had almost squandered it for a momentary escape from standards he thought impossible to keep. No. He knew they were impossible to keep. But in retrospect, he wished he could. He really did want his life to be different now.

“We made some changes to your bedroom,” his mother said somewhat apologetically. Tristan had watched her closely in the mostly silent drive from the airport. Allison McKinney was petite, with a flair of auburn hair that she always wore up in some kind of hair clip. The only time Tristan could remember seeing his mother with her hair down was when he was little, when he and his twin sister, Tessa, would climb into her bed early in the morning for a cuddle. As a little boy, he remembered feeling proud—he had the prettiest mother of any of his friends.

“What kind of changes,” he asked.

“It may appear a bit Spartan to you,” his father answered.

Comments by Heidi From Eschler Editing

What works:

The writing is solid, grammatically clean, with no major mistakes. It is a promising enough start, with perhaps the exception of too much backstory, which is easily resolved by starting at a different point in time. You’ve got great potential here for a human drama full of pain, struggle, and conflict. The nature of the struggle has got lots of room for your character to grow over the course of the story. So let’s look at a few things that could get in the way of a great story.

What needs re-thinking:

  • At this point, we don’t have any solid reason to become emotionally invested in the main character, and you need that emotional connection to go from good to great. What reason do we really have to care for this character? The initial perception is that Tristan is whiny and perhaps a bit spoiled. 
His “excuse” for his actions is that he couldn’t keep “impossible standards.” That may come across the reader like he was too weak to keep them. What standards are being referred to here? Staying out of drugs or alcohol? Know lots of people who kept that one. No sleeping around? Know a lot that kept that also. Keep up good grades? While working to help the family? And being honest and kind? Ditto. My guess is that most of your audience will have kept some standard or another, and to them, this will immediately sound like the cop-out that it is (he wasn’t bored into drugs—no, it was his religious family that made him do it). Even if there was a real extenuating circumstance, we don’t know that yet, so this is what people will be likely to think. No standards are impossible to keep. History is full of examples who held themselves to values (also plenty of examples of people who didn’t with sad results). So basically, he’s not strong enough to keep a rule?

  • Tristan wondered what the other kids at the Midpoint Center for Drug and Alcohol Addiction would think of his home and his life here. Most shared a life similar to his—wealthy, respected in the community—the illusion of perfect families. But his life isn’t similar to the other kids. For one, his family doesn’t appear to be broken in the traditional sense. And it’s stated that he isn’t bored. The only similarity seems to be the wealth. Also, if the kids come from broken families, how are those families maintaining the illusion of perfection? Mixed signals here.
Another vague message: He had been raised in an atmosphere of family devotion and religious straightjackets. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum: family devotion co-existing with fanaticism?

But, perhaps straightjacket was too harsh a word. So is he backpedaling? Should we assume that this is just his opinion—and one that may be distorted at that? The line about religious strait-jackets is good because it catches our attention and pushes buttons but we have no evidence that his family is fanatic other than his opinion. The idea could be really intriguing if you expanded more on defining the strait-jacket rather than leaving it to the reader—in this isolated case—because our assumptions don't bond us. But it has potential.
  • Speaking of family, it is odd that we have three whole paragraphs where we don’t even know his parents are there. Then we get a bit of a tangent about his mother’s hair and appearance, but it doesn’t seem to have much relevance to the story. Perhaps it does, but this may not be the best place to explore that. 
  • No driving force. What is the real problem of the story going to be? The conflict is poorly defined—we have a hint of past conflict (he’s coming home from rehab) and we can guess about future potential conflict, but it’s unspoken, vague. In non-fiction, you have a thesis statement. Usually within the first paragraph or page, you tell your audience what your essay/article is about. Fiction actually works better when you borrow that rule—let your audience know quickly what the conflict/problem is going to be. In this case, is it that Tristan is weak enough that he is going to risk falling back? Did he fall in with a bad crowd and they are going to try and drag him down again?
Or will it be conflict with his family? His mother? His father? A younger sibling that is going down the wrong path? A dysfunctional family? In that case, what is the underlying problem in the family, beyond pat answers like “religious strait-jackets”?
  • How long was he in rehab? Why the Spartan room? The reason for that escapes me. Is he likely to be suicidal? Is this punishment from his family? Seems very strange without explanation. 
  • We are in Tristan’s head a lot (that can be good) but opening with more action would create more intensity. He’s driving (or being driven) and thinking and looking at how the scenery has changed, and unless he’s got amazing, compelling thoughts, it’s kind of slight. Action is better, or at least more dialogue. Show more, tell less. Instead of so much explaining and labeling Tristan’s emotions, try instead to demonstrate them with his action, body language, and dialogue.
Next Steps: 
  • Consider starting the story someplace where you get more action, more bang for your buck. For instance, Tristan walking back into class? The whispers and stares from the other kids in the hallway. Having one of his old friends try to talk him back into his addiction? Have his dealer confront him in the parking lot at high school?
  • Let the reader know upfront what the main conflict will be, or at least hint at it. 
  • Look for places to show instead of tell. Telling plays an important role in most stories, so you don’t need to avoid it completely. Just be sure that you keep it balanced with plenty of action and dialogue. 
Everyone loves a story where the protagonist overcomes their weaknesses and redeems themselves. If that’s where your story is heading, that could be a great read. Even if you take off on another angle, it seems like you’ve got lots of room for creating a story packed with emotion and drama.

Happy writing and best of luck.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Four Tips When Using Experts To Help Your Story Feel Real

Last night after the sprint I got a chance to talk to an assistant district attorney about my law enforcement scenes in Pocket Full of Posies.  It was so interesting to me to hear her take on it.

"This part of the scene worked, but this part didn't.  Here's why."

"This is what should be happening.  Cops know the score, your guy should be doing this."

"Here's the way this procedure would work in a unit.  You've got to get that part right."

She took apart two of my scenes in short order, but I'm so grateful to have her insight.  Having an expert look at my work always ups the ante in making my characters feel real.

But how do you get an expert?

For me, I've been very lucky in my networking at conferences, in writer's groups, and just asking.  A lot of professionals are happy to help, but here's some tips.

  • Have your questions ready.  Know exactly what you need them to tell you.  For example, I needed to know what was the exact procedure and consequences if a cop was being accused of taking drug evidence from a crime scene.  Be specific and be prepared.

  • If they agree to look at your scene/work, give them plenty of time.  They are busy people and need flexibility. For example, don't say, I need this back by tomorrow.  Be respectful of their time.

  • Don't be embarrassed to tell them you are researching for a story, but be professional at the same time.  For my research I'm usually working with military and law enforcement people, so I've learned to get right to the point.  Although when my son was in the hospital recently, his cardiothoracic surgeon had a brother who was in the DEA and when I was asking him a few questions I realized that surgeons are just as blunt and to the point as the military people I've talked to.  Don't take offense, sometimes it all depends on the type of person you are talking to.  When I was researching oil leases in the Middle East, the expert I talked to there seemed to have all day to chat.  I loved that.  When I was talking to a Marine about his experience in Iraq, it led to a charity effort called Skittles for Soldiers.  You never know where your contact can lead you or your story, but as a rule, no matter what, always stay professional and friendly.

  • Thank them for their help and include them in your acknowledgments.

I have really appreciated the men and women who help my characters and my stories feel more real.  I have met some incredible people and I like to think a little bit of them live on in my books.  Meeting new people, both before and after the book is published, is one of the biggest perks of being an author for me.

(And now back to fixing the scene the ADA was kind enough to help me with!)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

We're Sprinting!

Okay, bloggy friends, you know how this work.  Come back in fifteen minutes and give your word count report in the comments section.

Ready, set, GO!!!!!

Word Count Wednesday

Well, in a little snafu of my own making, the self-editing post I'd written for Jordan McCollum's Secret Sauce series was posted today.  I thought it might not have been what she was looking for and that it wasn't going to be posted, so I posted the first third of it on the blog yesterday.  But then today it was posted!  So, if you want to see my secret sauce on self-editing in its entirety you can click over to Jordan's blog here

It has been a great writing week, although I've changed the ending events twice and so I haven't quite finished this work in progress.  I am hoping to do so this weekend, though.  I added just over 2000 words, deleted those and added 1500 more.  Haha.

How did you do this week?

(I will be sprinting tonight at the regular time 8 p.m.  I hope you can join me!)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Self-Editing Tips & Does Poor Editing Make You Stop Reading a Book?

A lot of people ask me what my routine is for self-editing my books (since I was a former editor).  I have a three step system that I use for my manuscript and today I'd like to share the first step.  It's the easiest step and the one that makes me feel good because I can usually check it off pretty quickly.

I call it the CLAW 

Check for basic editing errors like:
  • Page numbering and blank pages
  • Too many adjectives or adverbs  “It was a beautiful sunny June day and the lush, emerald green grass reflected the bright yellow sunlight and hurt my eyes.  Or, “She desperately wanted to kiss him passionately.”
  • Tense consistency and subject/verb agreement  “He couldn't believe that his boss had fired him over a typographical error. He is a great worker and always turns in his projects on time."  Subject/verb agreement, “He run to the store.”
  • Clichés “She’ll come crawling back to me.”  “He couldn’t beat around the bush any longer.”
  • Repetitious descriptions  Weave in your first descriptions and make them powerful enough that you don’t have to beat your reader over the head with more.
  • Favorite words “really”  “just”  “some”  “that”
  • Too many dialogue tags or weird tags   James laughed at her pain. “Don’t bother trying to get away,” he replied.  We don’t need the replied because we know it’s James talking.  And use “said,” in most instances because when you try to get fancy “he pontificated,” or “she remonstrated,” it can take the reader out of the story.
  • Chapter or POV breaks.  Double check that those are correct and done.

Let someone else read it that will give me good feedback.  Not my mother or grandma, but someone who will be honest and somewhat brutal. 

Always print it out and read a hard copy.  Mistakes will jump out at me that way.  Sometimes putting it into a different font can also be helpful in spotting mistakes.

Walk-away for a few hours, days or weeks and come back with fresh eyes.  I’ve created something and I need a bit of time to enjoy that, but I keep thinking about it, and when I come back to it, I’m ready to make the changes I need to.  Anything that doesn’t advance the story must be cut out, even if it’s my favorite part.

So, now I’ve done the basic CLAW checklist, then I send it out to beta readers for some feedback.  But I don’t wait around for them to get back to me.  While they have it, I print out the new copy and read it front to back for any other little changes I might want to make.  Once that’s done, I’m ready for the second round of self-editing.  

We'll talk about that round next time.  

Tell me this, though, do you have a routine for self-editing?  Anything that works for you?  Is there a point where you'll stop reading a book because there's too many typos or editing issues?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Double Whammy Book Review

I have two books to tell you about today.  Let's start with Finding Sheba by Heather Moore

When I started reading Finding Sheba it was like Heather Moore had blended her talent with historicals and contemporary all into one book.  We have a story thread of the Queen of Sheba and what's going on in her life after her father dies and she goes on a mission to avenge his death.  I was so fascinated with the way she was portrayed and the theories that were put forward on her life and what could have happened.  The research was impeccable and I really was pulled into wanting to know more about her.

The second storyline was Omar Zagouri, an undercover Israeli agent who hates his boss, misses his ex-girlfriend and has to find the remains of the Queen of Sheba before the antiquities criminal organization does. If he doesn't, the political ramifications could be irreversible and deadly.  I loved how real he felt, how many flaws he had, and the relationship he had with Mia.  So, so good.

The third storyline was Jade the American archaeologist whose professor is murdered, but she still goes on the internship to the Middle East anyway.  She meets up with Lucas, an Egyptologist, who also has his own theories of what happened to the Queen of Sheba.  They criss-cross into several countries trying to unravel the clues and artifacts left behind until they realize their own lives are in danger.  It's definitely a storyline where you don't know who to trust and the reader experiences a whole range of emotions with Jade.

At first I liked one storyline better than another and was tempted to skip ahead to that storyline's parts, but I'm glad I didn't.  There were beats to each story that by about fifty pages in made it impossible to put down. The suspense and the romance in all three stories had me up until one in the morning turning pages just to see what would happen.  And the end did not disappoint.  There was so much emotion wrapped up in all of the stories I felt drained, satisfied, and excited for the next Omar Zagouri adventure to start.  Heather has really raised the bar.  I don't know how she will outdo this book with her next one, but I know she will.  I highly recommend this one to anyone who loves great suspense, with a splash of romance.  And it's almost like you're getting three stories for the price of one, too, so win/win for everyone!

Here's the back copy:

For centuries, historians have theorized the Queen of Sheba as only a seductive legend, and scholars have debated over the legitimacy of King David or King Solomon. When undercover Israeli agent, Omar Zagouri, stumbles onto a tomb in Northern Jerusalem he unknowingly finds the final clue that threatens to overthrow government claim to the Holy Land, pits wealthy collectors against one another, and sends ruthless archaeologists scrambling to find the queen’s secret burial place. An assassination attempt on the Coptic Pope, His Holiness, Patriarch Stephanus II, is only the first in the chain of lethal crimes. Omar must find a way to prevent the greatest discovery of the century from becoming the most deadly.

The second book I want to tell you about today is God Doesn't Write With a Pen by Christi Lynn Pauline . This is a non-fiction book about a Fangamou family from Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.  The father, Blema, was a pharmacist and accused of selling medicine to rebels.  He manages to get out of the very dangerous situation alive, but in order to protect his family he can't go home.

This book tells the incredible journey for this husband, wife, and children to be reunited as a family in the face of almost insurmountable odds.  The hardships were so difficult and it is humbling to read how much this family went through to be together.  I felt completely inspired by their journey, their courage and faith while in such horrible circumstances, and all that they went through to be together and come to America. A must-read for anyone who needs a reminder of how blessed we are to live in this country and that even during times of trouble we still can choose to trust in the Lord and know that we are in His care.

Here's the back copy:

Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, is war-torn and chaotic after the election of 1994. The Fangamou family are ripped apart and are forced to flee for their lives, not knowing if they'll ever see each other alive again. This incredible true story recounts the Fangamous' amazing journey of hardships, miracles, reunion, and life-altering experiences to help us recognize the tender mercies in our own lives.


"The story of the Fangamou family is both compelling and inspiring. Christi Pauline has done a great job of capturing the turbulent emotions of this family as they pass through trial after trial with continued trust in the Lord. It is a fascinating and rewarding read." John H. Groberg, emeritus General Authority and author

"Occasionally, from the crisis of conflict and tragedy, heroes emerge. They inspire us with their courage, determination, and faith in the power of love. This story is a testimony of the triumph of the human spirit." John Lund, Ed.D and author

"Christi Pauline has captured the tender emotions of this poignant tale of triumph over tremendous heartache." Greg Olsen, artist

Friday, August 23, 2013

First Page Friday

I love it when we have critiques like this.  Makes for a great beginning to the weekend.  I hope you enjoy it, too.

If you would like to have your first page critiqued, please submit your DOUBLE-SPACED, 12 pt. font first page to  September is quickly filling up, but there are still spots left.

As always, thank you to Ms. Shreditor and our author for their hard work.

See you next week!

The Entry
by Kathy Kale

The upper floor office suite in the upscale Prosperity Capital Group Building said it all: Art Farber was finally on top. With the fall of his major competitor, Art’s company was set to become the number one manufacturer of chemotherapy drugs in the country. He had to expand, go big, and this was just the beginning.

Missy, the realtor, towering beside him, reeled off the selling features. Twelve foot high ceilings, rare black marble floors, teak trim imported from India. At twenty-nine, she was ambitious, both a digger and a climber, a reminder of four ex-wives. Missy wanted the commission, but flaunted the low interest rate. If Art assumed the terms of the current mortgage, he could lock in an excellent price.

He strode to the north window and stared at a wall of skyscrapers off Broadway. He had to ramp up production and needed more space. Drug manufacturing could stay in the New Jersey warehouse, but top management would move. Production was set to double. Art made a four-drug cocktail that was used to combat leukemia, breast, pancreatic, liver, skin, kidney, stomach, and colon cancer. Everything under the sun except brain cancer, thanks to the blood-brain barrier. The complete treatment of thirty-two injections over an eight-week period cost forty thousand dollars, retail. With one out of four people coming down with cancer every year, and no end to the war in sight, he had a guaranteed market.

Missy stood at the doorway. “It won’t last long,” she said. “Not at this price. Not in this location.”

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

I absolutely love the first sentence of this story, particularly the bit at the end: “Art Farber was finally on top.” That’s a loaded sentence right there. If Art Farber is on top in the first sentence of the story, there’s really only one direction for him to go from here. (Hint: It’s not up.) To paraphrase the last sentence of the first paragraph, this is just the beginning indeed.

This first page sets up a lot of stakes right off the bat: Art has established himself as a leader in the cancer drug field, and his business is booming so fast that he can hardly keep up with the demand. We also get enough description of Missy, his realtor, to suggest that she may be a major character in the story. (However, the description of her as the prototypical ambitious career woman is a bit reductive, but I imagine we’ll learn more about her later.) If I’m right that Missy is to be a major character, it sounds like the kind of high-powered couple that can go one of two ways: 1) They conquer the world together, or 2) They fall from the top together. It would be interesting to find out if I was right about any of these first-page impressions.

Missy does serve a larger narrative purpose than merely selling Art his office space. As Art describes her, he lets it slip that she reminds him of his four ex-wives. That’s a pretty hefty rap sheet. Readers can start to make some assumptions about Art now that they know this tidbit. In all likelihood, he is married to his job and doesn’t have much time to build real relationships with other people. We’re left wondering what else he has done to make four separate marriages fail. (Perhaps it’s unfair of me to assume that the divorces were his fault, but he is the common denominator here.)

One thing I like in particular about this first page is that it takes place in New York, but it’s not a touristy depiction of the city. It feels organic and not like a vision of the city culled from Google and travel guides. (I’ve read some published books set in New York and was convinced the authors had never experienced the city beyond Google.) I think what this first page gets right is that the description of the city doesn’t linger too long on tired NYC clichés—e.g., “towering skyscrapers,” “the bustle of the city streets,” etc.

A minor fact-checking detail: I was floored by the “one out of every four people coming down with cancer every year” statistic, so I did a bit of research. From what I can surmise, it’s not that one out of every four people gets cancer every year; instead, one out of every four deaths is from cancer. I’d recommend revising the sentence to reflect this distinction. It’s still a pretty sobering statistic.

Overall, there’s not much I would change here beyond some minor punctuation-level tweaks. This first page seems submission-ready.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Coming to the End

Well, thanks to all the great writing sprints we've had, I am almost done with my work-in-progress.  All the months of research, drafting, and editing is quickly coming to an end.  I hope today is the day where I get to write the end, but it might not be.  It depends on how much computer time I get this afternoon.

But I'm still happy to be at this point.  My critique team is busy helping me make things better (I'll be sending the end to them soon so they're not in suspense!) and soon the revision process will also be at an end. It's like my little book journey is almost at its destination and I'm getting excited.  Yes, I know there will still be two more rounds of revision and a final copyedit, but still, I'm CLOSE.

It's a great feeling.

It sort of reminds me of how I feel after I finish reading a really great book---like I didn't want it to end, but it was SO worth the read.

Read any good books like that recently?  How's your writing coming?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We're Sprinting!

Okay, hopefully there's someone to sprint with tonight!

You know the drill---meet back here in fifteen and report word count in the comments.

Ready, Set, GO!!

Word Count Wednesday & The Notes Are Coming In

I finally feel like I'm back in the land of the living!  And I looked at my manuscript today.  Thankfully, during my son's hospital stay and the chaos that ensued, my book was with some beta readers and my critique group.  I've gotten two sets of notes back so far and today I opened them.  As usual, it was dripping in red highlights, but I am so glad my people catch things.  One part really made me laugh because I had a detective talking to his partner about the situation and my critique partner pointed out that, you know, they are detectives and could actually do something besides talk about the situation.  She was right.  Detectives could detect.

The other set of notes that came back were from my friend who is a district attorney and keeps me on the straight and narrow with procedures, crime scene stuff, etc.  She is an amazing person to have on my team and always gives me great tips on keeping things real.

Getting these notes back really make me want to dig in on my manuscript again, so I think I will.  I have a bit of time with most of my kids in school now and my fingers are itching to type.  Of course this is my roundabout way of confessing that my word count this week was again zero, but I'm hoping to change that starting today.

How did you do this week?

(Also, if you can sprint tonight, let me know in the comment section. I don't want to sprint alone anymore because it's not any fun.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book Review: Lord Haversham Takes Command

I had a bit of time to do some reading in the past week and one of the favorites of the books I read was Heidi Ashworth's regency romance, Lord Haversham Takes Command.

Mira is about to have her debut into society when she gets the news that her brother's friend Harry, whom she has always loved, has come back from his Grand Tour abroad.  It's been four years and she is ecstatic. Her feelings quickly turn to dismay, however, when Harry is now dressed in lace and acting like a "fribble" asking everyone to now call him Bertie.  Her parents are aghast and while they had thought that Harry and Mira would make a love match, now they think Mira might best be suited to her cousin George, the Duke of Marcross.  A man Mira definitely does not want.  On her family's journey to London, however, she sees a glimpse of the Harry she once knew and loved and knows there is something else going on, especially when gunshots ring out.

Harry does his best to hide his secret life from her, while pining away, hoping she doesn't end up marrying George.  He was such a great hero, though, and I felt for him.  The double life isn't for the faint of heart, for sure.  There are quite a few moments that made me laugh, especially when Harry's mother throws a party, but there's also some sigh-worthy romance thrown in and a good bit of suspense---the three best things to have in a novel I think.  But best of all, the author gives us a really great ending.  My only criticism was that sometimes it felt like we were hit over the head that Harry was a secret service agent and he couldn't tell anyone his secret but he really wanted to tell his secret, but well, then it wouldn't be secret anymore.  And I know this is the fourth book in a series and I felt like I missed some inside jokes because I hadn't read the previous one where Sir Anthony meets his wife (which I want to read now because it sounds intriguing!)  But other than those small things, it was a really great read for this regency romance fan.

Here's the back copy:

Lord Haversham feels as if he is always running, first from Lord and Lady Avery, his foolish parents, then from the consequences of a schoolboy prank gone awry. Now a secret service agent to the young Queen Victoria, he has run back to England from traitors who seek his life. Little does he know he is running into danger of a different kind; the perceptive, sapphire-blue gaze of his childhood love, Miranda Crenshaw. How is he to win her heart without giving away his secret and endangering the life of the Queen?

Mira's parents, Sir Anthony and Lady Crenshaw, had always assumed their daughter would wed her lifelong friend, Harry. However, when he returns to England after a long absence, gone is the boy they had known and loved. Instead he is Bertie, a silly fop exactly like his flibbertigibbet parents. As such, her parents feel obliged to wed her to George, the young Duke of Marcross, whom Mira despises. Instead, she dreams of the man Harry was meant to be. When she catches a glimpse of him beneath his silly facade, she must find a way to persuade her parents he is the man for her--before he once again runs out of her life.

Monday, August 19, 2013

First Day of School--Mom Footloose Parody

Well, as you all know, last week was a horrible week for me and I didn't get a lot done.  Which is a problem since today was the first day of school for my kids.  I bet you can imagine me trying to get all the back to school clothes shopping done in one day and topping it off with school supply shopping and trying to get my house in some semblance of order.  Then trying to get all my little people where they needed to be.

Yeah, it's been a busy day.

I did see this video on Facebook, however, and it made me laugh, so that's what I'm sharing with you today.

I hope you had a great Monday and that you laughed at least once.  :)

Friday, August 16, 2013

First Page Friday

I'm excited for today's First Page Friday because we're talking about introducing characters.

As always, thank you to our author and editor for all their time and effort.  If you would like your first page critiqued by a national editor please submit your double-spaced 12 pt. font first page to

See you next week!

The Entry
by Ellen Bahnsen

“Are you ready to take on Graham by yourself,” Bruce asked.

“Yes, I am,” Jillian lied. Jillian McConaghy sat with her supervisor Raina Goldstein and her husband Bruce for dinner at Budekan restaurant in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Raina and Bruce were leaving Monday morning for a long-deserved, one-month cruise along the Mediterranean. She wondered if Raina knew how she felt about their boss. Jillian feared to be alone with Graham. Never, ever would she tell to anyone, but she had a huge crush – more than a crush – on their boss, the young and attractive Graham Parker. She was in love with the out-of-wedlock son of Arthur Bosch, owner, CEO, and President of Bosch Consolidated.

Raina had told Jillian in her initial interview that she worked at Bosch Consolidated for over twenty-five years and worked for Graham Parker the young Chief Operating Officer for the last two. Jillian worked as Raina’s assistant the summer before her senior year at college and since she graduated five months ago. Jillian held a degree in public relations from Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey; however, the recession only afforded her the opportunity to work as a secretary for a holding company in Center City Philadelphia. Bosch Consolidated, outside of its main shipping business, owned several companies, including a real estate agency and a small public relations firm in which she hoped to transfer eventually. She needed to prove herself first with Raina and then with Graham.

After Bruce paid the check, he escorted the ladies from the table. Jillian spied Neal Bosch, the young Chief Financial Officer at Bosch Consolidated and Graham’s half-brother. He sat at the bar watching her. A tall, statuesque brunette-haired woman sat next to him observing the door with impatience. Jillian thought Neal approachable and very attractive. He gave her a charming smile so she smiled back. She heard the office gossip about Graham and Neal. They were born six months apart with Neal as the oldest. Arthur Bosch had an affair with Graham’s mother while married to Neal’s mother. She also knew Mr. Bosch had two older daughters from his first marriage, a younger son, Bryce, who also worked at Bosch Consolidated, from his third marriage, and now there were twin, six-year old girls from Mr. Bosch’s fourth marriage. Graham was one of seven children – all half siblings.

Heidi Brockbank from Eschler Editing Comments

What Works

The Bosch family’s rather unconventional genesis could be very interesting. There’s definitely material here for satire, social commentary, or dark humor. You’ve also put a lot of thought into adding details to help establish the setting and bring the reader up to speed with what I assume is going to be a central issue to the story, given the amount of focus on Graham and his unusual family dynamics. However, you want to be careful not to go the other direction and overwhelm your audience with so much information all at once.

Things to Consider 

There is a multitude of people/relationships the reader has to track. Imagine being set down in the middle of a party with people you’ve never met, and having all these introductions and backgrounds and relationships given to you in two minutes, and then you spend the rest of the party totally befuddled about who’s who and what’s what. That’s what too much info can do to the best of readers. In this beginning, we are introduced to seventeen characters, either by name or implication: Jillian, her supervisor Raina, Raina’s husband Bruce, Jillian’s boss Graham, his father Arthur Bosch and his half-brothers Neal and Bryce, a nameless brunette who appears to be with Neal, Arthur’s two daughters from another marriage, Graham’s mother that Arthur had an affair with, twin daughters from yet another marriage, not to mention his four marriages. Assuming all (or most) of these people know each other to some degree, that’s 136 different relationships created by that group. And they are all complete strangers to the reader. You see the problem.

Another problem I see right at the start—it’s unclear that Bruce is Raina’s husband. I had to read the paragraph twice before I realized that Jillian wasn’t calmly sending her husband off on vacation with another woman. I’d look for ways to avoid bringing an unnecessary character at this point—so give Bruce the ax, at least for the time being. He’s part and parcel of the plethora of people we don't know anything about so we can't instantly make the right connections.

Aside from characters, the reader also has to try and keep straight their titles, the corporate structure of Bosch Consolidated, Jillian’s resume and work history, and the Goldstein’s travel plans. While it’s true that you want to give enough information in the first pages of a story so that your audience can get their bearings and have an idea of what is going on, information on this magnitude can drown the reader and wash them out to sea before they even get to the good part of the story. More importantly, too much information too soon leaves no room for more essential information: thoughts, feelings, emotions, and motivations.

The main thing is that you want to give good information to the reader. Too little information can be just as deadly to your story as too much. But the information has to be timely and relevant and must aid in setting up the story-worthy problem and engaging our curiosity right from the start. A lot of the information in this opening could wait for a few more pages, or even a few more chapters.

Where’s the Problem?

In addition, I can’t find the real hook in any of this. It may be there, hidden from view, or the excess info may simply be acting like a magician’s sleight of hand to hide the fact that there really isn’t a substantial hook. Where is the problem for the main character? What is the event that is changing his/her world?

There’s the out-of-wedlock son. This would be a grave problem in a regency romance. An illegitimate child could not inherit the lands or the title. Graham would not be able to play a major role at his father’s company or even possibly be allowed to mingle in polite society. Nowadays, this doesn’t hold the same onus. Even if your personal ethics or creed has reservations against having children outside of marriage, and even though children born outside of marriage have definite financial, educational, and social disadvantages, society has shifted completely in how they are received in general, so I don’t see that being a big stumbling block in Jillian’s relationship with Graham.

Jillian has a crush on the boss—pretty typical if your boss is handsome and you are young and naïve. But I’m not sure that’s gripping enough to be the story-worthy problem. She’s scared of him, but I’d guess shy is a more accurate description. Unless you want to imply that she’s attracted to him, but he has a dark side that she’s seen hints of in the past. That could get our attention.

Showing versus Telling:

You want to swap out some of the telling for showing. Give us a more interactive scene with Jillian as the central player. What if this story started with women at the office cooler dishing over their hot boss? Jillian could be part of the conversation, but at the same time, you could show her internal thoughts as counterpoint to the outward conversation. The reader could compare/contrast the women’s attitudes to Graham next to Jillian’s, who could be cool, nonchalant, or flippant on the outside, but inside, she could be in the throes of a massive, unrequited crush. You could even have Graham walk by and interact with the women. Would he be charming and flirt with them? Would he be all work and no play, and growl at them to get back to work? You’ve got a lot of ways to introduce us to the hero and heroine.

Every story needs a story-worthy problem. For romance, a good working model is to have a short-term problem and a long-term problem. These could be thought of as a surface or external problem which brings the couple together and a deeper, often internal problem, such as a character flaw or painful experience in their past that creates conflict and presents a barrier that makes it difficult for the couple to be together. Graham’s family history has potential for lots of emotional pain. He may be distrustful of relationships in general, due to his father’s poor example of marital fidelity. Jillian should have her own internal problems. Without these deeper problems adding conflict and tension to the story, you end up with weak tea.

Your Next Steps

Consider limiting the number of characters to three or less in the opening page. You’ve got an entire book to introduce the rest of the gang, giving the reader a chance to get to know them one by one.

Show more, tell less. Use action and dialogue to create a scene that lets the reader experience the unfolding events without relying too much on narrative summary. Instead of telling the readers about Graham’s unusual family, let them experience it through the characters’ interactions with each other. There is room for telling, but keep the balance tilted to more showing and you’ll end up with a more engaging story.

Check out Leigh Michael’s On Writing Romance. It has lots of great examples on how to work short and long-term problems into your plot.

I’m interested to see where you go with this story. A well-written romance is fun and entertaining. It’s always satisfying to see two people overcome the obstacles that keep them apart and find true happiness. Best of luck and happy writing!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cover Reveal for Pocket Full of Posies

I am so excited to show you all my new cover for my novel Pocket Full of Posies coming out October 1st.

Don't you love it?  (I can't wait for this one to come out.)  Tell me what you think!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Word Count Wednesday

If any of you follow me on social media you know my son was taken by ambulance to the hospital last Friday morning for a collapsed lung.  Things haven't gone as we'd hoped and he had surgery yesterday to remove part of his lung.  So, I haven't done much (or any) writing this week, even though I'm sitting in a hospital room most of the time.  My brain is fried and only really thinking about my son.  I hope you had a better word count week (and week in general) than I did.

So tell me some good news---how did you do this week?

I won't be able to sprint tonight, but I hope you all get some great word counts in.  I'll pick it up again next week. (Hopefully)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I Won a RONE Award for Best Suspense Novel of 2012!

Last Friday at the Romance Novel Convention there was a RONE award ceremony.  You might remember back in May it was announced I was a finalist and I was SO excited.  I didn't actually think I would win once I saw the other finalists, but I was thrilled to be included on the list.

I knew I wasn't going to be able to be in attendance because I was going to be out of the country, so I asked my friend Jewel Adams to accept the award for me in case I won.  I even wrote an acceptance speech just in case, but I felt silly doing it because I thought it would all be for naught anyway.  Here's what I wrote:

"I am thrilled to have won this award and I am so sorry I couldn’t be there in person.  Thank you to my friend Jewel Adams for accepting on my behalf. 

First of all, I’d like to salute my fellow nominees for their dedication and hard work that elevates our genre.  Thank you!  I’d like to also thank all those involved with the RONE awards for their hard work¾the judges, the fans who voted, and everyone at InD’Tale magazine, especially their reviewers and staff.  I’m so grateful to my critique group, Jordan McCollum and Emily Clawson who made All Fall Down a better book, to all my beta readers and cheerleaders who helped me get it done, and to my fans who have supported my writing for so many years.  I have the best fans in the world!  I’d also like to thank my family, my husband Brian and my eight children.  I could never do any of this without you and I’m so grateful for your support in everything I do.  I love you all more than words could ever say. 

This award means so much to me.  Writers are nothing without readers, so I definitely share this award with everyone who reads and enjoys my books.  I hope you all find a new author to try and a great book to read tonight.  Thank you all!"

So, I was sitting in my son's hospital room late last Friday night (he was taken by ambulance to the hospital that morning for a collapsed lung) when suddenly a tweet came through from Heather Moore congratulating me on my win.  I couldn't believe it and asked her if she was serious.  She was!  I WON!  Then Annette Lyon tweeted me and confirmed it as well. Thanks you two! I still can't believe it.  I won Best Suspense Novel of 2012 for All Fall Down. 

Here is a picture of the award:

It's not a great picture of it because hospital room tables are small and I didn't take a pic of me holding it yet because I look frightful, but I will.  When things are normal again.  I just couldn't wait to share my happy news with you all because I think the nurses are sick of hearing about it.  Haha.  So, YAY!  Thank you RONE award people and InD'Tale magazine and all my bloggy friends.  You are awesome.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: The Bleiberg Project

Today I want to tell you about a book by French author David Khara. It is a thriller, called The Bleiberg Project and it's about experiments that started under the Nazi regime and an organization that have continued that work to present day.  A novel concept to be sure with lots of intrigue.

It has a strong plotline, but the thing that stood out to me was the way it mixes a lot of history with events taking place in our modern world.  I liked learning more about that time period.  It was fascinating to me to look at history from that perspective, but of course this book isn't all history and mostly takes place present-day, but the things I learned made me think about what was suffered by millions under Hitler's regime. There were times, however, when the switching back and forth between Nazi Germany and present-day was confusing and I had to go back to the chapter head to see where we were. So, as much as I enjoyed the history parts, it was sometimes jarring to be taken out of the story for them.

There were also a lot of point of view changes from the main characters to minor villains.  That had its advantages because if I didn't like a particular character, I merely had to read a page or two more and I would be in someone else's perspective.  I think my favorite character was the Israeli hitman who had a history and background and a way of looking at things that was fascinating.   (As a note to my gentle readers, there is also swearing throughout the book and violence but not a lot of gore.)  I liked reading something different from a French author and thought they had solid writing skills.

There is a giveaway associated with this book.  Anyone who comments in the comment section will be entered into a drawing for a .mobi or epub version of the book.  Here is more info on the title.

The Bleiberg Project
Could secret human experimentations be
carried out worldwide?

a thriller with action, killings, this has a WWII element
Genre: thriller/espionage

The Bleiberg Project by French author David Khara, adapted into English by blockbuster movie translator Simon John, combines non-stop action, loads of espionage and unforgettable characters. This prize-winning spy novel, the first in a series, took France by storm when it was first published, reaping superlatives: "Spellbinding," "exceptional," "staggering," “captivating," "brilliant," "astounding," "fascinating."

1942, Poland. The head of the SS meets secretly with a scientist in charge of a major Third Reich project. Present day. After late night with yet another woman whose name he doesn’t remember, self-pitying golden boy trader Jay Novacek learns that his long-lost father has died, precipitating events that lead him to board a plane to Zurich under his real name, Jeremy Corbin . He’s got a Nazi medallion in his pocket, a hot CIA bodyguard next to him, and a dangerous Mossad agent on his tail. What was his father investigating? Why was his mother killed ? Why are unknown sides fighting over him with automatic weapons? Far from his posh apartment, he races to save the world from a horrific conspiracy straight out of the darkest hours of history. Can it be stopped?

The Bleiberg Project won the Blue Moon prize for best thriller and has sold over 100,000 copies already. It is being made into a movie.

Author: David Khara
Translator: Simon John
Publisher: Le French Book, Inc.
France Book Tours

Buying links:
For your Amazon Kindle.

Praise for The Bleiberg Project
“Fascinating, written with a sharp style, shock value and a lot of humor.” – Serge Perraud,”
“Impossible to put down.” – France Inter

About the Author
French author David Khara, a former journalist, top-level athlete, and entrepreneur, is a full-time writer. Khara wrote his first novel—a vampire thriller—in 2010, before starting his thriller series. The first in the series, The Bleiberg Project, was an instant success in France, catapulting Khara into the ranks of the country's top thriller writers.


Friday, August 9, 2013

First Page Friday

I am excited it's Friday because I have some great plans for the weekend AND because we get another First Page Friday!  Today Ms. Shreditor talks about scene flow and tension, something I can always work on.

As always, thank you to the author and our editor for their efforts.  If you would like your first page critiqued, send your double-spaced 12 pt. font first page to We still have one opening for August.

See you next week!

The Entry
The Cove
by Julie Spencer

“Why did you do that?” she demanded, standing in his lit doorway, dripping wet in her custom-made designer swimsuit. He stood with the screen door still closed between them, a look of confusion and anger across his face. Gail pushed the door opened and stomped into his house, not really caring that she was leaving water all across his linoleum floor. He silently grabbed the kitchen towel from the handle on the stove and stooped down to wipe up the mess. Out of spite, she grabbed her long hair in her hands and wrung the water from it so that it left an even bigger pool of water beside her. He just took a deep breath, as if to calm himself into not getting angry, and wiped up that mess as well. When he stood up, he tossed the towel at her chest.

“Dry yourself off,” Todd snapped at her. “You’re making a mess in my kitchen.” He walked back over to the counter where he had been making himself a sandwich. The thought occurred to her that she didn’t know how he could possibly be hungry after the huge buffet he’d had access to for the last few hours. It passed quickly when she reminded herself how angry she was with him.

“Why did you have to show up there anyway?” she asked, a little less fiercely but still with intended bitterness.

“I was invited!” He turned back to her with fierceness in his eyes. “By your fiancé!” He spat the words at her and she flinched back from his accusing eyes. He stepped away from the counter and crossed the room to her. She was kind of glad that he had put down the knife he had been using to cut the salami for his sandwich. Not that she thought he would ever really get that mad that he might hurt her, it just would have felt a little more threatening. “Do you have any idea how much Patrick loves you? How much it’s going to hurt him when he finds out that you’re engaged to someone else?”

Ms. Shreditor Comments

This story certainly cranks up the drama. There’s a strong undercurrent of anger and resentment between Gail and Todd as she drips water on his floor and he slices his sandwich meat. I’m a bit confused about the sequence of events here, though. If I’ve read correctly, Gail has been swimming while Todd was at some sort of event with Gail’s fiancé, Patrick. Gail comes charging in, asking why he’s done something, but it’s unclear how we’ve gotten to this point, with the two of them facing off at his door. Did she hear Todd’s car drive up while she was swimming and approach the house? If Todd is her man on the side, why is she at his house swimming while he’s not home? Or is Patrick the man on the side?

This first page leaves me with a lot of unanswered questions. How did Gail end up engaged to two men at once? There are plenty of stories involving characters who are involved with two people at once, but having this character be engaged to both of them ups the ante quite a bit. How do Todd and Patrick know one another? Which one did Gail get engaged to first? (If she accepted Patrick’s proposal after she got engaged to Todd, it seems odd that Todd would have stayed with her. If she got engaged to Patrick first, why would Todd have gone so far as to propose to her when she was already engaged? That’s a huge leap.)

There are a lot of effective devices at work in this scene—the way the dripping water heightens the tension, Todd’s very palpable anger, and the love triangle already in motion. I’ve mentioned in past columns that the first page should leave the reader with questions that propel them to the next page, and the next. However, I feel like we’ve stumbled into the middle of a story without enough context to make sense of what’s happening.

So what’s the solution? It’s a tough call. I like so much about how this scene flows, so I wouldn’t want to reinvent the wheel if I were editing this. I would, however, want to drop a few more details to ground the reader and provide some much-needed context. In reading this story, we’re signing on for what promises to be a juicy love triangle (a plot that will sell books until the end of time), but if we’re going to stick with it, we need to understand a few key details about the two relationships in question.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Three Tips for Writing A Plot Twist

I was sitting on my bed a few weeks back, thinking about my manuscript.  I liked the plot, I liked the characters, but something was missing.  I felt the plot and the conclusion were a bit too obvious and had been done before.  

I jotted down a few ideas for different conclusions to my plot, even some crazy stuff, but nothing was jumping out at me that I could really work with until right before I went to sleep that night.  Then the perfect plot twist hit me.

I quickly wrote it down before the idea slipped away and as I've been researching and writing it in, I can't tell you how excited I am getting about this book.  That plot twist added a whole new dimension to the book, the story, and my characters and I love it.

The thing about plot twists, though, is that you have to make it believable.  You can just pull it out of nowhere or your readers will shake their head and say, yeah, that didn't work for me.  

It is important to make sure there are subtle clues leading up to the plot twist that your reader can go back and say, oh yeah, now I see why that was important.

So, to sum up, in writing plot twists:

1.  Brainstorm different conclusions to the plot---even jot down the crazy ideas.  Your brain will start working on it and before you know it, the perfect plot twist will hit you.

2.  Make it believable.  Don't pull it out of the hat because you lose your readers' trust if you do.  Doing it for shock and effect rarely works unless you've put in the planning and effort.  Readers aren't dumb and will see it for what it is---lazy writing.

3.  Always plan subtle clues leading up to the plot twist so your reader can be surprised, enjoy the unexpected, and still feel satisfied in the story.

Can you think of any favorite book/movie plot twists off the top of your head?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I'm Sprinting, Come Join Me!

Okay, you know the drill.  Start at 8:00 p.m. and check in every fifteen minutes with your word count.  We go until 9:00 p.m.

See you in fifteen!

Ready, Set, GO!

Word Count Wednesday

It has been another great week for my word count---just over 4200 words.  I'm so excited about this manuscript and the direction it's going in.  I just put in a great plot twist that makes me smile every time I think about it.

How did you do this week?

And yes, I will be sprinting tonight at 8 p.m. MST as usual.  I hope someone can join me tonight!  See you then.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writing Time: Snatches or Block?

I was reading another writer's blog yesterday and I was disheartened to read their thoughts that you can't get quality writing done in snatches of time.  Quality writing is achieved when you have a minimum two hour block of time per day to write.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not dissing what they said or their thoughts on the subject, but that hasn't been my experience at all.  I can't recall ever having two hours per day of writing time.  Ever.  I have eight children and a life that intrudes upon my writing all the time.  All I have been able to do is write in snatches of time.

I have had this argument with writers before, that quality writing deserves quality time and if you're only writing in snatches then it's a hobby not a business.  I've heard those arguments.  And I argue against them because my perspective and my experience has been different.  I have published nine books since 2004 and I've done it only writing in snatches of time with some hours on weekends when my husband or older children have taken the younger ones for a time so I could write.  But that doesn't happen every day.  And yet I still look upon my writing as something I love, a way for me to share my talent, and yes, to earn money.

I'm not negating anyone's experience because I believe writing is personal.  Everyone's journey is different, everyone's way of doing things is different. But we all have one common goal---to share our stories with readers who will appreciate them.  If my situation requires that I prepare my scenes and dialogue while I'm changing messy diapers and playing Barbies and then writing as fast as I can while Barney is on, then so be it.  If you need two hours per day to write your book, then that's great, too.  But is it fair to say that someone's writing isn't quality unless they have written it in a block of time vs. snatches of time?

I don't think so.  What do you think?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Longing For Home

Today I am THRILLED to be part of the blog tour for Sarah Eden's new book Longing for Home because I love all of Sarah's books.  There is just something about her characters and style of writing that strikes a chord with me.  This book was no different.

We are introduced to Katie MacCauley who is traveling to the Wyoming territory to accept a job as a housekeeper.  She is traveling in the back of a family wagon, uncomfortable around children because of what happened to her sister.  The first line of the book is, "Eighteen years had passed since Katie Macauley killed her sister."  If that doesn't make you want to keep reading and find out more, I don't know what will.  And yes, what happened to her sister is a big part of the book and who Katie is today.

She makes it to her new employer's house who fires her as soon as she opens her mouth and he realizes she is Irish.  You see, the town is divided between the Irish and the Americans of the town and Katie tips the balance.  Her employer, Joseph Archer, is trying to remain neutral and if he keeps her on, the other people in the town might get upset.

Katie needs the promised employment so she can return to Ireland and make amends to her family so she forces his hand. It's so incredible to me how the author is able to write someone so tenacious and vulnerable at the same time.  I loved Katie and her personality.  She was true to herself, worried about the people around her, and yet battling her own demons at the same time.  The author creates a town filled with people that are endearing, horrible, annoying, and compassionate, but always believable. Some of the things the Irish suffer through made my fingers turn pages faster so I could see how the town/Irish would deal with it.  I have Irish ancestors of my own who suffered during the famine and came to Canada, so I really felt connected to these people.

The best part of the book for me, besides Katie as a character, was the love triangle.  I love Tavish and all his humor on the outside and real depth on the inside.  The other part of the triangle was a bit of a surprise and I don't know how I feel about that part yet.  I think I'm firmly Team Tavish right now.

I realized that there is a sequel to the book and was worried that this would be a cliffhanger ending (I hate those) but I should have known Sarah Eden wouldn't do that to her readers.  The ending was great and I honestly can't wait for the sequel and to find out what happens next for Katie.

This book is a definite five stars from me.  Every historical fiction fan should read this book and put it on your Christmas and birthday lists.  Completely loved it.

Here's the back copy:

Though she was only a child during the darkest days of Ireland’s Great Famine, Katie Macauley feels responsible for the loss of her family’s land and the death of her sister. Now a woman grown, Katie has left Ireland for America and the promise of earning money enough to return home again and plead for her family’s forgiveness. She arrives in Hope Springs, Wyoming Territory, a town sharply divided between the Americans who have settled there, with their deep hatred of the Irish, and the Irish immigrants who have come searching for a place to call home. Her arrival tips the precarious balance, and the feud erupts anew. Even in the midst of hatred and violence, however, Katie finds reason to hope. Two men, as different as they are intriguing, vie for her heart, turning her thoughts for the first time toward a future away from Ireland. Katie must now make the hardest decision of her life: stay and give her heart a chance at love, or return home and give her soul the possibility of peace.

Friday, August 2, 2013

First Page Friday

This was a fun First Page Friday because I really wanted to read more of this story!  Ms. Shreditor has some great points, and I'm wondering now what the answers are to her questions.  These are the kind of First Page Fridays that I really learn from.

As always, thank you to our author and editor for their effort.  You are so appreciated!

If you would like to have your first page critiqued by a national editor, submit your double-spaced 12 pt. font first page to with First Page Friday in the subject line.  We have one opening left in August.

See you next week!

The Entry
Better Than Fiction
by Emily Clawson

Isabella raised a hand to her forehead and sighed. How could he say such things to her? Wasn't it enough that her uncle was forcing her into this marriage against her will? Against her heart. She had suffered enough. Frederick's words only confused her more.
        "Say you will be mine. My dear Isabella, I can't live without you." He held his hands out in a silent plea. Isabella could only stare at him - so strong, so handsome in his black, silk tails and creamy satin cravat. For just a moment she wanted to reach for his hands, to let him take her away from her Uncle's cruel control. But she was too afraid he would hurt her.
        "I can't Frederick. I must be true to my heart." She blinked, a single tear falling from her lavender eyes. 
        "So must I”, he replied, pulling her roughly into his arms. "And you, my darling, are my heart. You are my soul and my very reason for living." 
        Isabella sighed again, this time in defeat. How could she resist any longer? With a groan of delight, Frederick bent his head to steal a kiss.

My iPod reached the end of the playlist and the music disappeared, pulling me away from the words on the computer screen. Wasn't that playlist three hours long? A quick glance at the clock sent me scurrying to get dressed for work.
Whisker Face brushed against my leg, nearly tripping me as I tried to pull off my pajamas.
"Not now, sweetie. I spent too much time writing and I'm late." He slunk away to curl up on my chair, enjoying the warmth I'd left behind. 
How I envied him. Staying home and spending my day with Isabella and Frederick was much more inviting than the Java Stop. Eight hours of dispensing and mixing lattes for the same crowd, always rushing in and rushing out. I was pretty sure I was the only Mormon girl who constantly smelled like coffee.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

I’m sensing a trend! The structure of this sample reminds me very much of the one I critiqued a few weeks ago. It starts with a passage from the protagonist’s work in progress and then flips to the protagonist’s perspective. I do tend to enjoy this tactic because, really, who doesn’t like a good literary fakeout? I particularly liked that the author italicized the font in the excerpt from narrator’s manuscript. The slight variation in typography makes it clear that the opening paragraphs are an entity separate from the regular roman text that follows.

I want to be sensitive as I critique the excerpt from the heroine’s novel in progress, because I’m not entirely certain my reaction was the intended one. The thing is, it amused me. It’s a hotbed of romance clichés, from the hand to the forehead to the theatrical sighing, from the emotionally overwrought dialogue to the forced marriage setup, from Frederick’s rough handling of Isabella to his groan of delight, from Isabelle’s lavender eyes to Frederick’s stolen kiss. It was good, campy fun, and if it was written to be just that, the author of this week’s first page fired on all cylinders. Working that many romance writing tics into half a page indicates a really sophisticated understanding of what does and doesn’t work in a story.

After I read the protagonist’s narrative in the second half, I went back and re-read the Isabella/Frederick scene through new goggles. It reads a lot like wish fulfillment fiction (i.e., the author writes herself, thinly disguised as the heroine, into a fantasy scenario to live out her unfulfilled desires). Is this the case here? If so, the work in progress acts as an unconventional vehicle for characterization. We learn more about the narrator through that scrap of writing than we might from a few lines of straight biography. Perhaps our narrator is feeling unfulfilled in her love life. Perhaps she has been treated cruelly by someone in her past, much like Isabella has been mistreated by her uncle. Perhaps her own life is so unexciting that she escapes to fictional realms to spice things up.

Ultimately, I choose to believe that the author wrote Isabella’s part of the story with the intention to violate as many tenets of good romance writing as possible, that this story reflects a certain romantic immaturity on the protagonist’s part that will develop as the story progresses. If I’m right, I think we have a pretty good first page here!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Writing Great Back Cover Copy

Lately, I've been helping authors write or revamp their back cover copy and I even taught a class on it at a indie publishing conference.  It always amazes me how little time authors seem to spend on the second most important thing in selling and marketing their book---the back cover copy.  Besides the cover, the first interaction your reader will have with your book is the back cover copy and it can make or break your book sales.

So, let's look at some tips for writing great back cover copy.

First of all, NEVER summarize your book.  The back copy is not where you do a synopsis at all.  The back cover is where you entice and intrigue your readers to pick up your book.

Now that the NEVER DO is out of the way, what do you do?

The Legwork

1.  Figure out the stakes.  Will someone die?  Will the world end?  Will she get the guy?  What are the stakes of the book?  This will play a big role in your back copy.

2.  Work up a thirty second elevator pitch of your book.  If you can describe your book in thirty seconds, you've got a head start on your back copy.

Now you have somewhere to start. What's next?

1. Take your stakes and figure out a tagline.  One sentence that encapsulates your stakes.  My new novel's tagline is "Are you ever really innocent until proven guilty?"  I just helped another author with her tagline and it ended up being. "On their world, being an elemental means you will be hunted for your skin."  So, you see a tagline is something that hints at the stakes in your book.  Make it catchy and memorable.  Don't bog it down.  Too many times I've seen, "This is a book about love and betrayal."  BORING.  Use your creativity.

2.  Use your thirty second elevator pitch to pull out the important events in your book.  Most times great back copy just covers the inciting incident in your book.  My new novel, Ashes Ashes, has back copy that is mainly centered around my hero's bad day at work, and since he's in hostage negotiation, that means someone usually dies.  He comes home, sees smoke coming out of his neighbor's house and so he goes to help.  But the beautiful and mysterious house guest doesn't want his help---because she's in trouble herself. Usually if you can use your inciting incident, you can hook your audience, hint at the big plot, and write some great back copy.

3.  Use compelling language with a splash of hyperbole.  It's okay to grab your readers with "unimaginable consequences," "a decision that will change mankind forever" or "can he trust anyone around him, including the woman at the center of it all."  Leave your reader feeling like this is a story they definitely have to read.

4. Great back cover copy is generally not over 200 words long.  You have to be concise and really sell the book without being verbose.  Cut out the fatty details, it only bogs down your back cover copy.  Get to the meat of it and entice and intrigue your readers.  This is your chance to sell yourself and you don't want to blow it.

5.  Research how other authors have done it.  If you are still at a loss, go look at the back cover copy of famous authors in your genre.  That can spark ideas and creativity for your own work and help you see the pattern of how to intrigue and entice your readers.

6.  Don't forget to proofread.  There's nothing that will make me pass on a book faster than seeing grammar and spelling errors in the back copy.  If the author can't spell it right there, chances are the book isn't that great either.  The back copy is the reader's first interaction with you.  Make it great!