Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Supporting the Cause of Literacy

As most of you know, I am a big advocate of libraries and literacy.  I think that libraries are the great equalizer in that everyone has access to the same knowledge and information, no matter what, when they hold a library card.  So I do what I can to support libraries.  

Tomorrow I will be signing my books and participating in a silent auction to benefit the Pleasant Grove Library.  If you are a literacy advocate and want to help, I hope you'll join me!

Multi-author Book Signing & Silent Auction (Proceeds to benefit the Pleasant Grove Library)

August 1st from 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Come join your favorite local authors at the Pleasant Grove City Library (30 E. Center Street) and support the cause of literacy!

Some authors that will be appearing are:
  • Julie Coulter Bellon
  • Monique Bucheger
  • Rachelle Christensen
  • Loralee Evans
  • Julie N. Ford
  • Nichole Giles
  • Heather Justesen
  • Angie Lofthouse
  • Heather (H.B.) Moore
  • L.L. Muir
  • Andrea Pearson
  • Tristi Pinkston

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Acknowledgments Page

I've been working on my acknowledgment page today and I have to say every time I do one of these it makes me feel very humble.

You see, there are so many people that help me make my books the very best they can be.  Editors, beta readers, critique partners, people that helped me with research, and always, always, my family.

The hard part is I'm always afraid I'm going to forget someone.  Each time I get to this point I think, boy, I wish I would have kept a running list.  Next time I will.  And that's what I'm saying again.  I wish I would have kept a running list.  Oh well.  I for sure will do that next time.  Haha.

Part of me wants to put all of my regulars from this blog on my acknowledgments page.  You have been such a great support to me this year and it's been so fun to get to know you better.  Thanks for all you did!

So here's my question to you:  Do you read acknowledgment pages in books?  Why or why not?

Friday, July 27, 2012

First Page Friday---Where It's My First Page

So, since we had an opening, I thought I'd submit my own first page to First Page Friday.  Angela and Heidi critiqued it thoroughly.  I learned so much and appreciate all their hard work.  I hope there's something in this that you can learn from as well.  If you would like your first page critiqued, please submit it double-spaced 12 pt font to juliecoulterbellon@gmail.com with First Page Friday in the subject line. 

See you next week!

The Entry
All Fall Down
by Julie Coulter Bellon

Something was wrong.  He could feel it¾the hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up.  Rafe Kelly opened the door, but hesitated before going in.  With a cursory glance into the lobby of the building, he couldn’t see anything wrong.  Chalking it up to being in Afghanistan too long, where he relied on his senses to stay alive, Rafe went in, tugging on his collar.  Maybe that was it.  He was reacting to civilian life of wearing a shirt and tie when he’d rather be in his Navy SEAL gear.  It’s not like I could have shown up in desert cammies and boots. But it might have been worth it to see the look on his appearance-obsessed baby brother’s face if he’d walked into the meeting dressed like that.
With a grimace, he tried to loosen his tie, just a little.  Dressing up in something more than jeans and a t-shirt had seemed like a good idea going into the meeting with Vince.  This whole acting-president of the company thing had really gone to Vince’s head and he’d done nothing but make demands.  This one clothing concession made sense since Rafe planned on saying no to anything else.  Hopefully their dad would be back on his feet soon.  And my knee will be 100% healed and I’ll be back in the field where I belong.  He pulled on his tie again, definitely regretting the choice of attire.  He felt like he was choking.  The things I do for my little brother. 
He took a deep breath and ran an impatient hand through his longer-than-normal hair.  The air was humid and from the looks of the pewter gray sky on his way in, Rafe knew they’d have rain before the afternoon was out. And rain will make my knee ache. 
 Realizing how much his injury had taken over his thoughts, his actions¾his life¾he made a promise not to dwell on it any more today. Men wearing shirts and ties just like him strode through the lobby, getting to their jobs where they belonged.  Rafe wondered if that would ever be him¾if he could ever be happy at a job working inside all day.  With how ugly the last mission in Afghanistan had been and how slow his knee was healing, he knew he might have to think about that in the near future.  But not today.

The Editors' Comments

What Works

What caught my attention right of the bat was the character. There are lots of good details about him that readers will identify with, even those with no military background. The issues facing Rafe are universal: family, career, health, the uncertain future.  On top of that, the reader finds out quickly that Rafe’s obviously been through some harrowing experiences during his tour of duty, and that he is a Navy SEAL, which tells us in two words quite a bit about his strength, courage, and discipline. In four short paragraphs, we get a really good picture of what this character is like, and that’s going to make a big difference in keeping the reader’s attention. It’s hard to get interested in the action of the story if we don’t know at least a little about the main character and find him likeable or intriguing. So the sooner you can establish some basic information, the better. Good job.

Delivering on What You Promise

Something was wrong. In those three words, you’ve made the reader a promise that you will tell/show them what’s wrong, and that you will do it in a timely way. If the reader gets to the end of the first paragraph, let alone the fourth, and still doesn’t know what’s wrong, something is wrong. Now obviously, this statement could be referring to Rafe’s family relations and business, or to his war injuries, or to his uncertain future. But the reader gets the sense that this is something else. And since Rafe is a highly-trained soldier, the reader assumes that his honed intuition is warning him about physical danger. Four paragraphs is a long time in the beginning of a story. If something really is wrong, it may be a good idea to get to it as soon as possible. At the very least, by the end of the page, bullets or earthquakes or asteroids or terrorists or bankruptcy or divorce papers should be happening, or the reader’s attention is going to be waning.

It All Depends on Your Point of View

This scene uses third person limited, and appears to be aiming for deep penetration. Deep penetration lets you give third person point of view the intimacy usually associated with first person. You can even slip from third to first person during sections of internal dialogue, although it’s not necessary. (If you’ve ever paid attention to your own thoughts, you’ll notice that you probably don’t consciously think in first person. The thoughts just happen. That’s why you can get away just using third person in describing them.) The reader experiences the thoughts as if they were his own. It is a very compelling way to pull the reader into the story.

However, it can be a little tricky to get this technique down, but it’s worth it for the emotional impact and depth it can bring to a story. In order to create a smooth transition from narrative to internal thoughts, you need to give a hint or clue that this shift is going to happen, but keep it subtle. In this current draft, the subtle hints aren’t quite there, so every time we read the internal thoughts, it’s a bit jarring, and we’re expecting to see them italicized at the very least. Right now it seems as if the narrator is going along telling us one thing, and the character jumps in with direct thoughts, almost more like they are having a dialogue rather than that we’re slipping from indirect thoughts to direct thoughts.

For further study of subtle ways of utilizing this technique, Orson Scott Card is a master, and his book Characters and Viewpoint gives an overview of how to employ this method. Even better is to take one of his novels (or any other writer using this style) and analyze them scene by scene, paying particular attention to how the narration shifts smoothly into the characters’ thoughts and back again to narration without tagging each thought.

Some OSC scenes to check out: Enchantment, p. 302-303 (hardback); Ender’s Game, p. 1-2; Homebody, p. 183-185; Empire, p. 12-15. In these examples, Card deftly moves the reader into the viewpoint character’s mind, occasionally showing a thought in first person, often in third, but all the time the reader is right there, going through the thought process as if they were the person having those thoughts.  

Another thing to note is that moving into first person internal dialogue in this manner sometimes works best for longer sections—several sentences rather than just single sentences, although there’s no hard and fast rule on this.

Odds and Ends:

He could feel it.  Rafe Kelly opened the door… Try instead: Rafe could feel it. He opened the door...This avoids potential confusion as to who is thinking and if it’s the same person acting. While you could use both names, the first name is fine for the time being, and you can introduce the surname later. Either works.

The hairs on the back of his neck were standing straight up. Try instead: “The hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up.” There is a bit of wordiness going on in this draft, due to collections of longer words filling up sentences when shorter ones/variations might work better, your using many adjectives within a short distance of each other, and/or trying to fit a lot of information into one sentence. Try breaking up sentences, or trimming scene descriptions so that we only get four or so words describing a space, emotion, or relationship rather than seven or more. Ask yourself if the information you are sharing in a sentence is actually going to be critical for the reader within the next few paragraphs. If not, you’re probably including it in the wrong place or we don’t need it at all, or it needs to be emphasized differently so that when it is relevant several paragraphs, pages, or scenes later, we actually remember that you shared it. See the next sentence for an example:

With a cursory glance into the lobby of the building where his family company was housed on the eighth floor, he couldn’t see anything wrong. This is a bit awkward. You’re trying to condense a lot of info in a short space, but this may work better if you spread it over a few sentences, or, more preferably, trimmed for word economy: “A glance at the lobby suggested nothing was wrong at the family company.” There’s no need to mention the building, as that’s assumed by the reader, and rearranging the words to cut out unnecessary “bridge words” like “where his” and “of the,” etc., is the primary goal of word economy. One can almost always convey what’s important with fewer words. I would exclude the information on the eighth floor, as that doesn’t seem relevant to the scene goal here, and the character wouldn’t be thinking about that fact while surveying the lobby. If it’s important information because someone will soon fall out of a window or something, then give us a sentence that includes his walking to the window and looking down, but give us a reason for your inclusion of this information—a reason the character/narrator would note it for the reader. Why does this information come to the mind of the character/narrator at this moment? And make sure that it’s actually important to know for the immediate scene at hand. “Throwaway” sentences that writers use to later justify plot twists, etc., still have emotional emphasis in a scene—they aren’t usually completely forgettable, or the reader would have to re-read the book to find all the justifications that allow the twist to make sense. So even throwaway lines need to feel important enough to be memorable to the reader at the time such information is critical to the story. (Obviously you don’t want flashing-red-light levels of emphasis, but you also don’t want placement within other information that practically obscures the actual existence of the line.)

Dressing up in something more than jeans and a T-shirt had seemed like a good idea going into the meeting with Vince. From the context, I would guess that Vince is Rafe’s younger brother, although it isn’t entirely clear. Tag the brother with his name as soon as he’s mentioned in the first paragraph—that will clear up any confusion later on. Cut out “baby brother” to avoid wordiness. It’s non-essential info anyway, because the next paragraph mentions this relationship again.

Here’s what the first paragraph might look like with the suggested changes:

“Something was wrong. Rafe could feel it. He’d opened the door that declared his family’s business, but hesitated before going in. The hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up. But a cursory glance into the lobby now revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Chalking it up to being in Afghanistan too long, where he’d relied on his senses to stay alive, Rafe went in, tugging on his collar. Maybe that was it. He was reacting to the civilian uniform of shirt and tie when he’d rather be in his Navy SEAL gear.  It wasn’t like he would have shown up in desert cammies and boots. But it might have been worth it to see the look on his brother’s face if he’d walked into the meeting dressed like that. Vince was always a little obsessive about appearances.”

Action List

You’ve laid the foundation for an engaging main character, and you’ve got good “voice” potential with a little fine-tuning. You also have the right idea about using third-person limited point of view. You just want to tweak it a little bit as well. Also, you want to look for a way to put something at stake in the story pretty quickly. Either something personal needs to be at stake for him as he goes into this meeting, or figure out how to get from Rafe sensing something wrong to the actual event as quickly as you can (the most relevant suggestion), and you’ll have the start of an exciting page turner.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gesture Crutches---Do You Use Them?

I was reading Jordan McCollum's blog post about the overuse of gesture crutches (you can read it here) and I decided to see if I was guilty of this myself.  Do I use a lot of sighing, shrugging, and nodding for my character gestures?

Shockingly, I do.

So I've been going through my manuscript (using the Find function) and deleting all the shrugging and nodding and whatnot and using more vivid gestures that can give my characters and story more dimension.  It's been a lot harder than I thought, but the more I've practiced and thought of other gestures, the more I've gotten to know my characters and what makes them unique.  For example, my main character cracks her thumb knuckles when she's nervous.  I never thought of that before now.  And I was so glad that Jordan had so many other great suggestions on her blog on how to fix this problem.

Another thing this exercise has forced me to do is to really look at body language and the tells that humans have in saying what they really feel without saying a word.  I've been people-watching so closely that I'm sure some shoppers at my grocery store thought I was a stalker or something.  (She's rubbing her chin to show she's really thinking about her purchase.  Wait, is she itching it or rubbing it?  Oh, hello.  No, you don't know me.  I'm an author, though.  Never mind.  *Julie walks away quickly*)

I have to say that I'm really excited about how this small thing has changed my writing and given me a fresh perspective on my characters and my story.  Just one little change took things in a whole new direction, making me dig deeper as an author.

Are you a gesture crutch user?

Go get your writing right now and see.  Then come back and confess in the comments.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

I've been working like a crazy person with every spare moment I have during the day and I am happy to tell you that I have finished editing the first 120 pages of my manuscript.  Woohoo!  All the critiques, the beta comments, editorial suggestions and my own readings have all culminated in a thoroughly edited first half of the book.

It feels good!  Only one more half to go.  We're on the downslide.  *pats self on back*

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some Great Ebook Deals For Your TBR Pile

First of all, Happy Pioneer Day!  (And I'm glad I'm not a pioneer.  Indoor plumbing, refrigeration, and air conditioning and everything else I'm spoiled with.)  But I'm grateful for them and their sacrifice.  Three of my boys are currently on a pioneer trek in Wyoming and I know this will be an incredible experience for them.  Hard, yet amazing.  So, hurrah for the pioneers!

Since I haven't had a lot of time to read lately, I thought I'd pass along to you some of the ebook deals I've been taking advantage of and adding to my "to-be-read" list.  (And no, I don't get anything if you buy or don't buy.  I'm just passing along books that looked awesome and like something I would want to read.)

Twitterpated by Melanie Jacobson  ($2.99)

Jessie Taylor is furious when her roommate secretly posts her picture on the dating website LDS Lookup—furious, that is, until she spends all night instant messaging Ben Bratton, a man whose wit and warmth just might make Jessie forget the train wreck of her last romantic relationship. Their first date is a smashing success (literally), but Ben’s overall awesomeness can’t save Jessie from having to deal with Craig, her competitive coworker whose baiting behavior sets new standards for obnoxiousness. Determined to beat Craig at his own game, Jessie spends long office hours finishing projects and putting out fires, but while her performance wows her boss, it only makes Ben skittish—after a failed engagement to an up-and-coming lawyer, he’s not about to pair up with someone who’s married to her job. Will Jessie figure out how to be true to herself and take her big chance at love before it’s gone with a click of the mouse?

This book is currently being offered for $2.99 for a limited time.  You can purchase it here

Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah Eden ($2.99)

When Crispin, Lord Cavratt, thoroughly and scandalously kisses a serving woman in the garden of a country inn, he assumes the encounter will be of no consequence. But he couldn’t be more mistaken— the maid is not only a lady of birth, she’s the niece of a very large, exceptionally angry gentleman, who claims Crispin has compromised his niece beyond redemption. The dismayed young lord has no choice but to marry Miss Catherine Thorndale, who lacks both money and refinement and assumes all men are as vicious as her guardian uncle. Trapped between an unwanted marriage and a hasty annulment, which would leave his reputation tainted and Catherine’s utterly ruined, Crispin begins guiding his wife’s transformation from a socially petrified country girl to a lady of society. Their unfolding relationship reveals encouraging surprises for both of them, and privately, each of them wonders if theirs may become a true marriage of the heart. But their hopes are dashed when forces conspire to split asunder what fate has granted, and as a battle of wits escalates into a life-threatening confrontation, will it be possible for Crispin and Catherine to live happily ever after?

This book is also being offered for $2.99 for a limited time.  I've actually read this one and it is my favorite Sarah Eden book.  You can purchase it here

Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly  ($2.99)

Emma Costello owes a debt of honor to one of the most dishonorable lords in the realm. The infamous Lord Ragsdale is as rich as sin, as sinful as he is rich, and as heartless as he is handsome. But after he saves Emma from a life of indentured servitude and shame, she decides that it is her personal duty to save him from his reckless ways . . . without falling in love.

I just started this book and so far I am loving it!  It is also being offered for $2.99.  You can purchase it here

In the Arms of Danger by Marie Higgins  (Free!)

Taylor Marshal and her daughter need protecting, yet the bodyguard assigned is the one man she fears the most.

Four years earlier, Taylor gave her heart to a stranger – and married him in a quick Bermuda ceremony. A week later her hopes were crushed when she finds out her new husband, Cory Ross, was a hit man. When she witnesses him take another man’s life then watches her new found love fall from a cliff after being shot, her heart shatters. Now she sees Cory Ross is alive – and back in her life as her own personal bodyguard, yet how can she trust him?

Cory thought his luck had changed after his near death experience in the Bahamas. But when he looks into the eyes of the woman who he suspects had something to do with his accident, he realizes his new assignment to protect Taylor and her young daughter will be a literal nightmare. But to fall in love all over again with Taylor Marshall will be sheer torture.

I don't know anything about this book, except that it's billed as "clean," being offered for free, and the back copy looked good.  I plan on starting this one as soon as my edits are over.  You can download it for free here

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 23, 2012

I Can Do Hard Things

Yesterday my friend was telling me about how she was cleaning out her older son's room (who had just left on an LDS mission) and her daughter was helping her.  The daughter is deathly afraid of spiders and there were some dead ones along the baseboards (they were in a basement bedroom).  My friend asked her daughter to vacuum up the dead spiders while she finished packing up some things.  The daughter said she couldn't do it, she was too afraid.  And my friend said, "Honey, your brother (that just moved out) is doing something that scares him.  In this family, we do hard things."

She knew she sounded impatient and she left the room for a moment.  When she came back she peeked in the room and her daughter had the longest hose available on the vacuum and she was vacuuming up the spiders saying over and over to herself, "I can do hard things."

Later on that week, the same daughter was out in the garden weeding and the spiders were crawling around, but the daughter sucked it up and kept weeding---until one crawled on her hand.  Then she was done.  But she came to her mom afterward and said, "See Mom, I'm getting better at this."

That story totally struck me, not only on a personal level (because we all struggle with hard things that we're trying to overcome) but also on a professional level.  Being a writer can be scary.  Getting rejections and bad reviews is hard.  Putting yourself out there is hard.  Sometimes even getting the words down on paper is hard.

But if we work at it, and say over and over to ourselves, "I can do hard things," then I believe we can do it.  The more we work at it the less scary it becomes and the more victorious we feel as we reach milestones in our lives and in our work.

So, today, when you are sitting in your chair staring at a blank screen, or reading a rejection, or submitting to an agent, I hope you'll remember a girl with a vacuum hose who faced her fear with a rallying cry of, "I can do hard things."

Because you can, too.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Getting to Know Ms. Shreditor

Since we did a post getting to know editor Angela Eschler better, I thought it would be fun for us to get to know Ms. Shreditor better, too!  As someone who greatly admires her both as an editor and a person, I was glad she agreed to an interview.

How did you get into editing? Did it always come naturally to you? 

I knew from a fairly young age that I wanted to edit. Language has always been my strength, and I’ve always had a sixth sense for awkward syntax (even if it’s correct on a technical level) and misspellings. I also pick up foreign languages pretty easily. Some advice: If you want to develop a more complex understanding of the English language, study a foreign language for a few years. You won’t believe how much better you understand the nuances of your own language. You’ll also be on par with the rest of the developed world, where multilingualism is a virtue and a way of life.

Do you have any funny editing/author stories you could share?

I was working on the page proofs of a book, and the proofreader had inserted a query asking how a character could tell that someone’s heart had been torn from her chest in a given scene. Having your heart ripped out is no joke (few have lived to tell the tale), but the Post-it caught me so off-guard that I’m sure the entire office could hear my involuntary guffaw. It was a legitimate query, too, and I realized that only in my line of work would I have to address questions like these. I still keep that Post-it in my “funny” file.

What would your top three pieces of advice be for a writer?

1. Be receptive to agent and editorial criticism. I have worked with a few authors who didn’t want me to change so much as a comma, or who left biting comments in response to legitimate queries. If you want total control over every stage of the book, then you need to self-publish. Conventional publishing is a collaborative effort, and it means that you have to trust other people involved—from editorial to design to layout to marketing—to make the best decisions for your book. If an experienced editor tells you that something in your story doesn’t work or needs tweaking, don’t dismiss it out of hand. You don’t have to make every suggested change—many times, I’ve stetted queried text because the author has provided a compelling explanation as to why it’s written as is—but you should respect your editor’s instincts. Learning to accept criticism is one of the most important (and challenging) things you can do as a writer.

2. Invest in writing guides, and don’t just give them a cursory glance. Read them from cover to cover. Flag pages. Write in the margins. Make lists. Do whatever necessary to internalize the tenets of good writing.

3. Read your work out loud. This will eliminate a lot of choppy syntax and help your prose sustain a more natural rhythm. I’ve said many times in my Shreditor column that I can tell when an author has read his or her work out loud, and I’ve been right at least once.

Bonus advice: Although I work in traditional publishing, I support self-published authors wholeheartedly. However, I believe that the key to a good self-published book is having extra sets of eyes on your work. That doesn’t mean having your best friend or mother read the book, because our loved ones are less likely to read impartially. Find beta readers and critique groups. Strongly consider having an experienced freelance editor work on your manuscript.

Is there something you think writers should always avoid in their work?

Aside from certain grammatical no-nos, there aren’t many things I’d tell writers to avoid under all circumstances. I think the closest I’d come is this: Unless you’re ready to put in hard time researching a place you’ve never visited, don’t write about it. And research doesn’t mean picking up a Lonely Planet travel guide, trolling Google images, or culling trivia from a Wikipedia page. This kind of shallow research breeds settings riddled with cultural clichés and inaccuracies. Research means investing a lot of time in books, both fiction and nonfiction, about the area you want to visit in your story—or, ideally, visiting the place itself if your budget allows. And if you want to write a story set in a foreign country, don’t read some American writer’s book about the region—go straight to the source with native authors who truly know and understand the nuances of the place.

If you weren't a writer or an editor, what would you be?

Probably a forensic linguist.

What book is on your nightstand right now? Are you an avid reader? What's your favorite genre?

Right now, I’m reading Nobel Prize–winning author Orhan Pamuk’s memoir about Istanbul. I’m also making my way through a book of short stories by the late David Foster Wallace. I read over a hundred books per year. I’ll read anything, because my core belief is that you can only ever be as brave a writer (or editor) as you are a reader. So read outside your comfort zone.

If you could be any character in any book, who would you be? 

This is a tough one, because there are so many characters I adore for being messy and flawed, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to make their mistakes. (Trivia: I prefer morally flawed characters. I find it difficult to relate to characters who do, or profess to do, the right thing 24/7. I swear, I’m not a delinquent or anything.)

If you could travel to any time period in the world’s history, which would you choose and why? 

Ah. You’ve simultaneously stumped me and stumbled upon my secret shame: I’m not much of a history buff, and I’m very picky about historical fiction. I gravitate toward modern, postmodern, and futuristic stories. So please beam me into the future if you’re going to force me to time travel. We sometimes put a gloss on the past (nostalgia is a powerful thing), but there are many inequalities and atrocities that can stay there forever, as far as I’m concerned. 

Thank you so much, Ms. Shreditor, both for the interview and for all the work you do on our behalf in making our first pages better.  We appreciate you!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Writing Process--Tell Me Yours & I'll Tell You Mine

I've been analyzing my writing process and I thought it might be fun to share it with you and see how it compares to your writing process.  (Yeah, I know, I think about weird things, but I'm a writer, what can I say?)

First, I get out my writer's notebook.  I write a sentence or two for each chapter as to what is going to happen in that chapter.  For example:

Chapter One:  We meet Rafe and he becomes a "hostage."  Gary the HT has a super-secret file and a bomb.

Chapter Two:  We meet Claire, the hostage negotiator.  Goes to try to defuse the situation.  Literally.

And so on I go.  Then I sit at my computer and pound out my rough draft.  Usually each chapter is about five pages long in the rough draft stage.  Very basic dialogue, sketchy setting, etc.

Once that's done, I go back and add layers.  It's funny to me how details for a scene will come to me, a bit of conversation to add, research on setting that appears in my mind's eye, just begging to be included.  Of course as I flesh out my characters, the process of layering comes faster.

When the layers are there, I go back and check for five things:

1.  Have I used the five senses?  Sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste?

2.  Does each scene further the story?

3.  Is my dialogue natural?

4.  Can I cut any fatty parts?

5.  Is there any passive voice?

Then I go over it one more time for flow (because I'm fanatical like that), print it out, and read it out loud.  (Honestly, there isn't any better way to find things that need editing).  Send it to beta readers.  Fix any problems they find, and finish with another edit for clarity and content.  Then give it to my critique group to tear apart.  Do a final edit and . . .

Poof!  Done.

Then on to my editor to start the publishing process.

So what's your writing process? How do you arrive at a finished product?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

I'm editing a very emotional scene today that I really want to get right.  So far, I've cut five pages, put them back in, then cut two.  Now I'm thinking I should just re-write the whole thing.  Or go for a walk and clear my head.

Speaking of walking, remember when I told you that when I started JumpStartWriMo I started walking again because walking always helps my creative flow?  I'm up to two miles a day now and I've lost eight pounds.  And, honestly, I think my manuscript is the better for it, too, because most of my best ideas for how to knock this thing out have come during my walks.  So there you go, win/win for everyone!

How did you do with your word count this week?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Scarecrow and Mrs. King--How the Spy Business Has Changed

So you all know that I'm in an editing marathon/crunch right now and things are going great/horrible.  I've become quite adept at motivating myself for the times when I don't want to sit in the chair and look at the incredible/silly writing that I've put on the page.  One way is when I've edited a chapter I get to reward myself by watching a Scarecrow and Mrs. King episode.  

If you don't recognize that show, it was a spy show in the 80s about a suburban housewife named Amanda King (played by Kate Jackson) who gets tangled up with "the Agency" when she helps one of their agents named Lee Stetson (played by Bruce Boxleitner) code name Scarecrow.  That little act of kindness by Amanda turns into a part-time job for her and as a single mother, she needs it.  She's sort of a Molly do-gooder involved with charities and scouts and being a mom.  Partner her with a sophisticated agent and it's a lot of fun.  There's a lot of intrigue and a little romance as the series progresses.  The stories really were well-written and it's been fun to go back and re-watch them.

There have been a few things I've noticed, though, that have changed in the "spy business" since the 80s.

Poor Scarecrow is always looking for a pay phone.  Nowadays, well, do we even have pay phones anymore?  I can't remember the last time I saw one.

Computers took up half the room.

Printers spit out papers that had those funky holey paper thingys on the side that you had to rip off.

Russia was our biggest foe back then.

A lot of the storylines (like terrorists poisoning water supplies, protecting communication lines etc.) are still relevant today.

I've also noticed a few things I love about the show that haven't changed.

The romance between the leads is built up slowly.  Sometimes today's television (especially with lead actors who have as much chemistry as Bruce and Kate did) seems to move past the friendship/falling in love stage so quickly you blink if you miss it.

There aren't any dopey cliffhanger gimmicks to keep you tuning in.  You tuned in because the show was just that much fun to watch.

It shows a normal family.  (Well, okay, as normal as you can get when the mom is a spy.)  But it shows her relationship with her mom, her two kids, her ex-husband, and her co-workers.  Sometimes it feels like today's television misses that element.

All in all, it's just a fun show that is motivating this poor writer to get her job done.  And while it doesn't make me miss the 80s clothes at all, it does make me miss television shows I can watch with my kids.  Those are hard to find in 2012.

Do you have an old show that you love to re-watch?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Do You Have a Lucky Writing Shirt?

Well, I'm back to the grindstone today, doing a few more edits.  I have critique group this week so I want to be prepared.

Unfortunately, I need a little extra motivation today.  I'm just not feeling super-thrilled about editing for some reason.  I know, it's a shocker, isn't it.

So, in order to get in the mood, I've got my playlist, and I pulled out my lucky shirt.  It's a ratty old shirt, but for some reason, I've done my best writing while wearing it and today I need it's magic.

Do you have a lucky writing shirt?  Writing sock?  Writing hat?  Anything lucky you like to write with?

Friday, July 13, 2012

First Page Friday

Well, since it's Friday the 13th, this is either a scary post or a lucky one.  I'll go for lucky. Thank you so much to both the submitter and the editor who go to such effort to help us all learn and improve in our writing.

The Entry
by Anonymous

My mom was driving me to my dad’s house in Michigan. I am going to live there with him for the rest of high school because my mom married a man who’s job had made him move around a lot and she wants me to have a more stable life. So here I am, on my way to some boring state that has no surfing like California does to live with my dad, who I usually only see for a few weeks in the summer. 

My dog Happy barked from the back of the SUV. “Be quiet Happy!” I shouted at him but then felt bad. Moving was hard for animals too, he was probably scared.

“So how do you feel about moving to Michigan to live with your father?” asked Mom as she came to a stop light.

“I don’t know.”

“Well you will like it, I think. Chris and I will come visit you when we can, and you can come visit us for breaks. I think this is better for everyone.”

Better for you, I thought but didn’t say. I had wanted Mom to be happy and if dumping me at Dad’s condo for the rest of my teen years was the way to do it I guess I’d go along with it. She’d have much more fun seeing new places with Chris then she would listening to me talk about dumb boys.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

There are some compelling elements here, but there are also some issues that compromise the effectiveness of this first page. For starters, we have a very generic opening sentence: “My mom was driving me to my dad’s house in Michigan.” Sure, this is an important detail, but is it important enough to merit placement in the all-important first sentence slot? My instinct is no, that there needs to be a stronger opening here.

There’s a good balance between exposition and dialogue, but the dialogue itself falls a bit flat. The mother’s initial question to the narrator feels a bit forced. Would she really wait until now to ask this question, when they’re already en route to Dad’s house—and would she phrase it in such a stiff way? Make sure that, if you’re using dialogue as a mode of information delivery, it rings true to the characters, the scene, and the situation. Otherwise, the dialogue isn’t much more than a thinly veiled information dump.

The story gets compelling in the last paragraph. At this point, we get a very real reaction from the narrator regarding her situation, a reaction that injects her with a healthy dose of humanity. Here she is, uprooting her entire life because she thinks it will make her mother happy. It’s vaguely reminiscent of several popular books, including the Twilight saga. [Aside: If this is to be a YA romance, make sure to find good beta readers. You don’t want your story to fall prey to some of the clichés and tired tropes that have arisen in Twilight’s wake.  If this isn’t going to be a romance, pretend I never said anything. The trend is such in YA right now that I assume everything is going to be a romance.]

A few details rang false to me. Why are the narrator and her mother driving from California to Michigan? It strikes me as odd that the mother, who seems anxious to unload both daughter and dog, would choose to drive over two thousand miles when flying would probably be easier for all involved. Also, I assume they’re making the trip on major interstate highways, so the presence of a stoplight tripped my radar. Have they pulled off the highway for some reason? Perhaps clarify for the reader. This may sound nitpicky, but these are the details that keep me up at night when I’m line editing a manuscript.

The narrator’s reaction to the barking dog jarred me at first, but then her subsequent acknowledgment that Happy was probably as scared as she was made it poignant. Both of them are justifiably on edge.

Lastly, this piece needs a strong copyedit. There are a lot of grammatical, punctuation, verb tense, and spelling issues (including the dreaded “then” vs. “than” in the last sentence). You want all of your manuscript to shine when you submit it, but if you have to give extra attention to any part of your story, let it be the first page. You don’t want to scare an acquiring editor away from a great potential story with careless errors right out of the gate.

See you all next week!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What's Your Editing Process?

Today I am hunkered down working on these final edits.  I have babysitters set for my children, power snacks ready for me, and I think I'm ready.

For me, I plan my edits.  I work on them on the computer, then I print out and read, then I read aloud, then I go back and make the changes on the computer.  Different layers and details always come to me during edits and when I add things, I always have to go through and read one more time.

Of course I won't catch all my typos and mistakes and that's why I'm so grateful for alpha readers.  And beta readers.  And critique groups.  They all make me better.

And after my confession on Monday you know this manuscript has been different than any other in the fact that I'm making a major change in the book late in the process.  It's stressed me out, but as I change and work and mold the material, I'm seeing something wonderful take shape and I hope my readers will, too.

So, what's your editing process?  How do you make it work for you?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

It's crunch time for me.  I'm doing final edits on this puppy and I'm really excited about where it's going.  We had a glitch earlier this week with making sure things were tight and snappy, but I think I've got a handle on it.

My word count wasn't great because I was mostly deleting and smoothing, but I'm happy with where I'm at and the direction I'm going in.

How did you do with your goals this week?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

G-Rated Non-Profanity (Yes, I'm Editing)

So, as you all know, I am elbow deep in edits and there may or may not have been some cursing and crying going on. Of course the cursing was my special brand of non-cursing because well, I'm not a fan of profanity.  But sometimes, the situation calls for a freakin' flippin' oh my heck.  (And if you are offended by non-curse words I apologize right now.  Do not read on.  Or click on the video.)

Remember how yesterday I told you I had to take out a character and a storyline?  This is how that went.  Picture me, sitting at my desk, clenching my teeth, and white-knuckling it with the delete key.  Page by page, looking at my witty writing and mumbling to myself, "Dang it, can I keep this somehow?"  and pulling on my hair answering myself with a "Noooo," and "Julie, what the holy scrud were you thinking?"

And then I banged my head on the desk a couple of times.  (Just kidding.  That would hurt if I did that.)

I got out the big guns around chapter five.  The pseudo-cursing would stop if my mouth was busy, so I got a bag of baby carrots to munch through while I did the hard part. For some reason crunching comforts me.  So I crunch.  I think I ate the entire bag of carrots (and I don't recommend doing that.  Just believe me that it's not really a good idea.)

Today, I went to the dentist to get myself ready to finish the rest of the edits/cuts.  The scraping and grinding on my teeth really put me in the right mood.  (Oddly, the dentist's office kept playing the Rocky theme.  I think that may have been a message just for me.)

But I am not in the Rocky mood yet.  I am definitely in the crunching and cursing mode still.  So I have included for your listening pleasure my 'I Love/Hate Editing So I Listen to This' song.  Try not to judge me.  (And also, do you have editing theme songs?  Or am I the only one?  Are you a curser or a non-curser?  Is curser a word?  Haha)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dissecting My Manuscript

When I was in junior high and high school, I always found science fascinating---especially when we were dissecting worms, frogs, cow eyes, and the like.  When I went to university, I took a Zoology course where we dissected a human body.  It was probably one of the most interesting classes I've ever taken in my life and I still remember a lot of the things I learned because I wasn't just talking about the nerve system or respiratory system, I was looking at it and touching it.  I was constantly amazed at the human body and the way it was put together so perfectly.

This past weekend, I was going over my manuscript, looking at the different parts of it and I realized there was an extraneous character and storyline.  It came to me so clearly that I needed to cut it out in order to tighten things up.  Getting out my writing scalpel isn't as painful as it could be, but I know I need to be precise.  It's hard to cut out an entire character and storyline without mucking up the rest of it.  So I have to not only cut, but smooth things over as well.  And I was feeling a bit overwhelmed about it this morning.

The more I've worked on it, however, the more I realize how much better this will make the book.  As fun as that part of the book would have been, it was just distracting in the long run.  And I don't want my readers distracted or thinking, what did that have to do with anything?

So, I cut myself a piece of chocolate cake with raspberry filling for fortification and I have my manuscript on the table ready and waiting.  I think I'm ready to really pick up my scalpel and get down to business with this thing.  (Wish me luck!)

Do you feel like multiple storylines can be distracting in a book?  Have you ever read a book you wished had been less cluttered?  Tell us all about it!

Friday, July 6, 2012

First Page Friday

I can't believe it's Friday already!  Remember, if you or your friends would like a critique from a national editor, please submit your double-spaced first page to juliecoulterbellon@gmail.com with First Page Friday in the subject line.  We've got two openings in July, so let your friends know!

The Entry
The Lost Kingdom
by Kris Ellsworth

There was once an old land where kings and queens reigned and magical creatures lived among mankind. In one of the most beautiful and fertile lands near a mighty forest, a small village thrived along a wide river that flowed from the forest. A sawmill had been built on the river because men found the wood along the forest line to be of the highest quality. With the success of the mill, the village started to be known as Miller Creek.
For many centuries, there had been no rulers, no magic, and the newer generations found stories of canotilas and ijiraqs to be nothing more than lore, a silly story to tell around the fire, or tales to get children to behave. Unknown to them, the magical community still existed but withdrawn from the mortal world. Instead, they hid deep within the swamplands found within the very forest that the mortals thrived on.
In the deepest part of the swamp, at the central part of the land, there laid the most fertile hammock holding the oldest of trees and the wisest of creatures. A circle of magnificent trees grew together, known to have been there since the world began. Although most trees die off long before a century has passed, these trees were of a special quality. They held within their depths the ancient spirits of the forest. Their combined powers governed the magical realm of the forest. Once a year, they emerged from their trees and gathered in council.
Has he come?” A soft voice came from the holly tree. From within its depth, emerged the form of the dryad, Ilex. He was thin and tall, and although he was younger than the rest of the trees and his skin was a beautiful polished white, it was wrinkled giving him an appearance of an old man. His lips and nails were of a bright red color. His garb was glossy green leather with a prickly, spiked appearance that matched the leaves of his tree. Upon his head was a wreath of holly, and in his hand a staff made of a holly branch.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

To begin, I’d like to talk about the first sentence in some depth. It reads, “There was once an old land where kings and queens reigned and magical creatures lived among mankind.”

This sentence misses the mark on a few fronts. First, it’s too generic. We have no concept of where this land is, and the fact that it’s a monarchy populated with magical creatures doesn’t tell us much more. It doesn’t make a strong enough first impression because it could be the opening of any fairy tale.

World-building is a vital element of fantasy writing, and the world in which your story lives needs to make a strong first impression. You need to establish in short order exactly what’s at stake in this world—e.g., rivalries, military conflicts, old betrayals and alliances, magical elements, etc. And don’t allow that world to become cluttered. In this first page, we learn that the unnamed land is populated with canotilas, ijiraqs, dryads, and other forest spirits. It feels like an unfocused potpourri of Lakota, Inuit, and Greek mythology.

Right now, the first three paragraphs read more like an information dump. You may want to start with a more concrete event and gradually work in some of the more general details presented here. Also, make sure to keep verb tense consistent. In the third paragraph, for instance, there’s a sudden shift to the present tense (“Although most trees die off...”).

The imagery of the “fertile hammock” is a bit confusing. I interpreted it literally at first and had to reread the sentence twice to comprehend that it was symbolic of the landscape. Generally, a hammock hangs between two objects, and it’s not clear what those two objects might be from the narrative. And would the deepest part of a swamp really be the most fertile? Also watch verb choice. The first sentence of this paragraph should read, “...there lay the most fertile hammock...”

As you revise this manuscript, consider what you can do to pull the reader in more immediately. Is there a pivotal event that can kick off the story? Which details are absolutely essential on the first page and which can wait? A strong beginning propels not only the reader, but also the author. You know when you’re “on” and in the zone, and when your story gains momentum right out of the gate, you’ll find that your writing becomes livelier and more cohesive. The readers will pick up on this energy, too, so it’s truly a win-win.

Thank you so much to Kris and Ms. Shreditor.  I think these critiques really help us all become better writers.  I also apologize for the weird formatting that is evident today in some paragraph indents.  Sometimes Blogger just hates me.  Apparently I need to give it chocolate or some form of Blogger love or something.  See you all next week, Blogger-willing!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Danger on Our Fourth of July

My city fireworks are always interesting.  Each year, usually a tree or grass have been started on fire.  One year, the cannon fell over and shot fireworks into the crowd.  Needless to say, going to this particular celebration always keeps me on my toes.

When we got there last night, they had the crowd set quite far back from the firing area and we put down our blankets, interested to see how this year would go.  For safety purposes, we sat a little closer to the exit than we have in years past.

The show started and within moments we were being pelted with debris and tiny flaming particles.  Covering ourselves and the children as best we could, we had almost a front row seat as fireworks (the white swirly ones) rained down on the field in front of us, looking like a celestial mass of bodies hurtling toward earth and exploding in little balls of fire.  It was beautiful, but also a little frightening, since you know, the field was catching fire.  Thankfully, nothing stayed on fire for long, although the flames from a small fire near the cannon got fairly large. Firemen were on the spot, however, and put it out.  (Which we were glad about since half of the mountains in Utah are currently on fire and we didn't want any more getting out of hand.)

My family gathered up all the debris pieces that hit us and I was just thinking I should take a picture and show you guys.  It's a fairly impressive pile.  I guess the best thing is, we have a memory every 4th of July, when we court danger and go to watch our city fireworks show.  I know, some of you think we're crazy for going, but hey, what can I say?  I'm a woman who walks on the edge.

How did your celebrations go?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July! And Word Count Wednesday

It's the 4th of July!  Hooray!  My entire family will be home today for a barbeque.  It makes me so grateful to live in a country where we can gather any time we want, with plenty of food, can have any discussion we want, and have the freedom and responsibility of citizenship in this wonderful country.  I heard a speech given by John Wayne and he talked about the million reasons he loves the USA.  I think I could count a million, too.  How are you celebrating today?

Well, I probably shouldn't admit this, but after an early neighborhood pancake breakfast, I looked over the edits my critique group gave me last night.  I need a Urim and Thummim for one of them, but I am excited about some of the suggested changes.  I may or may not work a bit before the family all gets here.  I'm on a roll this week since I got so much done on my work in progress. I'm feeling really confident in my direction.  I added over 4000 words and am right on track for this week.  How did you do this week?

                                    Happy 4th of July!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My New Cover! Come See!

I am SO excited to reveal the cover of my new book!  I think it's amazing and I can't wait for you to read it.


Monday, July 2, 2012

How Far Can Love Scenes Go in Clean Romance?

Remember how I was having such a hard day on Saturday?  (I was sick).  Well, today has been such a wonderful day.  I just saw the cover for my book that's coming out in the fall.  It is GORGEOUS!  I can't wait to show you the finished product.

So, I was having a conversation with some friends of mine over the weekend about what is acceptable to be shown as love scenes in clean romantic suspense books.  As you all know, I had someone object to a kiss in one of my books because they thought it lingered too long.  I was so surprised by the feedback because to me, it was an (almost) innocent kiss before my hero thinks he's going to die. (I guess in a way he does linger. But he thinks he's going to die, people!  DIE!)  But I am sensitive to the fact that people expect any romance in my books to be clean.  And I really thought I had done that, but now I wonder if my definition of clean is sort of not, if you know what I mean.

Of course when you pick up a thriller, romantic suspense, whatever, that is billed as clean, you have certain expectations---maybe your standard is no explicit love scenes.  Or maybe it's just a close the door and no explicit descriptions.  But we're all so different.  It's obvious that what is clean to me might not be clean to you.  So I'm curious, where do you draw the line?

During the discussion with my friends it came down to this---when we watch a movie, all of the information is fed to us.  We see what the director wants us to see.  With a book, we are using our imagination.  We bring all our experiences and background to that reading experience, so every time someone reads the book, their experience is different from anyone else who read that book.  For the woman who wrote about my characters' kiss being too long, in her experience and imagination it was.  For someone else it wouldn't even cross their minds.  So how clean does clean have to be?

What do you think?  How do you decide what is acceptable for love scenes in "clean" books and what isn't?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Happy Canada Day!

Just wanted to wish all my friends and  fellow Canadians a Happy Canada Day!  I'm celebrating with you and wish I could be there with my family today.   Miss you guys!