Friday, August 31, 2012

First Page Friday

Thank you to everyone for their opinions and comments yesterday.  I've decided to follow your advice and include the epilogue.  If a reader doesn't want to read it, they are free to skip.  (But I hope you all read it.  It's good!)

On to First Page Friday.  As always, if you'd like to have your first page critiqued, just email it to with First Page Friday in the subject line.  Remember to keep it double-spaced!

The Entry
Emma:  A Latter-day Tale
by Rebecca Jamison

My best friend was on her honeymoon, and I deserved a vacation myself, which was sort of what I got. A blizzard blew in a few hours after we dropped the newlyweds off at the airport, leaving us with no electricity, an unplowed street, and a refrigerator full of reception leftovers. Chicken salad anyone?

That was one good thing about living in Northern Virginia—a foot of snow meant no school or work for a few days. Still, it was nothing like Hawaii. Instead of lying on the beach in the sun, I split wood while the wind whipped through my hair and stung my face.

I wasn’t sorry when Justin Knightly came up the driveway because I was sure he’d take over the splitting. Justin stopped in front of me. “Does your dad know you’re using an axe?”

I swung the axe up over my head. “Twenty-three is old enough to use an axe. It’s a good way to work out my frustration.”

Justin stepped back. “Agreed.”

I pointed to the window above us, where Dad stood watching. “He’s ready with the first aid kit,” I said.

Justin wore a backpack and his ski gear. He also wore the relaxed grin of a guy who hadn’t shaved that morning. “Okay, Red, you look like you need a rest. Why don’t you let me takeover?”

I swung the axe against the log. “I’m not a red-head anymore.”

He laughed. “I keep forgetting. It must be the light.” Justin’s hair was in between blond and brown. He wore it short, which made it harder to tell what color his hair was. Mine was auburn.

I handed over the axe. “You know I hate it when people act like my hair color is all about me having a bad temper.”

Angela and Heidi's Comments

Wanted: A Sassy Attitude and a Good Sense of Humor

Our heroine has good “voice” and an ironic sense of humor. You can tell she’s going to have a bit of attitude, in a wry sort of way. I loved it when she says her dad’s standing by with the first aid kit. She’s also going to be a bit spunky; energetically working off her frustration by chopping wood on a cold, windy day clues us in to who we’re dealing with. This character has a distinct personality and promises to keep the reader entertained.

The whole “Does your dad know you’re using an ax?” bit is a great way to sneak in her age without feeling artificial. It also shows off Justin’s personality and sense of humor.

Same goes for the “I’m not a red-head anymore” line. It provides a potentially nice segue into the characters’ hair color and starts building an image of them in the reader’s mind, without being too awkwardly obvious. Then there’s some more humor (although we don’t get the punch line until the next paragraph) when she states that her hair color is auburn. (The distance between the red-hair bit and the auburn bit might create confusion and people would miss the joke. Putting it in dialogue would help with that delay. See my suggestion at the end of this paragraph.) But talk about splitting hairs – that’s still a red-head. And if her hair is naturally red, she’s still technically a red-head, even if she’s dyed it another shade. So nice humor, but at the same, we’re getting a little insight into this character. Obviously, she has issues with her hair. And with people judging her based solely on it. It sounds like she may have even gone so far as to dye it in order to escape the stigma (real or perceived.) (I would possibly massage that bit just a little more, as it can be confusing. Let’s find out Justin’s hair color through a joke or something—a blond joke maybe? Why would someone so familiar with Justin suddenly think about his hair color? Let’s have a firmer reason to get his visual stats. And she says she’s not a red-head, but then notes she’s auburn after that. Many readers would think it’s the same thing and thus be confused—would miss the joke. Maybe clarify in dialogue that red and auburn aren’t the same. He could say they are, and she can argue they aren’t, having firm conviction in her dye job.)

The other character, Justin, is very likeable. He comes across as easy-going and affable.

So we’ve got interesting, likeable characters with distinct personalities and a sense of the setting. You also have a sense of some problems in the heroine’s life, although nothing seems too insurmountable. There are some good questions being generated by this opening:

Is Red lonely with her best friend gone and happily married?

Is Red frustrated because she is tired from helping with the wedding, or because she is jealous she isn’t someplace warm and sunny, or rather because she hasn’t found her own happily ever after yet?

She’s 23 and appears to be at home. Does she live there still, or is she just visiting? And who is Justin Knightly? The boy next door? He seems to have an easy familiarity with Red, so it’s possible he’s someone she’s known a long time. He’s comfortable teasing her, and while she may be annoyed at that, she also looks at him as someone she can depend on (at least to take over her chores). If readers are going to invest several hours of their time with these characters, they want them to be fun or interesting, and Red and Justin promise to be both.

A Grand Opening

A solid opening should create questions, and this one does, but questions by themselves don’t always constitute a reliable hook. Questions can arouse curiosity, and sometimes curiosity alone can do the trick. 
Take, for instance, the first line from Barbara Hambly’s The Silicon Mage: “The worst thing about knowing that Gary Fairchild had been dead for a month was seeing him every day at work.”

Or Margaret Hendry’s Quest for a Maid: “When I was nine years old, I hid under a table and heard my sister kill a king.”

Or Ingrid Law’s Savvy: “When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane, and of course, the fact that he’d caused it.”

Or Dean Koontz’s Relentless: “This is a thing I’ve learned: even with a gun to my head, I am capable of being convulsed with laughter. I am not sure what this extreme capacity for mirth says about me. You’ll have to decide for yourself.”

Or Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: “So there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.”

In these cases, we know nothing about the main characters, not even their names, gender, or appearance, but which of us wouldn’t want to keep reading until we solve the riddle the opening sentence has created?

If you can create a zinger of a first line, one that shocks or thrills or mystifies or charms or makes the reader laugh out loud, do it. It’s practically the first commandment of writing a novel. But remember that a good hook often extends beyond the first sentence. You can make your first paragraph, first page, and entire first chapter into a hook that makes your reader crave more, compels them to hurry on to the next line and the next page without pause. To create your own reliable hook, I think we need to extend it just a little further (into something distinctly at stake for the protagonist).

We’ve Got Trouble, Right Here in River City

So, as noted above, a good way to extend the hook is to put something at stake for the main character. Given how competitive publishable, marketable storytelling is these days, your opening scene should—if at all possible—contain the inciting incident. Les Edgerton in Hooked describes this as “…the event that creates the character’s initial surface problem and introduces the first inklings of the story-worthy problem.” In short, you’ve got to introduce trouble, chaos, and mayhem into the protagonist’s world. If you don’t got trouble, you don’t got story. The sooner you can get to the crux of the trouble, the better for your story.

Depending on the genre and style of your story, the trouble can range from an asteroid on collision with the earth to a kidnapped child to being fired by the boss. But trouble comes in all shapes and sizes. A romantic comedy won’t have end-of-the-world types of trouble, but things will go wrong in the protagonist’s life, and they can still pack the emotional punch of that rogue asteroid. (If it’s finally facing being alone due to the best friend, that needs to come out more, along with clarity on how big this is for your character—as well as how Justin might exacerbate such a problem. I didn’t get a clear sense of their relationship or relationship potential or relationship-conflict potential; does she feel annoyed to see him, relieved, repressed excitement, depressed? A little more emotional intensity/complexity there will help draw us in to their potential conflict or relationship).

For this story, we don’t have enough info to confidently label the genre, although it appears to be leaning toward the lighter end of the spectrum, either rom-com or lighter romantic suspense. Introducing trouble at the right spot (the beginning) can help clear this confusion up, because the type of trouble can let the reader know what type of story to expect. Your mission is to find the best way to show that trouble in the first paragraph or page, if possible, and if not, it still must be done in the first chapter, and you need to give major hints in the first page that trouble is on its way. It may seem formulaic, but it’s the new norm for novels today, although it isn’t necessarily a new concept. Even the ancient Greek playwrights understood the importance of this concept – for instance Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, which introduces the inciting incident in the very first scene.

Trouble = Happy Readers

So give the readers trouble, and they will be happy. Right now, Red’s only trouble seems to be that she wishes she were on the beach in Hawaii rather than snowbound in Virginia. That—and the fact that she’s been cursed with red hair.

You’ve got appealing characters, strong voice, and a nice touch of humor. Now throw some trouble into the brew, and you’ll have the start of something good.

Thank you to Rebecca, Angela, and Heidi for all their hard work.  See you next week!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Epilogue---Yes or No?

I've been going back and forth about an epilogue I've written for my manuscript.  So many times I've been told that readers don't like their stories all tied up with a happy ending and a pretty bow.  They like the main conflict resolved and that's it.  Characters learned, people were changed, the story is over.

But, for me, I like mostly happy endings and if I've loved the characters I want to know more---and that is why I like epilogues.  I like finding out what happened to characters after the main conflict is over.  For me, it's okay to find a little happiness after a life-changing event or to see how life went on.

I really like the epilogue I've written and think it ties my story together nicely.  And it gives a little more depth to the ending for my characters.  But if it's true readers don't like epilogues, maybe I've written it for the small minority of readers (like me) who like epilogues.  I just don't know.

So, tell me dear readers, do you like epilogues?  Should I include one or not?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

Well, my word count is still way down because I'm just finishing up the last details on this book so it can go to press.  I do plan on drafting my new novel soon, though, and I'm sure my word count will pick up when that starts.  (If it goes as well as I think it will)  Maybe we can even do some more writing sprints together.

How's your writing going now with kids back in school?  I was surprised at how quickly we picked up our old routine.  I love nap times for my kids.  It really helps to have a regular block of time for writing.

I hope you had a great writing week!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review: Faith, Hope, and Gravity

Merrill Osmond and Shirley Bahlmann have written a book called Faith, Hope, and Gravity.  It is the story of a young man named Liam who occasionally has "visions" of events before they happen.  He made the mistake of warning another boy his age about money going missing and such, and the boy thinks Liam has cast a spell on him or has magic or something and he begins to bully Liam.  It goes so far as to put Liam in a predicament where he is severely injured and Liam carries emotional and physical scars from that attack for years afterward that affects him in various ways.

The book takes Liam all over the world from Hawaii, to Las Vegas, to Iceland, England, France, and Italy to name a few.  In each place he meets another "visionary" or some person that offers him advice and wisdom to works through the after-effects from his injury.  I think that's what made it a little hard for me to get into the book because just as I would get comfortable with the setting and what Liam was going through, when we'd be thrown into another setting and introduced to new characters.  It made most of the book's characters seem very on the surface to me because we didn't get to know them well before we were on to the next setting.  It was sort of like a lot of adventures all in one book.  It did occur to me that perhaps it would have worked better as little vignettes from Liam's life or just concentrating on one adventure and having the rest be subsequent books so we could really get a feel for Liam.  Regardless, there is a message that ties the book together of faith carrying you through your difficulties and we all have talents to offer the world.  Liam does go through a lot in his life, and having his gift is both a blessing and a curse for him.  He has a lot of people around him to care for him and help him and that is something we all want in our life---the common dream if you will.

Here is the back copy:

 Faith, Hope and Gravity” is the spiritual, magical adventure of teenage Liam Kane as he discovers some of the same lessons Merrill Osmond learned as the world-traveling lead singer of the Osmond Brothers. Like Merrill, Liam is often misunderstood as he helps those seeking for purpose in their extraordinary talents. Liam’s visionary abilities gain him international notoriety as “The Prophecy Boy” who swims with dolphins, dreams of a mysterious red door, and champions those who are often misjudged for their uncommon gifts. Surviving kidnapping, near-drowning, and imprisonment leads to the discovery that despite differences, when people respect each other and their wide variety of abilities, the thread of commonality that runs through mankind grows ever stronger. Turn the pages to join in this unforgettable journey.

And just for your information:

You also have the option of joining Merrill and Shirley for a BOOK BOMB CELEBRATION on August 29, 2012!

When you purchase FAITH, HOPE, AND GRAVITY from (softcover book or ebook) on August 29th you’ll receive several free gifts, including Merrill’s new song, ebooks, training seminars, podcasts, and additional music! Plan to help spread the word because we’ll be posting a fun contest with great thank you gifts for your support.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back Copy Reveal for All Fall Down

Well, after a long hard road, here is the back copy for my new book, All Fall Down.  What do you think?

Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down . . .

That simple rhyme turns negotiator Claire Michaels’ current hostage situation into an international incident. Claire just wants to help get everyone out safely, but as the crisis escalates she realizes she’s dealing with an al-Qaeda operative who has the means to become another bin Laden¾with the potential to attack America.  Claire has her own personal reasons for wanting to stop al-Qaeda, but time is slipping away as negotiations break down.  Can she overcome her scars from the past in order to get the hostage out alive and possibly stop an assault on U.S. national security? 

Navy SEAL Rafe Kelly is home on leave to recover from a knee injury he suffered during his tour in Afghanistan, and he doesn’t expect to be fighting terrorists on his home turf.  But when he is taken hostage and his brother is kidnapped, Rafe teams up with a hostage negotiator in order to stay alive and get his brother back.  The terrorist is always one step ahead of them, however, and the situation quickly turns from desperate to deadly.  Will Rafe be able to save himself and his country without anyone he loves getting caught in the crossfire?  

Friday, August 24, 2012

First Page Friday---Guest Critique

So, with my vacation and school starting for my kids, I didn't realize that there were five Fridays in August. When I finally realized it and contacted Ms. Shreditor, she was on her way out of town. Not wanting to disappoint my readers, I asked Jordan McCollum to guest critique today. I hope you find it as helpful as I did! See you next week.

The Entry
Saving Grace
by Kasey Tross

I could feel them before I could actually see them. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and as my pulse quickened I forced my breath to slow. I had learned to pay attention to this feeling. I listened.

“So then, he was like, ‘This is my friend Joey,’ and I’m all, ‘I didn’t come over here to meet your friend Joey’- well, you know, I didn’t actually say that out loud- and he’s like-“ Jana paused in her narrative. “Zo, what are you doing?”

I put a hand up in front of my cousin’s face to silence her and stopped, listening. In the distance I heard a car rushing down the dark, rain-soaked street. Somewhere else in the city a siren wailed. A dog barked.

“Zoe?” Jana whispered.

“Just start walking. Quickly,” I urged her. I clutched my purse tighter under my arm and we continued walking straight ahead, quickening our pace. I knew that our car was only another block away.

The hairs on the back of my neck, however, had been telling the truth. The distinct sound of heavy footsteps rapidly approached us from behind just as a dark figure stepped out of a doorway ahead. Crap, I thought.

I had been mugged once before, but it was when I was 10, and I had been with my parents. There were two men, and I remembered the way my mother had slapped the gun out of the tall one’s hand, twisting him into a headlock, while my father had sucker-punched the other one in the face, grabbed his gun, and thrown him to the ground. I had been the one to call 9-1-1, and I remembered my parents chatting casually with me as they held the muggers at gunpoint, waiting for the police to arrive. I sighed, thinking how I wished they were here now.

Jordan's Critique

Thanks for asking me, Julie! I'm flattered. I've included a few links to more information about some of the topics I mention, when a full discussion of that particular technique doesn't really fit here.

What I like off the bat!

My two favorite lines are:
  • I had learned to pay attention to this feeling.
  • The hairs on the back of my neck, however, had been telling the truth.
Often a flashback in an opening is a death knell, but this one directly relates to the present story, is short enough to not bring the present story to a full stop, and raises some good questions. I like the ambiguity with the parents--who are these people? Law enforcement, military, spies? (I'm thinking of the Blues in Undercover Blues.) That's the kind of question I like hinted at early in a story. It tells us there's a lot more to this person and her past, and it's a promise I hope this book fulfills.

Things to work on

There's a good idea behind the beginning, but it's a little too vague to be effective. The first sentence leaves us wondering who "them" is, but the second sentence beings with a plural noun which almost seems to define "them." Then the reader is left trying to figure out whether "them" is "the hairs on the back of my neck." I'm assuming "them" refers to the men, but perhaps it would be a little clearer if we used something a little more concrete instead of "them," such as "the men" or "the threat."

It's clear that we're starting at a moment of change, and that's fantastic. Starting with action can be a challenge, though, because readers need to be persuaded to care about characters before they're plunged into danger, or the reader has a hard time caring about the danger. I think we can definitely get to know these characters a little bit more in this short space. (Read more on creating character sympathy.)

Be careful, too, about letting the scene we're setting seem too cliche. It's a dark and stormy night and a shadowy figure cuts them off. I would hope to see something really unexpected happen somewhere in this somewhat stock scene.

Opportunities to dig deeper

Some opportunities I see: It's very hard to judge in only 300 words, but I think we could see more of Zoe's voice, too. Her attitude, her thoughts, her perceptions, and her unique take on things can be such a great draw for readers (and publishers!). As a writer, that was my favorite part of writing my most recent manuscript in first person, and I think the voice is what drew me to my two favorite sentences.

On that note, we can also convey more about the characters, their attitudes and priorities and even physical appearance. We see that Jana and Zoe are cousins, but it would be easy to convey a little more about their relationship with simple vocabulary choices. Instead of "Jana paused in her narrative," what kind of difference does "Jana paused in her prattling" or "in her gossip" or "in retelling her misadventures" make? Those simple word choices help convey their relationship, Zoe's attitude, even her priorities (which obviously aren't Jana and her story right now), as well as lending a little more voice.

The setting could be another way to dig into her voice. We need a little more grounding a little sooner. We open with Zoe detecting a threat, and the first thing she does is try to calm herself (right?), and listen. If she looked at the same time, we'd get the setting anchors that help enhance the feeling of danger. Are they on a street or in an alley? Is there anyone else around? We get this information later, but it could have more of an impact above.

Jana's first line of dialogue fills its purpose, but I think it might be a missed opportunity. They don't have to be talking about orphans or something like that, but those lines could characterize Jana & Zoe more, help us care about them more.

Technical stuff: simultaneity and 'as'

This lesson comes from Dwight Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer. Swain points out that reading is a linear activity. Our eyes scan across a line, and our brains process the words in order. This makes clauses that are simultaneous a subtle processing speedbump.

Three sentences use an "as" construction here. Just to use the first as an example: "The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and as my pulse quickened I forced my breath to slow."

This sentence has three responses/actions happening at the same time, but really, I think the first one or two actions are a response to the feeling she's just had, which become a stimulus for the third action (breathing). Breaking them up can also pick up the pace here: "The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. My pulse quickened. But I forced my breath to slow."

Of course, your mileage may vary on that particular example, but any device can become distracting if it's used too often.

Technical stuff: filter words

I noticed a few instances of "filter" words or "scaffolding" throughout the passage. When the narrator says, "I knew that our car was only another block away," "and I remembered the way my mother had slapped the gun . . .", "Crap, I thought," or that she's "thinking how I wished they were here now," the narrator is telling what the character thinks, sees, feels or hears.

Too many of these phrases can draw attention to that scaffolding—the words that encase the character’s thoughts—rather than the important thing, the thoughts' contents. It can actually pull sensitive readers out of the story, reminding them too much that they're watching the narrator instead of allowing the readers to live the story through the narrator.

If you establish the POV at the beginning of the scene, and continue to show your character’s thoughts throughout the scene, simple declarations and observations of the world around him don’t require you, the author, to tell us that the POV character is the one seeing/feeling/tasting, etc. Cutting back the unnecessary scaffolding lets the elegant architecture of the sights and senses of your story shine through. (You can read more about scaffolding words.)

How do you do that here? Unless the words really add a shade of meaning or show the character's thought process, the delete key is the solution for a lot of these. In the examples I cited:
  • "I knew that our car was only another block away," becomes "Our car was only another block away."
  • "I remembered the way my mother had slapped the gun . . ." could become "My mother slapped the gun out of the tall mugger's hand" (And we might even be able to get away with cutting the static "There were two of them"). This can also help with the perennial awkwardness of past perfect throughout the miniflashback: Zoe establishes right away that this was years ago, so there's no confusion, the biggest reason you need past perfect.
  • For "thinking how I wished they were here now," the change is a little bigger. The full sentence is "I sighed, thinking how I wished they were here now." Personally, I'd break this into two sentences, the first being "I sighed." (Well, I've developed a nervous tic every time I type "sigh," so I might go for a more telling gesture there.) And the second sentence would depend heavily on the voice and the story: anything from "I wish they were here now" to "Why couldn't they be here now?"
  • "Crap, I thought." The italics are already an indicator that this is a direct thought, so we don't need the "I thought." However, I'm not sure we need the italics, either. In a first-person narrative, we know everything we're seeing and hearing comes through this character's eyes. All the commentary comes directly from her mind as well, so why italicize direct thoughts? It pulls us out of her head.


I like a lot of the questions this opening raises. It's done the #1 job of making me want to know more. With just a little bit more polish, it could be a seamless read that sucks even sensitive readers in and refuses to let go.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Almost Couple vs. Couple--Which One is More Interesting to Read?

So I was having a discussion this morning about what is more interesting to read in a romantic suspense book---a couple that is working their way toward each other during dangerous circumstances and having those first stirrings of attraction/love, or a couple that is already together.

At first my response was, it depends on the story and how well-written it is, because if the plot is stupid, it doesn't matter about the couple.  But then I thought a little more about it.

There are movies like Mr. and Mrs. Smith about a married couple in the spy business, but I don't think those are the norm for a reason.  As many TV writers tell you, it is hard to write material for a couple when they're already together.  The tension leading up to a couple getting together is what sells it.  (I'm reminded of one of my favorite spy shows, Alias, and one of the things that totally sold that show was the relationship with Sydney and Vaughn.  I loved them).  I think the same may be true in books.  Who didn't love the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth?  *le sigh*

But if we go back to TV shows for a minute, in my favorite show, Castle, (only a month until the season premiere.  Eeee!) many people have been clamoring for Kate and Rick to get together for at least two years.  The writers have thrown obstacles in their path, some of them stupid, but regardless, it's taken four seasons for them to get close to taking their relationship to the next level.  Writer/producers/fans have all gone back and forth and it came down to, "we don't want the Moonlighting curse."  Meaning, of course, that old show Moonlighting with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis which is "proof" that supposedly once a couple is together it kills the show.  (Although I think there were extenuating circumstances beyond the getting together on Moonlighting, but that's another story.)  Then the creator of Castle came out and said that he feels there's a lot of intricate stories you can tell once a couple is together. Yay!  I think so, too, but it takes more creativity and work, I think.  I hope he makes that come true for Castle this season.

Anyway, I digress.  For me, in my favorite books I love the tension with the couple, the dance and the romance while skirting terrible danger.  In my own books, I always write the couple as getting to know each other and falling in love under stressful circumstances.  In the project I'm mapping out now, though, it's the sequel to Ribbon of Darkness, and Kennedy and Ethan are already together.  This is a new experience for me and I'm wondering if I can do it justice just because dynamics are different when you have a couple that is already together vs. one that is just getting together.  It's fun and exciting and scary, too.

What do you think?  Do you find almost-couples or already couples more interesting to read about?  Who are your favorite fictional couples?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

You know, I was thinking I should have counted all the words I edited this week.  Because that would be a lot!  Maybe I'll make up a number.  I edited at least four billion words this week and am coming to the end of my editing and soon this book will be gone to press.  Woohoooo!

All right I didn't edit four billion words but it felt that way.  And hopefully today, I will be editing the last chapter.  The. Last. Chapter.  I can hardly believe it.  When I hit those choice words---The End---then it will be party time bay-bee!  If I invite you to my end-of-editing party, will you come?

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Writing Direction . . . Do You Know Where You're Going?

When we were in San Diego last week, we were using our GPS to help us find somewhere to eat.  With just the press of a button, the GPS told us we were about a mile and a half from a Wendy's.  The kids were ecstatic and we set off.

After following several twisty and turny roads, we were within 500 feet of the restaurant.  Or so we were told.  When we made the last turn, instead of seeing a Wendy's restaurant, we saw SDSU.  The GPS had taken us to the university campus instead.  (Yeah, I know there could have been a Wendy's in a food court somewhere on campus, but still . . .)

The kids started joking around that because our GPS is old, that maybe SDSU had bulldozed the Wendy's to make the campus.  (Sadly, since that wasn't the only time our GPS led us astray on our trip, I'm thinking it's time to update.  We seriously cheered when it actually found somewhere for us.)

I was thinking today how that is sometimes like our writing.  We're in unfamiliar territory when we're starting a new manuscript.  We think we have the direction we want and we cheer on the way there, thinking all is well and we're moving right along to where we want to go.  But then we make that last turn and realize where we thought we were going isn't there at all.  Then we have to turn around and try again, either in a new direction or detouring around the old until we figure out where to go from here.

That happens to me a lot in my writing.  I used to be a total pantser, letting my writing take its own course and seeing where it took me.  But as I've written more and more books, I see the need for me to outline, at least loosely, so I have a direction.  So many times, however, the direction I thought I was going in ends up not being the way I end up traveling at all and I detour around and find a new path.  It's exciting and a little scary, but I think it's made my story stronger and more interesting in the end.

Have you ever had your plot or characters take you in a direction completely different from where you thought you were going?

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm Baaaack . . .

Whew!  It feels so weird to be sitting in front of a computer again.  We took off last Monday and went to San Diego with the family.  I was a little worried about how my two little ones would do traveling that far, but they did great!

Of course traveling with a large family has its challenges and funny moments.  We stopped at a restaurant and when the older kids got out of the car, they did a little dance in the parking lot.  Just as they finished, an older lady got out of her car with a shocked look on her face.  I seriously almost doubled over laughing at the whole scene.

We also get a lot of stares, people counting us, and questions about if we're all one family.  We've been mistaken for a traveling soccer team, a YMCA group, and always get asked at least once, "so, you're really all together? All of you?"  This time was no exception, but the kids are pretty used to it now.  We did have one incident at a hotel where a guy was a Lakers fan and there was some friendly rivalry talk going on amongst him and my kids who are Jazz fans.  The guy pointed to some other Lakers fans in the pool and my kids were all, "yeah, that's great that there's four of you.  There's nine in our family alone."  The shocked look on the guy's face was priceless and he yelled over to his friends, "watch out, there's nine of them!"  Haha.  (If you're wondering why there's only nine and not ten, my oldest son had to work and so we could only take seven of the kids. Sad!)

Anyway, our first day we went to SeaWorld and saw two shows, one with Shamu and one with pilot whales and dolphins.  There were a ton of aquariums to look at, some rides, interactive stuff (I touched a bunch of slimy fishy things.)  We also ate lunch there and that was probably the most expensive lunch (of hot dogs) that we've ever had.  My feet were killing me by the end, but we had a great time.  (My little ones got up close and personal with a beluga whale.  It was adorable!)

Second day was San Diego Zoo.  That was a very hot day and the zoo is ginormous.  We got to see koala bears, pandas, big cats, polar bears, and ride the sky tram to name a few highlights.  But honestly, my feet had gone on strike by this time and the hills we had to walk were leg-numbingly hard.  I had three people tell me as they walked by that I looked hot and I instinctively knew they didn't mean I looked good.  Or cute.  Or anything but hot in the not-good sense of the word.  Haha.

We also saw the Mormon Battalion museum (I had an ancestor who served in that) the San Diego temple, and the USS Midway.  My father-in-law served on the Midway in his Navy days so it was awesome to see the ship he served on and have my kids be part of it.  There were some incredible planes to see and sit in the cockpits, too.

The best part of the trip was the beach, where we played in the sand and jumped waves in the Pacific ocean.   We just had some great family time---no computer, no distractions.  I loved it.  But I'm also grateful to be home.

I missed you all and feel like I need to catch up on everything from the blog last week.  You are awesome.  Thank you for being so supportive, not only of my writing, but of me personally.  It means a lot.  I know I've said it before, but I have the best blog friends out there.  And I mean that.

Now can someone get over here and rub my feet?  (Haha, just kidding.  Only not.  Okay, yes I'm kidding.)  It's great to be back!

Friday, August 17, 2012

First Page Friday

Thank you to everyone who submits their stuff for First Page Friday.  I am so excited each week to see the critiques.  If you would like your first page done, the submission guidelines are in the sidebar.

The Entry

She Came From The Hill
by Janice Sperry

Nothing thrived at the far end of the park. Even laughter died at the first stunted tree. Clay could have skipped the shortcut had Alex, who had the communication skills of a bad WIFI connection, called an hour earlier.  Proper packing takes time. In five months he’d get his license and could drive around the park. Five months never felt so far away.

Clay tightened the straps on his heavy overnight pack and pedaled up the dead forest path. His tires kicked up dirt, making the air thick with dust. The place felt off, like shadows were waiting to jump at him from behind the brittle trees. It was completely irrational.  He pedaled faster anyway, his feet moving with the rhythm of his pounding heart.

The creepiness clung to his skin like cobwebs, even after he left the park in his dust. It was time to give up Ghost Watch. The show was making him paranoid. He coasted down the road and skidded to a stop in Alex’s driveway. His friends were scattered around the yard, none of them in uniform. Clay straightened his scout shirt.  They needed to take scouting more seriously.

Alex aimed a small camcorder at him and pushed a button. Light flashed in Clay’s eyes, blinding him.

Clay shaded his eyes with his hands. “Alex!” 

“The enhanced light works!” Alex turned it off, leaving Clay seeing spots.

“What’s the camera for?” Clay got off his bike and dropped his pack at his feet.

Alex shut the tiny screen, leaned forward, and whispered, “The camera sees what we can’t.”

“Like what?”  Mr. Walters never let them leave the campground at night, no matter how quietly they sneaked out of the tent.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

The first paragraph of this sample starts off strong and then gets a bit disjointed at the end. The opening two sentences create an eerie, desolate tone. Then, Clay observes that he wouldn’t have had to rush if Alex had called earlier. The narrative shifts momentarily to the present tense to tell us that “proper packing takes time” before reverting to the past. Keep the verb tense consistent, and consider whether or not Clay’s musings about his future license provide a strong enough hook for the reader. There needs to be more at stake from the outset than Clay’s inability to drive.

The next few paragraphs read a lot more smoothly. They tell us that Clay is a scout of some sort and that the boys are engaging in some sort of ghost hunting activity. I really liked the matched momentum of Clay’s pounding heart and his bike pedaling.

I’m a bit confused on a few points, though. The story tells us that Clay ends up in Alex’s driveway. Alex does a quick demo of the camcorder’s enhanced light function and suggests that the equipment can see what the naked eye can’t. Clay asks for clarification, and then we’re left with a confusing sentence about Mr. Walters, who remains unidentified and hasn’t been mentioned previously, and the campground. Are the boys about to go on a scout camping trip? (Clay’s backpack, mentioned in the second paragraph, hints at this, but we don’t know for sure.) Is Mr. Walters their scout leader? If so, the narrative needs to make this clearer. Otherwise, the last sentence feels out of place, as it doesn’t link up at all to the dialogue that precedes it.

A few syntax-level notes: I would change “skills” to “abilities” in the third sentence; otherwise, it’s a somewhat awkward analogy. A WiFi connection wouldn’t have skills. Also, change “could” to “be able” in the second-to-last sentence of the first paragraph.

As you proceed, think about the story you plan to tell. Why is this Clay’s story? What’s at stake for him personally? Ultimately, make sure that Clay stands out in his own story. Alex, a secondary character, left a stronger impression with me. Otherwise, the pacing, setting, and dialogue are quite good!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back to School is Almost Here! Good or Bad?

As a mom and a writer, I always feel energized and motivated to write when school starts again.  It's like a new start for me, too, because we're back on schedule.  The little kids love routine and I can usually squeeze more quality writing time in.  Although summer is awesome, too, because I have babysitters, but there's something invigorating about heading into the fall and starting back to school with a fresh outlook on learning and life.

So, as a writer, does back to school routine energize you or tire you?  Does it even matter?  Do you feel more organized or a need to get more organized with your writing and your time?  (I hope there's something else out there like me and I'm not just weird.)  (But, then again, most writers are weird.  Ha!)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

So, after my post yesterday I bet you can guess that I didn't do any writing at all this week.  None.  Nada.  My word count is zero.

But we've had some great times laughing together as a family.  It has been a glorious week so far.

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Taking a Break from Writing . . . Bad Idea?

Some of my writer friends write for four to six hours a day.  I sometimes envy that because I'm not at a place in my life where I can.  I'm pretty much in the 'whatever bit of time I can get on the computer' is my writing time.  I have eight kids and two of them are under four.  They keep me busy and being a mom is my first priority.

You see, with my older five children, I've learned that time with my kids really does go by way too fast and before I know it, they're moving out and are on their own.  I even miss the times when they were small and they laid there listening to my made up bedtime stories in the dark.  We have some wonderful family memories for them to take with them when they fly the nest.  Well, mostly.

This week is going to be one of those times.  It is the last week before school starts, before one of my children moves away to college, and I want to make some memories with the family in this last week of togetherness.  I know I have writing deadlines.  I know I need to do editing.  But this has to come first.

A friend of mine who writes every day and puts out two books a year said that I should take a day for the family and then concentrate on my writing.  "You can pack a lot into a day," she said.  (she knows I have a lot to do and is great at encouraging me.) But, this time, I just can't do it. I'm selfish.  I want the week.  My writing will always be there and yes, I may be shooting my writing career in the foot and putting myself further behind on some things  (I don't think that's fatal) but my kids will not always be here.  And someday, when we're all sitting around the table, and their kids are running around my house, I want them to be able to say, "Hey, mom, remember when we took a car trip and had to listen to a Roger Miller album the whole way because that was the only thing that would soothe the baby?  I still can sing every word of that whole album."  Or "Remember when we all sang Barney tunes until my oldest son couldn't take it anymore, then we caught him whistling the same tune while we were in the museum and laughed until our sides hurt?"  Yeah, that's my dream.  For them to remember all the silly stuff we did and how much fun we had in between the arguments.

Writermom.  That's the name of the blog, but sometimes I think it should be Momwriter.  Such a delicate line.

What do you think?  How do you balance family needs with your writing?  Do you think breaks are needed or valuable?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Twitterpated

I have been a fan of Melanie Jacobson's books since her first one came out.  She has a witty style of writing that appeals to me and she does relationship stuff really well.  Twitterpated is no exception.

Our heroine is Jessie, a girl who has shied away from relationships ever since the guy she dated through high school and beyond decided to marry someone else.  She becomes engrossed in her work, even though she says she doesn't really love it, and has a rivalry with another manager at said work that pretty much gives her something to live for.  Her roommate tries to help her social life by signing her up for an LDS dating site and she does meet someone on the site who is normal and fun and wants to date her.

Ben has his own emotional baggage though, from a broken engagement to a girl who was a workaholic.  He gets a lot of mixed messages from Jessie, and he seems a little concerned about her work issues, but he doggedly pushes on.  I loved Ben.  I thought he was a great hero and he was an incredibly patient person.  Which made me not as sympathetic to Jessie because she kind of came across as . . .  well, whiny to me.  "I can't go out, I have to work" sort of thing.  Her roommate calls her on her inabilities to commit (because some guy dumped her four plus years ago---which made me say huh?  Really?  You're still hung up on that?  Weird.)  There were more than a few times where I shook my head at Jessie's actions and excuses.  It did set her up for some great stuff from her roommate, though.  I loved her roommate Sandy.  Sassy, fun, and a lot of depth.  (I sort of loved her more than Jessie.  I don't know why!  She just really sparkled.)

Anyway, it's a cute book about a relationship between two people trying to overcome a lot of baggage.  It wasn't the stay-up-all-night-to-see-what-happens kind of book that I found her other books to be, but I still enjoyed it and look forward to her next book (which I heard is about Sandy, the roommate).  If you're looking for a fun romance then this is the book for you.

Here is the back copy:

 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?

Friday, August 10, 2012

First Page Friday

Welcome to another edition of First Page Friday, where national editors critique your first page!  Want to submit?  Guidelines are in the sidebar . . .

The Entry
Window of Time
by DJ Allen

“I have to kill you now. It’s nothing personal.”
Lucia aimed her .38 revolver at the knotted-up muscle and shot a single bullet into the snake’s head. The hot Sonoran desert north of the Arizona-Mexican border supplied her with a variety of vegetation to use as cover, but hiding hadn’t been her idea after their coyote ditched her and the other members of her group.
“I’m sorry I had to evict you, Mr. Sidewinder,” Lucia said, sliding onto the cool, shady sand, “but this Mesquite bush isn’t big enough for both you and me. I couldn’t take a chance that you’d come back if I moved you to another residence. Besides,” she whispered with a small smile on her lips, “snake tastes just like chicken.” 


“What was that?” Border Agent Mark Whittier asked.
Agent Jason Morelli put down his binoculars and stared at his field-training officer. “It sounded like a gunshot!” 
“We better go check it out. Could you tell which way it came from?”
“Yeah . . . from the south.”
Whittier shoved his equipment bag over to the passenger seat. “Very funny.”
“Okay, okay, it was more southwest,” Morelli said, opening his driver’s door. “I’ll take the point.” He grinned and added, “Try not to get lost.”
Whittier got behind the wheel of his four-wheel drive Tahoe and softly chuckled. He lifted the microphone off the dashboard, and held it to his lips. “Take it easy with the new truck, Morelli.”
“You worry too much.”
“And you don’t worry enough.”
“We’re finally getting some movement, and you aren’t excited?”
Whittier let out a deep breath of sudden frustration at his rookie. “Just don’t get careless. Don’t make me regret letting you check out your own truck today.”
“I won’t.”
Whittier kept pace with his rookie for another mile before stopping on a short ridge. Opening his door, Whittier grabbed his binoculars and stepped out on the running board, and swept the hot landscape with his elbows propped up on the edge of the window frame. The high noon heat made the distance slowly dance like looking through the clear flame of a fire.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

The first section accomplishes a lot in just over 100 words. Not only do we know where Lucia is geographically, but we can start to visualize her surroundings thanks to the mention of the Mesquite bush and the contrast between the hot desert and cool sand. It’s vivid without being flowery. The second paragraph, however, did confuse me a bit. There’s a reference to “their coyote,” but we don’t know who “they” are. And who is her group? I think there’s definitely room to flesh out Lucia’s scene.

Expanding upon Lucia’s point of view might also resolve my biggest reservation: the section break on the first page. The readers hardly have time to get acquainted with Lucia before we skip to another scene and another set of characters. You don’t want to overload your audience with too many characters too soon. The section break does create a nice bridge between Lucia’s final threat and the sound of her gunshot, but I’m worried about the point of view shifting after just three paragraphs. It’s certainly possible to write a novel with in-chapter POV switches, but you want to make sure it’s balanced. (Here, Whittier gets nearly double Lucia’s face time.)

The dialogue flows nicely in the second scene, but the POV here needs fortifying. I’m assuming that this is Whittier’s point of view, but there’s little to verify this. Try adding in some of Whittier’s thoughts to make it more immediately clear that he’s at the wheel. We don’t get inside Lucia’s head, either, but there also aren’t other characters in her scene to make us wonder.

A few minor quibbles: Consider changing the dialogue tag in the third paragraph to read “Lucia continued.” This will make it clearer that it was also Lucia who spoke in the first paragraph.  You’ll also want to change “Arizona-Mexican border” to “Arizona-Mexico border.” Otherwise, you’ve compounded a proper noun and an adjective. Lastly, it’s unlikely that Whittier would be opening his door and grabbing his binoculars at the same time, so try adding a preposition to show the progression: “After opening his door, Whittier grabbed his binoculars and stepped out on the running board. He swept the hot landscape...”

In closing, I’ve learned something important from this week’s entry: Never, ever cross Lucia. Mr. Sidewinder, you never stood a chance.

(Sorry for the weird formatting in places.  Sometimes Blogger hates me no matter what I do.)  Thank you so much to Ms. Shreditor and to DJ Allen.  See you next week!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Criticism vs. Critique

Yesterday when I posted a tongue-in-cheek version of what my critique group was like the night before, I had some interesting emails directed toward me.  I am always fine with my blog readers emailing me and I have made some great friends from this blog, but I wanted to clarify something.  Yesterday's post was an exaggeration.  I was trying to be funny.  I love my critique group and they have made my writing stronger, there's no doubt about that.

Today I'd like to talk to you about the difference between criticism and critique.  These two are very different things and sometimes I think that there aren't enough discussions on what a critique really is.

I think in our world today criticism (of pretty much everything) is prevalent.  To me, criticism is negative evaluation without offering solutions.  I can criticize my own work pretty well.  Those negative voices are only too eager to tell me everything that's wrong, not only with my manuscript, but with me as a writer.  And I think that some writers/reviewers/people in general criticize others easily under the guise of giving feedback, when in truth, it is not helpful to receive only criticism.

For me, critique is evaluation that can stay objective and constructive.  It can be positive as well as negative in letting the writer know what isn't working in the manuscript as well as what is working.  It doesn't get personal, but it is supportive of the  writer.  A good critique is still encouraging for the writer.

I have some wonderful people in my life who are very willing to evaluate my manuscripts and tell me what's wrong with it, but we also laugh a lot along the way.  When our critique group was over that night, one of the group said how much her abs would ache the next day from laughing so hard.  And it's true.  We laugh a lot when we're together.  And when they're critiquing my work, or when I get an evaluation back, I sit there feeling very grateful to have these amazing people take time out of their busy lives to help me.  After a critique, I usually feel completely ready to dive in again and put their suggestions to use or fix what didn't work.  It's a good feeling.

So, in the choice between criticism and critique, I hope you know that for our editors on First Page Friday and for me personally as a writer, we want you to find solid critiques and helpful advice on this blog to make you feel encouraged as a writer and eager to make your work stronger.  Because, for example, I think we all learn from one another on First Page Fridays and when one writer is strengthened through critique, I think everyone in the writing community can be inspired.  We're all on a journey with struggles and triumphs and there are opportunities all around us to help others along the way.  I know I'm sure glad for the people around me who reach out for my hand.

My mother-in-law had a saying on her fridge years ago that went something like this, "Be a contributor not a criticizer."  I think that is a true statement.  Critiquing contributes something to the writer---it helps them.  That's the bottom line.

So, let's all be contributors.  Your writer friends will thank you.  And so will I.  (Especially if you're critiquing my work!)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

So this is how critique group went last night.

My critique partners sat across from me so I was alone on one side of the table.  And then one of them said, "Oh good, we're on teams."

Not a great way to start when it's *my* manuscript chapters being critiqued.  It's quite scary actually.  They even looked at me meanly.  Narrowed eyes, red pens tapping on the table.  A little shiver of fear went through me.

I read the first paragraph and got a smiley face, so that put me at ease.  Maybe it won't be so bad, I thought to myself.  No.  They were just luring me in so they could SMACK ME DOWN.  See all these 'ing' words, Julie?  BAD.  "ING ING ING Say it.  ING is bad."  And look at this here.  INFO-DUMPY.  All I read is wahwahwahwhawahwah, like on Charlie Brown when the teacher is speaking.  FIX THAT.  Say it with me, Julie.  INFO DUMPS ARE BAD.  And then they made bad faces and pointed their red pens at me.  That's when I cried while they laughed---horrible evil laughs.

And when I stopped crying, they gave me some banana bread and told me to go home and don't ever bring crap like that again.

Oh all right, it wasn't quite like that.  They tried to be all nice with the, "don't hate me when I say this, but it was a little info dumpy here.  I think you need more tension.  But it's good.  I really like it!"

They couldn't trick me though, I knew what they were really thinking.  (Although the part about the banana bread was true and it was really good even though I knew it was just a treat to assuage their guilty consciences for being mean to me.)

(All right they weren't mean to me, except when they threw chocolate chips at me and called me a baby.)

(Okay, they didn't call me a baby, but they did throw chocolate chips at me.)

(It was one of those nights where you just had to be there, you know?  Maybe I'll just leave it at that.)

So here I am trying to fix all the bad spots they found.  My word count will be high because I am motivated and awesome.  Maybe I'll even flip my hair and say I'm worth it today just to affirm that to myself.

How did your word count go this week?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

So I Was Taking the Day Off and Then . . .

I wasn't going to do any writing today.  I have my critique group tonight and I knew if I started editing, I would edit what they're going to rake me over the coals for at our meeting so I was going to wait.

I started surfing the net.  I went to all the time-sucking places.  Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and Youtube.  There is one Youtube video I saw that seriously made me laugh.  Have y'all seen this one?

So. Funny.  (I've been saying, "Nope, just Chuck Testa" all day.  My kids are getting annoyed.  Haha!)

Anyway, I thought I'd go do my daily exercise (I'm up to 2.04 miles every day now.  It's amazing for me!)  And while I was walking and listening to my music the most amazing thing happened . . .

The final edit came to me.  My winding up scene, which I thought was pretty good, will now be amazing because my mind was clear and open and totally had room for the idea that waltzed in all innocent-like.  So, here I am, with my kids challenging me to a Pokemon Puzzle League family tournament and I have to get this new final scene down.  (Maybe I'll hurry and get it down, then go show those kids who's the boss at Pokemon Puzzle League.  Just sayin')

So much for taking the day off.

When was the last time a story idea came to you like a bolt of lightning?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: The Taming of Lady Kate

There is nothing more relaxing than reading a good book on a Sunday afternoon.  I was so surprised at how quickly I was able to read this book and how engaged I was with it.  It really was a fun afternoon read.

We meet Lady Kate Derramore who is being sent away by her uncle to have her season in London.  But the worst part of it is that he is sending her younger brother, Joey, to Eton because he's too coddled.  Kate is so worried about Joey being sent there because he struggles with stuttering and she is sure he will be ridiculed and bullied at Eton.  So she comes up with a plan.

She will go to London and find someone who will marry her in a marriage of convenience.  Her father's will states that when she marries, she will come into her inheritance and her and her husband will receive guardianship of Joey.  All she has to do is find a suitable gentleman who will go along with her plan.  Oh, and forget her love for an Italian man whom her father has forbidden her to marry.  Easy, right?

Enter the Marquis of Northbrooke, Jack, who needs to find a wife so he can have access to his own inheritance.  He falls for Lady Kate from their first meeting, but his "double life" has put him at odds with Kate since he has to break their dates and he reacts badly when an earl seems to have set his sights on her.  The plot thickens as Jack's hidden identity bleeds into the careful front he's put forward---literally, and Kate is caught in the crossfire.  With rogues, ruffians, ruined reputations, and more than a little romance, The Taming of Lady Kate is a regency that has all the best of the time period.

Here is the back copy:  (It's currently $2.99 on Kindle)

Kate Derramore and the Marquis of Northbrooke have one thing in common: In order to receive their inheritances, they must marry. Lady Kate, prevented from marrying the man she loves by her father’s will, determines to marry for convenience. With the forthrightness for which she is noted, she sets her sights on Jack—aforesaid Marquis. Jack, meanwhile, has tumbled into love with Kate at their first meeting. All might have gone swimmingly, were it not for his “other life,” the mysterious job that calls him out of town at the most inopportune moments. Unwittingly, he puts Lady Kate’s life in danger, and while attempting to rescue her comes up against her “reins-grabbing” nature. Will he ever be able to master Lady Kate? Will he ever be able to oust another man from her heart? And, despite Kate’s penchant for disaster, will he be able to save her life and his own?

If you liked The Duke's Undoing, you'll love The Taming of Lady Kate

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Page Friday

Hey, remember that fundraiser I did a few days ago?  Well, I got interviewed by The Daily Herald during it (along with several other authors who were there) and my quotes were in the paper today!  Click here if you want to read the article.

On to First Page Friday, an entry by our own Debra Erfert.  After last week I can truly say it takes guts to submit, so I thank everyone who does it.  And, as always, thank you to our wonderful Ms. Shreditor who takes time out of her very busy schedule to critique for us.  See you next week!

The Entry
The Silk Strangler
by Debra Erfert

“He has a gun!” a man shouted.
A woman screamed—loudly.
“Don’t move—or—or I, I’ll shoot you!”
Now that wasn’t something I wanted to hear while standing in line at the bank. I still had my left forearm in a silly pink cast, and just an hour earlier the doctor had removed the metal staples in my scalp needed to close a gash placed there by a corrupt police detective. The concussion he gave me while trying to kill me still produced a slight headache behind my eyes—nothing serious, just annoying.
When the woman standing in line in front of me moved backward, I dropped my checkbook to the floor and held her away from stepping on my toes with my good hand. The flip-flops I wore didn’t cover much of my toes. Who knew my day would go from dull to exciting in a matter of moments.
I scanned the banker’s counter looking for the armed robber.
Gil Roscoe, private investigator, my mentor, nudged my shoulder and whispered, “There he is, Candy.”
He still must’ve thought of me as his intern, but I’d had my PI license for three months already, and I’d actually solved two cases—one even paid me in cash money to do it, too.
 “I see him,” I whispered impatiently. Like everybody in the bank wasn’t staring at him? The young man with a Cubs ball cap pulled down low over his forehead pointed a revolver pistol at the neck of an older woman he had pressed up against his body.
“He’s holding a woman.”
I let out a quiet sigh. “I can see that, too.” 

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

The first line of this page is an attention grabber, but having three consecutive one-line paragraphs gives the story a choppy feel. Also, is it necessary to specify that the woman screams loudly? A scream by its very nature is loud, so I think this goes without saying.

The dialogue needs some reworking, too. The story opens with an unnamed crowd-scener announcing that “he” he has a gun. We’re not sure who “he” is, and we don’t learn that he’s an armed bank robber until the sixth paragraph. Then, the woman screams. Then, someone threatens the crowd, and we can only assume it’s the gunman because he’s not identified with a dialogue tag. The absence of a dialogue tag might confused the reader into thinking that the same man is speaking in the first and third paragraphs.

In the fourth paragraph, we learn about the “gash placed [on Candy’s scalp] by a corrupt police detective.” According to Candy, “the concussion he gave me while trying to kill me still produced a slight headache behind my eyes.” This reads like a sequel, as if the reader is picking up where a previous story has left off. Who is this corrupt police detective? How did Candy land in his crosshairs? How have she and Gil ended up undercover in a bank where there just happens to be an armed robber? As a reader, I’m missing vital information.

I’m also confused about the nature of Candy’s injuries. In one sentence, she mentions an arm cast and a nasty scalp gash that required staples; in the next, she mentions a concussion. What exactly did the detective do to her? Also (and this may sound nitpicky), why would she choose a pink cast if she finds it silly?

Watch for places to trim excess words. Example: “...I’d actually solved two cases—one even paid me in cash money to do it, too.” You could lose “actually” without sapping your sentence of its essence. You could also lose “money” (“cash money” is redundant) and “to do it.” Readers can deduce meaning from remarkably few words, so resist the urge to bulk up your narrative with unnecessary phrases.

Watch also for awkward transitions. For instance, the narrative shifts abruptly from a description of Candy’s flip-flops to an observation that her dull day has become exciting. And consider whether or not Candy’s response to the situation is realistic. Would a protagonist really consider a life-or-death situation exciting? She seems oddly detached from the situation, which makes it difficult to connect with her. Consider what first impression you want the reader to have of Candy, because I’m not sure the intention was for her to seem so glib.

The bones for a good opening are here. You’ve done well to open with a crisis situation. Some elements need reworking so that the first page presents the most compelling bits and leaves behind some of the extraneous details. Consider also how to forge a stronger connection between the reader and Candy. If she’s going to drive the narrative bus for the duration, the reader needs to identify with her from the outset.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Whole Different World On Pinterest. Advice?

Last night's fundraiser/booksigning was so much fun and I even got to meet one of my bloggy family.  Thanks so much to everyone who came!

I bet you can guess from the title why I'm late posting today.  I've joined Pinterest!  And boy is it easy to get lost there.

I've been pinning my favorite music, fave TV shows, places I've been and loved, my books, and crafts I'd like to learn someday.  It's been sort of fun to browse around and see what's out there.  Although being a newbie makes me feel just a tiny bit overwhelmed.  I hope I don't do anything wrong right up front.

Any of you on Pinterest?  Have any advice for me as a new member?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

Don't forget I'm at the Pleasant Grove Library Fundraiser tonight from 7-9.  I hope to see you there!

I'm sort of at a strange and sad, but wonderful and exciting place in the publishing process.  The editing is almost done, the acknowledgments page has been written and my book will be going to press soon.  My baby won't be my baby anymore, she'll be launched onto society---I mean my readers, to be told how amazing she is (or horrible, but I prefer the former).

I've been putting all the finishing touches on things, getting last minute changes made as I enter the final phase.  I think I'm feeling a little verklempt at the imminent goodbye to this book because there's something wonderful about having it all to yourself.  On the other hand, there's no point in writing if you're not going to share it, I think, so I'm totally excited to have you guys read this one.

Like I said, it's a strange time for me.

I got all my editing goals accomplished this week and I've been working hard as deadlines are looming and I don't want anyone mad at me for not meeting them.  There's something so motivating about deadlines, aren't there?

How did you do this week?