Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Frustration of Writing---Where I'm At

I had a different post planned for today, but this one seems anxious to be written, so I am obliging.

As most of you know, I've been working on the sequel to All Fall Down.  I drafted the novel last year and was working on revising it.  I was excited to workshop it with my critique group this month.  But then in January, things started to go awry.

First, the more research I did on the Witness Protection program, the more I knew it wouldn't fit in my story.  The facts are, when the witnesses do what they're told, the U.S. Marshals have a very high success rate in keeping them safe.  Not to mention that a lot of Witness Protection storylines are cliche.  The more I researched, the more I realized my storyline needed to go in a different direction, so I had to scrap it.  Which meant cutting out a significant chunk of my book.

So now I'm left with a much shorter book.  I really love the story (it's Colby's, from All Fall Down) and I think the storyline is fresh overall, but having to flesh it out has been much harder than I anticipated without those chapters and without that storyline arc.

It's been suggested to me to have more inner conflict from my hero and to add a secondary storyline.  Which is like telling someone, just lose ten pounds by next month okay?  It's easy to say and hard to do.  I have ideas, but I'm struggling trying to fit them in my plot so that it's cohesive.  Which is probably because I'm doing it backward and should have laid it all down with the plot in the first place.  *deep sigh*  Stupid research.  *insert Julie's whiny voice* Stupid cliche Witness Protection.

*deep breath*

Not one to sit around and whine all day, (only some of it) here are my possible solutions so far:

Sit down and outline the plot as is and with added arcs.  Write down all its intricacies, down and detailed and figure out this puppy and every plot bit before I go any further.

Put back the Witness Protection chapters and just hope readers can suspend disbelief.  And anything that may or may not be cliche.

Release it as a novella.

Shelve it and start over.

Rip it into tiny pieces and throw it in the fireplace and eat some Canadian chocolate while cursing Witness Protection and all the cliche stories that have come before me.

*ahem*  But I digress.

What are your thoughts when the book you'd planned isn't working and needs help?  Do you have any suggestions to add?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Word Count Wednesday--What Do You Think About Novellas?

I am so excited to post that I wrote 4652 words this week.  I nailed down a lot of my ending, but I still have a little ways to go.

The problem is, this book isn't exactly as long as my other books.  I've been mulling over a few ideas, like adding a secondary plot, adding a character, you know, the usual, but then I've also been thinking about making this a novella.

So today I have two questions for you.  First, what do you think about novellas?  Do you always want more, want it to be longer?  Or do you like them?

Second, how did you do on your word count this week?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Review of the Best Castle Episode Ever

Where do I even start?

Let's start at the beginning.  My fave moment in the beginning?  Kate trying to comfort Castle in that hallway, holding hands.  The despair in his voice.  Then the tiny bit of hope when the kidnappers have terms.  The ransom exchange.  Boy I thought they were going to shoot Achmed right there, but then when he showed up with Sara I was right there with Castle going, "where's Alexis?"  I know I've said it before but Nathan Fillion is an incredible actor.  The way he handled his daughter's disappearance seriously made my heart ache.  I believed every emotion he showed.

I loved the little scene with Espo and Kate.  He called her Kate which isn't normal and you could see the concern in his eyes for her.  I love our little precinct family.

Castle going rogue in Paris was awesome.  His face when he's talking to Gaston about hugging his little girl and then not having her there.  Oh. My. Goodness.  The intensity was ramping up exponentially.  So well done.  I did not see any of the betrayals coming, but loved the introduction of his father.  I was so nervous that the writers would bungle that, but they surprised me and let it be emotional and yet still realistic.

Okay, who didn't love the mole and the techy gadgets?  I really do love that sort of stuff and writing/reading about it in spy novels.  Castle sitting there listening to that tape was so sad.  *sigh*

Then we come to one of the most amazing scenes ever.  Kate in the interrogation room.  Holy crap.  "My partner's daughter is missing and you are in my way."  "I'm not a cop today honey."  Boy, that lady changed her tune quick.  I love kick-butt Kate and the look on Espo and Ryan's faces when she kicked in that door? Priceless.  Love, love, love Kate.

This was such a different Castle than the easygoing guy we see at the the precinct.  He wasn't taking anything from anyone.  "My money.  My daughter.  I'm coming."  He was reacting emotionally, as a father, but it brought something out in Castle's character that was dark and twisty and interesting.  He would do anything for those he loves and I wonder if that will be revisited in other episodes.

Did you love the message that creepy guy left for the bug in the wall?  And then the phone ringing right after? A little bit of a lighter moment in all the tenseness.  (I loved that guy's accent, too.  There's something about the French . . .)

Were you as on the edge of your seat when they got to the woods as I was?  Who is Alexis Castle really?  "This isn't right."  Whew.  Seriously, the editing, the music, the actors, it was so great.  And then the big moment.

"Richard, I'm your father."

Best lines from Dad?  "You wanna stay out here in the woods with all the dead guys?"  "Given how you're feeling so bad about your $200 phone you might want to pick up the $3 million briefcase and take it with ya."  "You didn't tell me your name."  Hunt, Jackson Hunt."  "Sounds made up."  "It is."  "You been playing cop for year, you ready to play spy?"  Haha.  Shooting out the phone was a nice touch, too.

Wasn't Alexis in that cage so creepy?

Loved the dad's backstory overall, loved the escape, although it was a tiny bit unbelievable that Castle could just shove a gun-toting bad guy out of the way and not have him shoot at them at all.  Worst bad guy ever I guess.  (And why didn't the CIA give him some back up?  Is he a rogue agent or something?)

Such a great reunion with Castle and Alexis.  "We're together."  "You look good."

Great ending with our little Castle family.  Kate and Alexis hugging.  Martha and Castle.  Casino Royale.  But, of course for the Caskett fans there was the "please don't ever do anything like that again without me."  Awwww.

Best. Episode. Ever.

What did you think?

Monday, February 25, 2013

North and South With Patrick Swazye

I know I'm supposed to review a book on Mondays, but this week I'll be doing a special review on Thursday, so I've postponed my book review until then.

Today I'd like to talk about one of my favorite mini-series of all time, North and South. They've been playing it every Sunday night for the last few weeks and I admit, it drew me again like it always does.

It's about a man from South Carolina who meets a man from Pennsylvania at West Point and they become best friends.  The story follows them and their families through the years of the Civil War and it is so incredibly well done.

Patrick Swazye is Orry Main, the southern gentleman who is struggling with some of the aspects of slavery and honoring his heritage.  James Read is George Hazard, a man from Pennsylvania whose family owns an iron works that employs a lot of Irish immigrants.  He also has a sister who is an abolitionist (played by Kirstie Alley).  It is so interesting how the miniseries explores issues from both sides.  The south did have some valid political points, but I am glad the north prevailed and the union was preserved.  But, oh, what a cost!

The cast of North and South is incredible, with lots of big names, including Jimmy Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Johnny Cash, Robert Guillame, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Kelly, Genie Francis, David Carradine, Terri Garber, and Forrest Whitaker to name a few.  There are some really strong female characters, which I love.  The history is also articulated so well, it's hard for people who love history not to be drawn in.

I love the lush settings of North and South, the family drama, and the deep enduring friendship between George and Orry.  That seems hard to find on shows done nowadays, especially one where it is so well done.  There's also something about the Civil War era that fascinates me.  Maybe someday I'll write a book about that.

Here's a promo that was done for Book II

Do you have a mini-series you love?  Have you ever seen North and South?

Friday, February 22, 2013

First Page Friday

This week there was an article published about what agents are looking for in a novel opening/first page. If there was any clearer reason why First Page Friday is needed for writers, then I don't know what it is.  Several agents mentioned what Ms. Shreditor and Angela Eschler have been telling us for over a year and a half---have an opening that immediately draw you in, an opening that has clean copy, one with beautiful writing and a great voice to name a few things.  (If you'd like to read for yourselves more of what agents said they were looking for in novel openings, you can go here.)

I'm so glad to be able to offer the expertise of these editors to you every week.  As you know we've had success stories in people who have submitted here, taken the suggestions and gotten requests for partials and fulls and that makes all the effort of these editors worth it.  I hope you will tell your friends about First Page Friday and take advantage of the help offered in polishing your novel opening.

As always, thank you to Angela and Heidi and to our author for today's submission and critique.  See you next week!

The Entry

Onion Layers
by Chris van Soolen

I stared at the platter of food being offered and wondered what I had just ordered. Ignoring the twitchy bits, I nodded my thanks to the vendor and added an extra couple of credits to the tab. Cocking her head to the side, the attendant’s large sapphire eyes glittered as she handed me the tray of food. I forced a smile and hoped some of the food would be edible as I made my way through the crowds looking for Ethan and Hannah.

Ethan had chosen this moon and this market for our first shore-leave because it was open-air. There was nothing like real dirt on a real planet with real fresh air. The view of the planet, which hung in the sky like an oversized orange gumball, was spectacular. I hadn’t seen a sky in so long, I got homesick just looking up. There was so much new and vibrant that the old longing was tempered by my curiosity and interest.

Scents of foreign spices and musk filled the air, made even more pronounced every time one of the Truani preened their feathers. I made my way through the flock of bird-like life forms to find Ethan and Hannah. 

Two humans shouldn’t be hard to spot amid all the color and plumage in the market. I watched for Ethan’s short blond hair and Hannah’s curly golden locks as I navigated through the Truani life forms. An occasional hoot or screech would punctuate conversation. Everything from the nest-like architecture to the planet in the sky was so different from home, I found myself staring and grinning as I took it all in.

Tish! Over here!” Ethan waved, his head tilting toward his seated sister.

I plunked myself down onto the bench next to Hannah and elbowed her, “Plumage! Hannah, did you see the feathers around their eyes? I think these are the prettiest species we’ve encountered so far!”

Eschler Editing---Angela and Heidi's Comments

Not in Kansas

Right off, an exotic location is presented. There are plenty of clues for the reader to start building an image of the world. A moon with a breathable atmosphere, populated by an avian species, the planet the moon orbits visually prominent in the sky. And of course, the food and the waitress are just unusual enough that we know we’re not in Kansas anymore.

The blend of blond-haired humans with avian aliens presents a vivid contrast, and is coupled with some interesting hints about those characters: it sounds like they haven’t set foot on terra firma (or any other planet, for that matter) recently. They are apparently voyagers, but of what variety, we have yet to discover. Shore-leave suggests that they may be in some military or space equivalent of merchant marines. On the other hand, they may be a private group, space gypsies or privateers or common folk lost in space. At this point, we have no idea, but you’ve got our imaginations fired up, and that’s a great way to start.

Alien Gastronomy

The food squirmed. How about trying an opening line like this on for size? Your opening isn’t bad, but playing around with it a bit could spice things up. In three words, you could establish that the reader is in for a real adventure. The first line of a story, the first paragraph, may be all you’ve got to grab the attention of the reader (or agent or publisher) and hold it, so you want it to give the most bang for your buck. Currently your opening paragraph is a little unclear to the reader—in terms of grounding us in the setting—until we’ve finished it and put all the pieces together. And it’s just a bit lacking in pizzazz—with the focus on just finding friends. Mess around with how you can make it more flashy and focused.

A Fatal Flaw

In spite of interesting details and a solid start to creative world-building, your opening has a potentially fatal flaw: it’s pleasant, but there is no conflict, no hint of danger, no presentation of high stakes, no sense of trouble on the horizon. Author Craig Nybo recently gave some excellent writing lectures at the annual Life, the Universe, and Everything Science-fiction and Fantasy Symposium. He said that every scene must have a conflict, and if it doesn’t have a conflict, you can either add a conflict or get rid of the scene. Now, writing is more an art than a science (although there are definitely rules and formulas that tend to produce quantifiable results), so you can find an exception to just about every writing rule that’s ever been presented to struggling writers everywhere; but I think Mr. Nybo has nailed this one on the head, and you can find books, articles, and a plethora of evidence to support this idea: stories are about conflict, and if you don’t drop conflict in the reader’s lap on page one, at the very least, you need to hint that the storm is coming. A quick look at first page of a few books in my personal library shows:

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Robert A. Heinlein): Sons of Revolution meeting is mentioned in first paragraph.

Elantris (Brandon Sanderson): Prince Raoden awakens unaware that he has been damned for all eternity—in the first line.

Dogsbody (Diana Wynne Jones): Sirius, the Dog Star, is on trial by a jury of his peers (first page) and will be exiled to a mortal body by page five.

The Silicon Mage (Barbara Hambly): “The worst thing about knowing that Gary Fairchild had been dead for a month was seeing him every day at work.” (Opening line.)

Quest for a Maid (Frances Mary Hendry): Main character witnesses her sister involved in a murder (first line.)

Treasure Box (Orson Scott Card): Quentin Fears never told his parents the last thing that his sister Lizzy said to him before they pulled the plug on her and let her die.

I could go on and on. Children’s books, westerns, romances, hard-boiled detective novels, thrillers and suspense and murder mysteries, fantasy and sci-fi – it holds true across all genres. I bet that a majority of the books you pick up are going to start with conflict, with trouble, or at least the promise of trouble down the road. (That’s important to remember: your first page doesn’t have to give the main conflict, although it can if you want to structure the story that way), but it needs some problem to begin working with. For example, Orson Scott Card’s novel Enchantment begins in the middle of a family argument. That’s a “little problem” that we can all relate to. The argument about their sudden commitment to Judaism in turn leads to why (the father wants the family to be eligible to immigrate from Russia to Israel) and to surprises (in reality, he wants to get his son to America for the chance of a brighter future) and all this leads to the initial mysterious encounter with fearsome powers.

In each of the examples I give above, the author establishes trouble, often in the first sentence, almost always by end of the first page. And this isn’t just a new phenomenon, although it is getting increasingly insistent in our fast-paced instant-everything age. Several of the examples are older classics, but pick up any book published in the last year or two, and you’ll get the same message. As author, you have the advantage of knowing what your story is about and what your characters are going to face. It’s pretty essential to let the reader have a taste of that on page one in order to whet their appetite for the rest of the book.

Putting it in Context

Once you’ve established some trouble for your characters, you need to give the reader some context to put that in. Specifically: you need to show a little more about who your characters are and what their relationship is, both to other characters and to their setting. Your first page isn’t necessarily the best place to explore this in depth (in fact, given all the tasks your first page is expected to accomplish in just a few inches, it isn’t generally even possible.) But you can present enough relative information that the reader can start piecing together a framework for reference.

At this point, we have no idea of who or what the main character is, and what her (I’m guessing based on the name, but this is sci-fi/fantasy, so sometimes naming conventions are unexpected) relationship is to the other characters. It seems like they may be shipmates. Are they friends? Colleagues? Soldiers of fortune? Scientists? Are they old, young, adult, teens? Are they children of long-range explorers down planet-side for a field trip? It seems like they may be teens (Trish calls the natives “pretty” and her enthusiasm for everything has a youthful energy, but I really have no idea.)

Yes, you don’t want to hand-feed everything to the reader. You want to respect their intelligence and allow them the privilege of reading between the lines and drawing their own conclusions. You want them to have the pleasure of having their curiosity piqued by not being told every last detail about characters, setting, and situation. But you need to judiciously insert enough information in the right amount and place to make sure that they don’t draw erroneous conclusions, enough information to guide them along the path you are taking them down. The great fun of being the writer is that you get to pick and choose and mold the story the way you’d like it to go (at least as much as any story lets you mold it; stories can definitely have a mind of their own).

Summing it Up

Writers really live in the best of all possible worlds. We get to play around in any time, culture, era, country, biosphere, galaxy, or parallel universe that we desire. The start of your story is proof. Now pull it all together by adding a problem and enough story-heart/conflict-related details about characters, setting, and situation that the reader can start adding it up, and you’ll be off and running. Happy writing!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Three Tips for Naming Your Characters

The inspiration for this post came because I recently read a book that had a very silly name for the villain and every time I read it, I laughed.  It ruined the book for me because I couldn't get the tension from the plot that was needed because I was busy giggling or rolling my eyes.  I was very surprised that the author's editor let them get away with naming a character that, because it would so easily take someone out of the story, and usually those things are the first to go during revisions.

But that got me thinking to how I name my characters.  For example, I was debating last night about naming a senator in my book something definitive like Senator DeMarco or something non-descript like Senator Whiting.  Of course it all depends on what part the character plays in your novel, but naming characters, while fun, also needs to be done with care.

Here are three things to consider when naming characters.

1.  Choose something that fits the character.  I love the meanings behind the names and for my book, All Fall Down, I wanted a heroine name that would really speak to the fact that she was level-headed, independent and strong.  Sure of herself.  So I named her Claire because I thought of "clear" and "clarity" every time I typed it and it really fit her.  In that same book I made the mistake of nicknaming Claire's dad "Skip" and I had a military reason for doing that, but the reason got cut from the final manuscript and I've had a few people comment that they couldn't see a tough guy nicknamed Skip.  So, in the sequel, I'm working in the explanation for his name, and  I'm going to be more careful in the future of nicknames and making sure they fit my character as well as a given name.

2.  Don't have too many characters with names that start with the same letter.  I started out with a Claire, Colby, and Connor, three main characters in All Fall Down. (And of course when I realized it, I changed it.)  But it makes it hard for the reader to keep everyone straight---and sometimes the author, too.  So be careful with same letter names.

3.  Give your characters, especially the hero and heroine, names that you like.  (I usually give them names I wanted to name my children, but that my husband vetoed for one reason or another.)  And this is a tip from me because as a writer, you will be typing that name a lot and if you hate it or it brings up negative feelings for you, well, you'll be slogging through that manuscript.  When I have a character I love, with a name that fits and that I love as well, I am excited to write them---to see where that character is going to go today.

What's your tip for naming characters?  Have you ever come across names that made you crazy when you were reading?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Anyone Sprinting Tonight?

Is there anyone out there wanting to sprint with me tonight?  If so, come back and check in at 8:15!

Word Count Wednesday

I think I should have named this day, hold-on-it's-going-to-get-reaaalllly-busy day.  But I am so thrilled to report I wrote almost 3000 words this week.  Probably because I'm trying to nail down these revisions and write a decent ending, but I am so excited about this story.

Thank you to everyone who sprinted with us last Wednesday.  Anybody up for another sprint tonight at 8?

How did you do on your word count this week?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Castle Review---Holy Eiffel Tower!

There was so much awesome about last night's Castle.  The opening scene with Castle and Martha and the pancakes was adorable.  Probably because I miss my college kids and do the same sort of thing.  (Although I can't make pancakes well.  Me and Martha?  *likethis*)  And I did chuckle at Castle's, "It was acceptance until you started applying your fiendish logic."  Haha.  Boy, I want to remember that line so I can use it myself.  I really do love protective Castle.  But there was definitely a twist to our loveable hero this episode.

(And I have to ask, did anybody else really love Bram Stoker's explanation of his name?  English scholars naming their kid something weird.  They thought it was cute, it wasn't.  Ha!)

Hasim's apartment was mega-cool and I really want that for my hero in my next novel.  Seriously.

Anyway, there was a lot of foreshadowing with Castle and Alexis, him feeling bad for Sara's parents, his face when he sees her phone in the basket and realizes Alexis is gone.

The sigh-worthy moment of Beckett holding him and Castle saying, "Gates will see," and her response, "I don't care."  Awww.  I love them.  Castle looking at pictures of Alexis and her vlog was so amazing because honestly, Nathan Fillion relays so much emotion in his face it is phenomenal.  So, so good. I mean, the near-panic on his face seeing the blood in that van was so REAL.  Beckett's total helplessness was palpable.  The chemistry between those two in dramatic situations as well as romantic is what makes this show.  When Castle was talking about how he felt when Alexis was laid in his arms was so well done.

I liked how Alexis was keeping her head, but thought wouldn't she just take the phone with her and escape first?  I don't know.  Maybe because she's a young adult she didn't think of that?  I do think she is more like Castle than she realizes.  The lock pick thing was good.

The thing that made me stop and think a bit was when Castle asked for alone time with the driver who wasn't talking. Then, when we hear the man's screams, and Beckett asking him later what happened in there, it sort of made me cringe a bit.  I like the loveable, easygoing Castle.  But, if it were my daughter, is there anything I wouldn't do to find out where she was?  Would I cross the line Castle obviously crossed?  I don't know.  I hope I never have to find out.  But will this fundamentally change Castle?  I think it will and that makes me nervous.

The other thing that makes me nervous is how they're going to handle Castle's dad being in the picture.  They could really do some damage to his character with him.  I hope they do it right.  Next week looks awesome! Can't wait.  (I've never seen Liam Neeson's Taken, but the reference to it made me think about watching it.  Has anyone else seen it?  Is it worth my time?  Or will I have nightmares?)

Did you watch last night?  (By the way, I love Paris and will forever remember being at the top of the Eiffel Tower, but last night it looked weird.  I don't remember it being that dark, but whatever, I guess.  Note to self:  It wasn't real.  This is TV)

Anyway, what did you think about last night's episode?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: A Timeless Romance Anthology Spring Vacation Collection

Today I am kicking back and passing time with novels until Castle starts tonight.  (Happy Presidents' Day to me!) Is anyone else as excited as I am for Castle? The sneak peeks and spoilers look sooooo good. Poor Castle.  :(

But in order to distract myself, I read two books and started a third, but today I'd like to share my thoughts on A Timeless Romance Anthology Spring Vacation Collection.

It's six novellas by six different authors---sort of a romantic snack from each one if you will.  All of them were romantic, but a few really stood out.  There was one that had a kiss that was bone-melting good.  It makes me sigh just to think about it again.

But as we're dealing with different authors, we're also dealing with different writing styles and depth of character.  There were two stories that were enjoyable, just flirty and fun romance. Quick reads.  There were two stories that didn't fit very well to me because in one I had a hard time liking the hero, even at the romantic parts, and in the other the story was just implausible and I kept shaking my head and thinking, really?  But there were two other stories that I was completely enthralled with and wishing they would go on for another 100,000 words.  (Especially the incredible kiss one.  *le sigh*)  The anthology really was a great mixture of authors and styles.  Heart-stopping romance and humorous situations keep these novellas from being ho-hum overall.  Something for everyone's taste, I think.

The novellas were all well-edited, featured work from several of my favorite authors, and were definitely worth the time.  With my schedule, I was glad they were novella length because I could read one, put it down, do the mom-stuff I have on my plate, then come back and read another one, interspersing both throughout my day.  It was almost a perfect rhythm actually.  If only all my reading endeavors could fit so well!

FYI, I'm told the anthology is being released exclusively on ebook to Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, for only $3.99. Readers can visit the anthology blog here  

Here is the back copy:

ix Award-Winning Authors have contributed new stories to A Timeless Romance Anthology: Spring Vacation Collection. Readers will love this collection of six sweet contemporary romance novellas, centered on a Spring Vacation, all with one thing in common: Romance.

In Moonlight Kiss, a delightful story by Josi S. Kilpack, Sarah is looking forward to the company retreat, namely because she’ll finally meet Clint—the man she’s been Instant Messaging for a few months. As a single mom, Sarah gets out . . . well, never. So adding vacation days onto the retreat so she can spend time with Clint is daring, yet exciting. She just hopes that the suave on-line Clint will live up to the man she hopes to share her heart with.

In Annette Lyon’s charming novella, Chasing Tess, Tess had been patiently waiting through three years of law school for James to pop the question. The night has finally arrived—at his graduation party. But his big announcement turns out to be completely unexpected . . . and devastating. Tess flees the party, promising herself she’ll never let herself waste time on James again. But as she makes a desperate cross-country drive, James makes his own plans on how to win her back.

Dancing at the Flea Market is a sweet romance by Heather Justesen. Mara, fresh out of the cold North Dakota tundra, spends her spring break in Texas with close friend, Anna. When the two women run into Carter, an impatient man with a painful past, it takes hearing Mara’s stunning voice at the local Karaoke club to thaw his heart. But as Mara gets to know Carter, she has to decide if the distance between their lives and homes is worth trying to bridge.

In Sarah M. Eden’s captivating novella, The Best Laid Plans, Madison gives up a vacation to CancĂșn with her office friends to return home and babysit her mother, who is in another sketchy relationship. The only problem with returning home is running into Derek, her ex-boyfriend who she decided to break up with before he could break up with her—Madison believes in always being one step ahead. When Derek teams up with Madison to investigate whether her mother is dating the right guy, Madison has a hard time ignoring what her heart is telling her about giving Derek another chance.

Picture Perfect, an exciting story by Heather B. Moore, follows Gemma who has never done anything out of the ordinary, until her boyfriend Randy starts to ignore her. But even cutting and dyeing her hair doesn’t get his attention. She decides to join her old high school friends for spring vacation, only to be faced with Drew, her best friend who suddenly seems interested in her as more than a friend. Gemma must determine if her heart is on the rebound or if it’s finally met its true match.

In Aubrey Mace’s enchanting romance, The Science of Sentiment, Rosie will do anything to forget Kevin, his completely perfect kisses, and the fact that he dumped her. When she arrives at her grandfather’s mountain cabin for a spring getaway, she discovers her worst nightmare—Kevin has been invited to stay the weekend too. Since there is only room for one in such a small space, Rosie is determined to kick Kevin out. But Kevin has other plans . . . which might include a reminder of why he’s the perfect kisser.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Art of Bookmaking by Ms. Shreditor

Because most of the readers of this column are either published authors or aspiring writers, Julie and I thought it would be a fun idea to do a piece on the bookmaking process. Writing a book is a grueling process, no doubt, but many writers don’t realize that finishing a manuscript is only the beginning. Once your manuscript has been accepted by a publisher, your work has only just begun.


Never forget when you sign your contract that your book has beaten the odds. The hardest work is ahead of you, but take comfort in the knowledge that your acquiring editor, who is often deluged with submissions, has gone to bat for you and your book. He or she believes in your idea enough to present it to senior editorial, sales, marketing, and publicity personnel.

Most book publishers have weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings called “pub board.” At this meeting, executives ask acquiring editors to show them the money in the form of projected sales and profit-and-loss margins. Forecasting sales numbers is the easy part—what makes pub board so grueling is the debate between departments over each proposal. Does the book fit the company’s brand profile? Is there a strong enough hook? Does the author have an established audience? Are similar titles selling well in the current market?

So when you’re feeling discouraged about copyeditor queries or agonizing over page proofs, remember that your book was strong enough to stand up to some pretty intense scrutiny from top-level executives. To paraphrase Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live, your book is good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like it.

The Editorial Process

Your contract will usually include a delivery schedule for manuscript materials. Often, there will be a delivery deadline to your editor and a contractual number of days to turn around each round of edits. In fiction publishing, the book is often already finished; however, in nonfiction publishing, the author has sometimes only submitted a proposal and still needs to complete the actual manuscript.

Where I work, authors deliver their manuscripts to their editors—either the acquiring editor or a developmental editor—and undergo anywhere from 1 to 3 rounds of editing before the manuscript goes to the copyediting stage. (Note: Editorial department structure can vary from publisher to publisher.)

The developmental edit is the most grueling part of the editorial process. Your editor will evaluate your book from a structural perspective and often request big-picture edits. This can sometimes necessitate extensive rewrites.


Once the developmental editing is complete, the managing editor (or associate/project editor, depending on the company) will review the manuscript. Then it goes to a copyeditor to clean up any lingering style or syntax issues. After copyediting, you’ll review the manuscript one last time to resolve any lingering queries. If your manuscript is in good shape, this is generally a much smoother round of edits than the ones you underwent with your editor. However, if there was a lot of back and forth between you and your editor, there may still be a lot of issues to address at the copyediting stage.

Text Design

It’s usually at the copyediting stage that text design happens. You might look at a reading book and think that the format looks pretty basic, but a lot goes into even the most basic text designs. The designer must create a template (usually in Adobe InDesign) that will transform the Microsoft Word document into an InDesign file. That template contains all of the font styles, design elements (e.g., fonts, chapter headings, A-heads, extract text, etc.), and formatting (including margins, white space, spacing between elements, etc.).

Page Proofs

Once the text design has been finalized and all queries in the manuscript have been resolved, your manuscript goes to the layout artist to make this transformation. The layout artist will use the design template to transform the book into its final page form. You’ll generally receive a PDF version of the page proofs, and this is your last change to make corrections before the book goes to the printer. The page proofs also go to a proofreader at this stage. At my job, the general rule of thumb is “error corrections only” for page proofs. This means fixing typos, spelling, punctuation, formatting, and lingering factual errors. This does not mean re-copyediting your copyedited book. Widespread changes can often necessitate repaging of the book, which will compromise your printer deadline. So, in short, first pages is the beginning of the “letting go” process. You may start to second-guess your writing at this point, but the time has long passed to do line-by-line editing.

After your corrections and the proofreader’s have been made in the InDesign file, your book goes through another page pass or two before the clean version goes to the printer. You often won’t see these final passes, which basically amount to quality control. Back in the day, printers used to send “blues” (i.e., final printer proofs) for review, but most printers skip this step now because the process has been digitized.

Summing It Up

Of course, this is only a skeletal outline of the process. I’ve left out marketing, publicity, and sales; those aren’t my areas of expertise, so I’ll let someone else tackle them. But these basics are pretty universal across the book publishing industry. It can get pretty intense, but it can only position your book to sell more copies and garner better reviews. 

First Page Friday Needs Submissions

Well, we have finally run out of submissions for First Page Friday.  Ms. Shreditor was kind enough to say she'd write a writing advice column for us after work today, and I am excited to see what she's going to tell us.

However, if you or your writing friends would like a national editor to critique your first page, please send your 12 point font, double-spaced first page to with First Page Friday in the subject line.  It's a valuable resource for writers who want to improve their first pages and leave an impact on the agents and editors they submit to.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentines Day! What I Wish For You . . .

I hope you all get some time today to:

  • Do what you love
  • Be with someone you love
  • Feel loved


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sprinting--Better Late Than Never

Who's here?  I'm ready to go.

Come back at 8:30 and check in.  :)

Ready, set, GO!

Word Count Wednesday

Well, I had critique group last night and it was my manuscript under the microscope.  It wasn't too bad, really, and we had a lot of laughter and good food to go along with the critique so that made everything better.

This book I'm working on is the sequel to All Fall Down, so I assumed that everyone would remember the characters from that book, but it is clear to me now that I need to add a little backstory so this could be read stand-alone as well.  And I also need to add some more layers of funny to the characters---to flesh them out a bit and match their personalities.  I wish I was more funny so that humor came easily to me.  I had a few moments in there that my critique group liked, so I just have to find some more of that.  But I'm too tired from staying up until all hours of the night with my crit group to write anything like that today.  When I'm tired everything seems funny and people look at me like I've lost my sanity because it's really not.  So I'll wait a bit until I'm more rested.  Haha!

But I am working hard this morning going over critique notes and adding words.  It's going to be a productive day, I can feel it.  I think it would be fun to do a sprint or something one of these weeks.  Anyone up for that?

How was your count this week?  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Castle's Homage to Alias? And Hawaii Five-O Review

I'm just not sure how I feel about last night's episodes.  There were some cute moments, but also some huh? moments.  And for the first time ever, I fell asleep in the middle of Castle.  *sigh*  It was only for a few moments, but still, that sort of says something to me.

I loved the way Castle and Beckett were bantering about the Valentine's Day gifts they'd gotten each other and how they were so sure the other person was going to love it.  So cute!  But then I was disappointed that Castle got her such an unimaginative gift.  I mean, long dangly diamond earrings?  Cliche and not really Beckett's style.  I was hoping for something more creative, I guess.

And the final scene with Beckett's gift to him was really sweet, but I was confused for a second wondering why she was giving him a desk drawer.  Did she want him to work at her house? Although the looks on their faces were adorable, when she told him to put his clothes in the drawer I was still thinking, really?  That drawer is barely big enough for a pad of paper and a pen.  But it is movement in their relationship, so I'll take it.

I also wondered if the writers were doing an homage to my favorite spy show Alias because Gina Torres, who played one of the best baddies on Alias was guest-starring last night.  When Beckett threw the table, I could totally see her channeling "Anna Espinosa."  And then there was the drawer scene.  You see, Vaughn and Sydney from Alias had one of the cutest giving-a-drawer scene ever, and while Castle's wasn't quite as good, it was a nice try.

Here's the Alias drawer scene, if you're interested.  I miss them on my TV every week.  *le sigh*

The previews for next week really got my attention, though. Alexis in danger? Castle in agony trying to find her? Yeah, that one looks like appointment television.

Of course, Hawaii Five-O started off with a bang. I liked the murder mystery because the twists were unexpected, but this time the entering of the house and searching it without a warrant seemed to stick out more. And they used the Dark and Dismal Interrogation Dungeon twice in this ep. Why do they have such bad lighting in there? Are people more likely to confess in dark spaces?  Weird.

We also had another helping of Steve's mom. I really hate this storyline, as you all know, and last night didn't help my opinion. A grown man putting his mother under surveillance? A mother who is supposedly this amazing spy or whatever? Yeah. Dumb. Just like the storyline.

The best part of the show was the lines, "the first rule of fight club? You don't talk about fight club,"  Chin carrying that girl out of the pool, Steve with the MRE and Catherine offering to get her camos for him. So adorable!  But the best part of all was the scenery shots with the sunset. *sigh* I still love you Hawaii. I hope this is the year we will meet in person.

What about you?  Do you have a favorite romantic TV moment that sticks out to you?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Line of Fire

Rachel Nunes book, Line of Fire, continues the Autumn Rain adventures.  This is by far my favorite series of hers.

Autumn has found her biological father, who happens to also be a suspect in the disappearance of a young girl.  She consults with her sister, Tawnia, and decides to help in the investigation to find out if he's guilty or not.  Of course, her detective boyfriend, Shannon Martin, accompanies her and before they even make it to the city her dad lives in, they are involved in an attempted robbery.  It quickly spirals from there, with gunshots and fists flying on every other page.

It was exciting and I love the new layer to Autumn and Shannon.  Shannon is such a great hero and it's funny how opposite he is to Autumn, yet they really do complement each other.  This was a great case for them, filled with suspense and uncertainty which sort of defines where they are as a couple as well.  I really loved that.  A few times the fight scenes with the bad guys dragged for me because there were so many of them, but it didn't detract from the emotion and the investigation.  I love how her and Shannon have grown over the series and I can't wait to see where it goes.  It also adds a new emotional dimension with how things turn out with her father.  I hope that's part of the next book, too.

Here is the back copy:

Some secrets are best left alone.

Autumn Rain is back to work, along with handsome Detective Shannon Martin, but this time her investigation is personal. She must prove whether or not Cody Beckett is responsible for the disappearance of a young girl. His record makes him the main suspect, even if there's not enough evidence to arrest him, and Autumn's unique ability to read imprints may be the only way she can uncover the truth.

What Autumn discovers, however, is far bigger than she or Shannon expected. Secrets, lies, missing evidence, and Autumn's own volatile feelings regarding Cody muddy the case until they aren't sure whom to trust, even among their own allies.

Soon Autumn and Shannon are running out of time to save their own lives and the lives of more than one little girl. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

First Page Friday--Our First Non-Fiction

I am happy today to bring you our first ever non-fiction critique.  I am grateful to Ms. Shreditor for all the time and effort she goes to in helping aspiring authors, when she has a full load at her day job.  And thank you to all our authors for their courage in submitting.

If you would like your first page critiqued, send it double-spaced, 12 pt. font, with First Page Friday in the subject line to

See you next week!

The Entry
Fight, Flight, or Hide The Guide to Surviving a Mass Shooting
by John Forsythe

At the moment some mentally disturbed person starts shooting into the crowd around you, you will immediately become one of three things: a victim, a guardian, or a hero.

The victims are those who will do nothing to save others, but who might be able to do something to save themselves. There are those who fit obviously into this category, the best example being little children. Since you don’t know for sure, the victims section is required reading for anyone who goes out into public! It is the least you can do, by definition, to make it as hard as possible for a mass shooter to increase the body count.

The guardians are those who take action to save others as well as themselves. Guardians find methods of escape and help others to get out of danger. They call authorities, tend to wounded, and do all they can to minimize the chaos and the death toll. The best examples of a guardian are those school teachers who have risked all they had to save their students, or people who have used their own bodies as shields to save loved ones. Guardians are amazing people and deserve every respect.

The heroes are those who are prepared either by nature or by training to put an end to a mass shooting by direct action. You may believe that I am speaking now to those with concealed carry permits, to the people who happen to have a gun in their belt when a shooting starts. Though those people could be heroes, we shorten the conversation by assuming that they are the only heroes amongst us. They are not, so if you are not in favor of carrying or owning guns, keep reading.

The hero category is the rarest, but always the most revered by the very nature of their acts and by the possible outcome of their heroics.

I am the first to admit that not everyone can be a guardian or a hero, nor is there shame for many in being a victim. It is the intent of this book to give you the philosophy and some of the strategies you will need to be the best of whatever you end up being. If you are a victim, and at the first shot fired you will know if you are, then I want you to be the best victim you can be—as strange as that sounds. If you have what it takes to be a guardian or hero, then I want you to add strategy and tactics to your bag of tricks.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

If my memory serves me correctly, this is the first nonfiction submission we’ve received. The rules of nonfiction storytelling aren’t entirely different from those of fiction storytelling; in both genres, your ultimate goal is to put forth a compelling, engaging story that will resonate with readers.

The biggest challenge when it comes to nonfiction publishing is finding an audience. When you sit down to write nonfiction, you want to ask yourself the following questions: Are you writing about a topic or figure of interest to a wide audience? Are you approaching the right readers? Have you approached your subject from the best angle? If it’s a self-help or how-to book, does it fulfill an actual reader need? Do you possess enough expertise to be considered an authority on your subject?

This piece addresses a timely topic, particularly given the recent tragedies in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut. Many successful books in both the fiction and nonfiction markets pull their material from the headlines, so I think that the subject here is a meaty one.

However, I’m not sure there’s a large enough audience of readers preparing themselves to behave a certain way during a mass shooting. Most readers don’t want to confront such an awful possibility, and a book isn't likely to change how a person will react in the heat of the moment. The readers more likely to consult a book for help are survivors of an actual mass shooting. This is what I meant when I asked whether a nonfiction piece has approached the right readers. Always approach an audience known to exist instead of reaching for one that might not.

The other problem here is that the nomenclature (victims, guardians, and heroes) inadvertently casts judgment on people based on how they react in life-threatening situations. When stacked up against evocative words like “heroes” and “guardians,” the word “victim” becomes somewhat demeaning, which I know isn’t the intent here.

The prose tells us that there is no shame in being a victim, but this feels almost like a concession. There’s an implication that “if you [don’t] have what it takes to be a guardian or hero,” you’re somehow lacking. Successful self-help and instructional books generally adopt the “unconditional positive regard” concept employed by therapists. I think that this piece is striving to do the same, but something gets lost in the labels.

Perhaps the real story here isn’t whether or not someone behaves as a victim, guardian, or hero; perhaps it’s simply what people can do to protect themselves in the event of a mass shooting. (However, I’m not sure there’s an entire book of material there.) Perhaps, as I suggested earlier, it might be more fruitful to write a book for survivors of actual mass shootings—a more concrete audience than the hypothetical victims of a would-be shooting.

There is a book here, and the writing itself is generally strong. I’m happy to have gotten a piece like this for my first nonfiction critique, because it’s given me a platform to discuss some of these key issues. Think hard about whether enough people are reaching out for the advice you’re giving. If you’re approaching the wrong audience, consider recalibrating your book so that it’s approaching the right one.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Three Tips For Writing Your First Chapter

Well, it's been a morning of highs and lows.  I've been wrestling with my first chapter.  Just when I think I have it pinned down, I think of another layer I could add, or something that it needs to really impact my readers as I introduce them to the characters.

After publishing eight books, though, there are three things I've learned about writing the first chapter.

1.  Don't bother revising the first chapter until you have the ending.  Your first chapter will always change until that end is written because until you know the end, you can't truly have a great beginning.

2.  Be really sure you have a tight balance of dialogue, setting, and character introduction.  Sometimes it's really tempting to introduce your characters with lots of backstory and inner thought in the first chapter.  Don't do it.  Leave breadcrumbs for your reader to follow as they get to know your character.  I mean, if you were introducing yourself to someone in real life you wouldn't tell them your life story and deep dark secrets within moments of meeting, would you?  (If you said yes to that question, we should probably talk.)

3.  And lastly, remember to make your reader care about your character.  If they can't relate or identify with the character or their problem, then they probably won't keep reading.  When you keep things relatable, you keep your readers engaged.  Which is what you want your first chapter to do.

So now I'm going to take my own advice and go back and check that I've done all this with my first chapter. Do you have any great first chapter tips?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Word Count Wednesday

Well, I've got my lucky writing shirt on and I'm ready to do some serious revising today.  I'm preparing to send this puppy to my beta readers and I want it to be my best work.

It's been a difficult week for getting any writing done so I'm really looking forward to having some time today to just sit and write.

How did your week go?  Have you been able to set any writing time aside?  Did you get any word count?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Castle and Hawaii Five-O--Now THAT'S What I'm Talking 'Bout

Holy macaroni, where do I even start with last night's shows?

Castle was awesome.  It was tense and even though we were beating the dead mother storyline again (isn't that horse dead yet?) Stana Katic blew me out of the water with her acting skills.  The moment where she's trying to decide whether to suppress that evidence, or where she knows she's let a man go who could potentially hurt innocent people, even the interrogation room scene, it was all amazing.  Katic says everything with her facial expressions.  It is truly amazing to watch.

Castle was no slouch either.  His little comment that he wouldn't have stopped what happened was a tiny bit chilling, considering how Castle's character usually is so laidback.  But it also tells me the depth of what he feels for Beckett and what she's gone through because of Bracken.  It was a really well-acted episode.

The best thing was how the writers kept the tension high throughout the entire hour.  The set-up, the scenes with Bracken, the guilt at what Beckett's done, it was all incredible.  Loved it.

Hawaii Five-O was kickin' it old school with an homage to the original series and rehashing an old script that's been updated a bit.  Robocop was creepy from the get-go, walking through the cemetery and putting together his sniper rifle.  With some of the recent headlines, it made it all the more creepy.  I liked how the fab four worked together and how in the end, the sniper died by a sniper.  Danno and Steve had some cute banter moments (I do not worry about losing you during a gun battle, haha!), but the cargument was my favorite.  (On the well-paved roads of Honolulu, I am definitely the better driver.)

Then at the end, the writers went all Star Wars and had the dead cops who were like his "uncles" and his father appear to Steve, all happy and proud.  Strange and awkward, but I couldn't turn away.

All in all, a wonderful night of television.

What did you do last night?  Did you catch any good TV?

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Sort Of Book Review: The Five Books of Jesus

I've hesitated to write this book review, mostly because I don't know what to say.  This book is intriguing, annoying, thought-provoking, and unbelievable all at the same time.  There are points where the author seems presumptuous in his presentation of a fictionalized version of Jesus Christ and many passages made me uncomfortable because they didn't conform to my own thoughts and impressions of the Savior.  There were parts that really made me think through what I know and believe to be true, and there were parts that were insightful and added to my own study of the Bible verses being discussed.

Maybe I'm not explaining myself well.  The Five Books of Jesus by James Goldberg is a "lyrical novelization of Jesus' ministry."  It tells of how the Savior's ministry might have looked from his Apostles' point of view or from the perspective of a person he healed or taught.  It's even told from the point of view of his mother and brothers.  It is very "present" if that makes sense and offers things to the readers in a way that makes them feel more "in the moment."  But sometimes, I felt the "lyrical" got in the way of the story and the depiction of the Savior as unsure or weak made me ill at ease.  Yet, there was an easiness and realness about it that did make me want to keep reading.  It was a gritty version of events that I've read before, but not seen in quite this way.

So, the best I can do is say this book is an enigma.  It's hard to really pinpoint or pigeonhole and I think that each person will get something different out of it, depending on their thoughts and experiences with knowing of the Savior and his ministry on earth.

Here is the back copy:

It starts in the desert. John the prophet lowers Jesus under the Jordan’s muddy waters and pulls him up, just as a bird swoops down to skim the river’s surface. 

It spreads next to Galilee, where some welcome Jesus as a disciple of John and others grow wary of his rising influence—fishermen are leaving their nets, tax collectors their offices, and students their masters to listen to this new saint.

After abandoning his nets, Andrew ties knots in the threads of his shirt to remember Jesus’ teachings. After escaping his slum, Judas waits for Jesus to call down the legions of angels who can end a broken world.

But just as Jesus’ movement in the north is gaining strength, he turns south toward the Temple and a fate his followers will struggle to understand.

The Five Books of Jesus, James Goldberg’s lyrical novelization of Jesus’ ministry, tells the story of the gospels as Jesus' followers might have experienced it: without knowing what would happen next or how to make sense of events as they unfold

Friday, February 1, 2013

First Page Friday

It seems fitting to end this week off with a First Page Friday entry called Relative Evil.  Haha

Here's to the month of February. May it be a wonderful writing month.

As always, thank you to our authors and amazing editors.  See you next week!

The Entry
Relative Evil
by Ryan Albert Williams

The air felt thick, heavy, like when a tornado was about to touch down. Claret Abney watched her dad, a widower of only a year, hold hands with a pretty woman sitting next to him at the restaurant’s dining table, and smile. Twenty-five-year-old Claret guessed the woman couldn’t have been more than a handful of years older than Johnny, Claret’s oldest brother. She was way too young for her dad to be dating, and it was way to soon for him to be staring at her with such amorous eyes. Something was about to break.

James Abney had called for a family dinner never mentioning Adelaide Walker Harris before all three of his grown children had arrived at their favorite restaurant.

Claret sat on the opposite side of the table from her dad and Adelaide. She wanted to watch them. He looked happy, so did Adelaide. Claret had a habit of studying people, their expressions, their mannerisms, even the way they dressed. She was a novelist. She had two books published, with two more manuscripts in rough-draft in her computer. Claret didn’t exactly make enough money to quit her editing job, but she hoped someday that would change. Discreetly studying Adelaide, Claret noticed that she kept her left hand down on her lap. Not once did she bring it up, even when her dinner had arrived, so either her hand was deformed and she was self-conscious of it, or . . . Oh, no! There was only one other reason Claret could think of that a woman would hide her left fingers.
A sickening, burning sensation churned inside Claret’s stomach when her dad stood up. The smile on his face widened. He still had a firm grip on Adelaide’s right hand.
“Everyone, I have an announcement,” James said.
Claret’s pulse beat erratically. The patrons at the tables next to theirs stop eating and were staring as well.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

What works for me in this sample is the slow buildup to James’s announcement. The author portends the impending bad news with thick air and Adelaide’s concealed left hand. The mood is decidedly ominous. The mounting tension is powerful enough to register in Claret’s body as a “sickening, burning sensation”—a sensation that the reader experiences alongside her.

You might try amplifying the setting by specifying the name of the restaurant—or, at the very least, what kind of restaurant it is. Even just specifying that it’s a Mexican or Indian restaurant will give the reader a clearer picture of the unfolding scene.

One point confused me at first: The second paragraph mentions James Abney, and it took me a minute to piece together that James = Claret’s aforementioned father. I’d recommend moving the first mention of his name to the second sentence of the first paragraph.

While we’re on the subject of text moves, I wonder if “Something was about to break” would work better earlier in the paragraph, perhaps even as the opening sentence. This sentence conveys the tension that powers the scene, and it is certainly evocative enough to grab reader attention and launch the story.

Take care not to disrupt the flow with misplaced details. In the third paragraph, Claret watches her father and Adelaide from across the table. We learn that she has a tendency to people-watch, a detail immediately relevant to the previous sentence. However, the narrative veers off at this juncture to tell us that she is a published novelist who dreams of quitting her editing job to write full time. This is, no doubt, an important character detail. However, I’m not sure that this is the right place to include it. Claret functions more as an observer than as an active participant in this scene. Therefore, I found it a bit jarring when the story flipped suddenly to random biographical details about her; it interrupts the tension that makes this first page so powerful. Consider introducing this information later, when it isn’t interrupting an otherwise action-oriented scene.

This first page has really good bones. We have a young woman whose father is starting over later in life with a much younger woman, and this is bound to stir up both internal and external conflict. The writing is generally solid, with the occasional technical issue. Make sure to give your manuscript a thorough proofread before submitting it to avoid spelling errors, tense inconsistency, and other grammatical issues. But, rest assured, you’re moving in the right direction. This story is definitely on the right track.