Taking a Break

Monday, December 7, 2009
I've come to a point in my life where some things have to change. There simply isn't enough Amber to go around (metaphorically speaking; literally speaking, there's plenty of Amber ;) ). Between my three very young children, my husband, my occasional job, and the regular gamut of things that need to be done, I don't have time to write. And writing has to come before blogging.

So I'm stepping away from the blogging thing for a while. I might post things occasionally. In the interim, know that I send you all blessings.


10 Steps to Unblock Your Writer's Block

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
1. Read a good book.

2. Listen to soundtracks or other music that gets you in a creative mood without distracting you(Josh Groban does it for me) .

3. Turn off your internal editor . Repeat after me: The first draft is crap. And that's okay.

4. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. A strong body makes for a strong mind.

5. Don't argue with your characters. If they refuse to do a scene a certain way, change it. Even if that means rewriting the story.

6. Discuss the problem with someone. I've found that when I'm stuck, if I talk it out, it allows me to see it from a different angle and I can usually fix it--even if the other person doesn't say a word.

7. Reevaluate the project. Drop it if necessary. That's only happened to me once. 100 pages in I realized it wasn't working. I needed to completely rework the story. I put it away and started a newer, stronger story. Since then, I've been playing with plot ideas for the older one. I'm going to start it soon. It's going to be much stronger.

8. Take a break from writing. Instead, read a dozen novels. By the end, the creative side of your brain will be tingling.

9. Don't overextend yourself. I can't create the depth necessary if I'm trying to move between two projects. Nor can I switch back and forth between editing and creating. Creative writing and editing do not play well with one another. When I'm writing, I DO NOT EDIT. They're two different mindsets. It takes weeks to completely engross myself in one or the other.

10. Write, edit, read. Do one of these daily.

Q4U: What do you do to overcome writer's block?


Where Did I Put Those Notes!

Saturday, November 14, 2009
I've tried many different methods for taking notes on my MS. A notebook--the kind with sections. In each section, I'd try to keep my notes for a particular MS. Things like maps (I write fantasy), names, locations, descriptions, character sketches, common phrases, etc.

Problem with this method is my kids. More than once, I 'lost' a notebook, only to find it later with colorful sketches all over the pages. (Of course, I never lose a notebook).

I switched to the post it note method. It was a disaster. Not only was my work space cluttered, so where the notes. I'd look through dozens of them trying to find the right one. They ended up disappearing even more frequently than the notebooks.

After years of frustration, I finally figured it out. I now keep my notes in a word document. It's a lot harder for my kids to steal my tower, and I back it up on my thumb drive. I also copy and paste pictures--pictures of locations, people, even random things like tattoos.

Q4U: What methods have you used to keep notes? What's worked best for you?

What I've Learned from my Divorce

Tuesday, November 10, 2009
1. My agent and I have Priestess (my MS) together. That means he has rights to any deal that arises from contact he initiated. IE--he's my agent for this book whether I drop him or not. Which is fine. I'm sure he'll do a good job with it.

2. If I try to get another agent for Priestess, I'll have to pay commission twice, one for my first agent, once for my second. IE--Don't try to find a new agent for Priestess.

3. Mentioning my past agent in a query is both good and bad, and therefore cancels each other out. Rachelle Gardner advised me NOT to mention it until after the agent had expressed serious interest.


So I'm basically starting over. Very frustrating. I feel like I've wasted a year.

On a positive note, my baby is crawling. It's so stinkin' cute. Although, it's hard to baby proof when you have two older kids with small-parts toys.

My Divorce

Friday, November 6, 2009
No, not from my husband. From my agent.

It's been a very difficult decision. One of the hardest I've ever had to make. But I actually feel good about it. I'm hoping that feeling lasts.

Now I'm in new territory. I have a million questions. Do I contact the publishing houses that still have my MS? What do I say?

In my query, do I meantion that I recently parted with my agent? Do I query a new book (as I have two more ready to send out)? Do I try to get someone to take over the old one?

I'm so lost about what I'm supposed to do.

And now I get to go through the fun fun process of finding a new agent. Yippie!

On Synop...si...siss? Summaries

Tuesday, November 3, 2009
First of all, you finished a book! Take a day to celebrate. As an unpublished writer, you're going to have to reward yourself for all your hard work. No one else has recognized your brilliance . . . yet.

Now go back and rewrite/edit/murder your MS. If this is your first book, you're going to be doing this A LOT. Take a hard look at it. Is it worth all those rewrites? If not, start a new story. My first MS, I bet I rewrote/edited 80 times (I'm much better/faster now). At one time, I had the whole first page memorized.

At some point in this process, you need to start thinking about writing a query letter and a synopsis. I suggest that you write your synopsis first, as it's actually a good editing tool, helping you spot plot holes like sagging plot, etc.

"But Amber, how do I write a synopsis?"

Well, let me tell you.

To write a synopsis, Condense your entire novel into two single spaced pages (with a hard return in between paragraphs).

I'll cringe in the corner while you scream in horror.


Alrighty then.

Capitalize the names the first time you use them. DO NOT leave out the ending of the story. This is not a hook. This is a plot summary. That includes the ending.


Synopsis of Daughter of Winter
Fantasy in 75,000 words
By Amber Argyle Smith

Seventeen-year old ILYENNA and her family find a neighboring ARGON near death on their border. They discover that his clan had been attacked. And theirs could be next. After mustering their warriors, the men leave the village. They return days later with what remains of the sacked Argon clan.

Ilyenna goes about caring for sick and injured Argons. While on a trip to gather supplies at a isolated home, she hears a band of Argons coming. She hides, but DARRIEN and his brother find her. While trying to take her captive, Ilyenna kills Darrien’s brother. In retribution, Darrien wounds her and leaves her for dead.

I don't claim to be an expert at writing a synopsis. In fact, I'm probably pretty bad at it, but you can get a general idea from my draft above. Don't be too hard on yourself about this. I've never read a synopsis that didn't make the story sound contrived. It sounds contrived because it is.

If you're really struggling, write a synopsis for each chapter and then weave those together. In order to keep it under two pages (some will want it shorter, some longer, but I've found that 2 pages is the norm), leave out minor characters and all but the most important subplots . In my synopsis, I only named eight characters/clans.

I know this sounds overwhelming. That's because it is. Taking ~80,000 word story and condensing it to 1,000 is HARD. I've been working on it for years, and I still struggle.

Q4U: Does anyone have any other synopsis tips they'd like to share?

Where's Amber?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Anybody know what happened to Amber? Well, let me tell you. Her seven month daughter is sick and she's up with her all night every night (ergo, she is referring to herself in the third person and using words like 'ergo').

In an intricate plot to swindle cookies from their zombie like mother, her three children have also made dang sure she's not able to take a nap.

She's also in the last throes of wresting edits out of her newest MS until it cries, "Uncle."

On top of all this, she is very frustrated with the publishing industry as a whole. She would like to formally berate said industry for failing to answer her submissions in over a year. She would berate said industry professionals (and she uses 'professionals' in the loosest possible terms), but will refrain as it is considered unprofessional, and as this post so succinctly shows, she is nothing but professional.

As a parting shot, to all publishers who still have her MS (and it's abundantly clear you have no idea who you are), she would like to invite you to kiss her big toe.


Ah, now anyone feel better?

Another Contest

Sunday, October 18, 2009
Another contest:


Two contests in a row. You're probably all wanting to punch me by now. But just think, if you win you will officially be a PUBLISHED AUTHOR.

Q4U: Tell me about contests you regularly enter or would like to enter in the future.

Nathan Bransford's Contest

Tuesday, October 13, 2009
This is an amazing contest that you should all enter.

Here's the first few lines I'm thinking of entering. Let me know what you think:


James Edward Tolman. How was I supposed to know that he would save my life—more than once? How could I know that it wasn’t the first time he had done so?

Effectively Integrating Backstory

Thursday, October 8, 2009
In my current WIP, I've been struggling with what to do with an important backstory scene. I felt it was integral to the story--something my readers would benefit from knowing. It set up the relationship between my characters, my MC motivation and weaknesses, sets up a strong undercurrent as it mirrors whats happening now, and sets up an ironic ending.

In short, including it would make the story stronger.

And yet weaker at the same time. Anytime you interrupt the forward momentum of the story by flashbacks, sometimes with prologues (as prologues set the reader up for A, then chapter one gives them A mixed with B, or even worse, straight B) you risk losing your readers.

So I was really struggling with what to do with this really important, life changing moment for my character. I toyed with using it as a prologue. I also toyed with splitting it into small chunks and delivering them as dreams.

Both of these methods seemed like I gave up as much or more that I gained. So I did some research. I studied out what some of my favorite books did with backstory information that the author considered integral to the plot.

One of the strongest influences was Catching Fire and Hunger Games (also Harry Potter). The MC father dies in a mine accident and the mother slips into depression, leaving the MC solely responsible for providing for her family at a very young age.

This moment was huge for all the same reasons my moment was. So how did Suzanne Collins integrate this information? She delivered it in small chunks, a paragraph or so at a time, when the character encountered experiences that drudged it up.

And it worked. It gave the character depth that couldn't have been achieved any other way.

So here's what I did. I wrote out the scene and saved it for later (when my book is a bestseller, I'll give it away for free on my website). Then I've delivered it in bits and pieces by way of memories. That way, my reader gets to piece together my character and her story one step at a time. This technique actually strengthened the story like a shot of steroids.

Here's a brief example from Daughter of Winter. My main character has just been beaten with a strap soaked in poison oak:

"The river felt so deliciously cool, soothing the itch and swelling . But only Rone's tight hold kept Ilyenna from bolting. She couldn’t swim, and anything deeper than her knees brought up memories. Memories of water bouncing her along the riverbed like a child with a new ball. She remembered seeing the sky through a window of ice. Ice she'd clawed at until each and every one of her fingernails had ripped off. "

Not only is the reader moving along with your character, they're learning a backstory that keeps them reading.

You probably all knew this already, but it really was a lightbulb moment for me!

Q4U: How to you incorporate backstory into your storyline?

Check Out This Link

Monday, September 21, 2009
I found this blog while scanning through some agent ones. It has a lot of information of on the last Writer's Digest Conference.

Check it out!

Also, funny thing happened to me yesterday. A neighbor of mine commented on how pretty I looked on my facebook page. "Absolutely gorgeous," she said. "You looked so stunning."

I smiled, genuinely pleased. "Thank you."

Studying me, she shook her head in disbelief. "It really looks nothing like you."

My eyebrows flew up and I had to suppress a snort. "Uh . . . I guess I clean up well?"

I love it when people offer you insults wrapped in praise. lol

5 Mistakes Middling Writers Make

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A middling writer has moved past newbie mistakes. They've learned about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. They may have a published work, a creative writing degree, or an agent. But they have yet to really break in. I consider myself on the high end of this stage, and have suffered from many of these maladies myself.

1. Quitting. Mostly I see this happen because writers feel stuck. They've sent out a few queries to no avail. They've done a few things to further their writing careers (maybe read craft books, joined a crit group, etc), but are unwilling to invest further. Or they simply can't take it anymore. It's just not worth it. After all, this is a tough business.

This is what I call the 'weed out stage.' This is where people who write for the passion of it hang on, and those that are so so find something else to do with their time. Maybe it's for the best. But for those who couldn't give up writing if they wanted to, it's validation that this is really what you're meant to do.

2. Fear of failure. This manifests itself in many ways. I've seen 'closet writers.' People who are afraid to go to conferences because they can't possibly put themselves on the same level as 'real' writers. People who refuse to invest the time, money, and effort. Even people who are afraid of changes--changes like success. But mostly it's the people who want it so badly that they don't even dare try, or fail to push themselves. Because if they fail, they can't live with that (I was one of you once).

These people write, but never with their whole hearts.
3. Laziness. To be a writer, you have to be internally driven. You have to make yourself write. And keep writing. And keep learning. Writing is a lot of work. Work no one is paying you for. Work no one is pushing you to do. Sometimes life interfers, throwing you a curve ball you don't recover from. After the initial love affair dwindles, many just fade away.
4. Frustration. I've seen authors quit because of anger. Anger at rejection. Anger at all the 'time they've wasted.' Anger with the publishing system. This anger colors their writing to the point it kills the writer's joy. When this happens, take a step back and write for the fun of it. Never forget why you write. You write because you love it. If that ever changes, switch careers.
5. Writing what will sell, instead of what speaks to your heart. I've seen writers try so hard to come up with something different. Something new. Something that will sell. It almost never works (in fiction). Often, the ideas are weird. The writing forced. You have to write what you love. Period.

Q4U: What challenges have you faced in your writing career?

The End Is Near

Friday, September 11, 2009
My current WIP is nearing completion. Daughter of Winter is at 65,000 words. I've only got another two or three chapters to add and then I get to start the first rewrite.

Writing the conclusion is always a little intimidating. You have to take all the plot threads you've introduced and tie them up in a neat bow.

After I do a couple/three rewrites, it'll have to marinade for a few months. By six months to a year (depending on how long my rewrites on The Brotherhood and Last Witch take--or the rewrites a publisher requires for Priestess, I'm being positively hopeful here) I should have another novel ready to send out.

A major New York Publisher will of course call me, screaming with joy, at the marvelous marvel that is my newest masterpiece.

Q4U: Where are you in your writing cycle?


This Video Cracked Me Up

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Quick Tip: Adding Layers

Friday, September 4, 2009
Adding layers to your story makes it feel deeper and more realistic. I find that I come up with ideas for adding these layers as I go. Oftentimes I don't want to stop my momentum to rewrite the story, so I keep an extra Word document full of notes. After I've finished a rough draft, I go back and add a sentence here, a paragraph there.

Here's a few ideas of things to add to help you find your own layering ideas:

1. Add some type of religious views. Everyone, even atheists, have some set of beliefs. After all, believing in nothing is still a belief. (I add this because I royally suck at it :) )

2. A childhood memory that affects your character. I think it's fun to use something negative/embarrassing/sad. But especially embarrassing. It makes your character more approachable.

3. Some odd, but realistic tradition (they're fun to write!). After all, we Americans have many odd holidays. Halloween comes to mind. If you're writing contemporary, put a twist on a tradition. Like corndogs for Christmas Eve.

4. Myths/superstitions.

5. One flaw. Be it physical like a mole, scar, chipped tooth, broken nose, big ears, bushy eyebrows. I find that writers (me included) describe all the beautiful parts of our heroes and forget to add a flaw. That flaw is important. It makes the character real. Perhaps your character is exceedingly clumsy, stutters, bites her nails. My MC in my WIP bites the inside of her cheek when she's angry. There's a million and one different ways to make our characters imperfect. (Look at yourself for ideas). :)

Q4U: What kinds of flaws do your heroes/heroines have?

How to Write Violent Scenes

Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Updated Sept 4th, 09

So I was reading Michelle's post on violence and it got me really thinking. How do you write a violent scene without getting too violent?

The short answer is balance. Plot wise, the villain's evil needs to be balanced by the hero's goodness. The blood and gore by the hero's attempts to stop it. It's all in how your character reacts to the violence, how it affects them, what they think of it. If you're truly in deep POV, it's not too hard.

In the actual scene, space out the violence with descriptions, thoughts, random interuptions (keep reading for an example). Make sure you use all the senses (Taste the blood, hear the ribs crack, feel the gun jump in her hands, smell the powder, etc0. I also like to throw in some random thought. So though your character might be in a fight for his life, he sees a car drive by, the driver oblivious. A dog might bark. These elements all help balance the scene.

If you find it gets too intense, make it so your character can't handle the gore. They cringe and look away etc.--simultaneously sparing your reader.

For example, here's something from my WIP. The scene is incredibly violent, but my character, Ilyenna, is fighting for someone else--Metha, a pregnant woman whose lover is beating her because she dared defy him. I'll color code the violence with the balancing moments. See if it works for you.

Balancing elements (like descriptions)

Metha spit in his face.

The thin line of spittle ran down his cheek. He daubed it with his fingers, gazing at it in shock. Grabbing Metha, he threw her to the floor. Drawing back his foot, he slammed it into her stomach. Metha gasped in shock and pain, curling protectively around her swollen belly. He kicked her again, and again.
Ilyenna’s mind refused to accept what her eyes saw. Time seemed to speed up while the rest of her slowed down. And then she remembered the Argon babies. The ones she had tended. The ones who even now might be dead. Like Metha’s would be.
Rage boiled in her like a gnashing monster. She threw open the door and screamed, “No!” She shoved Darrien.

Without taking his eyes from Metha, he backhanded her so hard that blackness curled in from the outside of her vision.
The blackness receded. Tiny sparks flashed. Shaking her head to clear it, she saw Metha, her face screwed up in agony as Darrien pounded her—his features contorted by a bottomless rage. He wouldn’t stop until she was dead. He’ll kill both her and her baby.

Without thought, she threw herself over Metha, screaming as loud and long as she could, “Rone!” A kick to her already bruised ribs stole her breath. Another made her whole body clench in protest. Another and a scream of pain tore from her throat. Her whole existence revolved around waiting for the next kick and the next explosion of pain. She realized her folly too late. She hadn’t saved anyone.

He’s going to kill all three of us.

Something cracked. It sounded like lightening. At first she thought something inside her had finally snapped, but she didn't feel it. And then the kicks finally stopped.

Ilyenna rolled off Metha and vomited again, and again, and again.

When her wretched finally stopped, she managed to look up.

Rone had come.
He had Darrien underneath him, his fist working the other man into pulp. She tried to shout, but her words came out as little more than a hoarse whisper, “No, Rone, don’t kill him. They’ll execute you.”

The opposite door flung open. Wide eyed, Undon barreled into the room, shouting for his clansmen. But they were already in the room. They must have heard her screams. It took four Tyrans to pull Rone off. Even then, he strained with every fiber of his being to reach Darrien. In his eyes, murder gleamed bright as a newly polished axe.

She realized her hand was wet and looked down. Bright blood pooled beneath her. For a moment, she thought it was hers. But then she remembered Metha. Barely holding on to consciousness, she leaned over the woman. Blood gushed between her legs, soaking everything around her.

I’m a healer. I must help her. But she hurt so much. She couldn’t reach through the pain to her thoughts. Every time she moved, she wanted to scream. But screaming would only make her hurt more.

Undon’s daughters hurried to Metha, grabbing the woman and hauling her out of the kitchen, leaving nothing but a trail of blood as testament to what had happened.

Ilyenna watched them go, trying force herself to get up and help them. Unable to do so.
A face appeared before her. It took a moment for Ilyenna to realize it was Narium. “The dead protect me, what have they done to you?”

Ilyenna tried to shake her head, but it hurt too much. “It’s not my blood.” But she tasted blood in her mouth. Then again, maybe some of it was. Not wanting to make herself sick, she spit it onto the already stained floor.

Narium glanced up. “Get her to the women’s house.”

Q4U: I Could Never Write Mystery

Saturday, August 29, 2009
For those of you mystery writers, kudos. In my WIP, I've included a 'who done it' element. Honestly, it's the hardest thing I've ever had to write. Trying to drop just enough hints without giving away the truth is so much more complicated than playing Clue. The timing, hints, delivery, and pacing all have to be perfect.

My brain just isn't wired that way. Part of my problem is because the situation is so complicated.

I've gained new respect for mystery writer's everywhere. And I humbly ask for your help. Do any of you have any hints for how you do what you do?

What to expect when you submit to your agent

Sunday, August 23, 2009
As in most relationships, trouble comes when expectations don't meet.

So it's a good idea to know what to expect after you submit another MS to your agent. First of all, unless you're making your agent a lot of money, don't expect them to drop everything. Agents have lists of things to accomplish. Don't expect to be pushed to the top.

Now, while you can expect your MS to go before any nonclients (which you will appreciate, after you've landed an agent), you will no doubt be behind clients whose MS arrived before yours. Your agent may take other things into consideration. If, for instance, you already have an unsold MS with him, s/he may be less likely to hurry up and read your newest masterpiece.

So, how long should you expect? Here's the key, ask when you turn the MS in. If you agent says a month, double that (this is true for all things publishing--unless of course, you need to meet a deadline).

So you see, all this sending off queries and waiting is just preparing you for life after you land an agent.

In the meantime, go have a popsicle and chill.


I'll Always be a Cowgirl

Tuesday, August 18, 2009
This past weekend, I went home for the county fair. Now, for those of you not familiar with small town life in the West, the county fair surpasses many an American holiday. I'd rather miss Thanksgiving than the fair.

With my all of my immediate family members, I moved toward the stands covered in peeling white paint--paint I had helped put there years ago. I smile as I remember my 4-H friends and I slapping each other with white, laughing when we realized the paint was oil based. The smell of gasoline as we worked it from our skin.

I sat down to more memories--memories as familiar to me as the smells of my children and as distant as my first romance. The smell of horse sweat. Dust in my mouth. The feeling of 1,000 pounds of muscle tensed and ready to run beneath me. The pride I have for my horse; a horse that I'd trained myself.

I remember the heartache of losses, the thrill of the win. Chasing cowboys wearing tight wranglers, callouses on their hands.

And now it's all gone for me. Sometimes, like when I go to the fair, I miss it so much my chest aches and tears sting my eyes. And I'm beginning to realize that I may never have it back. It may be gone forever. And I may miss it forever.

And I'm beginning to realize rodeo will not be the only passing passion I have in my life. I still love the textured feel of a basketball in my hand, the snap of the hoop when the ball fits perfectly. But my body will not always willingly run the court.

The feel of my baby daughter in my arms, so tiny that she seems made to fit in the contours of my body. Her breath against my neck as she sighs her sleeping baby sighs.

So now I'm determined to enjoy my stage of life now. The kids running around, begging me to play swords with them and read them a story. My husband, singing off key to Don't Worry, Be Happy as he cooks in the kitchen. My friends and I playing ball on Saturday mornings.

I will write. But I will not give up NOW. I will not miss these memories. Because I'm beginning to understand that I will never get them back.

In case you have any doubts, yes, that's me during my Junior year of high school. I was one of the top Cowgirls in my state. I have over 30 belt buckles to prove it.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I'm unstuck again. A good plot discussion with my husband did the trick. He doesn't say much, but talking with someone usually helps me zero in on the problem.

So what was the problem? Well, I have this particular one before. It was a combination of a fizzle in the tension and my characters balking at what I wanted to have happen.

Ilyenna, my MC, was refusing to move forward until I wrote it right.

Unfortunately, I was trying to avoid this particular plot twist because I feel like I use it too much. Do any of you ever have that problem? What do you do to fix it?

This is Hard. I'm Lazy. I Quit.

Monday, August 10, 2009
46,000 words. The dreaded two thirds point. I've set up my characters, established my plot, pushed through the turning point, but I'm not quite ready for the conclusion.

I hate this part.

It's a lot of hard work.

I was stuck for a month before I finally whipped out three chapters. Now I'm stuck again. And I hate it. I feel like I'm dragging the story out of me like a three year old dragging around a yowling cat instead of it flowing from my fingers.

Do you ever feel this way? What do you do to fix it?

Creating Memorable Characters

Friday, July 31, 2009
It was during a very lonely time in my childhood that I discovered what makes memorable characters. Laura Ingalls was always there on my bookshelf, waiting to take me on another adventure. She never judged me or called me names. She cheered me up when I was sad, and for a time, I forgot all about being lonely and unhappy.

She was my friend.

Since then, the characters that strummed the deepest cord inside me have always managed to achieve some level of friendship. I felt that I knew them. What they looked like, their weaknesses and strengths.

But it wasn't until I started writing that I understood the power of this secret. Your readers should see your MC as their friend. It's why people get so annoyed when their characters are cast wrong in the movie. 'Cause, by dang, my friend doesn't look like that. Think about it. All people are lonely at some point. All of us want to reach out and connect with others. One of the easiest ways to do this is through a book.

As Disney says, "See a need, fill a need."

People want friends. Give them one. Figure out what kinds of things people value in their friends and you'll be a long way to creating characters that will resonate with them. They don't have to be perfect, but they do have to be someone an audience would want to know. For the next several hours, you're audience is going to go through an experience with your MC. At times, they'll almost wish they were your character (sound familiar to real life?). Your characters enemies will be your readers enemies.

The best part. Both your MC and your reader will *defeat* them (unlike real life).

Who are some of your "book friends?" Why?

To Write, Or Not To Write, A Sex Scene?

Sunday, July 26, 2009
There are so many things to consider in writing, or not writing, a sex scene (versus how to write a sex scene). Here's some things I've found helpful for me:

1. My characters morals are not necessarily my morals. But, like all writers, I can choose to bleep a scene when it gets too hot. (I write YA, and so I usually do).

2. Sex happens. Really. Not many people go through their entire lives as virgins. I write about characters in their late teens to early twenties--usually when the virginity thing . . . uh, goes away.

3. Sex happens, but so do consequences (having trouble coming up with any, think back to sophomore health class and all those nasty pictures). But don't stop there. Sex has emotion impacts on people. It changes relationships, permanently. I have a responsibility to represent sex as it truly is.

4. Don't write a sex scene just to have one. Do you ever feel like an author tossed in a sex scene because sex sells instead of because the plot/character called for it?

What did I miss? What other issues come into play when deciding whether or not to write a sex scene?

How to Find the Perfect Critique Partners

Friday, July 24, 2009
Don't have one?

Get one.

Or two or three
Seriously, every good writer needs other writers to look over their work.

So, how do you get critique partners? Their are writing groups open to any new members. This is a great way to start. However, eventually, your going to outgrow an open crit group. When that happens, you can start your own "invite only" group, or hope you are invited to one.

At this point, it might be important to distinguish the difference between critique partners and critique groups. A critique partner will usually look at larger amounts of your work at their homes, while you bring a small amount to read out loud at groups. With my partners, we will either swipe an entire book, or a selected amount of pages, say 25. I've learned from past experience, that when trying out a new partner, start small. That way you don't end up with something you can't edit, whether because of taste or writing level issues.

Good partnerships work well when both partners are:

1. On a similar writing level. If their is a wide dichotomy, one person will feel like they don't get what they give. That's great, however, for the less experienced writer.

2. Have similar outputs. It's frustrating when you write 25 pages every week, and your partner takes 6 months.

3. Enjoy each other's writing. I added this after a comment from Stephanie (poor girl). Seriously, if you can't stand a person's writing, you probably shouldn't be editing it--if that person is in your critique group . . . well, I agree with Thumper, "if you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all."

I'm lucky in writing partners. I work with published authors: Marion Jensen w/a Mathew Buckley, Janet Jensen, journalist JoLynne Lyon, and Cami Checketts.

Speaking of Cami, she and I worked on her book, Sister Pact, together. So, here's a shameless plug for my friend:

After a tragic fall leaves her sister in a coma, Savannah becomes the prime suspect in the investigation. Desperately hoping to prove her innocence, she convinces detective Noah Shumway to stay by her side at all times. But the close quarters prove too much for them to handle. Can Savannah find the proof she needs to show Noah she's not a monster? And how can she rely on her faith and keep her family safe when it seems all hope is lost? The Sister Pact is a thrilling story of action, suspense, and love. Full of unexpected twists, this book will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Buy her book!

One Phrase you never Want to Hear From You Seven-year old

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In case you're wondering what I've been up to lately . . .

But seriously, I'm cutting back my posts to once a week.

If my baby isn't enough, perhaps the following story will convince you.

It was a phrase every mother dreads hearing. Unfortunately, it was delivered in an unusual way.

Dancing from one foot to the next, my seven-year old wrings his hands. "Um, Mom. I think maybe there's been a fire."

"What!" I roar. "Where!"

"In my room."

Silently cursing our multilevel house, I rush down three flights of stairs. In his room, I find black soot dripping from the walls--evidence of an obvious clean up. The outlet is smeared black.
I let out a silent sigh of relief and round on said seven-year old. "What did you do?"

The dancing and hand twisting began again. "Um, I was, like, playing with my dog-tag chain, and it, um, flew through the air and landed on the metal thingies that go in their." He points at the outlet, where a prongs stuck halfway out like a petulant child sticking out it's tongue.

"And the chain just happened to land on the prongs that just happened to be sticking out?"

We played this back and forth game a few more times before he finally told me the truth. With a big sigh, he began, "You know when R2D2 breaks the chain with his shock thingy, I wanted to see if I could break my chain with the electricity from the house."

George Lucas, sometimes I'd like to strangle you!
Suppressing an eye roll, I proceeded to ground my son from everything Star Wars for a week.

So you see, unless I want my house burned down, I better be more vigilant.

Adding tension

Monday, July 13, 2009
In a previous post, I showed you a sentence: Rocks and boulders circled the pool. But how can I add tension to the scene? Well, let me break it down for you:

My character (Daughter of Winter) is pinned between the villain and a cliff. It's a tense moment, but how do I convey that though showing? Well, read this section first, and then I'll break down what I've done.

The river narrowed and deepened. The air was thick and heavy with the smell of the water. With a sense of foreboding, she climbed up the bald expanse of a flat boulder and looked down. A waterfall crashed down a steep cliff before hurtling into a deep pool. Rocks and boulders ringed the pool like the teeth of a hungry maw. She looked from one side to the other. The cliffs went on for leagues in either direction. She had nowhere to go. The dogs were very close now.

She stared at the base, her whole body screaming to live.

The dogs crashing through the trees, baying happily when they found her. She turned, and saw Darrien astride his gelding. It surprised her that he was alone. What would he do to her?

He rubbed the back of his head, where she’d clobbered him. “That will cost you.”

Everything. He was going to take everything she held dear. By the time he was finished, she wouldn’t be Ilyenna anymore. Instead, all that remained would be a hallowed out husk. If she didn’t bend to him, he would destroy her clanswomen. Only one choice remained for her now. She peeked over the edge and looked down, down, down. She felt dizzy and disoriented. Would it hurt?

His voice softened. “Come here, now.” Understanding had dawned on Darrien’s face.

She grunted. In this only, had she any modicum of control. She closed her eyes. But she couldn’t bring herself to jump. Drawing every ounce of courage, she inched backward. You’re the clanmistress. You protect your clan. No matter the cost. With each minuscule step, she expected to feel nothing but open air beneath her.

Ilyenna, no!” She gasped out the breath she had been holding. Rone came crashing through the trees—his face white with fear and exertion.

Her heart squeezed violently within her, flooding her whole body with a burst of blood. Why couldn’t he have loved her?

He paused before her, his hand outstretched. “Come with me, Ilyenna.”

She shook her head violently, tendrils of her damp hair swaying. “I can’t, you know that Rone. I have to protect them. Protect myself.”

“We’ll find another way.”

Duty. Honor. She smiled at him, gently, trying to ease his pain. If she didn’t do it now, she might lose her courage forever. “There is no other way.” She stepped back, and this time, her foot caught nothing but empty air. She pushed off. Rone reached for her, his face twisting in despair. She heard his scream as she fell. Her heart plunged in her throat as she watched the ground rush up to meet her.

In this scene, I really have three major conflicts going on at one: Ilyenna's internal conflict--to protect her people, she believes she must kill herself; her external conflict with the villain; her conflict with her love interest.

blue=tension building words or phrases
green=conflict (internal or external) note that conflict builds tension, but my purpose here is better served if they are separate.

The river narrowed and deepened. The air was thick and heavy with the smell of the water. With a sense of foreboding, she climbed up the bald expanse of a flat boulder and peered over the edge. A waterfall hurtled into a deep pool. Rocks and boulders ringed the pool like the teeth of a hungry maw--anytime you can make a description dangerous, you kill two birds with one stone. She looked from one side to the other. The cliffs went on for leagues in either direction. She had nowhere to go. The dogs were very close now.

She stared at the base, her whole body screaming to live. --setting this sentence apart gives it extra emphasis

The dogs crashed through the trees, baying happily (this adds a sharp contrast to the deadly scene) when they found her. She turned, and saw Darrien astride his gelding. It surprised her that he was alone. What would he do to her?

He rubbed the back of his head, where she’d clobbered him. “That will cost you.”

Everything.--see how I'm mixing up my sentence lengths? Putting a sentence in it's own paragraph, or it's own sentence, gives it special emphasis. When the tension is really fast, my sentences are shorter.-- He was going to take everything she held dear. By the time he was finished, she wouldn’t be Ilyenna anymore. Instead, all that remained would be a hallowed out husk. If she didn’t bend to him, he would destroy her clanswomen. Only one choice remained for her now. She peeked over the edge and looked down, down, down. She felt dizzy and disoriented. Would it hurt?--adding the characters thoughts also gives variety and sets it apart.

His voice softened. “Come here, now.” Understanding had dawned on Darrien’s face.

She grunted. In this only, had she any modicum of control. She closed her eyes. But she couldn’t bring herself to jump. Drawing every ounce of courage, she inched backward. You’re the clanmistress. You protect your clan. No matter the cost. With each minuscule step, she expected to feel nothing but open air beneath her. --see how I'm dragging out the tension? Just like in real life, time slows during tense situations (actually, we speed up, but that's irrelevant).

Ilyenna, no!” She gasped out the breath she had been holding. Rone stumbled through the trees—his face white with fear and exertion. --I'm building the tension by adding another conflict.

Her heart squeezed violently within her, flooding her whole body with a burst of blood. Why couldn’t he have loved her?

He paused before her, his hand outstretched. “Come with me, Ilyenna.”

She shook her head, tendrils of her damp hair swaying. “I can’t, you know that Rone. I have to protect them. Protect myself.”

“We’ll find another way.”

Duty. Honor. She smiled at him, gently (again, the word gently contrasts with the severity of the scene), trying to ease his pain. If she didn’t do it now, she might lose her courage forever. “There is no other way.” She stepped back, and this time, her foot caught nothing but empty air. She pushed off. Rone reached for her, his face twisting in despair. She heard his scream as she fell. Her heart plunged in her throat as she watched the ground rush up to meet her.

Whaddya think? How'd I do?

Favorite Villains

Wednesday, July 8, 2009
What makes the best villains?

The answer will vary a bit depending on what draws you. So pick your favorite villain. Mine is the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera. Here's the top things that draw me to him:

1. Conflicting emotions. I'm actually attracted to the Phantom, and at the same time, repulsed. At points, I want him to win the girl. At others, I don't. But always, I have sympathy for why he does the things he does.

2. A sense of mystery. A good villain keeps me guessing at the beginning. I'm not sure if the Phantom is a good guy or a bad guy. At the end, I'm still not sure.

3. A sense of understanding. I feel sorry for the Phantom. He's had a hard life, but he's made the most of it. Then he falls in love. And wouldn't you know it, his love falls for the rich, popular boy.

My second favorite villain is one of my own creation. His name is Zacar. He's the 3rd wheel in a love triangle with my main character. What I crave about him is how hard he's trying to break away from his past, and especially his evil father, but it seems no matter how hard he tries, he can never break free.

You root for him. You have sympathy for him. You ache for him.

So, who's your favorite villain. Why?

Quick writing tip

Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Quick writing tip:
Having problems with too many "be verbs?" Switch the direct object and the subject. For instance:

All around the pool were rocks and boulders.


Rocks and boulders circled the pool.

I've cut the sentence by two words. Now it's shorter, tighter, and more powerful.

Now, go forth, and edit!

The Secret Link between Telling and POV

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I've got a secret to share with you. But unlike most secrets, I want you to tell everyone you know. Ready? Here it is: Telling and POV are interlinked. If you're truly in deep POV, you won't tell us your story, you'll be showing it to us through your characters thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Here's some tricks to help you figure it out:

1. The following phrases are often used in "Telling"
He felt ________
He knew ________
He wanted ______

2. Repetitive use of a Subject, verb, Direct Object pattern.
-Tina was skinny.

3. Not using deep POV (duh!)

4. Narrator intrusion (narrator (that's you) interjects statements and/or ideas that would not be the main characters).

5. Information dump-you unload a lot of backstory or irrelevant information.

Writing tip: Writing the character's actions before they speak eliminates the need for a dialogue tag.

Q4U: What other things tip you off to telling or not being deep enough in your POV?

Write it anyway

Thursday, June 18, 2009
Anyway by Martina McBride (my favorite country singer) always inspires me when I think I may never be published. I've changed some of the lyrics to fit a writer's situation.

You can spend your whole life writin'
Somethin' from nothin'
One virus can come and blow it all away
Write it anyway

You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway

God is great, but sometimes life ain't good
When I pray it doesn't always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway

This world's gone crazy and it's hard to believe
That tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway

You can love someone with all your heart
For all the right reasons
And in a moment they can choose to walk away
Love 'em anyway

(Repeat Chorus)

You can pour your soul out writin'
A story you believe in
That tomorrow they'll forget you ever wrote
Write it anyway
Yeah write it anyway

I write
I dream
I love

That pretty much sums it up. I accept that my books may never be published, and after waiting for publishers for nine months, that may be the case. I will write anyway.

What inspires you?

You've found an agent! . . . Now what?

Sunday, June 14, 2009
I didn't even want to think about what would happen if I found an agent. I was too consumed with finding one first. Plus, I really didn't want to get my hopes up. So I avoided the topic altogether.

Don't do this.

Really. If you work hard enough (and I mean write hours per day for years, read books on writing, with conferences thrown in) for long enough, it will happen. They really won't tell you no forever.

So you get the big email or phone call. What should you do?

First, if it's a phone call, tell them that you're thrilled to pieces, but you need to call them back in a sec so you don't scream in their ear.


Not yet?

How 'bout now? Good

Now, get online and look up all the questions you need to ask (I'm not going over them here. This is my favorite link by favorite blogging agent--Rachelle is nice, entertaining, AND informative. ) http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/05/questions-to-ask-agent.html

Print this off and file it somewhere.


Q 4 U

Monday, June 8, 2009
Updated 6-9-09
So, my question is this: How do you decide the context for your blog?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. It basically boils down to why you blog. Here's the thing, I blog for two reasons.

1. As a promotional tool.
2. To network and connect with other professionals.
3. To help others learn from my mistakes.

I feel pretty good about #2. I've meet some awesome colleagues. I hope I'm accomplishing #3, but that would be subjective and answered by you. I'm not so sure about #1. How can we make our blogs into a promotional tool?

First, we have to identify our audience. For me, that's lovers of YA Fantasy. The question I can't answer is how the heck to reach them.

One obvious answer is to give them stuff for free--short stories, pieces of my novels, etc. That gets a little touchy with publishers, as they won't take things "already published." Also, I don't write short stories. It's not that I don't want to. I just can't. Every time I try, it turns into a novel. I'm no good at anything under 60,000 words.

So my questions are, and I hope this turns into a discussion, how do you reach your audience and what content do you deliver to them?

Review for the Brotherhood-cause it makes me happy!

Thursday, June 4, 2009
I sent a draft of The Brotherhood to one of my beta readers. She wrote me this email back (if only publishers were this enthusiastic!).

Ok. I started the book today. I could not stop. It is your best work to date. This one should be have not trouble getting published. Move forward with this as fast as possible. It had it all romance, danger, and mystery. I loved it.

I'm just a little miffed that you killed (retracted) off. It fit perfectly with the story but I'm a hopeless romantic. I just can't stop saying how much I loved it. There was a few times the peoples names were off and you even called James Joshen once. I think there was only one line I didn't quite understand. Other than that I thought it was brilliant, just brilliant.

I have read other books along the same lines as this and I think yours is above and beyond better. Send me more. Not that I have any sway but I would write a letter to whoever and tell them they would be missing out if they didn't publish this one. Get this on to your agent Now!! I know Becky would love it. I don't think any of the sex parts are bad if anything it could have been more for me. Just great!! Need I say more.


After all the rejections and all the "nos" it feels good to have a letter like this.

Posted chapters of Witch and Priestess

Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Hey all. I've posted the first chapter of The Last Witch and The Priestess Prophecy on my new blogs. You can click on them on the left hand side under the headings: Current Project and Out to Publishers.

Wanna See a Publisher's Rejection Letter?

Saturday, May 30, 2009
It starts off with the usual. I'm skipping to the good stuff.

We've had a chance to read your manuscript (any letter that doesn't start off with "We love it. We'll take it." is a bad sign), and we've discussed it with our review committee and many others in the publishing department. It is obvious you have invested a considerable amount of time and energy into this project (can you feel it coming). Our publishing schedule is quite competitive, however, and as we look carefully at all the issues involved in publication, we are forced to be extremely selective in our publishing decisions. Reluctantly (and here it comes!), we have concluded we are not in a position to pursue publishing (an alliteration! they just can't help themselves!) this manuscript. (I'm pretty sure this part was part of a form letter.)

This rejection is certainly not about your ability to write. You are a very talented and we would encourage you to check out other publishers such as (names retracted). Information on all of them can be found (the rest is rather mundane).

All in all, a very nice rejection letter. (Kinda like being slain with an ornate sword. You're still dead, but at least it was with something pretty. :) ) Give me a few days to be miserable, drown myself in self-depreciation, and I'll bounce back with a vengeance.

In the meantime, anyone wanna go shopping?

Dear Agents Everywhere Part 2

Thursday, May 28, 2009
Signing with an agent is a lot like getting married. You make the most educated decision you can, trust the other person, and jump. And I mean jump. (Fortunately, my agent has been great so far.)

So what does an author want/expect? I can't answer that for everyone, but I'm going to give a general list. (Unfortunately, agents expect you to ask these questions. IMO, we shouldn't have to ask. After all, they're the expert.)

1. Tell us what you'll do up front. Really. Vague isn't helping anyone. Are you planning to do an edit? If so, how extensive? What houses/editors do you plan to send to? How many do you plan to send to in the first round? Second (if there is one)? How long should I wait for a response from you? Would you like to work with me on more projects, or are you a one night stand type of man? Nothing sours a relationship faster than colliding expectations.

1.5. Answer our questions.

2. Tell us what you expect from us up front. As far as contact goes, how often is too often? How often do you want to see another MS? Do you prefer we call, email, stop by your house with a cattle prod and a horse whip?

2.5 Answer our questions in a timely manner.

3. Expect to "be there for us." Especially if your taking on a newbie. While you might be a seasoned pro, we aren't. Expect to teach us a few things about the industry. Don't like it? Tough. It's part of your job.

3.5 Answer our questions completely.

4. Give us some idea of what to expect. By the time we've put our MS in your hands we're feeling way overdue anyway. If we have realistic expectations up front, it won't be so bad.

4.5 Answer our questions. Really. If it's stupid, answer it anyway.

Notice something? Most of this boils down to communication. So treat it like a job interview. Tell us your part of the job and ours. Negotiate any stalemates.

And answer our questions!

Dear Agents Everywhere

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I've seen lots of posts by agents in what they love/hate from potential clients. So I thought I'd turn the tables. For all agents, here's an author's Do's and Don't list from all those unagented authors (many of these are from personal experience--not from my agent ((love ya, Al)) but those other, nasty, no good stinkers).

1. Do: Be nice. It's really very simple. No one likes rude people. Newbies might make a mistake and fail to follow your guidelines. Shrug it off and move on. Don't post and rant about it on your blog. There really is another person on the other side of the computer. Be polite and professional.

2. Do: Post your guidelines. If you're a stickler for how, when, what, etc: POST IT on your website, blog, guidelines on all the different agent search sites (agent query, publishers marketplace, etc.) The harder it is for us to find you and your guidelines, the more random your queries are going to be.

2.5. Do Post your preferences. ie--If you're not taking any more epic fantasies, post that on your guidelines. You'll save us both time and money. (This one happened to me).

3. Don't: Get our hopes up only to smash them into the ground. Really. You may think you're being encouraging. You're not. If you're loving a book and you tell an author that 3, 4, 5, or 6 times and then end up not taking it, it's like counting down for Christmas and then telling your six-year old Santa decided to cancel this year (yes, this happened to me).

4. Don't: String us along. Either take the MS or don't. I'll relate it to proposing to your girlfriend and her answer is: (drum roll) MAYBE. It's really not fair. I understand that there may be exceptions, but understand, you're on precarious ground (Please see #1). And yes, this happened to me.

5. Don't offer to take on a client if you plan on moving to another agency or quitting altogether in a week (Yup. Happened to me.)

So what to you all think? Did I forget something (when don't I ;) ).

Next, I'll post Do's and Don'ts for your agent.

I'm infected.

Saturday, May 23, 2009
My computer bought the farm. I opened a link from a friend on facebook. It infected my computer. When we have the money to fix it, I'll be back. Until then, I'll only be on when I can use my friend's computer--and she's moving.

Stupid computer geek with too much time on his/her hands. I have a name for you. But I'm not going to use it. I'm better than that. If, however, I ever meet you, know that I grew up on a ranch. I have intimate knowledge on how to castrate you.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

POV and genre

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
This is such a complex, fascinating issue. I'm loving it.

Okay, so the question is does POV matter per genre (different genres favor different POVs. As I mentioned before, speculative fiction uses 1st a lot. Epic fantasies use deep 3rd--I can't think of even one example of an epic in 1st).

I asked a writer friend of mine, Dave Wolverton (w/a Dave Farland ). Here's his answer: "In most genres, third person with deep penetration is the best way to go. Rarely do we see fantasies in first person."

BUT WHY! I've already speculated that it's because the characters lives are so different that 3rd feels more realistic. So what do you think? Would 1st in an epic fantasy throw you off, or would it be different enough to draw your interest?

If you want to be the recipient of Dave's years of experience for free email him at dwolvert@xmission.com and say, "Kick me!"

POV differences per genre

Monday, May 18, 2009
Have you ever noticed that some genres favor one POV over another?

Speculative fiction, for instance, seems to gravitate toward first person. My genre, fantasy, seems more 3rd person oriented.

Why do you think this is? The only conclusion I can come up with is that first person feels more intimate, while third can step further back, but I could be entirely wrong.

Right now, I'm working on a fantasy based off of something similar to Scotland in the 1400's. And I'm writing it in first person. I'm not sure if I'm breaking some unwritten rule, or simply doing something that doesn't work.

So I'd love to start a discussion here. What POV do you use? Do you think one POV is better for one genre versus another?

Literary Talk Show

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
From my agent:


(HOUSTON, TX April, 2009)

–Two bestselling authors with extensive media experience, ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Pat Tucker have joined creative forces to launch From Cover to Cover Literary talk show. The show, which is designed to help authors promote their work, and explore aspects of the literary industry, will debut on Houston Radio Station, KPFT 90.1 FM, on April 22, 2009 from noon to 1p.m. CST.

From Cover to Cover will provide a venue for authors to expand their audience and readership through the powerful medium of FM Radio. The show’s format will be a combination of informative literary news stories, topic-driven segments, live author interviews, and good old fashioned product description and exploration. In addition to author interviews, the show’s stories will cover a wide range of topics and issues related to the literary industry, including the exploration of new trends like the rapidly-expanding digital market, the trials and tribulations of publishing, and much, much more.

The show will educate readers and consumers alike with topical discussions, like how electronic readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony eReader, along with smart phones, iPods, PDAs, will impact the industry. Recognizing the changing climate of the literary industry Pat and ReShonda want to utilize their combined literary and media experiences to make a positive impact on the industry.

Through the show, the producers will reach out to publishers, booksellers, bookclubs, distributors, and others to create a dialog among those directly related to the overall success of a book. “We’re entering a crowded arena, but we have a competitive advantage due to our unique media experience as well as our location on an FM station in the 11th largest media market in the U.S. We believe our media background and experienced support team dedicated to the show’s success will set us apart from many of the blog radio programs currently in existence,” says co-host Pat Tucker, who also pointed out the void of shows like this on FM Radio.

Together, Pat and ReShonda have over 35 years of experience working in radio and television news. Both have worked as television news and radio reporters after receiving broadcast journalism degrees from their respective universities. It’s this background, coupled with the duo’s extensive literary experience, that ReShonda believes will make From Cover to Cover a viable force in the literary industry. “We are looking forward to producing exceptionally high-quality programming, while offering authors the ability to help spread the word about their work. In today’s literary market, authors need every advantage available. A well-produced show, with quality content at no charge to the authors, with direct access to a firm listener base and the potential to reach others through live streaming on the station’s website, will make a huge impact. That’s what From Cover to Cover will deliver,” added co-host ReShonda Tate Billingsley.

From Cover to Cover can be heard on Houston’s 90.1 FM and streaming via the World Wide Web at http://www.kpft.org/. For additional information on From Cover to Cover, or the co-hosts and their credentials, please visit our website at http://www.fromcovertocovershow.com/.
If you are an author or represent an author who would like to be featured on From Cover to Cover please send an electronic press kit to the show’s Executive Producer, Ron Reynolds, at CovertoCoverShow@aol.com.

If you are a bookclub member or have a business related to the literary industry, please forward contact information for our building rolodex so that we may call upon you for research, possible interviews, or sound bites for upcoming show episodes.

Trudging through Titles

Monday, May 11, 2009
Let's face it. Wandering readers pick up a book based on two things:

1. Cover
2. Title

As writers, we have little control over the cover art. What we do control is a title that will catch a reader's attention. It's like fishing. We need to have shiny, tasty looking bait.

Unfortunately, I suck at writing titles. It's something I've never had a knack for. With The Priestess Prophecy, I went through dozens of titles before settling on the one above. At first, it was Aria, until I realized that another author had used the same name for his heroine. I changed it to Nighstar (I explain the reason behind the spelling in the book), but everyone kept inserting a t and making it Nightstar. It was confusing, so I changed it to Chosen. I researched it on Amazon. Taken. I tried The One, and The Prophecy. Eventually, I added Priestess and refused to look back. I'm still not sure it's shiny enough to hook a bookstore patron by the jaw and reel them in, but it will have to do.

The Last Witch was originally Witch Song, but feedback from my readers revealed that they didn't like it. I still don't understand why. It's one of my favorites. So I decided that Witch Song would be the name of the series and The Last Witch the name of the first book.

With my last MS, I quickly came up with a title I loved: Winter Queen. Finally! Catchy and concise. I was as proud of that as my toddler who figured out how to climb the pantry shelves to reach a forbidden cookie. Until I searched the title on Amazon.

Taken. Again.


I'm hoping some of you have the secret and will share.

How do you find time to write?

Saturday, May 9, 2009
It's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately. For me, writing is like taking a shower or eating. If I don't do it every day, things stink and I get cranky. But finding the time with 3 kids (7, 3.5, and 2 months), clearing, my jewelry business, cleaning, errands, cooking, cleaning . . . I could go on, but it makes me tired just thinking about it.

I've tried taking a step back and thinking, "What can I cut so I have more time for my family and writing?" I could stop sleeping, but I only get four hours as is. I refuse to stop exercising. In the end, I compiled a list of things to eliminate:
  1. TV. No arguments. It's a waste of time.
  2. Superfluous activities. You know what I'm talking about. I'm not saying that you cut every second of TV, every single girl's night out. But if you're seriously crunched for writing time, you might have take a long look at your extracurricular activities and decide which ones could be trimmed down and which ones need to stay in place for your sanity and relationships.
  3. House cleaning. I clean every surface once a week. Kids take a sack of fishy crackers and stomp them all over the floor-they clean it up. If floor needs mopped, I think to myself "I mop on Wed. It can wait until then."

In the end, it's all about balance. Like all things, busy times come and go. If you're in one of those busy times with me, take a deep breath, prioritize, and simplify.

Easier said than done, but you can do it. Let's do it together (goodbye Lost, The Office, and SouthLAnd. :( I will miss you, but it's for the best).

I'd love to hear any ideas you have for saving time.

Happy writing!

The Answer to "What is a Story?"

Monday, May 4, 2009
Okay, you wimps. Only Lady Glamis, Becky, and B J Keltz had the guts to really chime in. JK ;)
Glamis said a story is overcoming conflict. Becky agreed with her. Beautiful, precise, and accurate.

B J Keltz also said it needed an awakening or a change in understanding.

So, which is right?


Why? Because the answer varies according to the individual. Different people like different kinds of stories--that's why books are so varied.

So, what's my answer? (drum roll, please): A story is a satisfying emotional journey.

Again, what satisfies you and what satisfies me is different. Not a big fan of horror (I have way too much imagination). Nor do I like tragedies. Poetry is okay, occasionally. Why? Because they don't satisfy me. Tragedies have sad endings. Horror makes my scardycatitis into scardypantheritis. After about two poems, I fall asleep (There's not enough tension, no character to fall in love with, and don't get me started on meter). But the key is, if a writer can take their audience on a powerful/beautiful journey and drop them at their destination with a feeling of satisfaction, people will buy it.

Your mode of transportation = emotion. The destination = satisfaction. Having trouble figuring out the what your mode is? Write down your top 10 favorite books, figure out what emotions they provoke, and you'll have your map. If you find out what you want out of a story, you'll be able to write it into a story.

And that, my friends, is vital to being a good writer.

For your own sakes, figure it out and let it guide you.

So share, what's your favs?

Forgive typos. I wrote this whole thing while propping my daughter's bottle with my chin. :)

What is a story?

Friday, May 1, 2009
It's a question we all need to answer in order to write at the highest level.

So I'm asking you to really think about it and give me your answer. Try to keep it short--a synopsis of sorts. After you've all had a chance to chime in, I'll tell you what I think a story is and we'll see how close our conclusions come.

Anita Stansfield's take on Character Motivation

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Anita Stansfield spoke at the American Fork Arts Council WC (that's a mouthful. We'll call it the AFAC from now on--can you hear the Aflac duck's lawyers calling me?). If you've never heard of Anita, she writes LDS/Christian books. She's sold over 40 of them.

Anita went into detail about character motivation. Specifically, outlining the reasoning behind character choices. The example she gave: If your list character's favorite food as pizza in your character outline, you also need to know why it's pizza. Is it just the flavor, or is it because the character's parents couldn't afford it and he only got pizza on his birthday?

Other questions to answer about your character:
-who raised them
-what were their circumstances (poor, abused, popular)
-significant events.

Her biggest tip was to touch on human emotion. Use your characters flaws and shortcomings to add depth and personality to the story.

So my question to you: What kind of character outlining do you do? How in depth is it? Do you think it's vital?

The joys of Writer's Conference food.

Saturday, April 25, 2009
Wow. Seriously, writer's conference food has always lacked something. Sometimes I've felt like I've been eating rabbit food (I understand if you're a vegetarian. Heck, I applaude you. I however, am not. It comes from growing up on a cattle ranch. And the fact that I'm weak.) Other times I eat my 3 bites for 10 bucks and wonder where the nearest fast food place is. Other times it's just been . . . redundant ("Really, we're having the EXACT same thing for three meals in a row? REALLY?).

This weekend makes my other experiences look wimpy. The food tasted pretty good. It was the stomach cramps, vomiting, and . . . um . . . well you get the idea. We had a two hour drive home that took more like 3 hours (with my writing buddies mocking me the whole time).

As a side note, I would be more than willing to pay a little more money for my gas if the clerks would clean the bathrooms. There's nothing more joyous than kneeling before a throne that makes you even more nauseous (and I didn't think that was possible).

I swear, from now on, I'm bringing a sack lunch. It's cheaper. And much safer.

Stats on Book Sales

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
This is some info my agent send me about book sales:

UK Hardcovers Fall Hard, But US Market Shows Resilience. The Bookseller reports on Nielsen BookScan UK data that shows "a slump across hardcover sales," as unit sales for the top 5,000 hardcovers fell 14.3 percent for the first quarter of 2009. And the top 400 hardcover fiction title sales fell 17.2 percent in units in that period. In the US, however, a big rise in juvenile hardcovers helped the total market for hardcovers rise by almost 3 percent in the first thirteen weeks. Despite dire selected reports, for the outlets covered in the US by Nielsen BookScan, total unit sales for the first quarter declined only 2.1 percent, at 182.4 million books. Juvenile fiction was the strongest sub-category, gaining 10.4 percent this year, with adult nonfiction declining 8.4 percent, adult fiction flat, and juvenile nonfiction up slightly.

Random's "More Selective" Acquisitions NPR's story on blockbuster book deals from earlier this week was pretty standard fare, but we did take note of the moment when Random House Publishing Group spokesperson Carol Schneider said, "we're acquring fewer books." Asked for more information, she told us, "There are no specific numbers or formula involved here--we're simply being more selective in all categories--literary, commercial, blockbuster." NPR

The upside for me is the increased sales in YA. Hopefully that translates into an increase in buying.

I just can't help myself

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Instead of working on my blog, I'll work on my daugher and my blog at the same time! It's a Mom/multitasking thing.

It pays to have a neighbor that's also a photographer. Shauna always does such a fantastic job. It doesn't hurt to have a subject as beautiful as my daughter.

Review of Inkspell

Thursday, April 16, 2009
I have to admit, I read the first book in this series (Inkheart) a couple years ago. It seemed a bit juvenile, so I never picked up the second. Then a friend handed me her copy and told me how much better it was.

I decided to give it a try. She was right. I liked this one much better.

Cornelia Funke writes beautiful descriptions. She does a fabulous job of using all the senses in her writing, to the point that you can taste her words. "Farid picked a berry, round and blue-black, sniffed it, and put it in his mouth. 'I once knew and old man,' he said, wiping the juice from his lips . . . "

I love how she mingles description with action. I love the words, "round and blue-black." They, among others, seem to paint the colors and smells. Her word choice is so rich and delicious.

She also has beautiful metaphors and similes. For instance:

"The Wayless Wood deserved its name. It seemed to have no end and no beginnings, like a green sea where you could drown as easily as in the wet and salty waves of its sister the ocean." Here's another: "He had only gone a few paces before the forest swallowed him up like a frog swallowing a fly . . ." See how the metaphor brings a feeling along with it? Despite the beauty with which she describes The Wayless Wood, we certainly get a sense that it's a dangerous place. After all, the forest swallows people as easily as a frog swallows a defenseless fly. (I read passages like this and think, "Now why couldn't I be that clever?")

As writers, we're often warned about being overly descriptive. Beautiful as this writing was, it was too heavy. I found myself skipping some of the description because I just had to know what happened to the characters.

I love books that I devour just as quickly as my kids. Inkspell certainly fits the mold. There were a few swear words (~under 10). So be aware in case you hand it over to your 9 year old.

Let's talk about style, baby.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Basic question: What is style?

Short answer: Style is the WAY you write. Think of it as the way you clothe and accessorize your writing.

Do you tend to write lengthy paragraphs or short? Do you overload with descriptions or lean toward the skimpy side? Are sentences clipped and to the point, or do you tend to be more round about?

One quick way to check out your style is to print an average page of your manuscript. How's your "white space?" I like my page to look pretty ragged. Big, honking paragraphs are a bad idea. I'll compare it to a meal. You sit down at a restaurant and the waiter brings you a steak the width of a dinner plate and the thickness of your thigh. And you have to eat the whole thing. Now, this might be a mighty fine piece of meat, but you'd still feel completely overwhelmed. By the time you finished it, bloated would be something you'd passed two hours ago.

Now, imagine that the waiter brings you a nice sized, bacon wrapped fillet Mignon, sauteed veggies, and a side of your favorite potato.

How do you eat it?

I'm betting you don't polish off one item at a time. Instead, you trade off between the three. It's the same way with your writing. Mix it up. Give your reader some description mixed with action (Sara pressed her wrinkled, tobacco stained lips together.)

Tension is like seasonings. Add it to everything. Each page, each paragraph has to have tension. If it doesn't: add it!

What gets you in the mood?

Sunday, April 5, 2009
In the mood to write, that is.

For me, dramatic music and movies will put me in what I call my writing "flow" (where I feel like the words flow from my fingertips like water). My absolute go to movie and music is Phantom of the Opera, but anything dramatic gets my brain tingling with ideas. Last of the Mohicans, Cinderella (with Drew Barrymore), Stardust, The Patriot, Braveheart--do you see the trend? Dramatic, powerful, romantic movies. The power and emotion puts my mind in the right place.

Another sure fire way is to read books in my genre, or something close that's really good.

I find that when I really get into a new story, it's better to keep at it until I'm done. If I take a break, I lose my thoughts and the ideas stop flowing.

All this is absolutely pointless when I'm as exhausted as I am now. But I thought the info might help you if you're stuck.

What helps you get out of your writing funk?
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