Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Creativity: Invoking the Gods or Madness

Looks like the source of Creativity has been an ongoing discussion for ages. Poets in ancient Greek and Roman times invoked gods to assist in their writing. (Can't say much has changed there.) What I found fascinating is that many believe psychotic-ism causes creativity. Even Aristotle claimed that there was never a genius without a tincture of madness. And, that's a direct quote.

Makes me feel rather distinguished as a creative being--though I am not crazy enough to consider myself genius.

There has been active debate on whether creative genius is dependent on mental illness or insanity. This debate continues further by stating that madness alone cannot suffice as Source for creativity. Nay, nay. An openness to experience, intelligence and wisdom complete the mysterious formula. They are actually writing papers on the subject. The bottom line: Creative people make creativity a way of life.

We can all name artists, musicians, writers, scientists, etc. who inspire us with their fascinating and divergent thinking. (Look at our own Basil Sands, for goodness sake.) The argument for creative personalities presented by Hal Lancaster during the late 90's in The Wall Street Journal stated six basic qualities exist:

1. Keen powers of observation.
2. Restless curiosity.
3. An ability to recognize issues that others miss.
4. An ability to generate numerous ideas.
5. Persistently questioning the norm.
6. A talent for seeing established structures in new ways.

Do you see yourself in any or all of the above? I do, which is fun. But, what really appeals to me is the recurring theme of madness in creative beings. After all, if you're considered a little crazy you need no excuses for your behavior. I like that.

So, I am trying out my creative juices in a new location for awhile. I am writing to you from Santiago, Chile today. My Muse is having a field day. We're eating foreign foods, seeing exotic places and conversing in my pitiful Spanish as much as possible. I'm getting funny looks and lots of laughs. So, I'm pretty sure I am doing something right!

Once again, which of the 6 traits above is your strongest? You're favorite? Inquiring minds want to know!

Cao for now!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ebook Prices

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I just saw a recent analysis by Booklr of the top 100 Amazon Kindle books versus the top 100 Barnes & Noble Nook titles in respect of their relative price points. The results are, I think pretty interesting for anyone considering 'indie' publishing, and in demonstrating the role price may play in different e-book 'markets'. 

According to the Booklr survey 35% of the top 100 books on Kindle were free or priced under $2 compared to 0% for the Nook. 61% of the top 100 books on Kindle were priced under $6 versus 39% on the Nook. In the higher price bracket, the results are also pretty different with 27% of books on Kindle priced above $10 versus 40% on the Nook. 

These results suggest that customers have quite different book buying habits in these two 'e-reader' markets. It also points to a potential new culture for the Kindle in which customers tend to buy what is free or less than $2. As an author, this signals to me that if I was to go the 'indie' route, I would need to consider price very, very carefully indeed. 

The Booklr analysis indicates that the average price for a Kindle top 100 e-book is $6.48 compared with $8.94 for the Nook - which gives us a rough gauge of the price differential between customers for both platforms and opens up the debate over the impact of free and cheap (99c) e-books on overall pricing trends. 

So for all your authors considering the indie route, how are you approaching the issue of price? If you are traditionally published, what kind of price point has your publisher set for your e-book? And how much influence do you think Amazon is going to have on driving e-book prices down?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A New Definition of Writing Success

"Rich are the records  . . . with stories of penniless authors, who, sick with hope so long deferred, and at last despairing, have resorted to wild and tragic devices . . ."

So begins a story in the Los Angeles Examiner, New Year's Eve edition, December 31, 1905. The feature tells the tale of one such desperate author, a school teacher named Edith Allonby. For four years she'd labored on a novel, The Fulfilment [spelled with one "l"] into which she poured heart and soul. She had been published before, but her books had not been hits. The Fulfilment was going to change all that. In fact, Miss Allonby was certain its spiritual themes would change the world. (Indeed, she thought the book had been given to her by God, so the pressure was on).

But the book was rejected. First, by her own publisher. Then by all the other publishing houses she sent it to. "I have submitted my book to all these men," she wrote in a note. "I have tried in vain. They will not accept it, yet shall 'The Fulfilment' reach the people to whom I appeal, for I have found another way."

After finishing the note, Miss Allonby changed into a silk evening gown, put fresh flowers in her hair, and sat in a comfortable chair. She was found dead the next day, her manuscript on her lap and an empty bottle of carbolic acid at her side.

And so it has been for countless authors for hundreds of years. Not normally ending in suicide (though such cases exist) but often in frustration, depression and despair. (The Fulfilment, BTW, was published in a limited edition after Miss Allonby's death).

There was one primary reason for all this distress: Their fate as writers was not in their own hands. To get anywhere close to "success" they had to be accepted by an established publishing house (which alone had the means to produce and distribute a book), and then hope that they earned some money for their efforts.

Those two things—acceptance and income—defined writing success. 

Included under "Getting Published," we can list some ancillary things writers hope for. Like getting on a bestseller list. Perhaps being nominated (even winning) a prestigious award. Maybe just the feeling of being part of an exclusive club. 

But now we are experiencing a sea change on the other side of the diagram:

We all know the traditional model is shrinking. Advances on new contracts are at historic lows. With physical shelf-space disappearing, print revenues are down. While digital income is up for the publishers, the slice of that pie given to authors remains stagnated at 25% of net (or roughly 17.5% of retail). And new writers are finding publishers increasingly risk averse regarding debut authors.

Still, many writers remain focused on that left circle. It represents some sort of "validation" even though it could very well mean less income (the right circle) and fewer readers.

But now a new model of writing success has appeared. Writers, for the first time since the troubadour era (when you could go out on your own and make up stories in song and take in some coin), have it within their power to get their writing out there without a middleman (the fancy term is "disintermediation").

And further, unlike self-published authors of yore, they actually have a chance to make real dough. Every day we are hearing more accounts of self-published writers who are earning significant income as independents.

Yet income alone is not the main draw of this new model, which looks like this:

Freedom is the invaluable commodity here. To be able to write what you truly want to write, and know that you can get it into the marketplace, is tremendously liberating. It is, in fact, the engine of happiness for a writer. It's exhilarating to write for yourself, see what you've written, fix it, and keep on writing—and be assured that it will have a place in the stream of commerce, for as long as you live.

This does not mean that going the traditional route is a spurious view of "success." If one seeks that validation, it's there to be pursued. The point is, however, that it is no longer the only game in town. Which is why I am more jazzed about being a writer than ever. Not just because of increased production and income, but because of the freedom to take responsibility for my own work. 

Let me be quick to point out, however, that this responsibility carries challenges. Being in charge means you are CEO of your own company. You alone are in charge of quality control and production. You can expect to experience the stresses and strains of running a small business. You will need new skills to handle them. These can be acquired, but only through effort and self-discipline.

But it's more than worth it to be holding the reins of your own writing and life. 

I think Miss Allonby would have felt that way, too. Had she been able to self-publish, she might have lived a long, full life. Maybe she'd have written many more books, grown a readership, and made some money, too.  

I can say this because, in one of life's ironic and poignant turns, The Fulfilment by Edith Allonby is now available for the Kindle.

So how would you define success as a writer? 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

You can't teach a cat to sing or a dog to fly.

John Ramsey Miller

I’m not here on every other Saturday to teach anybody how to write. Others here know the technicalities and can teach you or sell you books about the craft. I’m not blogging here to make what I do seem mysterious, or harder than it is, and it ain’t at all hard for a real writer. I’ll just say for you to keep your story moving. Make your characters real. Your style should be to write like you’d tell a story to an audience. Work hard to write a story you’d like to read. And think hard about your story before you write it down. That is all I can tell anyone. I expect that anything else I say is a rule is bullshit I’m making up. That’s all about it I actually know, I’ve read Elmore Leonard’s list and Stephen King’s book, and BIRD IN HAND, and I didn’t agree or disagree. That is what they think, or think they think or want me to think they think. The process is different for everybody. Some authors will say they have no idea how they do what they do. I think most famous authors are surprised they are famous for what they wrote.

I’m not in on any authoring secrets, and I worked the steps everybody has to work in order to be published, and I had no contacts in the writing community. I wasn’t discovered sitting in my studio by talent scouts, I worked damned hard. No known writer reached down, took my hand and dragged me to their publisher and demanded they publish me of they would take their money generating words elsewhere. So work your ass off or get away from this profession now.

If you can write a book that people will actually buy without being related to you, or your shamelessly flogging it to them in a crowded bar at Bouchercon, you are in the vast minority. I never say, “if I can do it anybody can,” because it is one of those things you either can or you can’t do. Anybody on earth can write badly and most do. I know high school dropouts who write brilliantly. I know learned writing professors whose books can suck lint off a cheap sweater at fifty yards. There are no shortcuts I can impart, or secrets to being published. Write a very good book and push it to the right people at the right time. I don’t know who that is, because it is different for every author. Hell, just publish it somewhere yourself and say you wrote a book. There are millions of people singing not very well on You Tube.

I didn’t set out to become an author. From an early age I wrote short stories, poems, and I did so for my own entertainment and as a way to express myself. People have always fascinated me. Stories fascinated me. I was blessed with a natural curiosity and being born in an interesting time and place. Writing found me the same way graphic art and photography did. I was interested in it and I did it for myself first. People I shared my stories with, enjoyed them. My advertising writing sold products. I wrote my first thriller without knowing it was a thriller, or what made any book a thriller. I wrote a fast moving story about violent and complex people. A very talented editor bought it and together we turned it into a very good book.

I have never read one page into a romance novel and I don’t ever intend to. I’ve had dear friends who write them, but I do not care to read any. I have friends who have never read any of my books, and in truth I could care less. Not that I think romance, mystery, or cozy authors have less talent, I’m just not into those genres. There are great writers in those genres and they have their readers, some legions of fans. Kumbaya moments bore me. I don’t like writing them.

My fans have strong stomachs. They like justice, the rougher the better. As far as I can tell, most of my fans are not violent people, but they like to read violence, and they like their violence accurate. The romance I write into my novels is that which is in me. You don’t stay married 35 years without some romance. My written romance isn’t necessarily sentimental, it’s a reflection of my affections and *effections. I can only write convincingly that which is within me.

If I think the story should go there, I will kill both cub scouts and cats without a second thought to the reader’s reaction. Some readers make the association that murdered fictional animals are the real ones they love, which isn’t my problem. The same readers could care less if I kill children. I don’t give a damn. I really don’t.

It is my opinion that most new Thrillers are that they are just rehashes or reshuffles of thrillers that came before them. I know that’s true with other genres as well. You can’t think of an original story because they have all been done. It is the rare twist that Thriller readers or writers don’t see coming before the writer thinks they will. A fresh new story gets harder to write all the time. Early Thriller writers had it good because that wasn’t yet true. Think of books like you might a gun. There are just so many places you can put the barrel. The barrel has to point forward else the shooter is in imminent danger of not living through the shooting experience. The bullet rests in the chamber, which has to be very precisely located behind the barrel. There are a finite number of firing pin, hammer and grip designs to be put with the barrel designs. There are just so many bullet calibers to be put into the mix. So any new gun has more to do with cobbling together varying design elements that have come before them than those that can come after. There will be ray guns and particle beam guns, but those will be less guns than machines that can do what a gun does, only better or differently. Maybe thrillers that are written so differently that they don’t just entertain, but maim or kill the reader as well.

I have been brutal to would-be authors whose work showed no inkling of talent at writing fiction. Other writers think I should encourage everybody who tries. Bullshit. If someone is wasting their time, they should know it so they can follow another dream, or perhaps start bending sheet metal into ducts that might prove useful. It is hard enough when you have some talent or even some mechanical ability with words. If you can’t write fiction, you can become a technical writer, or write non-fiction. But if you can’t write on a fundamental level… Ok, so who am I to judge. I don’t like hurting feelings or dashing dreams. I never asked to be put in a position to judge ability, but when I’m asked to judge, I do. Don’t want to hear it, don’t friggin’ ask. That’s certainly cool with me.

I am not a drum major for deluded people who only dream of being authors to prove something to themselves, to make a quick fortune, to impress their friends, or to allow their egos to bloom. I feel sorry for people who truly love books and have a real desire to contribute their own visions to literature, all the while knowing that is as impossible as me becoming American Idol. Delusions should not be fed, else you’ll have people going postal all over the country. So I like to imagine I’m saving lives by being critical.

Nothing pleases me more than seeing raw talent. If someone has that, I always do my best to encourage and help them any way I can.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Lesson From Gun Camp

Last week, I wrote a teaser blog about some firearms training I was to receive while pulling duty as a VIP guest of 5.11 Tactical at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas.  First a few words about the SHOT Show: Holy Cow!  You have to see this thing to understand the size.  It takes up the ENTIRE Sands Convention Center, occupying all three floors.  Every conceivable manufacturer of any firearm is there, and while they cannot sell to individuals from the floor, you are perfectly welcome to handle any weapon you want, up to and including dry firing it.  (The Las Vegas Police Department checked every single one of the thousands of firearms there to verify that the firing pins had been removed.)  Never held an M4 or a Glock or a 1911?  You can play with them.  Ditto the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle, the M2 "Ma Deuce" .50 cal machine gun and a Dillon Gun.  It's the mother of all gun research opportunities, and EVERYONE I spoke to was more than willing to chat about their products.  What I found most stunning was the number of firearms makers that I'd never heard of.

Last Thursday, I met Jeffery Deaver in the lobby of our hotel at 6:45 a.m.  We were driven a half hour out into the desert to a shooting range that looked like it covered twenty or thirty acres.  We were driven way to the back of the facility, where I realized for the first time that Jeff and I would be the only students for the entire day.

Our instructor was Steve Tarani.  Look him up.  Yeah, he's qualified.  And he's very, very funny, in that zero-bullshit kind of way.  After an extensive safety briefing, we were issued our .40 caliber Glocks, holsters and three mags of ammunition.  (A million thanks to Barry, who made sure that we always had a 12-round mag ready to go so that our pouches were never dry.)  Jeff drew a thigh rig holster, while my holster rode on my belt.  As an aside, the 5.11 Tactical pants we wore were specifically designed with an extra belt loop that keeps a belt holster from moving around.  I like that kind of attention to details.

For the next three hours, we shot hundreds of rounds of ammunition, first while standing still, but then while moving and turning.  Finally, we were shooting from the driver's and passenger's seats of an SUV (a late model Acura that did not belong to either student).  The day ended with a quick-draw contest and an NSR (non-standard response) drill that involves  shooting everything in the mag at short range, as quickly as possible while still hitting center of mass on the target.  As Steve made clear from the very beginning, this was a tactical shooting class, not a marksmanship class (although I did pretty well in that department, too.)

Lesson One: Tactical shooting is only a distant cousin of target shooting.  Until this lesson, my range training had consisted of picking a weapon up from a table, taking my time and concentrating on placing shots in the center ring.  I'd never drawn a pistol from a holster and just that much movement changes the game.  Throw in multiple points of impact on the target (we'd be instructed, for example, to put two in the chest, one in the pelvis and one in the forehead--not the jaw, though) and now you've got more to think about and more to do.  By the time you're pivoting and turning and throwing open the car door while drawing your weapon without ever pointing it at your own leg or anywhere near your partner, it's tough to get your rounds downrange to the target.  And very, very fun.

Lesson Two: My grip was AFU.  This one's hard to describe without specific pictures, but my hands didn't have enough contact with the gun.  I was also using an out-of-date and out-of-favor shooting stance called the Weaver Stance, in which my support side leg (my left, since I'm right-handed) was slightly forward.  I've never been entirely comfortable with that stance.  In my new Isosceles Stance (or "Tony Chin" stance), I square off at the bad guy with my toes, knees and chin touching the same vertical plane--Toe-Knee-Chin.  Tony Chin.  Get it?

Lesson Three: It's disconcerting how much of one's own body can become a target when drawing a weapon.  Think about your free hand, for example.  Given that one of Steve's Four Golden Rules is that the muzzle never cover anything that you don't want to completely destroy, that free support hand needs to be anchored somewhere when the pistol is coming out of the holster.  I learned to place it on my chest, where not only is it out of harm's way, but it's also ready to do its job in supporting the shooting hand.

Lesson Four: I was a "booger flipper," Steve's term for one who lets one's finger off the trigger after every shot.  If you watch what that looks like, booger flipping really does come to mind.  I learned in the early part of the class to hold the trigger all the way to the back of the trigger guard after the first shot, and then let it up only to the reset click to prepare for the next shot.  It takes far less pull, and increases accuracy by a lot.  After a few hundred rounds, it was second nature.

Lesson Five: It's stressful as hell to run out of ammo in the middle of a drill.  Running out when the target is shooting back must be really unnerving.  Steve taught us to drop the spent mag and slap in the new one while never taking our eyes off the target.  Truth be told, this was my hardest lesson to learn.  My thumbs are too short to reach the mag release without shifting my grip.  I sorta got the hang of it in the end, but it's really hard not to look.  After a couple dozen tactical reloads in which we let the spent mags just drop to the ground, we even changed it up to replace a partially-spent mag with a full one, in which case we needed to put the old mag back into the pouch after reloading while still staying on the target.

Lesson Six:  If you own a gun, you really need to practice this stuff.  In just three hours--and about 200 bucks in ammo (Thank you again, 5.11 Tactical!)--so many of the tiny details became second nature.  Even the simple act of reholstering has its complex parts.  In Steve's class, after the threat is cleared, you sweep left, sweep right, then return to low-ready before you put that support hand back on your chest to get it out of the way, and then slide the weapon back into the holster.  We did that every single time we reholstered, even if we hadn't fired a shot, and by the end of the training, doing things otherwise would have just felt wrong.

As I write this, I realize how long the post is, and how few of the lessons learned I can actually document here.  My big take away was this: As a guy who's always liked guns and has played with them a lot over the years, I in fact knew nothing.  Now, after this experience, I'm fully aware of the fact that I still know way too little, and that much of what I did learn will disappear from my muscle memory in just a day or two.  I need to find a range that will let me move and shoot.

The world is full of five-day classes on this stuff, and I'm seriously thinking about taking one.  How about a Killzone field trip for a week at Sleep-Away Gun Camp?  That could be fun.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Designing a Thriller - Guest Post Virna DePaul

Host - Jordan Dane

I'm thrilled to host my friend, Virna DePaul. Virna is an esteemed member of the International Thriller Writers and recently interviewed me for ITW's wonderful e-newsletter for my latest release, but Virna and I had met once before at a Romance Writers of America annual conference. We struck up a conversation at a Karen Rose workshop on writing suspense and had lunch after. At the time, Virna hadn't sold yet, but she left a good impression on me that she was determined to succeed. Boy has she ever. Welcome Virna DePaul, TKZers!

Thank you to the Kill Zone and in particular Jordan Dane for having me as a guest today!

Roller coaster rides. Haunted houses. Horror flicks. And of course, suspense and thriller novels. What do they have in common? They scare us, yet there's always a certain number of riders, participants, and readers willing to go back for more. Again and again, we seek out experiences that make our hearts race, and alternately tighten our muscles with anticipation and make us dizzy with relief. Why?

Because these experiences affirm our existence even as they wash away its ordinariness. They give us the illusion of being out of control and ultimately triumphant even as we remain both safe and, let's face it, relative victims to the whims of fate.

We'll board a roller coaster only because we know the ride will be quick and we can choose to never ride it again. We'll see a horror movie only because we know we can walk out of the movie theater or cover our eyes at any time. And we'll read a thriller novel only because we know we can put the book down until we're ready to dive back in.

Of course, the key to any great thriller experience is that even given these options, we are swept away in spite of ourselves. We forget reality and simply soak in the larger-than-life wonder of the moment. We feel, we agonize, and we rejoice even as some part of our brains know we're being manipulated by words, images, or mechanical engineering.

I write romance, both contemporary and paranormal, but my novels always have a suspense element in them. Much like a roller coaster architect, I enjoy designing a thrill ride for my audiences. I take into consideration who they are, what their expectations are, and how I can mix things up to bring them something fresh and new. I wield plot to provide suspension, loops, or a straight drop. I use characters to transport a reader to another time and place, keeping her safe even as I provide her maximum thrill and catharsis. I especially like knowing that at the end of my novels, readers will always have a happily-ever-after in the romance plot. And finally, I enjoy the fact that despite being the architect of my novels, I embark on a wondrous journey, too.

In my Para-Ops series, I take my readers from Washington D.C to North Korea to Los Angeles to France. I introduce them to an elite special ops team comprised of a vampire, werebeast, mage, and wraith. In my contemporary novels, I explore the world of undercover cops and state special agents who chase down drug lords and murderers. But always, no matter the genre or the specific plot, I strive to give my readers two things: a thrilling ride that sweeps them away, and enough satisfaction and hope at the end of the story that they can't help but want to take the ride again.

How about you? Do you seek out thrills just in books or other places, too?

Experience Virna DePaul’s “intriguing world” protected by an elite Para-Ops team with a unique set of skills. In Virna's latest release, Chosen By Sin (Para-Ops #3), you’ll meet a werebeast hero, a vampire heroine, and a host of other paranormal creatures such as a mage, human psychic, wraith (ghost), demons, and dragons. You can learn more about Virna and her series at www.virnadepaul.com and http://www.chosenbysin.com/.

Virna DePaul is a former criminal prosecutor and now national bestselling author for Berkley (paranormal romantic suspense), HQN (single title romantic suspense; Shades Of Desire (Special Investigations Group Book #1, June 2012)) and HRS (category romantic suspense; It Started That Night (May 2012)). Writers, join Virna's mailing list to access her archive of monthly writing “cheat sheets.”

Blurb from Chosen By Sin:

The longest life isn’t always the happiest one…

Five years after the Second Civil War ends, humans and Otherborn—humanlike creatures with superhuman DNA—still struggle for peace. To ensure the continued rights of both, the FBI forms a Para-Ops team with a unique set of skills.

For now, werebeast Dex Hunt serves on the Para-Ops team, but his true purpose is to kill the werewolf leader he blames for his mother’s death. Biding his time, Dex keeps his emotional distance from his team members and anyone else he might care for, including a mysterious vampire he met in L.A.

As a doctor, vampire Jesmina Martin has dedicated her immortal life to healing others. As a scientific researcher, she’s trying to prolong life spans, in particular those of her adoptive dragon-shifter family and the werewolf who saved her as a child. Her greatest hope lies with Dex, a werebeast she believes can gift immortality to others.

Only Dex knows nothing about his gift or the fact Jesmina wants to harness it. After a passionate night together neither expects to see the other again. Weeks later, they are reunited in France and forced to acknowledge a fragile miracle—a new life struggling to survive. At the same time, they must stop a group of rebel shape-shifters hoping to unleash every demon in hell. But before Dex and Jesmina can save their child or the world, they must relinquish their secrets, face their fears, and open themselves to love.

Buy the book HERE.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Writing is Rewriting

By Joe Moore

I just finished the first draft of my new thriller, THE BLADE, co-written with Lynn Sholes. This is our sixth novel written together; this one coming in at a crisp 92,500 words. Now that the first pass on the manuscript is finished, the rewrite begins. As E.B. White said in THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, “The best writing is rewriting.”

Some might ask that if the manuscript is written, why do we need to rewrite it? Remember that the writing process is made up of many layers including outlining, research, first drafts, rewriting, line editing, proofing, more editing and more proofing. One of the functions that sometimes receives the least amount of attention in discussions on writing techniques is rewriting.

There are a number of stages in the rewriting process. Starting with the completion of the first draft, they involve reading and re-reading the entire manuscript many times over and making numerous changes during each pass. It’s in the rewrite that we need to make sure our plot is seamless, our story is on track, our character development is consistent, and we didn’t leave out some major point of importance that could confuse the reader. We have to pay close attention to content. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? Does it make sense? Is the flow of the story smooth and liquid? Do our scene and chapter transitions work? Is everything resolved at the end?

Next we need to check for clarity. This is where beta readers come in handy. If it’s not clear to them, it won’t be clear to others. We can’t assume that everyone knows what we know or understands what we understand. We have to make it clear what’s going on in our story. Suspense can never be created by confusing the reader.

Once we’ve finished this first pass searching for global plotting problems, it’s time to move on to the nuts and bolts of rewriting. Here we must tighten up our work by deleting all the extra words that don’t add to the reading experience or contribute to the story. Remember that every word counts. If a word doesn’t move the plot forward or contribute to character development, it should be deleted.

Some of the words that can be edited out are superfluous qualifiers such as “very” and “really.” This is always an area where less is more. For instance, we might describe a woman as being beautiful or being very beautiful. But when you think about it, what’s the difference? If she’s already beautiful, a word that is considered a definitive description, how can she exceed beautiful to become very beautiful? She can’t. So we search for and delete instances of “very” or “really”. They add nothing to the writing.

Next, scrutinize any word that ends in “ly”. Chances are, most adverbs can be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence or our thought. In most cases, cutting them clarifies and makes the writing cleaner.

Next, go hunting for clichés and overused phrases. There’s an old saying that if it comes easy, it’s probably a cliché. Avoiding clichés makes for fresher writing. There’s another saying that the only person allowed to use a cliché is the first one that use it.

Overused phrases are often found at the beginning of a sentence with words like “suddenly,” “so” and “now”. I find myself guilty of doing this, but those words don’t add anything of value to our writing or yours. Delete.

The next type of editing in the rewriting process is called line editing. Line editing covers grammar and punctuation. Watch for incorrect use of the apostrophe, hyphen, dash and semicolon. Did we end all our character’s dialogs with a closed quote? Did we forget to use a question mark at the end of a question?

This also covers making sure we used the right word. Relying on our word processor’s spell checker can be dangerous since it won’t alert us to wrong words when they are spelled correctly. It takes a sharp eye to catch these types of mistakes. Once we’ve gone through the manuscript and performed a line edit, I like to have someone else check it behind us. A fresh set of eyes never hurts.

On-the-fly cut and paste editing while we were working on the first draft can get us into trouble if we weren’t paying attention. Leftover words and phrases from a previous edit or version can still be lurking around, and because all the words might be spelled correctly or the punctuation might be correct, we’ll only catch the mistake by paying close attention during the line edit phase.

The many stages making up the rewrite are vital parts of the writing process. Editing our manuscript should not be rushed or taken for granted. Familiarity breeds mistakes—we’ve read that page or chapter so many times that our eyes skim over it. And yet, there could be a mistake hiding there that we’ve missed every time because we’re bored with the old stuff and anxious to review the new.

Spend the time needed to tighten and clarify the writing until there is not one ounce of fat or bloat. And once we’ve finished the entire editing process, put the manuscript away for a reasonable period of time. Let it rest for a week or even a month if the schedule permits while working on something else. Then bring it back out into the light of day and make one more pass. It’s always surprising at what was missed.

One more piece of advice. Edit on hardcopy, not on a computer monitor. There’s something about dots of ink on the printed page that’s much less forgiving than the glow of pixels. And never be afraid to delete. Remember, less is always more.

How do you go about tackling the rewriting process? Any tips to share?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How do you describe your main character?

Recently in the comments section of one of John G's posts, a TKZ'er asked, "What is the best way to describe a main character in a story?". 

As tjc and John suggested, there are a few generally recognized rules you should  keep in mind when describing your protagonist:

* It's considered cliche to have your character gaze into a mirror or something similar to deliver physical description. 

* Physical descriptions of the main character are best provided from the POV of secondary characters.

* For your protagonist as well as secondary characters, avoid using "description dumps." Here's an example of a description dump:

A woman entered the room. She stopped and drilled me with intense blue eyes. She was in her mid-twenties, tall, thin, and blonde.

This type of a straight-on physical description right after a character's introduction will bring your story to a grinding halt. (Note: Credit for "description dump" goes to Chris Roerden, whose excellent books about the craft of writing, including DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY, deserve to be on any writer's shelf.)

* If your main character has any specific physical traits which will be used later, make sure to spell those out up front. Otherwise, your reader may form an image of your character that clashes with later scenes. For example, if your character is particularly tall or short, old or young, that's likely to come up in later scenes in relation to other characters. If your reader  has already formed a specific impression that doesn't agree with your details, it'll be jarring note.

Even though most writers are aware of these rules, it's amazing how often they violate them. In book after book, I get irritated by an author who brings his story to a full stop every time a character is introduced. Other books, including best sellers, freely use the mirror cliche to convey physical description. I suppose they do this because it's hard to convey physical description in a fresh, original way. I've tried various approaches to describing the main character in my series. Kate Gallaher is a television reporter, so I've used cameras, secondary characters, and her own anxiety about her looks to convey what she looks like. And yet people continue to ask, "What does Kate look like?" Their reactions to her appearance are like a Rorschach test for their own attitudes. Some readers can't believe that a woman who is 25 pounds overweight can be attractive enough to lure men.  Others see her as a modern-day Venus.

What approaches do you use when describing characters in your stories. Do you have any other do's and don'ts to add to my list?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Resistance is Futile

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I had great difficulty rousing myself to write this blog post as we are down at my sister's beach house on the amazing Great Ocean Road and so I am definitely in holiday mode! This is the Australian summer and we are taking our last opportunity to enjoy surf and sun before the school year starts next week. Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about resistance lately - those pesky barriers that seem to get in the way of actually writing. Call it procrastination. Call it fear. Whatever it is, it's resistance. The brick wall that prevents you from getting the job of writing done.

For me resistance takes the form of a little voice inside that makes me doubt my own abilities. It goads me into avoiding the difficult task of facing an empty page and quite often, it works. To overcome this I remind myself that writing is my profession and, no matter how daunting the task sometimes seems, I just need to roll up my sleeves and get down to it. I succeed in overcoming 'resistance' in this way..well, most of the time...

I am just coming down off the high of finishing my WIP and so a new project beckons and with it the dreaded empty page...and so the little voice starts and I have to draw upon all my will power to combat the 'resistance'. It's kind of like the anti-force!

At least for the next few days I can be in holiday mode but then the real work starts. So what kind of resistance do you face when writing? Is it a little voice that undermines your confidence or an external force that tries to divert you from the writing course?

How do you overcome resistance? 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What is Writing All About?

James Scott Bell

Last month I received a lovely handwritten letter from a high school student (reproduced here with the writer's permission):

Dear Mr. Bell,

Thank you for your incredibly helpful books on fiction writing. "The Art of War for Writers" and "Revision and Self-Editing" have inspired me every time I open their pages. I first heard of you at a conference you held in Hilmar. I had an idea for a story at that time, and your "Art of War" book helped me realize what my idea could become. During my busy years in High School this story has been on the verge of death several times. Your books full of helpful exercises and encouragement helped me keep my story alive, and I am incredibly grateful. Your writing style is very natural and always leaves me refreshed. Thank you again, a hundred times!


How gratifying to get a letter (written on actual paper!) from a young lady who wants to write. She had come to a seminar I held in central California, and apparently my books have helped her.

That, to me, is what writing is all about. If I had to pick one thing to explain why I do this, it would be that I want to move people with words. If it's fiction, I want to create an intense emotional experience. If it's non-fiction, I hope to instruct and entertain at the same time.

All other things – money, awards, "fame," professional associations – are ancillary to this, because those things come only after you connect with enough readers, over time.


1. Why do you write?

2. If you had to distill what writing is "all about" in a sentence, what would that be?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Soothing the Beast

I write this while listening to “Whipping Post” by The Allman Brothers Band, the live version that goes on for about three days from the At Fillmore East release. I need to hear music, in isolation, while I write. Such was not always the case. During the short time I lived in San Francisco, when I was less interested in writing and more interested in meeting new ladies, I used to carry a beat up spiral notebook down to Fisherman’sWharf, find an empty bench at Ghirardelli Square, and sit and write. Sooner or later, a winsome lass would approach and ask what I was doing, or, better yet, ask who I was (“Well, yes, actually, I am Richard Brautigan!”). This would no longer work, at least I don’t think so, and I don’t really want to upset the apple cart of my life to find out, so I eschew the coffee shops and the overpriced, trendy sandwich chain that offers free Wi-Fi in favor of the clutter of my basement office, where I blast my music as loud as I like.

I go on listening jags. It varies with my mood. The Allman Brothers Band disc a temporary swerve from Miles Davis. I’ve been listening to complete sessions of In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, three to six hours of music at a stretch. If you think you’ve hit a wall with your writing, try listening to In a Silent Way, even if you don’t like jazz. I find that for some reason jazz music of a certain type opens up a corner of my mind that isn’t always accessible.  Before I got on the Miles jag, I listened to nothing but Guided by Voices for three weeks. In contrast to Davis’ extended pieces, GBV songs are anywhere from 35 seconds to three minutes long. In the last few months I’ve done this with Tom Waits, Black Keys, Fats Domino, Jimi Hendrix, and Kronos Quartet. I can’t write without it. On the other hand, if I’m disturbed by a phone call, a whiny cat, or news of a leaky or plugged up commode, my whole train of thought is derailed. Sometimes for the entire day. It’s not noise I seek, but noise of a certain type.

Some writers listen to music while they work. Others whistle. And others require a cone of absolute silence. Which are you? What works for you? And if it’s music that lures your muse into the room, what music?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pure Coolness

By John Gilstrap

I'm writing this blog post on Sunday, January 15 knowing that when you read it, I will be in the middle of a very, very cool day.  Actually, a warm day, I hope.  In Las Vegas, where I'll be signing books this morning at the 2012 SHOT Show.  According to the show's website, www.shotshow.org, "The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT Show) and Conference is the largest and most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement industries.  It is the world's premier exposition of combined firearms, ammunition, law enforcement, cutlery, outdoor apparel, optics and related products and services."  Last year, over 50,000 people attended.

I was invited to the show months ago by the nice people at 5.11 Tactical, a well-respected manufacturer of tactical apparel--the very kind of geat that Jonathan Grave wears as he charges through my imagination.  In fact, in preparation for the show, 5.11 tactical sent me a carton of gear, including shirt, pants, jacket and the best pair of boots I've ever worn.  I'll be wearing the attire for the book signings and the press conference.

I've never enjoyed this kind of VIP treatment before, so I confess to being a little giddy.  Take a look at my official itinerary from yesterday:

6:30am -- Firearms instructor will pick you up at the hotel
7:00am -- arrive at range, setup/meet with range staff, gear check, etc.
7:00am-7:30am -- Orientation, area familiarization, safety briefing, etc.
8:00am-11:00am -- Firearms training
11:00am-12:00pm -- Knife training
12:00 -- depart back to hotel for lunch and classroom training
12:30-1:30 -- Prefense Technologies -- lecture, PowerPoint presentation, student interactive, etc.
1:30-2:15 -- Prep for author panel
2:30-3:30 -- Author Panel Press Conference, Venetian Murano Room 3306.

Really, how cool is that?  As I write this, I'm hoping that the knife training comes complete with either thick padding or fake knives.  You'll know the answer, I suppose, if you see a post here next week.

Tally ho!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Handling the Crush

by Michelle Gagnon

I'll be keeping this short and sweet today, because as you can probably tell by the title of my post, I'm feeling overwhelmed. In fact, I had to drag myself away from the paper bag I was busy hyperventilating in to compose this post.

I finished a book yesterday, only to find out that the deadline for the next one is just a few months away. And I have yet to write the first page of that one (argh!)

Somewhere in there are two week-long school vacations and a slew of long weekends, plus the editing of the book I just turned in (which I suspect-no, know-will require a major overhaul), plus the line edits of a third book.

I realize that this might come across as ungrateful. Believe me when I say that I am incredibly thankful to be under contract at the moment, when so many other people are having a tough time. A year ago, I was worried about selling one more book, and I ended up with two contracts for four. So this is a classic example of be careful what you wish for. Because now, I'm utterly swamped.

On top of everything else, chances are that I'll be selling my house, finding a new place to live, and moving there in the same four month time period. With a five year-old and a cantankerous cat (and of course, said cat makes finding a pet-friendly place in San Francisco even more of a challenge).

So I'm actively soliciting advice on how to manage all this without losing my proverbial marbles.
My question to you all is...how do you handle it when life comes at you all at once?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Release Day!

Today is the official release date for Shear Murder, my ShearMurder (518x800)tenth Bad Hair Day mystery, so you’re going to have to put up with my shameless self-promotion. That’s the trouble when we authors must toot our own horns. We get as tired of talking about Me as you do hearing about it. Lately I’ve been clogging the loops and social networks with my blog tour announcements. I want to make it worthwhile for my hosts by getting a crowd on days when I guest post. But it means I am constantly tweeting and FB’ing and listing my tour dates and topics. I sent out one email newsletter to my fans already and will send another blast next month on my book’s official sale date.            

What? You thought I said today was the release date? Indeed, I did. However, for this publisher, that means the books are shipped from the warehouses today. They’ll be ready in the bookstores on February 8, the actual “on sale” date. Confusing, isn’t it? It was a lot less so with my prior publisher, who just had one pub date. As it is now, I’m not sure which day to urge fans to buy the book. Does it really matter anymore?

Here are a couple of sample interview questions from my online blog tour:

Tell us about your latest book.

Shear Murder is the tenth book in my Bad Hair Day mystery series. It’s the culmination of a personal journey for my hairstylist sleuth, Marla Shore. It’s about weddings and new beginnings. Just when Marla is planning her own nuptials, she gets caught up in another murder investigation. Marla is a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the matron of honor—the bride’s sister— dead under the cake table. She has a lot going on in her life, but when Jill pleads for her help in solving the case, Marla can’t refuse. It’s a fast-paced tale with humor, romance, and suspense as Marla races to find the killer before her wedding day arrives.

Considering the book is a mystery, how much can you tell us about the antagonist?

Since the story is a whodunit, I can’t tell you much! Many people had reason to want Torrie, the matron of honor, dead. Torrie was the bride’s sister, and Jill had a secret past that Torrie threatened to expose. How far would Jill go to maintain her sister’s silence? Then again, Torrie’s colleagues each had their own reasons to want her out of their way.

Meanwhile, Torrie’s husband inherits a piece of property that Torrie had jointly owned with her sister. How badly does he need the money from a property sale? And speaking of commercial property, Jill’s uncle and cousin were involved in a shady real estate deal with the owner of Orchid Isle, where Jill’s wedding took place. Did Torrie learn too much about his secrets? And so on. As you can see, there are a number of suspects. You’ll have to read the story to figure out which one of them is the culprit.

What motivated you to write this story?
My books all have happy endings, and so I wanted to give my series one, too. Seriously, my fans wanted to know when the next Marla Shore mystery would be coming out, but my former publisher had cancelled the series. As the markets changed, I decided to finish this book and give my readers the closure they deserved. So I really wrote it as a response to fans and in gratitude for their support. I hope they are pleased with Shear Murder. It was a delight to write, and I had fun bringing back all the secondary characters we’ve grown to know and love. I am grateful to Five Star for getting this book in front of readers. So if you’re looking for a humorous mystery centered around weddings with a whodunit puzzle to solve, check it out.

Watch the Book Trailer

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Muscling the Muse: Or Three Easy Steps for Talent on Demand

By: Kathleen Pickering http://www.kathleenpickering.com

I was a sweet, but scrappy kid. Caught a couple of bruises along the way, but as you can see from the photo, whatever tangle caused the shiner, it wasn’t enough to get me down. I was quick to smile.

black eye

That’s how I feel about the writing process. You can’t let challenges get you down. I figure it this way: Writing is fifty percent talent, fifty percent Muse. Both need my undivided attention to stay strong. Every other obstacle will fall away with these two muscles pumped.

As stated above, talent for one’s vocation is a muscle that must be exercised. Otherwise, the gift atrophies. So, I write and write, and write some more. At different times, in different places or adhering to a schedule for a particular project. Whatever works. I do it.

There are talented individuals in  every field  who never realize their genius because they never exercise their gifts. Worse, some never know they possess unique skills at all. To that end, I highly encourage every thinking soul to explore what excites them. Always investigate topics that pique your interest. My mantra: Honor your passion. (Unless, of course, you are a terrorist or a serial killer. Then I suggest you seek help!)

My passions are writing and public speaking. These are the muscles I exercise. As we all know, the more we work our muscles, the more defined they become.

It is my sly little Muse, however, who until recently had me wrapped around her finger. For way too long I let her govern my work with her whims and fancies. Not any longer. When my editor asked for three more proposals, I realized I could not just wait for my Muse to wave her creative wand. She needed muscling.

So, you ask, how do you muscle your muse? I have three simple but important rules.  While they require determination, they are so easy that your Muse won’t even know she/he is being manipulated.

1. LOVE YOUR MUSE. You may say, of course I do! But keep in mind the self-critic can be cruel to our adventurous Muse. No matter what your talent, your individual creative view is unique to you. You have to respect that fact and let nothing damage your self-worth. It is your individuality that makes you one with the world. You might say, Not so. The world would carry on just fine without me. I say, the world might carry on if you were not to love and exercise your muse, but the world--and you--would sadly miss a profound part of creation. Otherwise, why are you here in the first place?

No one else sees the world quite as you do. It’s the Kurt Vonneguts, the Picassos, the daVincis, the Einsteins, the Maria Tallchiefs, the Luciano Pavarottis and Maria Callases, the Stephen Kings, The Kathleen Pickerings (just checking to see if you’re still reading) and YOU who make the world go ‘round.

All artists have their critics. They all have their admirers. Neither matters. You and only you matter to your Muse. If you don’t love what your Muse offers, you will not let him/her create. Your talent will atrophy and you will wonder why you have become a sarcastic and bitter being rather than a shining light.

writersforneworleans-2010At Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans conference with authors Linda Conrad and Traci Hall.

2. FEED YOUR MUSE. Now that she/he is loving you back, you must feed your Muse. What others call writer’s block, I call a poor diet for the Imagination. The Muse needs exposure to everything delectable—and sometimes things not so tasty in life. That means your Muse accompanies you on your travels. Let her be the finger that taps the keyboard or opens the books on your research. Let your Muse listen in on conversations and initiate a few of her own. Then Listen. Watch. Smell. Touch. Devour. Your Muse will not disappoint you. With love and food, your Muse will be generous in return. You might even get a belch for a good laugh out of the deal. That works, too!

3. LET YOUR MUSE FLY. Muses are flighty creatures. They may burrow. They may forage. But, once they feel safe, they fly. Your job as an artistic soul is to give your Muse the updraft, the cliff’s end, the launch pad to soar. Your Muse may create unusable material at first, but the more he/she exercises the muscles in those wings, the more beautiful the magic dust that will alight from them. Don’t be afraid. (Fear is an awful four letter word that shall not be used.) Love your Muse enough to let him/her take a chance, test an idea. Create. A Muse’s wings may be as delicate as a dragon fly’s or as powerful as an eagle’s. Only by launching from that artistic limb of “what if” will you know which wings your Muse possesses. Think of the freedom!

dreaming aMy artist friend, Kimana Evans, once asked me how I see my myself. I told her that in my dreams I fly. She gifted me with this wonderful water color of me . . . or shall I say, my Muse. (Can you see me flying in the clouds?) I love this artistic expression created by my friend. This painting hangs where I write. It reminds me of my passion, talents and Muse every day.

I’d say I’ve come a long way from that scrappy kid with the shiner! I may have had to muscle my way into a foothold in my creative world, but I have certainly carved out my ground. I know that by honoring my talent and adhering to the rules for my Muse, I will create the impression that I was born to make. So far, the journey has been exciting, challenging and way too much fun to be called work. I am a grateful woman.

So, tell me. What do you do to keep your talent fresh and your Muse loved, fed and flying?

Happy Writing or whatever your talent may be!

PS: By the way, Kimana would be happy to create a painting for you, as well. You can find her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/people/Kimana-Evans/ Tell her I sent you.