Friday, November 30, 2012
Thursday, November 29, 2012
If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt homepage.
She's the author of The Guardian Legacy series, and her latest novel is BETRAYED:
And don't forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, hosted author's name, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 6. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the blue team and you'll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
I’m pleased to welcome to TKZ my guest, Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor and craft writer. Jodie is currently editing my next thriller THE BLADE (co-written with Lynn Sholes), soon to be released as an indie published e-book. Not only is she doing a great job of finding all our line and copy edit stumbles, but she’s got a keen knack for suggesting just the right content tweaks to help tighten the story. I asked Jodie to put together some thoughts and tips for writing action scenes. Here’s her terrific post. Enjoy!
I specialize in editing thrillers, and I sometimes get asked how editing suspense fiction is different from editing other genres. That’s a huge topic, too long for one blog post, and would include specific approaches to various elements like premise, plot, characterization, pacing, word choice, and writing style. For this post, I’ll just talk about writing effective action scenes, which can appear in many other genres besides thrillers.
When your characters are running for their lives, or your hero is in a race against time to save innocent lives, it’s time to write tight and leave out a lot of description, especially little insignificant details about their surroundings. Characters on the run don’t have time to admire the scenery or décor, start musing about a moment in the past, or have great long thoughts or discussions. Their adrenaline is pumping and all they’re thinking of is survival – theirs and/or someone else’s.
Of course, if the details of the setting are significant or would somehow help or hinder your protagonist, then definitely include them. Basically, put yourself in the head and body of your character under stress, fighting for her life, and see/hear/smell/feel what she does, then react as she reacts.
SOME QUICK TIPS FOR WRITING STRONG ACTION SCENES
~ Show, don’t tell (of course!). Play the scene in real time, with actions, reactions, and dialogue.
~ Use deep point of view. Stay in the POV character’s head and body.
~ Avoid info dumps. Keep the readers right there in the scene with the characters. Don’t intrude as the author to clarify anything. If details need explaining, fit that in somehow before the tense scene starts.
~ Evoke the senses. Show your viewpoint character’s vivid sensory impressions, so the reader sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels what he does.
~ Amp up the imagery. Use the most concrete, suggestive nouns and the most powerful, evocative verbs you can find.
~ Show inner reactions. Reveal your POV character’s emotions, brief thoughts, and physical reactions, starting with their visceral responses.
~ Use tight, staccato thinking. Avoid long, involved thought processes, which deflate tension and slow things down.
~ Describe physical actions succinctly, for fast pacing and high tension. Don’t get into distracting minor details about which hand or finger or foot and exactly how high or low, unless it’s important for some reason.
~ Show other characters’ threats and reactions through their words, tone of voice, actions, body language, and facial expressions.
~ Use rapid-fire dialogue. Avoid complete, correct, thoughtful sentences and lengthy discussions among characters.
~ Write tight. Cut out any little unneeded words that are cluttering up sentences and slowing down the pace.
~ Use short sentences and paragraphs, for a tense, breathless, staccato effect.
- Writers and readers – do you have any tips to add to this list?
SOME BEFORE-AND-AFTER EXAMPLES OF EFFECTIVE ACTION SCENES
(Well-disguised from my editing. The “after” examples are of course only one possibility among many.)
Fortunately for Jennifer, the attacker was far enough away that when he attempted to grab her she sidestepped him and delivered a sharp kick to the outside of his left knee.
He grunted and fell back against the stack of wooden crates. He then got up clumsily, rubbing his arm, showing his anger at how easily Jennifer had dodged and hit him.
The attacker lunged at Jennifer. She dodged to the side and delivered a sharp kick to his knee.
He grunted and fell against the stack of wooden crates. He scrambled up, rubbing his arm, eyes full of hate.
His facial expression changed from one showing loathing to one communicating unrestrained joy. Jennifer realized at that moment that she had made a fatal mistake. She looked to her right. The door leading out of the warehouse was about fifty feet from where she was standing.
His expression changed from loathing to amusement. Jennifer knew she had made a fatal mistake. She searched for the exit door. It was to her right, about fifty feet away.
Before: An inline skater came careening around the corner and skated fast towards them, shouting loudly. Josh shot a look back at Amy as he grabbed her arm and pulled her bodily to the edge of the street out of the path of the oncoming skater.
After: An inline skater came careening around the corner and barreled towards them, yelling. Josh grabbed Amy’s arm and yanked her out of the way.
Writers – feel free to add a before and after example of your own in the comments!
For more on this topic and on writing tighter, see Jodie’s e-book, Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction.
For great tips on many aspects of writing suspense-fiction, see Jodie’s e-booklet, Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction.
Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Her craft articles appear on many blogs, including Crime Fiction Collective, The Writer’s Forensics Blog, and The Thrill Begins. For more info, check out Jodie’s website and her blog.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Our stay in Hong Kong and Taipei has been wonderful (We didn't end up going to mainland China, because the jittery authorities there denied one of our party a visa); my attempts to absorb the local flavor including the cuisine, however, met an abrupt and decisive defeat.
On the final day of the stay we were treated to lavish meals including pigeon, fungus, sea cucumber, soup with the innards of some unspecified creature, duck feet (they might actually have been goose feet, they were so large), plus a dessert of curdled whey with mango chunks, which looked like something an orangutan might have yarped up. I tried to sample everything to avoid insulting my hosts. Three hours later, I was doing my own share of yarping back in the hotel bathroom. By the time this post is published I'll be in the air on the way back to Los Angeles-- if I make it past the airport health monitors in Hong Kong, that is. In Asia they come at you wearing masks and waving handheld thermometers as you walk past cameras that show you in infrared. I'm afraid they might mistake me and my husband, who is also sick, for a pair of Patient Zeroes. If we do get quarantined, at least it'll be fodder for a story.
Either way I'll be out of pocket on tuesday, so I'll leave you with a question--what's your favorite medical malady thriller of all time? Mine have got to be COMA and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN. I'll never forget that image of the human bodies suspended from wires.
See you all stateside!
Monday, November 26, 2012
I'm chomping at the bit to see the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, and hoping that through the fog of moving preparations and children illnesses I'll get a chance to see it before it goes to DVD (sadly I only get to see most movies after this fact!).
Although I remember being taken to the Roger Moore movies as a child, I really didn't fall in love with James Bond until I read the original Ian Fleming books. These were true Cold War classics - taut and tightly plotted - they were vastly different to the slightly-camp, bloated movies that peppered the 1980s.
That was when I went back and watched the Sean Connery Bond movies which were closer to the feel of the books. Now, with the emergence of Daniel Craig as Bond I feel the tone is returning to the original Fleming ideal (though I'm sure some of you will disagree:)) and I have the urge to re-read the books. My only fear is that they will suffer from 're-reading fatigue' (you know, when you read something you loved and realize it's not as lovable second time round - I had a severe case of this with John Fowles' The Magus...)
So who amongst you have read the Ian Fleming books? What do you think - should I risk picking them back up? Will they seem merely dated and dull, given the current calibre of thrillers and spy mysteries out there?
In the Bondian spirit of things, I have to confess Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond, followed closely by Sean Connery. Timothy Dalton was probably the most akin to the Bond of Ian Fleming's books but it didn't seem to resonate on film as it should have. My least favorite Bond was Roger Moore (And boy was Moonraker a dud!). The best movie for me is Daniel Craig's version of Casino Royale followed by Dr No.
So what about you? What's your favorite Bond actor and movie?Also what about villains? ( I have to confess the 'Jaws' guy is mine - just for sheer novelty value!) Why do we think after so many decades, James Bond can still pull a crowd (not to mention the girl)?
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Friday, November 23, 2012
What about you? Who are some of your favorite minor characters in fiction or film? Why do they work?
Thursday, November 22, 2012
It’s an excellent day NOT to be a turkey…or my pants. If I had been thinking, I would have stocked up on pajama jeans last year. Maybe I’ll correct that blunder on the most sacred day of the year – Black Friday. (For those who don’t know I come with a “prone to cynicism” warning label, I’m totally kidding.)
My sister Denise and her husband Chip are the brave souls who are hosting our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. So the first thing on my “What are you thankful for” list is that I’m not Chip and Denise. I dutifully made our family traditional recipe for Cranberry Chutney (Yummo) and made Dulce de Leche Cheescake bars for dessert – one of MANY we will have. (We all make desserts so none of us have to eat Dad’s undercooked pumpkin pies. Looooong story.)
I’ve been crashing on deadline, trying to get as much written before promo begins for my next release, Indigo Awakening, in December. But I am determined to take some time off to enjoy the holidays and replenish the creative well. If there is any “writerly” advice I can share today, it’s that you should embrace all people and things. Enjoy them as if you were a child seeing everything for the first time.
So here is my game plan to make the most of my time off with the people I love and laugh with every day:
1.) I will turn off my cell phone. (See Nancy Cohen's excellent post yesterday on Cutting the Cord if you need an intervention.)
2.) I will spend a leisurely breakfast with my husband, John, and watch the Macy's parade on TV with him. For whatever reason, he inherited a "parade" gene and I think it's contagious.
3.) The minute I walk into Chip and Denise's home I will thoroughly enjoy the amazing smells coming from the kitchen. They are making THREE turkeys. (Yes, it sucks three times as much being a turkey at their house.)
4.) I’m going to hug absolutely everyone I see and take my time doing it, including One-eyed Jack, her visually challenged pug that snorts when you squeeze him.
5.) My ears will be tuned into every story and my chuckle box will be fully engaged because if there is another year ‘round tradition in my family, it is laughter.
6.) In my family, we have designated BUZZARDS. These are the few, the proud, the first at the bird. I don’t know who started this (totally ME), but the movement has been passed down to future generations. My nieces and nephews have learned the fine art of swooping in for the choice pieces (without leaving fingers behind) while my dad and Chip slice the turkey. First strike earns you a bonus round and crispy skin is double points, especially if you add in a degree of difficulty.
7.) I WILL NOT, under any circumstances, eat my meal in under 30 minutes. What is up with the rush, people? It takes hours to make (days even) and we finish as if there is a race & there’s a prize for being first done. (Of course, if there IS a prize, forget what I said.)
8.) And an addendum to this pledge, I am extending these commitments to Saturday when my Dad is hosting a tailgate party for the Aggie game, a cabrito mexican dinner gorgefest. (It will suck to be a goat on Saturday. Spread the word.)
Okay, so that is my plan. What’s yours? How did you spend your day, TKZers? I’d love to hear your turkey day traditions and any family stories you’d like to share with your other online family.
And know that at the top of my list for things to be thankful for is YOU. Write on!
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
If you share these concerns, believe me, they will evaporate once you’re out on the high seas, ski slopes, beach, or wherever you choose to go. Out of sight is out of mind. As soon as we set sail, I powered down my iPhone and locked it in the cabin safe. No more email, until I signed on to the ship’s WiFi for quick checks later during the week. I found enough to do that I didn’t miss my inbox.
I had to make myself go online to use up the minutes I’d purchased. Even reading newsletters became too much like homework. I stuck to the fiction I’d loaded onto my Kindle and vegged out on a lounge chair to read, or otherwise I spent my time chatting with other guests, eating, walking around the decks, eating, climbing stairs to wear off the calories, sipping cocktails, eating, watching a couple of movies, and—wait for it—relaxing.
Is the “R” word not in your vocabulary? Then you definitely need to take a break. Just make sure your vacation is sufficiently long to give you time to unwind, play for a few days, and then prepare to reenter reality. And who knows, inspiration might hit along the way.
I got inspired by one lady on a prior cruise. Based on her elegant appearance, I created the countess in Killer Knots, my cruise ship mystery. This time was no exception. When my husband and I both saw this woman, the word “witch” came to mind. Likely she’ll end up in one of my paranormal romances. But even better, the cruise ship captain was a woman. Change her to a spaceship captain and we’re off and running with another story. So give your brain a rest and take a trip away from home. You’ll come back relaxed, refreshed, and inspired.
If you’re the type who loves to hang out and avoid work entirely, this article isn’t for you. You’re the one who needs a kick in the pants to sit down and write. But that’s another topic.
When you find yourself (if you do) glued to your electronics, how do you break away?
And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for friends and family and things that enrich our lives that don’t depend upon electricity. Including you, dear readers. Thank YOU for visiting our blog throughout the year!
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
The line between fact and fantasy is a very narrow one. I think I could trace most of the central incidents in my books to some real happenings.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Saturday, November 17, 2012
I have a special problem with video games: I like them too much. Twenty-one years ago I became addicted to a game called Civilization, which I played on my 386 PC (remember those?) The game starts at the dawn of human history; you have to establish a simulated civilization by building cities and mustering armies and increasing your technological know-how. You also wage wars against competing civilizations, and over time -- each turn represents a hundred years, I think -- your weaponry grows ever more powerful. I absolutely loved that game. There was something intensely satisfying about starting out with phalanxes and chariots and then working your way up to riflemen and tanks and aircraft carriers.
One night in November 1991 I played the game until morning. I started playing when my girlfriend (now my wife) went to sleep, and I was still at it when she woke up at 7 am. She gave me an incredulous look. “What on earth are you doing?” I must’ve looked a little scary. My eyes were bloodshot, my hands were shaking, and my back muscles were full of knots from bending over the keyboard all night. “I did it!” I yelled in triumph. “I conquered the world!”
Later that day I removed the Civilization floppy disk (remember those?) from my computer and threw it in the trash. I realized I couldn’t allow myself to play video games of any kind, because if I did I wouldn’t do anything else. This self-imposed moratorium lasted until a few years ago when I broke down and bought a Wii system for the kids (and then we got an Xbox too). It was jarring to see the new games that have been developed over the past two decades -- the graphics are so much better! But I’ve mostly resisted the compulsion to play. I’m too old to stay up all night. Besides, the kids hog the electronics now.
But getting back to my point: the world is full of entertaining distractions, and many of them would give me more pleasure than writing my novel would, at least in the short term. Yet I convince myself that this isn’t true. I put down my newspaper and tell myself, “You know what? My novel is more interesting than the CIA director’s scandalous affair. So what, the guy fooled around with a fawning younger woman, what’s so interesting about that? Come on, stop searching the Internet for lubricious details. Stop exchanging snarky e-mails with your friends. Get back to work!”
And this brings me to the second lie I tell myself. At some point in the process of writing a novel I become convinced that this book is the best thing I’ve ever written. No -- the best thing ever written by anybody. Crazy, right? The lie is so absurd I can’t seriously entertain it for very long. But it’s a useful delusion to have, especially when I’m struggling with the book and the deadline is approaching and I have to devote practically every waking moment to finishing the damn thing. Why put in all the effort if the novel isn’t fantastic?
Then I finish the first draft and stop telling myself the lies. They’ve served their purpose, so I don’t have to believe them anymore. I wait a few weeks, and then I’m ready to look at the manuscript again and confront the truth: the book is a mess. Some parts don’t make sense, other parts are boring. I don’t love the book anymore. But I don’t hate it either. Now it’s time for some tough love. An intervention. I have to whip the manuscript into shape.
And then, after all the revisions are done and the final changes sent to the copy editor and the advance reading copies distributed to the reviewers, then I’m ready to fall in love with the book again. But this time it’s not a blind, self-deluding infatuation. I’ve done my best to fix the novel’s flaws, but I know it’ll never be perfect. I love the book despite its imperfections and infelicities. I’m at this stage now with my next novel, which will be published in February. I’m still collecting blurbs and composing the jacket copy, but I can’t make any major changes to the book. This stage is the literary equivalent of zipping up your lover’s dress and clasping the pearls around her neck, getting her ready for her big night on the town.
Go out there, beautiful. Knock ’em dead.
Friday, November 16, 2012
But also why? What is it about this particular novel that speaks to you? What can other writers learn from it?
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Now, I bet you think I'm going to write something cute about how some of my own personal writing habits are my own worst enemy, right? Nope. The truth is, I have actual writing nemeses out there--all authors so. It's the dirty little secret that few of us ever confess to. Because here's the thing; when your book hits the shelves, it's directly competing against all the other releases that week (in addition to the books that go on sale in the weeks leading up to publication, and the ones for a month or so afterward). There's a reason that we compulsively check Amazon rankings during those critical first few weeks; many publishers keep close tabs on early sales to determine if a) they'll continue to publish your work, and b) if you merit an extra marketing push, or if the book will be left to languish.
There is quite literally not enough shelf space for all the new releases (even less now that so many stores have shuttered); and some will get prime placement, while others are crowded together in the stacks, with only the spine showing. It takes a truly dedicated reader to turn from those table overflowing with mountains of books to a perusal of the spines. And either way, your book will only be physically present in a store for anywhere from a few weeks to, at most, a few months after publication.
Which brings me back to my nemesis. Because not only is my book competing with every other book released in the same time frame, it's also been directly competing for marketing dollars and attention with the other books being released by my publishing imprint.
And one of those authors, unbenownst to her, is my current nemesis.
Our books were released on the same day, so keeping tabs on her sales gives me a sense of how we're performing with regard to each other. Because there's an excellent chance that our next books will share a release date, too. And if one of our books takes off, and the other doesn't, when the sales and marketing team is trying to decide which novel to push in August 2013, guess which one they'll go with?
I know authors who went ballistic when a competing major author switched to "their" release week, claiming it stole their chance to make a bestseller's list. I've never gone so far as that, but I've certainly experienced frustration when another author with the same publisher received a marketing benefit that my book was denied.
I had a different nemesis with my debut novel, a lovely man whose own debut received the bulk of co-op placement and marketing dollars from our publisher. Oh, how I loathed him at the time. It's really not so different from an office environment. When a good friend gets a promotion, merited or not, it's difficult not to struggle with the green-eyed monster; especially if you felt it was a promotion you were owed. Well, it's no different for writers. Although our water coolers are virtual, and every day is casual Friday.
And that's our dirty little secret.
ADDENDUM: AMAZON UPDATE
I was checking my book's pages last night, and inexplicably, DON'T TURN AROUND is suddenly listed as a paperback, not a hardcover; the Kindle version can no longer be ordered at all, and none of the books are linked on each others' pages anymore. Maybe I'm paranoid, but this feels a lot like retaliation for my blog post about Amazon deleting legitimate reviews...