Monday, December 27, 2010

Great Reads Monday - Garden of Heaven: An Odyssey by Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm R. Campbell worked many years as a college journalism instructor, corporate communications director, technical writer and grant writer for many years.  His articles have appeared in Nostalgia Magazine, Nonprofit World, The Rosicrucian Digest, Quill & Scroll, Training and Development Journal and the former Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday magazine.   I know you'll love his third novel, Garden of Heaven: An Odyssey - this week's Great Read!




When nineteen-year-old David Ward climbs the sacred mountain Nináistuko seeking a vision, the golden eagle of earth flings him back onto the prairie and the black horse of dreams shows him the future. Though his eyes are opened, fate hides exactly what he needs to know. The spiritual journey that follows leads him through the mountains of Pakistan, the swamps of North Florida, the beaches of Hawaii, the waters of the South China Sea and the ivy-covered halls of an Illinois college as he attempts to sort out the shattered puzzle of his life.

What do reviewers say?

"Garden of Heaven is a thought provoking novel, recommended, FIVE STARS." - Midwest Book Review

Check out Malcolm's website to read more!

Or visit Malcolm's blog!

Buy Garden of Heaven today on Omni-Lit!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Great Reads Monday: Now What? by Charmaine Gordon

Years of experience as an actor prepared Charmaine Gordon for the wonders of a writing career.  Although she didn't know it at the time, while she was immersed in the written words of others she was like a sponge, soaking up how to construct a scene, write dialogue and paint a setting.  The author of three novels, Charmaine writes about women who survive and thrive.  I know you'll find this week's Great Read both moving and inspiring - Now What? by Charmaine Gordon.


It was 2:30 a.m. when the phone rang. I fumbled for it, my heart starting a race toward bad news. Our doctor’s voice urged me to hurry. I crammed into clothes as if I expected this call.

It is only a fever that won’t go down, isn't it?

Our doctor shook his head. "...We did everything possible to save him. I held him in my arms when he took his last breath. Carly, I’m so sorry.”

Settling in beside my Bob, I held his cooling hand and asked the two words spoken many times during our years together. “Now what?” This time there was no response. I was on my own for the first time. When my fingers touched his wedding ring, I slipped it off and held it in my fist. The gold band was warm. I clung to him. “Come back to me, dearest.”

Sometimes what you wish for is more than you can live with.

What do readers say?

"Charmaine Gordon's books are a 'must read' for those who have experienced a loss in their lives, whether through death, abandonment or divorce. The reader will so identify with the women in her books, who struggle through their shock and trauma to find the courage and an inner strength they never knew they had, to face the future and to create a meaningful life, as the much stronger person they had never known they were. Her books are written with so much color, so much spiritual and emotional intensity, that you'll never look at life in the same way again. I am eagerly awaiting the publication of her next book." - Kate S.



Check out Charmaine's blog to read more!

Or buy today from Amazon.com (available in paperback and on Kindle)!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Exciting Announcement: My Third Novel is Coming on Kindle!

Tomorrow, December 18 - my third novel will be available on Kindle.  And here's the super-sweet part: it's only 99 cents!  But for now, I hope you'll enjoy this sneak peek - including the first chapter! 



When a Special Forces veteran is hired to protect a Malibu playgirl, sparks fly faster than bullets. But will they live long enough to realize they're falling in love?

In an exciting twist on her timeless tales of heart and home, author Misha Crews sets her latest story in Los Angeles, playground of former model Blake Sera. Although she's not yet thirty, jaded Blake is sure she's seen it all. Until she discovers that the man she's been been living with is up to his neck in the murky underworld of crime. When Special Forces veteran Caleb McKenna is secretly hired to protect the glamour gal, he's sure that Blake is just another pretty face whose only interests are sunning, funning and shopping til she drops. But soon he realizes that there's more to her than big blue eyes and a killer smile. Can they survive their passion? Can they survive at all?

Her Secret Bodyguard - Chapter One

Blake awoke to the sound of screaming.

She catapulted out of her sound sleep and sat straight up in bed. The cry seemed to be coming from all around her, splitting the air, rising to a breaking pitch before ending as abruptly as it had begun.

Outside the open door to the balcony, the ocean was beating relentlessly against the sand. Blake’s head felt thick and full of cobwebs. It had taken her a long time to get to sleep – it always did, these days – but eventually she had fallen into a deep, heavy slumber.

Now she struggled to push sleep aside. She held her breath and closed her eyes against the moonlight that fell across the wide expanse of her bedroom floor, straining to hear past the roar of the waves.

Nothing. Silence.

Blake pushed the blond hair out of her blue eyes and blew out her breath in a frustrated oath. This wasn't the first time she had heard strange yelling in this house. And she knew she wasn't imagining it, no matter what Rube tried to tell her.

Suddenly there was a thump that she felt more than heard, followed by a muffled cry. Both had come from downstairs. Heart pumping, Blake threw back the duvet and put her bare feet against the cool wood floor. Sinister visions of various kinds of criminal activity were dancing through her head like sugar plums, filling her with dread. Rube was a nice guy, but she couldn't say the same about all his friends. God only knew what was going on downstairs.

She stayed where she was, poised at the edge of the bed, as if trying to sense through the soles of her feet what was happening beneath her. But silence reigned again, and she knew that she had to get up to see what was going on. This might be Rube's house, but she lived here too, damn it. There was something strange going on, and she had a right to know what it was.

She took a deep breath and stood up resolutely. Her dressing gown was hanging silkily over the arm of a nearby chaise lounge. She slipped it on and belted it firmly. It provided more a sense of security than a feeling of warmth, but that was fine with her.

Part of Blake – the part where common sense lived – cautioned her to tiptoe to the door, so that whoever was downstairs wouldn't realize that she was awake. But a larger part shunned the idea of sneaking around her own bedroom in the middle of the night. She had a right to be here, so why should she be the one to creep around?

With her head held high and her shoulders back, she strode upright across the bedroom floor and put her hand boldly on the doorknob. But there her nerve failed, and she turned the knob slowly and quietly. Before pulling the door open, she put her ear to the crack to see if she could hear anything. Again, there was nothing.

There's a whole lot of nothing going on around here, she thought, with a bravado that she absolutely did not feel. She opened the door.

The hall stretched dimly in front of her, towards the second-floor sitting area which overlooked the living room below. She took a deep breath and stepped forward, moving silently down the short hallway, Adrenaline had made her feel almost supernaturally alert, but the fear that was streaming its way through her veins had the opposite effect, making her clumsy and shaky. Suddenly worried that she would trip over her own feet, she stopped, pressed herself against the wall and closed her eyes.

Fear was not a natural emotion for her. Her mother used to joke that, given the choice between fight or flight, Blake would pick fight every time. But this was different. She didn't know what she would find downstairs, but it couldn't be good. The temptation to run was seductively strong. At this moment she wanted nothing more than to turn herself right around, lock herself in the bedroom and pull the covers over her head until the bad men went away. Her legs trembled with the need to carry her away to safety.

But that was when she heard the voices.

They were coming from downstairs, and there were at least three of them. She opened her eyes and realized that she could see light flickering at the end of the hallway. She crept forward again until she reached the end of the corridor.

The beach house was built with typical Malibu-modern architecture. Downstairs was one big open space – living room, dining room, kitchen and a sort of game-room that housed the TV and Rube's beloved antique billiard table. Stairs led to the second floor where there was a lounge area filled with deep furniture and large potted plants. On each side of the lounge was a short hall which led to a bedroom suite. One suite was Blake's, the other was Rube's.

Blake hovered at the end of her hallway, not sure what to do next. Skylights in the lounge filled the upstairs with a cold, dim glow of cloud-covered moonlight, adding to the flickering light which must have been coming from the stone fireplace downstairs. There was practically zero chance that she could get across the lounge to the stairs without being seen, and a minus-zero chance that she could actually make it to the first floor. What was she going to do?

She crouched down and peered around the wall. Her eyes swept the lounge, Rube's hallway across from her, and the narrow slice of living room that she could see. When she was relatively certain that there were no eyes looking back at her, she moved forward, scooting ungracefully along the floor until she reached one of the large, square wooden planters that sat along the edge of the upstairs sitting room.

She raised up slightly, peering over the edge of the planter, through the banister and down to the living room below. She had to stifle a gasp at what she saw.

It could have been a scene straight out of a low-budget gangster movie. A man that she had never seen before was sitting in front of the fireplace in the far corner. He was tied to one of her imported cane-back chairs. Even in this low light Blake could see that his face was bruised and bleeding. In front of him, with their backs to her, stood Rube and his executive assistant, Greg Betch. She could recognize Greg by his hair and Rube by his lack of it.

Blake had known Rube for almost ten years, and until lately she had thought that there were very few secrets between them. Sure, she'd known that some of his business dealings were somewhat shady, but that had never bothered her. For Pete's sake, they lived in Hollywood. With all the backroom deals that went on in this town, you might as well name the place Shady Acres. But recently Blake come to realize that she'd been hopelessly naïve to trust him so completely.

This whole nauseating scenario – waking up in the middle of the night to cries of pain and fear – had played itself out before. Afterwards, Rube would disappear for a week or more. She wouldn't know if he were alive or dead. And when he finally did come back he'd refuse to tell her what had happened.

"Don't ask me about my business," he'd say, doing his best Pacino impression and giving her a weak smile. It was times like those that she was afraid she might be close to hating him.

What exactly was going on in this house? Did she even want to know?

Downstairs, Rube had leaned over and was talking to the man in the chair. Although Blake couldn't see him very well, she heard his words, recognized his posture and she easily guessed what he was doing. He was lecturing. His hands were undoubtedly templed in front of him, and he was waving them up and down in an almost beseeching gesture. She had been on the receiving end of his lectures too often not to recognize it.

"Jake, why are you lying to me?" Rube was asking. Blake shifted so she could hear a bit better. "Greg says he saw you with his own eyes."

The man in the chair – obviously Jake – shook his head wearily. "It wasn't me, Rube, I swear to you. On my mother's life I swear to you…."

"You were talking to the Feds," Greg shouted. He gave Jake a vicious backhand across the mouth to punctuate the last word. Jake's head flew to one side and stayed there as he wept quietly.

Blake flinched as if she had felt the slap stinging her own skin. She'd known Greg almost as long as she had known Rube, and she'd never even heard him raise his voice before tonight.

A chill of fear crept over her as she looked down at the men she thought she knew so well.

"Hey, Greg, keep it down, will you?" Rube said. "My lady's upstairs asleep."

"Sorry, Rube," Greg replied, straightening his coat. "I thought you said she never wakes up."

"Hardly ever." Rube was using his don't-challenge-me voice. "And I don't want her involved in this mess, so you do what I tell you and keep it down."

"Sorry," Greg said again. "This guy just ticks me off." He took a deep breath and ran his hands over his hair, as if to calm himself.

In an unconscious answering gesture, Rube touched the bald spot on the back of his head. "Yeah, well, me too, but let's keep it quiet, okay? Jakey here – " Rube kicked Jake's foot lightly. "Jakey here is going to tell us what he told the Feebs, and that's going to be the end of it."

"And it's going to be the end of him, too," Greg said hotly.

"Not necessarily." Rube's voice was almost soothing. "The important thing is to find out where we are. Then we can figure out where we're going. Jake is going to tell us everything. And you know why? Because he's a good boy." Rube turned to Jake and kicked his foot again. "Isn't that right, Jakey? You're a good boy, right? You're going to tell us everything."

Jake began nodding his head fiercely. "I'll tell you, Rube. I'll tell you everything you want to know."

And he started talking.

---------

Read the rest tomorrow!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Reads Monday: Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton

Melinda Clayton has published over twenty articles and short stories in various print and online magazines, and is currently in the dissertation phase of an Ed.D. in special education administration.  In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, reading, and being the loudest mom at the soccer field.  Melinda was thrilled to have her short story, Immortal Love, chosen for the Vanilla Heart Publishing's Passionate Hearts Anthology. I know you'll love her first novel, Appalachian Justice - this week's Great Read!





Billy May Platte is a half Irish, half Cherokee Appalachian woman who learned the hard way that 1940s West Virginia was no place to be different. As Billy May explains, "We was sheltered in them hills. We didn't know much of nothin' about life outside of them mountains. I did not know the word lesbian; to us, gay meant havin' fun and queer meant somethin' strange." In 1945, when Billy May was fourteen years old and orphaned, three local boys witnessed an incident in which Billy May's sexuality was called into question. Determined to teach her a lesson she would never forget, they orchestrated a brutal attack that changed the dynamics of the tiny coal mining village of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia forever. Everyone, from Gerald Smith, the elderly owner of Smith's General Store, to Sue Ann Leary, the spoiled daughter of the town's only doctor, to Corinne Pruitt, Billy May's childhood friend, was affected by the event in ways they could never have anticipated.

Thirty years after the brutal attack, living in solitude on top of Crutcher Mountain, Billy May discovers the hideout of a young girl - a girl who just happens to be the daughter of one of the boys who attacked Billy May so long ago. No one knows better than Billy May the telltale signs of abuse, and she must quickly make a decision. Will she withdraw into the solitude in which she has lived since the horrific attack, or will she risk everything to save the girl from a similar fate? Billy May's choices will once again change not only her own future, but the future of Cedar Hollow as well, and certainly the future of the young girl.

Billy May tells us her story in her own words, as she lays dying in a hospice in Huntington, West Virginia in the spring of 2010. "From the top of my mountain, I seen that girl runnin'," she remembers, "and I understood even then that my decisions might very well be the death of me."

What do readers have to say?

“A tale of the rural South, alternately horrifying and poignant, and ultimately redemptive. Dead on for the times, given recent events involving bullying of young gays and lesbians; the LGBT community should take notice, as should anyone struggling with child abuse, hate crimes, or sexual orientation issues.” - D.K.B.


“I just finished reading Appalachian Justice. What a powerful, well-written novel this is with characters, motivations and place settings that were absolutely perfect.” - M.C.


Or buy today from Amazon.com (available in paperback and on Kindle)!

Friday, December 10, 2010

How to Help Your Child Discover His or Her "Inner Writer"

We’ve all heard young people say, "I want to be a writer!" And we’ve all cringed a little when they’ve said it. After all, we know how hard it is to make a living as an artist. So how can we support their ambitions, knowing that disappointment might lurk around every corner? And how can we help nurture their creative instinct without crushing their artistic spirit?

It was probably about fifteen years ago that I first started coaching young writers. I still remember their earnest efforts at storytelling, their frustration when they couldn’t quite paint pictures with their words the way they’d wanted to, their elation when it came out right. I remember it well, because it so perfectly mirrored the ups and downs of my own writing. I drew on my memories of being a young writer and helped the children in my care to cultivate their natural talents. And in helping the children to tell their stories, I learned a lot about how to tell my own.

So when parents come to me and ask me how they can help their children develop their writing gifts, there are a few things that I usually suggest:

Encourage your children to read – a lot! Reading has a multitude of benefits for young writers. It builds vocabulary, first and foremost. It also gives one an eye for plot, story structure, dialogue, all the elements of good fiction. And don’t worry if what your child is reading seems simplistic or “below their reading level.” Help to pinpoint what he or she can read easily and with enjoyment, then stand back and watch the pages fly!

Encourage your children to write – a lot! Did your son just make up a funny joke (or even not so funny)? Suggest he write it down. Did your daughter tell you a story about a unicorn who jumped through her bedroom window and started dancing around the room? By all means, hand her some paper and a pen! Whether they’re writing letters to grandma, creating fan fiction for their favorite movie, or chipping away at their twelve-volume masterwork, writers of all ages do one thing: they write. And here’s some inside info: they don’t have to finish everything they start! Every writer has a sock drawer full of half-finished projects. It’s just part of the process. So encourage your children to write, and don’t stress over whether or not they finish everything.

Which brings me to my next point….

Never criticize. When I write that, I’m not simply saying, “don’t say anything mean,” because of course you wouldn’t intentionally insult your child. What I’m saying is, “Don’t say anything negative. Ever.” This can be a tough one for parents, which is understandable. The nurturing instinct makes you want to hover, bite your nails, and offer helpful corrections and suggestions. And if you’re looking at a school project, of course you must help monitor the quality of your child’s work. But when it comes to creative writing, my advice is this: never ever criticize.

Why? Well for one thing, there are few things on earth more fragile than the creative spirit. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to crush a burgeoning artistic impulse. A well-intentioned but careless comment from you could easily put your children off writing for quite some time. For another thing, if your children decide to pursue a career in writing, there will unfortunately be many people who will take their work and tear it down, deconstruct it and pick it apart. It’s a less-than-lovely aspect of the business that we all have to deal with at one time or another. So from Mom, Dad, teacher, etc., they should get only praise and encouragement.

If you’re worried that giving nonstop praise will make them conceited, or set them up for disappointment down the road, my advice is not to be too concerned about that. Yes, disappointment is inevitable. But the best way to overcome that is just to encourage them to keep writing. The more they write, the better at it they’ll become, and the fewer disappointments they’ll encounter. As for being conceited, well, every great venture requires a certain measure of conceit on the part of the “venturer.” Help them to build pride and even a touch of vanity in their work; chances are, no matter how big their heads get, they’ll still be able to fit through the door!

Well, this is a subject about which I would happily write volumes, and in fact I talk at length about these suggestions and more in my workshop, Helping Your Child Find the “Inner Writer.” There are few things in life more gratifying than helping a child to achieve satisfaction and gain a sense of accomplishment and of his or her own self-worth. Do you have a story you’d like to share or a question you’d like to ask about working with young writers?

This blog was originally published on the Vanilla Heart Publishing Authors' Blog.  For helpful and down-to-earth advice on writing, please check out their blog today! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Great Reads Monday: Russian Roulette by Austin S. Camacho

Austin S. Camacho was born in New York City but grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York. He began writing while he was in the Army: stories of adventure and mystery, set in some of the exotic places he visited during his years of service.  Today Austin does public affairs work for the DoD agency charged with guarding the health of service members when they are deployed. He has settled in northern Virginia with his wife Denise.  When he's not writing Austin likes to run along the shores of the Potomac, watch action films, and shoot - at paper targets, not live ones. He is a voracious reader of just about any kind of nonfiction, plus mysteries, adventures and thrillers.  I know you'll love his novel Russian Roulette - this week's Great Read!


A Russian assassin forces Washington DC private detective Hannibal Jones to investigate Gana, the wealthy Algerian who has stolen Viktoriya, the woman his new client loves. Evidence connects Gana to Russian mob money and the apparent suicide of Viktoriya’s father. Then more deaths follow, closing in on Viktoriya. To save her, Hannibal must unravel a complex tangle of clues and survive a dramatic shootout side-by-side with his murderous client.

Early reviews say Russian Roulette hits the bull’s-eye!

"... Russian Roulette delivers a whipsaw of a plot with more layers than a Vidalia onion.... Solid storytelling and compelling characters Don't miss it!” - Libby Fischer Hellmann, Author of the Ellie Foreman mystery/suspense series

“Hannibal Jones is no John Shaft wannabe. He stands on his own as a welcome addition to the ranks of the fictional private eye.” - Robert J. Randisi, Founder, the Private Eye Writers of America

“Russian Roulette has everything: a terrific story with great characters in vivid settings. Clear time on your calendar for this one." - John Gilstrap, author of Hostage Zero and the Jonathan Grave series

“An atmospheric, entertaining read. Troubleshooter Hannibal Jones is the most engaging character to come upon the mystery scene since Patterson's Alex Cross.” - JoAnn Ross, NY Times Bestselling Author of the High Risk Series

“Russian Roulette starts with a revving engine and picks up speed till racing across the finish line. If I was in trouble I’d want Hannibal Jones on my speed dial.” - Jon Jordan, Editor, Crimespree Magazine

Visit Austin's website to read more!

Or buy Russian Roulette today on Amazon.com!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Setting, Part 1: What Is It, Why Should It Matter, and How Can You Start Using It?

When I first undertook the subject of Setting, I thought I'd blow through it in one blog.  Six hundred words, subject covered.  No sweat, right?  Um, wrong. 

As I began to write about Setting, as I started to think about it and distill my thoughts into semi-intelligible sentences, I started coming to more deep and complete understanding of the subject.  The more I wrote, the more I understood.  And the more I understood, the more I wanted to write!  So then I thought I'd split the subject into two parts: the mechanics of setting, and the subtler side of setting.  Twelve hundred words, subject covered, right?  Um, again - wrong!

So I now have three parts, and it's still growing!  I've stopped counting words and I have no idea when (or if) the subject of setting will ever be exhausted.  And if nothing else, I'm learning a lot by writing these blogs!  I hope that someone else finds some good in them, too.

Step 1: Where and When

Setting is vital element of writing. But what exactly is setting, and how can you use it to enhance the story you're trying to tell?

In breaking down the subject of setting, we can see that the absolute bottom-line, nitty-gritty of it is WHERE and WHEN. Where and when does your story take place?

Of course it's easy to see how this matters if you're writing a World War 2 epic, or a science fiction novel: the 1940s in London is a heck of a lot different than 3010 on the moons of Jupiter. But it also matters when you're writing any modern day novel, whether it's romance, mystery, thriller, etc., because the where and when will effect many aspects of your story and your characters.

Some examples:
  • F. Paul Wilson sets his Repairman Jack novels in modern-day New York.
  • Holly Jacobs sets many of her romance novels in the fictional town of Whedon, Pennsylvania.
  • James Ellroy set his LA Crime novels in mid-20th Century Los Angeles.
In each of these cases the where and when affects the who and what – the setting affects the characters and the plotline. It doesn’t necessarily dictate plot or create the characters for you, but it definitely does have an effect on both (we'll go in-depth on this subject in a later blog!).

For a quick example, imagine a single woman raising a child on her own. Whether she lives in 1629, 1993 or 3010 will make a difference in her parenting style and the set of obstacles she has to face, not to mention the entire concept of her own identity as a human being, and her concept of the identity of her child.

So, WHERE and WHEN does your story take place?

Step 2: Make it Realistic

Research, research, research. If you are writing about a place and time that is unfamiliar to you, make sure you do your homework! My second novel, Still Waters, is set in the mid-1950s in Arlington, Virginia. I was very familiar with the place, but – aside from many years of watching Hitchcock films - not too familiar with the time period.

To research the period, I spent hours in the library, reading newspapers from the months during which my novel was set. I also found a 1950s map of the area and was able to identify what some of the streets were called at that time. I didn’t use all of this information in the book, of course, but it made it easier for me to set my mind to that place in that time.

And here's a hint: you can often find newspapers going back to the 19th Century. One of my local papers has been around since the early 1800s, and has back issues on microfiche that go way back to the beginning!

Confirm, confirm, confirm. There are always tiny details of life in various eras that can't be found in books. And the danger of writing about any place or time outside of our experience is that our conceptions are shaped very much by movies and books, which may or may not be accurate. Hopefully your rolodex (or Facebook friend list) includes one or more people who have education about or experience with your chosen time and place. Ask them questions while you're writing, and/or have them read your manuscript when it's finished. Tell them to cast their expert eye on the details and confirm that you haven't written anything too embarrassingly wrong!

Relax, relax, relax. There is only so much you can do to make a time period accurate, and the primary jobs of a fiction writer are to create an emotional connection with the reader, and tell a good story. You can kill yourself – and your story, for that matter – by becoming obsessed over the details. Make it as accurate as possible, and then just relax, knowing that you've done the best you can.

Setting should serve your story, not the other way around. (Unless you're James Michener, of course, but that's a whole other blog!)
----
What settings do you enjoy when you're reading a book or watching a movie?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Great Reads Monday - Redeeming Grace by Smoky Trudeau

Smoky Trudeau is the author of two novels and two nonfiction books especially for writers.  Her stories and poetry have been published in literary journals and online e-zines.  She was a 2003 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Finally succumbing to her bohemian spirit and need to live near the mountains and the ocean, Smoky moved to Southern California in 2008, where she lives with her husband and daughter in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains beyond. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains, camping in the Sierras, splashing in tidepools, and fighting the urge to speak in haiku.  You're going to love her book, Reedeming Grace - this week's Great Read!




The tragic deaths of her mother and two younger siblings have left Grace Harmon responsible for raising her sister Miriam and protecting her from their abusive father, Luther, a zealot preacher with a penchant for speaking in Biblical verse who is on a downward spiral toward insanity. Otto Singer charms Grace with his gentle courtship and devotion to his brother, Henry. But after their marriage, Otto is unable to share with Grace the terrible secret he has kept more than twenty years. Otto believes he is responsible for a tragic accident that claimed the life of a young woman and left Henry severely brain damaged. Luther's insane ravings and increasingly violent behavior force Grace to question and reassess the patriarchal religious beliefs of her childhood. Then tragedy strikes just when Otto's secret is uncovered, unleashing demons that threaten to destroy the entire family. Can Grace find the strength to save them, and in the process find her own redemption? Redeeming Grace is set on Maryland's eastern shore in the late 1920's. The book will appeal to lovers of literary fiction who enjoy theological debate and who understand happy endings, in novels as in life, sometimes come at a heavy price.

One reader says:

"Love, pain, guilt and secrets, guilt are skillfully woven throughout this story which takes place in rural Maryland in the 1920's. Smoky Trudeau manages to walk a very fine line without ever crossing it. Her villains are quite mad but not unbelievable. Redeeming Grace is a story of marital love, understanding and forgiveness. Throughout the moments and days of contentment and joy are memories of tragedy and loss. Partially known secrets and a feeling of impending danger make this book an unforgettable page turner." - M.S.

Visit Smoky's website to read more!

Or buy Redeeming Grace today on Amazon.com!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Great Reads Monday: A Chaunce of Riches by Chelle Cordero

Chelle Cordero is a freelance journalist and author. Her articles have been published in various Gannett publications, regional and national trade magazines. She is also the author of many novels and short stories.  Chelle and her husband live in Rockland County, NY, where they raised their two children.  I'm happy to share her book, A Chaunce of Riches, with you - another great read!



The day that Ben Johnson was hired as a bodyguard for some rich widow and her kid, he never expected to be working for the woman who had abandoned him just when he had needed her the most so many years before. Damn it all, he still wanted her. Samantha Chaunce never thought she would see him again. She never thought she would have to explain why she married the rich man over the man she had sworn she once loved. And she certainly never expected to find out that her rich husband had been murdered and fingers were pointing to her former lover.

One reader says:

"Personal conflict kicks off at the very start of Ms. Cordero's A Chaunce of Riches, as widower Samantha Chaunce comes face to face with a man from her past - Ben Johnson. She told him she loved him oh-so-long ago, and then she departed in the arms of another.

"Nothing is simple in the complex tale of love, danger, and this shared, almost-mourned, past....  However, the two main characters are both strong, edgy people, and their history together creates a rather unusual relationship between the two. There is anger, resentment, yet, somehow, there is an enduring trust that becomes more and more important in the face of danger.

"The very focused plot keeps us madly turning the pages, right to the very end. Yet, it's the romantic in us that is waiting, and so hoping, that they are both the people we think they are...that somehow, out of all this emotional clutter, disaster and more, they can find their way to true feeling. The story is simply super on all counts. Mark A Chaunce of Riches a Must-Read." - J. Thomas, The Long and Short of It Reviews

Read more on Chelle Cordero's website.

Or buy today on Amazon.com (available in paperback and on Kindle)!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Great Reads Monday - Forest Song: Letting Go by Vila SpiderHawk

Vila SpiderHawk is the author of three novels, a book of short stories and a cookbook.  She lives with her husband in the woods of Pennsylvania, in a log house of their design.  They share their home with five cats and enjoy frequent visits from their many woodland friends.  I'm thrilled to be able to share with you her latest work, Forest Song: Letting Go.





She left her birth home to learn the ways of the woods in Forest Song: Finding Home.  She grew into her powers as protector of the denizens of the forest in Forest Song: Little Mother.  And now, Judy Baumann faces the horrors of World War II: the concentration camps, Jewish ghettos, and the other persecution of the Jews.

Join Judy as she struggles to survive death-defying challenges, overcoming betrayal and loss with courage, cleverness and humor.

One reader says:

"Amazing but true.  SpiderHawk has again written an outstanding novel that touches the very core of loss, yearing, learning and beginnings.

"It has been my privilege to own all of Vila SpiderHawk's wonderful books and this one, as I myself am getting on in years, touched a deep vein of recognition in me.  It deals with loss, new beginnings and blossoming awareness of ability and truths.

"As with all her work, Vila SpiderHawk's ability to bring the reader deep within, with her color descriptions is an utter joy.  This is a truly inspiring novel and I highly recommned it to anyone.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again...Vila just gets better!  Of all her novels, this one touched me to my very soul.  There were times when I smiled, times I associated closely with the characters and times when I cried in sympathy, because always, there is somewhere a place that we too have visited.  In this, her most recent book, I was drawn into her web and held utterly spellbound from start to finish." - J.H.G.

Visit Vila Spiderhawks's website to read more!

Or buy today on Amazon.com (available in paperback and on Kindle)!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Characterization and Attitude

We all know what it means to have attitude. And I'm sure we all know what it means to give attitude, too! But what does attitude have to do with your characters?

Don't look at me in that tone of voice!

Okay, first let's make sure we're all on the same page regarding the definition of "attitude," because it's used it in different ways.  Attitude can mean a personal viewpoint or general opinion about something.  It can also mean a challenging or arrogant manner.  And it can mean a physical posture or bodily position. 

So "attitude" is not only the way a person thinks about something, or the arrogant manner in which they're expressing themselves, it's also the way they are physically standing or holding themselves.  And how can you use that when you're writing?

Let's workshop it - with attitude to spare!

Try combining all three of those ideas and applying them to your character.  Let's say you're writing about a woman who's having an argument with her fourteen-year-old daughter.  What's the daughter's attitude?  Let's break it down:

Her personal viewpoint is that she wants her curfew extended to one a.m. so she can go to her best friend's birthday party. 

Is she displaying a challenging, arrogant manner?  You bet your boots she is!  But how does your reader know that?

Well, what's the typical physical posture of a girl arguing with her mom? 

Joanna's hands welded to her hips as her elbows fanned the kitchen air. 

Grace looked up from the bread dough she was kneading.  If that child rolled her eyes one more time, she was definitely going to suffer some serious vision damage.  Or at the very least she'd be grounded for the rest of her life.

"You're fourteen, my dear daughter," Grace said, with as much patience as she could muster.  "There's no way you're staying out until one in the morning!"

Joanna's mouth pulled up on one side as she gave vent to her weakest argument yet.  "Oh please, Mother, you wouldn't dare keep me home," she smirked, "everyone's going to this party."

Okay, obviously those two have a lot of issues to work out.  And I didn't exactly play to subtlety there, with the arms-akimbo, eye-rolling, smirking teenager.  I'm sure you've got a good idea of Joanna's character (at least in relation to curfew and the importance of big parties).  But did you also get an idea of Grace's character?  The bread-kneading, line-holding mom?  Well, that brings up an interesting point, which is this:

You get a good idea of someone's character by their reaction to the attitude of another person.  It's not just the actions your characters take, it's their reaction to the actions of others which will give the reader a concept of who these people are.

But what if the character in question doesn't have quite as much of a challenging arrogant manner?  What if he or she is, for lack of a better term, a human doormat?

Let's workshop it again - and don't give me any of your attitude!

So let's say your character is Harvey, a storeroom clerk in his late forties.  A shipment has come in without the proper paperwork, and technically he's not supposed to accept it.

His personal viewpoint is that he should not sign for the delivery.

Is he displaying a challenging, arrogant manner?  In this case, no.

And what about his bodily position?  Well, let's see:

Harvey wiped his palm on his khaki shorts and pulled the clipboard closer for another inspection.  "I have specific instructions not to accept any shipments from your company that don't have the proper TPS forms."  He heard the quiver in his voice and swallowed, trying to steady it.  Dealing with these paperwork issues always made him shaky.  What if he screwed it up - again? 

He forced his rounded shoulders square and handed the clipboard back, using the most decisive motion he could muster. "Sorry."  It didn't help that now his hand, as well as his voice, was shaking.

The brownshirted delivery man held up his hands like somebody at gunpoint.  But this guy wasn't surrendering.  "No can do, bra," he said with a smile.  "Can't take it back, gotta leave it here."

The sweat made its way from Harvey's palms to the back of his neck.  He could feel it beading on his upper lip.  Was this guy serious?  What was Harvey going to do if the delivery guy wouldn't take the package back with him?  The meatball sub that Harvey had eaten for lunch was starting to come back on him, emitting a foul acid that crept up his throat.  He needed to have a glass of milk and lie down.

"I guess I could find a place in back for it, as long as you promise me you'll bring those forms tomorrow."

"Sure thing bra," the delivery guy said.  "No problemo."

Poor Harvey.  He's sweaty, slump-shouldered and has stomach problems.  And do you think that delivery guy is going to bring in those forms tomorrow?  No, me neither.

Lack of attitude can tell your readers just as much about your characters as attitude can.  When something unpleasant confronts Harvey, does he attack or retreat?  He probably lies down with a glass of milk.

But what about Joanna, from the example above?  How would she have handled the delivery guy?  Well, she probably would have made some cutting comment about his shorts not being kind to his knobby knees, and then gone back to filing her nails. 

Summing up the attitude issue

With attitude and characterization, keep these things in mind:

  • The person's posture and physicality: what does it say about them?
  • Their reaction to events: when confronted with something pleasant or unpleasant, how do they react?
  • Getting what they want: how do they go about it?
  • Remember that attitude is not necessarily a bad thing!  If Joanna used those same mannerisms when dealing with a bully at school, we'd be cheering for her.
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When was the last time you saw someone "giving attitude"?  What did it tell you about them?  And what did it say about the person on the receiving end of that attitude?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Featured Novel: 'Take the Monkeys and Run!' by Karen Cantwell

I'm so tickled to start a new feature here on my blog. Every Monday I'll be featuring a different novel by a friend of mine.  And since I have a lot of friends who are great writers, that's a lot of wonderful books to share with you!  So let's kick this off with a roller-coaster humorous mystery: Take the Monkeys and Run by Karen Cantwell!



Soccer mom and film lover, Barbara Marr is on the brink of a dream:  launching her own movie review website.  But on her 45th birthday, this stay-at-home mother of three unwittingly launches herself and her suburban housewife friends into the middle of their own explosive action adventure just like the movies – except these bullets are real. 



One reader says:

"This story about frazzled suburban mom Barbara Marr (who's been left flat by her husband with the proverbial three kids, a mortgage and a cat) perfectly combines the funny sensibilities of the Woody Allen movie for which it's (sort of) named with the antics of "The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight." When Marr discovers strange nocturnal goings-on at the house next door (nicknamed House of Many Bones, for reasons best left to your imagination) and a backyard overrun with monkeys the following morning, she simply must find out what the heck is going on. Naturally, she seeks the help of an old flame from college and a cast of colorful neighborhood characters.

"This awesomely funny book pays homage not only to classic comedies, but also action films. Karen Cantwell's story strikes an excellent balance between warm family scenes and zany, more dangerous ones. (And, as it happens, Marr is a wannabe film blogger. Hmm ... go figure. :)) As I read the book, I enjoyed many laugh out loud (as in actual laughter!) moments.

"If you're a Janet Evanovich fan, this one is a must read. Not only does Cantwell ably mix humor and action, while sending up the latter genre (and seemingly paying homage to one movie in particular -- won't name it for risk of spoilers ;)), but she brings the story to a conclusion that practically screams  'There will be a sequel!'  I, for one, can't wait to read it!" - D.M.

Buy today on Amazon.com (available in paperback and on Kindle)!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Laying the Groundwork for Your Novel: The Basics of Plot and Storytelling

Horror.  Science Fiction.  Romance.  There are many kinds of stories to tell, and although every story is unique, there are, generally speaking, some elements that are universal:

- The Hero
- The Journey
- The Prize
- The Great Obstacle

The Hero

Or, I should say, the Hero(es)-slash-Heroine(s) - what some writers refer to as the "H/H."  This is the protagonist, the person your story is about. The H/H is your Frodo Baggins, your Elizabeth Bennett, your Harriet the Spy, or even your Benji!

Of course, the hero doesn't really have to be heroic - at least not in the usual way! He or she could be Ebenezer Scrooge. Or Dexter, for that matter. But your "H/H" does have to be empathetic. Your reader must be able to feel for him, or at least get a laugh out of him. Ebenezer Scrooge won my heart as soon as he said to Jacob Marley, "There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!" Despite the fact that Dickens had shown Scrooge to be a despicable human being, when I read that line I thought, "Well, there's something to that guy. If nothing else, he's funny." And because of that I was willing to go on the journey with him, and even to root for him.

The Prize

We all want something.  Health, happiness, long life.  And a million dollars.  Sometimes we want to foil a bank robbery, solve an ancient riddle before time runs out, or marry the man of our dreams. 

In Lord of the Rings, the prize was getting the ring to the fires of Mordor.  In Pride and Prejudice it was a good marriage with a suitable spouse.

Sometimes the prize starts out to be one thing and turns out to be another.  In Lassie Come Home (a personal favorite of mine when I was a child), the prize seems to be for Joe to get his dog back.  But it turns out to be much more: it's the reuniting of the hearts of a family, and the rejuvenation of an entire town.

Whatever the prize is for your hero, make sure you know it, even if your hero doesn't yet. 

The Journey

All heroes are headed somewhere.  They're not just sitting on their hands while events unfold around them.  They are going somewhere, whether it's a physical journey or an emotional one.  And usually that journey is toward their Prize, whatever that is for them.

In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara's prize was Ashley.  Her emotional journey took her through the Civil War, three marriages, the death of two husbands, childbirth, the death of her daughter, and a relationship with the unforgettable Rhett Butler.  And how did her journey end?  With the realization that her actual prize was Rhett himself. 

Sometimes a journey is both physical and emotional.  In that case, each journey has a prize of its own.  For Lassie, the physical journey had only one prize: to be in her usual spot when Joe got out of school.  The prize for her emotional journey was the return to her loving family and, as mentioned above, the return of a town to something of its former glory.

The Great Obstacle

If Frodo and company had just been able to hop into a limo and ride to Mordor in air-conditioned comfort, would we really have lasted through three novels?  Of course not.  And so we have our Great Obstacle, in the power of Sauron, who sent forth many other obstacles to impede the progress of our noble heroes. 

In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family also faced a multitude of obstacles: lack of money, great distance, the flaws in their own family coalescence, the heartless opportunism of others, and the abject poverty of an entire nation. 

But regardless of whether you're writing a literary masterpiece, a tale of adventure and fantasy, or a simple homespun romance, every story must have a great obstacle.  Sometimes the greatest obstacles are the hero's own character flaws which are preventing him from reaching his goals.
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Of all these - the Hero, the Prize, the Journey and the Great Obstacle - is there one that you think is more important than the others?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Let's Meet Your Characters

In my most un-humble opinion, creating memorable and loveable characters is the most essential part of any writer's job.  I know that not all writers feel this way, and that's fine - everyone's entitled to their opinion.  But I do think that regardless of how exciting the story, regardless how twisty and turny your plot is, without three-dimensional characters to race along the surprise-laden path you've laid, will anyone really care?

After all, what would Star Wars be if Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan were a kid and an old guy?  What would Gone with the Wind be if Rhett and Scarlett were just a guy and some dame?  And what will your story be, if you don't create your characters as fully-fleshed, breathing and feeling human beings?

So let's meet your characters, shall we?

Ms. Writer, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Character (no gender-bias intended!).  Okay Ms. Writer, take a look at your character.   How are you going to go about getting to know him?  Well, you can always start with the first thing you notice about anybody you meet: their appearance.

Ooh, a little superficial, isn't it?  Well, let's start on the outside and we can work our way in later!

What does he look like?

I've studied a lot about the art of characterization, and many writers seem to fall into two camps: 1) describe the character's appearance in minute detail, or 2) give as little detail as possible.  And depending on your writing style, you may find yourself going to either extreme.  Both are fine, as long as the "minute detail" doesn't translate into "long boring paragraphs," and as long as "little detail" doesn't translate into "I can't tell these characters apart because apparently everybody looks alike!"

The other thing to remember is that no matter how much painstaking detail you put into describing your characters, no matter how lovingly you draw their features with the finest of brushes, no two readers will ever have the same image when they read your story!  We all superimpose our own mental images on the people we read about.  We just can't help it - and when you think about it, why would we want to?  When we read we are entering the universe created by the writer, but we are also creating a universe all our own.  That's the magic of reading and of writing.

So on the question of "a lot of detail, or a little?" I generally try to aim somewhere in the middle (you knew I was going to say that, didn't you?).  I've found that there are certain specific details I like to establish for myself, and then I sort of let the rest go.  The physical elements that are essential to me are:

Hair color and style
Eye color and shape
Height and overall body shape (weight lifter, swimmer or couch potato)
Any unusal or memorable physical characteristic (manicured fingernails, freckles, a tiny nose like a tulip)

Much more will be communicated about your characters by their attitudes and speech patterns (more on that in future blogs!).  But you want to give your reader enough detail to give their imagination something to grab onto.  When they read "Maggie," you want them to know that she's the girl with red hair and freckles, not the girl with blond hair and glasses. 

That's one reason why it's good to give your characters unusual physical characteristics: someone with long fingernails might have trouble dialing the phone; someone with freckles might spend more time putting on makeup (if she were self-conscious about it, of course!).  But all of these things feed into who the characters are on the inside as well as the outside!  Physical characteristics play into attitudes and personality, just as attitude and personality affects the way we appear to others.

Another physical aspect that communicates character is how they move.  John Travolta once said that when he goes about creating a character as an actor, he starts with the walk.  Think about it: Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction, Chili Palmer from Get Shorty, and of course, Edna Turnblad in Hairspray!  Three distinct characters, three distinct ways of communicating characterization simply through motion.

Of course, it's easy to convey motion in the movies - in writing it's more of a challenge!  A good way to accomplish this is through the use of simile and metaphor:

Simile (saying that something is like something else): "She drove like she was Dale Earnhardt's long-lost daughter and every street was the Talladega Speedway."

Metaphor (saying that something is something else): "Not the marrying kind?  That's an understatement!  The man was a jackrabbit on Viagra!"

Of course, it can get kind of heavy-handed if you overuse it, but in small doses you will find that your characters begin to leap to life, and right off the page!

Who are some of your favorite fictional characters, and what is it about their physicality that most sticks with you?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fiction Writing: What's It Made Of?

It's been said that there are three basic elements to fiction: plot, characters, and setting.  Over the next few weeks I'd like to get into each of these individually, but for now let's just take a quick look at these important ingredients in your fiction pie:

Plot - To put it plain and simple, "plot" is your story line.  It's the chain of events that takes your characters on a ride, and brings your readers along with them.  A good plot doesn't necessarily have to be exciting in an oh-my-god-we-have-to-find-and-diffuse-the-bomb kind of way, but should contain at least minor amounts of mystery and excitement, even if it's just in an oh-my-god-where-are-my-car-keys-so-I-can-go-out-on-my-first-date-in-years kind of way! 

Characters - Of the three elements, this one is definitely my favorite.  Why?  Well, mainly because I'm lazy, I guess.  It's always been my belief that if you have good characters, they write their own story, which keeps the need for plotting at a minimum!  Okay, that's a little bit of a joke (although it's not entirely untrue, either!)  "Characters" are, of course, the people in your book.  You could also look at them as the readers' guides: the ones who are leading your readers along the path that is laid by your plot.  Relatable characters are essential for telling a good story.

Setting - Well, if the plot is your path, and the characters are your guides, what does that make setting?  Your scenery!  But of course, it's a bit more than that.  Setting is essentially the where-and-when of your story.  It's Victorian England, or the recent future on a dying planet, or a modern day suburb.  It's the universe in which you are immersing your characters (and readers), and through which your are laying down your plot.  It's multi-dimensional; it looks, smells, sounds and tastes the way you decide it will. 

These three elements combine in a million different ways.  Your setting effects your characters (think of the difference between the Australian outback of the 1930s and the city of Tokyo in modern times): how they look, talk, etc.  This in turn effects your plot, because different characters will react to circumstances uniquely, and this in turn will change the course of events in your story!

We can take up each of these elements in several different blogs in the coming weeks.  I'm looking forward to re-exploring all of these vital pieces of your story-puzzle, and I hope you are too!

So, any preference as to which one we start with?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Writing: How Good Does It Have to Be?

As I re-read the title of this blog, it sounds like a joke. But I hear this from people all the time: "I really want to be a writer, but I just don't know if I'm good enough." And that begs the question: just how do we define "good." And how good is good enough?

Ask ten people how they define good writing, and they will probably give you ten different answers. One may be obsessed with grammar and punctuation ("You used approximately 4.5 adverbs per page; that's 2.75 more adverbs than recommended!"), one may talk esoterically about "art" (as in: "It's okay writing, but it's not art."), and one or two may simply say, "Anything that I can't put down is good writing to me!"

So what is Good Writing?

Now, this is a touchy subject, and to be honest I hesitated to tackle it here, because I'm afraid it will seem that I'm either defiling the hallowed rules of grammar or bruising the tender flesh of art. But I've done a lot of reading lately, from both published and unpublished writers, and I've come to realize something important:

"Good writing" is writing that creates an emotional connection with the reader.

And that's it. (Almost.)

Good writing makes you laugh or cry, makes your skin crawl, arouses your passion (for good or evil). It communicates something to you. It brings you into its particular universe. It makes you feel, and that's the primary mission of "good writing."

A long time ago I started to read a book which I found to be constructed of pretty bad writing. I won't go into detail, but I'm sure you've all read enough poorly-written books to know what I'm talking about! But even with its technical flaws, I found myself becoming absorbed by the story. I wanted to know what was going on. When I wasn't reading the book I was thinking about it, and when I finished it, it stayed in my mind for a long time afterward. And you know what I call that? Good writing! You know what I call the technical flaws? Bad editing. :~)

The way I see it, if this writer had had a better editor (or a better grammar teacher), this book could have been a best seller. Because it created an emotional connection. And the fact that it was able to have that affect in spite of poor use of language just highlights how deep that emotional connection was, and makes me realize anew that the author was indeed a very good writer.

Good writing doesn't have to be technically perfect. But it does have to be technically correct enough that it doesn't detract from the emotional connection.

What makes writing technically correct?

Here's what technically correct writing is made up of (in my humble opinion):

• Grammar and punctuation.

• Proper spelling (of course!).

• An understanding of - and comfort with - language. Not just for dialogue purposes, but also because the rhythm of language varies from age to age and from place to place.

• Story structure: the highs and lows, ebbs and flows of your story.

• Characterization: the hardcore techniques of bringing your people to life.

 
I'm sure I've left out a few things, there but those are the basics. All of these things are important: Grammar, punctuation, language – these are your tools, your instruments. Story structure and characterization – these are the beams and girders of the world you are building. But none of them should ever become more important to you than forging an emotional link with your readers.


So how do you go about creating an emotional connection? And how do you know when you've done it?

Here's what I think: How do you create an emotional connection? Start by feeling it yourself. Fall in love with your characters – even the bad guys (or especially the bad guys, as the case may be!). Make sure every part of your story fascinates you, and if it doesn't, change it! Because if you're not interested in any part of your story, I don't see how or why the reader would be!

And how do you know if you've actually achieved the emotional connection? Have someone read your work. Or several someones. They should be people you trust (especially when you start out!), people who aren't afraid to be honest. Are they "feeling it" when they read your story? No? Ask questions, figure out what's going wrong and change it. Yes? Well then, you've got something good going!

(Oh, this is very important: they should be people who enjoy the genre in which you're writing. I once had someone get very critical about my writing. Eventually I found out that this guy never read "women's books" and in fact hardly ever read fiction at all! So save yourself some time (and heartache) and don't give your romance novel to someone who hates romance novels, LOL!)

So what do you call Good Writing?

If you're still not sure that your writing is good, don't be afraid to indulge in a little self-examination. Just ask what you, yourself, consider to be good writing. Shakespeare? Okay, are you trying write like Shakespeare? No? Oh, you just want to make people feel the way you feel when you read Shakespeare?

 
Okay then, you have now established what kind of emotional connection you're trying to forge with your readers: the same kind old Will forged with you!  And that's a good place to start! Just remember, William Shakespeare didn't start out as an Immortal Poet. He didn't just pick up a quill pen one day and scribble rough winds do shake the darling buds of May on a piece of parchment. He honed his craft. He learned how to make art by making art. He learned by doing.

And I hope that this blog has made you feel like doing! :~) So quit reading, and go write. (You can start by leaving a comment, if you like!)

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So how do YOU define good writing?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Win a Copy of Homesong!


 Fiction For Dessert

How cool, how cool!  Homesong is being featured on Fiction for Dessert's weekly book giveaway!  To enter, all you need to do is visit the website and leave a comment.  It's as easy as that!  And yes, I will autograph it for you!  Good luck!

Fiction For Dessert's Giveaway Wednesday!

Homesong3D.gif

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Writing Road: How I Finished My First Novel

It's always been my true and fervent belief that we all have at least one novel inside of us, waiting to be written.  But a few short years ago, I wasn't sure that my own novel would ever get finished.  After all, the roadblocks seemed high and wide: I never had time to write, I wasn't sure if what I was writing was any good, I was constantly starting projects and not finishing them.  And overshadowing all of these was the nagging fact that if by some miracle I actually did get my first book completed, I had no idea if I could ever get published.  And if my work wasn't published, how was I going to live with that disappointment?

Ultimately I realized that my love of writing was larger and more powerful than all the things that were stopping me from writing, and that if I wanted to reach my destination, I had to first be willing to set out on the journey.  Although there were many little jaunts in between, and more than a few rest stops, here are the five major steps I took on the road to completing Homesong, my first novel!

1) Decided to just finish it, and worry about publishing later.

I remember the day I had this epiphany: "A book that hasn't been written can't be published!"  In retrospect it seems very elementary, but hey, sometimes I'm downright obtuse about stuff like that!  Write first, worry about publishing second - ahh, the light dawns!

Simplistic though it may be, getting these priorities straight was extremely liberating for me.  So I set my first goal, which was just to get the darn thing done.  I decided that I would write the book that I most wanted to write, finish it, and to heck with whether or not anyone wanted to publish it!

2) Joined a writing group and went to my first writing conference.

Having decided that I wanted to finish my first book, my very next thought was that I had no idea how to go about doing that!  That was when I realized I needed the support of my fellow writers.  Soon afterward I saw a flier in Starbucks for a the Washington Independent Writers convention.  I joined the group (which has since become American Independent Writers) and attended the conference a few months later.

That first writing conference was a real eye opener.  I attended an agent's breakfast and actually had a chance to talk to a literary agent (a nerve-wracking experience until I realized how nice she was!), who said she was interested in seeing my work when it was finished.  I went to several lectures about the publishing industry and got a glimpse of what a kooky, cloistered, exciting field it can be.  I also realized that there were thousands of other writers in the DC Area; and far from seeing these folks as competition, I immediately felt more secure, because for artists, there's always safety in numbers!  And most of all, that conference was my introduction to Marita Golden.  That in and of itself made the whole thing worthwhile!

3) Attended Marita Golden's "I Want to Write" workshop.

A lot of you have probably heard me talk about Marita Golden before.  She's the bestselling author of over a dozen books.  She's also an extraordinarily gifted teacher.  After hearing Marita speak at the AIW conference, I knew that here was a person who could help me get where I wanted to go with my writing.  I took her workshop, "I Want to Write," and, well, WOW!  It's difficult for me to describe exactly how she did it, but the one thing I can say for sure is that Marita's workshop gave me the tools and emotional fortitude to really BE who I already was: a writer!

4) Found a writing buddy.

One thing that Marita stressed was the importance of having a good support system, especially in the form of a writing buddy(ies) and critique partner(s).  I was lucky enough to meet Kathryn Harris, my first writing buddy, at the workshop itself.  At her suggestion, we began to meet once a week until our novels were finished.  Without that collaboration, and the "enforced accountability" of having to give Kathy new chapters of my work every week, I might never have finished my first book! 

5) Wrote, wrote, wrote.

As I said above, having a critique partner really forced me to write steadily.  Sometimes I would write over my lunch hour, knowing that I would be in big trouble if I didn't have any pages to show my friend that night!  Writing is hard work, and you have to be willing to start out writing garbage, knowing that you can go back and clean it up later.  Usually I have to write three drafts before I settle on what I tell people is my "first draft."  And then I'll go through three or four revisions before settling on my "final draft," and even that one usually gets picked over quite a bit!

On the subject of writing and re-writing, there are two quotes that have helped me tremendously.  One is from Ernest Hemingway (although I've also heard it attributed to Oscar Wilde ): "The first draft of anything is sh*t."  And the other is from Nora Roberts: "You can't fix a blank page."  What does that tell me?  That even the cleverest and most prolific of writers agree that in order to write well, you must first write, period.  (And you can quote me on that, LOL!)

People sometimes ask me, "How long did it take to finish your first novel?"  I worked on Homesong off and on for about five years, which is not an uncommon lenghth of time.  The majority of the writing was done during the last year, when I was really pouring the coals on.  My second novel, Still Waters, is slightly shorter and took about two years to write. 

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Looking back on my journey from "Will I ever be able to finish this?" to "I'm a writer!" the thing that seems so remarkable is how one thing led to another.  It started (as does every journey) with the decision to do it.  That led to the realization that I needed a dependable route, and hopefully some good traveling companions.  One writing conference, one writing workshop, one writing buddy and a lot of plain old writing later, I finally reached my destination. 

So what about you?  Whether you've completed that first novel or not, what have you found helpful (or not so helpful) on your writing journey?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Two Exciting Announcements!



Wow, what a great day!  I have two exciting announcements to share with you!

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My short story, Sweet Inspiration, has been published online at ChickLitShorties.com!  I hope you'll check it out, give it a "Like," and even leave me a comment if you're so inclined!  Here's the link:

Sweet Inspiration on ChickLitShorties.com

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Okay, exciting announcment number two: Still Waters is launching early - this Friday, August 6! In honor of this, I will be posting a chapter from my book on Facebook every day for the next three days. I hope you'll enjoy reading them, and then I hope you'll join me for my online launch party, at 5:00 PM est on Friday.  So without further ado, here's the link to read Chapter One of Still Waters:

Still Waters - Chapter One on Facebook

Hope you'll join in the celebration!

Friday, July 30, 2010

You Learn Something New Every Day: Am I a Closet Sci-Fi Addict?

This comes under the heading of "a tongue-in-cheek look at my own psyche."  I've always stated (with perhaps too much emphasis) that I'm not "into" science fiction.  I mean, Star Wars was great, ET made me laugh and cry, and Avatar was a really fun way to spend 280 minutes.  But am I a sci-fi fan?  Until recently, the answer would have been no.

But then last week I joined 150,000 other people at the San Diego Comic-Con.  Just a few years ago, Comic-Con was a medium-sized convention for fans of comic books, graphic novels, and (to an extent), science fiction.  But it's exploded into a legitimate phenomena and mini film-festival, where celebrities of varying stature mingle with their adoring public.  It's still largely sci-fi-centric, but the boundries have expanded to include many things that are genre-defying and/or slightly off-kilter: Dexter, Nurse Jackie and Family Guy being three of them. 

The con was a really unique and fun experience (and yes, I do have pictures to post on Facebook!  This weekend, I promise!).  It was for the most part a cheerful crowd (isolated pen stabbings notwithstanding): all of us were bonded by the general atmosphere of festivity and the aching feet we developed while standing in line.  As I chatted with my fellow fun-lovers, I found myself repeating my firm stance that I wasn't a sci-fi fan.  And then something remarkable happened: I started listening to myself!  This is what I heard:

"I'm not really into sci-fi, but I love Battlestar Galactica."

"I'm not really into sci-fi, but I love Firefly."

"I'm not really into sci-fi, but I love Futurama."

Hmmm, am I crazy, or is there a pattern emerging?  Suddenly I realized that my professed indifference of the genre was just my way of "playing it cool," much like we used to do as kids when we didn't want someone to know that we "liked" them!

So after much inward-searching and contemplation, I have come to a remarkable conclusion: I am a fan of science fiction!  I mean, beam me up, Scotty, because I frackin' love that shiny sci-fi!  It's full-on double rainbow. I'm twirling my hair into Princess Leia buns right now! 

You know, the older I get, the more I have to learn -- especially about myself.  It makes me feel hopeful about the future, and very young at heart!

Have you ever had an experience like this, or am I the only one?