Archive for May, 2012

Thursday, May 31st, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
Everything At Once

This is one of those weeks. You know the ones. All the work piles up and somehow, despite careful planning and ruthlessly guarding the calendar, everything converges and lands on the same few days. In my case it’s a deadline for one book, copyedits for another, a commitment to go to a friend’s booksigning for a few hours and a flight for a weekend readers conference. That’s a lot of stuff to happen at one time. Add in family stuff, the usual errands and few extras, including packing for the trip, and you get a Perfect Storm of crap.

That’s where I am. It will be fine because, somehow, it always is. But right now it’s all very daunting. Probably has something to do with the limited sleep and the lack of sunshine thanks to being trapped inside.

When I’m interviewed about writing or people ask me about the one thing I wish I’d known before I sold, I always think of moments like these. When you sell a book you have some idea about scheduling issues and deadlines and expectations and reviews. I don’t think you really understand how working on one book means others are in the pipeline and demand attention for copyediting and other parts of the process. I know I didn’t. I got the basics but didn’t get the “everything is happening on the same week!” thing. I also didn’t realize that it would always be this way.

It’s fine. I’m not complaining and wouldn’t change anything. But if someone could figure out how to add six or seven hours to each day from now until the end of the year I would be really grateful.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
How Should Authors Handle Book Reviews?

My first book came out in 1991.  Over 50 books later I’m still kicking and fighting as an author.  My very first review ever, on my first book, in the NY Times was overall positive but said:  “Fans of thrillers will love it, but characters right out of action comics.”  My editor thought that was great.  I don’t think the last part was very positive.  And it was accurate.

Then along came Amazon.  Originally, in days of yore, when men were men, and the sheep ran scared, anyone could post a review on Amazon anonymously.  You should have seen the bloodletting.  And, of course, I read them.  At least now you have to buy something (not necessarily the book you’re reviewing) to have the opportunity to review.

An author can get 99 “attaboys” but one “aw-shit” would sink me into a funk.  Same with emails from readers.  Honestly, 99% of readers who email are really nice.  But every once in a while you get the “Your book sucked so much I burned it.”  Same effect.

I don’t mind constructive criticism.  You should see the mss critique letter I got from Elizabeth George.  She sent it like this:  an open letter saying a bunch of stuff, then a sealed envelope.  At the bottom of the letter she said ‘open the letter if you really want to know’.  I opened it.  There was blood on the walls, but damn if that book isn’t pulling together solidly.

So I learned.  A lot.

Also, reviews can help you find problems with formatting, editing, etc.  No matter how much we try, things do slip through the cracks.

Now, I don’t read Amazon reviews other than to check to see if anyone has problems with formatting of eBooks, because that can happen and we immediately want to get in contact with that reader if we can and correct any problems, so we’ll post a comment on the review letting them know that.

With emails, when I open one and it starts getting nasty I do two things now:  I instantly hit delete and I smile.  Because, as I teach in Write It Forward, anger is an indicator.  Of something for the person who is angry.  So they must have really gotten into the book to get so angry.  I’d actually rather have an angry reader than an apathetic reader.  I read Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile recently and it really bothered me a lot.  I initially said I didn’t like it.  Then I had it pointed out to me why I didn’t like it and it was because it said something to me that was bothersome to hear.  Great book.

Here’s what I’ve learned I can’t do with reviews:  respond.  Bad, bad idea.  You can’t change someone’s mind.  Let it go.  Responding can start something that the writer can only lose.



Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 by Sasha White
In the pocket.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the best writers group/organization I’ve ever belonged to is Romance Divas. It’s not really an organization, or even a group. It’s truly a community of writers of all levels from NYT Bestsellers to those who have yet to write finish their first story, and everyone is there for everyone.
It’s about more than the business of writing, or the craft. It’s about those things, but it’s also about being there for each other, sharing and cheering, commiserating and venting as well.

On the weekend one author posted a little story about how she started out. How she subbed and subbed to agents and editors and kept getting rejections, but they were all those ones that say things like “I love it, but it’s not for me.” Or “I really enjoyed it, but it’s not right for us at this time.” Y’know, things like that. Anyway,she then talked about how she was going to quit writing, give up. But she couldn’t. So when she started writing again, she really thought about what her strengths were, and building form there instead of concentrating on what what selling, or what others were doing. And of course she found the success she’d been looking for.

This reminded me of one of the NightOwl workshops I’d done at the 2010 Ninc conference and how great I felt after that workshop, so I tried it again. I emailed some friends and said “Hey, do me a favor and tell me what you think my strengths as a writer are.”

Everyone had the same answer. My strength is writing well developed, realistic characters, realistic situations, and great sex scenes. I’m not going to share what they said my weaknesses are, because they hit that on the head and I feel exposed.:oops:

What they said about strengths is what I also thought of as my own strengths, so no real surprises there. Which was both nice, and a bit disappointing. (Yes, weird I know.LOL ) Strangely enough, a couple of them also touched on one of my own secret desires in my writing. Again I’m not going to say what it is is just yet, but hopefully someday I’ll be able to shout if out as a success. The best thing about being reassured of what my strengths are is that those strengths can be easily applied to any genre or sub-genre I want to explore.

Now, on The Voice (Australia) last night I watched while Seal coached one of his singers and he was talking about helping that singer “find your pocket”, as in your niche, and your comfort zone where you feel strong, and are strong. I liked this.

You see, I’d always assumed that erotic fiction was my “pocket”, but like all creative people I often find myself wanting to stretch beyond the limits of that pocket. It was a comfort to get the reinforcement on what my strengths are from others because now I look at them, and think “Yes!” Because my pocket is creating well developed realistic characters, situations, and great sex scenes and that means I can pretty much write in any genre or sub-genre I want, and still be in that pocket.

Make sense?

Of course if I were to write thrillers the great sex scenes wouldn’t be needed as much as they are when I wrote erotic. If I choose to delve deeper into paranormal then maybe I don’t want my situations to be as realistic as they are in contemporaries, but that’s okay. Because all those elements can be flipped around, and used in different ratios, and I’d still be in that pocket. Especially when, in my opinion, the well developed characters is the most important element.

So I’m wondering, how many of you have really sat down and thought about what your strengths are? Have you asked critique partners or readers what they thought your strengths were…and were the answers the same?

If you haven’t done this, I say give it a try. I found it a comfort, and you might to…. you also might be surprised. 😉

Monday, May 28th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
A Question on Queries

Taking a page from the Ken Scholes book, I went to Facebook to get requests for what I should talk about, and Jill Corddry asked about query letters.  “Is it more important to try to please an agent with a query letter tailored to them or to express who you are/the book is? Because it seems a lot of agents are very particular about what they want! (and any other tips about querying you want to share with hopeful authors!)”

Having spent time at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference last month, I know this is a topic of great agony for upcoming writers.  So let’s see what I can do to help.  A warning:  my advice on this is getting to be about ten years old, and as quickly as the field is changing, this may not be the best advice out there.  But here goes:

When directing a query letter to a specific agent, you should really only pay attention to two things:  the kinds of books that agent represents, and what sort of writing sample they’ve requested and how they want it sent — chapters, full manuscript, synopsis, snail mail, e-mail as an attachment, etc.  If they haven’t specified, just start with the query letter.   These are both check mark type things, and once you’ve fulfilled the two requirements of A) sending queries to agents who actually represent the kind of book you’ve written, and B) making sure you’ve sent what the agent has asked for and how they asked for it, don’t worry about any tailoring beyond that.

Focus on the book.  Not yourself, unless you’re a former veterinarian who is now writing veterinarian romance.  Just the book.  The hardest part of the query letter is selling your book in one paragraph.  I like to think of it as writing your own back cover blurb.  Strip it down to essentials — and not just essentials, but the essentials that will hook a reader, and make your book stand out while simultaneously making it sound marketable.  (I posted my Kitty and The Midnight Hour query letter a while back, just to give you an example of a query letter that worked at least once.)

My advice beyond that is:  don’t sweat it.  Really, don’t.  At the conference I met writers who’d spent weeks and months preparing their log lines and pitches and what not.  I just kept thinking — shouldn’t you be writing?  Seriously, don’t take too much time away from your writing to work on this stuff.  Spend a few hours on it, run it by a couple of people for feedback, then just go.  Listen to the Avengers.

Saturday, May 26th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Road Closed: When Writer’s Block Takes Out the Bridge, Part 1

Howdy folks!  Happy Saturday!

I’ve talked a bit about my experience with writer’s block in the past and at point I said I’d do a series on it.  Well, no time like the present.  We’ll probably meander along — I think I’m taking a break this summer and bringing on a guest blogger and I’ll be doing the theme weeks, of course.  But we’ll get through it.  Right now, I’m not exactly sure how long it’s going to be.

Today, we’ll just talk about the experience itself.  My experience, that is.

I’ve heard writers say that there’s no such thing as writer’s block.  I even heard one writer say that writer’s block was just writer’s laziness.  Bullshit.  Not everyone has experienced it, I’m sure, but it does happen.  It’s enough of an experience in this line of work that you can trace it back across history.  Now, I do think there are lots of different things that seem to stall writers at various stages in their creative process.  But I’ve been blocked and it’s a pretty awful feeling.

When I came back to writing in 1997, I was going like gangbusters.  And my output was pretty high until 2001, when my stepfather died, I went through a divorce, left my position with a nonprofit in Seattle and went to SW Washington to take care of my Mom’s property when she moved north.  I spent 8 months looking for work and during that time — and during the first six months of my new job, I did not write.  I started a few pieces here and there but found myself stuck.  In that instance, I didn’t try too hard.  I didn’t have to — I had only sold three short stories at that point.  I wasn’t under contract.  I wasn’t making any significant money from my writing.

But the next block — the next significant block — was when my twins were born.  I finished Antiphon the week they were in the hospital and then didn’t write for nine months.  That newborn twin exhaustion was quickly eclipsed by the PTSD but this time, I kept trying, kept pushing.  I was under contract and needed to start Requiem.  I’m right at the tail end of it now and it’s been over two years in the writing.   And I had other projects I was on the hook for — “A Symmetry of Serpents and Doves” for the Metatropolis sequel and a Dungeons and Dragons story for Wizards of the Coast.  These were also under contract with advances paid.  There were other stories requested of me that I wasn’t under contract for.  I struggled to write, floundered, lost my way and gave up.  I ground out the two pieces I had to and wrote the first five chapters of Requiem.  And then stalled out again.

It was so bad one point that just sitting down to the laptop and opening the file would cause a panic attack.  I’d never had those before.  You think in that moment that you’re going crazy.  And that was the worst of it.  It was a product of the PTSD and the performance anxiety I was creating for myself.  Once I went to Chicago for Dr. Lipov’s SGB, I found those symptoms subsided and I just had nothing to write.  I could sit and stare at the screen.  Re-read what I’d written.  Nothing.  I try stuff.  I’d research stuff.  I’d try more stuff.  And eventually, the tires spun me out of the mud and I was moving again, slowly.  After eight — eight! — failed attempts to write K.C. Ball a piece of flash fiction, I finally finished one out at the coast for the Cascade Writer’s Workshop last summer.  I was unstuck and back into Requiem by August.  Until the next bad stretch — like when Jen’s grandma and father died in October.

It’s been a series of fits and starts for almost three years  And even before that, really, because this started when my mom died in 2007.   Before that — I’d had four solid years of production.  Years when I could just call down the words whenever I wanted them, even announce the wordcount before writing the story.  And then nothing worked anymore.  It’s like knowing exactly how to drive, then sitting down in the car and not being able to figure out how to start it, put it in reverse, back into the street.

Those are the extreme cases in my life.  There are also some of the normal bits — like, it’s not writer’s block if you can’t write the week after a convention…it’s exhaustion.  Especially if you’re an introvert.

And other people have their stories, too.  It’s been talked about for a long, long time.  And it can be worked through.  So we’re going to spend some time exploring some of the causes and some of the cures.

Meanwhile, have you ever been blocked?  What was it like for you?


Friday, May 25th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Romance Structure and Romantic Moments

Sorry to go AWOL last week; between the Nebula Awards and family visits and deadlines and book releases, I was afraid something was going to slip through the cracks, and it ended up being my blog post. Mea Culpa.

While at the Nebulas, I met a writer who’d recently gotten his first pro credit. We ended up getting into a discussion about the different traditions of genre fiction, and how the community of science fiction writers has a tradition of encouraging newbies to start with short stories, even if that’s not their natural strength, while the community of romance writers seems to have a tradition of starting with Harlequin categories. I myself wrote four Harlequin category romance manuscripts before cottoning to the fact that I was a good writer, but not well suited to that format. I was describing to him the guidelines of the various Harlequin category lines, how one was geared toward romantic suspense and another toward small town stories and a third toward glamorous international locals and Greek billionaires and sheiks.

This week, I got an email (excerpted below):

For those of us that are less-than-skilled at building romantic tension in our work, do you have any pointers where to go to polish that aspect of our writing? I thought I understood you to say that specific Romance publishers offer very detailed templates listing exactly what they wanted. I have been looking a little but not finding such things.

I don’t want to write a Romance novel though, (at least I don’t think so not yet anyway). I am writing short stories. But I do get feedback that the relationships my characters get into need work. Is there even a category of Romance short story? What is the pace for those: first smoky glance, page one; first argument, page two, first kiss, page five; first XXX page ten, breakup page twelve, make up at page twenty?

I am not trying to be flip, I really do think I have bad instincts on this stuff and more than half of all readers are women, in genre fiction too. So an inept touch with this stuff might genuinely be holding me back.

I absolutely believe him that he’s honestly curious. But those of us who have spent any time at all in the trenches of the romance genre are going to cringe a little when any question starts hinting around at the dreaded F-word: Formula. “Formula” is a stick that people who look down on romance novels like to beat them with.

(One wonders how often sonnet writers are told that they’re just writing to “formula.”)

Yes, romance novels follow a structure (like the aforementioned sonnets). So do mysteries, thrillers, adventure stories, quest fantasies… and there are lots of places to go to get tips on the structure (here are a few of my favorites). Publishing guidelines, however, are not going to be one of them (they focus more on word length, tone/setting preferences, and other marketing limitations). And, the dirty little secret is, structure is structure is structure.

But all the structure in the world is not going to necessarily make your romance believable, it’s not going to make your readers root for your characters to get together (‘ship, in the fandom parlance), or sigh when and if they do. All you have to do is look at any one of a dozen lackluster romantic comedy films to see that. The structure may be impeccable, but no one is actually rooting for Katherine Heigl or whoever to finish her inexplicable dash through the city to find her supposedly true love that we don’t actually believe she’s really in love with. Or vice versa.

We have to believe the characters are in love. And what makes us believe it is as different every time as the characters and the situations they find themselves in. Sometimes, it takes very little for me, as a reader, to understand that the characters are perfect together. Sometimes, it takes some serious convincing. It could be a shared experience, or a tender moment, or a bit of witty repartee, or a grand sacrifice, or yes, even a chase through the streets (the one in When Harry Met Sally worked for me, YMMV.)

And what all these things are is moments. Moments where the characters (and, by extension, the reader) step back from everything else and just bask in the romance — the potential, the realization, the reality. Moments like:

  • The haughty Mr. Darcy going out of his way to be nice and gentlemanly to Lizzie’s middle-class family members (her uncle is — gasp! — in trade) when they show up unexpectedly at his country mansion. (Also, when she realizes through her silly sister’s slip up that the reason he vanished on her was so he could go track down the aforementioned runaway sister and save her family reputation.)
  • When Han and Leia are alone in the engine room of the Millenium Falcon and all of Leia’s blustery sarcasm falls aside and is revealed for the defense mechanism it is.
  • When Kyle and Sarah Connor finally have a few minutes alone in the hotel room and he tells her the story about John giving him the picture of her and they both start to realize this thing may be bigger than they’d thought.
  • The Tramp noses a meatball in Lady’s direction. (It can be very simple, folks!)
  • The entire opening sequence of UP. Keep tissues handy..

It’s the moments that add up to us believing that characters are truly in love — whether those moments are big or small. What are some of your favorites?

Thursday, May 24th, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
Just Enough Information

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard bestselling authors Ann Patchet and Erik Larson speak. Both were charmning and interesting. There was something about Larson that when he spoke I wanted to run out and buy all of his books, even though I already have them. Hearing authors talk, getting that small peek into their private lives is interesting. There are some folks who overshare. You know the ones. They blog about their sex lives or in the heat of some sort of manic episode. I don’t go to those blogs because that’s too much for me. I still need some mystery, I guess. But the small peeks? The small bits, the human moments, when I can can connect on another level? I love those.

I had one of those moments the other day. I was reading an interview with bestselling Jane Porter in the RWR, the magazine of RWA. If you don’t know Porter, she wrote a book called Flirting With Forty that was made into a tv movie and seems to mirror what happened in her personal life – go to Hawaii, fall for guy there, get your groove back post-divorce. But Porter is really honest about her life versus the fiction:

Jane Porter’s real story is pretty damn gritty and has a lot of brutality and suffering and tragedy, and no one wants that. Not even me. So I present to the world the Jane with great hair and a nice smile because I don’t believe in making excuses, and I want to take negatives and turn them into postivies; if I let my past color my future, then “the bad guys” won. And the bad guys aren’t going to win. So when confronted by adversity, I roar now and fight and insist that I – like all women – have a right to love and happiness and being who and what I want to be.

It’s a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain. I totally understand why she wants to keep her private life private. I have never had to deal with brutality, but I do like privacy. For the most part, I want all authors to value privacy because the line between having insight and having too much information about a person can be very thin. But this is a time where that tiny bit of information makes me admire her even more.