Friday, September 28, 2012

Nixing the Frozen Pizza

No, I don't have anything against a good Tombstone every now and then, but too much junk food can be the bane of a writer.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Over the Fence Marketing

The neighbors I've met in my new 'hood all seem relatively harmless. Actually, they're very friendly. I'm noticing a curious trend, however, when they ask me what I do as a profession and I answer, "I write historical fiction." So far, I'm four-for-four with the ol' deer-in-the-headlights look. 

What's up with that?

My hunch is that people don't know how to categorize fiction authors. It's hard to know if a writer (especially one who makes things up) should be put in the lunatic slot, the whoa-they-must-know-more-than-me box, or the that's-not-a-job division.

No worries, though. I take it as an opportunity. While their jaws hang open, I fill up the awkward silence with a plug for fiction in general. I figure if I can increase book sales overall, it floats the boat of every author.

Now I realize that not everyone has made a recent move and can use this type of situation to their advantage, but there are still things you can do promote reading...

  • With the holidays around the corner, buy books as gifts. And birthdays are year round so shop your little heart out.
  • If you have the time, volunteer to read aloud at a local library for children's story hour. Raising up a new generation of readers is a privilege not to be ignored.
  • At the opposite end of the spectrum, I've never known a nursing home that would turn down readings, either.
  • Extra books lying around the house? Dust 'em off and share the love. Donate, donate, donate.
  • Model reading yourself. Park yourself in a lawn chair next time you have a few spare minutes and let the world see what you do with your free time.

And these are just a few ideas that I hope will spark a few more. If we as writers can increase the desire for reading in the general public, the demand will benefit us all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Crazy. Amazing. Wow.

God's fingerprints have been all over my recent move...

  • The house we bought had been sold 3 times in a row and each deal fell through at the last minute, leaving it available for us. Crazy!
  • Our old house went on the market on a Friday night and we had 2 offers by Sunday. In this economy. In this housing market. Amazing!
  • The city tagged the fireplace on our old house, with only 2 weeks left to go until we close. Today God brought us a company that can install a new one next Tuesday for the exact amount we have left in our home equity loan. Wow!

All that to say, God is evidently in control, for the evidence is overwhelming. And not just with housing situations, but writing as well. He is able and willing and delighted to pave the way for you to be published when He decides. Nothing will stop Him. He will accomplish His will for your good and His glory.

In the mean time, keep writing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Critiquing 101

Writers need to be critiquers. It's just part of the package deal...says so in the fine print. But how, exactly does one critique someone else's work other than to say "Nice work" or "This stinks?"

When I sit down to critique one of my writing buddy's WIP's, here are the things I look for.

  • The obvious: spelling and grammar
  • Purple Prose
  • Pet Words
  • Plot flow - does the story logically make sense?
  • Point of view glitches
  • Cliffhangers - is there a reason to keep reading at the end of each scene?
  • Overkill on description - the action must keep moving forward
  • Overkill on backstory - too much at once is a deal breaker

There you have it...your own handy dandy checklist of items to look for next time you comb through a manuscript.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Horn Tooting

Woo-hoo! It was a banner weekend at the ACFW Conference in Dallas--even if I didn't get to go. Some of my best writerly buddies snagged some contracts. Plus there were the Carol Awards. So put your paws together and congratulate...

Finally, finally, finally not one but two publishers sat up and took notice of my crit partner Ane the Butcher. She's got a 2 contract deal with Oak Tara. Yee-haw! And just might have another 3 book deal on the hook, but more on that later.
Again, it's about time the publishing industry noticed this stellar little author! Shannon signed with Barbour for a historical Christmas novella. You'll want to buy this one as soon as it comes out!

And last, but not least, here is a list of the Carol Award winners (books you might want to pick up and put on your TBR pile):

Debut Novel:
Fairer Than Morning  by Rosslyn Elliott (Thomas Nelson)

Long Contemporary:
The Search by Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell)

Long Contemporary Romance:        
My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren (Tyndale)

Long Historical:
Fairer Than Morning  by Rosslyn Elliott (Thomas Nelson)

Long Historical Romance:
To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House Publishers)

Falling to Pieces: A Shipshewana Amish Mystery by Vannetta Chapman (Zondervan)

An Accidental Christmas from A Biltmore Christmas by Diane T. Ashley/Aaron McCarver (Barbour Publishing)

Romantic Suspense:
Lonestar Angel by Colleen Coble (Thomas Nelson)

Short Contemporary:
Lakeside Reunion by Lisa Jordan (Love Inspired)

Short Contemporary Suspense:
Nightwatch by Valerie Hansen (Love Inspired Suspense)

Short Historical:
The Deepest Waters by Dan Walsh (Revell)

Speculative Fiction:
Broken Sight by Steve Rzasa (Marcher Lord Press)

Fallen Angel by Major Jeff Struecker/Alton Gansky (B & H Fiction)

Women’s Fiction:
Dandelion Summer by Lisa Wingate (Penguin Praise/Berkley)

Young Adult:
The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson (Zondervan)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Perfect Pitch

Pitching isn't just for conferences. Why not practice at home? See how it's done right here and on these fine blogs:  Heather Day Gilbert and Gwendolyn Gage.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Housebreaking Your Manuscript

Personally, I'm a dog person. Cats...not so much, or rather, not at all. I grew up with a possessed demon of a feline. 

Generally, most people fall into either the kitty or puppy camp, but for the rare few, I'll include bunnies, birdies, and Cuban rock iguanas. Whatever your choice of little beastie is, there's just no getting around the fact that people love their pets.

And writers love their pet wordsWhat in the world am I talking about? 

The overuse of certain words. 

For most writers, this is a subconscious kind of nervous tick. You don't even realize you've typed the word 'niggle' fifty-two times in one chapter. But your reader will pick up on it after the second or third time and likely fling your book across the room. As a writer, it's your job to find unique ways to express yourself. Newsflash: 52 niggles is NOT unique.

So, what's a writer to do? This is where your critique buddies come in handy. A good critter will sniff out your pet words so you can go back and clean up the doo-doo. When you're all finished, you'll have a sparkly manuscript that'll make editors sit up and beg.

Oh yeah, and don't forget to throw your critters a bone every now and then. Chocolate is preferable.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How Much Purple is on Your Palette?

Fun fact: Purple is my favorite color...except when it comes to prose. Just to be clear, here's a definition.
PURPLE PROSE: Prose that is too elaborate or ornate
And lest you're wondering what exactly prose is...
PROSE: The ordinary form of spoken or written language, without metrical structure, as distinguished from poetry or verse.
Now that we've got that squared away, let's get down to detail. I like big words as much as the next guy, but too many in a row and a reader's mental tongue will get tied. Plus they're seriously not going to look up those vocab words even --or especially-- if you think you're providing a cheap education. Multi-syllabic words are fantastic for academia. Not so much for fiction.

And while I'm at it, let's talk about the overuse of out-of-the-ordinary words. If you choose to  write things you wouldn't normally say, it's going to stick out to a reader. Now and then it's a great idea to shock and awe, but overdoing it makes everyone involved in set down the book and maybe never pick it up kind of tired.

All that being said, allow me a disclaimer: I am not advocating dumbing down your writing. I'm just saying spread out those fifty-dollar words and unique turns of phrases so that you'll endear yourself to your reader instead of frustrate them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Instead of Moping

I moved in lieu of going to the ACFW Conference (American Christian Fiction Writers) this year. Word of advice...if you're ever faced with that same choice, run--don't walk--to the conference! So here I sit, unpacking box after box in search of my toothbrush, happy with the new house but wishing I could've somehow made it to Dallas. I'm sure I'm not the only one at home without a date on Saturday night, which got me to thinking about...

Things To Do When You're Not at the Conference

  • Brainstorm a new story idea. Who knows...maybe you'll get to pitch it next year.
  • Polish up the manuscript you're currently working on. If you're engrossed in your story, you won't have time to think about all the fun you're missing at the conference.
  • Call up a writer buddy who didn't get to go either and practice pitching to each other just for the heck of it.
  • Splurge on a new craft book. My top 3 suggestions? Plot vs Character by Jeff Gerke, The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderman, Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon.
  • Watch the live blog post in real time of the Gala Awards Ceremony here
  • Eat chocolate. Heck. Even if you're going to the conference, this is a good idea.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Survival Mode

So here I am at the coffee shop. Bad news: the internet at my new house isn't hooked up yet. Good news: I found the box with my underwear in it. Next time I decide to move, somebody slap me upside the head. Seriously.

The whole moving experience is going to be a great help, however, next time I write about a character who's exhausted. I pushed myself beyond the limits of human strength--leastwise for a fifty-year-old woman. Who'd have known that even eyelashes can hurt when you're super tired?

So my plan for basic writerly survival over the next several months is to run away from home for a few hours, 3 or 4 days a week, and use that time to begin a new manuscript...even if the internet starts to work.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Writer's Thoughts on Moving

Tomorrow is the big day. What's running through my head the day before before the big move?


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Any Sci Fi or Fantasy Author Wannabees Out There?

Here's your big chance, people! HarperCollins...yes, that one, the big whoppin', world-renowned publisher...has an opportunity that's pretty amazing. Their sci fi/fantasy imprint, Harper Voyager, will accept complete UNAGENTED manuscripts for 2 weeks beginning October 1st.

All the details you need to submit are here. They are looking for adult and young adult speculative fiction, particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural genres. 

Dang. Wish I had another time travel to wing their way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gritty or Fluffy?

Recently I found out that a writer buddy of mine signed yet another contract. Am I jealous? Sure. Who wouldn't be? But not green-eyed, sit-in-the-corner-and-suck-my-thumb kind of jealous. More like wish-it-were-me kind of envy.

Here's the kicker, though...the stories this author writes are sweet and all, but nothing that makes me sit on the edge of my seat and beg for more. Those are the kinds of books I like to read. Those are the kinds of books I thought everyone liked to read. Where exactly did my thought process derail?
Escapism..."The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy."
When one engages in escapism, there is a fork in the road that a reader must choose to follow. In my case, I pick up a book in which the protag's situation is worse than mine, making me feel better about the chaos of my own life. This, however, is the road less taken.

Most readers grab a book off the shelf in which the storyline is better than their life, taking them to a less stressful setting. I'm not saying this is wrong. I'm simply saying this isn't how I roll.

How about you? When you're reading for relaxation, do you go for gritty or fluffy?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What Did You Get On Your Report Card?

Every weekday I hang out here at Writer Off the Leash for at least a little while in the morning, writing a new blog entry or shooting a vlog. It's great fun. Made me wonder, though, how bad my author website might be languishing.

So I came across a cool site that tells you exactly how your site is doing in terms of marketing and such. It's called HubSpot. All you do is enter your website and it gives you a grade somewhere between 1 and 100. You can even compare your site to your buddy's or to other websites. 

And you know what? My suspicions were correct. My author site scored a pathetic 54 while this blog earned a 70.

Go ahead. Give it a whirl. Can you beat my grade?

Monday, September 10, 2012

I Hate That Guy: Making Likable Characters

I love sarcasm. Give me a character who's snappy and snippy with their dialogue and bam...instant like fest as far as I'm concerned. So it surprises me when my snarky characters aren't always well loved. What's the deal?

Well...apparently I'm in the minority. Surprisingly, sarcasm doesn't head the list of likable traits, which  can work against me in making my characters likable.

So I went on a google search to find the top 3 ingredients that should go into a blue-ribbon recipe for creating an endearing character. 

Admirable motivations. 
Even if your protag resorts to doing something naughty, give them an empathetic reason for doing so.

Show them capable of love.
No matter how self-centered your character may be, how vile or criminally minded, the teddy bear factor must be present. Give them a pet, a younger sibling, or something else cute and cuddly to love. 

Vulnerable vs Capable
Too much vulnerability makes your character a wuss. Over the top confidence labels them as snooty. The ironic thing is that you should have a blend of both in your protag.

Interesting side note: while I searched on how to create likable characters, I came across a book that's been recommended to me several times and one I intend to purchase. Save the Cat! is really a book about how to write screenplays but one that every fiction writer should have on their shelf--especially if you struggle with connecting with your reader. And honestly, who doesn't?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bean Counting

A visual tutorial on the money and time involved in a writing a novel.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why is Writing a Synopsis so Hard?

"A synopsis is a cold thing. You do it with the front of your mind."
~ J.B. Priestley

Is it only me or do you break out in a cold sweat just thinking about having to write a synopsis? I can write novels. I can write devotionals. I can even whip out a mean shopping list. But writing the dreaded synopsis brings out the idiot in me. Perhaps, indeed, I have lost the front half of my brain somewhere along the way.

So what's my problem? Am I giving this too much importance? Am I trying to fit in too much information? Has there not been enough dark chocolate in my diet of late?

Regardless of reasons, there's no getting around the fact that I must polish up my synopsis in order to sell my finished manuscript. After toodling around the ol' internet for awhile, I came up with the top "3 Should Haves" in a great manuscript summary. 

Introduce your main characters, focusing most on goals, motivations and conflicts rather than on physical attributes. 
Hint: Think back cover copy.
Example: It takes a thief to catch one, and there's none better than reformed officer (MOTIVATION) Doug Harwell. He'll stop at nothing to rid the Boston streets of crime (GOAL)--until the beautiful cat burglar Rhianna Davis enters his life (CONFLICT).

For the body of the synopsis, set up each paragraph with the actions, reactions, and decisions made by those main characters.
Example: Bob kisses Donna under the apple tree (ACTION).
He makes her forget she's already engaged to Bubba (REACTION).
Donna decides to break off her engagement and run away to join the circus instead (DECISION).

Tie up the loose ends.
Never, ever leave an editor guessing. Cliffhangers are great for chapter endings, but not for a synopsis finale. You must include the resolution to your story.

There you have it. Pretty simple right? Yeah. About as simple as buying a house, selling a house, and moving all within the space of a month. But hey, if I can do that, this should be a piece of cake.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Moving is chaos. I've been pitching stuff left and right just to lighten the load. And every time I set out a pile of stuff at the end of my driveway with a big ol' "Free" sign on it, someone always takes it. It's magical, really.

For those of you who would like to score some freebies and can't quite make it all the way to my driveway, never fear. I've found a few sites where you can net some treasures for nothing.

For those of you who like to hear your stories read to you at bedtime, I discovered a link that tells you exactly how to download audiobooks. Okay, so really my hubby shared the link with me (thanks sweetie!). Check out Lifehacker's great advice to find this secret cache.

But if ebooks are really more your thing and your Kindle or Nook is woefully shy of being filled up, here's another great Lifehacker info post on where to pick up some sweet freebies.

Fall will be here before you know it. Might as well curl up with a new free book, eh? As for me...back to packing and pitching.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Drum Roll, Please

I started this blog the end of last October with the intention of chronicling my journey from start to finish on a novel. October was my thinking month. November was NANOWRIMO, when I began writing. Then it was hit and miss as to when I could grab writing time throughout the rest of the year. I'd hoped to finish it in 9 months, just like a 'real' baby. But alas. The dang thing was late.

Just like a real baby.

But I pressed on, persevered, and over the weekend...this is where the drum roll comes in...I FINISHED BRENTWOOD'S WARD! Ta-da! It took me 10 months, 11 if you count my thinking month, but hey, I finished in less than a year. That's a personal best. Here's a blurb:

There's none better than NICHOLAS BRENTWOOD at catching the felons who ravage Regency London's streets, and there's nothing he loves more than seeing justice carried out--but this time he's met his match. EMILY PAYNE is more treacherous than a city full of miscreants and thugs, for she's a thief of the highest order...she's stolen his heart.

So now that the manuscript is finished, what's the next step?

I've had 3 of my best crit buddies providing me feedback on each chapter as I wrote, but now that it's in one complete package, I've shipped it off to 2 of my other best crit buddies who will read and comment on it as a whole. While they're busy with that, I'll polish up the synopsis (which I rarely stick to). When I do get their crits back, I'll apply and send it off to my agent.

Then can I put up my feet and relax? 

Nope. I'll be too busy starting the second book in my Bow Street Runners series.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Holiday Ponderings

Who was in charge of picking the name for Labor Day? Shouldn't it be more like Rest Day? Other than emergency personnel, I don't know anyone who's not grilling up some brats or kicking back on the patio today. So I googled the history of this yearly event just to find out what it's about. Here's the scoop:

"Labor Day is always the first Monday in September. It's a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."
Taken from the Department of Labor

So for all you hard working writers out there, apparently this is the day to party. Grab your ice tea, toss a little umbrella in the glass, and park your rear in a lawn chair.

And don't forget to bring your pen and paper in case a fabulous plot twist pops into your head.

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