Friday, January 31, 2014

Fun Friday Art Museum

Come along on a visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tidbit Thursday: Editing

Most often I love editing. I'm at that stage in the writing game now where I get to play around with words already typed in my cozy mystery manuscript. Mostly, I love it.


The hardest part about editing is when one of your critique partners calls your writing onto the carpet, then belly slams it like a sumo wrestler, knocking the wind out of you. Sometimes that's hard to take.

But even worse is the sickening feeling that you know your critter is correct.

Case in point: there is romance intertwined with my mystery, and there's one chapter in particular where the romance takes center stage. Should it? It's a mystery, after all, not a freaking Fabio-covered bodice ripper.

The thing is, though, that this romantic thread involves the detective in a big way, so yes, it is essential to the story, as is the character building garden scene where love blossoms. But (and I've always got a big but) doggone it, my critiquer is correct. As important as this chapter is, it outshines the mystery. What to do?

Easy part - slash and burn all the nonessential prose in the love department. Tighten that scene up so that it'll look fantastic in some Spandex.

Hard part - intersperse in that garden romance a new scene, written from the perspective of the two women in the kitchen who are the snoopers trying to solve the mystery. The trick is getting the additional new part to flow seamlessly with what's already there.

Oh yeah, and did I mention I need to have the entire manuscript polished by this weekend to ship off to a prospective publisher that requested it?

Then just for fun toss in that I'm moving out my 92 year old mom into a senior housing unit this Saturday? And my daughter is getting married in 38 days?

Writing isn't for the weak of heart.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Top 3 Ways To Surprise A Reader

I am a jaded reader. I've devoured so many books over so many years that it's getting harder to find make-me-want-to-weep writing. The best books -- those that earn a home on my bookshelves -- are those that surprise me. So, the real question is...

How does a writer go about surprising a reader?

1. Make the reader experience common events or objects in a new way.
Nothing delights a reader more than seeing something mundane spiffed up and sparkled into a "Wow! I never thought about it like that before." I like to call it the ol' Cinderella effect. Make connections that aren't used in everyday dialogue.

Example? He smiled, his teeth looking as if they'd been dipped in mouse-colored velvet. That's way more effective than saying the dude had rotten teeth, right?

2. Expose a negative emotion in a perspective that brings hope.
Everyone on the planet deals with ugly experiences. Everyone's got nasty emotions hiding under rocks that they'd rather not look at. It's called being human. But that doesn't mean a writer can't cast a ray of sunshine into a dark corner and say, "Hey! It's not the end of the world."

Example? Depression doesn't always have to be seen as a black pit of hopeless despair. In fact, some of the best hymns of all time were written by men while living in the dark night of the soul, such as William Cowper. Here are a few lines from God Moves in a Mysterious Way:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread 
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
3. Weave seemingly unrelated plot threads into the fabric of the tale, revealing an eye-popping tapestry of story by the end.
Readers want to be part of the story, and the best way to accomplish that is by including them in figuring out the plot. Don't hand it to them on a silver platter, spelling out backstory and details until they run screaming the other way. Gratify them with twists and turns that they don't see coming.

Example? Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Wow. The cast of characters is enormous, yet he ties them all together in jaw-dropping style. The thing is, though, that he doesn't do it all at once. He doles out hints and clues, like breadcrumbs along the way.

Incorporate these 3 tips into your next story and who knows? Your novel just might land on my shelf.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Does Intelligence Equal Creativity?

I've misplaced my smarty pants. Spring cleaning is just around the corner, so they'll probably surface when I purge out my closet, but until then, how in the world will I work on the next great American novel? Don't I have to be smart to be creative?

Not necessarily.

The key to creativity is using the intellect you have--smarty pants or not--to produce ideas. There are 3 ways to go about this. . .

#1. Live a little.
Expose yourself to as many different experiences in life as possible. No, I'm not handing you a credit card to charge your way to renowned world traveler. I'm just saying attend that free workshop on American Sign Language. Engage in the introductory Krav Maga lesson. Taste that sample of aged camel milk cheese at the co-op.

"A mind that can find connections between the seemingly unconnected can access its vast network of ideas and impressions and detect even faint links that can then be amplified to recognize a broader significance, if such a significance exists. Insight may seem to come from nowhere, but really, it comes from somewhere quite specific: from the [brain] attic and the processing that has been taking place while you've been busy doing other things."
~ Maria Konnikova, Harvard psychologist and writer

You don't need more schooling or natural intelligence. You just need to have more experiences.

#2. Think about those experiences.
What's the good of trying new things if you don't take the time to process them? What did you feel like? How did it sound? Smell? Replay the event over and over in your mind a few times to not only "own" the experience but also embed it for later recall. What's the point?

This little exercise strengthens related connections in your brain, making that knowledge more readily available when you need it, like say brainstorming a new plot twist or character development.

#3. Remember: there's always more than one solution.
Evaluate more than one possibility for any given situation. You don't have to be an Einstein for this. In fact, be as all-out crazy as his hair. How will you know if the best conclusion for a scene ending or motivation for a hero is the best one if you've not evaluated other options?

When it comes to creativity, the more time and effort you devote to experiences and thinking, the more prone you'll be to dream up something uber spectacular--and it won't matter what kind of pants you're wearing.

Monday, January 27, 2014

3 Nifty Sites to Visit

It's a little nippy around here. Like step outside and your nose hairs turn instantaneously into little icicles. So, other than writing the next great American novel, what's an author to do? Play around on the internet, of course. And I've found a few fun sites for you to visit. . .

Remember that fun site ReciteThis, where you can turn quotes into cool looking graphics? Yeah. This is exactly like that, only with different pictures. Here's one I made...

Just input whatever text you like, choose the background, and voila. You can download, pin, Facebook, Google+, whatever.

I have a feeling this site is going to turn into a serious time waster for me. Super freaking fun! There are a ton of graphics, photos, and text options, plus its super easy to use. I only played around for about 5 minutes before I came up with this...

How cool is that? Yeah, toodle over there right now and check it out. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Need some fresh ideas for Pinterest? Check out this site for creating original and unique pins. Like what? Like from a tweet or a calendar date or even a Spotify song. Here's what I pinned:

And then anyone with a Spotify account can listen to the track I pinned.

Okay, that's enough playing around for one day. Go fold laundry or bring about peace in the Middle East or something.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fun Friday Story Time

Grab your milk and cookies...and maybe snag your nap mat along the way. It's story time.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tidbit: Online Dating

Remember how I said I finished up that mystery with the 2 ladies living in the retirement community solving a murder mystery? Yeah. This week my writing buddy and I had to toodle back to the drawing board and weave in a new thread to the plot tapestry. The romance between the detective and the ladies' niece wasn't believable enough, so we decided that they needed to know each other already when they meet.

Hence my need to check out online dating services.

I didn't know much about cyber soulmate hunters. This crazy technology happened long after I'd left the single market. It's pretty easy though. The basic steps are:

#1. Fill out a profile.
This is your chance to put your creative writing skills to use... aka fabricating how you're not a freak.

#2. Post a photo.
Word of advice: while it may be tempting to bribe a super model to use one of their pix instead of one of yours, this tactic could come back to bite you in the butt if you actually end up meeting the love of your life.

#3. Contact.
This is where the fun begins. You look at other profiles, others look at yours, Cupid sprinkles magic fairy dust over the whole process, and shazam! You contact a potential Mr. Right via email, which can lead to phone calls, and eventually to meeting in person.

How do dating sites decide which profiles you get to look at?
It depends on the site. Some use complex personality surveys, others use mathematical algorithms. Generally, you get what you pay for. There are free sites to join, but then you run the risk of hooking up with a loser who's been on unemployment for the past 15 years. The cost of pay sites can be a disadvantage because of the moolah up front, but it also ensures that the people using this service are pretty serious about seeking a relationship.

The main advantage of online dating is that it gives the user control over who they contact, versus having to hide in an empty garbage receptacle in a fast food joint because nerd boy has decided you're his kindred spirit. Don't ask.

A few Online Dating Facts

41,250,000 people have tried online dating.

Percent of male online users is 52.4 % / Female is 47.6%

Percent of marriages in the last year in which the couple met on a dating site is 17%

71% of the people participating in online dating services believe in love in first sight.

Men lie most about age, height and income.

Women lie most about weight, physical build and age.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How To Write A Killer Story
“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
~ Kurt Vonnegut

Marketing. Platform. Publishing. Grr. Grr. Triple grr. And that's not just my stomach making noise from the half-tub of Trader Joe's hummus I ate for lunch (seriously... have you had the triple layer?).

These three biggies -- not the hummus -- are important ingredients in a writer's life, but when you put your focus on them, they turn into giant, sucking leeches that drain the joy from putting words on paper.

I hate that.

Sometimes the push to get published is merely a status symbol. . . Oh, I've got fifty-three books under Harper Collins and seventy-two more contracted by Simon & Schuster. What's that? You're self-published? HAHAHA! What a loser!

But really, do most garden-variety readers care what the imprint is on the title page? Not as long as the story is a killer. And that, my friends, is what writers should really focus on. No, really. Not kidding. So, how does one go about that?

3 Tips For Writing A Killer Story

1. Give the reader a character to root for.
Everyone loves an underdog, except for maybe Hitler. Not sure on that one. The thing is that everyone wants to be a winner, even vicariously through fiction. Or maybe especially vicariously through fiction. It's a lot less risky than real life.

2. Never, ever, stop the action.
Every sentence counts. You don't want readers skimming. Each sentence must either reveal a character aspect or advance the action.

3. Life is pain, princess.
No matter how much you or your readers love your characters, bad things must happen to them throughout the story, otherwise it's not much of a story, hmm? Not that the focus must be on doom and gloom, but when awful circumstances arise in the life of a character (or human, for that matter), it's a window to the soul of that person, revealing what's inside of them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why Read?

Currently I'm in the middle of 5 books. There are 2 in my gym bag. One on my night stand. Another on the coffee table, and I'm not sure, but I think the other is lurking somewhere in the back of the van next to a frozen travel mug of coffee and some pistachio shells. The point is not that I'm a slobby pig, though I do have my moments. What I'm saying is that I'm a reader, and you should be too. Why?

Top 5 Scientific Reasons to Read

#1. Reading enhances your brain capacity.
No matter how many brain cells you killed as a rebellious teen, when you read something new, your brain creates space to store it. Then you can access that information should the need arise.

#2. Reading expands your vocabulary.
Tired of sounding like you're a fourth-grade drop-out? The more you read, the more words you will discover. The more words you discover, the more they become your own and you'll use them in your own writing and speaking.

#3. Reading fiction makes you a real human.
Don't settle for being a puppet made of wood. The University of Buffalo concluded in a study that fictional story lines open you up to new emotions and feelings, enabling you to empathize with others.

#4. Reading is cheaper than therapy.
Is your life stuck on the crazy spin cycle? Behavioral researcher Cristel Russell states that reading can help with stress or turmoil occurring in your life and actually relaxes you. Sheesh. They needed a study to figure this out?

#5. Reading makes you smarter.
Not only does sticking your nose in a fat book make you look intelligent, it actually makes you a smarty-pants. A research paper by education professor Anne E. Cunningham cites that reading frequently not only helps you learn, but helps you to remember that knowledge later on in life.

So go ahead, read. It's not just a guilty pleasure. It's brain exercise.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Key to Great Art

"Finding the humility to happily walk away from those that don't get it (your art, whatever that may be) unlocks our ability to do great work."

Currently, like a few thousand other writers, I'm considering walking away from traditional publishers who just "don't get" my writing. One problem, though. It frightens the bejeebers out of me to even think about self-pubbing. Why? 

Because walking away from tradition is pee-your-pants scary, no matter the profession. 

Risk is like jumping out of an airplane. Will the parachute open and you'll make a safe landing? Or will you plummet to your death in a messy splat of human juice? I suppose you'll never know unless you step out the door.

Take an inventory of your own life. Is there a risk you're avoiding?

Friday, January 17, 2014

When Husbands Do Make-Up

All the cool kids are letting their boyfriends apply makeup to their faces. Check out some pics here. Well, step aside boys, and see how a real man puts on his wife's makeup. . .

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thursday Tidbit: Now What?

Other than some editing tweaks, a few new scenes possibly, and a last read-through, I'll officially be finished with Fern & Zula (the cozy mystery involving the 2 retirees in a senior community). Oh yeah, and I chose my pen name. The winner: Ellie Marks.

So . . . now what should I work on? I've already got some stories I've started, but I'm unsure which plow to put my hand to. Which of the following back cover copies interests you most?

Genre: Historical Fiction / Book 2 following A Heart Deceived

RAND wants nothing more from life than to be left alone. And for good reason. If people knew of his past, he’d be shunned. So he hides his secrets in the deepest, darkest place he can find—his heart. It’s a good plan.

But it’s not God’s plan.

Which is exactly what ABIGAIL DAWSON questions. If God indeed has a plan for her life, why does everything happen too soon or too late? Like meeting Rand. Why could she not have met him before getting stuck in an abusive marriage?

Influenced by the writings of William Cowper, both Rand and Abigail learn that while time waits for no man, neither will it pass without revealing the contents of the heart…exposing far more than either expects.

Genre: Time Travel / Book 2 following Undercurrent

How long can innocence survive in a fierce world ruled by violence and greed?

Undergrad and overeager, TAMMY JENKINS stumbles into a time and place she was never meant to be. Amongst a people honoring ruthlessness and ferocity, her naiveté could be the death of her—or others.

Cynical slave trader NJALL, indulges in every vice life can offer, all to fill the emptiness gnawing his soul. When a foreign woman breaches the wall he hides behind, his rogue façade crumbles, leaving him vulnerable—a fatal disadvantage for a Norseman.

Rogaland’s chieftain and his new bride, CASSIE, pledge never to part, a vow broken against their wills. Only a deep faith in Jesu can sustain her, but are Cassie’s convictions solid enough to withstand the horrors she must face?

Transcend the constraints of time in UNDEROATH, Book II of the Nordisk Saga—an ageless tale of love and truth.

Genre: Historical Fiction / Book 2 following Brentwood's Ward 
(not published...yet)

Officer ALEXANDER MOORE goes undercover as a rogue gambler to expose a traitorous plot against the king—and a master he is with his disguise, for JOHANNA LANGLEY believes him to be quite the cad. But when Johanna is swept up in the intrigue, Alex must choose between his mission and reputation as a crack Bow Street Runner or the woman he’s come to love.

Genre: Historical Fiction / Book 1 in Edge of Freedom series 
(not published or written...yet)

Is independence worth the price of slavery?
It is if your life depends upon it.

On the run from a cruel employer, British governess ELEANOR MORGAN escapes to America, the land of the free. But liberty is hard to come by as an indentured servant, and impossible if she agrees to an even harsher contract—marriage.

SAMUEL HEATH wants a wife, not a governess. The lifestyle of a trapper in the wild is no life for an infant, but neither is abandonment into the arms of strangers. For the sake of his daughter, he decides to marry again, an impossible task because there’s a stigma attached to his name—murderer.

Both Eleanor and Samuel are survivors, accustomed to overcoming trials and hardships, but this time they must face their biggest challenge ever . . .


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Bacon Trend

So what's up with bacon lately? Bacon ice cream. Bacon banana bread. Bacon shirts. Bacon upholstered barcoloungers. Marketing departments have it easy because really, all they need to do is slap some bacon anywhere on, in, or near their product and bam! Instant sales.

Which got me to thinking, how could a writer hop on their bacon surfboard and ride this trend to success?

Bacon Bookmarks
Who wouldn't want a strip of this tasty piece of pork, sans greasiness, stuck in their book? That's the beauty of graphics, nowadays, people.

Bacon Book Covers
Just the scent, not the meat. Salmonella's not worth it. Trust me on this one.

Baconistic Plot
You know how movies strategically place products, like a can of Coke on a table in the background, or the hero wearing some Nikes? Why not incorporate bacon into the story?

Bacon Giveaways
Add in a surprise gift certificate for bacon inside a giveaway book. No, really. They seriously have these things at Bacon Freak.

Bacon Bribery
Scary as they may seem, editors are only human. . . and usually carnivorous. Oh, what's that? How did that bacon get into my proposal? Huh. Weird.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Surprising Reading Numbers

While toodling around the world wide web, I came across some interesting reading factoids at Statistic Brain. . .

Percentage of college students who will never read another book after they graduate:

Percentage of American adults who can't understand the labels on their prescriptions:

Percentage of U.S. adults who are unable to read an 8th grade level book:

Total amount of words read annually by a person who reads 15 minutes a day:
1 million

Percentage of U.S. families who did not buy a book this year (2013):

Percentage of adults that have not been in a bookstore in the past 5 years:

Percentage of books started that aren't read to completion:

Number of U.S. inmates that are illiterate:

Want to know which one freaked me out the most? The one about how many people haven't been in a bookstore in the last 5 years. What the heck? I'd take my pillow and move in if they'd let me.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The What If Game

Jumping out of an airplane is not my idea of a good time. I understand that it's on lots of people's bucket lists, but not mine. My dreams don't involve any chance of spreading my brain cells out in a thin layer over a patch of terra firma. I like to keep things simple, like landing contract after contract with Harper Collins or Random House.

Whatever your dream is, what's keeping you from going for it? For most people, it's four little words...
"What if I fail?"

Newsflash: you will.

The most successful people are the ones who keep slogging away at attaining their dream, step by step, in spite of failing. Instead of focusing on the dreaded What If, I suggest a different question to ponder...

"What's my plan for after I fail?"

The number one reason people don't attain their dreams is the fear of failure. Planning for it sucks the life out of that fear, enabling you to continue on the road to achieving that dream.

So . . . dream big. Reach far. Slap on a Band-aid if you scrape your knee in the process.

And a helmet might not be a bad idea either.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fun Friday Fashion Frenzy

Whether you're cold, have a hickey on your neck, or just want to look like a rock star, here are a few ideas on how to be a scarf champion.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thursday Tidbit: Trends

Keeping up on what's happening in the publishing world is a never ending quest for a writer. Well, a writer who wants to get published traditionally, at any rate. This past week there's been some seismic action in the ol' CBA, but never fear. I'm here to keep you updated.

Science fiction/fantasy fans are all ajitter with the news that Steve Laube bought Marcher Lord Press. Marcher Lord is the premier (only) Christian imprint focusing solely on speculative fiction. Personally, I think it's a good move for the company. Founder Jeff Gerke did a bang-up job starting this press from thin air, but he's also a writer and an editor. That's a lot of hats for one man to wear. Granted, Steve Laube is also the founder and an agent at the Steve Laube Agency, but I think he'll be able to pull this one off.

A new publisher has come squalling into the world through the motherly arms of Barbour Publishing, who's launched Shiloh Run Press. Shiloh Run will be the new umbrella for Barbour's full-length fiction line.

Another arm of Shiloh Press will be Shiloh Run Studios, which will focus on original direct-to-digital serialized fiction. The first installation will be a 13-part digital short series titled Hidden Falls by Olivia Newport.

So that's what's happening in the land of publishing. . . until tomorrow . . . or maybe in an hour.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ever Get a Book Stuck Inside Your Head?

Books are the mile markers on my life road, from early childhood's Go Dog. Go! to Nancy Drew in my tween years, which led to The Martian Chronicles and later as a young adult to The King's Brat and Jane Eyre. I didn't just pass time with these books. I entered the invisible literary portal and lived in them. They are ingrained into the tiny little crevices in the never-gonna-forget section of my gray matter.

You think I'm exaggerating? Not this time. I got me a big ol' scientific study to back up this theory of mine that novels can and are life changing.

In a recent study published in the journal Brain Connectivity, researchers found biological changes in reader's brains as they read books. They discovered that powerful stories have the ability to create muscle memory in the brain in the same fashion as if the reader had lived through the events. For at least five days after volunteers had finished reading, neurological effects could still be seen. The study suggests that favorite novels could have a longer-lasting effect on the brain's biology.

So no wonder I miss Mr. Rochester or wish I could vacation in Narnia. And I'd say God sure knew what He was doing when He chose the medium of a book to deliver His messages to mankind.

What about you? What books do you have stuck in your head?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

When I was growing up, way back when Dinosaur Crossing signs were abundant, expiration dates on food hadn't been invented yet. As a result, I tend to ignore most of them today, especially for stupid things like a can of pop (southern translation: soda). Like Coke is going to grow green fuzz inside a vacuum-sealed can? Spare me.

But it got me authors have expiration dates? Example: if Jane Austen submitted Pride and Prejudice to a Christian publisher today, would it be accepted as is? I'm guessing not. Currently, tight writing is all the rage, making Austen's verbose descriptions unacceptable. Stamp a big ol' red EXPIRED on top of that manuscript.

It's curious, then, that sales of Austen's books continue to remain steady. What's up with that?

Three words... STORY IS KING!

Not that I'm dissing fantastic writing, but if the story isn't plausible, relatable, and entertaining, great writing isn't going to doll it up enough to sell it. Take that to heart no matter what kind of writing you do, and you'll never expire.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Centsless Books

I don't know about you, but after gift giving, entertaining, and a bridal shower thrown into the mix of the past month, my charge card is smoking. It's time to tighten the ol' belt around here...which is uber hard since I've gained 5 pounds.

So while I won't be running out to see the latest blockbuster, and eating out will be nixed for awhile, that doesn't mean I can't still snag some great reads. While tooling around the interwebs (that's techie lingo for a series of tubes), I came across a fan-freaking-tastic site that you don't want to miss.

CENTSLESS BOOKS updates every hour with the current bestselling eBooks available online. Yeah, I know I just ranted about not having any spare cash, but dudes...this is all FREE! Seriously.

Just click on the book that you want and it brings you directly to Amazon, where the title is offered as a free download. These eBooks work on desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets and Kindles. The variety is huge. Check often, though, because titles change frequently.

Grab yourself some great reads and hunker down for the next wave of global warming. Oh yeah, did I mention it's like ninety-gazillion degrees below zero here in the frozen tundra? Yep. Centsless Books, here I come.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Need a Resolution?

The worst enemy 
to creativity 
is self-doubt.

~ Sylvia Plath

Make 2014 the year you lay this adversary to rest.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Kick Off Thought for the New Year

"Behold, I go forward,
but He is not there,
and backward,
but I do not perceive Him;
on the left hand when He is working,
I do not behold Him;
He turns to the right hand,
but I do not see Him.
He knows the way that I take.
When He has tried me,
I shall come out as gold."

Job 23:8-10

Job did not see the ways in which God was working, but that does not change the fact that God was indeed there, orchestrating everything, using all for a greater purpose.

My New Year's prayer for you and me is that we would know that God is at work though we may not see the evidence.
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