Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tidbit: Changing Horses


The publishing journey is like paddling down a river. Sometimes it's white water fast and you have to hold on tight, blinking from the splashes slapping you in the face. Other times you work your patootie off digging the oar into deadly still water, wondering if you're getting anywhere. Recently, my canoe hit a strong current that's sucking me in a totally different direction than I expected to go.

I'm shelving my Cherokee research books and pulling down info on Napoleon. Yeah, I know. What the heck? The two aren't even remotely related. That's because I'm switching stories mid-stream. The era is roughly the same, within a 25 year time period, but I'm putting Colonial America on pause in exchange for Regency England.

A few years ago, I wrote the first of 3 books in a series I call the Bow Street Runners. The Runners were the first fledgling police force in London. And get this...it was originally founded by an author. Who have thunk?

Henry Fielding hired a few officers in 1749. They worked out of his office and court (he was also a magistrate) at No. 4 Bow Street. They served writs and arrested offenders on the authority of the magistrate.

My idea for the series was to feature a different officer in each book. As I said, the first one is finished already. It's called BRENTWOOD'S WARD. Here's a blurb:

There’s none better than NICHOLAS BRENTWOOD at catching the felons who ravage London’s streets, and there’s nothing he loves more than seeing justice carried out—but this time he’s met his match. Beautiful and beguiling 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.

If that whets your appetite, HERE'S a Pinterest board with pix.

Now then **annoying knuckle cracking sound** here's what I'll be working on next. . .


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.

So, it's back to merry ole England for me. Don't worry. I'll pack you along as well. . . though that may be a little tricky to explain to the TSA.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shamboa

Clearly I am on a famous author kick this week. I didn't plan it that way, but here we are, so let's take that ball and run with it, eh?

You know that writers make up stories, but did you know they make up words as well? Yep. No, yep isn't one of the made-up words, leastwise not by an author, but here are a few that are. . .

Freelance
Originally, Sir Walter Scott used this word in is 1819 novel Ivanhoe to describe a mercenary knight who offered his services in exchange for money. Today it's used as an individual employed on a project-by-project basis.

Eyeball
Yeah, I know. The word eye has been around forever, as has the word ball, but it took Shakespeare to slap the two together in 1590 in his comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Yahoo
Some think instantly of email or internet groups. Others think of silly dopes. In Jonathan Swift's 1726 adventure, Gulliver's Travels, the Yahoos were a race of dangerous men.

Boredom
This word comes from one of my favorite Dickens' classics. . . Bleak House, written in 1853. Boring fact: the definition hasn't changed since it's inception.

Nerd
This word did not originate with four-eyed, pocket protector wearing, know-it-alls with horrific social skills. It came from Dr. Seuss in his book If I ran the Zoo (1950).

So why don't you give it a whirl? Just pick 2 random words and stick them together. Mine is Shamboa: A con artist who wears a feathery scarf. Now it's your turn. Leave your new word in the comment section along with a definition.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Axing Adjectives


I'm noticing a disturbing trend in Christian fiction. Adjectives. Like so many I'd be a Rockefeller if I were paid a buck apiece for each one -- or two or five -- in a sentence. What's up with this epidemic?

Do writers think the use of adjectives makes them sound smarter?
Are authors using this technique to slyly increase a reader's vocabulary?
Is there an adjective fairy sprinkling glittery grammar dust with a wave of her wand across the land?

Answers:
Nope, no and, unh-unh.

What I suspect is really at the heart of the matter is laziness. Oh, I know. That sounds harsh and why am I such a hater? Whatever. The deal is that while some writers might be slacking off on purpose, the great majority are not. It's easier and quicker to slap some adjectives in front of a noun to get your point across to a reader rather than construct some uber-cool prose.

Newsflash: uber-cool prose takes time. . . a LOT of time.
And who's got time when you're trying to crank out a few books a year to make a living?

Still, the pursuit of stellar writing should not fall by the wayside, not even for the sake of a dollar. But don't take my lowly word for it. Turns out my views on adjectives put me in some pretty good company. . .

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.”
~ Mark Twain

“[I was taught] to distrust adjectives as I would later learn to distrust certain people in certain situations.”
- Ernest Hemingway

“The road to hell is paved with adjectives.”
- Stephen King

“[The adjective] is the one part of speech first seized upon and worked to death by novices and inferior writers.”
- J.I. Rodale

“The adjective has not been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”
- E.B. White

So put on a helmet, get out there, and hack away at those unnecessary adjectives cluttering up your writing. Believe me, you'll stand out from the rest.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Quirky Writing Spots of the Rich and Famous

You guessed it. I'm still on the hunt for the perfect library nook where I can run off to and pen the next Great American Novel. In the mean time, here I sit in my big butt chair in the corner of my bedroom. Not ideal because I can see the laundry room from this angle and know that I should throw in a load. And my teenage daughter's room is next to mine. If she's not blasting music, she's hollering for me to either:
A.) Tell her if her eyeliner is straight
B.) Ask what's for dinner
C.) Check out the cute Pin she just stuck on Pinterest
I'm not the only writer who's had to deal with this. In fact, throughout history, many famous authors came up with some pretty quirky solutions to their where-the-crap-should-I-write dilemma. . .

AGATHA CHRISTIE
When Agatha had her mansion renovated, she gave the architect two specific instructions. "I want a big bath and I need a ledge because I like to eat apples." She plotted her award-winning novels while nibbling on apple wedges in the tub.

GERTRUDE STEIN
The driver's seat of Gertrude's Model T Ford saw a lot of action. She'd park her car and write.

SIR WALTER SCOTT
This dude has lots in common with Gertrude. Model T's weren't invented yet, so Walter took advantage of the day's most common mode of transportation to craft his bestselling epic poem "Marmion". . . on horseback. He said, "I had many a grand gallop among these braes when I was thinking of Marmion."

VIRGINIA WOOLF
She wrote in an old armchair in the basement of her house.

JAMES JOYCE
For many years, James wrote in bed at night while lying on his stomach.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tidbit: Playlists


Every blockbuster movie has an epic soundtrack. Most books do as well. Usually an author associates inspiring tunes with certain characters or scenes.

And that's what I've been working on this week.

CAPTIVE OF THE HEART takes place in 1770 in Colonial North Carolina. It's kind of a beauty and the beast type story, with a penniless English woman forced into a marriage with a rough and tumble American. What kind of music would you choose to ramp up your creative juices for a story like that?

I listened to folk, Native American, new age, and Americana and came up with a playlist. See what you think. . . (oh yeah, and if you don't have Spotify, sign up because it's free and it's way better than Pandora)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Using Unicorns to Improve Your Writing

The first manuscript I ever wrote was a sweet little rags to riches historical romance. I thought surely it was the next Great American Novel. . . until I sent it off to publishers and received back rejection after rejection with the same complaint.


The writing was too passive.
Huh? What the heck did that mean?

A decade later and with many more manuscripts under my belt, I know the difference between passive and active writing without even thinking about it. How did I become so incredibly wise?

Unicorns.

For handy dandy active writing, simply add in "by unicorns" immediately following a verb as a test. If the sentence makes sense, then it's passive. It if doesn't, bingo! We have a winner.

Example:

She was killed [by unicorns].
Makes sense, right? PASSIVE!

Unicorns killed [by unicorns] her.
Gibberish, eh? ACTIVE!

Yeah. I know. I'm just that awesome. Of course, now you are too. Hey, maybe we should make badges or something?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Just Say No

It's afternoon. Your eyes are droopy, but you've got to pound out at least 600 more words for the day, do a blog entry, write a thank you note to Great Aunt Gertrude, compose a grocery shopping list, and...oh yeah...answer those interview questions you promised to send last Tuesday. What will perk you up enough so you don't end up snoozing on your computer, leaving the waffly imprint of the keyboard mashed into your face?

As tempting as it is, do NOT reach for a cold can of Coke. Yes, my friends, today we are romping off the leash into the sugar-is-the-devil neighborhood. Here is what happens to your body when you slam back 12 oz. of Coke. . .

10 Minutes after Consumption
The full, glorious 10 teaspoons of sugar hits your system. Normally this much sugar ingested will make you want to barf, but the phosphoric acid in the soda helps keep it in your tummy. Oh yeah, did I mention 10 tsp. of sugar is your DAILY recommended intake?

20 Minutes after Consumption
Your blood sugar goes off the charts from an insulin burst. This makes your liver kick into overtime to dispel that poison by changing sugar into fat. Bad idea right before bikini season.

40 Minutes after Consumption
Woo-hoo! Caffeine backstrokes through your bloodstream, increasing your blood pressure, dilating your pupils. Zingy, eh? That's because the adenosine receptors in your brain are temporarily blocked, obliterating your urge to nap.

45 Minutes after Consumption
Dude! You're flying! No, really, because your dopamine production is crazy-go-nuts right about now, stimulating your brain's pleasure centers. Sound like a trippy visit to LaLaLand? It is, because this is exactly how heroine works.

60 Minutes after Consumption
Better toodle off to the bathroom because caffeine is a diuretic (translation: you've got to pee). Remember that phosphoric acid that helps you keep the sugar down? It also likes to snatch up your calcium, magnesium and zinc down in your lower intestine. So, while you're sitting on the toilet (or standing as the case may be), you'll be flushing away those nutrients that your bones could've used.

And now it's crash time. You're back to feeling sleepy and possibly a little cranky as well because your body wants another hit.

The moral of this little tale? Next time you're feeling sleepy, stand up and do a few jumping jacks, run out the front door and suck in some fresh air, chase the freaking cat around the table a few times. . . anything but drink the demon in a can.

Disclaimer: just so the Coca-Cola company doesn't sue me, this goes for pretty much any kind of pop. So there. They can all file for litigation.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Hemingway App

Ernest Hemingway
Dare I admit I've never read any Hemingway? Put down the pitchforks and rotten tomatoes. Sheesh. He's in my TBR pile so quit your mocking. The thing is that I don't need to have sections of Hemingway's prose memorized to recognize the man's a great writer. Today's authors can learn from authors of the past. . . and have I found a spectacular site that does just this!

The Hemingway App is a writer's playground. You simply copy in a section of your own writing, hit edit, and voila! The magical writing fairies sprinkle sparkly literary dust all over your words, telling you exactly what you should fix. It highlights:

  • Sentences that are hard to read
  • Sentences that are VERY hard to read
  • Adverbs
  • Words or phrases that can be simpler
  • Uses of passive voice
  • Readability (think grade level)

Not only is this handy dandy for novel writers, but for bloggers or communicators of any kind of written word. Toodle on over there and slap in a paragraph or two of your own writing. Tons o' writerly fun!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tidbit: Names


Unless a publisher throws me a contract bone that leads in a different direction, I've finally settled down near my water dish with a new story. Well, not exactly new. I started toying around with the idea last year, and actually wrote the first 3 chapters last summer.

Remember all those story choices I gave you last month to pick from in the post Now What? Choice #4 was the overwhelming winner. Here's a brain refresher:

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 . . .

Love.

So, now that I've started working in earnest on this puppy, I need to come up with a few names. Want to help?

Here are some era appropriate names for the sweet little 14 month old baby who will be the darling of the story. Which one do you like best?

Hannah

Grace

Lucy

Suzannah



I also need to decide on a Cherokee name for my hero. He's a white dude, but he's got a native blood-brother and is beholden to the tribe for saving his life. Here is a picture of Samuel Heath and a list of the names you can choose from for him...

Waya [WAH-ya] (wa-ya): Wolf

Golanv [KO-la-na or GO-la-na] (go-la-nv): Raven

Yunega [yoo-NEH-ga] (Intended for u-ne-ga): White [Yonega is "white man" or "English"]

Yona [YO-na] (yo-na): Bear;

Yanequa [yah-NEH-kwa] (yo-ne-qua, from yo-na e-qua): Big Bear

Here is your assignment, little buddies. . . In the comment section, put down your top pick for the little girl and for Samuel's native name.

Let the voting begin!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

5 Reading Facts That May Surprise You

As an author, it's important to me that people read. Otherwise, really, what's the point? So I'm always prowling around the internet, sniffing out reading facts, and I came across a few that you might not know. . .

Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.

1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.

Nearly 85 percent of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60 percent of all inmates are functionally illiterate.

Teenage girls ages 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty level and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than the girls their age who can read proficiently.

Long Beach, CA was ranked the country’s most illiterate city, followed by Mesa, AZ, and Aurora, CO.


So, what's the cure for all this dismal literary news? Take a kid to a bookstore. Buy the kid a book. Teach the dang kid to read the dang book. Bam! Illiteracy obliterated.

Next problem?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In the Zone

I was at the gym today pumping iron. No, I'm not going for the Ms. Beefcake America award. I just want the underside of my arms not to be so flappy when I wear a sleeveless dress at my daughter's wedding next month.

Anyway, there I am, grunting my way through the second rep of tricep presses when one of the older fellas comes over and says, "Hey, you're an author. How would you describe how cold it is outside?"

Once I catch my breath, I answer, "Uhh...I'm kind of in denial about the whole record-breaking below zero weather we're having. Ask me in July."

He continued on, really trying to get me to spout some prose, but here's a newsflash: writers don't always have their thinking cap on, especially in the gym.

And especially in the morning.

Before coffee.

It's true that writers are creative creatures, but even creativity has its limits. In fact, sometimes limits even help creativity.

When you place random limitations on yourself, you are forced to think outside the box, which can sometimes result in blockbuster work. Example: Dr. Seuss bet that he could write a children's story by using only 50 words. The result?  Green Eggs and Ham.

The thing is, though, that this creative limitation requires a relaxed mental state. Creativity connects information, but in order to be aware enough to capture that information, you've got to be "in the zone." How? The key is relaxation. I'm not talking pulling out your pillow and curling up with the satiny edge of your blankie, though if that's what it takes for you, uh, be my guest.

Some people get outside and go for walks in nature. Others go through the process of making a cup of tea then sit and sip for awhile. It's different for everyone. As for me, lifting weights in the gym is NOT on the ol' relaxation list, which is why my brain was in shut down mode this morning.

What about you? What activities get your creative juices flowing?

Monday, February 10, 2014

We Are An ADD Nation

Shh. Don’t tell anyone, but I love previews as much as a movie. This weekend I saw Labor Day. . . more on that later. Some of the previews, however, were a tad disappointing. I was worried I might have a seizure because of the flashy-flashy, bam-bam-bam-bam scenes that blasted on and off screen like tiles on a spinning disco ball.

What’s up with that? Can people not focus on a storyline long enough to digest a plot in an audibly and visually coherent manner? Is our society reduced to thriving on nothing but sound bytes and Pinnable pix?

I do detect a flicker of hope, though, in the young adult market. Yeah. I know. Go figure. But I sense a new generation of readers is emerging. From Harry Potter fans and vampire lovers, to the most recent dystopian enthusiasts, fat books are flying off the shelves in the young adult section of bookstores. That’s a good thing, and hopefully will retrain minds that currently hop from one thing to the next without processing.

As for the movie Labor Day, thumbs up. Hollywood really could’ve taken this flick to the bad place with sex and swearing, but they didn’t, which is rare indeed. The story is a mom who’s afraid to leave her house because she’s uber depressed and messed up from one too many miscarriages. She’s compelled to go to the store with her adolescent son because he’s outgrown his pants. While there, an escaped convict crosses their path and forces them to take him home and hide him. Turns out he’s really a pretty good fella, even though he accidentally did kill his former wife. I won’t give away the ending, but it is very satisfying.


So, if you’re looking for a relatively safe movie to go see, give Labor Day a whirl.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Fun Friday Funny

I'm preempting myself this Fun Friday because, well, I can. This video isn't writing related, reading related, or publishing related, but I guarantee you will laugh your freaking face off. This kid is so cute, I want to seriously keep him in my pocket and pull him out when I'm having a bad day. Enjoy!


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tidbit: Promotion

One of my most favorite things about writing, well. . . except for writing, of course. . . is making some great writing friends, and I've got some of the best in the biz. Before you get all up in my business with "Dang, girl, you got a pride as big as Detroit goin' on," allow me to explain. This boast isn't about me. I've got the best writerly buddies because God blessed me.

Here's the deal about writerly buddies. . . they help promote each other. When I have a new book coming out (no, I'm not announcing one, yet), my author friends band together and give me a big shout out to let their readers know. And that's what I'm doing here today. Announcing (drum roll, please)...

Tide and Tempest  by  Elizabeth Ludwig
Book 3 in the Edge of Freedom Series

Two years ago, her fiance perished during their voyage to America. Now she discovers it may have been murder...

Dreaming of a better life, Tillie McGrath leaves Ireland behind and, with her beloved fiance by her side, sets sail for America. But when illness robs her of the man she holds dear, she's left alone with only a handful of tattered memories. While forging on proves difficult, Tillie soon finds some new friends at her New York boardinghouse, and begins pursuing a new dream--to open a home for orphaned children.

Despite two years passing, Captain Keondric Morgan has never forgotten the lass who left his ship so heartbroken. When a crewman's deathbed confession reveals her fiance's demise was the result of murder, the captain knows he must try to contact her. But his attention draws the notice of others as well--dangerous men who believe Tillie has in her possession something that could expose their crimes. And to their way of thinking, the best way to prevent such an outcome is to seize the evidence and then hand Tillie the same fate as her naïve fiance.

"Ludwig's research on Ireland and New York, along with research on immigrants, shows in this exciting story." —RT Book Reviews

Sound like a fantastic read? IT IS! I had the privilege of critiquing it as it was written, so I know what I'm talkin' 'bout. Even better, you have a chance to win if you pop over to Lisa's Facebook page and Like her.

Here's the LINK to give her the ol' thumbs up and win your chance to scoop up a free read.

And if you haven't yet read books 1 & 2 in the series, do yourself a favor and curl up with some good books this frigid winter.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Avoiding the Squints

You know those websites where there's a black background and white type? After you read them for a few minutes and then look away from the screen, do your eyes go wonky? Because mine do, and I'm wondering if I've got short-circuited eyeballs or if that's a normal opthalmic response.

Either way, it got me to thinking about all the time people spend nowadays staring at screens and how that's probably not too good for our peepers. So, I did a little research and you get to reap the benefits.

5 Ways to Avoid Digital Eye Strain

#1. Brighten things up.
Not the screen, necessarily. I'm talking about the room. Make sure to have a light on while using your computer because it helps reduce the strain.

#2. Position is everything.
Sometimes when I'm looking at Pinterest, I practically smash my nose against the screen to get a really good look at a cute pair of shoes. Naughty, naughty. The ultimate distance between your shnoz and the screen should be around 20-28 inches.

#3. Change your focus.
Every 15 minutes or so, look away from the screen and focus on a distant object. This gives your ol' focusing muscles a bit of a workout.

#4. Bat those eyelashes.
It's a fact that your blink rate decreases as you stare fixated at a screen. Make a conscious effort to blink every 10-15 seconds. This coats the front part of your eye, nourishing the area with oxygen and nutrients and sharpens your vision.

#5. Go to your happy place.
Close your eyes and put the centers of your palms over your eyes. Relax by taking some deep, slow breaths. This one is my personal favorite. Try it. You'll love it.

These are just a few tips. If you're interested in finding out more, check out this article by Dr. Edward Kondrot, founder of The Healing Eye and Wellness Center.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Factoid of the Writing Life

Hate to burst your shiny little soap bubble, but just because you manage to get published -- once, twice, or even three times -- that doesn't mean it's a shoo-in for you to land another contract. Having a book or two out on the market does NOT guarantee you'll be ahead of the writerly pack and cross the ol' contract finish line ahead of everyone else. In fact, sometimes it's a hindrance. Why?

Sales numbers.

Sometimes acquisitions editors look at numbers before taking a peek at your stellar writing skills, and if those numbers don't send the needle off the screen on the best seller radar, that's a handicap.

And that's a fact.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Spit Shine a Manuscript

So, you did it. You delivered a 2 1/2 pound baby manuscript. You think it's adorable, that no one has ever set eyes on such a masterpiece of perfection, but just when you're itching to show off that infant to the publishing world, here's a note of caution...

Not everyone thinks wrinkly, mucous behind the ears, squalling newborns are cute. Usually you need to wait a week or two until they fill out a bit, aren't quite so twitchy, even learn to smile before others are irresistibly drawn to them.

It's the same with your manuscript. But never fear...I've got some surefire ways to spiff up that baby while you're waiting.

Top 3 Ways To Polish A Manuscript

#1. Send it off to 2 or 3 of your best editor buddies.
3 max. You don't want overkill in this stage. While they're critiquing it, work on something else. Put your mind elsewhere. Start a new story or fiddle around with one you've got in the drawer, anything but go over your recently finished book.

#2. Apply critiques.
Once you get those crits back, then --and only then-- may you open up your document and start implementing the final changes. Consider each one, even if you don't agree with it. And if more than one person comments on the same thing, it's a pretty good bet your reader would stumble over that pile of words as well. Change it.

#3. Print it out.
I know. I know. This final step makes greenies go into convulsions. It seems like such a waste to use up all that ink and paper on something you can just read on a screen. It's not. Reading a hard copy is inherently different than reading something on a computer. Why? I think it has something to do with how the planets align and magical fairy dust or something scientific like that. Whatever, it works. You'll catch things that you (and your crit partners) missed. Not even kidding. This works every time.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? Yep. It is. But fact: it is super satisfying when you hear back comments from editors that yours is the cleanest manuscript they've seen in a long time.
 
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